One of the great human inadequacies is our inability to give proper and adequate thanks to God. Perhaps the biggest problem is that we don’t even realize the vast majority of what He does for us; it is hidden from our eyes.
A further problem is that in our fallen condition we seem to be wired to magnify our problems and minimize or discount the enormous blessings of each moment. God sustains every fiber of our being and every atom of creation. God’s blessings are countless and yet we get angry if our iPhone malfunctions or if a few of His myriad blessings are withdrawn.
An old gospel song says it well:
I’ve got so much to thank God for; So many wonderful blessings and so many open doors. A brand new mercy along with each new day. That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise. For waking me up this morning, For starting me on my way, For letting me see the sunshine, of a brand new day. That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise. So many times You´ve met my needs, So many times You rescued me. That’s why I praise You.
For every mountain You brought me over, For every trial you’ve seen me through, For every blessing, For this I give You praise.
Fundamental Question – The question at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel is best expressed in the Book of Psalms: What return shall I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The same psalm goes on to answer the question in this way: The cup of salvation I will take up and call on the name of the Lord (Psalm 116:12).
The Mass is signified – Indeed, how can I possibly thank the Lord for all the good He has done for me? Notice that the psalm points to the Eucharist in saying, The cup of salvation I will take up …. As you know, the word Eucharist is a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” We cannot thank God our Father adequately, but Jesus can. In every Mass, we join our meager thanksgiving to His perfect one. At every Mass, Jesus takes up the cup of salvation through the priest and shows it to us. This is the perfect and superabundant thanks to the Father that only Jesus can offer. In every Mass, Jesus joins us to His perfect sacrifice of thanks. That is how we give thanks in a way commensurate with the manifold blessings we have received.
Hidden Mass – The Gospel for this day makes the point that the Mass is the perfect offering of thanks to the Father in a remarkable and almost hidden way. But for Catholics, it is right there for us to see if we have eyes to see it. The Gospel contains all the essential elements of Holy Mass. It is about giving thanks and reminds us once again that it is the Mass that is the perfect thanksgiving, the perfect “Eucharist.”
Let’s look and see how it is a Mass:
1. Gathering – Ten lepers (symbolizing us) have gathered and Jesus comes near as He passes on His way. We do this in every Mass: we gather and the Lord draws near. In the person of the priest, who is the sacrament, the sign of His presence, Jesus walks the aisle of our church just as He walked those ancient roads.
2. Kyrie – The lepers cry out for mercy, just as we do at every Mass. Lord, have mercy! Jesus, Master, have pity on us!
3. Liturgy of the Word – Jesus quotes Scripture and then applies it to their lives, just as He does for us at every Mass. (In saying, “Go show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus is referencing Leviticus 13, which gives detailed instructions on how the priests of old were to diagnose leprosy or its having been cured.) Yes, this is what we do at every Mass: we listen to the Lord Jesus, through the priest or deacon, proclaiming God’s Word and then applying it to our lives.
4. Liturgy of the Eucharist – The Gospel relates that one of them fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. This is what we do during the Eucharistic prayer: we kneel and thank Jesus, and along with Him, give thanks to the Father. As we have noted, the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek and means “thanksgiving.” Here is the perfect thanks rendered to the Father. Those who claim that they can stay home and give adequate thanks to God should be rebuked for being prideful. Only Jesus can give perfect thanks to the Father, and we can only give adequate thanks by following Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me.” We have to be at Mass.
5. Ite, missa est – Finally, Jesus sends the thankful leper on his way, saying, Stand up and go; your faith has saved you. We, too, are sent forth by Jesus at the end of every Mass, when He speaks through the priest or deacon: “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”
So, there it is. Within this Gospel, which very clearly instructs us to give thanks to God, is the very structure of the Mass. If you want to give proper thanks to God, the right place to do it is at Mass. Only at Mass is perfect and proper thanks given to God.
It was all prefigured in the psalm long ago: What return shall I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up and call on the name of the Lord (Psalm 116:12). Yes, it is the very cup of salvation, the chalice containing Christ’s blood, that is held up at every Mass. It is the perfect sacrifice of thanks. It is the prescribed sacrifice of praise. It is the proper sacrifice of praise.
The readings for this Sunday’s Mass richly describe some essential qualities of faith and living in this world as a Christian. There are five fundamentals that can be seen:
Wanting–The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5-6).
There’s an old saying that what you want, you get. Many doubt this, thinking that they have wanted many things that they did not get. The reason for this, however, is usually because they didn’t want it enough. When we really want something (provided it is not an impossibility) we usually get it, because we have a passion for it and work at it.
Many people who say that they don’t have time to pray or to go to Mass still find time to golf and watch TV television. They find the time because they want to do these things. They don’t find time to pray or to go to Mass because they do not want to do these things enough.
When the apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith, they are asking for a deeper desire to know Him. Too often we miss a step in our prayer. We might ask the Lord to help us to pray when we really should be asking Him to give us the desire to pray. When we want to pray, we will pray. When we want to be holy, we will naturally strive for holy practices. It is about what we truly desire. Ask the Lord to help you want Him and His kingdom. Ask the Lord for a new heart that has proper wants and desires. Ask the Lord for a new mind that has the proper priorities and prefers to think about what is good, true, and beautiful. What you want, you get.
Waiting– The first reading speaks of our need to wait for the Lord’s action: How long, O LORD? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. … Then the LORD answered me and said, Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity (Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4).
Waiting is one of the great mysteries of the Christian life. It is not always clear why God makes us wait. Perhaps He is trying to strengthen our faith. Perhaps He is helping us to clarify or confirm our desires. Scripture consistently tells us that we must learn to wait for the Lord and that there are blessings for those of us who do. Here are some examples:
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil … those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land (Ps 37:8).
Those who wait for me shall not be put to shame (Is 49:23).
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD (Lam 3:25).
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Is 40:31).
Waiting is a fundamental of firm faith. Gospel music is replete with waiting themes. One song says, “You can’t hurry God, you just have to wait, trust, and never doubt him, no matter how long it takes. He may not come when you want him but he’s always right on time.” Another song says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come with the morning light.” Other songs counsel that we must hold on and hold out:
“I promised the Lord that I would hold out, he said he’d meet me in Galilee.”
“Hold on just a little while longer, everything’s gonna be all right.”
“Keep your hand on the plow. Hold on!”
“Lord help me to hold out until my change comes!”
The reading from Habakkuk above warns that the rash man has no integrity. That is another way of saying that waiting is integral to the Christian life; it is a fundamental of faith. To have integrity means to have all the necessary parts that make up the whole. To lack patience, then, is to lack integrity, to lack a fundamental of the Christian faith.
Withstanding– The second reading counsels us, God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God (2 Tim 1:6-8).
This passage tells us that life has difficulties and challenges. Becoming a Christian does not necessarily make things easier. In fact, things often get harder, because we must endure the hatred and ridicule of the world. A fundamental of the Christian Faith is that being able to withstand such trials with courage.
Notice that this courage, power, and love come from God, not from us. Hence, it is grace that is being described here. This is not a moral slogan. Withstanding means that God is “standing with” us, and we with Him. Such withstanding is only possible by the relationship with God that comes by faith. In this way, we discover the power, the capacity, to withstand, to live the Christian faith courageously in a hostile world.
Working– The Gospel teaches, Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here immediately and take your place at table”? Would he not rather say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished”? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do” (Luke 17:6-10).
This teaching of the Lord’s can irritate us and even seem hurtful if we misunderstand grace and seek to understand this text by the flesh. Our flesh is self-centered and thinks we deserve praise and good things from God in return for the good things we do. The flesh expects—even demands—rewards, but God can never be indebted to us, never. Our good works are not our gift to God; they are His gift to us.
All our works of charity and faith, for which our flesh wants credit, are God’s work and His gift. This is made clear in this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God– not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8-10).
If I think that I did something deserving of praise and reward, I am thinking in terms of the flesh, not the Spirit. When I have done something good all I can really do is to say, “Thank you” to God. His grace alone permitted me to do it. God may speak elsewhere of rewarding us, but that is His business. He is not indebted to us in any way. When we have done everything we ought, our one disposition should be gratitude. We are useless servants in the sense that we can do nothing without God’s grace. We can only do what He enables us to do.
That said, it is clear that work is a pillar of faith. The text from today’s Gospel and the text from Ephesians above both make clear that work is something God has for us. So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:17). Likewise, Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me. It was I who chose you that you should go and bear fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). Yes, work is a fundamental of faith.
Winning– We conclude with a reference back to the first reading: For the vision still has its time, it presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late (Hab 2:3).
See what the end shall be! It is true that we must want, wait, withstand, and work, but we do not do so for no reason. We have a cross to carry, but if we carry it with the Lord, we carry it to glory. There is an old gospel song with these lyrics:
Harder yet may be the fight, Right may often yield to might, Wickedness awhile may reign, Satan’s cause may seem to gain, There is a God that rules above, With hand of power and heart of love, If I am right, He’ll fight my battle, I shall have peace some day. I do not know how long ’twill be, nor what the future holds for me. But this I know, if Jesus leads me, I shall get home someday.
This is just what Habakkuk describes: we will win with Jesus. He describes a victory that is
Future – the vision still has its time; it presses on to fulfillment
Fantastic – it will not disappoint
Firm – it will surely come
Fixed – it will not be late
For all those who walk with Jesus on the way of the cross, there is victory ahead. Even here in this life we already enjoy the fruits of crosses past. Our withstanding in the past has given us strength for today. Our waiting in the past has had its fulfillment and provides the hope that our current waiting will also be fruitful. Our past work, by God’s grace, has already granted benefits to us and to others.
These are but a small foretaste of a greater glory to come, the glory that waits for us in Heaven. Yes, if we want, wait, withstand, and work, we will win! I promise it to you in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Catholics have struggled to find a voice that has been nearly washed out of us by our training. We remember a time when it was unthinkable to criticize a priest; those who did were quickly rebuked, with little opportunity for explanation. Bishops and especially the Pope were not to be questioned let alone criticized. We have now seen the sometimes-horrifying toll of unhealthy deference, of setting a class of men apart from critique or accountability.
Respect surely has its place; we should not correct with unneeded harshness, personal attacks, or demeaning words. However, we must regain a healthy sense of the need to hold our clergy accountable and to insist on what is right. Canon law states the right, duty, and modality of this among God’s Faithful.
According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons (Canon 212.3).
God’s faithful are struggling to find their voice, long suppressed. We must find this voice, even regarding the Pope. He has said some alarming things, hurtful things, and has shown little concern for serious charges against Church officials at the highest levels. Even in this case we must find our voice. We must respectful but firm and clear that we expect a full investigation of the charges so that this does not happen again.
All of this feels awkward. It touches some of our oldest training against criticizing popes, bishops, and clergy.
In times like these, we need a Catherine Benincasa.
We know her as St. Catherine of Siena. Though renowned for her love, generosity, and humility, as well as her power to heal, console, and cast out demons, she was no shrinking violet. If she saw something in your soul that was unholy, you were going to hear about it, no matter who you were.
St. Catherine would meet with anyone, from the poorest beggars to kings, governors, bishops, and popes. None of them were denied her love and encouragement. Neither were they spared the hard truths that God gave her to say. Only God was to be pleased, not man. Spiritual truths were to be extolled over every temporal matter (e.g., safety, comfort, pleasing worldly powers).
She loved the Church but remained gravely concerned with the condition of the beloved Bride of Christ. Particularly egregious to her was the condition of so many clergy, right on up the ranks. Even the popes of her time, whom she acknowledged as the sweet Vicars of Christ and her beloved father could not escape her expressions of grave disappointment and her calls to conversion.
Of special significance for us today is her exchange of letters with Pope Gregory XI. Though he led an exemplary life in many respects, he was a weak, shy, even cowardly man. He was deeply compromised by his temporal ties to power, wealth, and protection, without which he feared that he and the papacy could not survive. Nepotism was also a terrible problem; his own family members kept him wound around their fingers.
Most of the early popes died as martyrs, but by the time of the Avignon Papacy, popes had become very tied to the world and had “too much to lose.” They had fled to Avignon and had been in residence there for decades, living behind fortified walls, protected by armies, and compromised by alliances with secular rulers. It had to stop.
Gregory XI was the last of the Avignon popes. He only returned to Rome at the prodding of this young woman, not yet thirty, who told him, in effect, to go back to Rome or risk Hell. In 1377, after much delay and fretting, Pope Gregory left for Rome.
Below are some excerpts from a letter she wrote to Gregory XI, just prior to 1377. I think her words speak loudly to the clergy of today. The specific issues that beset clergy today are somewhat different but not that different. The Church no longer commands extensive temporal power or rule, but too many clergy are still unwilling to maintain holy discipline or enforce canonical penalties on malefactors.
I have already said too much; I will let Saint Catherine speak for herself. (If you think my blogs are long, try reading St. Catherine’s letters!) I present here only excerpts of a much longer letter to Pope Gregory; she wrote several others as well. The translation I am using here is from Letters of Catherine Benincasa.
In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and of gentle Mary, mother of God’s Son.
Very loved and reverend father in Christ Jesus,
I Caterina, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ and your poor wretched unworthy daughter, am writing to you in his precious blood. I long to see you the sort of true gentle shepherd who takes an example from the shepherd Christ, whose place you hold. He laid down his life for his little sheep in spite of our ingratitude …
You know that the devil is not cast out by the devil, but by virtue. [Mt. 12, 26-27] … You hold the keys, and to whomever you open it is opened, and to whomever you close it is closed. This is what the good gentle Jesus said to Peter …
So take a lesson from the true Father and Shepherd. For you see that now is the time to give your life for the little sheep who have left the flock. You must seek and win them back by using patience and war—by war I mean by raising the standard of the sweet blazing cross and setting out against the unbelievers. So, you must sleep no longer, but wake up and raise that standard courageously. I am confident that by God’s measureless goodness you will win back the unbelievers and [at the same time] correct the wrongdoing of Christians, because everyone will come running to the fragrance of the cross …
By the fragrance of their virtue they would help eliminate the vice and sin, the pride and filth that are rampant among the Christian people—especially among the prelates, pastors, and administrators of holy Church who have turned to eating and devouring souls, not converting them but devouring them! And it all comes from their selfish love for themselves, from which pride is born, and greed and avarice and spiritual and bodily impurity. They see the infernal wolves carrying off their flock and it seems they don’t care. Their care has been absorbed in piling up worldly pleasures and enjoyment, approval and praise. And all this comes from their selfish love for themselves. For if they loved themselves for God instead of selfishly, they would be concerned only about God’s honor and not their own, for their neighbors’ good and not their own self-indulgence.
Ah, my dear Babbo (Father), see that you attend to these things! Look for good virtuous men and put them in charge of the little sheep. …
Up, father! Put into effect the resolution you have made concerning your return and this crusade. You can see that the unbelievers are challenging you to this by coming as close as they can to take what is yours. Up, to give your life for Christ! Isn’t our body the only thing we have? Why not give your life a thousand times, if necessary, for God’s honor and the salvation of his creatures? That is what he did, and you, his vicar, ought to be carrying on his work. It is to be expected that as long as you are his vicar you will follow your Lord’s ways and example.
So come, come! Delay no longer … Take courage, take courage, father! Stay away from the bitterness that cripples but take hold of the bitterness that strengthens—bitterness at seeing God’s name insulted, and strength in the trust that God will provide for your needs. I’ll say no more, for if I followed my inclination I wouldn’t stop as long as I had life in my body!
Forgive my presumption. Let my love and grief for God’s honor and the advancement of holy Church be my excuse in the presence of your kindness.
This is all I can do now. Have pity on the sweet loving desires being offered for you and holy Church in continual tears and prayers. Please don’t treat them with indifference, but act on them vigorously, for it seems that spring is ready to burst into bloom, and soon the fruit will come, because the flowers are beginning to blossom. … As for whatever I can do, I would gladly give my life if necessary for God’s honor and the salvation of souls. Gentle Jesus! Jesus!
(St. Catherine of Siena, Letter 74 to Gregory XI at Avignon)
Such words still ring true today! We must speak in love and with respect, but we must also speak insistently and with clarity. The very credibility and fruitfulness of the Church is at stake. We have a duty and a right to speak to him in this way—so do our bishops. In Catherine’s words, “This is all I can do now.” The Pope bishops and other clergy must decide whether to hear our heartfelt cry or ignore it, but we cannot stop. All we can do now is to cry out insistently for justice and for a purification of the Church.
Thank you, Mother Catherine. May you, who converted the heart of Pope Gregory XI and summoned him to courageous manhood, now imbue us, the clergy and people of today, with that same fortitude and determination to call for what really heals, even if the honesty hurts.
This Sunday’s Gospel about the rich man and Lazarus contains some important teachings on judgment and Hell. We live in times in which many consider the teachings on Hell to be untenable. They struggle to understand how a God described as loving, merciful, and forgiving could assign certain souls to Hell forever. Despite the fact that the Doctrine of Hell is taught extensively in Scripture as well as by Jesus Himself, it does not comport well with many modern notions and so many people think that it has to go.
The parable addresses some of the modern concerns about Hell. Prior to looking at the reading, it is important to understand why Hell has to exist. I have written on that topic extensivelyhere. What follows is a brief summary of that lengthier article.
Hell must exist for one essential reason: respect. God has made us free and respects our freedom to choose His Kingdom or not. The Kingdom of God is not a mere abstraction. It has some very specific values, and these are realized and experienced perfectly in Heaven.
The values of the Kingdom of God include love, kindness, forgiveness, justice to the poor, generosity, humility, mercy, chastity, love of Scripture, love of the truth, worship of God, and the centrality of God.
Unfortunately, there are many people who do not want anything to do with those values, and God will not force them to. Everyone may want to go to Heaven, but Heaven is not merely what we want it to be; it is what it is, as God has set it forth. Heaven is the Kingdom of God and its values in all their fullness.
There are some (many, according to Jesus) who live in a way that consistently demonstrates their lack of interest in Heaven. They do this by showing that they are not interested in one or many of the Kingdom’s values. Hell “has to be” because God respects people’s freedom to choose to live in this way. Because such people demonstrate that they do not want Heaven, God respects their freedom to choose “other arrangements.”
In a way, this is what Jesus says in John’s Gospel, when He states that judgment is about what we prefer: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19). In the end, you get what you want: light or darkness. Sadly, many prefer the darkness. The day of judgment discloses our final preference; God respects that even if it is not what He would want for us
This leads us to the Gospel, which we will look at in three stages.
I. The Ruin of the Rich Man – As the Gospel opens, we see a rich man (some call him Dives, which simply means “rich”). There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.
It is clear that he lives very well and has the ability to help the poor man, Lazarus, who is outside his gate. But he does not do so.
The rich man’s sin is not so much one of hate as of indifference. He is living in open rejection of one of the Kingdom’s most important values: love of the poor. His insensitivity is literally a “damnable sin”; it lands him in Hell. His ruin is his insensitivity to the poor.
The care of the poor may be a complicated matter, and there may be different ways of approaching it, but we can we never consider ourselves exempt if it is within our means to help. We cannot avoid judgment for greed and insensitivity. As God said in last week’s reading regarding those who are insensitive to the poor, The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done (Amos 8:7). God may well “forget” many of our sins (cf Is 43:23; Heb 8:12), but apparently disregarding the needs of the poor isn’t one of them.
This rich man has repeatedly rejected the Kingdom by his greed and insensitivity. He lands in Hell because he doesn’t want Heaven, where the poor are exalted (cf Luke 1:52).
Abraham explains the great reversal to him: My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
II. The Rigidity of the Rich Man – You might expect the rich man to have a change of heart and repent, but he does not. Looking up into Heaven, he sees Lazarus next to Abraham, but rather than finally recognizing Lazarus’ dignity and seeking his forgiveness, he tells Abraham to send Lazarus to Hell with a pail of water to refresh him. The rich man still sees Lazarus as beneath him (even though he has to look up to see him); he sees Lazarus as an errand boy.
Notice that the rich man does not ask to be admitted to Heaven! Although he is unhappy with where he is, he still does not seem to desire Heaven and the Kingdom of God with all its values. He has not really changed. He regrets his current torment but does not see Heaven as a solution. Neither does he want to appreciate Lazarus’ exalted state. The rich man wants to draw Lazarus back to the lower place he once occupied.
This helps to explain why Hell is eternal. It would seem that there is a mystery of the human person that we must come to accept: we reach a point in life when our character is forever fixed, when we can no longer change. When exactly this occurs is not clear; perhaps it is at the moment of death itself.
The Fathers of the Church often thought of the human person as clay on a potter’s wheel. As long as it is on the wheel and moist it can be molded, but when the clay is taken off the wheel and placed in the fiery kiln (fire is judgment day (cf 1 Cor 3:15)), its shape is forever fixed.
The rich man manifests this fixed quality. He is unhappy with his torments, even wanting to warn his brothers, but apparently he does not intend to change or somehow he is unable to change.
This is the basis for the teaching that Hell is eternal: once having encountered our fiery judgment, we will no longer be able to change. Our decision against the Kingdom of God and its values (a decision that God, in sadness, respects) will be forever fixed.
III. The Reproof for the Rest of Us – The rich man, though he cannot or will not change, would like to warn his brothers. He thinks that perhaps if Lazarus would rise from the dead and warn them, they would repent!
We are the rich man’s brethren, and we are hereby warned. The rich man wanted exotic measures, but Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
This reply is dripping with irony, given Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
We should not need miraculous signs to bring us conversion. The phrase “they have Moses and the prophets” is a Jewish way of saying that they have Scripture.
The Scriptures are clear to lay out the way before us. They give us the road map to Heaven and we only need to follow it. We ought not to need an angel or a ghost or some extraordinary sign. The Scriptures and the teachings of the Church should be sufficient.
Their message is clear enough: daily prayer, daily Scripture, weekly Eucharist, frequent confession, and repentance all lead to a change of heart wherein we begin to love the Kingdom of God and its values. We become more merciful, kind, generous, loving toward the poor and needy, patient, chaste, devout, and self-controlled.
Hell exists! It has to exist because we have a free choice to make, and God will respect that choice even if he does not prefer it.
Each of us is free to choose the Kingdom of God—or not. This Gospel makes it clear that our ongoing choices lead to a final, permanent choice, at which time our decision will be forever fixed.
The modern world needs to sober up. There is a Hell and its existence is both reasonable and in conformity with a God who both loves us and respects our freedom.
If you have any non-biblical notions in this regard,consider yourself reproved. Popular or not, Hell is taught, as is the sobering notion that many prefer its darkness to the light of God’s Kingdom.
The care of the poor is very important to God. Look through your closet this week and give away what you can. Look at your financial situation and see if it is pleasing to God. The rich man was not cruel, just insensitive and unaware. How will you and I respond to a Gospel like this?
This is the third in a series of articles on the decline of the West. Given the exceptionally poor condition of whatever is left of Western Culture and Christendom, it may help us in this article to gain some perspective of what is going on from the stages of starvation.
Physical hunger is a serious problem; We are obliged to assist the starving and malnourished. But even more prevalent these days is spiritual hunger, if not outright starvation. As is the case with physical hunger, the source of spiritual hunger is not God, who has given us abundant grace and truth; it is we who are the source. It is a strange starvation to be sure, for it is largely self-inflicted. Further, it seems to be at an advanced stage.
I am told that as physical starvation advances there comes a time when a kind of lethargy sets in. Although a person knows he is hungry, he lacks the mental acuity to want to do much about it. This seems to be the stage of spiritual starvation at which many Westerners find themselves today. Most people know they are spiritually hungry and are longing for something, but through a kind of lethargy and mental boredom, they don’t seem inclined to do much about it.
I’d like to look at the progressive stages of physical starvation (gleaned from several medical sources) and then speak of their spiritual equivalents. Please understand that when I use the pronoun “we” I am not necessarily talking about you, but rather about a large number, perhaps even a majority, of people in our culture today.
Weakness – In our time of spiritual starvation, a great moral weakness is evident. Self-control in the realm of sexuality and self-discipline in general seem increasingly lacking in our culture today. Many are too weak to keep the commitments they have made to marriage, religious life, or the priesthood. Addiction is a significant issue as well: addiction to alcohol, drugs, and pornography. In addition, we seem consumed by greed; we are obsessed with accumulating possessions, and the more we have the more we seem unable to live without them. Increasingly, people declare that they are not responsible for what they do and/or cannot help themselves. There is a general attitude that it is unreasonable to expect people to live out ordinary biblical morality, to have to suffer or endure the cross. All of these demonstrate weakness and a lack of courage, signaling the onset of spiritual starvation.
Confusion – As spiritual starvation sets in, the mind gets cloudy; thinking becomes distorted. There is a lot of confusion today about even the most basic moral issues. How could we get so confused as to think that killing unborn babies is OK? Sexual confusion is also rampant, so that what is contrary to nature (e.g., homosexual acts) is approved and what is destructive to the family (e.g., illicit heterosexual behavior) is widely accepted as well. Confusion is also deep about how to properly and effectively raise, train, discipline, and educate our children.
Irritability – As spiritual starvation progresses, a great deal of anger is directed at the Church whenever she addresses the malaise of our times. In addition, there is growing resistance to lawful authority and a loss of respect for elders and for tradition. St. Paul describes well the general irritability of a culture that has suppressed the truth about God and is spiritually starving: They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy (Romans 1:29-31). Because we are starved of the common meal of God’s Word and revealed truth and because we have rejected natural law, we have been reduced to shouting matches and power struggles. We no longer agree on the essentials that the “food” of God’s truth provides. Having refused this sustenance, we have become irritable and strident.
Immune deficiency – As our spiritual starvation grows we cannot ward off the increasing attacks of the disease of sin. We more easily give way to temptation. Deeper and deeper bondage is increasingly evident in our sin-soaked culture. Things once thought to be indecent are now done openly and even celebrated. Many consider any suggested resistance to sin to be unreasonable, even impossible. Sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, abortion, the consumption of internet pornography, divorce, and cohabitation are becoming widespread. Like disease, sin spreads because we are less capable of fighting it off.
The body begins to feed on its own muscle tissue (after fat cells are depleted) – In our spiritual starvation, we start to feed on our very own. We kill our children inutero; we use embryos for research. We euthanize our elderly. Young people kill other young people in gang violence. We see strife, power struggles, and wars increase. In tight economic times, we who have depleted the fat cells of public funds and amassed enormous debt fight with one another over the scraps that are left and refuse to give up any of our own entitlements, instead of restraining our spending and re-examining our priorities. Starving people can be desperate, and desperate people often turn on others. In the end, we as a body are consuming our very self.
Internal organs begin to shut down – In the spiritually starving Western world, many of our institutions are becoming dysfunctional and shutting down. Our families are in the throes of a major crisis. Almost of half of all children today no longer live with both parents. Schools are in serious decline. Most public-school systems have been a disgrace for years. America, once at the top of worldwide academic performance, now lags far behind. Churches and parochial schools also struggle as Mass attendance has dropped in the self-inflicted spiritual starvation of our times. Government, too, is becoming increasingly dysfunctional; strident differences paralyze it, and scandals plague the public sector. As we go through the stages of starvation, important organs of our culture and our nation are shutting down.
Hallucinations – St. Paul spoke of the spiritually starved Gentiles of his day and said, their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools … Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:21-22,28). As we in the West spiritually starve, our thinking becomes increasingly bizarre, distorted, fanciful, silly, vain, and often lacking in common sense. Since our soul is starving, we hallucinate.
Convulsions and muscle spasms – Violence and turmoil run through our culture as basic social structures shut down and become dysfunctional. The breakdown of the family leads to many confused, incorrigible, and violent children. This is not just in the inner cities; violence, shootings, and gangs are in the suburbs as well. Even non-violent children have short attention spans and are often difficult to control and discipline. Although ADHD may well be over-diagnosed, overstimulated children with short attention spans are a real problem today. Adults, too, manifest a lot of convulsive and spasmodic behaviors, short attention spans, and mercurial temperaments. As we reach the advanced stages of spiritual starvation in our culture, convulsive and spasmodic behavior are an increasing problem.
Irregular heartbeat – In the spiritually starving West, it is not as though we lack all goodness. Our heart still beats, but it is irregular and inconsistent. We can manifest great compassion when natural disasters strike, yet still be coarse and insensitive at other times. We seem to have a concern for the poor, but abort our babies and advocate killing our sick elderly. Our starving culture’s heartbeat is irregular and inconsistent, another sign of spiritual starvation.
Sleepy, comatose state – Our starving culture is sleepy and often unreflective. The progress of our terrible fall eludes many, who seem oblivious to the symptoms of our spiritual starvation. St Paul says, So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled (1 Thes 5:6). He also says, And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11). Jesus speaks of the starvation that leads to sleepiness in this way: Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap (Luke 21:34).
Death – Spiritual death is the final result of starvation. We become dead in our sins. Pope Francis remarked that the lights are going out in Europe. As Europe has forsaken its spiritual heritage and embarked upon a self-imposed spiritual starvation, its birthrates have declined steeply. It is quite possible that during the lifetime of some of the younger readers of this post, Europe as we have known it will cease to exist. Western liberal democracies that have starved themselves to death will be replaced by Muslim theocratic states. This is what happens when we starve ourselves: death eventually comes. America’s fate is less obvious. There are many on a spiritual starvation diet, but also many who still believe; there are signs of revival in the Church here. Pray God that the reversal will continue! Pray, too, that it is not too late for Europe.
Thus, while we know little of physical starvation in the affluent West, spiritual starvation and its symptoms are manifest. Be well-fed spiritually! Spiritual starvation is an awful thing; it is the worst thing.
This post has been a bit heavy, so I hope you won’t mind if I inject a little humor in the form of the video below. Though humorous, it makes an important point: you’re not you when you’re hungry. Spiritual starvation can rob us of our identity as joyful children of God, meant to be fully alive and fully functioning. Ultimately, we are meant to be Christ, to become what we eat in Holy Communion. When we do not eat, we are “not ourselves.” This video is trying sell Snickers bars, but please understand that I am talking about Jesus. If you’re hungry, you’re not yourself.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus gives a penetrating analysis of the state of the sinner and some very sobering advice to us would-be saints. Let’s look at the Gospel in two stages:
I. ANALYSIS OF THE SINNER – In the opening lines of the Gospel, Jesus describes a sinful steward.
DELUSION (of the sinner) –Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward …”
Notice that the man is referred to as a steward rather than an owner. God is the owner of everything; we are but stewards. A steward must deal with the goods of another according to that person’s will. We may have ownership in relation to other human beings, but before God we own nothing, absolutely nothing.
Part of the essence of sin is behaving as though we are the owner. We develop the arrogant attitude that what we have is ours to do with as we please: “It’s mine; I can do what I want with it.” “It’s my body, and I can do with it as I please.” But in fact, everything belongs to God.
Scripture affirms,The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Ps. 24:1). Even of our bodies, which we like to think of as our own, Scripture says, You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19). There’s a song that says, “God and God alone created all these things we call our own. From the mighty to the small, the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone.” The Lord compares the sinner to a steward who acts as if he were the owner.
DISSIPATION (of the sinner) – “… who was reported to him for squandering his property.”
The Lord here describes the essence of many of our sins: we squander His gifts. We waste the gifts we have received and use them for sinful ends.
For example, in greed we hoard the gifts He gave us. Instead of using them to help others, as God intended, we store them up for ourselves. Yet all the goods of the world belong to all the people of the world, and they ought to be shared to the extent that we are able.
Other examples of squandering the things of God are these: in gossip, lying, and cursing, wherein we misuse the gift of speech; in laziness, wherein we misuse the gift of time; in all sin, wherein we abuse the gift of our freedom. This is the dissipation, the squandering, of God’s goods.
God has given us many good things, but instead of using them to build the Kingdom, we squander them and dissipate it.
DEATH (of the sinner) – “He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’”
Here the Lord reminds us that someday our stewardship will end, and we will be called to account. Scripture reminds us, So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body (2 Cor 5:9).
We have an appointed time to exercise our stewardship, but at some point, our stewardship will end, and the books will be opened. Scripture says, And books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (Rev 20:11).
Although many pay little heed to the fact of judgment, Scripture warns,Say not, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” For the Lord bides his time. Of forgiveness be not over-confident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, “Great is his mercy, my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger are alike with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath. Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day. For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed (Sirach 5:4).
Every steward (each of us) will die. Our stewardship will end and we will be called to render an account. Therefore, we ought to listen to the Lord’s advice.
II. ADVICE TO THE SAINTS – After analyzing the sinner, the Lord has some advice for those of us sinners who want to be saints. He lays out four principles we ought to follow:
1. Principle of INTENSITY – The text says, the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting shrewdly. For the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
The Lord is telling us here that many of the worldly are craftier in what matters to them than are the spiritually minded in what (supposedly) matters to them.
Many people are dedicated and intense in worldly matters. They spend years in college, preparing for their career. They work hard to climb the company ladder. They develop (worldly) skills and become knowledgeable in their profession. In earning money and holding down a job, many display great discipline: getting up early to go to work, working late, going the extra mile to please the boss.
When it comes to faith, however, many of these same people display only a rudimentary knowledge of things spiritual and show little interest in praying or advancing in the faith. They will expend effort to please the boss, to please other people, but not to please God. Parents will fight for scholarships for their children to get into the “best” schools but not quite so dedicated to ensuring they learn the saving truth; the pews are empty, and Sunday School is poorly attended.
The Lord says to us here that the spiritually minded ought to show the same intensity, organization, dedication, and craftiness that the worldly show in their pursuits. We ought to be zealous for the truth, for prayer, and for opportunities to sharpen our spiritual skills and increase our holiness. We ought to be as zealous to be rich in grace as we are to be rich in money.
2. Principle of INVESTMENT – I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The Lord tells of how the dishonest steward made use of the money at his disposal to make friends who would help him in the next stage of his life. How about us? Are we willing to use our money and resources to bless others (especially the poor, who can bless us in the next stage of our life)?
On the day of your judgment, will the poor and needy be able to speak up on your behalf? Will they be among the angels and saints who welcome you to eternal dwellings? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to want the poor to pray and to speak to God on my behalf! Scripture says that the Lord hears the cry of the poor and needy. In this world, the poor need us but in the next world we’re going to need them. In this world, those with money and power are heard; in the Kingdom, it’s the poor and suffering who are heard. It’s a wise investment to bless the poor and needy.
In effect, the Lord Jesus tells us to be wise in our use of worldly wealth. The world tells us to take our money and invest it so that it will reap future rewards; so too does the Lord. How? By storing our wealth up in Heaven. And how do we do that? By giving it away! Then it will really be ours.
You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. Scripture elaborates on this idea: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Tim 6:17). Notice that the passage says that through their generosity in this world, the rich store up treasure for themselves in Heaven.
This is the scriptural principle and the great paradox in the Kingdom of God: we keep something for eternity only by giving it away. We save our life by losing it. By giving away our treasure, we keep it and store it in Heaven.
So, invest, my friends. Invest wisely!Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt 6:20).
3. Principle of INCREASE – The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?
What is the “small matter” of which the Lord speaks and in which we can prove trustworthy? The small matter is money. Most people make money the most important thing in life, but spiritual matters are far more important.
Scripture attests to this clearly. The Book of 1st Peter says that our faith is more precious than fire-tried gold. The Book of Psalms (19:10) says, The words of the Lord are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
So, God says, let’s see how you are in the small but significant matter of money;then I’ll decide if you’re able to able to handle bigger blessings. Do you think you can handle Heaven and the spiritual blessings of holiness? If you’re trustworthy with worldly wealth, God will give you true wealth. If you’re trustworthy in what belongs to God, He’ll give one day what is yours.
Do you want more? Then use well what you’ve already received. Only then will God know that He can trust you with more. There’s a gospel song that says, “You must be faithful over a few things to be ruler over many things. Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life.”
4. Principle of INDIVISIBILITY – No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.
Pay attention! To serve means to obey. Most people obey money and affluence; they worship a high standard of living before they obey God. They meet their world obligations first and then give God what is left over.
We are called to obey God alone, to have an undivided heart. The wording here is strong. You cannot obey the world (money) and think that you’re also going to obey God. You must choose which will be more important.
Now don’t tell me we don’t need a lot of grace and mercy! Money and the lure of the world are very powerful. It’s time to get on our knees and pray for the miracle of preferring God to the world.
There is a saying that you cannot steal from a man who has nothing, and you cannot threaten a man who has nothing to lose. Of Jesus, the Son of Man who had no where to lay his head (Matt 8:20), this was surely true. The world had no claim on him, nothing to hook him or claim his loyalty. Even his life could not be taken from him for he had already laid it down freely (cf Jn 10:18).
St. John Chrysostom spoke of it boldly in a sermon that paints well the paradoxical freedom of poverty and the enslavement of riches and possessions. More on that in a moment…
But first, consider that the heart of the slavery most of us experience comes from our attachments to this world. So easily do we sell our souls to its allurements; so easily does the world ensnare us with its empty promises and trinkets that so quickly become duties, distractions, and requirements. In our heart, we know how the things of the world weigh us down. But even knowing this, our addiction to things draws us further into the endless cycle of ever-deepening desires and the increasing inability to live without many burdensome things.
And it isn’t just things. The world hooks us with the mesmerizing promise of popularity, promotion, even fame. And in our desperate addiction to being popular, we come too easily to the point that we will do almost anything and make almost any compromise for popularity and advancement.
Jesus says, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24).
Scripture elsewhere says,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15).
Adulterers! Do you not know that the love of this world is hatred toward God? Therefore whoever chooses to be a friend of this world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).
But in the end, most of our slavery and anxiety is rooted in our love for this world and our fear of losing its pleasures, and its promises of power and popularity. It is without doubt the greatest of human struggles to get free from this world’s hooks and shackles and to become utterly free—free to follow the Lord unreservedly and with no fear of what the world might do in retaliation.
In one of his sermons, St. John Chrysostom describes well the human being who is utterly free. It is a magnificent portrait, and one he was largely able to exhibit not merely by his words but by his very life.
Born in 344 at Antioch, he became a young man very much admired for his brilliance and oratorical skills. In 374 he fled to the mountains to live quietly and to break the hold that the world had on him. After six years of “holy silence,” he worked quietly as a priest. But in 398, he was summoned to be bishop of Constantinople. He was beloved for his powerful capacity to preach and received the name “Chrysostom” (Golden mouth). Yet not all appreciated the freedom with which he preached, a freedom that led him to denounce vice openly, no matter who was doing it. He was exiled twice (in 403 and 407) by powerful enemies. And though his enemies tried to break his spirit and rob him of his joy, they could not prevail. Although he died on his way to his final exile (during a miserable journey in terrible weather), he died with joy, saying, “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”
The world could not prevail over him; he did not fear it, for he owned nothing of it, and owed nothing to it. It had no hold on him.
And thus speaking not only from Scripture but from experience as he was being led into exile, St. John Chrysostom said,
The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence …
Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!
If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web … For I always say: Lord, your will be done; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful …
For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people (Ante exsilium, nn. 1-3).
Here is freedom. You cannot steal from a man who owns nothing, and you cannot threaten a man who has nothing to lose; you cannot deprive a man who has Jesus Christ.
The three parables in this Sunday’s lengthy Gospel challenge conventional thinking. They describe people doing things that we most likely would not do. All three of them – especially the first two – seem crazy. Who would ever do what the shepherd of the lost sheep does or what the woman with the lost coin does? Probably no one. Likewise, the father in the Prodigal Son parable breaks all the rules of “tough love.” His forgiveness has an almost reckless quality to it. No father in Jesus’ time would ever have tolerated such insolence from his sons. So all three of these parables, on one level, are just plain crazy.
But that is one of the fundamental points Jesus seems to be making here: The Heavenly Father’s love for us is just plain “crazy.” By that I do not mean that it is irrational but that it stretches the limits of human thinking.
I also intend no irreverence in my use of the word “crazy.” Please permit me a bit of hyperbole in trying to describe the astonishing quality of God’s love and mercy. Permit, too, my stepping away from the normal interpretation of these parables. The typical approach is to try to make sense of them through certain presumptions, but I wonder if that approach does not miss the Lord’s truer intent: presenting His love for us as mysterious and to some degree unexplainable in human terms. Who really understands unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy? His grace is “amazing” in that it goes completely beyond our ability to comprehend. It transcends human concepts. Thank God! If He were like us, we’d all be in trouble; frankly, we’d all be in Hell.
Let’s look at each parable in turn. (The Gospel is too lengthy to reproduce in this post; you can read the entirety of it here: Luke 15.)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep – The Lord speaks of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to search for one that is lost. Would a shepherd do this? Probably not! The passage drips with irony, even absurdity. If he knew the lost sheep were nearby, a shepherd might venture over the next hill, but it would be more likely that he would cut his losses and stay with the ninety-nine. Some of us might even consider it irresponsible to leave the ninety-nine to search for the one.
Many scholars and Church Fathers believe that the “ninety-nine” refers to the angels the Lord left in Heaven and the one lost sheep refers to us. Yet, if that be the case then why does the Lord describe the shepherd as leaving the ninety-nine “in the desert”? There are many other theories as well, but I wonder if they all do not miss the point: God’s love is extravagant, personal, and puzzling. In the end, it would seem that God loves us for “no good reason.” He seems to love us even more when we stray. He intensifies His focus on the one who strays. To us this is not only crazy, it is dangerous—possibly enabling. God’s love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t try to analyze it too much. Just be astonished; be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves us is crazy, unexplainable.
The Parable of the Lost Coin– A woman loses a drachma. It’s a small coin, worth perhaps a day’s wages for an agricultural worker. In modern terms it would equate to less than $100. It’s not an insignificant amount, but it’s not a huge amount, either. Some speculate that it was a special coin, perhaps one from her wedding headdress, but the parable does not say that. At any rate, she sweeps the floor diligently looking for it, a reasonable reaction. I’d probably look around a while for a missing $100 bill!
Things get crazy, though, when she finds it. She rejoices to such an extent that she spends most (if not all) of it on a party celebrating its recovery! Crazy!
That is exactly the point. God doesn’t count the cost. He doesn’t weigh His love for us in terms of whether or not it is “worth it.” Some commentators try to explain the craziness away by suggesting that perhaps the coin had sentimental value, but trying to make sense of it may well miss the point.
This woman is crazy because God is “crazy.” His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t try to analyze it too much. Just be astonished; be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves us is crazy, unexplainable.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son – A young man, entitled by law to a third of his father’s estate, essentially tells his father to “drop dead.” He wants his inheritance now and the old man isn’t dying quickly enough. Incredibly, the father gives it to him!
Crazy! The father is a nobleman (land owner) and could hand his son over for serious punishment for such dishonor. Inheritance in hand, the son leaves his father and goes off to “a distant land,” where he sinks so low that he ends up envying pigs. He comes to his senses and returns to his father, daring only to hope to become one of his father’s hired workers.
Then it gets even crazier! The father sees his son from a long way off (meaning that he was looking for him), and then does something a nobleman would never do: he runs. Running was considered beneath the dignity of a nobleman because it would imply that he was either a slave on an errand or a fugitive. Further, in order for a man to run in the ancient world, he first had to “hike up” his long flowing robe. Otherwise, his legs would get tangled up in the garment and he would likely trip and fall. For a nobleman to show his legs was considered an indignity.
Do you get the picture? This nobleman, this father, is debasing himself, humbling himself. He is running and his legs are showing. This is crazy! Do you know what this son has done? Does he deserve this humble love? No! The father is crazy!
Exactly! The heavenly Father is “crazy” too. He actually loves us and humbles Himself for us. He even sent His own Son for us. Do we understand what we have done? Do we deserve this? No! It’s crazy!
The second son is also a handful. When he hears of the party being given for his wayward brother, he refuses to come in. Again, it would have been unthinkable in the ancient world for a son to refuse to come when summoned by his father. And what does the father do? He comes out and pleads with him to enter!
Again, it’s crazy! It’s unthinkable. No father in the ancient world would ever have permitted his son to speak to him in this way. The son basically calls him a slave-driver who issues orders; he refuses to enter the party that his father is hosting, saying that he’d rather celebrate with his friends than with his father. But—pay attention here—our goal in life is not celebrate with our friends; it is to celebrate with the Father in Heaven.
This father is crazy. He is crazy because God the Father is crazy. Do you know what it means to refuse to do what God says? Yet we do it every time we sin! Our heavenly Father should not have to tolerate this. He is God and we are His creatures. If He wanted to, He could squash us like bugs! But He does not. The father in this parable is almost “dangerously” merciful. Shouldn’t his sons be taught a lesson? Shouldn’t he punish them both for their insolence? All our human thinking kicks in when we hear this parable.
But God is God, not man. There are other Scriptures that speak of God’s punishments, but in the end, none of us get what we really deserve. Jesus’ point in this parable is that God is merciful, and His love is crazy; it makes no human sense. His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t try to analyze it too much. Just be astonished; be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves us is crazy, unexplainable.