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Jesus Loves Women

Posted on 23 October 2016 by patmarrin

Author’s Note: Beginning today, Sunday, Oct 23, Pencil Preaching will post a day ahead of the calendar to accommodate preachers who have requested this to provide suggestions for their daily homilies. Readers can always find the thought for the day by scrolling down to the previous entry. Thanks to those who find these short reflections helpful. I encourage anyone to make the daily readings their way to enter the prayer of the global church by reading and praying over the Lectionary being proclaimed around the world each day in the liturgy.

Pencil Preaching for Monday, Oct 24, 2016

"The crowds rejoiced at all the marvelous deeds Jesus was doing" (Luke 13:17).

Much focus has been given recently to the issue of respect for women. Men have been challenged to examine their stereotypes and attitudes toward women's bodies. The larger culture, which continues to objectify and denigrate female beauty in sexually suggestive advertising and Internet porn, is being called out. Basic questions about fairness in women's compensation, healthcare research and social roles are on the table.

In today's Gospel, a crippled woman us healed, and a synagogue official scolds Jesus for violating the law about "working" on the Sabbath. The scene is familiar as one of many "tests" Jesus' enemies set up to discredit him. In another story, a woman caught in adultery is paraded before Jesus to see if he will oppose the law about stoning sinners. The Sadducees cynically test Jesus about a woman married to seven brothers to challenge the idea of resurrection.

In each instance, the women are used as objects by men with disregard for their personal welfare or identity. But in each instance, Jesus addresses the women as persons and acts to protect their dignity. In today's gospel, he calls the crippled woman a "daughter of Abraham" before restoring her to health. Her 18 years of bondage suggests an even deeper lesson, that since Abraham was called 18 centuries before, no legal requirement had ever saved anyone. Only grace can liberate, as he is doing that day in the synagogue by liberating the woman from the burden of the law by loving her.

We are all called to give love the first place in our lives and our expectations of one another. Love fulfills every law and sets us free. This is the joy of the Gospel.

Mercy Welcomes Us All

Posted on 22 October 2016 by patmarrin

“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else” (Luke18:9).

As the Year of Mercy draws to a close, we might ask just what Pope Francis hoped would happen to the church. His signature message about God’s mercy permeates every other message he has advanced: The recovery of the joy of the Gospel; the primacy of love in promoting morality; a more pastoral approach to people struggling with the church’s ideals; greater humility on the part of clergy; parishes as field hospitals freely dispensing the “medicine of mercy”; evangelization that goes to the margins, where suffering and uncertainty are the greatest.

Mercy places all of us before God -- including the pope himself -- as sinners. We are simply incapable by our own merits of "earning" the gift of salvation. The self-righteous and those who judge others have not begun to understand what God wants of them. Standing apart from other people, we separate ourselves from God. Only when we realize that, even if we have done everything perfectly, we cannot claim eternal life with God as a reward, only then can we grasp the reality of hesed, God’s unconditional and undeserved love for us, mere creatures totally dependent on God for everything, including our virtue and our very existence.

This is what the pope wants all of us to understand and live. God’s utter graciousness to us has to be passed on to others. No one is in a superior position to judge another. No one can lord it over others or set conditions for God’s mercy. All are welcome. Jesus seeks out sinners and eats with them. The Good Shepherd goes looking for lost sheep. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. All of his hand-picked Apostles were failures, losers and sinners who underwent conversion to find mercy.

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican capture this message perfectly. A proud, self-righteous perfectionist goes home clueless and untouched by mercy. A notorious sinner begging for grace goes home justified. We can easily apply these caricatures to people we know, even politicians, but there is a trap in the story we should not fall into.

As with many other parables Jesus told comparing saints and sinners, the catch is that we are all both. Humility is the key to grasping this. If we are living a good life, it is because of mercy. If we are in need of conversion, mercy is always available and necessary. No one can judge another. We are all in this together, pilgrims on the way to God because God has called us and is sustaining us on the way.

Author’s Note: Beginning tomorrow, Sunday, Oct 23, Pencil Preaching will post a day ahead of the calendar to accommodate preachers who have requested this to provide suggestions for their daily homilies. Readers can always find the thought for the day by scrolling down to the previous entry. Thanks to those who find these short reflections helpful. I encourage anyone to make the daily readings their way to enter the prayer of the global church by reading and praying over the Lectionary being proclaimed around the world each day in the liturgy.

Reconcile Now, Free Yourself

Posted on 21 October 2016 by patmarrin

"I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny" (Luke 12:59).

Jesus was a preacher and not a therapist, but the imagery he uses in describing the need for reconciliation shows his deep understanding of how forgiveness sets us free.

"Settle early and quickly" is his first lesson. Arguments allowed to simmer and sink into our hurt feelings and pride are much harder to resolve if we let them continue over night. "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" is a wise counsel, especially for married couples. A simple heartfelt apology can open up a conversation that clears the air, while withdrawing into separate camps to review our grievance and rehearse our comeback only guarantees that the problem will grow and attach itself to every other perceived hurt in the relationship.

Jesus describes the process in legal terms. If we decide to litigate, the case will go to the lawyers, then to the judge, and someone will go to jail. His last detail is truly descriptive. "You will not be released until the last penny is paid." Reconciliation is not achieved until the issue is settled totally. So deal with one another early and thoroughly. Reconciliation sets both participants free. The relationship is saved and can go forward.

If there is some unresolved conflict in your life, today is the day of salvation. A letter, email, phone call or, even better, a face to face conversation with someone who has hurt you or you have hurt can open the door to a renewed life and a liberated conscience. God will always give the graces needed to accomplish this. All that is needed is the decision to initiate.

Baptismal Transformation

Posted on 20 October 2016 by patmarrin

"There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished" (Luke 12:50).

The long election campaign leading up to November 8 in the United States is about more than political leadership. Profound cultural changes are exposing conflicts that go to the level of ideas, attitudes and assumptions about who will control the identity and direction of the country. People will vote more than their pocketbooks or patriotism; they will be voting their deepest beliefs and values, their darkest fears and prejudices, in a battle for the future that touches the roots of class, religion, race and ideology.

In today's gospel, Jesus describes the Good News as a revolution requiring a "baptism of fire" he and his followers would have to undergo to begin the transformation of human history itself. Another image he often used was childbirth. The world was pregnant with God's Will, and only in anguish and pain would a new creation be born. Powerful forces were being marshaled against him and the conversion he preached. The status quo of money and power, tribal and family loyalty, religious control and imperial designs masking Satanic resistance were at work deep within the culture.

Luke's gospel describes the generational divide and family conflicts that had opened up as the fledgling church drew converts from Jewish enclaves and from the gentile world. Parents disowned their children, conservatives blamed the new radicals for disrupting the community and destroying traditional values. The followers of Jesus were heretics who brought Roman persecution. Paul was demonized for dividing the Jerusalem church and trashing Mosaic Law. Diversity was polluting the purity of blood and ideology of the First Covenant community. For some, the rise of the church signaled the end of the world.

For us today, baptism must go beyond ritual to the reality of embracing a unique perspective and total commitment to "put on Christ" in a way that changes us from the inside out. Radical discipleship is redundant. Every baptized person is a new creation, like leaven within society and culture, ready to advance the transformation that is the goal of evangelization.

The Holy Spirit is the new life that invites us to take a deep breath and go forward each day.
Our baptism of fire and rebirth in hope is a daily affair, undertaken with courage and joy.

Get Up, Show Up, Do Your Best

Posted on 19 October 2016 by patmarrin

"To whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48).

We might apply Luke's parable of the steward in charge of the household to any church organization from diocese to parish. No doubt, Luke was writing for the early church as much as recalling Jesus' instructions to his Apostles 50 years earlier.

The early church had survived the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the great diaspora of both Jews and Christians into the Mediterranean world as far away as north Africa and Rome. Expectation of the parousia-- the return of Jesus in glory-- was in the air but slowly subsiding as church leaders realized that Jesus' Holy Spirit was at work in history for the long haul.

Yet, the image of a "thief in the night" still warned church leaders to be vigilant. Jesus could come at any time, and those stewards who were taking their ease and abusing others would be held accountable. We catch glimpses of the culture of household servants (slaves) who were regularly beaten by their masters. It is hardly an antiquated example for today's world, proficient in exploiting workers and trafficking women and children.

For Luke, quoting Jesus, the point was that for those of us blessed by grace to focus our lives on Christ, vigilance is how we stay faithful in every season. Whether in crisis or in the long stretches of ordinary responsibility, do your duty, stay the course, know that God is always watching. The evil of the day is sufficient thereof, as are the blessings. Those who have been entrusted with more will be held to a higher standard. So live each day fully and do your best.


Harvest Time

Posted on 18 October 2016 by patmarrin

"The harvest time is abundant but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvet to send out laborers for the harvest" (Luke 10:2).

We could not have a better reading than this for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. The seed of hope sown by Jesus -- his own body surrendered in death for the life of the world -- was what Luke and the other evangelists also scattered. Luke's Gospel has produced new harvests in every generation. To read and accept his narrative and parables is to imagine in faith God's plan of salvation for the world.

We are today both seed and sowers. If we give our lives to show the power of grace to transform everyone with love and peace, we are contributing to the next generation's harvest, even as we received our faith from our forbears and mentors. So the work of evangelization continues, ever expanding and taking root in our families, our culture and our society.

Luke's Gospel is often called the gospel of women, healing and mercy. He portrays the Jesus formed from infancy by Joseph and Mary, then by the many women he called to be evangelists with him. Luke extends the story of Jesus into the growth of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, which shows how the church did everything Jesus had done under the power of the Holy Spirit.

We celebrate Luke by imitating him. There is a "gospel according to [your name]" that only you can write and preach. Every act you perform is the sowing of another seed by another apostle. If we sow generously, others will reap abundantly. Our self-emptying love promotes the life-giving love of the next generation. Is this not the joy of the Gospel, to be a part of this ongoing harvest? Let us do out part, and God will send forth other laborers to multiply the good we do in union with Christ, for the salvation of the world.


You Go, Girl!

Posted on 15 October 2016 by patmarrin

“Render me a just decision” (Luke 18:3).

Luke is often identified as the evangelist for women, and today’s gospel reading gives us a good example of his sensitive support for women’s issues.

In Jesus’ day, judges were enormously powerful figures who could rule on both religious and civil disputes. A corrupt judge was a scourge upon the society and a disgrace before God and the people he was supposed to serve. In the parable Jesus tells, the judge was haughty, biased, and unjust, serving his own interests and the needs of those he favored while disregarding the rights of the poor.

You could not be poorer or more vulnerable than a widow, lacking wealth or family, husband or son to represent your cause. Yet, because of her persistence, this widow wore down the unjust judge until she got her ruling.

The parable has two purposes: Jesus uses her example to urge anyone discouraged by life’s injustices to persist in prayer. After all, God, the ultimate judge, unlike the corrupt judge in the story, was eager to help the most vulnerable. But we should not miss the scathing attack on a corrupt legal system or his rebuke of the hypocrisy of religious leaders,

Jesus was on a collision course with power that would cost him his life. He goes to the cross for defending the poor, widows and orphans, outcasts and sinners. And women. The women he knew responded to his defense of their rights and dignity by being the ones who stood by him at the cross. He blessed them in return by making them the first witnesses to his resurrection.

Jesus stands with women today against anyone who would insult, abuse or threaten them. Their endurance, persistence and prayer will not go unanswered by the God Jesus revealed. That God, beyond male or female, is both Father and Mother to all of us, but especially to those the world has exploited and discounted. We are invited to pray for justice, and to persist against every obstacle or prejudice until those who oppress others are exposed and overthrown.

Showtime for Sparrows

Posted on 14 October 2016 by patmarrin

"There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed" (Luke 12:3).

Reality is more real than a reality show, and truth endures and surfaces eventually, despite every effort to keep lies and illusions going. History teaches this lesson over and over again. The Truth will out. Imposters and hypocrites, no matter how hard they try to conceal their motives, will be exposed. The "big" lies, hiding like coiled, poisonous snakes in the layers of culture and protected by powerful interests, wither and die in the light of truth.

Jesus dares to call out the hypocrites and the powerful of his time. The crowds surge to hear such bold talk. His message is the the cry of the poor and the oppressed of history. His promise is the same promise his mother sang of in her Magnificat before he was born. The powerful will be pulled from their thrones, the rich and self-satisfied will be sent away empty while God's anawim will celebrate at the banquet of love.

For exposing the nerve of complicity between wealth and power, Jesus faced the fury of this world and died on a cross as a warning to other truth-tellers. But he rose again and reappears in every voice and movement for truth and justice, an unstoppable force on the side of good, affirming that reality as stronger than fantasy and that God is in control of history.

Jesus ends his indictment of hypocrisy with a word of comfort for those discouraged by what they see as the triumph of evil in the world. "Don't be afraid. If God watches over the sparrows, the smallest of birds, will God not care for you?" We are like tiny sparrows, lifted up against threatening skies and gathering storms. But God sees us and will never stop loving us. This is the joy of the Gospel.



Posted on 13 October 2016 by patmarrin

"They were plotting to catch Jesus at something he might say" (Luke 11:54).

As the U.S. elections come down to the wire, the media are flooded with attack ads depicting the candidates in the worst possible light for everything negative or questionable they have ever said or done. The presidential contest has become a race to the bottom to unearth the most lurid scandal or criminal charge imaginable to persuade or scare voters from supporting either candidate.

Political historians can assure you that this is nothing new, but today's social media and web reporting have accelerated and saturated global attention with 24-7 coverage of every skirmish or disclosure, whatever its actual merits or motivation.

Luke's gospel today tells us that Jesus was subjected to this kind of vicious scrutiny in his stand-off with the religious leaders of his day. They tried to undermine his reputation, declare him a heretic, bring down Roman power on his head and even divide his movement with secret plots to betray, arrest and execute him.

What brought the gentle, patient Jesus we know from so many gospel stories to this level of indignation and counter attack? Jesus reserves his sharpest rebukes for leaders he saw as hypocrites, those who said one thing and did another, who used their positions to mislead others and who, in effect, were blocking access to God's mercy by ordinary people who looked to them for guidance and compassion. "You hold the keys, but do not enter and keep others from entering!" he says to those who were using legalism and theological confusion to condemn others in need of God's mercy.

The doors are open and the light is on for anyone looking for God. This is the joy of the Gospel, and no authority on earth can prevent people from encountering the loving face of God in time of need, failure and sin. There are no toll gates or moral checkpoints that can keep people from forgiveness and union with the merciful Abba Jesus revealed in himself and in his preaching. He gave his life on the cross that we might have the gift of eternal life.

It is always darkest before the dawn, so let us walk forward together into the light, saint and sinner, winner and loser, whole and broken. All are welcome. God calls us friends and waits to embrace us at the door to eternity.



Posted on 12 October 2016 by patmarrin

"You are like unseen graves over which people walk unknowingly" (Luke 11:44).

Jesus reservef his harshest criticism for religious leaders who misled and exploited the people they were supposed to be guiding. He called them "hypocrites," a Greek word meaning one who wears a mask. They appeared to be upright and caring, but underneath were self-serving and blinded by their own sense of importance. They killed the Spirit of God within themselves, and were therefore like dead men's graves, whitewashed on the surface but containing corruption and skeletons. They kept the small rules but failed to obey the greatest commandment to love.

Jesus' greatest indictment was that these so-called moral guides had piled rules and scruples on the shoulders of struggling people, but had done nothing to help them.

St. Paul tells the Galatians that integrity rests on which spirit you exhibit. Whatever we appear to be, what reveals our true character is who we are inside. He contrasts the qualities of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, patience, gentleness, self-control, with the enslavement of others who indulge in rancor, envy, jealously, divisiveness, impurity and selfishness.

Jesus has said that God will give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks for it. We must pray for the Spirit, but then be ready to surrender our entire lives, inside and out, to that Spirit, for holiness is wholeness. There can be no half measure or compromise in our desire to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit. But this is the path to joy, peace and love. What more can we want out of life than this?