“If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent” (Luke 16:30).
A visit to “Operation Uplift” in Kansas City, a ministry that takes food, clothing and hygiene items to the homeless in Kansas City, was a quick reminder just how poverty and wealth live side by side in most of our large American cities. Street survivors living under bridges and in other out of the way places beneath the safety net get help without conditions or judgment,
As gentrification and neighborhood associations expand into neglected urban areas, they often oppose such services as only enabling the poor they say would either seek help or “go away” if not supported. They say, "We support your good work, but not in our neighborhood." The volunteers who take vans with meals and resources to the hardcore homeless have heard the arguments, but also know the realities -- addiction, trauma, racial disparity, mental illness and stubborn pride -- that keep people at the edges of the system, and that many will die without assistance, especially in winter.
Luke’s parable of Lazarus and Dives places the dilemma of blind wealth and invisible poverty in an eternal perspective. The rich man neglects a poor man at his doorstep, and only after his death does he realize that he was a brother he could have helped. Their roles are reversed as Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man finds himself in hell. The gap of neglect he created between his wealth and poverty around him is made permanent in the afterlife. Seeing his fate, the rich man asks Abraham to send a messenger back from the dead to warn his five brothers. If they have neglected the Law that made clear their obligation to the poor, Abraham says, they will not listen even if someone should rise from the dead.
Jesus himself will be that rejected and risen figure who makes clear that religion is meaningless without caring for the least of our brothers and sisters in this world. Jesus will identify himself with the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned in another parable of judgment in Matthew 25. How many times have the Operation Uplift volunteers been the only help Jesus has received at the margins of our prosperous city?
The problems involved in this parable are complex and challenging. But the burden of conscience the victims of poverty present in every age and society continue to disturb our sleep and our need for secure, comfortable lives. As churches gather this weekend to worship God, they bring this disturbance and challenge to the Table of the Eucharist. The uncondtional love we receive from God is meant to pass through us to others. How this happens is the work of grace. Whether this happens depends on our human ingenuity and faith.
NOTE: I will be on the road from Sept 25 through Oct 3, but plan to resume Pencil Preaching on October 4. Thanks for your support and prayers. Pat Marrin
"Who do you say that I am?" (Luke 9:20).
How we answer this questions so central to the gospels will determine everything else. The scene in which Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" is repeated in all three synoptic gospels, and in the fourth gospel, the crucial "I AM" in the question becomes the answer, that Jesus is somehow linked to the divine name revealed to Moses in the burning bush story in the Book of Exodus.
Those who say Jesus was a prophet, a great historical figure, a revolutionary or a social reformer will have only his memory to inspire them. Those who say we cannot really know the real Jesus behind the church's theological interpretation will have a question to explore in books that already fill countless libraries and that has launched thousands of doctoral theses and fueled as many scholarly symposia.
But those who say that Jesus is the Incarnation, the divine Person who shares fully our human nature, the Son of God and the pioneer of our salvation, have a whole different path to follow and commitment to make. They begin with an act of faith that leads to a personal relationship with the risen Christ, alive and active in the world.
The Jesus we celebrate in the liturgy today is asking us the same question he once asked his first disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" If we are bold in faith and ready to accompany him by embracing the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection in our lives, we will share in the mission of love and reconciliation he revealed that day in Caesarea Philippi.
"Herod kept trying to see Jesus" (Luke 9:9),
Today's gospel reading gives us a glimpse of one of the more malevolent actors in the drama of Jesus' life and ministry. Herod Antipas was son of Herod the Great, who ordered the deaths of children in Bethlehem around the time of Jesus' birth. As brutal as his father, Antipas had John the Baptist executed for criticizing his marriage. Deeply paranoid and superstitious, he wondered if Jesus was John risen from the dead.
Luke's phrase, "Herod kept trying to see Jesus," can have two meanings. Herod sought to meet Jesus, which happened when Pilate sent him to the Herodian court before crucifying him. Or it can mean that Herod wanted to understand Jesus in the same way he seemed intrigued by John, who was imprisoned before his execution. When he does finally meets Jesus, Herod only mocked him and used the occasion to curry favor with Pilate.
To really "see" Jesus is to believe in him. The distance between physical sight and spiritual insight is the journey to faith. If someone as evil as Herod could be haunted by Jesus, how much more might we be drawn to him as the mystery of God in history and as our personal invitation to surrender our lives to him?
Life without God can lead to unimaginable confusion, violence and evil -- Herod's witness in the Gospel story. Faith guides us in company with Jesus to find our way to God, no matter how much adversity we encounter in this world. We, too, are actors in the drama of the the unfolding gospel story. May we always be filled with the desire to "see" Jesus in all things.
“Jesus said to Matthew, ‘Follow me,’ and he got up and followed him” (Matt 9:9).
Pope Francis once described the importance to his own conversion of a painting by the Italian artist Carivaggio of Jesus pointing at Matthew in a tavern surrounded by his fellow tax collectors. The scene conveys the power of Jesus looking at someone, seeing what they were but also seeing who they were to become by God’s mercy. The pope chose a Latin phrase describing this merciful look as his papal motto: Miserando atque eligendo (“mercied and chosen”).
We all need this “look of love” to be called forth to become the person we really are in God’s merciful gaze. For our very existence is a matter of being seen and known by God. This is the beacon of reality that guides us through the distortions and false starts that mark our human development toward our divine destiny -- life with God.
Matthew, mired in the sinful lifestyle of a tax collector, someone who conspired with the Roman occupation to extort payment from his own community, is seen and called by Jesus to be an Apostle of mercy, something he himself experiences by being rescued from dissipation and compromise. His conversion is the model for our own. Without the grace of God’s gaze, we cannot find our way or become our true selves.
Isn’t this the Gospel in most intimate terms? We are rescued by love, sent to rescue others by being merciful with them as God is merciful with us. Matthew the evangelist, whom we celebrate today, reminds us that this is the heart of the Christian life --to live in the loving gaze of God, even in our sinfulness, yet constantly called to move forward to realize God’s plan for us.
"Your mother and your brothers are standing outside" (Luke 8:20).
When Pope Francis visited Korea in 2014, he was writing a page in a long and complicated history of Christian expansion into Asia. Today's commemoration of 19th century Koreans martyrs (canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984) is a reminder of how European missionary efforts were perceived as foreign intervention. Over 10,000 Korean Christians were killed at the time during stare-sponsored persecution.
Today's gospel reading reminds us just how radical the early church must have seemed within Jewish and Mediterranean cultures. Luke records that Jesus' family came to where he was preaching to the crowds with the intention of claiming clan authority over him. Jesus rebuffs them when he says. "Who is my mother, who are my brothers? They are the ones who hear God's word and follow it."
Because Christianity emerged as the dominant cultural force in many parts of the world, we can forget how disruptive it must have been to existing networks of tribal and family loyalties, causing divisions within households and between generations. Rome saw the Jesus movement as a threat to their control and launched several waves of persecution to suppress the church.
In today's world, we see continued tension among religious groups as refugee and migrating populations enter established national and cultural enclaves in an increasingly diverse world. While most religions seek compatibility and collaboration on basic goals, extremist and exclusive claims about truth and God can stir up fear and violence.
On this commemoration of the 101 martyrs of Korea, the universal church prays for justice and peace as it preaches the gospel of love and reconciliation. We look for guidance and example of our martyred brothers and sisters, who knew the true cost of discipleship
"There is nothing secret that will not be made known and come to light" (Luke 6:17).
Much has been made in the current U.S. presidential campaign about transparency. Candidates are expected to disclose tax returns and health records, and any hint of relevant information being withheld raises suspicion. Under the glare of the intense media scrutiny and an insatiable public appetite to know everything, no one can survive politically without appearing to be honest and forthcoming.
In today's Gospel, Jesus offers imagery in a form similar to the proverbs in the first reading about the essential transparency of discipleship. Just as a householder lights a lamp to be seen and not hidden, so a disciple is what he or she is, with nothing to hide. In letting our light shine, we are giving glory to God, who is the source of every gift.
This counsel continues with the fact that the truth will be exposed, so any deceit or attempt to hide something will not succeed. Reality is itself a kind of light that permeates everything. What and who we really are will be visible even if we try to hide, so it is better to step out into the light and, in fact, to live in such a way that we have nothing to hide.
Maintaining a false appearance takes energy better used to just being ourselves, living simply, directly and transparently. And not surprisingly, if we live freely as the person we really are and as God sees us, the good news is proclaimed and others are set free to live the same way.
“Prepare a full account of your stewardship” (Luke 16:2).
Jesus knew that people worried about money, and so he used the theme of finances and employment in many of his parables. As a financial adviser, he would not last very long in this world, but this was because his message went beyond this world to transcendent truths.
Today’s parable is about a “dishonest steward,” and the man Jesus describes was indeed underhanded in dealing with his boss’s debtors. He reduces their debts in order to insure that he would have friends when his master dismissed him. The shocking and unlikely outcome was that the master praises the steward for being “prudent” instead of a thief. How are we to understand such a story?
Jesus’ parables have a common theme. They reveal the extravagant richness of God in dealing with sinners. The rich owner in today’s parable stands alongside another master who forgave a servant a huge debt in the expectation he would do the same with a fellow servant who owed him a small amount. Or in another parable, the owner of a vineyard pays latecomers the same wage as laborers who had worked all day. Or a shepherd leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness to search for one lost sheep. Or a rich patriarch welcomes home a son who has wasted his inheritance.
These stories challenged audiences to exceed the logic of this world to imitate God who is always forgiving and merciful. Jesus praises the dishonest steward for the “prudence” of forgiving the debts of others. He himself is like that steward in breaking the rules to avoid sinners when he eats with them and preaches God’s unconditional mercy to them. He stirs the indignation of religious people who have applied the same logic to God that they observe in shunning sinners. They are wise in the ways of the world but fail to grasp the mystery of God’s love.
The Gospel invites us to live in both this world and in the world to come. It is the zone of the Beatitudes, a place of paradox and ambiguity that requires us to discern God’s presence in every situation and to act as we believe God would act, even to err on the side of mercy. If we surprise, even shock, others who think we are being foolish, then we stand with Jesus, who was also criticized for acting this way. Yet, in the end and in God’s time, there is a wisdom here that will bless us both now and in eternity.
“Accompanying Jesus were the Twelve and some women…” (Luke 8:2).
The New Testament accounts of the growth of the early church are part of an evolving tradition that reveals many other influences. The place of women in the ministry of Jesus or in the emerging institutional church is a case in point. The Gospels contain references to a group of women who traveled with the disciples of Jesus and, even more dramatically, say that women were the principal witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection when the men disciples had fled in fear.
Despite this scriptural record and Paul's praise of many women leading house churches and sharing his ministry, by the third century an all-male leadership had emerged in the church that conformed to cultural dominance by men in government.
Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged Mary Magdalen as the “Apostle to the Apostles” for her role in proclaiming the risen Christ to Peter and the Twelve. Yet, women today are not allowed to preach in church, and ordination to the priesthood is reserved to males based on the tradition that Jesus chose 12 men as apostles to mirror the 12 tribes of Israel. Pope Francis recently appointed a commission to investigate the historicity of ordination of female deacons in the early church as possible precedent for renewing the practice now.
Whatever the outcome in the larger effort to affirm the equality of men and women, it seems evident that if history shapes tradition, tradition also shapes history, and that the official interpretation of sources is often used to confirm the attitudes and ideas enshrined in current practice. In other words, men will decide if only men can decide,
To avoid getting mired in these question, we take our inspiration from Luke today, who affirms that women were crucial to the ministry of Jesus. Without their presence and resources, and in the climactic moments of our salvation, their steadfast faith, there would be no story to tell, no church to celebrate.
“From that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27).
Devotion to Mary has long been integral to Catholic piety. She is seen as the most intimate witness to the mystery of Christ, having conceived and carried him in her womb, given birth to him and nurtured him in his human development. Mary is the preeminent disciple, the model for all of us in how to give our lives over to the same intimate relationship she had with Jesus, conceiving, carrying and giving birth to him in the world by our Christian lives.
John’s Gospel, though it has no infancy narratives, gives Mary a central role in Jesus public life by her influence at the wedding feast at Cana. Her sensitive awareness of the couple’s need leads to Jesus’ first miracle. “Do whatever he tells you” is her first instruction to us. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus entrusted Mary to the disciple, who “took her into his home.” This, again, is for us. If we truly want to know Jesus, ask Mary, for she has been closer to him than any other human being, from birth to death, through his suffering to his glory.
The liturgical commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows follows the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Jesus' crucifixion is the central paradox of the Gospel. Discipleship leads us inevitably to this “sign of contradiction” in our own lives. No one comes to full maturity and spiritual wholeness without suffering and loss. Mary is the perfect guide through the transformation we must experience to share the full mystery of Christ.
The origins of today’s feast date back to the 13th century, when the rosary first became popular as the catechism of the poor. Praying the five sorrowful mysteries is one way to reflect on the life of Jesus through the eyes and heart of Mary, his mother.