Tag Archives: Sunday Liturgy

20th Sunday C: Speaking Truth

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

Our first reading this Sunday is from the prophet Jeremiah, a lonely prophet–some might say a dreary prophet. He had the misfortune of living  at a time when people were unquestioning about the prevailing wisdom of their day.

The ruling king in Judea was smart and popular; his advisors unanimously backed him, his army was loyal and public opinion was on his side– almost 99%.  Except for Jeremiah, who spoke against his policies, questioned his advisors, scolded his soldiers and predicted the destruction ofJerusalem.

What do you do with someone like that? They decided to bury Jeremiah in a deep cistern where no one could hear him and eventually he would die. He was only saved because someone said he shouldn’t die, his voice should be heard.

Well, shortly afterwards, in 586 BC, the Babylonians came into Judea, leveled Jerusalem to the ground and carried away most of its population as slaves to Babylon– as Jeremiah had predicted.

Jeremiah wasn’t fanatical, a fanatic doesn’t question himself. He was a realist, a man who believed in God and saw things as they are.  In the book that bears his name, he repeatedly questions himself and worries about what people were saying. He wants to be accepted – like us all. He complains to God about being a prophet but realizes a prophet has to speak, even if he’s out-of-step with the prevailing wisdom of his day.

Listen to Jesus in the gospel today. You can hear the prophet Jeremiah. Jesus brings fire to the earth. Fire can bring light and warmth, but fire can also drive away. Faith can bring people together, but it can also bring separation, even dividing families. It can bring loneliness and unacceptance, especially when it challenges the prevailing wisdom of the day.   

How does faith clash with our prevailing wisdom today? For one thing, it can clash with our prevailing concept of happiness. Our prevailing wisdom says we have a right to perfect human happiness, here and now, you, me, everybody.  We have a right to perfect health, a perfect body, a perfect mind, a perfect life.

Utopia is right around the corner, in the laboratory waiting to be discovered, in political platforms waiting to implemented. Never mind a heaven above, we want a heaven on earth. A world where there’s no sickness, no sorrow, or death. Heaven on earth.

So we tell the drug companies and our medical establishment – “Give us bodies that will dance every day and minds that will never fail. Take loneliness away from us, help us live on a high. Give us eternal youth, give us life-long sexual pleasure, give us perfect health and a lot of wealth. 

So we tell our leaders and politicians to promise us everything under the sun and then get it done right away.

But does happiness, complete happiness come right away? Yes, we pray that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. But it will come on God’s time, not ours. It will be God’s kingdom, not ours. To trust in ourselves or in human promises and progress brings disappointment and even hopelessness.

We need to listen to prophets like Jeremiah and the warnings of Jesus. We have to recognize the incompleteness of the world we live in and to trust in the fire that never goes out.

That’s the wisdom we hear in an old song, which you don’t hear sung too much any more.

“I’m just a poor, warfarin stranger, traveling through this world of woe. There’s no sickness, no toil or sorrow, in that dear land to which I go.”

Jeremiah could have sung that song.

The Higgs-Boson Particle

Scientists all over the world are celebrating the discovery last week at a research center in Switzerland of a mysterious particle called the Higgs Boson particle. It’s a particle that’s found in all matter and its existence contributes to a new understanding of the nature of our universe.

After fifty years of searching for it, physicists seem to have found it.

I certainly can’t explain what they found, but I admire the scientists for their curiosity, their imagination and their patient searching for this mysterious piece in the puzzle of our universe. They want to know and I admire their drive to know.

I also admire their humility. The scientists say they’re only beginning to see how this world of ours began and how it works. To use a religious analogy, like Moses on the mountain, they’re approaching this mysterious universe with shoes off.

Our search for God is similar to theirs. We know God step by step, little by little. We can’t look straight at the sun; neither can our minds know God completely and at once. We search, not for particles, but for signs and experiences of life that reveal God little by little.

The truth of it is that God does not hide from us. In fact, we believe God revealed himself in the extraordinary sign of Jesus Christ, God’s  Son, who came humbly into our world as God’s Word.

Today’s gospel for the 14th Sunday of the year (Mark 6,1-6 ) recalls the rejection  of Jesus by his own people in Nazareth, a town in Galilee where he was brought up. He suffered the rejection that prophets often receive; later he would suffer a cruel death on a cross, but he did not turn away. In his life, death and resurrection, we see God’s love, God’s desire that we know him.   In him, we have God’s invitation to share his life more deeply, face to face.

We have to fix our eyes on him, patiently and steadily. If we do, we will find him.

Love Remains

The First Letter of John, which we read this Sunday, says simply: “No one has ever seen God.” It’s true. God is  beyond what our eyes can see and our minds take in. God, the creator of heaven and earth, is everywhere. “In him we live and move and have our being.” But our eyes are too weak to see him; our minds too small to know him. We only know God in our limited way.

But we can know God, John reminds us. We know God by love, particularly by loving one another.

“If we love one another, God remains in us,

and his love is brought to perfection in us…

God is love, and whoever remains in love

remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4, 11-16)

God is love and his love remains in us. The first place God’s love is seen is the world we live in. God’s love is in the air we breathe, the lives we enjoy, the friends, the families, the wives, the husbands, the children, the good things of the earth we’ve been given.

God is love, his love remains; it continues, and we thank God for a love so wonderfully faithful.

The greatest gift of God, the crowning sign of his love, is Jesus Christ, his Son and our Lord. As the Word of God, he’s also beyond what our eyes can see and our minds know. But the Word was made flesh and entered our world and became like us. Conceived in the womb of Mary, his mother, he was born and grew in wisdom and grace, at a certain time and place, like us. We have seen him.

He took the path we humans take, from birth to death. In a unique way, he knew our sorrows, our sufferings, our weakness and our pains. He knows our sinfulness.

His love remains. We can hear his faithful love expressed in today’s gospel. As Jesus raises his eyes to heaven, he prays for us; he guards us, he promises to lead us to where he is. Weak as we are, unsteady as our love is, sinful as those whom he ate with the night before he died, he remains with us.

23rd Sunday

One of the hardest things we have to do in life is to correct somebody, to tell someone they’re wrong and take steps to stop some harm being done. Our readings today are about correction. Correction is not just what people in authority or experts do; we all have to stand up for what’s right.

You need help doing this, and the Gospel of Matthew (18,15-20) we read today suggests that sometimes help may be sitting right next to you.

Awhile ago, I was coming back on a crowded train from Toronto to New York;  a long ride that I hoped to pass by napping and reading a book. But around Buffalo, two women got on and sat across from me. They were older women. One of them must have been hard of hearing; she talked so loudly that people all around her could hear her conversation.

They never stopped talking, about food, clothes, their families, their health, the different medicines they were taking.  But then, one  woman brought up her husband. She had had trouble with him. After the kids got married, he started to drink and he got nasty when he drank. It got so bad, she said, that she told him to get out of the house and get straightened out. She wasn’t going to leave the house; he had to get out.

Well, he got mad, she said, and went to live his brother for awhile, but in a couple of months he was back. He told her she was right. He stopped drinking. It was a hard thing to be so strong with him, she said, she loved him very much,  but she remembered the story in the bible where the father threw his son out of the house and after awhile he came back.

The other woman said she knew that story too and wondered where it was in the bible.

I was ready to chime in and tell them that story’s in St. Luke’s gospel, chapter 15, and actually the father didn’t throw the son our of the house. He left on his own. But something told me to keep my mouth shut.

Just then, another woman a few seats down the aisle turned to the women and said, “You must be angels sent by God. I’ve been praying for months, trying to figure out what to do with my son, and I think you’ve got the answer.”

Her son was on drugs, she said. “He’s a good kid, but he’s in the wrong crowd.” She knew that he was having a bad influence on his younger brothers and sisters, but she felt she had to leave him in the house. He just couldn’t manage on his own. Her husband was no help; he wanted to ignore the problem.

She talked to her minister in church and he told her she was being too easy on her son, but she wasn’t convinced.

Now, listening to these women, she felt God was telling her something. She had to be like that father in the gospel story that threw his son out of the house. She was going to look that story up in the bible.

Again, I was going to tell them the location of the story in St. Luke’s gospel and that the father doesn’t really throw the son out of the house, but again thought better of it. Maybe the version they had in their minds was the version God meant them to hear.

By the time the train reached Albany where two of the women got off, they were in solid agreement and were new friends. They had exchanged phone numbers and emails and promises to keep in touch, and they were thanking God for this time on the train as a time of special grace.

Sometimes we think the scriptures are about a world long gone. But read our gospel carefully. It’s not only about a world long gone. It’s also about those three women and all of us who sometimes face hard things to say and do and don’t know how to do it.

God sends help, often in the simplest ways–maybe even on a long train ride. This one ended up in New York City 5 hours late.

22nd Sunday

Don’t miss the way the Prophet Jeremiah talks to God in our first reading today and the way Peter the Apostle in our gospel gets the message of Jesus all wrong. They’re examples of what faith in God is really like. Without people like them, we might think faith is a ticket to a wonderful life and endless sweet dreams.

Jeremiah is fed up with God:

“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;

you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.

All the day I am an object of laughter;

everyone mocks me.”

The lonely prophet lived in hard times when Babylonian armies were sacking Jerusalem and everyone was calling him a deceiver because of a message they didn’t want to hear– God was going to let his holy city be completely destroyed and his people led away in chains.

The message sours the prophet’s mouth and breaks his heart. He feels like a fool.  Yet listen to him:

“I say to myself, I will not mention him,

I will speak in his name no more.

But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,

imprisoned in my bones;

I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

He’s faithful to God no matter what.

Peter, a believer,  gets the message of Jesus wrong. He can’t accept the prediction of the Cross, but wants success instead.

Yet God works with this apostle whose faith is so imperfect and  prizes this prophet whose faith is so tried. Since our faith may be like theirs, let’s hope God will work with us.  “We believe; help our unbelief.”

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

“Who do you say I am?” is the question Jesus asks his disciples at Caesaria Philippi. It’s a question  at the center of Matthew’s Gospel, which we read today in our liturgy.  Before this, Jesus has taught and done marvelous things in Galilee, mostly around the Sea of Galilee.  Now he’s going up to Jerusalem. “Who do your say I am?”

He asks the question at Caesaria Philippi, a place we don’t know much about, because the city fell into ruins after Jesus’ death and resurrection,  but it’s a place that has an important role in our gospel story.

Caesaria Philippi was located about 40 miles from the lake area where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. It was a gentile city, devout Jews tended not to go there, so we might ask why Jesus took his disciples there to ask this important question.

Caesaria Philippi was located right at the base of Mount Hermon, the great mountain that was the origin of most of the water that flowed into the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. It was a large Greco-Roman city built  in Jesus’ time as part of a big economic boom going on in Galilee. Under the Herods, especially Herod Antipas, a number of large cities like Tiberias, Sepphoris and Caesaria Philippi were built in Galilee to handle the developing trade in agriculture and fish from the Sea of Galilee. The Herod’s wanted this area to be a supplier of food for the Roman Empire.

Some scholars think that Joseph moved his family to Galilee from Judea to get work in this new economy. Sepphoris, one of its booming cities, was only four miles from Nazareth.

“Who do people say I am?”  Jesus’ disciples answer his question in typical Jewish terms. “Some say you are Elijah, John the Baptist, or Jeremiah, or one of prophets.”

In sight of Caesaria Philippi, Jesus’ question might also be posed: “Who do these people say I am?”  The unspoken answer might be “Nobody.”

Would that be the answer we would give if we were asked what any of our great cities think of Jesus Christ today? “They think he’s nobody.”

“And you, who do you say I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”