Jesus and the PTA

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One very small phrase in today’s reading Mt 22:34-40 caught my eye, and I thought isn’t that a problem that has been increasing over the years. Today a “scholar of the law” asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment? The phrase “a scholar of the law.” At what point in man’s history did everything depend on scholarship? Scholarships is time intensive, it is demanding, it requires tutorship, time, and money. With all of the demands that are placed on scholarship, the numbers of scholars rapidly diminishes. The scholars of the law were few are far between. Scholarship is also inherited from teacher to student. Since when did understanding God become limited to a few chosen individuals? When did the LORD of heaven and earth exclude the masses? Jesus response did not take a doctorate in philosophy to understand. Love God, and love man. Simple. Even Jesus downgrades scholarship. When the LORD says “Love God” He says to do that with first heart, then soul, and lastly mind. The LORD places emotion before reason. It is desire that transcends knowledge. Jesus does not say Understand God, nor does He say Study God. The LORD dies not say interpret or categorize or define God. Jesus says Love God, and that is to have an emotional relationship with God. It is only after the emotional bond is formed that one can grow in Gods wisdom and begin to learn.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law, tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

With Jesus the relationship is transferred from teacher-student to parent-child. Unlike the teacher the parent’s first role is not to instruct, but to unselfishly love and provide for. It is only through love that lessons are taught, and unlike academics failure is not an option. What a different dynamic between the home and the classroom. Of course none of this argument eliminates the needs of education and scholars, it simply puts them in their place. The thing with academics is precisely that it often is not fueled with passion, its mission is often the sustained livelihood of the scholar. Neither the subject nor the student are the primary benefactor, and I agree that is a harsh statement. Life though is harsh. Parents protect children from life’s harsh realities. They also help them navigate them. That is the reality of the bond between parent and child. I think of Jesus demand not to be called Rabi. Rabi means teacher. Jesus is Gods Son, and He often refers to us as children. Before anyone gets into a rage, I do not consider scholarship to be utter nonsense. I can see its value, and I immediately turn to Saint Thomas Aquinas. I also turn to the more recent pope Benedict XVI. Scholars that enriched the lives of many. But then again look at some that have not taken the scholarly approach, the little flower Saint Theresa. Was Catherine of Sienna a scholar? Was Saint Francis or his original Friars? What of Saint John Vianney? I am sure there are more that succeeded through love while failing at the textbook. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. First heart, then soul, and finally mind. Order counts.

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 423

Ez 37:1-14

Mt 22:34-40

Stylite millionaires (humpty dumpty sat on a pillar)

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If in the twentieth Sundays readings Jesus mentioned the battles and conflicts one must endure to become a disciple, today He gives example of one of the great battles of all time. That is the battle between the rich versus the poor. He gives an example of absurdity to illustrate the point. Mt 19:23-30 A camel has a better chance of passing through a needle, than a rich person has to enter the kingdom of heaven. The first reading Ez 28:1-10 gives evidence of this ancient battle. God gives angry commentary towards those that flaunt their wealth to place themselves amongst their gods. At first Jesus’s dialogue begins to sound like preaching against material wealth, but then as reply to His absurd example He adds; ‘all is possible with God.’ That one phrase is the hope of the wealthy. It is nor their wealth that excludes them from the kingdom, it is the way that wealth destroys them. It becomes how pervasive the damage of wealth can be. Being counted amongst the Rich does not simply refer to finance, it also conveys a description of attitude. It conveys the arrogant, the selfish, and an attitude of royalty or entitlement. So often the wealthy take an attitude that if they achieved financial success, their success is guaranteed in anything. So often it is the wealthy that go about attempting world records, or victory in competitions, or testing fate. So often their confidence drifts towards arrogance, their bankroll clouds their judgement.

 

Mammon /ˈmæmən/ in the New Testament of the Bible means money or material wealth and is associated with the greedy pursuit of gain. In the Middle Ages it was often personified as a deity and sometimes included in the seven princes of Hell.

 

In these commentaries about wealth, they should not be viewed with an eye towards modern economics. In most modern economies the rich sit at the top of a pyramid with the other economic classes forming a base there is a range and distribution of wealth even though politics often suggest otherwise. In the ancient world these wealthy did not sit atop a pyramid but were perched atop a pillar. A few with cash, and a multitude in near poverty. A middle class has yet to be discovered. Funny how a pillar resembles a needle, think of the space needle of Seattle. The pyramid is one of the most stable of geometric shapes, and the pillar likely the least stable. Those rich atop their pillars were in a perilous position, though they did not always recognize that. To them they were untouchable and a lofty people perched as close to gods as one can get. Many ancient rulers, who were the richest of the rich, in fact were considered to possess divine powers. Often they forgot they were mere mortals, a perilous mistake. Rich in money, rich in power, rich in ego, poor in grace. In their wealth they did not pray to God for guidance, and they did not bow down for anyone. They did not listen to the people or to God. To them wealth and the accessories it bought provided everything. It became their strength, and therefore their downfall. One cannot serve both God and mammon, they served the latter.

I think of those wealthy fools as the Stylite millionaires. Stylite comes from the Greek stulos which means pillar.  Those poles they sat atop “symbolically!” are so similar to the poles they erected to the false gods, they were the high places of worship. Sitting atop lofty perches they worshiped false gods, they became false gods. In contrast to those Stylite millionaires are the ancient Stylite Saints and Stylite hermits. The Stylite Saints and Hermits did not sit atop symbolic pillars, they lived and preached atop genuine pillars preaching and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were early Christian ascetics. A pillar to the community, not separated from it. Their devotion atop a lofty perch countered those rich in high places. The humble service of the Stylite Saints and Hermits countered the arrogance of those in the highest positions of society. Their high place was not one of wealth in money. Those saints did possess an abundance of devotion and of strength gained from their LORD, and that wealth could knock any millionaire back to earth and back into the frays of humanity. That  might have been their mission.

In thinking of the rich and the eye of a needle and absurdity and gods and lofty perches, I look at today’s saint who is Stephen of Hungary. He is described as royalty, but not one sitting atop a throne though he did occupy one. He was King “by the grace of God.” In his rule he placed the gospel first and ruled according to its precepts. Faithful to Christs Church, he emphasized humility and Christian virtue, and formed Hungary into a Christian state.. He understood the importance of aiding those in need. I strongly suspect he was a camel that was able to pass through the eye of a needle.

 

Conflict and the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

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I think I will take the readings Jer 38:4-6, 8-10 of today Lk 12:49-53 and apply them in an abstract way. Rather than applying them to my life, I will apply them to the Mass and what it projects. In pondering the liturgy I look at the readings in terms of the Mass as it is said today. That Mass of today has its origins in the council of 50 or so years ago. The readings from todsys Msss are one of division and conflict. The Mass or the new Mass is the one of folk guitars and happy songs of people gathering around a table. It is one that always tries to be joyous and uplifting, a positive experience. It describes a banquet, and the table of the Lord. It is a table where all are welcome, and where all have an opportunity to participate. To a large extent the Mass has been manipulated by liturgists, and parish councils, and music directors, and architects, to convey that positive and uplifting message. It is a Mass that has often been crafted around schoolchildren, and is one that has been crafted to send a joyous message. Pain, and anguish, and war, and violence are kept at a distance. Today’s readings deal with that other part of the Mass. Those readings refer to fire, and baptism, and agony, and division. It is not a message of holding hands, but of flying fists.

Its message is not seen in a table of plenty, but in the altar of sacrifice. It is seen in the image of a bloodied Body hanging on a Cross. It is the Passion and the Agony that are redemption and salvation. It is the message that surrounds the church walls in the form of the Stations of the Cross. Often these are the images that the liturgists try to keep suppressed. They are disturbing and uncomfortable. They are also the sacrifice that is behind Christian Joy. It is the Passion of Christ that leads to Christian Joy. That joy does not exist without it. A reminder that redemption and salvation come at a cost. They are paid for with the Body and Blood of Christ. Salvation is not free, but Jesus freely gave up His Life for our salvation.

The divisions of ancient times are the divisions between the Lord and the Pharisees, between the Jew and the Gentile. They are also that universal battle between good and evil, God and the evil one. The truth is that battles do exist, and they always exist. Ponder the archangel Michael.They are the temptation in the desert and the temptations of life. Today they are the culture wars, the reminder that it takes commitment and determination to remain Christian. It is a battle, and faith often is something that needs defense. They are the battles between the haves and the have-nots. A reminder of the Christian obligation to the dignity and welfare of all people, and not simply a chosen elite. Not all agree, and that is a conflict. It often is a fight to give someone food from the table. Christian dignity as taught by Christ. The Table might remind one of the banquet, the Altar reminds one of the struggle to achieve that heavenly meal. The Cross is the reminder of what was done not “for Christ’s sake” but for ours. It is the reminder to “do unto others as I have done for you.” It is the reminder of the commitment and determination and sacrifice it takes to be a Christian.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law

They have taken their seat on the chair.. .

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Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 424

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,”The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.

  Even without reading any more of the passage than this one line: there is a most valuable lesson for the day. That is about people taking their seat at the chair of authority in the name of any religion.While Jesus had arguments with the Scribes and the Pharisees of the day, today no one has too look back to far to see the abuse of the chair of religion in current time. It is the abuse of this chair that promotes the fanaticism that starts genocides, ethnic cleansings, world wars, discrimination and horrors  of all sorts . It is taking the seat at the chair for its exploitation, many times for a political agenda. These are powerful chairs , and that should not be forgotten…..

Feast of Bartholomew (aka Nathanael)

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 “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

    Whenever a tree is mentioned in the bible, it is always a perfect time to study a litle botany ! Jesus saw Bartholomew sitting under a FIG TREE.  Fig trees (Family Moraceae, genus Ficus) are among the first plants cultivated by man.They are known for their large, fragrant leaves and grow wild in dry sunny areas. They tolerate seasonal droughts common to the mid east.Fig trees have an aggressive root system which search out water. The trees have no visible flower, and are unique in that the trees first fruit appears before its leaves.Fig trees can grow quite large and form dense shade trees, they produce a cool pleasant environment  perfect for rest and contemplation.   Fig trees are symbolic of peace and prosperity and were common places for prayer.In Jesus’s time many who prayed under a fig tree were praying for that peace and prosperity for Israel. In their prayers they prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Likely that is just what Bartholomew was praying for, the salvation of his people. When Philip told him about Jesus, he was unimpressed and even a little harsh:Nothing good comes from Nazareth! Jesus though was impressed. He saw an honest person, free of deception and deceit; Perhaps when Bartholomew prayed, he was not flowery in speech but honest in intentions. When Jesus recognized this in him, Bartholomew recognizes Jesus as Messiah. He recognizes the answers to his prayers , the  path to peace an prosperity through Jesus the Christ, exactly what Saint Bartholomew prayed for ;  under a Fig tree.

The Fig tree is unique in that it bears its first fruit before leaves appear:Leaves are its display of splendor, its vestments. The fruit is the heart of the tree,  its eucharistia , its  thanksgiving.