Sunday #33

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Today’s theme is hard to miss. It is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time as next Sunday is the celebration of Christ the King. It also is fall, and time marches towards winter. It is November, the time to celebrate the souls that have departed this life. It is just after Halloween and all that holiday commemorates, the thinning of the veil and the proximity between this life and the next. The readings of the day embrace all of this, and if there is a common theme to the readings the word Eschatology would come into play. That word is concerned with final events, and human destiny. The meaning of the word revolves around death, and judgement, and the final destiny of our souls. It suggests the Apocalypse, the end of time. Biblically it can refer to the messianic age. To sum it in words; time, life, death, heaven and hell. The second coming of Christ, the last judgement. Big and abstract themes, but think. Look at those words.

Time. Time is measured it is finite, it has scale and is measured. A day has a length. Years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds. Time can be measured. Our time in our present state is measured, it has a span. But what about life, does life turn into death? What are its units? To Christians life is eternal, and death is not victorious over it. Life does not end in death; it is our life’s span that concludes in time. Death cannot defeat Life; it tries but ultimately fails. Christ defeats death and frees those souls shackled to it. “He descended into hell, and on the third day rose again.” But of our free will we can accept all that death has to offer. Some do. Life and death, grace and sin, heaven and hell; there is a correlation. What then is the end of days, the end of time? Eschatology?

Some look at the end of time as the distant future, the end of a millennium and many millennium’s off. Time is measured; the end of time can be the end of a second. One can prepare for the end of time as living one second or day in preparation for the next. In can be viewed in human terms, and on a human scale. Hourly and daily, not simply geologically. Lord, grant me a restful night and a peaceful death; a prayer at compline. In Paul’s 2 Thes 3:7-12  letter, he reminds people that his time frame is human. Paul worked among them. It is their ordinary time and a time people can relate to. Not distant but present. His was a message to follow by example. Jesus Lk 21:5-19 talks of the destruction of the temple, its time had past, and he talks of a battle. The imagery is of a battle on a grand scale, apocalyptic. The end of time, it is that final confrontation between life and death. Those people, at that time, had a different view of the world. He spoke to them in their time so that they might understand. They faced many battles, but individually they were not the ultimate battle. They were not the definitive battle, though many taught otherwise. The battle between good and evil. The battle between life and death.

On one hand, I look at an atomic blast, something the ancients did not know. Apocalyptic for certain. Must the apocalypse always be grand, does the last day always end in fireworks ? I remember when the tiny mass bells that were rung at the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus the Christ. A time long ago, a time past. Apocalyptic. What if someone saw the importance of keeping those bells ringing, of finding someone to keep that sound through time. It is the sound, however small, of salvation advancing through time. This is my body, and the bells rang. This is my blood, the blood of a new and everlasting covenant. And the bells rang. A small sound announcing something of extreme importance.

“Do not be deceived” (to use the tone of the prophets), the grandiose is not always of grand importance. Little things count, little actions count, and little preparations count. One second ends and another begins. The end of time, the Apocalypse, Eschatology can be put into human terms, the mundane tasks of daily life. Not the end of time and the end of days; but more simply the end of one day or one time.

Excuse my misspellings, and grammar, and poor sentence structure. I would have liked to have worked on this further, to flesh it out, but unfortunately I ran out of time.

In defense of the taxman

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Lk 18:9-14
Please, let me argue for the taxman. No one likes the tax collector, they didn’t like him in the first century we don’t like them in the twenty first. Tax collectors are unpopular. What can we say about the Pharisee today, can we comment about what he said in the front of that temple? Certainly we read his words, but can we really dislike him as much as the tax collector? Where are our experiences, where do we draw our empathy? Sure, his prayer is boisterous and superficial. He pats himself on the back, and he certainly does not grovel? He was held in esteem in life, and prays like a person privilege. He says thank you a lot, he is polite. He doesn’t say pardon me, and he doesn’t say help me. But what of the taxman?

‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

The taxman had no self-esteem, he was esteemed by no one. He took money from the poor and gave it to the rich. The rich didn’t care much for him because of the prejudices by which he made his livelihood. They didn’t like money handlers much, such a dirty profession. His own people didn’t care for him either. First, he took their money. Second he gave it to an invader. Third those coins had the image of a pagan god. Finally the taxman profited from the tax transactions: he skimmed a little for himself. So, how can anyone defend him? The taxman is despicable without a single redeeming quality. Right?

‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

Well, what if that man had not taken those taxes? Would the emperor accept that, would the peasants get to keep their money? Would a massive army do battle for free? The taxman kept the peace. He was the broker between the invading empire and the conquered people. He collected enough tax for the emperor to keep the armies at bay, and not so much for his kinsmen to riot or revolt. Upon paying taxes, his neighbors might have made a snide remark but they did not draw their swords. The taxman had to carefully strike a balance, and to do so he had to be a great observer with eyes and ears always open. He could not rely on the words coming from the emperor’s camp, and he could not focus on the response of the taxpayer. Who then could he have turned to? That might give reason for his presence in that temple. His was a prayer of necessity and he had no to turn to but God. In his prayers he explains his plight, of doing what had to be done, no matter how unpopular. He prayed that he made the right choices, because neither side would offer the correct response. That is the reason for a broker, and why a broker would pray to hone their skills. To hone those skills did not infer the taxman would increase their wealth. If the taxman lived in luxury, then the emperor suspected a cheat. The prayer was for balance, and good judgement, and forgiveness; that is what he needed to survive. Now, what did that Pharisee pray for?

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 150

Ignatius of Antioch

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Lk 12:13-21 Today I have a different take on the wealthy barn builder. He is the one that has so much success he can no longer store his possessions, so he builds a barn to hold them. He gloats in his success and gets ready for a long and comfortable retirement. It is all about him, but the LORD strikes him down.The LORD reminds him that what is important to man is not important to God.

But to the beginning of the reading, someone asks Jesus to tell another to share their inheritance. The inheritance implies the stuff in the barn, the stuff important to man but not to God. That person wants trinkets shared, they want cash. But that is only one side of the inheritance, the other is cultural and the region was rich in them.

That was the land of a culture that often revolved around a city-god, and city gods were not about sharing. They defended its residents and demanded homage, they built walls and they hoarded much like someone stocking a barn, and those barns were often raided, pillaged, and plundered.

Inheritances were not shared, they were hoarded and raided. Each god its own kingdom, but that was not Christ’s teaching. Christ taught one kingdom under God, and one God. That is a shared humanity that inherits all that the LORD gives, a shared inheritance available to all. It’s where the word catholic comes from, universal.

Today is the memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, student of Apostle John and the third bishop of Antioch appointed by Peter. Ignatius was a victim of Christian persecution, and was led from Antioch to Rome to be martyred in Circus Maximus. Along the route from Antioch to Rome he composed seven letters to be delivered to the early Churches. In those letters he passes down his inheritance, his knowledge of Christ as taught to him by the apostles. His inheritance today is passed down through Apostolic succession. Through Ignatius we inherit much of the Church we know today. Surprisingly he was one of the first to use that word Catholic. A shared inheritance.

Lazarus under a table

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Well, what did I think of this Sundays’ reading, the story of Lazarus and the rich man? Lk 16:19-31 First, this person noticed that concern for the poor and infirm, notably absent in this story, is a cornerstone of Christianity. It is the religions defining trait, which is  Christian charity. It is an outward display of Christian love that is so often the theme of the gospel. It is the alms giving of Lent. It is the Christ centered foundation of the homeless shelter, the reason for  Christian education initiative, and the inspiration for the  development of Catholic hospitals. Can I suggest the root word hospital is in hospitality or good will towards men? Charity towards the likes of Lazarus, the man begging from beneath a table, is absolutely fundamental to Christianity. It is nothing new today, but it was radical at the time of this story.

My other thoughts towards that story revolve around the details and how they are used. The story takes place at a table, so suggestive of the heavenly banquet mentioned frequently in Old Testament. The story does hint at that heavenly banquet; yet in heaven roles reverse; it is the rich man that begs beneath the table. In heaven Lazarus is granted that cherished seat at the table. As a side note, can anyone ponder the Lords table. That theme of table is common in many of the stories of Jesus. The dinner of the Last Supper , was it set in motion to  offer Lazarus a seat at the table? “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Lazarus would have gladly eaten crumbs that fell off that rich mans table, yet he was so far removed even they were a dream. How far can an outcast be cast, how great can a barrier be?

Next I marvel at those purple robes, the color of royalty. It is so much the color of royalty that it was worn exclusively by royalty, for anyone else to wear that color was a crime. Jesus clearly wanted those Pharisees to see how they identified with royalty. They were (in their minds) religious royalty. There also was the royal court, and one should not leave out the King of all creation. Those Pharisees did behave like they were royalty, so obvious as  they avoided all who were ritually unclean. At their table Lazarus would not even be granted a seat under the table, he would be pushed out the door. That was the reality of the day, there were clear boundaries between the privileged and the suffering. The gospel story clearly mirrors the society of that era. Lazarus was an outcast, ritually unclean and the definition of a sinner. The illustrated facts of life. Does this paint a picture?

“And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”

The next detail comes from the beggar himself, Lazarus and his name translates “God is my help.”  With him is the call for society to change. In the “next” world he is the one  rewarded, and the rich that behaved as royalty is sent to hell. That, to put it bluntly, is in direct opposition to the common belief. To those Pharisees, those who were suffering or cursed on earth were cursed for eternity. To make matters worse, that condemnation was as contagious as influenza is today. A vision of heaven and hell should be interpreted as the Ancient’s would have envisioned it. Heaven resided beyond the firmament ( a tangible physical barrier) and the place of the stars. Hell that frightening tortious place beneath the earth. Jesus, in His story, clearly argued for a call to change. That change is the good news of Jesus Christ, it is the essence of Christianity. To Christ the fear could be replaced with compassion, and compassion meets its reward in heaven. Christian compassion, and Christian charity, they begin with Jesus Christ.

Much of the world in my opinion has taken the lesson of this story to heart. That does not mean there isn’t room for improvement. I think of those hospitals Christian religious orders set up throughout Europe in the middle ages. I think of the charitable work with youth carried out by the likes of John Bosco’s Salesian order, I think of the outreach efforts off the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities. I think of the parishes St. Vincent De Paul Societies, and of the generosity of a country, and a churches citizens. Christianity in action, a table turned over and a world upside down.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 138

It benefits me to change

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They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
“He deserves to have you do this for him,
for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.”
And Jesus went with them,
but when he was only a short distance from the house,
the centurion sent friends to tell him,
“Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.

Lk 7:1-10

A small detail caught my eye in this healing of the centurions slave. The centurion had sent the Jewish elders to Jesus regarding that solders request. Note how that Jewish elder tells Jesus “He deserves to have you do this for him.” Those elders were not always the biggest supporters of Jesus, but they found themselves in a situation where Jesus might be able to help their cause. Note that I said help the elders cause, not help the centurion or his slave. Even though they disagreed with Jesus, the Lord could benefit them. With that they could turn a blind eye. Now I am no expert in the Latin language, though I certainly do wish I was. I regret not studying it in the past. In this situation though there is a phrase that leaps into my mind. It enters, although I don’t know how appropriately. Quid Pro Quo, what does that mean? I vaguely recall tit for tat, but that is not right. Quid Pro Quo.

To the dictionary: Quid Pro quo means an exchange of goods or services, where one transfer is contingent upon the other. English speakers often use the term to mean “a favour for a favour”; phrases with similar meaning include: “give and take”, “tit for tat”, “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”, and “Skid row bro.”

The Elders of a society would do something like that, and even back in the first century? Really, I thought that was the domain of the twenty first century politician. I had no idea a devout religious society would do such a thing. I do like the centurions statement though “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” Such Sincerity ! It is that sincerity that God seeks. A humble and contrite heart the LORD will not spurn.