the seventh Sunday of ordinary time

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Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well. Mt 5:38-48

This brief little saying can take on different meanings at different times. True, its truth is timeless and unwavering. Its circumstances or what the statement is gauged against continually change. Some days the eye and tooth are personal. Some days it is an individual that punches you. Some days it a street fight, and others it is a world war. Eye for eye can be a personal choice or national policy. What does that statement mean, and what is it intended to mean?

To many it is a statement of vengeance or revenge. If someone causes you pain, by right you have the right to retaliate. The statement though is not simply a justification to let fists fly. It is a statement of measure. If someone causes harm eye for eye limits the extent of retribution. In a legal sense the punishment must fit the crime. Eye for eye sets a limit on when an issue is resolved. It brings a conflict to a conclusion. But does it really solve the problem?

As I said this passage is interpreted differently at different times. Today I see the passage in the news and I read of it being applied not far from where the statement was written. In some parts of the world eye for eye is law. This law is dispensed exactly as written. Let’s offer an illustration. There was a woman who was blinded because someone tossed acid in her face. The court sentence was for the perpetrator to be blinded by acid dripped into his eye. An eye for an eye. That’s a true story. For the thief the amputation of a hand. The law is distributed without tolerance, it is prescribed exactly as written. Order is maintained by fear of retribution, but is anything resolved?

To Jesus, the answer is no. For a sin, a sin is returned. To Jesus evil is not met with evil. Evil can be confronted and defeated with truth. Sin is defeated with grace. Turn the other cheek. Fight evil with good. Injustice can be confronted with forgiveness. Ignorance with instruction. Brutality with kindness. To turn the other cheek, what does that mean? On one level it can be taken literally, it can simply mean turn the other way. It can imply a type of tolerance. In another way turn the other cheek can imply two sides, to look at both the good and bad. It can be to prosecute and also defend, to look at both sides and all angles. That is to approach an injustice with wisdom and understanding, not quickly or blindly.

With Christ is the radical philosophy that good always triumphs over evil. Always, always, and always. It is not the fastest way to resolve an issue, and the Jesus approach does not always serve as a deterrent. Jesus does not offer retribution, but instead solution. What good is accomplished by blinding the ignorant fool, especially if the punishment is not accompanied by education?

A blind fool is still a fool and a fool can always recruit another. For that woman that was blinded by a fool who behaved with cruel indifference in a society that often condones such actions. Certainly by treating him with the same, eye for eye, his faults are visible to others; but who else has benefitted? He offered injustice for injustice, just as the court has dealt out to him. That crime occurred in a land known for honor killings. It occurred in a land known for social injustice and wide spread poverty. It occurred in a land known for intolerance, a land known for dictatorship. It is a place where human rights violations are committed without the retaliation of government and often endorsed as tradition. Eye for eye occurs where one life is valued much higher than another. Places where fear rules and there us a fear of education, places where ignorance is perpetrated. It is where eye for eye is the law if the land, and that law is perpetrated through ignorance. It is a law that serves man and not God. When Jesus says turn the other cheek, people should listen. In that gesture is a defining characteristic of the Christian. It sets Christians apart. Yes, there is a bit of political commentary here.

The truth is that the law was intended to curb injustice and not perpetrate it. It is a law that was intended to allow for a better solution but ignorance and indifference, and hatred never let that law get beyond its eight words. There is the reason for Jesus’s speech, it helps  us to expand ones vocabulary. Jesus allows compassion, and truth, and charity, and forgiveness, and empathy, and resolution, and justice, and tolerance, and education, and love enter into both the conversation and the solution. To Jesus it is more important to give sight to the blind, rather than further disable someone who cannot see clearly. It is more important to cure the cripple than to hobble them further, to restore the withered hand and not simply remove it. All of these come from examples of Christs healing and they all challenge an eye for an eye. Taking an eye for an eye is easy, any fool can do it. Restoring sight to the blind, that’s another story.. .

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

Faith, Courage, and the Cure

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Two stories intertwined. Mt 9:18-26 First an official tells Jesus of his daughter’s death with the request that Jesus comes quickly so that he might lay His hands on her. The second, the story of the hemorrhaging woman who quietly hopes to touch His cloak that she might be healed. The final returns to the little girl’s funeral procession. Add the detail that Jesus turns to the hemorrhaging woman and says “Courage woman, your faith has saved you.”

The details of this story, or these stories is rich, and it is easy to get lost in details. With all of those details, where does one start their investigation? This time around, I think those words spoken by Jesus might be the ideal place. Courage and Faith are the keys to the story. If courage and faith healed the bleeding woman, might they not be the clue to what the little girl’s father needs?

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward,
knelt down before him, and said,
“My daughter has just died.
But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.

With the father and his little girl, the reader must first decide who needs to be cured. The obvious one is the little girl, she is the one the father seeks help for. Shouldn’t one also question the father’s health too? The loss of a loved one can take its toll on someone’s health. Faith and Courage. The father had faith in Jesus, might he also need a little courage. Like the bleeding woman, Jesus understood her request even though it was silent. The Lord answered the father’s plea even before it became audible. Jesus entered into creation to heal the sick, his nativity was the cure set into motion.

If God the Father loved the world so much that He sent His only Son, how much suffering awaited the innocent little girl in death. On the cross Jesus conquers death, and in His tomb He descends into the depths of hell to set those captives free. The little girl’s father has faith in Jesus and that is why he approached Him. The courage in one’s faith during a person’s darkest time is a challenge. Jesus is merciful, he visits the girl and a death ritual is taken place. The death ritual is cultural, it has its origins in man and not the divine. It reinforces man’s thoughts of life and death, God and man, heaven and hell. Rituals reinforce man’s thoughts, they do not correct those thoughts. If man believes something that is not true, ritual reinforces those beliefs. A lie gains strength. Enter Jesus, the cure.

A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him
and touched the tassel on his cloak.
She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.”
Jesus turned around and saw her, and said,
“Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.”

Now comes a comparison between the death of an innocent little girl, and a hemorrhaging woman. Jesus, in the story, dismisses those practicing the death ritual. Their ideas on life and death and heaven and hell are wrong. Their ritual does nothing to bring about healing, instead it makes those involved deathly ill. It is especially damaging to the father. Heaven was a distant star, so distant that the father would be left terribly alone. Fearful and uncertain of his daughters future. To reach that distant star required the fulfillment of certain prescriptions, and if not fulfilled what awaited his daughter? Enter the hemorrhaging woman and her fate. She for certain was destined for the depths of hell, and sentenced there for nothing of her own doing. So certain was her condemnation that no one dare touch her, no one except Jesus. He cures her as he cures the little girl. Faith and courage. Faith in a God of love and mercy, and the courage to follow HIM.

Jesus in His mission leads people back to His Father. He restores the understanding between God and man, and redefines a relationship between heaven and hell. His preaching is not one of life and death, but one of everlasting life. He does not preach eternal condemnation, but of a merciful forgiveness. In His gospel the bleeding woman is not sentenced to an eternity in hell, she is granted the opportunity to enter Gods kingdom no matter what her earthly affliction might be. The little girl’s father is granted the certainty that his daughter is loved whatever her state in life might be. God is a loving God, and a merciful God. He also is assured that his daughter is no further away than a prayer. He too has been cured.

A paralytics cure

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After entering a boat, Jesus made the crossing, and came into his own town.
And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”
At that, some of the scribes said to themselves,
“This man is blaspheming.”
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said,
“Why do you harbor evil thoughts?
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? Mt 9:1-8

There is the gospel blurb of the day, and today is the memorial of the first martyrs of Rome. Those are the martyrs slaughtered by Emperor Nero. The scribes challenge Jesus forgiveness of sins. Intuitively I suggest that most can see how forgiveness can allow a paralytic to walk again. Metaphysically of course. Most can recognize the crippling effect of sin on one’s life, and forgiveness allows for a change. It grants the cripple a new lease on life. What though of the slaughter instituted by evil Nero? Whom does the forgiveness of sins set free in this instance? I suspect, and this is only opinion, it sets free the Christian witnesses of the horrors of Nero. Even though they did not commit the atrocity, the forgiveness of the perpetrators sets those innocent witnesses free. It frees them from a crippling event, it frees them from wallowing in the degenerate horrors of the likes of Nero. It allows them to move on. To run away from injustice, and in doing so to sprint towards a heavenly reward. Pray for those that witness life’s horrors, that they might find the forgiveness to set their own souls free, so that they need not succumb to a satanic advance. The forgiveness of sin is the victory of Christ. Amen…

friday of the octave of easter

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I wonder, might I give a few comments on today’s gospel reading? I am not implying that I have much intelligent to say, but please bear with me. Commentaries help me to digest the readings, and there are so many subtleties to the post resurrection accounts. Take for instance where Peter spots the Lord Jn 21:1-14 on the shoreline. Immediately he jumps from his boat to swim towards Him. There is no hesitation, and no fear of drowning. Personally I can’t help but contrast this with the storm at sea narrative. Gone is the fear. It is a leap for joy! What a contrast . The earlier stories were both frightening and at the same time instructional. Through the storms , the disciples learned to keep focused on Christ. They learned to confront those possessed, and also how to heal. They faced confrontational authorities and they walked with uncertainty.

With the Easter Christ surprisingly, they are emboldened. While at sea Peter leaps into the water. When confronted by a cripple Acts 4:1-12  they gladly  offers him the salvation of Jesus Christ. It seems the crippled Apostles themselves are healed of their own infirmaries.Bold and confident. There us no hesitation, and no fear. That has past. They enter a new life.

So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.

The other subtlety that I zeroed in on this Friday after Easter is what Jesus offers the disciple when he reaches the shore. Jesus offers him breakfast. Breakfast as in break the fast. Break the fast of the night , break the fast of darkness. Embrace the light of day. Rejoice in it! And what was the fast of the night, the great darkness? It was the crucifixion, it was the treading in the grave. To witness the resurrection of the Lord, Peter has to leave the dark of night behind. He had to rejoice in the Easter Christ. He had to scream Hallelujah!

Lectionary: 265.