A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for November, 2011

Were the Boy Scouts Telling the Truth?

     My memories of  being a Boy Scout were quite impressive.   Most of the major impressions  were of the camping trips.  Travelling to new places, encounters with nature, viewing wide open spaces and seeing  plenty of mountain greenery.  Finally, there was the opportunity of meeting new people.   But, in spite of all this wonder, there were problems.

     The biggest problem was that somehow, somewhere, sometime something would go wrong.  For example, couldn’t get the fire going when it was my turn to cook.  Couldn’t hear the whistle for general assembly.  Missed some sporting events because I forgot.  Solution?  Made the best of the Scout motto:  “Be Prepared”– for whatever happens.  That way you are ready for whatever happens.  Being prepared for the unforseen was one  of the most important lessons I learned from the Boy Scouts. 

     In today’s Gospel (Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time:  Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus focuses on the idea of being prepared.  He tells his disciple a parable of ten young ladies who are to accompany the bridegoom to his wedding by carrying lit torches.  They are to process him to the place of the ceremony.  Half of them remembered to bring oil, and the other half did not.  In other words, some were prepared, some were not.

     Since the bridegroom was late in coming, the young ladies fell asleep.  Soon a shout greeted his arrival, and those without oil wanted to borrow some from those who came prepared.  They were unable to do so because there would not be enough oil for both groups.  So the unprepared ladies had to go to the market and buy some.

     When they returned, the procession had already taken place.  Their lack of preparation rendered their function useless.  But what was Jesus trying to say by means of this parable?  I suspect that Jesus was speaking about the need for preparation in this life as a preparation for the next life.  How is that done?

     Preparation in this life which is preparation for the next life has to do with how people treat one another.  Basically, it is not much more than following Jesus’ example in treating others with justice, dignity, compassion and respect.  As long as one continues to do that, one is being prepared.     But, what about ourselves?   I think one of the best forms of preparation is to develop the sense of “foresight.”  It is true that one cannot see the future, but one can give direction  to the future one wants to take.  Like how?

     “Foresight” means the ability to distinguish between looking “directly ahead” and looking “around you.”  The distinction exists in the fact that looking directlyahead means that your vision is severely limited.  That can also mean that you are focussed on precisely one issue and are unable (unwilling?) to listen to others.  Looking around you is, in reality, circumspection (from the Latin which means “to look around”).  This can also mean that though you are focussed on one issue, you are open to other possibilites, by looking around.

     As we see in the Gospels, Jesus was very circumspect.  He always looked around and saw the needs of  others–and responded.  For us, “circumspection” means looking around at the needs of others–and responding.  Following this example is a good way of “being prepared” for whatever happens.

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Relationship Between Boss and Worker

     In recent years we have seen some corporate executives go to jail.   Why?  Because it was revealed that they were defrauding the public.  Say one thing and do another–became a common form of behavior. 

     In today’s Gospel (Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time:  Matthew 23:1-12), Jesus was telling the crowds that the scribes and Pharisees were doing pretty much the same thing–Saying one thing and doing another.

     What was curious about Jesus’ later reflection on this situation, was that, in effect, he said “Do what the scribes and Pharisees tell you to do legally, but do not follow their example because they tend to be hypocrites.”  The reason was that for Jesus many of the scribes and Pharisees tended to be more concerned about outward perception rather than inner motivation.

     This meant that the scribes and Pharisees took more care about how they were perceived in public, particularly with regard to titles.  They burdened the people with demands without attempting to help them.  In order to avoid this hypocrisy, Jesus proposed the ideal relationship between “boss” and “worker.”  He stated unequivocally to the people, “The greatest among you must be your servant.”    The Greek word is diakonos, “one who serves.”

     What does this mean for us?  The truth is, we often find ourselves in leadership positions, even if it is because of our positive behavior patterns.  This indicates that we are examples whether we wish to be or not.  People see and judge us no matter what we do  or say.  The best way to avoid hypocrisy is to follow Jesus’ advice, namely, to be of service to  others–always.

     I am reminded of the advice also given by St. Francis of Assissi.  “Preac

Brooklyn Museum - The Pharisees and the Saducc...

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h the Gospel at all times.  Use words if necessary.”

Watch What You Say

     Anyone who has gone for an interview knows the problem of summarizing.  On the one hand, the summary could tell the potential employer something you didn’t want to share for fear of misinterpretation.  On the other hand, the summary could well represent your background and let the potential employer that you are the ideal person for the job.  The value of the summary lies in its content and motivation.

     In today’s Gospel (Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time:  Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus is asked by the Pharisees to summarize the multiple applications of the Law.  The task was made more difficult by making the request ever more specific.  That is, “Which commandment is the greatest?”  This was intended to be a trick question. 

     Jesus’ response is basically biblical in order to give his answer more authority.  To “love God completely” is taken from the famous Shema prayer of Deuteronomy 6:4ff.  The second part of the answer comes from  Leviticus 19:18  (“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself….”).  The focus in this entire response is the use of the word “love.”  In the Bible, the word “love” was not just an emotional experience but a concrete action as well.  One proved love by doing something about it.

     That is, the total acknowledgement of summarizing the Law was, for Jesus, the loving of God and the loving of neighbor– together.  One proved it by example.  Loving God completely meant that there were no reservations.  Loving the neighbor as oneself meant the same as the golden rule.

     The “neighbor” is not just the person next door nor one of my acquaintences, but, rather, everyone else, especially the so-called social “outsider.”   It seems that one of the most effective ways of loving God and neighbor is to examine the Bible carefully and find examples there of how it is done. 

     Jesus was very careful in what he said.  His response was biblically based as ours should be if we are asked tricky questions.

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