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

Archive for November, 2014

What happens to me when I die?

As we get older. we tend to think more about what people will think of us when we are dead.  Did we do what we should have done?  Or did we do what we shouldn’t have done?  The Ten Commandments would have been the usual guide.

Even more important than worrying about what people will think of us, we should be more concerned about how Jesus will judge us at the time of death.

The Gospel for the feast of Christ the King (Matt. 25:31-46) treats of judgement.  It is appropriate because the feast of Christ the King comes at the end of the church’s calendar year so there is a sense of finality about the reading.  Consequently, judgement after death becomes a focal point for serious reflection.  In fact, this Gospel reading sums up rather well one of Jesus’ principal teachings, namely, how to deal with the marginalized of society.

Basically, this is what the Gospel tells us.  Jesus is sitting on a throne in all his glory, much like a king, ready to make judgement on people.  Some he will place on his right, and others he will place on his left.

To those in his right he will say: 1)-“I was hungry and you fed me”; 2)-“I was thirsty and you gave me to drink”; 3)-“I was a stranger and you gave me hospitality”; 4)-“I was naked and you clothed me”; 5)-“I was sick and you took care of me”; 6)-“I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then those on the right will ask, “Lord, when did we do these things to you?”  And the answer will come back loudly and clearly, “As long as you have done this to one of the least of these who are members of my family you have done it to me.”

And to those on the left who have not done the above corporal works of mercy, Jesus will say, “Depart from me into the eternal fire!”  Now that is the judgement that we can expect after we die.

What can we make out of this Gospel reading?  First of all, Jesus is identifying himself with the marginalized of society.  Namely, the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and others who are “looked down” upon by society.

Secondly, because of this identification we would have to be very careful about our attitude toward the marginalized.  How do we respond to people who come to us for help since they have no one else to assist them?   The jobless?  Those folks in rest homes who have no one to visit them?  The immigrant?  The poor people who are barely surviving?

If we have served these people, then we belong on the “right” of Jesus’  chair of judgement.  If we have not served the marginalized, then we shall be on the “left.”  We know what judgement happens to both groups when they die.  The same will be true of us.   Who knows when or where we will encounter Jesus?

Not the mild mannered Jesus

Not the mild mannered Jesus.

via Not the mild mannered Jesus.

Not the mild mannered Jesus

For many years, the basic image I had of Jesus was that he was meek and mild, compassionate and understanding.  His way of dealing with “jerks” was with “verbal-fencing”, and he seemed to win.  Not a man of violence.

Then one day, I came across the Gospel reading (John 2:13-22) and was surprised.  Jesus, with whip in hand, threw out the animal merchants and  money changers from the Temple area. Besides, the Gospel tells us that Jesus overturned the table of the money-changers thus spilling the coins, and crying out “Take these things out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”  What happened to the mild mannered Jesus?

Jesus was upset by what the animal sellers and money changers were doing in the Temple area, so his anger turned into action.  The Gospel describes that: he made a whip, drove out the merchants, spilled the coins of the money changers by overturning the tables, and gave a reason for his actions.  Genuine emotions became actions.

What can we learn from this?  Above all, it would be well to maintain the same principle just mentioned:  “Genuine emotions become actions.”  What would this mean?  Certainly, if we become aware of an injustice being perpetrated (genuine emotion), then that emotion should be turned into action.  

However, there must be a crucial distinction regarding the emotion.  Is it intellectual or motivational?  In an “intellectual emotion” we become aware of an injustice, but do nothing.  In a “motivational emotion” we become aware of an injustice and do something, as Jesus did in the above Gospel.

And yet, if we are dealing with a “motivational emotion,” our parameters of action should be guided by compassion and love.  “Compassion” (from the Latin which means “To suffer with”) strongly suggests that we suffer with the person who is suffering.  That kind of suffering sharing most certainly will lead into action.

“Love,” in reality, is a giving and not a taking.  One readily remembers the Scripture saying, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”  There are many examples of what people will do for others if they truly love them, for example, parents and children, spouses, and the list could go on.

So, the Gospel above is telling us about the importance of how genuine emotion should turn into action.  We should be aware that our emotion is genuine if it is motivated by compassion and love, especially if we are confronted by injustice.  May our Baptism help us to “suffer with” others so that we can actually help them.

What about Halloween?

For many years,  the custom in this country has been to celebrate Halloween (October 31) by dressing up in different kinds of costumes.  In my youth (many years ago) the dominant costumes were those of  skeletons and witches.  When you stop to think about it, just what was Halloween celebrating–apart from “trick or treat”?

One day it dawned on me.  Halloween means “all hallow’s eve.”  The “hallowed” were the “holy ones,” that is, all saints.  All Saints day was the next day–November 1.  Apparently,  the celebration of  Halloween was an attempt to deal with the question of what happens to the dead.  The imagery of “death” (the underlying focus  of Halloween)  interplayed with the imagery of “life after death”” (the underlying focus of All Saints day).

The church established  November 2 (the day after All Saints day–November 1) as the feast of All Souls day, which was a day of commemoration of all the faithful departed.  So the issue of  “death” and “life after death” was confronted by Halloween (10/31) and All Saints day (11/1) on the one hand, and by All Saints day (11/1) and All Souls day (11/2) on the other.  In fact, on the church calendar the whole month of November is basically dedicated to the remembrance of all the faithful departed.

In the Gospel for the feast of the Commeration of the Faithful Departed (John 6:37-40), we note some specifics for the above discussion.  However, some background is needed.

Above all, John 6 is part of the “Bread of Life” discourse of Jesus.  In fact, John 6 begins with the miracle of the loaves and fish where there is ample discussion about hunger and nourishment.   

In a few verses before today’s Gospel, we note a clear connection between Jesus and nourishment.  Jesus says, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27)  In  addition, Jesus further says, “I am the bread of eternal life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)  In these two statements Jesus provides eternal nourishment to those who believe.

In all probability, we can conclude that two of the important themes in Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse, which includes the above Gospel,  are “nourishment” and “eternal. ”  “Nourishment” in the sense that the miracle of the loaves and fish provide context for Jesus to say that he is the bread of eternal life. And that nourishment is possible primarily through the Eucharist and Scripture (given life through both).

“Eternal” is a constant point and it does have connections.  In the final words of the above Gospel (John 6:40) Jesus says, “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Thus, with the promise of the resurrection at the time of death, eternal life will be given to the believers.

During the present life, the believers in Jesus will be nourished  by Scripture and the Ecucharist.  Nourishment  will be effective in this life and in the next.  So, the next time that we go “trick or treat” on Halloween, we can realize that the “celebration” is but a reminder of what can happen to us after death.

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