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

Archive for August, 2016

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Peace or no peace?

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that Jesus said that he came NOT to bring peace but discord?  The image that comes to mind is the gentle pastoral scene when shepherds are in the field not far from the town of Bethlehem.

An angel appears in the sky and tells the shepherds that a child has been born in Bethlehem, a Savior who is the chosen Messiah.  Then a multitude of angels comes saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE among those whom he favors.”  (Luke 2:14).  So, from his birth Jesus is associated with bringing peace upon earth.

Then we have the subsequent account of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, a ritual obligation soon after the birth of the eldest son.  As Joseph and Mary entered the Temple, an elderly man, Simeon by name, took the child and then said to Mary, “…This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  (Luke 2: 34- 35)

Jesus was to bring peace.  Jesus was not to bring peace.  What is going on here?  And as if to fortify the latter option,  in the Gospel for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus states clearly while addressing his disciples, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)

It seems to me that with the above statement, Jesus is very much aware of what will happen to him when he reaches Jerusalem.  He will suffer, die, and rise from the dead.  His “message” of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and service MUST be carried on by his disciples.  As was the case with Jesus so will the reality be for the disciples, namely, some will be unhappy with the message and react accordingly.

Jesus came to bring “peace” on earth.  Basically, it means the state of being OK with yourself and with others.  One of the principal reasons that Jesus lived his life and preached his message was that people would be OK with themselves and with others.  That was the basic principal of his life and message.  Being OK with others means being of service to them.

And since he knew he couldn’t do the job by himself, he had his disciples carry on his work.  They were supposed to bring “peace” on earth, namely, being OK with oneself and with others.  This involved bringing about justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  So, the task of continuing to promote the message of Jesus was left to his disciples.  Since the feast of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus carried on his work.  Now, it is up to us.

But what about the “peace or no peace” question?  We look at the Gospel of the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Luke 13:22-30)   Jesus is preaching about the Kingdom of God which sounds like a hard place to enter.  Someone asks Jesus, “Sir, will only a few people be saved?”  Jesus does not give a direct answer.  He uses the image of the “narrow door.”  Images are important in teaching.

The answer would depend upon our perception of the “narrow door” image.  Entry through the door would depend on the “master of the house” who is Jesus.  If you “know” him, you can enter.  If you don’t “know” him you can’t enter.

And what does it mean to “know” Jesus?  It means that we know him as a “friend” and not as an “acquaintance.”  In this Gospel context, “knowledge” means accepting Jesus as a person and sharing his ministry of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and service to others.

By such behavior as “friends” of Jesus we can bring peace on earth.  By acting as an “acquaintance” we really don’t know Jesus and consequently can’t act for him.  Friendship means power, power means active commitment, active commitment means fulfilling Jesus’ ministry on earth.  This way we can bring peace on earth.  By not knowing Jesus, there is little likelihood that peace can come on earth.  I suggest that we try to get to “know” Jesus much better.  Having peace in our time may depend on it.

 

 

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The family choice

No matter how close family members have become with each other throughout their lives,  there is almost always a problem with one issue in particular, namely,  finances.  Most likely the problem often surfaces when the parents die.  Questions arise, for example,  such as when the siblings start asking how the family inheritance is to be divided “fairly.”

Is “A” going to get more than “B” because he was the only one who willingly paid off the family house loan?  And is “C” supposed to get more than the others since she, virtually alone, took of a sick mother?

The Gospel for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 12:13-21) appears to touch on these issues.  The day’s Gospel begins when someone asks Jesus to tell his own brother to share the family inheritance with him.

Jesus, in effect, says “no” signifying that it is not his business to interfere in family legal matters.  This task belongs more to a lawyer than to Jesus.  However, Jesus does get to the root of the problem by turning the legal issue into a probable moral issue by focusing on the “motivation” of the refusal.

He makes a very significant point, “Take care to guard against all greed… One’s life does not depend on possessions.”  It turns out that greed makes one focus more on the self than on others.  Quite likely, greed tends to obliterate the needs of others, so, consequently, one becomes selfish.

In effect, part of the lesson is that greed is the opposite of sharing.  Having wealth is not the problem.  The problem is “What do I do with it when I have it?”  Motivation becomes the key as to determining whether one’s wealth s good or bad.  How does one share one’s wealth? Good and generous behavior is an excellent  example of being wealthy.  To explain,  Jesus tells a parable.

A rich man had a plentiful harvest.  He decided that he would build bigger barns so that his food would last for years.  He was thinking of himself.  Then the rich man mumbled, “Now that I have enough food for quite a while, I’ll go out and party awhile.”  Selfish motivation.  Not sharing what he has.

Then the text tells us that the Lord said, “You fool.  Tonight you will die, then who will take over your harvest?”  One of the things that can present a stark contrast between greed and sharing is the probability of death.  No one knows  when the moment of death will occur–but it will occur.

Since a principal point in the Gospel is the startling contrast between greed and sharing, the question one asks is “With whom do I share?”  An excellent reference point is the final judgement scene in Matthew’s gospel  (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Righteous are told:  “I was hungry and you fed me.  I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was sick and you took care of me.”

The Righteous will ask, “Lord, when did we do this?”  And the Lord will say, “When you did this to the least members of my family, you did it to ME.”

How many people do we meet like this and then ignore them?  Don’t we believe that we are all created in God’s image and likeness? (Genesis 1:26-27)  If so, then that makes us all members of God’s family.

How do we stand regarding the “greed-share” dichotomy?  I would suggest that reflection as to how we deal with the above might likely give us an answer.  Motivation, death, and sharing will help us become more aware of our family.  Then it will be easier to make the choice of what to do with our possessions.

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