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

Archive for August, 2017

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The keys of the kingdom

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I learned a very important lesson.  One Sunday afternoon our family took a walk to the local park.  While there we enjoyed a boat ride on the local lake, had fun on the carousel, and too quickly came the time to walk home.  Dad was in a good mood, so as we began our walk back from the park he decided to do some cartwheels.  Very impressive!

Finally, when we arrived home Dad was about to get the key to the front door.  As it turned out, he lost the key doing the cartwheels.  The house key was in his shirt pocket.

However, we eventually got in.  My lesson was to appreciate the importance of the key.  Keep it in a safe place.  Later I began to appreciate the symbolism of the key.  It is a sign of authority.  The key holder can let people in or keep them out.

The Gospel for the Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 16:13-20) appears to place a great deal of importance to keys.  It seems to me that in order to get a fuller picture of the Gospel, we should focus on two themes: The identification of Jesus, and the importance of the key.

First of all, the identification of Jesus.  Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do others say that I am?”  I could imagine the disciples with a quizzical look on their faces, rubbing their chins, looking heavenward, and replying, “Some say you are John the Baptist.”  “Others say you are Elijah.”  “Maybe Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus focused his question, “But who do YOU say that I am?”  It was important for the disciples to know the master, since they were going to continue his work.

Peter blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  It is necessary to point out what Peter was actually saying.  “Christ” is the translation for the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which means “The one who was sent.”  It appears that Peter was a believer in the Immanuel (=”God with us”) promise, that God would be with his people.

Secondly, the theme of the keys.  After this profession of faith and recognizing Peter’s leadership potential,  Jesus employs the image of the keys indicating authority.  “…I will give you the KEYS of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Matt: 16:19)

Now would be a proper time to ask the question of what this part of the Gospel could mean to me personally.  Actually, when we are baptized we become disciples of Jesus.  “Discipleship” means “the learning process.”  The disciple learns from the master, and we have much of the New Testament telling us what Jesus said and did regarding others.

Thus we learn about justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and other virtues.  Our belief system is manifested by our behavior pattern.  Our KEY is the constant reminder of our Baptism by which which we became disciples of Jesus.

That is to say, that every time we encounter the locked doors of resistance such as injustice, lack of compassion, anger and hostility, the “key” of our  Baptismal responsibilities, such as justice and compassion, would easily open those doors.  Indeed, we could share with Peter the disciple’s version of “the keys of the kingdom.”

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What are you afraid of?

Let’s face it.  We all seem to be afraid of something.  For some people,  it is driving in the dark.  For others, it is the fear of flying.  When you stop to think about it, many of us have some kind of fear which can limit our line of activities.  But in addition to material fears, there are spiritual fears as well.

Just what is “fear”?  Many dictionaries would likely describe it as a disagreeable emotion caused by the belief that someone or something can cause me pain or anxiety.  But can one handle “fear” once it makes its appearance?

In the Gospel for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 14:22-32) the theme of “fear” plays a rather significant role.  Here is what the Gospel tells us.

Jesus goes up to a mountain to PRAY.  It is his way of coming into personal contact with God the Father, which is necessary for making proper judgements about other people.  Meanwhile, some of his disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Suddenly, heavy winds emerge and tend to blow the boat almost out of control, causing the disciples to panic.  No doubt, they were AFRAID.  And that FEAR  was intensified when they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them.  They presumed that Jesus was a ghost.

When Jesus was about to reach the boat, he told the disciples that it was he and firmly stated ” Do not be AFRAID.”  Impetuous Peter then asked Jesus if he (Peter) could walk on water toward Jesus.  After an affirmative response  Peter got out of the boat and started to walk on the water toward Jesus.

But the winds were still strong and Peter became FRIGHTENED.  He began to sink and called out for help.  Jesus reached out to Peter, helped him, and then said, “O you of little faith.  Why did you DOUBT?”  Peter doubted the power of Jesus because he was afraid.

What lesson can we learn from the Gospel?  Two of the themes appear to be bound together, namely, “prayer” and “fear.”  Our potential lessons can be learned from that juncture.

First of all, there is “prayer.”  Jesus goes up to the mountain alone to pray because  this is how he has his personal encounter with God the Father.  Consequently, we must constantly “climb our mountain” (whatever it is) to have our personal encounter with God.  It is that encounter that gives us the courage and authority to deal with fear, whatever its source.  Therefore, we should ask ourselves precisely what is this “mountain” where I can have a personal encounter with God.  Silent/sacramental prayer?  Close friendship?

Secondly, we must also discover what is that item of which we are afraid.  As a disciple we should be fearful of sin, particularly if it is easy to commit.  In fact, it is prayer that strengthens our faith and enables us to believe in the authority of Jesus.

Prayer strengthens faith and conquers doubt.  As he  stretched his hand to help Peter in his moment of doubt, so Jesus stretches his hand to help us in our moments of doubt.  Maybe it is time to ask ourselves what is it that we fear the most?  Not just on the practical level, but on the spiritual level as well.

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Keep or throw away?

For me, “spring cleaning” is a year around process.  As I rifle through boxes, a very distinct choice presents itself.  “Shall I keep this item or throw it away?”  The basis for the choice is generally founded upon either nostalgia or possible future use.

I may find photos or documents that bring back “interesting” experiences which may tell me of what I was like many years ago.  Or, discover written documents (courses that I taught in the past) that may be of use again.

The readings for the seventeenth Sunday on Ordinary Time (I Kings 3:5-12; Romans 8:28-30; and Matthew 13:44-52) present us with some choices that can help us decide what to keep or what to throw away when we deal with other people.

The first reading (I Kings 3:5-12) tells us that God appeared to King Solomon in a dream, telling him that he would give him what he wanted.  Instead of asking for wealth or permanent battle victories, Solomon asked for an “understanding heart” so that he could judge people more fairly.

In the second reading (Romans 8:28-30), Paul tells the Romans, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God….”

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 13:44-52) Jesus tells his disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field….”  In effect, Matthew is saying that the kingdom of heaven is nothing more than making God present in our lives.

What can we learn from the above readings? The principal lesson, it seems to me, is to accept totally the fact that we are disciples of Jesus and, as such,  our main task is to make God present in all of our lives all of the time.

And how do we do that?  The above biblical readings can help us.  We do this by our example of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  Just as Solomon asked for an “understanding heart” in order to judge more fairly, so we can ask for such a heart in order to grasp the realities of good/bad example.

We can do this also by accepting the well intentions/actions of others in helping us make God present in our daily situation.  Paul tells the Romans, in effect,  that good people often make good choices.

The Gospel reading suggests to us that making God present in our situations is such a marvelous experience, much like finding a pearl of great price.

Understanding others in order to make good judgements about them, accepting the support of people to facilitate the process will help us make God’s presence in this world a year long job.  That is to say that “spring cleaning” could well last the entire twelve months of the year.  Very likely. we will know what to keep and what to throw away.

 

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