First, the self-righteous Pharisee. Here is a man who seems to impeccably follow the law. In some terms, he is the model citizen! Honest, fiscally generous, and faithful to his marriage vows. But something else lurks in his heart: pride. "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity … or even like this tax collector." For the Pharisee, no fault can be admitted. The only way to stay on top is to preserve one's image — even to God, it seems! — and point out the flaws of others from the pedestal.
In the back of the temple, hidden and bowed down, is the tax collector. "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." This man's prayer is one of supplication and petition. He isn't afraid to express his sinfulness and misery. This, Jesus says, is the one who "went home justified." How many times have we heard the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost? Jesus is the one who dines with sinners and invites every heart to repentance. But how can we return to him if we don't know we've left? How can we receive God's grace when we're adamant we don't need it?READ MORE
Today's Gospel features a persistent widow who ekes out justice from a notoriously cold-hearted judge. Why does she win the day? "Because the widow keeps bothering me." Jesus' recommendation to the disciples is to be persistent in prayer, because surely God the Father is far more attuned to their needs than this judge. If only it were that easy, right? We've all experienced the unanswered prayer, the silence after our cries. When this continues, sometimes it can be difficult to have faith in God or believe He answers prayers. It can be easy to lapse into a sense of His distance. We want Him to do something "fair," which — in our limited view — typically means that something works out in our favor.READ MORE
In the ancient world and into the Middle Ages, there was no treatment for leprosy. People thought it was wildly contagious and were suspicious of any skin diseases.
Lepers were isolated from civil society. This isolation was upheld by the Mosaic Law. Should there be a healing from leprosy, the former leper was to present himself to a priest to certify the healing. Like Jesus commands, "Show yourselves to the priests." The person would then undergo a religious rite to be formally reintroduced to society. In other words, a leper got their life back. So why didn't they come back?READ MORE
"When you have done all you have been commanded, say 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do."
The metaphor in the story could seem harsh to us today. A servant has worked hard all day, and rather than receiving a much-needed respite, the master commands an additional task. Jesus, however, is appearing to their sensibilities. This was a hierarchical society in which everyone had a place. His listeners would know this. No servant would presume a reward for good deeds.
It's important to remember that we do have a place at God's table. But we don't "earn" it. Dining with the Lord at the heavenly wedding feast requires surrender. It requires deep faith in God and His promises. It also requires commitment. The kingdom takes work! There are fields to plow and initiatives to prepare. There are sheep to tend to and family to care for. There are people waiting for our yes to generous service. When we serve dinner at a homeless shelter, we are waiting on the table of Christ. When we visit an ill relative, we're imitating the Good Samaritan. We're visiting Jesus! We're growing his kingdom of life and love.READ MORE
If you saw someone dead come to life tomorrow, what would you change about your life? Would you say "nothing"? That's what Jesus seems to hope. After all, we already know what to do.
In this Sunday's Gospel, a rich man and a poor man pass away, the former to damnation and the latter to peaceful rest alongside the Jewish patriarchs. The rich man asks if the poor man can appear to his brothers and advise them to live a more virtuous life. The parable offers a strong rebuke: "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them." In other words, they should already know what to do.
We, too, know what to do. More than Moses, Jesus Christ himself has spoken, and continues to speak through his Church. The rich man did not heed the wise words, despite knowing them. If we are convicted against certain Christian teachings in our heart, how much good will miraculous "proofs" do? We know more than the law and the prophets — we know the prophetic law of love proclaimed by Jesus Christ. Are we living like we believe it?READ MORE
"Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain…"
Compartmentalization or consistency? In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus tells a strange story of a sneaky, savvy steward that raises questions about our personal virtue. "How much do you owe? Here is your promissory note, write one for eighty." This parable isn't advice for money management. Historically, there were many positions that acted on behalf of their masters regarding money, like customs agents, household stewards, and tax collectors. Often these workers over-charged and skimmed off the top.READ MORE
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain…"
In this Sunday's Gospel, we learn the context for the forthcoming parables about the lost and found. A great mixed crowd surrounds Jesus. The religious elite are present, along with all manner of local lowlifes. The Pharisees seem a bit upset that this wasn't the lecture series they were hoping for. Why would Jesus welcome sinners?
Jesus responds as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. "Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep … rejoice because I have found the coin that I lost … let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine … was lost, and has been found!" Each of the parables features a dramatic example. Of 99 sheep, one has gone astray. Of 10 coins, one has gone missing. The welcomed son has previously been a covetous scoundrel. Jesus' point to the Pharisees is clear. If the Gospel really is "good news," if our faith really has the power to save, why wouldn't we want everyone drawing near? Why wouldn't we do everything in our power to eke out that possibility for every single person, no matter where they have wandered? After all, if this message is not of value to everyone, why is it of value to anyone?READ MORE
It's said that upon reading the Gospels, Gandhi commented that he very much liked Jesus Christ. It was Christ's followers he found troublesome. One wonders who Gandhi had met and if these Christians had truly counted the cost of their faith.
Following Jesus, really following Jesus, is much more challenging than we may think. He emphasizes this with strong language in this Sunday's Gospel. He compares discipleship to the carrying of one's own execution device – "his own cross" – and for the need even to "hate" what could disrupt one's commitment. Some of this is standard hyperbole, exaggeration for effect common to the time period. Some of this should make us wonder how deep our discipleship goes.READ MORE
Can you imagine if Jesus threw a party? From the wedding feast at Cana, we know he wouldn’t let the wine run out. From this Sunday’s Gospel, we know there would be quite a lively array of guests! We also knew who the most important people would be — everyone.
Jesus advises throwing a party that turns everything upside down. Everyone should assume they’re the least important attendee, and the guest list shouldn’t include the neighborhood “who’s who.” Rather, we should go looking for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” and hope they RSVP. Jesus describes a particular posture towards our own hospitality.READ MORE
Have you ever seen a celebrity? Have you ever met a political representative? Did the encounter leave you with newfound acting or musical abilities? Did it give you a grasp of the intricacies of the latest city ordinance or controversial law? Talents, expertise, and skill are hard-won traits, not rewards that spread by contact. Our life of faith is also not so easy.
“We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets!” In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus notes that it requires moral strength to enter the kingdom of God. It's not mere proximity to righteousness that saves. Rubbing elbows with the righteous is not the same as being truly holy ourselves. Unfortunately, we can have this attitude in many areas.READ MORE
The Prince of Peace wants to set the world on fire? This Sunday's Gospel can sound more intense than what we may be accustomed to. It's a passage of contradictions. Jesus so clearly prays for unity, yet here he speaks of division. Why would our God who comes as an offering of love speak so frankly about causing relationships to be torn apart?
The sobering truth is that Jesus is divisive. We see this throughout the Gospels, as the Pharisees critique him, the Romans condemn him, and not everyone in the crowd is enthusiastic about his words.
Jesus has not come for the purpose of dividing, but what he does is so radical that it upends the status quo. And it doesn't end with his preaching and miracles! "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized." Jesus isn't talking about his baptism at the Jordan River, which has already occurred, but the passing through the waters of death on the Cross and rising again to new life in the resurrection.READ MORE
Tickets booked, packing list double-checked, itinerary set - how do you know you're prepared for a trip? Being ready requires plenty of practical preparation. Do we give the same care to our spiritual preparedness? "Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom," Jesus tells us. In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus reminds us to have the right attitude for the gifts and callings he wants to give us!
Clear out your clutter! “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Jesus reminds the disciples that earthly standards of security and success will wear out in time. If our lives are structured around values that don't align with the kingdom of God, we'll miss opportunities to receive God. If we're so concerned with our child's success in sports that we miss Sunday Mass for their tournaments, we're missing out receiving the sacraments and building a consistent community of faith. If our quest for the promotion takes us away from family commitments, we won't be able to fully receive the love intended in our closest relationships.READ MORE
As we enter into a new week, I lift you up in prayer and claim 1 Chronicles 4:10. It is the prayer of Jabez.
May God grant your requests as He did for Jabez! May He bless you indeed and enlarge your borders! May the hand of God be with you and keep you from harm, in Jesus mighty Name, Amen!
— Fr. Emmanuel
Today's Gospel tackles a key question in the spiritual life - grateful or greedy?READ MORE