32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings are an example of why it’s good to understand the historical context of Scripture.   The stories may make sense to our 21st Century minds, but looking at society as it was in Biblical times gives them a little more meaning.

The first reading and the Gospel today deal with widows. It’s important to realize that widows in those times were usually in desperate straits. There was no Social Security. There was no life insurance. There were no pension plans. Unless they had a generous extended family, widows were among the poorest of the poor. Women didn’t work at paying jobs, so their prospects were very bleak. They had no hope.

Yet, here we have two widows, both being asked to give. In the first reading, not only is the main character of the story a poor widow, but at the time, around 900 BC, the Middle East was caught up in a draught and famine. Nobody had enough to eat, let alone this poor lady. But along comes Elijah the prophet asking her for water, something that was in short supply. But the widow does as Elijah asks. As she’s walking away, Elijah calls after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.”

The lady explains to Elijah that she has just enough flour and oil to make one last meal for herself and her son. That’s it. That’s all there is. When they’re finished with their bread and water, they’re going to die. Imagine how hopeless she must have felt.

That’s when Elijah says something so outrageous that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. He asks her to make him a cake! Seriously! He wants a cake??? Maybe he’d like some ice cream to go with it? But, he goes on to tell the widow that if she does as he asks, “The Jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”

 

Sure enough, she makes Elijah his cake and she and her son have enough to eat for a year. She gave the little she had, and she was blessed in return. You know, God still works that way today. God can never be outdone in generosity. If you don’t believe me, just try it.

Now, let’s look at the Gospel. The scene is very different. Mark tells us that Jesus is speaking “to the crowds,” as opposed to the scene in the Old Testament reading where there were only two people, Elijah and the widow. A lot of people are following Jesus now. When He speaks, they listen. He’s describing those synagogue officials who like to run around in long robes, letting everyone see how important they are. He says “They devour the houses of widows, and as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

This is the flip side of the first reading’s message. The first reading tells us to give and it will be returned to us many times over. The Gospel is telling us that the men who “devour the houses of widows” will receive a “very severe condemnation.”

The story continues with one of those widows coming into the temple and giving two small coins to the treasury, all she has, her whole livelihood. Jesus tells the disciples that this poor widow has put in more than “all the other contributors to the treasury.”

So, what’s the message here? The logical answer is that here’s where I tell you how important it is to give money to the Church and to other charities. Give ‘til it hurts. Give, not from your surplus, but give all you have. That’s certainly part of it. It’s called “stewardship”. God has given us what we have and it’s up to us to give back. Like the first widow, God will give back to us in much larger measure that we give to Him. But I think the message here is bigger than that. It’s about faith.

How do we grow our faith? We grow it by sharing it with others. Our faith gets bigger when we give it away.

Last Sunday we held our Goulash Festival. It was a success. We served more dinners and made more money than ever before. But that’s not what made the event successful. What made it successful was the way you all worked together, the way you represented our faith community to our visitors. Over 400 people visited us and many of them had never been here before. They enjoyed the food, but the majority of comments we got were about the atmosphere of Saint John Nepomuk.

They were impressed with how well everyone worked together and with the friendly greeting they got from you. That’s called “evangelization” even if not a single word was spoken about Jesus, or God, or Catholicism. We grow our faith by giving it away, just like the two widows in today’s readings.

The Goulash Festival only happens once a year, but we have the chance to share our faith every single day. We don’t do it by running around in long robes or taking seats of honor in the church. We do it by the little kindnesses we do for one another every day. We do it by dishing out goulash once a year, but we also do it by welcoming visitors to our chapel at every mass.

We become disciples by making disciples, and we make disciples by giving to others. In his speech to Congress, our Holy Father summed up his whole message, and Jesus’, in one statement. Live by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.32

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

Well, the readings today are quite a handful, aren’t they? First we have poor Jeremiah, the prophet. He’s ticked off. He’s miffed. He’s mad at the Lord. Or, maybe he’s mad at himself. He says, “you duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”

Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn because he’s been proclaiming the Lord’s message. But he can’t stop. He can’t help himself. He says “it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in.”

 

Next comes Paul, writing to the Romans. He tells them to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. “Wait! What? What kind of religion IS this? I thought we sacrificed lambs, and goats, and doves and stuff. You want me to offer my own body!? What’s up with that?”

 

He also tells them, AND US, not to conform to this age, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” The Romans were pagans. They were used to gods who gave them stuff. Now this Jew is telling them something totally different. It couldn’t have been easy being Paul. Like Jeremiah, he suffered his share of scorn and ridicule and time in prison.

 

Finally, we have the words of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about what was going to happen to Him. But Peter rebukes Him! Imagine that. You have to admire Peter for having the intestinal fortitude to rebuke Jesus. But he pays the price. “Get thee behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

 

With Peter suitably put in his place, Jesus turns back to the disciples. By the way, exactly what IS a disciple? The dictionary says it’s “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” In this context, the disciples were obviously the people who followed Christ. And by follow, I mean they physically followed Him around. But they also hung on every word He said and did their best to follow His teachings.

 

Matthew ends his Gospel with these words of Jesus, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 

But back to today’s Gospel. He tells His disciples, his followers, his students, that they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. He tells them that if they lose their lives for His sake they will save their lives. He promises them, and us, that he will repay all of us according to our conduct.

 

Three readings. Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn for delivering the Lord’s message. Paul tells the Romans that they must sacrifice themselves. Jesus tells His disciples that they must take up their crosses and follow Him, losing their lives to save them.

 

These are very Catholic messages. I say that because a lot of churches have become very popular preaching what is sometimes called “the prosperity Gospel”. If you follow Jesus, everything will be great! God will give you anything you want if you just ask Him. If He doesn’t answer your prayers it’s because you’re not holy enough. It sounds good and attracts a lot of people, especially poor people. Often these “prosperity preachers” make the poor even poorer by asking them to “give ‘til it hurts” knowing that God will provide. Unfortunately, the only one who seems to proper from the “prosperity gospel” are the “prosperity preachers.”

 

Our Gospel message isn’t that you’re going to prosper in this world, but that what God has prepared for us in the next world is so far beyond the riches of this world that we can’t even comprehend it.

 

So, how do we get to the next world? How do we get one of those many places that the Father has prepared for us? There’s a good answer in our missalettes, in the little italicized section at the beginning of today’s readings. You may not normally read it, but today it’s especially good.

 

“No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus! Jesus “began to show his disciples” [there’s that word again] what faithful discipleship demands: denying self, losing self, letting self die. Jesus teaches his disciples to let go of self so that a new self can be given. What we relinquish is ourselves as we are now; what we are given is a new self, born from identifying completely with Jesus. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to embrace Jesus’ way of living. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to let Jesus transform our life into His life.”

 

The writer uses the word “disciple” or “discipleship” five times in that short passage. It must be important. In fact, it’s more than important, it’s critical to our eternal life. The big question for all of us is “Am I a disciple?” Do I identify completely with Jesus. Have I let go of my self? Have I denied my self? Have I let my self die? If not, why not?

 

Is Jesus part of my everyday life, or is the sum total of my so-called discipleship coming to mass once a week? We all know people who call themselves Catholics who can’t even manage to do that! Today’s readings are a real challenge for all of us. It’s right there in black and white. If we’re serious about our eternal souls, and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t be, then we have to be true disciples; not occasional disciples, not once a week disciples, but 100% disciples, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

 

We’re not called to do the least we can, we’re called to do ALL that we can. We’re called to let go of our selves. We’re called to deny our selves. We’re called to let our selves die. If we insist on holding on to our old selves then maybe we should rethink our priorities. It’s like they say on the airliners, we have to put on our oxygen masks first, then help others with theirs. We can’t make disciples if we aren’t disciples ourselves.