8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This is my homily for the 8th week of Ordinary Time.  We seldom have an 8th week because Lent has usually started by the first of March, but this year we do.  So enjoy some readings that you may not have heard in a while.  

We live in a world of sound bites.  CBS claims to have “real news”. Those two four letter words mean a lot more than their ordinary meaning.  Fox News is “fair and balanced”. I don’t think anybody, even their biggest fans, believe that they don’t lean to the conservative side.  Coca Cola is the “real thing” .  Here in Saint Louis hockey fans bleed blue and we shop at Carroll House because we like nice things. KMOX is “the voice of Saint Louis,” Commercials tell us not to smell like Walter.

 

We have a President who communicates in 140 character tweets.  And most of us carry a telephone around in our pockets or purses even though we may never actually talk to anyone.  If I want to meet my wife for lunch I’ll send her a text message: Lunch? And she’ll reply: ok. Where & when? I’ll text her back Chick-Fil-A @ 1:00.  And she’ll answer back: ok. Seven words and two characters, assuming “ok” is a word. We have the most advanced communication system in history and nobody talks to anybody anymore.  We have to go to the history books to find the great presidential speeches. Imagine if Lincoln had had Twitter at Gettysburg.

 

Do you remember when you were in grade school?  Every year you’d get a new wooden ruler. It had the Golden Rule on it and was sponsored by Coke.  I went to a public school, so I don’t know if they do that anymore or not, but fifty years later I still remember those rulers.  On the front it said “A good rule…Do unto others as you wouldhave them do unto you.” Then on the back it said compliments of the Coca Cola Bottling Company.”  That was back when public schools and public corporations didn’t mind being associated with the Bible.ruler

For around ten bucks, plus shipping, you can buy one of those rulers on ebay.

But, this isn’t a new thing.  Oh, the technology may be new but sound bites date back to the time before Christ.  In the first reading today Sirach, who wrote from 200-175 BC, or about two centuries before Christ,  gives us four sound bites, three of them about speech.:

“When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.”  We may not be familiar with a sieve, but it’s the way they used to separate the grain from the husks.  You’d put the grain in the sieve and shake it. The holes were a certain size and the grain would be separated from the husks.  Sirach is telling us that when we speak our faults fall out of our mouths just like the husks fall out of the sieve.

 

Then he tells us that:  “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so too does ones speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”  This is a similar message to the first one and finally he says:”Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”

 

It was either Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain who said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Same thought, just expressed in a different way.

 

Saint Steven was the first deacon and also the first martyr.  He was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel. They told us in formation that Steven was doing just fine until he opened his mouth.

 

In the middle of the reading, Sirach goes off on a different track and says: “As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just.”  If you’ve ever gone to Silver Dollar City, chances you’ve watched the potters at work.  After they complete a piece it goes in the oven to be cured. If the clay isn’t right, the oven will crack it and destroy the piece.  So, tribulation will destroy us if our souls aren’t just.

 

If we turn to Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus speaking in the same type of sound bite.  “Can a blind person lead a blind person?  Will not both fall into a pit.”  Two thousand years later this saying is part of our language.  How often have you heard someone say “that’s like the blind leading the blind.”  Of course Jesus’ meaning is a little deeper here. He’s not talking about two blind guys falling into a hole.  He’s talking about us following false prophets. How can someone lead you to heaven if they don’t know how to get there themselves.  We see these people on television on Sunday morning, but they’ve been around a lot longer than TV.

 

“No disciple is superior to the teacher but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”  That one’s pretty obvious.

 

But then He asks the disciples a question.  “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”  Think about your basement at home.  Or, if you don’t have a basement, think about the attic.  Think about the wooden beams that hold the whole thing together.  Then imagine one of them sticking out of your eye. Go ahead. I’ll wait.  Got it? OK, now imagine trying to get a splinter out of someone else’s eye with that big beam sticking out of your eye.  You couldn’t even get close enough to see the splinter.

 

YOU HYPOCRITE!  Get your own house in order before you try to help somebody else.  Don’t be like the blind leading the blind.

 

Finally Luke takes us back to Sirach and talks about the quality of the tree producing good fruit.  “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil, for out ot the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

 

Have a great Lent!

 

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3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time–Ezra

Here’s my homily for this weekend,  Enjoy

 

People love stories.  We enjoy stories that entertain us and stories that teach us things.  Stories are powerful. The Book of the Gospels is full of stories about Jesus and stories Jesus told which we call parables.  Jesus parables make up roughly 30% of the New Testament. In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel the Apostles ask Jesus why He speaks to the people in parables.  Jesus answers that while they, the Apostles, know the secrets of God’s kingdom, the people aren’t ready yet so He must speak to them in parables.

 

For example, He could have told them to pray constantly, but they wouldn’t get it.  Instead He told them the story of the judge and the persistent widow. That they understood.

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Here’s a more modern parable.  Some of us are cat people and some of us are dog people.   Some of us are neither. I happen to be a cat person. But suppose you don’t know anything about dogs or cats.  I could try to explain the difference or I could tell you a story.

 

A German shepherd, a doberman, and a cat die.  All three meet God and He wants to know what they believe in.  

 

The German shepherd says, “I believe in discipline, training, and loyalty to my master.”  God says “that’s good. You may sit at my right side.”

 

The doberman says, “”I believe in  the love, care, and protection of my master.  “Ah, God says, “you may sit at my left side.” Then God looks at the cat.  “And what do you believe?” The cat answers, “I believe you’re sitting in my seat.”

 

That’s the difference between dogs and cats.

 

Jan and I babysat our 18 month-old grandson last  night.  This morning he and Momo were reading this book. It’s by Dr, Seuss and it’s called “Mr, Brown Can Moo, Can You?” a typical, silly Dr, Seuss book.  You know one of the first things we teach little kids is animal sounds. You know, “the cow goes moo”. Well this book is full of all kinds of sounds and goofy pictures, and my grandson can repeat most of the sounds.

mr brown

 

But, l think if you just sat him down with a list of sounds, he probably wouldn’t get it nearly as fast as he’s gotten it from good old Dr, Seuss.  Again, stories are powerful.

 

In the first reading today from the Book of Nehemiah the Hebrew people have been in exile in Babylon for more than 100 years.  There’s nobody alive who remembers what it was like before they were captured. There are some people, like Ezra the priest who have kept the traditions alive, but to most of the people it’s just ancient history.  Living among the Babylonians for more than a century, most of the people have adopted the Babylonian lifestyle.

But, now they’re back.   They’ve returned to Jerusalem and Ezra has brought them all together, “all the men, the women, and all the children old enough to understand.”  They’re gathered in front of the Water Gate, which isn’t a hotel in Washington DC, but it’s the gap in the city wall where the water comes in. They’re outside in the sun and they’re going to need a lot of water.  Ezra is standing on a wooden platform that’s been built just for the occasion. He opens the scroll and begins to read from the Torah. Notice he read from dawn to midday, around six or seven hours. If you’re one of those people who think mass should never take more than 45 minutes, preferably less, think about that.  They stood out in the sun for six or seven hours. I told you they would need a lot of water,

 

They weren’t just standing around.  They had their hands raised high and were shouting “Amen!  Amen! Then they prostrated themselves on the ground. They were all weeping because they realized what they had been missing; how they had let the Lord down.  Have you ever cried at mass, other than maybe at a funeral? Has it ever occurred to you how undeserving you are of God’s love? Well, that’s how the people were feeling.

 

Then Nehemiah, who was governer, said to the people, “Don’t be sad.  Don’t weep! Today is holy to the Lord, your God. Rejoice in the Lord! Have a party!”  That was some powerful story that Ezra read to the people.

 

Now, normally this is where I would talk about the Gospel.  But since this week’s Gospel and next weeks are basically part 1 and 2 of the same story I’m just going to point out how Jesus reading from the scroll is just like Ezra’s doing it in the first reading and say again that there is tremendous power in stories.  This is the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and he addresses it to “most excellent Theophilus.” The word means “lover of God” so Luke probably isn’t writing to any particular person.

 

Jesus has returned after being tempted and today finds Himself in Nazareth, His home town.  He attends synagogue on the Sabbath and stands up and reads from the scroll just like Ezra had.  He finishes by telling His listeners “today this scripture reading is fulfilled in your hearing.”  But come back next weekend and you’ll hear that the outcome is very different. Stay tuned.