Daily Reflections by Father Bert
Lectionary: Romans 16: 3-9, 16:22-27. Luke 16: 9-15:
We have been doing a continuous reading of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This Saturday we come to the precious conclusion of it and the recommendation of Phoebe to be welcomed to the house church which Paul knows so well. The rest of the letter is addressed to all who are members of the house churches he is addressing, especially all those in Rome. The whole letter is a circular one that is sent to all of the churches that the apostles and workers with them have ministered to. Paul mentions over twenty-five personal names her starting with Phoebe and going on with a number of names we all can recall , for example, Aquila and Priscilla (tentmakers with Paul), Apollos, Rufus, and Tertius, a scribe who writes this letter as Paul dictates. Paul uses the term ekklesia only here in Romans; nowhere else in his epistles. The churches are rather home or house gatherings of the faithful Christians. Paul ends with a doxology which he includes several times in many of his letters and also here in Romans.
This letter is the one that has influenced Christian theology more than the other epistles and parts of the New Testament. We realize how important Paul makes of these relations realizing that they help him to keep on being the Apostle to the Gentiles. Married couples , converts, leaders, Mary, dear friends and fellow workers, etc. He is addressing those who are in Rome. We realize how much he loved these persons and names them. He built his ministry through making friends and keeping in touch with them. The text here and elsewhere how much he treasured these people and endeared himself to them as their Apostle. Phoebe is probably the one who would be sent to the other churches as well.
Psalm 145 is one of the last alleluia psalms and this one is filled with praise of God in the highest manner. It also is a masterpiece as one of the alphabetical psalms that continues with different expressions of praise and thanks. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Paul recited this one often and I think it depicts Paul’s prayer in relationship to God. It is one of the Psalms discovered at Qumran, the area where the Dead Sea Psalms were among the treasures. I pray this line from it at this moment, “I will praise your name forever, Lord. Every day I will bless you, and I will praise your name forever.
As I mentioned yesterday almost all of chapter 16 is dedicated to the theme of simple living, poverty, and truthfulness in our dealings with others when it comes to money. Luke joins together these short passages. Jesus is confronting those Pharisees who are paying more attention to money than to their concern for others. In chapter seventeen we will leave the scenes of money and deceit and begin a new section on which Jesus continues to teach his disciples about the responsibilities they will have in helping others as they go out on missionary journeys while still continuing on the big journey with Jesus which as we now know consists of almost ten chapters in what is called the Journey Narrative. Amen.
Lectionary: Romans 15: 14-21. Psalm 98: 1,2-3, 3-4. Luke 16: 1-8
Some parables are difficult to interpret in our liturgical celebrations because we do not always hear the full text or section from which it is taken, nor much about the ownership of land during the first century of our era. Often a parable focusing on a single person is often speaking about the society or the people surrounding Jesus when he teaches by means of a parable. The Evangelist is often giving his particular concerns for a community to which an individual belongs. Then this parable shows contrasts between those who are believers and followers of Jesus who are his own disciples who are with him on the long journey narrative where Jesus is instructing them on their role and their need for development for being effective agents of God’s love for all peoples. Luke is especially concerned about poverty and how it is practiced in the developing Christian communities, some of which are rich but not sharing with their brothers and sisters in the wider community.
You and I in our years of developing our knowledge in the sciences as well as in the arts have often had teachers who should have been taught how to teach besides just increasing their own knowledge about the various subjects of learning which were needed while in the earlier years of our studies. For example, I know I would have learned more had the teacher been equipped to deal with imparting the lesson with a better knowledge of it. Some teachers are brilliant in what they know but are not too concerned whether the student learns. In my over fifty years of teaching I had a few who were poor teachers and kept me from learning in a field that would have helped me. I did learn from these teachers what not to do in the classroom. There are some teachers who are similar to what the parable is telling us today in describing the deceitful and crafty employee who had to trick his master in being forgiven what he owed.
Jesus often goes beyond conveying the message of the parable by offering it in a way that speaks to those who belong to his disciples and those who have no interest in following the Lord.
As I mulled over this parable I recalled one of my favorite films that brings out parts of the movie that is similar to what the parable shows us. The name of the film is “Dead Poets Society” and Robin Williams was the good master teacher. I saw in the academy to which the students belonged some of the bad traits the teachers had, this included the administrators. They devise schemes to be severe with some students and also show how inept they are in explaining the subject in a way that would interest the student. Robin Williams is a new creative teacher who not only knows his subject but inspires his students to learn more poetry than they ever would under the former teacher who was supposed to teach them. With the newly arrived teacher nothing which was of interest to his students was neglected by him who also noted and setup learning occasions outside class times by being with him in their leisure and in exercise time or sports events.
Coming back to the parable, we are shocked at the deceit used by the one who could not pay the owner what was his due. He had learned how to wiggle out of his problems by being dishonest in a way the master and owner would not know it. He charged those owing a hundred dollars to write down twenty; and another who owed eighty dollars to write down 60. The owner, when he finds out he had been duped, praised the cleverness of the devious worker who paid the amount seen on the final report. At this point, Jesus himself helps the listeners to figure out what the parable is all about and we learn why it is Luke who is concerned about income for the poor while he remembers Jesus has told it. Jesus’ own voice cracks open the parable for the listener by saying, “The children of his world are wiser in their own generation than the sons and daughters of light.” Jesus’s followers were not as sharp and tricky as those who belong more to the world of mammon. I then scanned the rest of chapter sixteen and discovered it is a chapter that deals with the problem of riches and the lengths to which people will go to be in league with the lovers of mammon.
After getting embroiled in my personal understanding of this parable, I sought to find out the meaning of “Mammon.” It is transliterated from the Semitic language and simply means money. Then I recalled the saying which we all know which is found in I Timothy: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” Amen.
One Jewish commentator simply says about this parable, “The parable defies any fully satisfactory explanation.” Amy-Jill Levine.
I say, I tried! Jesus said, yes, I know: “The poor we have always with us.” Amen.
Lectionary: Romans 14: 7-12. Psalm 27: 1, 4. 13-14. Luke 15: 1-10:
Paul reminds us in this part of this epistle that we cannot escape being accountable to God. Paul reminds us that this statement is based on the foundation of the Christian faith which means we are accepting Jesus into our heart through knowing that Jesus is our Redeemer. We are reconciled to God through accepting that Jesus is the Redeemer through his death and resurrection. Once we are reconciled, we experience a growth in our relationship with God and our neighbor. This grace is renewed as often as we turn away from sin back to God. Paul reiterates this throughout this great epistle. Paul says, “Both in life and death we are the Lord’s.” We are not to judge our neighbor and always take the initiative in being reconciled when we fail. By being conscious of this each day we are sustained by the love of God for us through Jesus our Redeemer.
Psalm 27 is a beautiful psalm that has two different sections within it that should not be separated but enjoyed since prayer life does have different modes and feelings within the same psalm in many of these poetic prayers. This is especially true of the beauty of the first seven verses. The verse chosen for our refrain both contains what is the major theme and then helps us to unify our psalm prayer through the verse called the response: “I believe I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” (v.13). The first part of the psalm is one of great trust and hope in the Lord who is our light and our salvation.
Jesus again teaches us through the two small parables: one lost sheep loses itself from the other ninety-nine; the second parable is of the woman who loses a precious coin. This woman is persistent by cleaning, looking, and finally finding the precious coin. The merciful and loving shepherd is confident he will find the one going astray. He leaves the other ninety-nine and does find the “loner” then picks it up on his shoulders and brings it back to the flock to which it belongs. What powerful images for placing ourselves in the arms of Jesus and then accepting being brought by him to the community. It is a true lost and found story with the lost item being rediscovered and the coin found.
The lost coin has the same message but has the careful and diligent woman who both cleans, sweeps the floor, and eventually finds it. She does not let this happen again but uses it to throw a party and still have enough left over for some purchases needed for the home and her family. When we worry about our own straying and wandering we remember that we will be found by the noble and good shepherd.
I think our own sense of being found by the Lord gives us a sense of belonging which brings tremendous joy.
Lectionary: Romans 12: 5-16. Psalm 131: 1.2.3. Luke 14: 15-24:
Parables are one of the principal ways in which Jesus teaches us as his followers. Usually, these have one principal point they are stressing. Today, Jesus is at a party and a man is impressed that he makes him cry out in joy, “Blessed are they who eats bread in the kingdom of heaven.” This enables Jesus to teach a parable about a master or king who is preparing for a wonderful wedding banquet. He first invites three special ones who, however, probably, offer their excuses though they may have received this invitation twice. Since Luke is always concerned about the poor and those in need , Jesus is showing who will come and the larger crowd comes, but still there is plenty of room so others are invited. Even so, there is still room so he keeps inviting even those by sending his messenger to the roadways and highways.
We know that this invitation is offered to everyone and eventually those who are not followers of Jesus, they may refer to those who are not Jews. This reminded me of the Vatican II great Constitution on the Church which calls all of us to universal holiness. This is consoling for it is not speaking just for the religious minded or the hierarchy but everyone. The invitation of the Master is similar to what the origin of this parable in the man who shouted out the Blessed is the banquet of the kingdom all the more so. This is close to giving the parable an eschatological twist where the ones who like Jesus have accepted the invitation and then use the occasion to talk about the call to salvation and enjoyment of the eternal happiness that all we have. There will be no refusals to the invitation of those who are truly blessed in participating in the banquet of the Lord.
A party offered on earth becomes the occasion for Jesus to teach us about the gifts of Joy in the Lord’s banquet in heaven. One can see why many interpreters say this is an allegorical parable where each part is explained by the people present, those who are not. The simpler message is an invitation, saying yes to it, and finally feeling eternal joy. Jesus, however, was basing his parable on the man or guest who said, “Blessed are those who eat the bread in the kingdom of God. We today’s people are invited to be faithful disciples who eat not only here on earth but are being invited to the eternal banquet in the kingdom of God. Amen.
Lectionary for the Feast Day of All Souls. The readings I share with you are those found in some of the booklets called Missalettes. I chose this one from Living with Christ. In some parishes, three masses are able to be celebrated but only one may be a personal intention. Here are the readings for today: Wisdom 3: 1-9; Psalm 23: 1-3a3b-4.5.6. Romans 5: 5-11. And John 6: 37-40.
Our first reading is used at most celebrations for the faithful departed. It is taken from the Book of Wisdom which is a deuterocanonical inspired, perhaps, composed one hundred years before Jesus was born. At almost every Mass of Christian burial I have heard the passage from Wisdom. Biblical Wisdom is similar to practical wisdom and brings about results that surprise us. To know that eternal life was possible even before Jesus spoke of eternal life it had already been revealed in this book. This thought is real and most consoling when death strikes people we knew and loved. It is a celebration of a person’s life where life is changed, not taken away. Where hope becomes alive and helps us to continue on and makes us think we, too, sooner or later, may be listening to this reading from the other side of life and realize that both Jesus and the revelation of God’s word in the Book of Wisdom will bring us through the last moments we have here on earth.
Psalm twenty three has always been associated with prayers said on a person’s death and in the memorial prayers said for them. This, too, like Wisdom, is a psalm that gives us support and confidence that God will be there as our Shepherd who leads us to “green pastures.”
Paul confirms our reconciliation through our faith In Jesus Christ for while we were sinners Jesus died for us. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled by God by the death of his Son, much more , now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through whom we have now received our reconciliation.” Romans 5: 10-11.
Jesus speaks at length in chapter six of how he is the Bread of Life who comes down from heaven so that he may be seen and also that we may be nourished by being our Bread come down from heaven. We know that Jesus promises not to lose any of us who come to him believing that He will raise us up to life eternal on the last day. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; I will raise him up at the last day.” Amen.
Lectionary for Solemnity of All Saints: Revelation 7: 2-4; 9-14. Psalm 24: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. I John 3: 1-3. Matthew 5: 1-2
The celebration of All of the Saints from the beginning of human life till now, offers us a chance to see what the ultimate goal of life looks like. We all have some ideas about this coming from our own life and pondering over what the afterlife will look like and how it is an eternal life with or without the activities we enjoyed here on earth. Of course, only Jesus the Son of God really knows what it is and how it will fulfill every holy and joyous experience we had in this life and goes beyond it. I like to find the images and pages of Scripture that hint at it. It will be totaliter aliter (totally different from our speculations).
The liturgy suggests the readings for today are a help for us to do some healthy reflection on heaven, the kingdom, and eternal life for those who lived an earthly life and did follow the path that Jesus pointed out to them who were his followers and lived up to the vocation of truly being a faithful disciple in whatever state of life we have followed.
John of Patmos, not John the Evangelist, is the one who has visions of the heavens and those who are standing, kneeling or sitting in the kingdom and are around the sacred dwelling of God who is also surrounded by angels and intermediate states among those angels and among the holy ones who are envisioned and really captured in what the seer of Patmos shares with us in his prolonged vision about the kingdom of God and who are there. It seems that the numbers used for them are 144,000 among the followers of Moses’ as their teacher and even more, not able to be counted among the nations. The 144,000 are among the twelve tribes of Israel. The Book of Revelation is an ecclesial oriented one as happening on Sunday, the Lord's Day, and are the meditation of John the visionary. These may all be happening as one prolonged vision or out of time experience by the one who composes this book with the Communion of Saints in the seven churches in Western Asia Minor (Turkey in this writing for all of the Churches are there starting with Ephesus and moving within a hundred mile circle of one another. The passage is well chosen for this solemn feast of all the saints—especially those who are not canonized saints of the church on earth. This vision and gaze of the seer, John, is seen particularly in this passage and part of his vision gives us a glimpse into heaven.
I think Psalm 24 is a good follow-up song for this feast. It is an invitatory psalm in the Catholic Divine Office and may be used in place of the ordinary invitatory psalm 95 used almost every day by those who pray or read the breviary mostly in monastic monastery chapels. The Dwelling Place of God on earth –the Temple of Jerusalem is meant and the “lifting of the gates” to enter thenTemple is one of its themes. The gates are personified. Dr. Eric Lewis Friedland loved this Psalm and often said the verse about addressing them as persons and being lifted up. The psalm helps me to remember him a dear friend who passed away two years ago in January. The principal theme of this psalm is the desire to “see the face of God.” This is the same desire of the saints those with a capital letter like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena and those like our own parents who have gone before us with the sign of faith.
The beautiful letter of John (not John of Patmos) focuses on the the two great gifts of love and faith, alternating among them in its five chapters. We learn that he sees us as sons and daughters of God who grow from the children of God into the saints and holy ones we are reflecting upon this day. John gives us the best insight into God who is Love. We know that when it comes to light of our passing from children to adults we shall be like God who is love for we shall see Him as He is. This is his insight into what heaven is like and who is there.
Finally, there is Jesus who is sitting with his disciples as he teaches them about how they may become his disciples and even share in his purpose and mission for become one with us in and through our humanity. Whether we follow Matthew’s listing of the Beatitudes or also keep in mind the shorter list of them we learn how to become holy ones here on earth and in so doing we are declared “Blessed” means filled with the joy that fulfills our love for the world, for our neighbor, and for all that God has created whether seen or unseen.
So after dreaming and meditating about heaven, we return to earth while listening to us hear the Gospel being spelled out in the Beatitudes. These calls to a life with Jesus through the Spirit make us joyous, happy, and lucky according to the Greek word makarios, makaria connecting us with sainthood through world concerns and needs of all nations and persons living now. The Church calls Mary the Blessed Virgin and she as Mother of the Church shows us how to live these graces that bring us to the kingdom. May this celebration of the Feast of All Saints help us to remember our mothers and fathers and those who were saints without a capital letter but were given to us as leaders in how to grow in faith and love and trust (hope) and someday find out what the New Jerusalem in heaven looks like.
Lectionary for 31st Sunday of Year 1, cycle B, Year of Mark: Deuteronomy 6: 2-6. Psalm 18: 2-3,3-4, 47-51, Hebrews 7: 23-28, Mark 12: 18-34:
Our liturgical readings on Sunday are one of the great ways of living out our faith. They are especially chosen and the Gospel is usually assigned to the year 1 o2 depending on the even or odd number for the year, hence this year is a year 1, next year will be year 2. The Gospels follow the western order with Matthew as cycle A, Mark B, and Luke C with John being used in certain weeks for all three of the A, B, C. Gospel order. We are in the 31st week of year 1, cycle B because Mark is our continuous reading this year which will change with the first Sunday of Advent—a new liturgical year begins.
Deuteronomy is the fifth book and in my estimation the most important that treats the covenant Israel has with God with Moses as the mediatory of this important gift of God to God’s chosen people. Deuteronomy is seen as coming from the heart, soul, spirit, and strength of Moses who is an intimate friend with God and a model for God’s people. We learn of his death and the testimony he gave to God’s commandments, the covenant always sealed with love, and his blessed memory. In this book and our selection we also have the most treasured prayer of the Chosen People of God called the shema (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6). We will see the prayer activated in our Gospel when Jesus and a scribe of the Pharisees, probably the religious group Jesus loved and belonged to and they are in agreement on the greatest of the commandments which fits like a beautiful coin having a front and back image or inscription.
Psalm 18 is a perfect thanksgiving psalm in its content and in the Hebrew form that it is found in the poetry of this psalm which consists in a litany-like thanking of the Lord. This Psalm is one of the Davidic psalms and probably is based on an already old account almost word for word in its words found in II Samuel 22 within the prayer life of the king David in his life story. David is beloved by God; his very name is endearing with the meaning of the idea of "my beloved one." We can easily see an allusion of both accounts in the exchange of Jesus with the scribe on the greatest commandment of God. The psalm is rather long and makes sense in the two parts without them being thought of as two separate psalms but actually having a beginning and a characteristic of some psalms. Its first part is found in verses 1-30 and the last part from verses 1-51. The liturgy respects both parts in its presentation of this psalm.
We read Hebrews continuously these Sundays of the year 1 and cycle B. The author of Hebrews was probably the very learned Apollos of Alexandria who in this essay emphasizes that Jesus was of a special class when it came to the priests among the Jewish people. He uses the Psalms to assert this of Jesus who is from the order of Melchizedek and is not from the Aaronic priesthood lineage of Moses’ brother. Jesus is unique in his meditation and offers himself as both victim and priest for once and now is the eternal priest. Just as Jesus is shown to be higher than Moses now he is also higher in the priests of Aaron.
The Gospel of Mark made me recall there is a similar scene in Mark 10: 17-22 where Jesus is said to love the scribe who asks the same question as we have coming from a scribe in our Gospel reading for today (Mark 12:18-34). The first scribe is said to have had many riches and chose them and decided not to follow Jesus. Could this same scribe be the one who is said to be not far from the kingdom of God an allusion of following Jesus on the journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will through his passion, death, and resurrection to also reach the kingdom through Jesus raising people from death to reach the kingdom of God.? Certainly we see the similarity here…it takes love that is reciprocal between Jesus and the scribe to know what is the greatest of commandments and love to reach the kingdom. May we imitate this honest and faithful scribe in our own journey with Jesus and may the love of the Lord Jesus be our salvation. Amen.