Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Wis 18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2, 8-12; Lk 12:32-48 ]

“Faith is the substance of all things hoped for.”

It has pleased God to give you the Kingdom. The Kingdom is now a thing hoped for. It can be hoped for not as a fantasy or a dream, but because it is backed up by God's good will in our regard. We can say that hope is in the first place God's action.

Faith is the realization of things hoped for. Faith is our action in response to God's. Faith is our cooperating with the gift and the giver, and so faith makes what is hoped for real and actual here and now. Our Gospel passage is framed by the interplay between hope and realization, gift and faith. “Your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom” and “much is demanded of the person entrusted with much.” Abraham and Sarah received a promise in hope, but look what is demanded of them in faithful response until the hope was realized. Yet, even so, as the letter to the Hebrews adds, “they died in faith…they did not receive what was promised…so that without us they should not be made perfect.” It has pleased God to give us the Kingdom. Our faith response to the gift is our duty to generations to follow us. Our Gospel today is a window into the Kingdom of God and in it we can also see God Himself. Are we scandalized that Jesus talks so much about slaves but does not condemn slavery? He talks about beating slaves but passes no judgment on that cruel practice. In fact, in this parable of the Kingdom, the slaves who are waiting in hope and working in faith are us. It is a Kingdom of slaves, this Kingdom of God. Even more, the one we wait for, the Master, the King, turns out to be a slave Himself, He is a slave to slaves. In this parable we see the whole story of the Incarnation and Passion of God: Jesus, who emptied Himself, took the form of a slave, and became obedient to death, death on a cross.

The One we await is a slave too, but a better one than we are. He does not change our condition but illumines it, showing our humanity to be worthy of God. Jesus is right when He unexpectedly says that the master-slave is a thief. God, the real God of the Kingdom of God, robs us of our religiosity, our ideas of up and down, right and wrong, in and out. God is a thief who empties our treasuries so they can be filled with God's Gospel truth. The Kingdom it has pleased our Father to give us is realized by our receiving it in faithful response: mutual service, laying down our life for the other. Faith means paying the gift forward, putting into practice the pattern given us by God in Jesus, the Good Thief. Our Eucharistic celebration and communion are the sacramental realization of God's gift and give us the power to be good and faithful servants.

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33]

In the very first sentence of his Rule, St. Benedict asks us to “listen with the ears of the heart.” It is very instructive that he specifies “the ears of the heart.” From his biography we know that previous disciples had responded to him from a more impulsive, less reflective mode: they tried to kill him! So he specified the “ears of the heart” to call us to a deeper reflection in times of crisis. Today’s gospel is about the heart in times of crisis.

In reading this gospel the sea represents the human heart. The two aspects of the sea that mirror the heart are its role as the source of life and even more its depth. The sea and the heart have depths we do not know nor want to know.

The wind in our story represents life-changing events. In the bible, the wind is always an active entity which God uses to achieve his purposes. This isn’t always evident to people, though. It impresses them with its power, speed, rushing sound, and unpredictability. The wind is the crisis in our lives.

The waves are adversity; they show us how the winds—the crises—affect our hearts.

The boat, prior to encountering Jesus, is everyday life in the secular culture. It consists of the beliefs about what matters and how much it matters.

Let’s look closer at the sea, that is, the heart. In ancient times the sea was thought to be a place of chaos that threatened the created order of things. In today’s gospel it is a barrier to being with Jesus.

It is certainly our experience that our hearts can be chaotic. The chaos comes from a heart that is divided among many things. When one of them is threatened—and if it’s not one thing, it’s another!—we become upset. Ordinary life in our culture is organized around avoiding the upsetting.

The heart is the core of a person. It is from there that we operate on our world. It is of the utmost importance for our happiness whether what is at that core is a number of things or One Thing. It is for our happiness that God’s greatest commandment is to love Him with all our heart. When something affects this core,—like falling in love or the loss of something or someone really important—our whole way of thinking, feeling, and experiencing life and the world is to some degree profoundly and permanently altered. The person we were before and the world we lived in have ceased to exist.

In the Hebrew sense the core of the self is only capable of weeping or rejoicing. The heart, then, has two aims in life: to unite with what it loves and to avoid a break. This is because the heart was made to admire. Consequently it is vulnerable to what it admires. This vulnerability leads to a will-to-control what affects the heart. We don’t want anyone making waves!

When the boat of this-worldly concerns glides across the heart, the heart is likely to show some admiration for this-worldly things. These are things that last a short while; eventually they break, wear out, go out of fashion, or change their mind. The boat of these things glides over the very shallowest part of the heart. But if that is as deep as the occupants go—if that is what their life is about—then the heart is certain to be wounded.

The winds howl around Peter and the disciples and cause these shallow concerns to become threatening waves of the heart’s own fears. This is how a divided heart reacts to crisis. Inner division wears away personality. A heart that is divided doesn’t know what to do. It looks around for help. So everyone is terrified except…JESUS.

Jesus walks on the same human heart, through the same winds, but he has just spent several hours with the Father. It is the Father and only the Father who affects him most deeply. He tells those who are afraid “Do not be afraid…take courage.” Why? Because “It is I.” He draws their attention to One Thing. It is he who knows the depths. He plumbed them during the three temptations in the desert. He has suffered the break of the heart. He is secure because he is humble of heart. Security comes from a willingness to suffer. Adversity is only adverse to those whose love is wrongly directed.

Peter—representing all of us—is drawn to this security. But he lacks it because he has not yet had Jesus’ experience of the depths. Remember he is riding on the shallow part divided and affected by pleasure, possessions, and ego. Jesus calls Peter and us out of the boat of secular culture. Because Peter is free of the culture he does not cope with his fears by blaming his parents or claiming that society misunderstands him. Instead, he experiences the fear fully and resorts to the truth and cries, “Lord, save me!

Here we must stop and look at the fear-of-the-depths in our hearts. We hide our hearts, yet it is there that each of us will find a precious wisdom. We fear the wounds and depths of the heart, but not because they are fragile, but because they are powerful.

These deeper wounds of the heart frighten because of their piercing truth. That truth is that God is there and to find Him we must find our deepest heart. To find our deepest heart we must accept that all else—pleasures and possessions—have only been intimations of Him whom we really seek. It is this that we want to be ignorant of at almost any cost.

So the way to find this precious wisdom of our hearts is to let the wounded heart speak. To do this we must be alone. The word “monk” means “alone.” And when alone we don’t try to “get over it” but instead we listen. The heart might well say something like “Why did you set me on so many things, and all of them temporary? I want to love what I can never lack when I love it.

When Peter and Jesus get back into the boat it is no longer the vessel of secular culture. It is now The Church. This is so for two reasons: 1) Jesus is there; 2) Peter and the disciples are gathered …and they worship Him. They worship him for one reason: he has saved them. The Church, then, is a place where we know we are safe, because our hearts are set on One Thing that is true and enduring. All is calm. Being in the Church gives the fearful heart what it needs: certainty. And that certainty is the certainty of direction. In the boat of the Church we no longer organize our lives around avoiding the upsetting. After all, the faith Jesus spoke of is not a way of avoiding adversity; it is a way of confronting it. Now we can live toward union with God. Living toward is a big change in direction.

A crisis affects us; it gets our attention; it occasions our discovery of how much certain things matter to us; how much they affect us. When we get into the boat of the Church there is a change in what we allow to affect us. And a change in what affects us is a change of heart. What the Church affects in us at the very depths of the heart we find deserving of worship. One thing worship cannot be is half-hearted.

Today’s gospel and St. Benedict tell us that to listen with the heart we must first listen to the heart. Peter and the disciples “did (Jesus) homage“; they bowed down before Him. In bowing down before something one is trying to convey that even the gift of one’s whole self is insignificant compared to what the object of worship deserves.

The question the gospel puts before us today is this: “IS THERE A REALITY WORTH LOVING WITH SUCH EXTRAVAGANCE?

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Wis 18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2, 8-12; Lk 12:32-48]

Jamie Peck, the daughter of Nan Peck, a friend of our community, is currently serving in Iraq, as an engineer whose job is to travel around the country fixing roads damaged by bombs. Her mother, as one might imagine, is very concerned about Jamie, and corresponds with her by e-mail more than once a week. I’m sure Nan considers it a blessing to be able to stay in such close contact with her daughter in such unusual circumstances. At the same time, I find it hard to imagine what it must be like to be a mother watching the news every night, looking at the map of Iraq on the t.v. screen, and those orange star bursts marking the places where violence erupted that day; knowing her beloved child is driving around between those orange star bursts.

Jamie can also send photos to her mother by e-mail and recently she sent Nan a rather unusual image of herself. In the photo, Jamie is seen standing in the middle of a road somewhere in the Iraqi desert beside what appears to be about a twenty foot wide crater in the road. Jamie is standing at the edge of the crater, looking at the camera, with her arms outstretched as if measuring the width of that gigantic hole. The caption beneath the photo reads: “Mom—I love you this much!

There is something unsettling; a little pathetic about this picture: a young woman standing alone in a very dangerous place; the middle of a battle zone; armed with a machine gun; standing next to a crater made by a bomb blast; manifesting a daughter’s tender affection for her mother. You look at this picture and you are struck at how tiny and fragile a thing a daughter’s love is when surrounded by the war in Iraq. The picture is more unsettling when one stops to consider that the crater featured in the photo was probably made by a land mine buried in the road which detonated when a vehicle drove over it. That crater, in other words, was very likely the grave of one or several people, possibly innocent victims, women or children, maybe a mother and her daughter. It is a little shocking to reflect on the deeper implications of Jamie’s gesture standing there on the brink of that gate of death; that terrible black hole; her arms extended ritualistically, the way a priest stands presiding at the altar for Eucharist, as though she were calling down a consecration over that gaping hole with her simple and solemn words: “Mom—I love you.“. The gesture, as I say, struck me as unsettling; even pathetic . . . and then, a moment afterward—strangely reassuring; even thrilling in what it reveals about the condition of this wretched world of ours, and the redemptive power of love.

Christians believe God was born of a virgin and became man, and are often heard declaring this to the world in triumphalistic pronouncements; hymns and creedal formulas. But the truth is, God’s appearance in the world, was actually quite a surprise; and, in fact, a source of embarrassment to many who actually witnessed it . . . because of how God appeared. The man, in whom God showed Himself to us, was a very small man; a poor Palestinian peasant, and we are apt to forget how very strange and even pathetic certain sayings like those proclaimed in this morning’s gospel must have sounded coming from this dusty little mongrel Jewish carpenter going on foot from town to town. “Do not live in fear little flock” says the carpenter’s son, “It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give to the poor.” How inconsequential; how minute; how futile and ineffectual such pronouncements must have sounded to many who met Jesus in the midst of a violent Roman Occupation; political turmoil and intrigue; violent crime, poverty and desperation, which were the life of a first century Palestinian Jew. Listen to Jesus’ voice and mark with astonishment how very soft God’s voice is as it is heard for the first time in history; the still small voice of love; as small and fragile as the voice of a young woman writing home from Iraq, to say to her mom: “I love you.

Jamie just wanted to tell her mom she loved her, and in the context of the horror of the war in Iraq, her tiny fragile expression of affection might almost cause one to despair of the possibility of love’s survival in a world of hate. But looking again at the photo, one realizes the diminutive pathetic little figure standing next to that great black hole is actually an image of the Lord Himself; whose still small voice assures us of a love sterner than death, as he stands; arms outstretched; the sovereign ruler over all of our dark human history.

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: 1 Kg 19,4-8; Eph 4,30-5,2; Jn 6,41-51]

Brothers and sisters, the words Jesus addresses to us in this morning’s gospel, are among the strangest and most wonderful he ever spoke—and that presents us with a challenge: how do we hear and appreciate fully what Jesus is saying in this gospel. I wonder if a little mental experiment might help.

Reflect for a moment on the terrifying escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians we have all been following on the news in recent weeks. Now imagine a man appearing on the scene, nobody famous, just some ordinary guy, one of our neighbors, starts going about declaring to people: “I am God’s bridge sent from heaven to reconcile the Israeli’s and Palestinians.” How do you suppose this announcement might be received? I think the reception given this man would depend entirely upon who was listening to him. If Mr. “bridge from heaven” was talking to an Israeli soldier, armed to the gills with the latest American super-technology, (with an arsenal of state of the art missals and tanks parked behind him),the man calling himself “God’s bridge” would probably be perceived as a presumptuous flake or aspiring demagogue, and would probably be arrested or shot. The Israeli soldier, equipped with his superior power and technology, doesn’t need a bridge. He’s almost certainly going to win this war and determine the agenda in all future discussions with Palestinians. And so, the soldier scarcely hears the word “bridge“. He hears rather that this man claims to be: “sent from heaven“—which puts him off and even sounds a little threatening.

Again, picture our Mr. “bridge from heaven” appearing on stage in a one thousand seat air-conditioned lecture hall at the prestigious Notre Dame University in South Bend where, before an audience of students, university professors and assorted intellectual heavy weights, he announces that he is God’s bridge sent from heaven to reconcile the Israelis and Palestinians. How might his announcement be received? Such an audience would very likely give little consideration to the fact that he called himself a “bridge.” What need do they have of bridges? They are all well out of range of Israel’s missiles. Nobody’s heading toward their house with a bulldozer. The man saying he’s a “bridge” goes right by them. What strikes their ears is his claim to be sent from heaven, which quite irritates them—I mean, the nerve of this guy! Who does he think he is?

In both these cases, what is noteworthy is not that the man claiming to be God’ bridge is rebuffed, but that he isn’t actually being heard. The people he’s talking to cannot hear him. All they can hear is what they suppose to be his pretension to be one sent from heaven. They don’t hear him say he is a bridge or they don’t avert to it. Why? Because bridges are not important to these people. They don’t need a bridge.

Now if this very same man were to appear today on a street in Lebanon with buildings on fire all around him, and children screaming, and missiles crashing into people’s homes, and meeting a woman cowering with her children amidst the filth and the blood and the rubble, he said to her: “I am God’s bridge sent from heaven.“, imagine how different would be her hearing of these words, than that of the Israeli soldier or the university professor. She could care less whether the man speaking to her is from heaven or from Cincinnati, or from the planet Jupiter. What she hears him say is that he is a bridge, and if you show an impoverished and terrified woman a bridge, she’s going to use it—use it to rise above the carnage and insanity of the terrible place she lives, to a better place where she and her children can be safe. “Bridge” is the word she hears. The man before her is a bridge. And it never occurs to her that he might be boasting, because a man who is a bridge in Lebanon today is a man people are going to walk all over; thousands of desperate frightened people, and they’re going to keep walking all over him, back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, until the day he collapses and they have to go find another bridge. What is noteworthy here is not so much that the lady approves of the man—but that she can hear him. Unlike the others to whom he brought the same message, this woman can actually hear what the man is saying.

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus, says to Jewish his brothers and sisters: “I am the bread that comes down from heaven.” Interestingly, some Jews listening to him get very angry. These are evidently those Jews plotting to kill Jesus: the Scribes and Pharisees; those enjoying political prestige and security and a measure of comfort in Israel. Being well-fed, they are, as they listen to Jesus, feeling no particular craving for bread. That word goes right by them. All they hear Jesus say, is that he came down from heaven. “How can he make such a claim?” they ask. “Is this not the son of Joseph the carpenter?” They obviously see him as presumptuous and ego-centric. But there are others listening and they have a very different response to Jesus’ words. These are the poor. For them, the “sent from heaven” part, is secondary, something they’ll think about later. These people are hungry, and when they hear Jesus say he is “bread“. They could care less whether this bread is from heaven or HyVee. They are hungry, and it never occurs to them that a man claiming to be bread might be a braggart, because a man who is bread is a man who is going to be torn up into pieces, crushed between people’s teeth and swallowed up. What is noteworthy here is not so much that the poor and the hungry, approve of Jesus, it is that they can hear him. They can hear what Jesus is saying, whereas the well-fed could not.

Did you hear what Jesus said in this morning’s gospel? Are you hungry enough to hear what Jesus said?