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.
Usurious practices like this were not in line with the traditional Jewish understanding of money lending, which strictly forbade them from to taking interest or making a profit off of their own people. As the steward reduced the debt, he was likely writing out the amount he originally intended to take for himself. Before the steward can be commended, he needs to right the wrong done.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
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.
Parties are about the other people. "Do not recline at table in the place of honor." How often can small talk become a one-upmanship of job promotions, home renovations, and our children's achievements? We've all been to parties where being the most interesting guest is the highest achievement. Yet so often, we know the best party guests are the ones who listen well to our stories. Whether we are guests or hosts, we have the opportunity to look on others with humility and awe.
Parties are opportunities to serve. Jesus advises us to be careful who we invite "in case they might invite you back and you have repayment." Does Jesus literally mean we shouldn't invite our friends over? Of course not! But he does invite us to special consideration when we offer hospitality. When we invite people over to our home, what motivates us? Who we want to spend time with? Who we'd like to impress? These ultimately have only ourselves in mind. How about asking: Who could use some extra care right now? Who could benefit from a fun evening out? In other words, who can I serve?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. This is divisive stuff! Christ's spiritual fire turned the "fathers" - the Jewish people and Pharisees - against the "sons" - the common people. Not everyone wants the Gospel Jesus is preaching. Not everyone wants to be set on fire with the desire to love others. Some prefer to put on a warm sweater and curl up in front of the TV.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.
Set faith-based priorities. "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival." Our conflicting commitments can cause any routine to slip from time to time. All the more reason to make sure faith is a priority. Pray as a family before meals. Bring your children regularly to the sacrament of confession. Make room in the schedule for faith enrichment activities offered by your parish. Volunteer once a month. "At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." When will the call come to care for an ailing parent? To take on a new leadership position? God speaks to us through the circumstances of our lives. He calls each of us to greater love, sometimes in very concrete ways. This week, take some time to consider: Will you be ready?READ MORE
The cake is frosted, the guests have arrived, and the gifts are piled high. One by one, the packages are opened, and one by one, the child reaches for another. Who among us hasn't seen a child who appears crestfallen when the gifts run out? Even the abundance isn't quite enough. Today's Gospel tackles a key question in the spiritual life - grateful or greedy?
"There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest." We all recognize the need to be practical. Raising a family, there's need to save for all sorts of things beyond normal day-to-day costs - medical bills, family vacations, private school, rainy day funds, retirement. Jesus doesn't critique the rich man for simply having an abundant harvest. It's his mentality. Does the rich man sell off the extra to make the needed repairs to the back fence or to invest in some additional livestock to grow the business? Perhaps donate some of the excess to the poor? No. "You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!" The man wants to hoard and indulge with no concern for others.
Jesus doesn't condemn prudent saving or owning necessary items. He calls us to purify our attitudes. "Guard against all greed... one's life does not consist of possessions." We are called to be good stewards. This means being practical. It also means remaining open to God's invitation with our resources. Are we tithing to our parish? Do we give alms to the poor? Does our weekly entertainment far outstrip what we offer to others? Life is not about "stor[ing] up treasure for [our]selves." The more we grow in gratitude and generosity, the more we become "rich in what matters to God."READ MORE
Are you guilty of spiritual stockpiling? Spiritual stockpiling isn't an endless rotation of rosaries and novenas. It's accumulating emotional "goods" to meet your needs. Perhaps it's a collection of material objects you treasure. Maybe it's a preoccupation with money. It could also be relationships, making sure there's always enough friends and connections to never really feel alone. It's our tendency to let things add up so that we won't quite need God to fulfill our inner life. Yet in this Sunday's Gospel, we have that inescapable petition from the Our Father. "Give us each day our daily bread."READ MORE
As I get older, what really matters to me changes. I remember being in high school and having to wear certain brands and to look a certain way. Now, many days I simply wear what is clean! I used to collect certain things that I no longer seem to care about much now. I wanted certain things for my children, and now I am happy if they are happy, regardless of what happens. I have changed political stances a few times. I even follow different sports teams today than I did when I was younger. Time, circumstance, wisdom, and even disillusionment all play a part in my ever-changing attitude toward what really matters in life.
All has changed except my faith. My faith is the one constant in my life. It is the most precious of all the gifts God has given to me. Life hasn't been a constant high, and there have been several low valleys along the way. It has been my faith that has seen me through all times, good and bad. If anything has changed, it is that Jesus matters more today than he did yesterday.READ MORE
Loving isn't too difficult, right? Many of us are surrounded by kind, lovely people trying to do the right thing. Indeed, to "love ? your neighbor as yourself" seems like it should be easy enough. Treat people like you would like to be treated. Bring the new neighbors some baked goods (normal and gluten-free, just in case). Chat with the bank teller about his holiday weekend. Write an occasional card to your sister "just because." There were probably varieties of these acts of kindness in Jesus' day. Perhaps substituting figs for cookies. But "exchange pleasantries with the traveling cloth merchant" isn't the example Jesus gives.
"A man fell victim to robbers... they stripped him and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead." The righteous pass by the scene of the dying man. The hero of the story is the one on the margins of Jewish society, who perhaps would not have been welcomed, in other circumstances, by the man now in the ditch. His neighborly love causes him to halt his journey, to tend wounds, and to pay for the man's care out of his own savings. Are we interruptible? Are we attentive to the hurts of others? Are we generous with our money and possessions?READ MORE