Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Carried By the Angels--Reflections on the Readings for Sunday, September 30th

September 30, 2006 Year C

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time/18th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146:7-10

I Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

Theme:  Carried by the Angels

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Mt. 5:7)

You know it's time to perk up when the Prophet begins with, "Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts:  Woe to the complacent in Zion!"  The picture Amos paints is not pretty.  

There is always the problem of the frog in the boiling pot.  At first nothing seems to be wrong.  Then the water becomes more comfortable as it begins to warm up.  Becoming more complacent as the water heats up, the ole frog never thinks to jump before it's too late.  

How fitting is the account Jesus gives.  He begins, "There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day."  

Like Amos, Jesus is warning us of the deceitful of riches.  

Jesus said the Pharisees were lovers of money. (Luke 16:14) So was Judas who betrayed our Lord for 30 pieces of silver.  And the rich man in today's gospel is consumed with his wealth.  He sees no one but himself.  Purple dye was not cheap.  His purple clothing therefore was a statement of standing in the community.  Just to look at his attire was to know he was someone wealthy and important.  He spared no effort to live well, to look good and to eat heartily.  But too much of the good stuff blinded him to the real stuff of life.  

Tradition knows this rich man as Dives. And the distance Dives put between himself and Lazarus in this life is the distance that was impassable in the next.  

Jesus' story has a way of making the comfortable very uncomfortable.  And it should.  It is unconscionable to believe for a moment it's all right to forget the poor, to neglect the widow or forsake the memory of those who die alone in the bloody hands of the abortionist.  

Mercy is our mission.  The face of Jesus is on those who hunger and thirst, need shelter and clothing, are blind and imprisoned.  The prodigal son, the broken hearted, the destitute and afflicted; all are like a treasure hidden in the field.  Each is just as obscure as Lazarus, who as a poor man would have been satisfied with the scraps from the rich man's table.  Our mission is to seek and to save that which is lost.  Most of the time, our mission field is immediately before us.  

Mercy is evangelical.  Our story is Good News!  Our story is that Jesus invites sinners into his Kingdom.  Not only this, but he loves them, he eats with them and transforms them within his merciful love.  

John the Baptist upon facing his martyrdom sent two of his disciples to Jesus to inquire if he truly was the Messiah.  And before their eyes Jesus cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind he gave sight.  Jesus answered and said to them, "Go tell John the thing you have seen and heard:  that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." (See Luke 7:19-35)

Mercy is redemptive.  Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost.  Likewise we are to be vessels of God's mercy. Wrapped up in stuff and things, like Dives, we can become greedy and stingy.  Dives failed to love his neighbor as himself.  His love for his possessions didn't permit him to be bothered by what Lazarus needed.  The dogs had more mercy on Lazarus than Dives.  What does that say?  Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 5:20)  And St. Paul reminds us: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (I Timothy 6:10)

And the poor man died and was CARRIED BY THE ANGLES to Abraham's side.  The rich man also died AND WAS BURIED.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, for my sake you became poor and bequeathed to me the riches of mercy.  In your mission of mercy you found me, because of mercy you loved me, and by mercy you transformed me.  O the depths of the merciful love Jesus!  Amen.  


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What To Do With Filthy Lucre--Reflections on the Readings for Sunday, September 23, 2007

September 23, 2007 Year C

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time/17th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8

I Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

Theme:  What To Do With Filthy Lucre

You cannot serve God and mammon!

This Gospel reading is known as The Parable of the Dishonest Steward.  And that is exactly what he is.  He is dishonest, wasteful and a cheat!  Howbeit, he is shrewd.  As the prospect of losing his job loomed before him, he quickly made last minute deals with his employer's debtors.  It was what we would call, quid pro quo.  Or, I'll scratch your back if you promise to scratch mine.  

There was nothing honest or even right in this action taken by the steward.  But the boss, probably a shrewd man himself, commended the dishonest servant.  It's here we scratch our heads and say, "Uh?"  Well, it was absolutely brilliant.  Ill gotten gain can make strange bed fellows.  But don't think for a minute that this dishonest servant let any of these debtors forget!

And therein is the problem and the possibility.  

The sons of light should never be controlled by filthy lucre, which is unrighteous mammon.  But with it we can befriend the bruised and the abandoned.  And it is they, the lost, the least and the lonely who will rise up and call you blessed when nothing else but friendship is left.  

Today's Gospel stops at verse 13.  But it is verse 14 that is the key to the reading today.  There we read, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money heard all this, and they scoffed at him.  

If money is your god, then God isn't.  And the Pharisees were notorious for not lifting a finger to aid another in his burden. They were not lovers of God, but rather lovers of money.  

It is generosity that characterizes the lover of God.  A mean spirited, tight fisted, money-grubbing scrooge needs transformation.  And it is this transformation that inspires generosity.  One cannot really lift up his heart as he withholds his hand.  No servant can serve two masters.  

To be like God is to be merciful and kind and tenderhearted.  Father God in his tender kindness, gave his only begotten Son, because he wills everyone to be saved

and to come to knowledge of the truth. 

He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor

to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people.

Remaining untainted by unrighteous mammon is possible if we are lovers of God and neighbor.  Put God first in your affections and in your assets and you will possess the true riches.  

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, for my sake you became poor that I through your poverty might be made rich.  Remind me that to whom much is given, much is required.  I ask for grace and strength to be faithful in the little ways.  I ask for a generous heart.  I ask for true riches which moth and rust do not corrupt and to which thieves have no access.  Amen. 

Thursday, September 13, 2007

This Man Receives Sinners--Reflections on the Readings for Sunday, September 16, 2007

September 16, 2007 Year C

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time/16th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19;

I Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

Theme:  This Man Receives Sinners

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

The message for us today is that the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. This verse found in Luke 19:10 is the key verse in Luke.  I first heard this from Rosalind Moss, a Jew who became an Evangelical and is now a Catholic Apologist.  It struck me deeply when she with tears in her eyes explained that in Luke's gospel no one is beyond Jesus' reach.  And that is exactly what we find in today's Gospel and readings.  

That which was lost is found, making a moment of great joy.  Whether it is the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin or the lost boy, Jesus reminds us of the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.  And the Church from its beginning in Jerusalem has been doing what Jesus did, receiving sinners and eating with them.  It is good to remember that we are sinners saved by grace.  Even now in our state of grace we cannot say we have no sin.  The reminder of this occurs each time the Holy Spirit nudges us toward the confessional to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  That nudging is nothing less than Jesus seeking us out for closer fellowship and deeper rest in Him.  

The mission of Jesus in seeking and saving the lost has become the Church's ministry of reconciliation. (see here)  We continue what Jesus started, as ambassadors God [is] making his appeal through us. It is here, in the Church where the lost, the least and the lonely find a refuge.  It is here in the Church where sinners saved by grace invite sinners to be saved by grace.  It is here where sorrows are turned into joy and broken lives are made whole again.  It is here, as an oasis, the weary and the worried can drink from the Well of Living water and find rest for their souls.  

Heavens joy is our joy.  Every time a sinner comes home is a time for great joy.  And home is exactly what the heart far from home longs for.  It is homesickness that brings a sinner to his senses.  

Is there a place where tears are turned into joy?  Is there a place where sorrow is turned into peace?  Is there a place where the demons of lust can be expelled?  And the Church in the words of her Savior shouts for the entire world to hear:  Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. 

In the Church all who are found were once lost.  Very lost.  But as Scott Hahn is fond of saying, we are just beggars telling other beggars where we found the bread.  

There is a verse from a song from the Pentecostal church of my youth that I will close with.

Softly and Tenderly 

(Text & Music Will L. Thompson)

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me.  See, on the portals He's waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me.

Come home; come home. You who are weary come 

Home. Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling,

"O sinner, come home!"

Indeed, come home!  This Man receives sinners.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, you comfort the comfortless.  In your cross you have drawn all men unto yourself.  Today as before, you continue to forgive sins and welcome sinners into your fellowship.  May I never take your friendship for granted nor allow a sinner to remain friendless.  Amen.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We Are Strangers and Pilgrims On The Earth/For Sunday September 9, 2007

September 9, 2007 Year C

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time/15th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Wisdom 9:13-18b; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-17

Philemon 9-1, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

Theme:  We Are Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth

People who speak this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Hebrews 11:14)

In the first reading from Wisdom we learn how our own reasoning and plans are worthless; how impotent our own strength. Our life, outside of the influence of the Holy Spirit, is a spiritual wasteland.  Just how does one 'discern what the Lord wills?' How do we find the right way to live?  And is there any assistance in finding that way?  Thankfully we read in verse 17 of Wisdom 'Who has learned thy counsel, unless thou hast given wisdom and sent thy holy Spirit from on high?  And thus the paths of those on earth were set right.'

So teach us to number our days aright, says the Psalmist, that we may gain wisdom of heart.  A thousand years may be as a watch in the night to our Lord, but we only have a little time to realize this world is not our home and we are just passing through.  But it is enough time to 'grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  

But it is not with our own understanding we discern our true homeland, our true inheritance.  As we follow the Lord, it is soon we learn we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  It is Paul today who reminds us and Philemon that washed in the blood of the Lamb, Onesimus is not the man he used to know.  Now Onesimus is more than property to Philemon; he is now his brother.  In sending him back to Philemon, St. Paul declares, "I am sending my very heart."  In Christ Jesus relationships change.  Lust for power and wealth and authority are renounced.  Our very heart, the inner man finds a new desire, a new way of life, and a new way to relate to those nearest and dearest to us.

Today's gospel has a parallel in Matthew 10:37-38 where we read, "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."   

Three times in today's gospel Jesus describes the conditions that prevent us from being his disciple.  But just like the other readings today, these words of Jesus underscores the dramatic change of life we embrace to follow Jesus. 

First, no one, even our own life can mean more to us than Jesus.  Jesus' use of the word 'hate' is vivid hyperbole.  But the meaning could not be clearer.  Our prayer must be that Jesus would draw us nearer to himself; that in this closeness we cherish no one, not even our very life to be dearer to us than Jesus.  Probably the biggest war zone where this is lived out is Sunday, the Day of the Lord.  Most likely if there is going to be a day of the week where relationships will be strained to the hilt, it will be Sunday.  And here, just a little bit of commitment as to what Sunday is all about and whom it is about can create new tensions.  But if we are to be Jesus' disciples, we don't want to miss Supper with the Shepherd and Lover of our souls.

Second, if we do not bear our own cross, we cannot be Jesus' disciples.  As we embrace the power of the cross we discern we have no strength to save ourselves or to serve others.  The meaning of the cross is that life is about sacrificial love.  Here we think of agape.  This is a love that gives eros its truest and safest meaning.  Apart from sacrificial love, eros is destructive and deadly.  Indeed rather than destroying us the cross redeems us to newness of life and love. It is the cross that reminds us that this world is not the guardian of true love.

Third, whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are always with us.  To be constantly wanting stuff and things and never being satisfied with what we have is the very spirit of ungratefulness.  If we allow things to reign over us we will have our feet firmly planted in the here and now.  But again, the testimony of scripture is that people of faith speak plainly that they seek a homeland.  We must renounce any possession that has a blinding hold on us.  Peter announced one day, "we have left all to follow you."  Let us continue to ponder what it means for each of us to leave it all behind and follow Jesus.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, fill every nook and crevice of my being.  If necessary, break open my heart and widen it and enlarge it so that more of your presence and sacrificial love may fill me.  Without you I can do nothing right, without you I am nothing.  But you have taken me into your very life and now my life is hidden with Christ in God.  Let this be my understanding of riches, my understanding of being.  Amen.