Please join me in singing:
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him, born the king of angels;
O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him: Christ, the Lord!
If you look in the index of songs of most hymnals, including our own, this familiar hymn is categorized as a Christmas song – NOT an Advent song. . .
But just to shake things up a bit – might I suggest that it really is an Advent song. . . after all we are called, we are invited, to come to Bethlehem –
to journey to meet the King of angels, God of God, light of light – our very God who is begotten – not created. Or so the verses of the song tell us.
And we are called, we are invited – to adore Him. And isn’t that what our whole lives as Christians is all about – to recognize and adore Christ not just in Bethlehem – but also in the day to day situations and people we encounter and meet on our journey of life?
And we are called, we are invited to come to Christ in two ways: joyful and triumphant – and therein lies a problem, I think, that we at least need to confront during our preparation period of Advent.
Because it seems to me that on most days, most of us are far from being joyful and come nowhere near being or feeling triumphant.
I think Pope Francis’ description of Catholics leaving Mass rings more true than we are willing to admit --- He said it’s as if we are leaving a funeral – rather than the foretaste of the great feast of heaven we have just received in the Word of God proclaimed – and the Body of Christ received.
Pope Francis says it’s as if we have gathered here and heard bad news – instead of GOOD NEWS. . . So the first obstacle to overcome this Advent – is how can we be more joyful?
And perhaps it is hard for us to be joyful – because we don’t very often feel too triumphant. . . and it’s not just that we all feel beaten up and at the point of being overwhelmed by the covid pandemic of the last couple of years ------------------- but haven’t we felt at our breaking point long before then?
Wearied from work, and responsibilities, and just life in general. . . Broken down by our faults and failings in relationships both with God and others – but also feeling the brokenness of our politics, our Church, and the constant demands placed upon us. . .
How many of us just feel worn out, with little energy, little tolerance, and little hope that things are going to get better ---
a weariness that can’t be shaken even by two cups of a double expresso mocha supreme???
Perhaps our lack of feeling triumphant is due to us trying to carry too many burdens on our own – but I am getting ahead of myself.
I think it is worth the investment of our time as well as our thoughts during this Advent season to simply ask how can we approach Bethlehem – approach Christmas, approach Christ throughout the year and throughout our lives with more joy and a sense of triumph??
Pope Francis has said that JOY is one of the four things by which every Christian should be known – the other three being love, harmony, and suffering.
The word JOY or REJOICE occurs 13 times in our Sunday readings during Advent – and several times in our prayers ---- more than any other word.
Obviously a call to be joyful is as resounding in the life of a Christian as Jesus’ call to be vigilant at all times and not to become drowsy or worn out by carousing and drunkenness or the anxieties of daily life. As resounding as John the Baptist’s call to repentance. . .
JOY: what is it, how do we get it – how do we live it in our lives? Let’s listen to a story.
A 92-year-old woman lost her husband after 70 years of marriage. On one particular day, she was moving into a nursing home – her new home after her husband’s death.
After waiting patiently for several hours in the lobby, she was told her room was ready.
She smiled sweetly. While gingerly maneuvering to her room with her walker, she was provided with a visual description of it including the curtains that had been hung on the window.
“I love it,” she said with enthusiasm.
“But Mrs. Jones, you haven’t even seen it yet,” her escort said.
“I don’t have to see it,” she said. “ Joy is something you decide on ahead of time. I have already decided to love it.”
“I make a decision every morning when I wake up,” she explained. “I have a choice: I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work --- or --- I can get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. “Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes are open, I’ll focus on the new day and all the joyful memories I have had – and all the ones yet to be had.”
Mrs. Jones went on: “Life is like a bank account –you withdraw from what you’ve put in. My advice to you would be to deposit a lot of joy in the bank account of memories. At 92—I am still making deposits.”
I was in Price Chopper the other day and came across a display of a train engine pulling a car behind it. A sign said: CHOOSE JOY--- and the train car was filled with white wine on sale for $8.95!!!
The ad was spot on --- Joy is a choice --- it’s just that joy cannot be found in the choice of wine or any other THING we may have bought on Black Friday.
Mrs. Jones was more on the mark – every day is a gift – and we choose to be joyful with what we have – or we are disappointed in what we don’t have.
Joy is a choice --- it is choosing to activate the gift that is already within us – one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit which St. Paul gives us in the 5th Chapter of his letter to the Galatians:
Where he says the fruits of the Spirit are: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Now don’t you think if you had a few more of those things in your life – you could feel very triumphant??
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. . .
Choose happiness --- would be a better ad for the wine and our other purchases – because happiness is based on external things ---- which can be very fleeting. . .
Joy, on the other hand, comes from within --- and is something that is more permanent – it is a choice to look at things in a different way – and to definitely appreciate the things we already have – rather than always wanting more.
Fear and worry are two things that can crush our sense of joy – and we will look at those next week – as we look at the bold proclamation of the Kingdom of God by John the Baptist. Until then, we will choose to adore Jesus in this Eucharist – and hopefully choose to leave this place a little joyful & enthusiastic. . . NOT as if we are leaving a funeral. . .
I said a couple of months ago –that I miss my parents. I certain all of us who have lost our parents, or anyone we have loved --- can say that: we miss them.
My mother died on April 24, 2018. I was privileged to be with her when she died. She was in and out of consciousness for the last several hours I and my nephew spent with her.
Around 4 in the morning, she woke up and said that she was thirsty and wanted some water. After I gave her a drink – she looked me in the eyes and said, “thank you.” And those are the last words my mother ever spoke on this earth –
And I was left to wonder if they were spoken to me for that simple glass of water -------- or addressed to God for the gift of her entire life. . .
So here was a woman who had spent several days in the hospital --- and was in a great amount of pain. And yet – she could still say thank you!
I could not help but ask myself – what would I say if I were in my mother’s place? My answer was that I would probably have tried to call a little attention to myself. I probably would say – I’m tired. I’m in pain. I’m dying. And then either leave me alone – or crawl up in the bed and give me a big hug.
But Mom? As she was near to breathing her last – she said thank you – with a grateful smile on her face.
To me that means that even those who have next to nothing – who are just holding on by a thread- either to their entire lives or just life for this day or this week --can still have gratitude. Although those of us who have so much – can easily take what we have forgranted.
How much my mother, and those like her in similar situations – were like our Pilgrim ancestors who took time to be grateful even though they had so many reasons to be ungrateful.
Their first Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth Colony in 1621 --- 400 years ago --- was not born of abundance.
They had suffered a terrible journey to this “new world.” They experienced the harshness of their first New England winter and had lost countless numbers of their fellow travelers due to weather and disease.
They were strangers in a strange land and the land did not yield an easy welcome. And yet they did not shy away of saying “thank you” – to each other, to their native American friends the Wampanoag tribe led by Massasoit --- and especially to their God.
That’s what today is all about. Saying “thank you.” Thank you not just for the good but for all aspects of life – the good and the bad. Thank you for each and every event, friendship and love of our existence. And thank you not just to each other and for our country – but thank you to God without whom there would be no blessings.
Back in his day, founding father and orator Ben Franklin spoke of the need for giving thanks and of gratitude in this way:
Who is rich? The one who is happy with what they have. A home. A spouse. Children – these are the great gifts of life.
Wealth is not theirs that have it – but the one that enjoys it. The one who is content has enough, and the one that complains has too much. Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it is. You are only poor when you want more than you have.
So enjoy the present hour, be mindful of the past, and neither fear nor dread--- the approaches of the future.
If you would have guests, be happy with them, and be happy yourself.
Nothing dries sooner than a tear. A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough. Wish not so much to live long, as to live well.
Great beauty, great strength, and great riches are really and truly of no great use: a good heart stands above all.
Proportion your charity to the strength of your wealth, or God will proportion your wealthy to the weakness of your charity. To bear other people’s afflictions, everyone has courage and enough to spare.
People who are wrapped up in themselves make small packages.
May we who celebrate this Eucharist of gratitude today and who will share the meal of Thanksgiving with others later ---
never fail to be aware of the countless blessings that enrich our lives and which we so often take for granted.
And no matter what our circumstances --- today may we be able to say those two simple words, often and loudly: THANK YOU!
Widows at the time of Jesus and long before --- were at the bottom of the barrel. Without any social safety net in a world where men earned the household income – and wives ran the home --- widows had no one to look after them, so were extremely vulnerable.
This would have been especially true of the widow in Zarephath in the first reading.
Her situation was even worse than normal – because she lived in an area where there had been a severe drought for years. In her world – everyone was having a hard time. . .
Into her life walks the prophet Elijah. The widow would have regarded him as an enemy – for he was the one who announced the drought as a punishment for the sins of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
But even this foreigner – this non-Jew was able to put into practice the principle that underlies all the Jewish laws – and what the observance of the law should lead to – love of neighbor – as she practices hospitality by offering Elijah a cup of water.
Amazingly she trusts Elijah’s word that God would provide for her and her son when she makes a small cake out of the little oil and water she has left.
This widow puts herself into the flow of God’s giving by giving the little she has. And God rewards her trust by providing food for her and her son for an entire year: God is generous to those who are generous.
Centuries later, Jesus encounters another vulnerable widow at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Like the widow of Zarephath, she too is at the bottom of the barrel.
Our Gospel begins with Jesus criticizing the learned theologians of the day, the Scribes – who are at the top of the barrel. They enjoy the benefits of their positions:
long robes, seats of honor in the synagogue, and always a place at the head table at banquets and other gatherings.
These scribes are the ones in Jewish society who served as trustees for impoverished widows – who, much like the Roman tax collectors – always took more than enough for themselves to keep up their lavish lifestyles – they took advantage of those they were supposed to be taking care of.
In contrast to these well-to-do folks ---- Jesus points out the poor widow who puts two small coins in the Temple treasury.
Unlike larger and more valuable coins that would have made a lot of noise going down the trumpet shaped collection tubes --- so designed so that the bigger the donation, the louder the noise – hence more eyes turning to observe the giver -----
like a slot machine pay out in a casino with jealous eyes turning to see the winner ---- the widow’s small coins would not have been noticed.
But just as Jesus paid attention to the blind Bartimeaus in the noisy crowd of Jericho – Jesus paid attention to this woman giving her donation. A donation from what little she had --- trusting that God will be generous to those who are generous.
These two widows can teach us a lot – if we are willing to pay attention to them.
When we forget that all we have comes from God and we become too comfortable and accustomed to relying on our own resources – we have a tendency to fill our lives with more stuff – all the while taking the stuff we already had – for granted.
These two widows teach us that it is only when we have hit the bottom of the barrel – or can imagine ourselves at the bottom --- that we can begin to trust that God will provide for all we need.
Those who adopt the attitude of the widows can actually grow in trusting that God will provide. We call those who do this – good stewards: those who receive God’s gifts gratefully, cherish and tend them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others – and returns them with increase to the Lord.
Good stewards understand that God is generous to those who are generous – they know what the widows came to know --- that God gives back more than we can ever give.
Good stewards set aside their first and generous time for personal prayer – especially the importance of attending Mass when we give thanks to God for all God has given.
Good stewards set aside a first portion of their busy schedule to give time in humble service to others--- beginning with their families & friends.
Good stewards sacrifice a first portion of their financial treasure to God – instead of just tossing whatever is left into the collection basket.
Jesus is in Jerusalem: a city of passion, of death, and of resurrection.
He notices this widow in the Temple just days before he is stripped of everything and gives his life completely for us on the cross. The widow points to what Jesus will do: he will contribute all that he has for our salvation. His trust in God will be returned when he is raised from the dead and shares the power of the resurrection with those who are willing to die to themselves – to give everything they have for the sake of the kingdom.
In the garden of Gethsemene, Jesus had his moment of doubt: if it is possible, let this cup pass from me he says – but not my will but God’s will be done ---
And anyone who takes the first steps in embracing stewardship as a way of life, also have their doubts – the fear that they will not have enough.
But those who take that first step – begin to experience the reality that they receive much more back than they ever give.
We pray for the grace and the courage to embrace the faith of these two widows – and of Jesus – and be willing to give our gifts of time, talent, and treasure – for the sake of the kingdom of God.
For God is generous to those who are generous.
So for the members of our young church preparing for their first reconciliation and Eucharist --- may you come to see that in these Sacraments – God always gives us back much more than we offer:
In reconciliation – we turn our sins over to God – and receive from God abundant forgiveness and mercy.
In the Eucharist – we give to God our gifts – and receive from God the gift of Christ’s own body – which allows us to become more like Christ.
We thank your parents for brining you to this point in your life of faith – and we congratulate you for taking this next step in your commitment to following Christ.
Last week, once the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, received his sight – Jesus told him to go his way, his faith had cured him.
But Bartimaeus chose not to go his own way – but to follow Jesus on HIS way – the way that led to Jerusalem: the city of passion, death, and resurrection.
Starting with today’s Gospel – Jesus is now in Jerusalem – and the last few weeks of his life are filled with confrontation and controversy – although the readings we have on Sundays as we finish out St. Mark’s Gospel – really don’t reflect all the turmoil Jesus faces in the Holy City.
We do get a taste of intended controversy in today’s Gospel when Jesus is in the entry court of the Jewish Temple--- when a scribe, someone who knew the 614 laws of Israel well – asks Jesus what he thinks is the greatest of all these commandments.
Now for each of these commandments, scribes and Pharisees would develop ways to interpret each of them. For example, there were 39 different categories of work that must be avoided just to properly observe the 3rd commandment --- to keep holy the Sabbath.
Despite the well intentioned efforts of the scribes and Pharisees to help people follow the law, law-abiding Jews, or those who tried to be – were crushed under the burden of laws and their interpretations. And Jesus knew this.
So instead of answering the scribe with just one particular law that was most important – Jesus answers by telling him what underlies all the laws – and what the observance of the laws should lead to: the love of God and love of neighbor.
The law was not to be kept for the sake of the law itself – although sadly that is how many Jews, especially the scribes and the Pharisees lived their lives – just keeping the law.
But Jesus is posing the bigger question of what good is the law and keeping it even to perfection – if it doesn’t lead us closer to God and one another.
And we might think right here, right now – ho hum ---- we’ve heard this all before. And just go on living our lives as we’ve always lived them.
Or we may think this is all pretty simple – and it is--- when we hear it in here ----------- but when we are told: Go, the Mass is ended ------------ and we have to leave this place and go out and live our lives according to this Gospel challenge – then things aren’t so simple any more.
Yes, when we go out and try to put these words of Jesus into practice – that’s when things get a little sticky –
When we try to choose to ease pain, instead of cause it.
Try our best to lift people up instead of put them down.
When we reach out a helping hand instead of withdrawing in fear.
When we strive for reconciliation instead of continuing conflict and division.
When we try our best to remember it’s not all about me but about us – as we strive to achieve the common good instead of just what’s good for me.
When we try to open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters and strive to comfort those who labor and are burdened.
That’s when things get a little sticky – when things aren’t so simple anymore.
To even have a chance of trying to serve others after the example of Christ and at his command --- we must constantly develop our relationship with God, ask God for the grace, the help, that we all need – in order to be those living witnesses of truth and freedom, and of justice and peace.
It would do us good to remember the advice Bartimaeus gave us last week:
-to never listen to the crowd who often times try to talk us out of pursuing our hopes and dreams – such as making the kingdom of God more present by our words and actions.
-to remember that if we’re feeling lonely or afraid, thinking that no one cares about us or even sees us – especially the difference we are trying to make in the world – to know that Jesus is aware of us – and eager to have personal contact with us in the silence of our hearts.
And in the silence of our hearts, in prayer – to ask Jesus for what we need, not for what we want.
And what we need is the grace to do our best to continue the mission of Jesus Christ: by loving God and loving our neighbor.
And then also we might want to remember this piece of advice which C.S. Lewis gives in his book, Mere Christianity: “Do not waste your time bothering whether you LOVE your neighbor – just act as if you do. As soon as you do this, we find one of the great secrets of life. When you are behaving as if you loved someone – you will presently come to love them. If you do a good deed for someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking them less.”
Or a Jesus might have put if: always let love overcome hatred. And then, we will not be far from the kingdom of God.
My name – is Bartimaeus: a blind beggar who lived in Jericho. . . And I spent most of my days just feeling sorry for myself. . . I was good at throwing pity parties.
Ironic – since my name means “son of Timaeus” which in turn means “respected one.” But there were few in town who had any respect for me.
Because in my day – if you suffered in some physical way – blindness, deafness, leprosy, were maimed or crippled in some way --- it was thought it was due to some sin you committed – or some sin your parents had committed before you were born-- as moral faults and failings were supposedly passed down from one generation to the next.
So there I was – going nowhere. Hoping that someone would throw a few coins my way – which is why I had my one possession – my cloak – spread out over my legs and onto the ground to catch those precious alms. . .
On one somewhat normal day in our somewhat normal town – I heard a commotion. “It’s Jesus of Nazareth” the crowd cried out. . .
Jesus of Nazareth I thought – I had heard about him – he’s the one who cures sick people, cares for those who are poor, and weeps with those who are sad. --- and so I decided to take a chance and to beg for more than just alms on this somewhat normal day.
So I cried out at the top of my lungs: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
I found out later that I was the only one who ever called Jesus Son of David in all of St. Mark’s account of his life. Everyone else referred to him as the Son of God. . . or as the Messiah, or as Jesus of Nazareth.
But after begging many a day outside the synagogue and hearing the Scriptures proclaimed – I knew that the Messiah was to come from the house and lineage of the great King David.
So when I cried out, the crowd immediately tried to shut me up. Let me give a piece of advice – never listen to the crowd, as nothing good can come from that. . .
They wanted me to be quiet because they thought I was unworthy of Jesus’s attention – sinner that I supposedly was.
I wonder if they thought any different of me once Jesus did give me his attention. . . because when I cried out all the louder – Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me --- Jesus invited me to come to him.
Imagine, in that crowd – all those important people pushing and shoving around him – asking him for this and that ---
Jesus became aware of me – no one important, no one of status --- just a broken man who was eager for personal contact with the one everyone was calling the Messiah.
“Take courage; get up – Jesus is calling you,” they said – not too enthusiastically, but almost in contempt as they held on to their opinion of me.
And my response was not just an exultant physical leap toward Jesus – but also a leap of faith.
Because I threw my cloak to the ground – my last and only possession that for me, a beggar – served as my coat, my sleeping bag, and a collecting rug for the few coins tossed my way – my whole livelihood!
Because nothing else now mattered to me – not even that dusty bit of turf I sat on day after day -- that, like any beggar, I would have protectively guarded on any other day. But not that day – because nothing mattered anymore – Jesus had called me!
And when I got to him, Jesus asked me one question – one important and life-changing question --- which I heard later he asked two of his disciples just a few days earlier:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
Again I was later told that my response as a marginalized outsider --- was very different than the response of his two insider disciples –
they wanted power and prestige. . . Me? Aware of my poverty and disability – I just wanted to see!
So I said to him --- image me, speaking to the Messiah! --- I said: master – which is Rabboni in Aramaic, used just one other time in all the Gospels by one of his closest followers: Mary Magdalene – who calls him Rabboni after his resurrection when they met outside the tomb in John’s Gospel –
Rabboni, Master, I say --- I want to see!
And Jesus, in his wisdom and insight --- knew I had the eyes of faith – for I had called hum both Son of David AND Rabboni ---- now Jesus gave me eyes to see the world ---- as he said to me: “Go your way: your faith has saved you.”
After all of these years of feeling sorry for myself, and scraping by on the few coins that were thrown my way – I could see --- and with my bright blue eyes fully functioning --- I could now go wherever I wanted to go ----------
but there was only one way I wanted to go: my choice was to follow Jesus on his way – the way that led to Jerusalem: a city of passion, death, and resurrection.
So I am Bartimaeus, now a seeing disciple from Jericho – and this is my story.
Now in addition to my advice to you of not listening to the crowd – never let anyone talk you out of pursuing your hopes and your dreams – I have these three other bits of advice:
--when you’re feeling lonely or afraid, thinking no one cares about you or even sees you – know that Jesus is always aware of you – and is eager to have personal contact with you in the silence of your heart.
--and in that silence of your heart, in prayer --- when Jesus asks you: what do you want me to do for you? Don’t chase after power and prestige—or all the other sparkly things the world tries to entice you with ---
But do look deep within yourself and answer that question from your heart: what is it you really need from Jesus: forgiveness, a sense of direction or purpose, affirmation, a need just to feel loved or accepted? Whatever it is – don’t be afraid to ask – but do make it a need, not a want. For when Jesus does ask: What do you want me to do for you – it’s an important and always a life-changing question.
And finally – when Jesus gives you the freedom of choice to go your way --- just as he did for me -- why not choose to follow Jesus on his way – the way that leads to Jerusalem – the city of passion, death, and resurrection.
If you do make this choice, your life will never be the same.
Today’s homily will be a bit different – as most of it will be kind of a guided meditation – although before we get to that, we need to come to understanding about the symbolism of the cup – an ordinary drinking cup or a glass – certainly a chalice – has been used as a symbol for one’s life in the Scriptures -- as in Psalms: “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.”
Or in Jesus’ words of Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup – let this moment of life -- pass from me – yet not as I will, but as you will.”
And also the cup has been symbolic in secular literature for one’s life – As in Ray Bradbury writing: “we are all cups – constantly and quietly being filled.” Or Julia Ward Howe: “Life is like a cup of tea – which needs to be stirred up from time to time – as all the sugar settles at the bottom.”
A cup ---is meant to be filled with something – and so a question that often comes along in the Gospels is--- are we filling our cups with the values of the kingdom of God – or the values of the world?
Sometimes are cups are so filled with the things of the world – the things of heaven cannot make their way inside. . . hence the image of emptying ourselves
-- as in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippines in which he says of Christ: “he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave. . .”
With this image or metaphor of a cup in mind – we begin our guided meditation – perhaps with eyes closed – or perhaps even better. . . with our eyes focused on the cross.
Hear, again, these words of the Prophet Isaiah – read to us not only today – but also during Holy Week:
The Lord was pleased to crush Christ in infirmity. Because of Christ’s affliction, he shall see the light in fullness of days.
Through Christ’s suffering, God’s servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall lay bare.
Yes, Jesus, as you hung on the cross, you carried our faults, failings, infirmities, and sins – to God—and crushed them – setting us free!
And now you ask us one question – one important and life-changing question:
Can you drink the cup that I drink?
And we should not be too quick with our answer. We should answer carefully – and prayerfully. . .
Either yes – or no -----
Can you drink the cup that I drink?
There might not be a more important or difficult question for us to answer. . .
And before we do --- we should consider some of the things we have heard over the last several months:
“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person – but only the things that come out from within are what defile.”
Can you drink the cup that I drink? Are we ready to turn loose of evil thoughts, greed, malice and deceit? Rid ourselves of envy, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from within – and they defile us – and they make the inside of our cups, our lives -- unclean. . .
Jesus asks: Can you drink from the cup I drink?
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it. . .”
Are we willing to conform, as our opening prayer asked us to do: to conform our will to God’s and serve God with a sincere heart? Are we willing to lose our lives in the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God – or cling to our old, sinful ways?
Jesus asks: Can you drink the cup I drink?
“If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and servant of all.”
Are we willing to embrace a life of humility which puts other people and their needs first – before our own –
willing to empty ourselves out for the sake of others and the kingdom of God --- or do we pray that this cup passes from us?
Jesus asks: Can you drink the cup I drink?
“If your hand causes you to sin – cut it off. Or if your foot causes you to sin – cut it off. And if your eye causes you to sin – pluck it out. . .”
Are we willing to cut those things out of our lives that keep us from following after Jesus so that we can think like God thinks – see what God sees, want what God wants – and love what God loves?
This is our cup: the calling we have received, the life God has chosen for us to live. . .
Jesus asks: Can you drink from the cup I drink?
If we ever find ourselves wondering what our faith “costs,” what discipleship “cost”--- Jesus lays it out pretty clearly. It costs everything. We just need to look at the cross to know. . .
There isn’t a cheaper price out there. There is no bargain basement when it comes to following Jesus – there is no easier way. . .
Do we want to give, but only in small doses? Not possible.
Do we want to love, but only when it’s convenient? It doesn’t work that way.
Do we want to forgive, but not for the really bad stuff others have done to us --- Not on the menu.
Jesus asks: Can you drink the cup I drink?
We can’t look for a lower price when it comes to discipleship. We have to pledge to embrace the highest possible price – the way of life that costs us the most, the only way of life truly worth living.
And to do it – we must confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for help –as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us --- and to always remember the wisdom of last Sunday’s Gospel: “For human beings, it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”
And Jesus asks: can you drink the cup I drink?
May we carefully, and prayerfully, and whole-heartedly answer – YES!
For this is our cup – the calling we have received to follow after Christ – the life God has chosen for us to live. . .
And for our candidates for Confirmation – I know some of you are probably receiving this sacrament – because your parents want you to.
My hope is, that all of you will come to choose it because you want to receive it ---
And so it is a big step – it should be a life-changing step in your faith-life ---- and so we pray for you now and in the days to come – that you may be faithful in the decision you are making. . .
Last Sunday we heard Jesus say: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
And Deacon Jim challenged us all to be “little deacons” ready to do the grunt work of being servants to one another.
The Sunday before that, we heard Jesus say: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”
And I challenged us to heed the advice of Jesus to Peter – to get behind him – to follow Jesus closely and learn from him.
And today we hear Jesus say: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna” – that is the abode of the damned in the afterlife --- what we refer to as-- hell.
Before we dismiss this just as an exaggeration of Jesus – or a ridiculous request --- we should first detect the pattern ---
Which is following after Jesus is costly – it’s not just something we can commit to and then go on living life as normal – there is sacrifice involved – so that we can be holy as God us holy --- but there is also greatness – eternal life spent in the presence Christ and all the saints
So yes, in a rather exaggerated way – more to shock us than scare us --- what Jesus is saying to us is if there IS ANYTHING standing in our way in making the sacrifices we all need to make in order to follow after him --- we must cut them out of our lives – rid ourselves of them in order to free us from those burdens we so often want to carry. . . so that we can better:
Think like God thinks – see what God sees, want what God wants--- and love as God loves. . .
Jesus specifically mentions our hands, our feet, and our eyes. And we should reflect on what each of these mean in hindering us in becoming holy, just as God is holy. . .
Sometimes our hands are used to grasp at things our egos want – but which might not be good for us – in-ordinate amounts of money, sex, power, or material possessions.
Stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s sin was grasping at the forbidden fruit – grasping at a life that God had not intended for them.
So if our hand causes us to sin – cut it off:
We must be willing to sever our grasping at things which are sinful and toxic to us – for they are not the things God wants for us for a good and holy life.
Jesus mentions our feet. Do our feet carry us behind Christ --- so that we can follow after him & learn from him --- instead of thinking that we are the leader?
St. Thomas Aquinas once said that if you want to find JOY – then you have to walk in the path that leads to God alone.
But what do most of us do?? We walk down so many errant paths which instead of bringing us joy – takes it from us. So many of our paths keep us isolated from real life-giving relationships with God and with one another.
So if our foot causes us to sin – cut it off. We have to sever all the ways we can choose that lead us from a joy-filled life --- and choose the narrow path that God wants us on--- which leads to eternal life.
Finally, Jesus mentions the eye – the organ of vision.
Jesus tells us in St. Matthew’s Gospel that the eye is the lamp of the body -- that our eyes are the entrance to our hearts and minds – and as such – they provide a doorway to our very soul.
Our entire lives are filled with choices of either turning toward the things of heaven – or of turning away from them --- but as followers of Christ – we are called to see as God sees – not as human beings do.
So if our eyes cause us to sin – pluck them out – we have to be willing to NOT look for joy or fulfillment or meaning or value – in all the wrong places—like the glamour, illusion, sparkly, shiny things of this passing world and set our hearts on the things that are eternal. For where our treasure is – there our hearts will be. . .
If our hand causes us to sin – cut it off. If our foot causes us to sin – cut it off. If our eye causes us to sin – pluck it out.
Jesus is teaching us that we have to approach our life with him seriously – there will be sacrifices to be made – crosses to bear – and humility to be embraced.
So maybe this is not an easy Gospel to listen to – but it’s necessary if we want to experience the fullness of life Jesus wants for us.
So each and every day – if we want to humbly serve our God and others --- we simply need to ask God to send us the gifts of the Holy Spirit –so that we can have the grace we need to identify the tendencies, the habits, the vices that need to be turned over to God – so that God can free us from them – and set us on the way that leads to eternal life.
“You’re just like your father!!” so my mother would say when I was growing up – especially when I showed my stubborn German side. . .
I miss my parents. And one reason is the older I get – the more I realize I AM just like my father. . . as well as my mother.
I have my mother’s love of faith, of family and of growing things . . . And my father’s love of figuring things out – fixing and building things ----and food --- to say nothing about my love of cars with high mileage!
As I said way back at the beginning of the summer – right before Father’s Day: “Perhaps THE strongest example children receive in their lives – is from their parents.”
And Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Oh how Jesus wished Peter were a bit more like their Father. . .
Because that’s what Jesus asks of all his followers: to become (as best we can) HOLY just like God is HOLY– Jesus wants us to think like God does, see what God sees, want what God wants, love as God has – and does – love us.
Just like our earthly parents have shaped us, so should our heavenly one do the same – help mold us into the wonderful person we were created to be.
There is one big difference though --- in many ways our moms and dads shaped us without our full consent – shaped us simply because of the home they created for us and the values they taught us – teaching us mostly by example of what they said to us and how they treated us as we were growing up.
How many of us ever heard our parents say: “as long as you live in my house – this is the way it is!!”
But in a very real sense – God rarely (if ever) works in us WITHOUT our consent . . . And NOT because God can’t. That’s not it at all.
But it is because God chooses to act this way because God completely respects our freedom – respects our ability to choose or NOT to choose being open to God’s grace ----- God respects our ability to choose or NOT to choose to say YES to being a disciple. And that means to a large extent – that WE have the ability---- as well as the responsibility--- to choose the kind of person we become.
“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It’s true that trying to understand what God might be “thinking”, or trying to figure out how God sees us, or what God wants for us, might seem an impossible task. >>
After all – God is God and we are not!
And so, it takes self-revelation on God’s part, a deep desire on God’s part to be known. In faith, we believe that’s precisely what has happened throughout all of human history – and continues to this day – God wants us to know all we can about God -- so as to freely and fully love God!
And so we have had countless men and women who have pondered the great mysteries of life and who, with God’s help, have helped shed light on who God is.
We have had the prophets, like Isaiah who tell us “the Lord is our help, who will prove us wrong?
And those who knew Jesus like James who tell us “What good is it if someone says they have faith but does not have works?”
Or those like Saint Peter Claver, who feastday we celebrated this past week, who teaches us about the importance of reaching out to the poor and needy – for in them is found the very face of God.
And then we have something in history that was a real game-changer. We have something that makes known the mind of God in ways it was never shown before. Of course, it’s NOT a something – but a someone --- Jesus Christ, who Pope Francis says is the very face of God’s mercy.
So if we want to understand God – we have to understand Jesus – we must get inside the mind and heart of Christ.
If we want to know what God expects of us – we simply need to understand what Jesus asked of his followers.
If we want to see as God sees – we simply need to try to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus.
And if we want to know how God wants us to act, we only need to look to Jesus – to see what he did, and to listen to what he said, observe what was important to him, and even what disappointed him.
All in all, perhaps it was not bad advice Jesus gave to Peter – “get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Get behind me – that is follow me a little longer – and learn from me.
It is only after we commit to following after Jesus – commit to getting behind him --- that we can begin to think as God does – not as human beings do.
And then my mother and your mother – and anyone else who hears our words and sees our actions can say – even with a little pride: you’re just like your Father!
“And people brought to Jesus a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay hands on him.”
And Jesus showed great compassion to this man. This poor guy who heard no sound, no voice, and probably had little hope. There was always something missing in his life. He could never enter into a conversation.
As a child, other kids probably made fun of him.
As an adult, those who knew him were probably embarrassed for him or because of him.
The man was probably much like a stroke victim today – in his right mind – but unable to express any of his thoughts.
And Jesus showed great compassion to this
man. . .
St. Mark does not record this miracle in his Gospel so that we can marvel at a first century Helen Keller – as wonderful as coming to hear and speak may be.
No, St. Mark records this miracle for a spiritual reason. Remember last Sunday, Jesus confronted the Scribes and Pharisees to go beyond the mere external observances of the law – and challenged them to allow the law to do what it was intended to do --- to lead a person to holiness.
And in reading the rest of St. Mark’s Gospel – we find the Scribes and Pharisees, as well as the Saducees – all the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus day --- had no intention of LISTENING to Jesus. No matter how hard Jesus tried to get through to them, they turned a deaf ear to him.
Today, Jesus goes to the Decapolis – 10 cities in pagan territory. By what he says and does in this place he indicates that the Kingdom of God is meant for everyone who is willing to LISTEN. That is why he heals a man who cannot hear. A pagan man – a non-Jew.
Jesus takes the man off by himself, away from the clamor of the crowd. He becomes very physical with the man – puts his finger in the man’s ear /
spits / touches his tongue / groans / looks up to heaven / and says to the man: be opened.
Then he orders the crowd not to tell anyone – he wants the actions of this miracle to speak louder than any words.
--But the more Jesus ordered them not to – they more they proclaimed it --- because these pagans, unlike the Jewish officials of Jesus day believed what Jesus said, they LISTENED to him – and were astonished by what he did.
What are we to learn from this encounter between Jesus and a deaf, mute man?
That the Word of God has great power. God’s word brought creation into being.
God spoke his word to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to form a chosen people.
God continued to speak through the prophets like Isaiah –who assured those who would listen to him – that God would never abandon them, even when they refused to listen to God.
God speaks – God’s word is powerful – but are we willing to listen?
No doubt we live in a world filled with many competing voices – vying for our attention. The confusing crowd of voices which tell us that we can be happy if we only have certain things --- or if we exclude certain groups of people.
Jesus take us away from the crowd every week when we come to this place – to hear God’s word and to be nourished by his Body.
In this place God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful. But are we willing to listen?
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that always tells us we’re not good enough?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us we belong to God. We are created in the image and likeness of God. And we are precious in God’s sight?
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that constantly reminds us of our failures?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us our present and future need not be determined by our past? That we can be forgiven, and our sins can be forgotten, and God will give us the grace to do better.
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that tries to fill us with fear and anxiety about our present and future circumstances?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us: be strong, fear not! Here is your God who comes to save you!
In this place, God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful. We should LISTEN to God tell us that today is a blessing and our future is full of hope. We should listen with purpose and intention until we can’t hear the other voices any more.
God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful – but will we listen?
In Jesus’ day, and still to this day – our Jewish brothers and sisters consider the Torah – the first 5 books of our Old Testament as the foundation of their faith.
From these five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy --- they developed 613 very specific laws to serve as a day to day practical guide to living their faith.
The Jewish ritual practices, especially those concerned with the issue of purity or purification ---which were a large part of that practical guide, those 613 laws --- helped them to maintain their identity. They were things they did day after day – and at certain times of the day – to help keep them focused.
Jesus did not criticize the Pharisees and Scribes for having these laws and traditions. After all as he grew up in a Jewish family in Nazareth – he would have kept those traditions himself.
NO -- Jesus criticizes them – because they have lost sight of the real purpose of the law which is set forth for them – and us --- in our first reading from Deuteronomy:
Moses stressed that the purpose of the law as a gift given to them by God was to guide them toward greater holiness.
The laws only set safe boundaries, to keep them from straying too far -- Boundaries within which they were to strive for holiness: to be in right relationship with God and with one another.
The goal of laws and regulations is not just to avoid sin – but to become the holy person that God wants you to be.
Once the Jews lose sight of that central purpose – which leads them to criticize Jesus and his disciples in the Gospel ---- their laws and traditions become so complicated that they need another group of professionals – the Scribes – just to interpret it for them. The laws became more important --- than what the law was meant to lead them to.
And the criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees may have been rooted in this one simple thing: as urban dwellers, those who lived in cities and towns –
they could more easily follow their laws and traditions. For instance – they had better access to water needed for all those purification rites – the cleansing of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.
The disciples of Jesus were country people – and spent a lot of time on the road – and travelers do not have the same access to water. And most of the disciples were also fishermen who were used to handling dead fish all the time and could not always perform the purifications needed to make them ritually clean.
But just because they could not keep all the dictates of the law – down to the last letter of the law ------ doesn’t mean they were not striving----- for holiness. . .
In his criticism aimed at the scribes and Pharisees – Jesus cuts to the chase – the evils that can defile us – that make us less holy --- do not come from outside of us – they come from within us.
Drinking from a dirty cup won’t keep us from being holy --- but holding on to a grudge and refusing to forgive someone who wronged us --- can.
So there is a need for everyone in Jesus’ eyes – city people and country folk alike – to not get caught up in simply keeping the laws and regulations --- but to repent –
to get rid of those things on the inside of us that keep us from a right relationship with God and others -- REPENT -- and accept the values of the Kingdom of God --- all to become not just rule-followers & keepers– but to become holy people.
Unlike the Pharisees we have accepted Jesus Christ to repent and so grow in holiness. As the Letter to Saint James explains – it’s not just good enough to say that – we must also live it -- we must be doers of the word and not just hearers.
The living tradition that we have – the rules and regulations of our faith – are there to direct us in our call to holiness – not to be an end in themselves.
Just as it is possible to follow all the laws of the road regarding driving a car --- AND STILL BE A BAD DRIVER --- it is possible to follow all the laws of our faith – AND STILL BE A BAD PERSON – because we are focusing on the externals of observance – instead of letting the observance to transform us and lead us to a more holy life.
So we have all kept a rule this morning – we have come to Mass on Sunday. That rule is there to keep is from straying too far from God. So what about the rest of the day –
what are we going to do to give glory to God? What are we going to do to make sure we grow in holiness – to be in right relationship with God and with one another? Just something we should ponder. . .
So when all is said and done, I think today we are just reminded of the importance of God’s Law and the role of the living, teaching authority of the Church to interpret and guide us in living it – of setting the boundaries.
But we are also reminded that the purpose of laws and teachings --- is to help us grow in holiness.
And as Pope Francis would remind us – holiness always involves doing something -- like caring for orphans and widows –
and others who live on the fringes of society. He would say if we want to know how to be holy --- then serve the poor. Be people of justice-- and that will bring you into harmony with God, with your neighbor, and with all of creation.
Guided by the teachings of Christ and the Church – we need to recognize those evils that lurk in our hearts – turn them over to Christ – so that through him, with him and in him --- we can be transformed – and become more like him – we can indeed become HOLY.