Archive for September, 2015

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 27)

September 19, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 27)

The First Reading and the Gospel today are both about jealousy. It is a particular type of jealousy in which a person has a gift of some sort and becomes noted for it, and suddenly someone else seems to be doing the same thing, and doing it better or worse than the original person did. I used to see it when I taught high school. Some athlete would be the best on his team, became captain and was looked upon by others as the best. Suddenly someone moves into the area and into the school who is also a great athlete. Instead of becoming good friends, the athletes vie with each other to see who is better.

I  have seen it in my English class when a girl who was a great writer, who always got A+’s and was always given praise by the teacher, suddenly faced a new student who was just as talented. She was very mean to the new girl, jealous of her talent and fearing she would no longer be the best.

In the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament, we hear such a story about Moses, but it doesn’t end the same way. The Hebrews saw Moses, not only as a prophet but a great prophet. The Holy Spirit decided to share Moses’s gift with seventy elders in the tent where the Holy of Holies was.  Because they were elders, and because he retained the leadership, Moses didn’t feel jealous or challenged. Also, it was part of the religious experience of the tent. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit decided to descend on two common men in the camp outside. They also were given the gift of prophecy and began to do so.

When they were heard, one young man ran to Moses and Joshua to tell them that this was happening outside the tent. Joshua was upset about it and told Moses to stop them from prophesying. But Moses, instead of being jealous of having to share his gift, told Joshua that he needed to stop being jealous for his sake. He didn’t mind sharing the prophetic gift at all and wished everyone had the gift.

Similarly, in the Gospel of Mark, the apostles run to Jesus with the news that someone was doing exactly what Jesus was doing – casting out devils. Not only that he was doing it in Jesus’ name, which was exactly what Jesus had been trying to teach the apostles to do.  Jesus tells them that it is all right, especially because the man is casting out in his name, since the man would always have to respect Jesus name since the devils had been cast out. In both cases, the followers of Moses and Jesus were the ones jealous – not Moses or Jesus.

Perhaps we can take the lesson that we should never be jealous of, and, in fact, should team up with, people who have the same talents and gifts as we have, not see them as threats.

The rest of the Gospel today is filled with exaggerations which we call hyperboles. Hyperboles exist to make a strong point about something. For example, I tell people I got thousands of tomatoes out my garden  this year. Well, I didn’t really, but I got a huge amount of tomatoes – and people understand that exaggeration. Or we say of a restless night – I didn’t sleep all night! – when we probably did fade off a little bit at least – but we get the point!

So, when Jesus says that if you do anything to threaten the faith of a child, it would be better if a great millstone were hung about your neck and be thrown into the sea – he is exaggerating – but we get the point. It would be a really, really bad thing!

Similarly, if you steal things with your hands, cut off your hand! Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut off your hand, but he wants you to treat the inclination to steal very seriously! In the same way, if you have trouble with liquor but find yourself constantly walking into bars, just cut your feet off so you can’t. I mean, Jesus can’t be serious. He is using hyperbole. This, of course, is one of the reasons we can’t take everything we read in the Bible literally. There has to be some common sense interpretation. If we followed Jesus’ instruction here we would all be limbless, and blind. It simply means that we must take these matters seriously – probably where the Catholic church got the concept of “mortal sin”.

The last line of the Gospel today may be difficult to understand: “…be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Jesus is not necessarily saying that hell is a place with fire but is actually using a metaphor here. Hell would be better translated as Gehenna, which was the local garbage pit of Jerusalem. Maggots would be there all the time because of the food scraps, and the fire would always be burning because there was always more trash. So hell is like the maggot-ridden, perpetually smoking garbage dump – a slightly different metaphor of hell than most of us grew up with.

This brings me then to the middle reading today from James once again about how hard it will be for rich people to get to heaven. In fact, James uses the image that the riches themselves will rust when you have died and left them behind, but that rust will also be evidence against you as having so many riches, and “it will eat your flesh like fire”. Again we get that garbage dump kind of image with the smoldering fire consuming the refuse.

So there is a lot packed into the readings today, but what can we take home with us? Take sin seriously and do your best to avoid it.

At some point, you will be called to justify your lifestyle.

Don’t strive for power, but share your gifts and talents with everyone, especially those who have the same strengths as you. Work with them.

Don’t store up too many riches for yourself for they will come back to haunt you.

Little proverbs or mottos or clichés that maybe you can think about this week as we try hard to reach that state of perfection that Jesus tells us we can reach.

And this is the snippets of Good News I give you from the readings this week!

[Bishop Ron’s new book containing a full year of 73 homilies for Cycle C which begins Nov. 29th will soon be available on Amazon.com  ]

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Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 20)

September 12, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 20)

We continue today our study of faith. With this reading of St. James, the second reading today, we enter one of the biggest unresolved theological arguments since the Protestant Revolution.  To summarize it as succinctly as I can, St. Paul has told us that we are justified, forgiven, not through any merits of our own but simply because God loves us. Nothing we can do or any sin we commit can change that fact. Yet, James today seems to indicate that we can’t be justified unless we do good acts.

According to St James today, it is hard, if not impossible to show anyone your faith. It is an abstract quality. How do you hold it up and show it, evaluate it, compare it? You can’t.  The only way, James says, that you can see faith is through good works. They go together, James says.

We see human condition since the Fall as a sinful condition. How many of us have not sinned in some way? We all have. Despite that, God has seen fit to show mercy and to send to us a savior who offers forgiveness from sins. We didn’t do anything to merit it, in fact, just the opposite really. But God in his divine mercy has forgiven us, “justified” us as Paul says. This comes from nothing that we have done.

Our response to that needs to justify (there’s that word again, with a different meaning) or give evidence to the faith we have been given. And we do that by doing good works. It is a way of thanking God, and showing our faith and gratitude for what he has done for us. Seen this way, both the Protestant and the Catholic point of view can be combined, I believe, and there is no controversy between Paul and James. To say that you are Catholic or to walk by the begging street person and wish him good day is sweet, but it doesn’t show your faith or show gratitude for the gifts that you have been given, no matter how we justify it (there’s that word again) ourselves. That is the point James is making today.

I started with the reading from James today because it has been highly controversial in church history and one of the reasons for the split in the Catholic church around the time of Luther. But how does it relate to he Gospel today? I would suggest that we center our attention on Jesus last words in the Gospel today: “Whoever wants to become my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” We become followers of Jesus because we have faith. Jesus, too, indicates along with James, that to show that faith, to be a follower, requires that some action be taken.

What does it mean to deny oneself, the first of the two things Jesus says we must do? Is he talking about fasting? not buying the latest TV or computer? giving up candy for Lent? No, he is talking about putting trust in God rather than oneself. Jesus models this in the agony in the garden when he says: Not my will, but yours be done.” Basically, it is submitting our will to God’s will. When someone makes us angry, we don’t lash out, but we turn the other cheek, that is, we humbly submit to the censure. It doesn’t mean that we are punching bags. We can still stand up for ourselves, but we do it with humility and with the understanding that God or someone else could be right.

The second is the action that we must take when we have submitted ourselves to God. We must take up our cross. This is a scary concept. Crucifixion was a terrible ordeal and perhaps Matthew uses this image after the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion to remind us of that. It means that we need to die to our selfish ways, to our sins, to our pride, to think of the other and the other’s needs first. Notice that the image is not of dying on the cross, but of carrying the cross – think of the weight of it, the purpose of it, the shame of it. We bear all this with a happy heart because we know that there is resurrection after the cross.

We follow Jesus because we see something better, and we give up ourselves in order to get to that something better. And that is the Good News that we are begged to follow!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Bishop Ron’s new book containing a full year of 73 homilies for Cycle C which begins Nov. 29th will soon be available on Amazon.com  ]

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Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 13)

September 5, 2015

Homily for the Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept 13)

The suffering servant of Isaiah that we heard spoken of today in the first reading is all about someone hearing God’s call, and not rebelling from it or turning away. The call involves all sorts of self-sacrifice: the servant is struck, his beard is pulled out, he is insulted and spat upon. Nevertheless this servant has great faith in God and feels no one can judge him but God. In the end he will be vindicated and glorified along with all those who stand with him.

The early Church saw this prophecy as reflecting the life of Jesus and from the beginning the Gospels have looked backward at its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the suffering servant of God. Similarly, the Psalm talks about all the distress and anguish that followers of God seem to have to deal with, though in the end they know their reward will be a great one. The psalmist says that God has delivered his soul from death and when he was brought low, he was saved.

The Gospel reading today is itself a prophecy, and the very early followers of Jesus knew that people responded to Jesus as though he were a prophet. When Jesus asks his disciples who people were saying that he was, the names that he gets are the prophet John the Baptist, the prophet Elijah or at least one of the great Prophets. Only the disciples are able to see him for what he is – greater than a prophet, a Messiah or Savior.

Upon hearing this, Jesus favors the Apostles by giving them a vision of the future of this Messiah, but it was not at first very heartening. This Messiah was to endure great suffering, would be rejected by the Jewish authorities, and be killed by them. This should be immediately apparent that that it is similar to Isaiah’s suffering servant.

But then Jesus adds the glorification: he would rise from the dead after three days. Imagine how startling this must have been to the Apostles. But Peter seems not to have heard it. His only concern, the only thing he seemed to hear,  is that Jesus said he would suffer and die. He forgets that Prophets – and Messiah’s – follow the will of God no matter where it leads. That is why when Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus can say “Get behind me, Satan.” Don’t try to tempt me to disobey what God has said would happen. God’s ways are not our ways. God has a plan, a purpose, that is different sometimes than ours.

Then Jesus takes his disciples and brings them out to the crowds following him, and again he delivers a very hard message. If you want to follow Jesus’ way, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.

Those are pretty strong words so it would be good to look at them. Basically Jesus is saying that because he was going to suffer and die, they, too, would have to suffer and possibly even die, if they were taking on Jesus’ life as a role model. This is followed up by a paradoxical statement; “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. Now this doesn’t mean the Gospel as we have it because it wasn’t even written, but he means Jesus’ own teachings.  Basically Jesus is saying that if we want to be true followers of his we have to commit to him to the extent that we will renounce our own needs for the needs of others, accept and bear our sufferings, and if necessary, offer our lives in sacrifice for others. This is not easy to hear.

Most of us go through our busy lives, some attending church regularly, some managing to pray a little each day, some doing good works as James talks about today in his letter, but we don’t often think of going the whole way – always thinking of others before ourselves, offering up our sufferings and annoyances, standing up for what we believe in, telling others the Good News. This takes guts, it takes commitment, it takes understanding, it takes self-awareness, it takes a developed love of Jesus and his teachings.

This week I urge you to ponder the final paradox of the Gospel today and see how it applies to your life. Are you doing everything you need to do to be a true follower of Jesus or are you just a hanger-on, with no commitment, maybe just trying to pick up a good vibe! We need, Jesus says, to do more than that. We need to do what Jesus says in order to turn this world of ours into the kingdom that it can be, the kingdom that Jesus suffered and died for – a kingdom of peace and love and concern for others. That is the Good News which challenges us today to break from our protective shells and get with the program: the way of Jesus! Now we have to share it.