Archive for September, 2016

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (October 2)

September 27, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (October 2)

The parable of Jesus today compares the disciples to slaves. This is certainly part of the larger message Jesus has been giving that disciples are to be servants, and are never to rise above that position. Why does Jesus use this parable? In a few verses just before this reading, Jesus gives some proverbial advice to the apostles, things like it would be better to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around one’s neck than to cause someone to fall into sin. He also tells them that they must forgive, even if the person comes back seven times for the same offense to beg forgiveness.

The Apostles are hearing very difficult things – even scary things – for anyone who is to minister. It is no wonder then, that at the beginning of today’s Gospel they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith”. You have to help us out here!

Jesus’s response is kind. He basically says that even a little faith will get you a long way. And this indicates, I presume, that they all had at least some faith in Jesus and God!

The parable then follows.

The parable is strange to our ears in this day of non-slavery. But we must remember that slaves were considered property, property that you took care of, but still property, and the slave owners  expected obedience. If they sent you out into the fields all day to work and you came home tired but were asked to do even more (even though you thought it might be nice to be invited to sit down to supper with the family for your work and compliance), you did what you were told to do, simply because you are worthless in yourself and have done nothing more than what was expected. You aren’t going to get any extras, any coddling, any special praise for doing what you were asked to do. Neither will God give us extra credit for what we are expected to do.

I guess life isn’t always fair, is it?  In the first reading today we hear the prophet Habakkuk crying to God for help because he is so sick of seeing all the wrongdoing and violence in the world. I want something more, he says. But God answers him that he must simply write down what he sees, and not to worry about it. If you are righteous and faithful, you will be around to see the destruction of the proud. But again, don’t expect anything more for just doing what I asked. It is simply living by faith.

Getting back to the Gospel, Jesus has indicated that even with a small bit of faith, nothing can be ruled out as being impossible. Why is that? How can that be? Because with even a little faith, you are connected to God, and God can do the impossible. God is empowering the apostles in their leadership and it only takes a wee bit of faith to set it in action.

But even if this is true, the parable still holds. There can be no time that the apostles can say, “OK, I have done what you asked me to do. Now it is my turn to be served.” Jesus indicated that it will never be time for them to be served – that being his apostles means that they are forever servants.

I wonder how the apostles must have felt upon hearing that. Those are hard words. But Jesus never said being an apostle wouldn’t be hard, only that if they have faith, they can do anything.- for others!

Now, if this reading is addressed to the Twelve, does that mean the rest of you are off the hook? Do you get to be the ones served? I don’t think so. Sorry.

Jesus called everyone to be followers. Indeed the very early church was a collection of people who were all called to spread the Good News. The Spirit that Paul exclaims about in the letter to Timothy today is given to us so that we can have that faith and love that make us servants and allow us to pass on the teachings we were given. It wasn’t till later that a hierarchy developed, but originally everyone had a charism or gift that they were to use to help spread the Word.

The same is true today although we often think our ordained clergy are the ones who do all that. I believe this is something entrusted to all of us, and it is only in serving others, taking care of the needs of others that our salvation will lie. In any case, I urge you today to examine what kind of faith you have and to know that, even if it is just a little…. nothing is impossible because God can do anything!

This is the responsibility of the Good News that we hear about today, and though it sounds difficult, you must find the gift of service God has given you, and use it to strengthen our community and the community around us. The Good News isn’t always about us and our needs, is it? But it is still Good News for everyone else!  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

September 20, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 25)

Jesus is getting even closer to Jerusalem and his indictment of the people who have too much, the rich, gets even stronger. This indictment is not a new one for the Jewish people. The prophet Amos preached the same thing years before, as we see in the First Reading. In this reading, God is speaking through Amos. He is directing his prophecy to two Jewish groups, the people of Zion or Jerusalem, the Southern kingdom and the Jews in the north represented by their place of worship Mount Samaria. The Jews had split into two groups by Amos’s time. Both of the groups were very complacent, even though the signs were all around them that they would be conquered. They strongly felt that they were God’s people and God would never, ever, let this happen to them.

But Amos sees things differently. He shows them a mirror of themselves in which their complacency has led them to ignore the very people that God cares most about – the poor.  By “poor”, by the way, is meant anyone who is treated unjustly in society. He shows them in this ‘mirror’ as lying on beds of ivory, lounging on couches, eating their fill, singing idle songs all day, drinking lots of wine, and grooming themselves with expensive products. Then Amos says that they are not “grieved by the ruin of Joseph!” This was an expression that was similar to one we might use when we say Nero fiddled while Rome burned, meaning that they were oblivious to the things falling apart around them, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, who were crying out for help.

God is angry with them because God is a just God. The reading doesn’t say that God punished them, but God is not going to help them either. God lets history take its course and allows the conqueror to do what conquers do. God is just forecasting what will happen.

Luke’s Gospel today gives basically the same message in terms of a parable that Jesus narrates. Luke doesn’t mince words and he tells us right from the start that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees who loved money. We get the point immediately.

The rich man in the parable behaved in much the same way as the Hebrews before the captivity. He doesn’t pay any attention to the suffering around him but only makes sure he is living it up as much as possible in the moment. He too wears expensive, fine clothing and spends the days in lavish eating and drinking. He, too, ignores the pathetic man, Lazarus,  outside his home who is starving and sick and destitute.

Upon their sudden deaths, however, they were apparently judged by God, and Lazarus was taken up to heaven along with the great men of Hebrew history, especially the father of all Jews, Abraham. The rich man, on the other hand, was in Hades suffering the torment of flames and heat.

The rich man apparently was able to see what the other side was like in heaven while he was suffering and he saw Abraham up in heaven, and he shouted to Abraham for help. He didn’t even ask Abraham to save him or bring him up to heaven, but just to give him a little drop of water to ease his thirst. Abraham is blunt in his reply: “You had a lot of good things while you were alive and revealed in them, while someone like Lazarus had only bad things happen to him. You ignored Lazarus when you could have helped him. So no way! You made your bed. Lie in it!”

Having perhaps learned his lesson, the rich man then asks Lazarus at least to go to his brothers and warn them about the consequences of rich living. But he is told by Abraham that there is no need for that. If they just read the Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, they would know what to expect – just like in our first reading from Amos. But the rich man, who himself had ignored Scripture, said that if Lazarus came back to life and told them, that would be a miracle that they might believe. And Abraham’s final ironic, prophetic statement rings out as truth today: No, even if someone came back from the dead, they wouldn’t be convinced. Notice, here, the other Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead!

Remember: this was addressed to the Pharisees who undoubtedly felt that their wealth was a sign that God was blessing them as seems to be the message of Deuteronomy long before the Prophets. There is an abundance of proof in Deuteronomy that God blesses the righteous person with an abundance of prosperity and riches. The Pharisees felt they had Scripture on their side. Jesus obviously feels that they are misreading Scriptures and cherry-picking verses to give validity to their way of life. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is at base a story of how to interpret Scripture. This is where Jesus and the Pharisees are at odds.

I want also to point out that this is just a story Jesus told. It does not mean literally that there is a burning fire in hell as so many have taken it, or that we will sit around feasting all day in a heaven. These are metaphors of states of being and we don’t know what those states will be. Many theologians think hell will be the absence of God from one’s life. But we don’t know. We can only theorize and guess.

Jesus’s point overall is the misinterpretation of the Scripture looked at as a whole – which all the way through indicates that food should be shared with the one’s who have none in countless verses of Scripture from Leviticus to the Prophets.

My point today then is that we must not ever let someone prove something with a verse from Scripture, especially the New Testament, which does not fit with the overall message of justice and love. “God is love,” John constantly tells us. God also demands justice, That is the underlying theme of Scripture and should be the measuring rod for all our dealings, and anyone who says otherwise is just like the rich man in the parable today.

This week, let us try to remind ourselves of this “forest” of an idea instead of looking at the individual tree that might be rotten. Paul has it right when he sees that forest includes “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  And this is the Good News that will lead us to be like God and Christ: just and loving.  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept. 18)

September 13, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Sept 18)

Today’s readings all have something to do with wealth in terms of finances. The Gospel writer, Luke, of all the writers, has been the most active in talking about issues of poverty and wealth, and we have seen Jesus talking about this many times in the last few weeks as he moves onward toward his final destination. Jesus seems to find it imperative that this theme is repeated again and again, possibly because it was the cornerstone of his teaching.

It is very clear from the first reading that the prophet Amos does not hold rich businessmen in high regard, The rhetoric is a lot like that we are hearing today about Wall Street as the cause of all our financial woes. According to Amos, corrupt rich businessmen trample on the those who are needy, never taking their needs into consideration, but only trying to amass more and more wealth. This has also been a long-standing theme in the Old Testament – it was not new and unique to Jesus. Amos decries their putting wealth before all other considerations. Even if they do keep the Sabbath, for example, they can’t wait for it to end, to get back to the business of making money. Amos says they also use methods or tricks to make more money even – they fix the scales so people are getting less grain but they charge them more. They even sell the grain that falls on the floor along with the dirt. While Amos is quite aware of what they are doing, he makes one important point, however. God sees everything and he will not ever forget!

The Psalm today shows the opposite of this greed. It shows a God who will provide for the poor, lift them up out of the dust, and seat them at the heavenly table with princes. The poor will get their reward before the rich ever do!

Despite the criticisms in Paul’s time of the Roman government and how they too manage to oppress the poor and needy, Paul is quick to say that we need to pray for them, to ask God to awaken them to the “knowledge of the truth”. Paul sees the kind of sharing that was going on in Christian community as a role model for others in this regard.

Jesus attitude to the rich is not always consistent in the parables. Often he is criticizing the rich, but sometimes in the parables, they are saved. He praises those who have enough to give food to the apostles as they go from town to town. He praises Mary who uses expensive ointment on his body. He sometimes tells us that wealth and possessions can be a good thing.

In this tradition then, we have another parable today about wealth which is strikingly different. Luke saw that poverty and wealth were not black and white issues and that sometimes there was a lot of gray. This week’s Gospel and next week’s Gospel are really contrasting stories about wealth and poverty.

This week’s and next week’s Gospel both start with the sentence..”There was a rich man…” but the two parables will point out very different things. Today’s reading is directed at the disciples themselves and talks about how you can use riches constructively. After the parable itself ends, Luke has Jesus draw some conclusions about the meaning of it.

As I have talked to you before, we know that some people reading this parable are confused and some are even offended that Jesus would praise dishonesty.

The dishonest servant falsified documents almost as a bribe so that he would be helped by the people who profited from his falsification of accounts. He hoped that they would be hospitable to him after doctoring the bill of debts. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told his followers to be “wise as serpents” and this might be an illustration of that.

The dishonest servant used his brain – something we are not always allowed to do in organized religion. Because his disciples brought nothing with them, they would have to use their brains to make sure they were taken care of. It is not the dishonesty Jesus is praising but the cleverness of the servant to make sure he would be provided for.

After the parable, we have a number of somewhat unrelated statements about wealth, some of which don’t really seem to apply to the parable itself. But some do.

For example, Jesus says that he would trust the one who took care of the little financial things each day to take charge of the larger account. “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much.”

How does this apply to us? Well, perhaps we need to start taking care of and noticing the little things each day, those small opportunities that get us ready for larger issues. Those who give a beggar a dollar, who write a friendly email, who visit a sick friend, who vote when it is time, who share a meal with a neighbor, who read a story to a child won’t have time or inclination to create a life driven by the almighty dollar. Luke finishes by saying that we can’t serve both God and money. What God asks us to do – to love our neighbor – doesn’t take great wealth. But it does take thinking about another, looking for those opportunities when they arise in order to best prepare for the future – our eternal reward. And isn’t this very Good News for us all?  God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C ( Sept. 11)

September 5, 2016

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C ( Sept. 11)

Today’s readings are all about God’s response to our sinful nature, a response that always tempers justice with mercy. I don’t think anyone can combine these two things without having some empathy for the sinner, be it an understanding of why they acted, or simply just a great love for that person.  Someone does something wrong to us. Our immediate reaction is often to see that justice is meted out. This is the black and white, eye-for-an-eye approach. It is the approach the early Bible period took because their thought had not matured to a point where they could see beyond black and white issues. You do this and you suffer the consequences!

But if we walk in another’s shoes, we gain an understanding of what led them to that sin or that behavior. We may then temper our judgment with mercy.  Or if we love someone, like a son or daughter, the love alone may temper that judgment.

In our first reading, God has been so good to the Israelites. Yet, when Moses is out of their sight for a few days, they get frightened and turn to worshipping idols again. God is furious with them, but Moses tries to make God see what is happening with them through the eyes of a sinner, himself. Moses asks God to remember all the good things – how they followed Moses out of Egypt, trusting in the Lord, how they wandered the desert for 40 years, again trusting that God would make things better. God listened to Moses and through his mercy was able to pull back and change his mind about punishing them.

Similarly, in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear how Paul felt he should have been judged quite severely by God for his violence against Christians, for his persecution of the early church. But God tempered that with mercy because God understood that Paul “acted ignorantly in unbelief”, just as Paul says he will do with all sinners. Through his son, Jesus Christ, God has been able to empathize as well as love mankind. God was able then to use Paul as an example to other people, of how God could be merciful to great sinners.

Our Gospel is long today, and has many things we could talk about, but let’s simply look at how the father treats his prodigal son. How upsetting it must have been for the father when the son proved himself ungrateful, when he left his family behind and led a sinful, dissolute life. Many parents would be tempted to be black and white.  “You treat me like this! You are cut off completely!” How many fathers do we hear of today have done that to a gay son or daughter, or dismissed a child because he sought out a profession not to his liking, or who was disrespectful to his parents, or who abused drugs, or stole money from them.

But this parent of the prodigal was, as the Scripture says, “filled with compassion” for his child. He could have resentfully taken him back, but relegated him to the other servants’ quarters. But, no, through compassion, through empathy, he was able to temper the boy’s rashness with mercy and could only rejoice that the boy had made a right decision in coming home.

The other brother had not yet matured. He still saw things in terms of black and white.  He treated his father and the family badly and he should be punished for it.  His behavior was very child-like – he was a pouting child!

The parables that precede the Prodigal Son story are also examples of this merciful, loving side of God.  God is the shepherd that will leave his other sheep to go after the stray. God is the woman who will spend hours looking for the one lost coin.

It is interesting to note that this whole series of parables are all a result of Jesus being accused by the Pharisees of him eating and drinking with sinners. The fact that God has become one of us, and did eat and drink with sinners, shows great empathy for those sinners. God loves them, God wants them back, God will attempt anything to get that to happen, short of taking away our free will.

We might also note that many parables end with a banquet, much like the one Jesus is at. Our coming together at Mass in all our sinfulness and Godliness is the visible sign that God has connected with humanity, and that the breaking of bread is symbolic of the merciful side of God. We are today at the banquet the father prepared for the prodigal child. All we need do is ask for forgiveness, as we do in the “I confess” at beginning of Mass.

I finish with a question that continues to bother me and comes from these readings: Why are we so put off or even offended when God does something good or accepts those whom we don’t think merit it? We too need to have empathy, to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate. We need to be like God!

And this is the challenge I leave you with today from the Good News of God’s tempering justice with a healthy dose of mercy!

God bless.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]