Friends, I Have Done You No Injustice

25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Gospel of St. Matthew 20:1-16

Within today’s readings there are a couple familiar phrases.  The first, found in Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord,” and the second, from the Gospel of Matthew “The last will be first and the first will be last” have, to some degree, become platitudes, or clichés in today’s Christian culture.  These phrases, and those like them, are statements found in or extrapolated from the word of God and are often used in the wrong context and no longer accurately represent the truths which they contain.  Phrases such as these are often a conversation ender, a vocalized exclamation point, signaling that it is time to talk about something else.

In case you need a bit more context, here are a few more examples of these Christian clichés or platitudes.

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”  A statement often used to explain away the frustration and disappointment when something does not go our way.

Or “Let go and let God.”  Again, a statement intended to encourage one not to be anxious.

“Be not afraid!”  A phrase popularized by St. John Paul II, that is now used so often it has become a meme on social media.

Please understand, I am in no way diminishing the truths contained in each of these statements.  Nor am I attempting to lessen the importance of their meaning.  I am simply pointing out that as followers of Christ we have a habit of misusing statement about the nature and promises of God that their significance and meaning are lost and inconsequential.  We have turned them into ornaments, as if they are the finishing touches on a Christmas tree, instead of profound and meaningful insights into the nature of God.

Today’s Gospel could be easily categorized as a cliché or platitude.  We could… just categorize today’s Gospel as a simple reminder that salvation is intended for all.  Or… as a lesson that late comers to the faith are as welcome as those who have been baptized while yet in the cradle.  Though these truths of God are evident, clear, and relevant there are additional, even dare I say, grander truths of God and his nature that are presented to us in today’s Gospel reading.

We are told, “a landowner… went out to hire laborers for his vineyard.”  What is notable here is that the task of hiring laborers was typically reserved for a foreman or steward, individuals who were trusted to oversee the work and the laborers.  Yet, in this parable Jesus emphasizes that the landowner himself went out, multiple times in the day, to the public spaces seeking laborers.

The landowner, as an image of God, is constantly and consistently seeking and calling all of humanity to himself.  He is not satisfied with just a few, rather, he seeks to fulfill his desire for the salvation of all humankind.  God is so in love with all of humanity, that he came to earth, revealed himself, manifesting his desire for the salvation of all.  As the landowner who spends his day going to the marketplaces, so too God is actively seeking each and every one of us.

Another truth about God revealed to us in this Gospel is revealed as the landowner assures those whom he has called that he is just.

God is not a cheater.  He does not deal with humankind unfairly.  He keeps his promises, he honors his word, he shows no preference, and holds none in greater esteem.  Our choice in responding to his call for salvation is not weighed, measured, or balanced on scales.  Instead, our response to God‘s call is rewarded in full as we are granted full membership into the family of God with all privileges and honors due as his chosen people.

Finally, we are presented with another truth of God as portrayed through the landowner, and that is God’s justice is manifested in his mercy.  As those who answered God’s call in the eleventh hour of the day so too were those who responded earlier in the day all beneficiaries of the mercy of God.  God as the creator and sustainer of all things is free to administer his generosity as he determines, and as we have already established, he is a just God, his generosity, and therefore his mercy, is also his justice.

So often we separate these to truths of God.  We separate his justice from his mercy and deem them to be in opposition, when in fact they are the same.  Both working in concert to bring all of humanity to salvation.

We must ask ourselves; do we view the promotions at work, the negative medical tests, the removal of obstacles, or the miraculous healings as evidence of God’s mercy?  Do we interpret rejections, failures, difficulties, and illness as evidence of God’s judgement?

Or, rather, should we consider all that this life offers; reward, consequence, obstacle, or tragedy as evidence of the landowner, our just and merciful God, calling us to deeper love with both him and our neighbor?

Our challenge this day is to move our faith beyond platitudes and clichés.  To grow deeper in our understanding of God and the truths he has revealed to us.  We must refuse to confuse faith formation with meaningless ornamental clichés and platitudes.

My brothers and sisters, bluntly speaking, God is calling us beyond the false ideal that temporal reward and/or suffering are evidence of God’s love and concern or disdain for his people.  He has called us to labor in his vineyard.  Though may it be through the heat of day, or through trial and discomfort, his promise remains steadfast and true, when he states, “Friend, I have done you no injustice.”

Blogging and Exercise are Hard

It is has been over 1 year since I last published a homily. I apologize to those who have missed my weekly expositions, however, I mostly apologize to myself. I too have missed this weekly practice as it provided a degree of accountability and the subsequent reward associated with discipline. Much like I both despise and appreciate my exercise bicycle, I cannot deny the benefits of the effort and the consistency of preparing and writing homilies.

May God bless you all and may you find some encouragement in your pilgrimage on this earth through my exercise.

The Good Samaritan

15th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Luke 10:25-37

We all understand the concept of the Good Samaritan, right? In fact, I am pretty sure that we all have a Good Samaritan story. A moment in our lives when we were in desperate need of help. A moment when we found ourselves in a predicament that required assistance and there, in our worst moment, somebody came to our aid.

I myself have had a few Good Samaritan moments. One of the more memorable occurred many years ago, while I was in college. It was December, the week between Christmas and New Years, and I was traveling across the great state of South Dakota. It was getting late in the afternoon, I was traveling West on I-90 and was about 10 miles from the next exit when I ran out of gas.

It was cold, snowing, getting dark, and there I was stranded on the interstate. So, I put on my winter gear, grabbed the empty gas can in my trunk (because I ran out of gas a lot when I was younger), and started walking. As you assume, within about 10 minutes a Good Samaritan pulled over and offered me a ride to the nearest gas station. Then, after I fillled up my gas can, a second Good Samaritan appeared and drove me back to my stranded car.

I have shared this story before and typically someone will ask, “did they buy your gas?” Or, “did they offer you a meal?” Or, “Why didn’t the first guy give you a ride back to your car?” These questions imply that the aid these two individuals provided was lacking. As if they were not indeed true Good Samaritans because they could of done more.

My response to these questions, is simply, “all I needed was a ride.” I had a gas can. I had money to purchase gas. I had food a plenty in the car. (I was returning to Wyoming after having spent Christmas with my grandmother in Minnesota. I had enough turkey sandwiches to last a week if necessary. )

A Good Samaritan is not measured by the amount or the quality of the assistance given, but rather by mercy shown.

Today’s Gospel is very clear about this.

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a question. A Jewish law scholar asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as he typically did in these type of situations, responds to a question with a question. And the scholar, in the words of the Law, gave the right answer; “You shall love your God, with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” An excellent legal response.

However, the scholar was not content with just the right words, he wanted to be proven as being righteous, of having the right intent, and so he asks Jesus to define “neighbor.” In other words, he was asking Jesus to approve of him. He believed, as a result of his knowledge of the law, that he was righteous and he wanted Jesus to affirm his self-righteousness.

However, that is not what Jesus did.

When the scholar was asked to identify the righteous individual in the parable, he replied, “The one who treated (the victim) with mercy.”
The righteous person was not the “priest”. It was not the one who adhered to the religious rules, guidelines, and rituals… only. It was not the one who attended church when they were supposed to. It was not the one who said all the prayers, wore the right medal, or observed the sacred days, feasts, and traditions… only. The righteous person is the one who responds to others with mercy.

The righteous person was not the “Levite”. A Levite was an individual “set apart” for the care of and the service in the temple. They were also the teachers of the Jewish Law. They were not the priests who were consecrated for the sacrifice at the altar, rather they were individuals set aside for the instruction and the service of the people… possibly, dare I say, the deacons.

Yet, even the person who was responsible for understanding and teaching the law to others. The one person whose responsibility it was to help others live out their faith in real and tangible ways, was not considered righteous. Why? Because the Levite lacked mercy.

My brothers and sisters in Christ. We here, this day, have been called to be righteous men and women of God. We, the baptized, are dependent upon the mercy of God for our righteousness, for without his mercy none of us will inherit eternal life. However, if we fail to respond to the needs of others, regardless of their race, color, culture, or customs in mercy, and with mercy, we are living in disobedience to God.

If we put conditions on our mercy. If we deem that those who are of different faiths, different beliefs, different opinions, or of different sexual orientations as not deserving of mercy, than we are living in disobedience to God

Jesus’s instruction to the self-righteous scholar of the law some 2000 odd years ago is also our instruction today. We must go and do likewise. We must treat others with kindness, compassion, and forbearance. Our mercy is our charitable actions as we attempt to meet the spiritual and bodily needs of those whom we have been given an opportunity to do so. Just as those 2 men, many years ago, came to my aid, in a time of legitimate need, so too should we strive to be merciful to all, especially those who are in the greatest need.

Have We Forgotten Our Roots

Gospel of John 14:15-16, 23b-26

Today, Pentecost Sunday, is best introduced by the words of St. Luke in today’s 1st reading, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.”

We, gathered here this morning, do not consist of the entirety of the Body of Christ, yet, we here in this place and at this moment of time are her representatives. We, being male and female, young and old, of many different races, nationalities, and origins may very well indeed be a reflection of the “devout Jews gathered from every nation” of which St. Luke described in the Acts of the Apostles. If you were to stand and wander about this sanctuary, it is very possible that you would encounter an individual very much different from yourself. You may encounter a different language, culture, place of birth, and quite possibly, different political opinions, yet the very thing that we all have in common is that we are here because we believe… and that is no small thing.

We believe in Jesus, the Son of God. We believe that he was a man who was crucified, died, and was buried, and was raised from the dead. We believe he ascended into heaven and we believe that God sent us the Holy Spirit, and that one day he will come again for us.

Now, I recognize that after these basic beliefs things can get a little less… unifying. Depending on individual differences of faith formation, personal revelation, and catechization it might be rather difficult to get from this group a consensus on just about anything beyond the very basic tenant of our faith.

Growing up a Protestant I heard stories about churches being torn apart by arguments on which side of the church the piano should be placed. My wife, a cradle Catholic, tells me about a Catholic church that experienced a tremendous riff when the Bishop decided against the purchase of an organ.

I have confessed this here, from this pulpit before, but I often find myself listening to evangelical radio programs that condemn other self-professed Evangelical Christians because they don’t hold the same end time, rapture, and second coming beliefs that they do. However, before I can get too much of a self-righteous Catholic, I hear about Catholics who condemn other Catholics because they do or do not hold hands with one another during the Our Father. Division and discord are not uncommon regardless of the church you attend.

Yet, what do we read about in today’s first reading. We read about a bunch of people, from many different places, of many different languages, with many different faith formations, and many different personal revelations all finding agreement in one thing. That one thing being, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Isn’t it interesting that St. Luke the historian records for us that the very birth of the Church occurred in the very midst of chaos. That thousands of people, with just as many ideas, perceptions, opinions, and beliefs all found common ground in the “mighty acts of God!” And, what were those acts? Those acts were the very acts of Jesus, of whom the Apostles bore witness. Those acts were the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those acts were the miracles he performed, the words which he spoke, and the love which he shared. Those acts were the sins he had forgiven, the sinners he had restored, and promises he had made. Those acts were the very embodiment of God’s love for humankind and for their salvation.

We here in the modern-day church are not unlike those early day Christians. They too possessed ideals and practices rooted in culture, tradition, and opinion that caused them to separate, segregate, and differentiate one from another. I have heard it argued that the most segregated day and time in our country is Sunday morning. The traditional day and time when those who are called to be one in Christ gather in their places of worship with people who mostly look, speak, and think just like them.

Have we forgotten our roots… our beginning… our calling?

My brothers and sisters, I am not calling out as some naïve Pollyanna professing that we ignore those things that divide us. Rather, I am calling out in hopes that we do the exact opposite. That we acknowledge the differences and that we embrace one another in spite of those differences. We do this not through the sacrifice of doctrine, nor do we stop professing the truth and wonder of the Gospel, but we do this by continually calling one another to be in community… a community of faith in Jesus Christ.

What Does it Mean to Love One Another?

5th Sunday of Easter
The Gospel of John 13:31-33, 34-35

What does it mean to love one another? How are we supposed to love one another? And, who is one another? This commandment to love which we all have been called is as simple as it is illusive. To profess love for one another is, at times, an ideal that is much easier to profess than too live.

An ideal is defined “as a person or thing regarded as perfect.” Today’s Gospel clearly establishes an ideal. The Ideal of love.

Jesus gave us, his disciples, this clear and specific commandment. He gave us this commandment on the evening of his passion, in the final discourse before his arrest, trial, persecution, and crucifixion. His words are clear, plain, and direct… “As I have loved you, so shall you love one another.” Words which sacrificial meaning became more so evident after the events of the cross.

This ideal to which all, who follow Christ, strive to emulate is given without variance or exception. Jesus does not provide caveats, allowances, or conditions for love. In fact, he identifies love as the proof of discipleship. A love that is perfect, holy, and divine is the defining characteristic of the woman or man claiming to be a follower of Christ.

Today, our challenge is to examine our response to Jesus’s call to love.

Jesus’s call to love is not an end in and of itself. It is not a prize to be won or an outcome to be achieved. Nor is it a plateau, or a mountain top, or an emotional state to obtain and sustain. Instead, Jesus’s call to love is a practice. It is the day-to-day practice by which we live with and serve one another.

The process of living in love is manifested in charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God by all things for this own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves…” (1822). Our charity is the embodiment of the ideal, the perfect love to which we all have been called.

Living in love is not static, rather it is dynamic. It grows, evolves, and accommodates. It is not lifeless, unchanging, and rigid. The commandment to love requires disruption of routine and violation of established norms. When seeking love as a goal, as something to possess, the practices of love become the measure, and, ultimately, the goal. For example, the number of rosaries said, the hours spent in front of the blessed sacrament, and the meals distributed to the hungry become a justification of righteousness. Love, which is measured in joy, peace, and mercy, is replaced with personal accomplishments and rationalizations of devotion and spiritual discipline.

A very current example of this is being played out in our world today. In the country of Venezuela thousands of people are suffering in hunger, lack clean water, and live in fear and darkness. Yet, there are those who use these deplorable conditions to promote a political objective rather than acknowledge the human suffering. To respond as if starvation, thirst, illness, and death are the justifiable consequences of a failed political system is to deny the sacred Catholic teaching of Human Dignity. Condemning human life for the sake of being right in not living in love. Living in love seeks right relationship not validation.

We must resist the temptation to respond to the chaos, randomness, and imperfection of this world with isolation and indifference. Rather, we must respond to injustice, persecution, and deprivation as opportunities to live out the commandment of Jesus, “so shall you love one another.” When jobs are lost, or illness threatens life. When relationships are broken, and false promises given. When despair, doubt, and depression diminish hope, we must not turn away from love. We must not respond in fear. We must not abandon the commandment of Jesus. As followers of Christ there is no greater challenge that we will face. The challenge of responding in all circumstance, to all people, in all manner of hardship in love, is by far the most difficult thing we will do as disciples of Christ.

To isolate, to withdraw, to remove oneself from the body of Christ, is not living in love. To condemn sin rather than to correct sin is not living in love. To create barriers to friendship, to deny kindness, or to intentionally hold back goodwill is not living in love. To place conditions on charity, or to feign ignorance, or worse, indifference is not living in love.

Living in love requires community. Living in love requires forgiveness and patience. Living in love requires intimacy, and understanding, and meaning. Living in love requires that we give whatever we can, that we serve whoever we can, and that we go wherever we can in order that we shall be known by our love.

Jesus, in his last instructions to his disciples, called them… called us… to be men and women who love. To respond to each other and to the chaos of this world in love. He promised us that he would not abandon us. He promised us that he would someday call us to him, and he promised us that we would be known for our love.