“Rise, and do not be afraid”

In Matthew 17:1-9 we learn that God doesn’t want us to be afraid, he wants us to love Him and be loved by Him.

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, 
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them; 
his face shone like the sun 
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here, 
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, 
then from the cloud came a voice that said, 
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes, 
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone 
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Two important messages rise in today’s passage: The Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And the Son says, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

Unlike in the Old Testament, when the Jews were taught to fear God, in the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus teaches us to not be afraid. And the Father says, listen to Him.

Of course, the Father was speaking more generally of listening to His son. But how interesting that these words appear together here. The Father and Son as one, reassuring us we are not to fear God but to love Him.

When we misbehave, or break rules, our earthly fathers get mad at us, and often we are afraid of their anger and punishment. The rules we break against the Heavenly Father can be even graver and it’s natural to fear His fatherly anger and punishment. But Jesus tells us, don’t be afraid. Love God. Repent — have a change of heart. God loves you.

It’s also natural when someone does something to us, including a parent, to be angry with them. It can be hard to forgive them. In this same way, Jesus tells us to not be afraid. Love God. Forgive them in His love. And love them.

There’s a beautiful movie called The Shack (2017), which I watched on DVD the other day. It’s about a man who has experienced great pain during his life, and he blames his dad, himself, and God. He has an encounter with God — an unorthodox vision of God in some ways, but as you watch it you come to realize it’s very much like the real God. And God’s message in that movie is about love and forgiveness. God appears as three loving persons, and they are full of love and reassurance. There is never any moment during the film when you are called to fear God, only to trust Him and let Him love and care for you. It answers the question, why does God let bad things happen to people. I’ll let you watch the movie to find the answer.

In a world that is filled people who want vengeance, who want revenge, who want an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, even for the smallest infractions, who want to stoke fear, isn’t it refreshing to turn to God and hear the words, “Rise, and do not be afraid”? God is almighty and all present. If you don’t need to be afraid of Him, why should you be afraid of anything else? If God can forgive our worst sins, can’t we forgive each other even our smallest infractions, if not our greatest faults?

Rise from your fears, and do not be afraid. It is God. God is love.

Glory to God!

“Whoever has ears ought to hear”

In Matthew 12:36-43, we get a warning and an invitation. Do you hear it?

Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the Evil One,
and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The first seventeen lines are fairly self-explanatory as Jesus gives light to his parable. There will come an end of ages – a time when Jesus will return to earth and there will be an accounting for the lives of the good and the evil – and only the good, the righteous, will find a home in heaven with the Father.

That last line – “Whoever has ears ought to hear” – is a humdinger. It’s a warning and an invitation.

There are many who are preached the Gospels. Some even read the Gospels. But many do not “hear”. Many simply do not listen.

It is my witness that an emphasis for many “Christians” is on the Old Testament and the New Testament outside of the Gospels. If you can ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD?), if you’re a “Christian”, why would you not read and give deference to the Gospels?

Showy “Christians” want to display monuments to the Ten Commandments in the public square, but do they make a monument to Jesus’ command to obey the two most important commandments, to love God and to love neighbor? Have they heard?

Self-important “Christians” admonish people who receive food stamps to “get a job” (most do have jobs) or want to take health care away from the vulnerable because they haven’t earned it (many are disabled and can’t work, or elderly and retired and have earned it, or working multiple low paying jobs and still can’t afford it). Did they hear Jesus say, “Feed them yourself”? Did they hear how Jesus cured the sick, without requirements?

Self-righteous “Christians” castigate the unmarried for living together and homosexuals for wanting to be married, get think little of leaders who have sexual affairs or multiple marriages. Did they hear Jesus say that marriage after divorce was adultery or that lust for another while married was adultery? While pointing out that homosexuality is an abomination to God, did they not also hear God say that eating pork and shellfish and piercing the body are an abomination (check Leviticus 18:26-29, where it says all these practices are an abomination)? They complain about menu Christians, and yet, here they are selecting which sins they themselves can overlook.

Most “Christians” get their Bible, their Gospels, listening to someone preach about it. They often hear a line or two, not a whole chapter, so they don’t get the whole context of a story. What they get is the preacher’s version of God’s word, which often comes at the expense of an agenda. The only way to know what God is saying, to hear God, is to read it in full. And if you’re really a Christian, the only way to know what Jesus is saying is to read the Gospels, in full.

That’s the warning. And now for the invitation. Jesus wants you to hear Him out. He wants you to get what He is saying. And He wants you to live the Gospels. He wants you to stop judging, He wants you to love God and your neighbor, and He wants you to start caring. He wants you to hear … that you might shine like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father. Go for it.

Glory to God!

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in field”

What are your plans for the future? Are they to enter the kingdom of heaven, the treasure Jesus explains in Matthew 13:44-46?

Jesus said to his disciples:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

There were two choices for today’s reading and I chose the shorter of the two, for a reason. I think it has a message that gets lost in all the angst over sin and repentance, as important as that message is.

What can we glean from this short passage?

First, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure.” What is a treasure? It’s a valued thing. It’s an amazing thing. When discovered, people will do almost anything to possess it.

Second, it’s “like a treasure buried in a field.” It’s hidden from us but it’s discoverable. And when we discover it, when we unbury it, we want to possess it. We want to take it in and make it our own.

Third, it’s a buried treasure “a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” A person may literally sell all that he or she has for the sake of attaining heaven or a person may do so metaphorically in the sense that he or she divests themselves of their earthly attachments and ways to seek it.

In the second example, heaven is like the valuable pearl the merchant gives his all to purchase. A person who finds the treasure that is heaven divests him or her self to seek it out.

Science and medicine are spending a lot of time and effort to extend life. That’s laudable in a sense. But some take it to the extent that they believe one day they may be able to extend human life indefinitely. If you don’t believe in a heaven, that might make some sense, but if you believe in heaven, a valuable heaven, a worthy goal, then you have to wonder, why put off seeking eternity with God?

Shouldn’t we as Christians be eager to get to heaven, to be in the presence of God? Shouldn’t we not worry so much about death, because that leads us to resurrection and the kingdom of heaven?

Heaven is a treasure because it is an amazing reward for a good life. And reaching heaven is eternal life in the persistent presence of the almighty loving God.

Forever life on earth is a forever existence among the wicked and the insincere, in sickness and poverty, among people who seek wealth and attachment to things at the expense of others, enduring disasters and wars and the ravages of nature. Certainly, there will be those who will seek to help, but we will be at the mercy of those who don’t and those who twist the word of God to their own greedy ends.

I understand the attraction to furthering life on earth. Earth is a beautiful oasis in the universe. There are many attractive things that come from living in the now here. And if you get good at living here and in the now, you can live comfortably, perhaps complacently. Why not just keep it up? Because Jesus tells us there will be an end of ages. We don’t know when — we can’t know when. Even Jesus didn’t know the when.

We need to be thinking about what happens after the end of ages. Where do we want to go? Heaven is a treasure. It’s discoverable. It’s attainable. It’s glorious beyond all the treasures of earth combined.

Jesus tells us in the longer version of this reading that the angels will separate the wicked from the good. The good will enter the kingdom of heaven. And who are the good? They those who listen to Jesus’ teachings and act on them. They are those who love God and love others, who treat others, especially the least among us, with respect and care and kindness. They are those who seek not wealth for the sake of wealth but share all to the glory of God.

Sure, we could try to live forever on earth, but what’s the point? There is no treasure on earth that can surpass the treasure that is heaven. Jesus teaches us that should be our goal.

Glory to God!

“An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign”

There are different kinds of “signs”, but no matter what the kind, Jesus says in Matthew 12:38-42 that they will not be given.

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
He said to them in reply,
An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,
but no sign will be given it
except the sign of Jonah the prophet.
Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, 
so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth
three days and three nights.
At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah;
and there is something greater than Jonah here.
At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon;
and there is something greater than Solomon here.”

I’ve talked before about people who look for signs in every terrible thing they see happening in the world. In this reading from earlier in the week, the theme returns.

Most often, when we hear of someone seeking signs we think of someone looking for miracles. But someone can also “seek” or look for signs from God in the everyday events of our lives. Church conservatives are very good at that, finding God’s hand in every disaster and disappointment in life as if God would punish everyone in the path of misery for the sins of a few or even the many at the expense of the innocent. But that’s never been how Jesus has preached the Gospel, instead talking about God’s love, compassion, and mercy.

And Jesus makes it clear, God doesn’t do signs on demand, whether in the moment or after the fact. “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it.” Instead, focus on the sign that is the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you’re looking for the retribution of God for sin – and that is what the conservatives of the Church are looking for in these “signs” – you will have to wait for the final judgment. Jesus is essentially condemning those who look for signs, which include acts of retribution rather than in signs of God’s love and acts of mercy.

Most who seek signs of God’s action in retribution are harking back to the stories of the Old Testament. But Jesus makes clear in the New Testament that those days are over. God acts out of love. In the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus, His only Son, the Father declares not war on us but peace and love. And God wants us to share that love through faith, hope, and charity. We are commanded to love God and to love one another. He doesn’t want us to scare each other, He wants to embrace each other, through the grace of embracing Him.

So the next time some old-time preacher tells you that a devastating natural disaster or someone’s disability or personal misfortune is because they sinned, remind them of Jesus’ retort: An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it. Your sign will come at your judgment. Judge not lest you be judged. And remember, also, that when Jesus was asked whether a man was made blind because his parents had sinned or because he was a sinner, Jesus said it was neither; it was to reveal the glory of God — and I personally believe that God didn’t make the mad blind for His own glory but that Jesus made the man see and that brought glory to God.

If the world would just stop judging! Just stop condemning. If it seeks a sign from God, read the Gospels and witness the birth, the life, the sacrifice, and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. There is your sign.

Glory to God!

 

“Blessed are your eyes, because they see”

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23 teaches us about the seed of faith and in whom it takes hold.

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore. 
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow. 
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up. 
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. 
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots. 
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. 
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. 
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?” 
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. 
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. 
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear. 
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. 
But he has no root and lasts only for a time. 
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away. 
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit. 
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

This is a long reading, but it teaches us much. There is the parable itself. Then there is the brief explanation. And then there is the interpretation and its consequences.

Jesus says, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Does that mean God is selective of whom He allows to have knowledge? Or does that mean for some the knowledge is passed on more easily while for others it takes more work to figure out? Perhaps it’s about a willingness or an openness to understand. Jesus says, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.” If you understand, then praise God and give thanks.

Then we should be aware of the teachings of the parable. In what group do we belong? Do we know anyone in these groups, anyone we can help?

Anyone “who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.” This person takes patience and persistence, for he is oblivious to the word of God, opaque to its meaning. If this is you, seek God’s mercy with a contrite heart that you may come to understand and not be lost. If this is someone you know, seek God’s compassion that you may help them with passion come to know God’s love.

Anyone “who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.” This person takes companionship and reassurance, for it is easy to become cynical and feel abandoned. If this is you, seek the company of believers and the grace of the sacraments to uplift and strengthen you. If this is someone you know, seek God’s will to help and comfort them, to be at their side in times of trouble. Remind them of their time of joy in God, and show them His love.

Anyone “who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” This person is a hard one, for as Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospels, it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. And worldly anxiety creates a fight-or-flight reflex, and this person turns unto himself or fights off others in fear. If this is you, seek the love of God, which is evident everywhere. It is free just for the asking. Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospels that if we ask the Father for anything in Jesus’ name, it will be given us. Ask it in a loving respectful manner, of course. Seek out the sacraments to build you up. Give up your will to His will. Seek not wealth for the sake of wealth but all for the glory of God. If this is someone you know, do not get tangled up in his anxiety, his lofty pursuit of wealth, or his cynicism. Instead, let him get caught up in your humbleness, in your release of your worries to God’s all-knowing will, and be joyous in the abundance of life that God has given you, however much — or however little — that is. A person of wealth often lives a showy lifestyle because of it, but he has little power over those who are joyous in the simplicity of poverty. Jesus has taught us elsewhere in the Gospels that if God provides for the birds of the field, how much more will He provide for us?

Anyone “who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” If you have read this far, perhaps this is you. Perhaps you simply hope this is you. Hope is the great igniter of faith, for it carries us through the difficult times. Hope leads to faith and faith leads to charity. And all lead to salvation. And if this is you, you will bear fruit among your sisters and brothers, the many Jesus has described above, whom Jesus has commanded us elsewhere in the Gospels to love as ourselves. And love, true God-inspired love, will bear fruit in others. Blessed are your eyes because they see. Blessed are your ears because they hear.

So, God grants us knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven according to our willingness and openness to receive it? According to our faith? If we seek we shall find. If we knock on the door, it will be opened to us.

Glory to God!

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”

Today, as in Jesus’ time, the self-righteous have sought to marginalize those they perceive as sinners. In Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus addresses the issue.

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.

There is a controversy in the Roman Catholic Church now, begun by Pope Francis when he called for the welcoming of LGBT Catholics into the Church and then again when he called to consider allowing certain remarried divorced Catholics to receive Holy Communion and burial at death. The tradition has been to shun both groups — LGBT Catholics and divorced Catholics — because they are considered sinners. Neither may receive Holy Communion and neither may be buried by the Church. Pope Francis has said the Church needs to rethink this.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew partially explains why. Holy Communion is not a reward for being good, as one Catholic writer said it. It is an encounter with Christ to heal and strengthen. Who needs healing and strength more than a sinner? So why, then, would the Church deny that healing and strength to someone they consider a sinner?

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners,” He said. Then let Christ do His work. “Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Heed His words on mercy over sacrifice.

This is not meant to be a posting on Catholic Church practices. It’s meant to show how Jesus’ words apply to our everyday lives. There are people in our lives who are hurting, who need the loving encounter with Christ. And people whose job it is to minister to them in the name of Christ are denying them that. Not just priests and bishops and cardinals, but everyday people, who can be lay ministers. People who judge others, as Jesus has commanded them not to. People who put their own perceived righteousness above that of others.

There is scientific evidence that being LGBT is written into someone’s DNA, not a “lifestyle choice.” If that’s so, then it’s nature’s choice. Yes, it’s written in Leviticus that a man may not lay in bed with another man as with a woman and that it is an abomination. It is also written that believers should not eat shell fish and other seafood that doesn’t have fins and gills, should not eat pigs (e.g., ham and bacon), should not wear tattoos, and not do dozens of other things. And at the end of the chapter (chapter 18) in Leviticus that spells all these don’ts out, it says, “These are all an abomination.” So how do you square your “lifestyle choices” that are an abomination against someone else’s? How do you condemn someone else for offending God when you offend God by your own choices?

This is not to condemn you. This is not to judge you. This is to remind you that Jesus says, “Learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice” and “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners,” and then make you ponder, who are the sinners? And then wonder, who should be denied an encounter with Jesus the Christ — in fact, who should seek Him out more urgently?

Jesus spent a lot time in the Gospels battling the scribes and Pharisees, whom he called hypocrites and who failed to grasp His central teachings on love and mercy and compassion. Are we more Christlike or more like the scribes and Pharisees? Maybe it’s time to get out of Jesus’ way and let Him do His merciful work on those He seeks to heal.

“Why do you harbor evil thoughts?”

Today in Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus teaches us the wonderful healing power of forgiveness.

After entering a boat, Jesus made the crossing, and came into his own town.
And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”
At that, some of the scribes said to themselves,
“This man is blaspheming.”
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said,
Why do you harbor evil thoughts?
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
But that you may know that the Son of Man
has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
he then said to the paralytic,
“Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
He rose and went home.
When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe
and glorified God who had given such authority to men.

There is much angst in the Roman Catholic Church these days because Pope Francis and the Jesuits are talking about welcoming the LGBT community into the faith, allowing divorced Catholics to receive Communion, and offering them burial after death. There are those in the Catholic faith community who are wholly open to this, and there are those who are wholly against it.

Those who are wholly open to it think it’s time that it’s time the Church stop judging these people and that it update its teaching on these relationships. Those who are wholly against it think the people in these groups are terrible sinners and must repent first. There is a deep divide between the two groups.

But in today’s reading, Jesus gives us guidance. “Why do you harbor evil thoughts?” he says to the scribes, who were the holders of Jewish faith doctrine. Jesus receives a man who paralyzed, unable to walk but moved from place to place on a stretcher. There is no indication the man makes a confession or publicly repents of his sin. He makes an act of faith. And Jesus says to him, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus knew what was in his heart, while the scribes and those in the crowd did not.

Jesus frequently tells us, “Judge not.” He rarely condemns sinners, and when He does, it’s the overly pious, self-righteous scribes and Pharisees whom He condemns.

Our world is full of people who condemn others for what they perceive or imagine or assume are sins or slights or blasphemes of God by others. But Jesus would rebuke them. “Why do you harbor evil thoughts?” Shouldn’t they let God be the judge and let Him heal whatever ails the person, whether it’s what you think it is or another thing?

Open your hearts to God that He may guide you to be open to accepting of others and not judge them for their faults. For you have faults of your own. And pray that He may be as compassionate and merciful to you as He is in healing others. Don’t seek to deny God’s love to others, but seek to encourage them to be receptive to that love and join in that love in the spirit in which it is given. And as a sinner, be receptive to God’s forgiveness and healing — no one is unworthy of God’s love.

And while we’re talking of forgiveness and its healing properties, don’t forget you have the power to forgive. Jesus calls on us to forgive our brothers and sisters with whom we have a problem. That has healing powers for both parties. Forgiveness is worth more than all the gold in all the kingdoms of the world! Love your neighbor as yourself.

“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” Glory to God!