“My words will not pass away”

As we head into the commotion surrounding the holidays, it’s good to remember Jesus’ message in Luke 21:29-33 and Luke 21:34-36.

Jesus told his disciples a parable.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.”

It continues in Luke 21: 34-36

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Those are Friday’s and Saturday’s readings, given separately although they appear back to back in the Gospel. It seems to me to be pertinent to present them together here.

Some might be tempted to say that Jesus is here talking about the coming apocalypse. I am tempted to say that Jesus was talking to the disciples about His coming death on the cross and resurrection. He does talk about “this generation” and “tribulations that are imminent.” In whatever context we take this parable and teaching, the message remains the same: Be vigilant and be ready. Listen to what Jesus tells you, for while there will be tribulations and distractions, while you may become drowsy or even drunken or anxious, one thing will remain steady: His words – His message, His teachings, His love.

We live in a very busy and distracting world. Everything vies for our attention. Marketing messages assault us everywhere. Breaking News punctuates every newscast, even in marginal news programs about entertainment and science. The tone often feeds our anxieties. And with the Christmas and other holidays approaching, the pressure to buy, buy, buy … save, save, save … hurry, hurry, hurry … will be even more distracting. Parties will encourage us to drink, often to drunkenness.

Could Jesus’ parable be any more apt now?

If we take the time to sit back and turn off the world around us for a moment, to focus on something else, something more worthy of our attention, we will find something more timeless. It’s Jesus’ message.

God wants our attention, too. He wants a moment of our time. To commune with us, His people. And He wants us to give attention to others. It’s about love. It’s about caring less about possessions and wealth and more about our connections with one another.

So I think the heart of these passages from the Gospel of Luke is that the world continues on around us, often at a breakneck speed, but in all the breathless rush, Jesus is still there and His “words will not pass away.” His words of comfort and wisdom and command.

We have just passed Thanksgiving, the time of giving thanks. Now we rush headlong into Christmas and New Years. For many of us, that time will pass in a blur. Take a breath. Several breaths. Remember Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Remember love. They will not pass away, ever.

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A Thanksgiving Prayer

A little departure from the usual: A Thanksgiving prayer for all who travel this holiday.

Oh Holy Father in Heaven,
merciful and compassionate God of all humanity,
we pray for your protection of all who travel this
Thanksgiving holiday, that they may arrive safely at
their destinations and return home safely again.

We ask your blessings on them and their families and friends
as they gather in thankful repast. Please give them a
warm and wonderful holiday as they remember all they have
to be grateful for.

Please, loving Father, keep their delays and inconveniences in
travel at a minimum. Please also remove all dangers. And please,
Father, give them the skills and the patience to overcome obstacles
and the grace to overcome disappointments. Most of all, Father,
please give them the kindness to serve others as they would have
themselves served to ease the burdens of travel or disagreements or
serving the holiday meal.

Oh Heavenly Father, thank you for this holiday and its break from our
labors that we may give you thanks and reflect on our many blessings,
which come from your love and generosity. And for those who suffer
from lack or need or illness, please Lord, bring relief.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

“She, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood”

True charity is given humbly and in the spirit of love, as Jesus shows us in Luke 21:1-4.

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

 

This story stirs with reverberations from the young man of wealth whom Jesus told to sell off his wealth and give to the poor. Then, Jesus told him, he would attain the Kingdom of God. In this instance, it is a poor woman who has no wealth, yet she gives what little she has in offerings. Who has made the greater sacrifice, we ponder, the wealthy who give of their surplus or the poor woman who gave all that she had?

In a similar way, it addresses the concept of charity.

We should never judge another’s charity or apparent lack thereof. But in this story, Jesus also teaches us about the purity of heart versus the appearance of public display.

Not so long ago, there was a big debate on who gave more to charity, conservatives or liberals. The deciding factor, said conservatives, was how much was declared in income taxes. And, of course, records suggested that conservatives declared more donations in their income taxes. Liberals responded that it didn’t account for various other acts of charity that can’t be declared on an income tax form or those who don’t list donations on their income taxes, or even those who don’t make enough to fill out an income tax form. So while the result may be suggestive to some, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. And is that really what charity is all about, who gives more?

More important, charity was never meant to be a contest. Charity should be an act from the heart to help others, and it was never meant to be given in a public display but done humbly. Kind of like prayer, which Jesus has told us shouldn’t be offered up for public display but given in a hidden place, which glorifies God not us.

As Jesus tells us here, an act of charity that pleases God is not one that someone can boast of, pointing to a tax form. It’s one in which someone has made a quiet sacrifice to help others and not ask for acclamation. Sometimes charity isn’t a monetary gift at all, but an act of kindness or a treasured possession. It’s a gift from the heart. That’s an act of love, which is what pleases God more than anything.

◊  ◊  ◊

In case I’m not able to post again before the holiday, let me now wish my American readers a Happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you with plenty at your table, may God bless you with abundant friends and family with whom to celebrate, and may God bless you with much to be thankful for. And may we all remember those in need and those who give in God’s tender, loving care.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise”

A simple act of faith brought a criminal to Paradise in Luke 23:35-43. What will be our route to Paradise?

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.

We often forget what the goal of life is. It isn’t just to get along until we perish. By the measure of the Gospels, it is to live a life so that when we do perish, we reach Paradise.

Here is the story of Jesus on the Cross and beside Him are the two criminals. One is mocking, the other is adoring. One challenged Jesus, the other made an act of faith in Jesus, an act of love, saving his soul.

Whether or not we recognize it, we make faith choices every day. They come in how we live our lives in response to Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. It isn’t enough to say we believe in Jesus or that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Although, both of those are important, too. Rather, it is also in how we respond to others in our daily lives.

As you have done to the least among us so you have done to me. That’s a paraphrase, but it’s close to what Jesus said in his Gospels. If you have mocked the disabled or failed to provide for the poor or not given aid to the sick, so you have done to Jesus. Jesus said in another Gospel passage that it isn’t enough to have killed someone to have broken God’s law, but so too if you have been angry with your neighbor; thus, if you have been angry against your neighbor, have you not acted so against Jesus?

When you act on your neighbor, remember Jesus. He calls on us above all to love God and to love our neighbor. He said they are equally important commandments. Act on your neighbor as if he or she were Jesus. Love them as if they were Jesus. Make it a selfless act.

The second criminal in this story from Luke was responding to the perfect loving Christ. His reward was to join Jesus in Paradise at their death. Is that not a promise of Paradise for us when we act justly and respond with Christ’s love?  In other Gospel passages, when Jesus heals someone or aids someone, he tells them, “By your faith you have been saved.” How can it be any less so when we show our faith through love?

 

“See that you not be deceived”

Worry. Worry. Worry. We are taught these days to worry about everything and taught to fear the coming end of days. In Luke 21:5-19, Jesus tells us not to be deceived. Rather, be confident in Him and persevere in faith.

While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

Then they asked him,
“Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
He answered,
See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

There will be many signs, says Jesus, but it will not immediately be the end. Many will come claiming to be Him or that the time has come. But it is not so. Do not be deceived. You will be persecuted and hated in His name, yet He will give you wisdom in speaking and not a head on your hair will be destroyed. “By your perseverance will you secure your lives.”

That’s a lot to swallow. We are told in scripture that there will be an end times and there are signs before it comes. Yet Jesus says don’t be deceived by those who proscribe it to you. Jesus has before in the Gospels said to be prepared for the thief strikes in the night. Or don’t be caught sleeping when the master arrives at an unexpected hour in the night. What this means is, don’t sweat the all the doomsayers. What will come will come — instead, be prepared for the coming of the Lord.

What does that mean? It means knowing and acting on what pleases God. Then you won’t need to worry about what happens to your soul. Jesus will save you.

Don’t worry about your possessions. Don’t worry about wealth. Don’t focus on others and how they live their lives, focus on how you live yours. Be kind and compassionate. Serve others rather than have them serve you. Care for the sick. Feed the hungry. Find shelter for the homeless. Give comfort to the widow and the sorrowful. Visit the prisoner. All these things Jesus calls for and does in the Gospels.

If you’re sick pray for your healing, and trust in God’s mercy, compassion, and healing. Jesus heals us and says, “By your faith have you been saved.”

Many there are who would have you “saved” by your fear of the coming apocalypse. I think Jesus would rather you be comforted by his love, compassion, and mercy. Don’t be deceived. Be faithful. Love God and be loved by God.

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”

This reading could not have come at a more appropriate time. In John 2:13-22, we see Jesus angered at the money changers and vendors in the Temple. God’s wisdom and timing is amazing.

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money-changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money-changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
“Zeal for your house will consume me.”
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.

Normally, I would personally reflect on today’s reading. Instead, because of so much angst over the results of the U.S. presidential election, I want to share a Facebook posting by Father James Martin, SJ, which may be comforting to them. It reflects on this reading from the Gospel of John. It made me feel better. I hope it helps you if you are feeling despondent.

The line I chose out of this reading was Jesus talking about the temple of His Body. We can perhaps also think of it as a response to those times when we feel torn down spiritually or emotionally. We can let Jesus build us back up, recalling the degradation and death he faced and endured then overcame, rising again on the third day. Let Jesus be our inspiration, our spiritual guide and power. Praise God.

For your further consideration, I find Father Martin an affable, inspirational writer and comforter during difficult times. You might consider following him on Facebook and reading his messages and the America Magazine for which he is a contributor and editor. Let me know if you find any of this helpful.

And God grant you peace and comfort in this difficult time. God loves you so much. I love you, too, my sisters and brothers. Let us unite in God’s love.

“What is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God”

What pleases you — is it what pleases God? In Luke 16:9-15 we learn there is a conflict between what pleases humans and what pleases God.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.”

The Pharisees, who loved money,
heard all these things and sneered at him.
And he said to them,
“You justify yourselves in the sight of others,
but God knows your hearts;
for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.

Human esteem is often measured in wealth and much less in honesty. It is often assumed that if you are wealthy that you are successful and that if you are honest you won’t go far in life. But what Jesus is telling us here is that what God considers successful and what many humans consider successful often aren’t the same. Jesus pointedly says, “What is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.” And that can cover a lot of things, not just wealth — like the things wealth can buy.

Put your stock not in wealth and possessions but in what is of esteem to God. Wealth isn’t the problem, it is what we do with wealth. Possessions aren’t the issue, it’s what we do with them. For God allows us many gifts and many opportunities to share them for the betterment of all. And the real issue boils down to our relationships with others, for Jesus teaches us in the Gospels that what matters most to God is that we love Him with all our hearts, minds, and souls and that we love one another as ourselves.

In another part of Gospel scripture, Jesus tells us not to swear on anything, but to mean yes when we say yes and no when we say no. Therein is the sign of our honesty with each other and with God. If we love one another, we will be honest with each other, and there will be no need to swear on anything.

Seek not what is esteemed by human nature but what is esteemed by God, who knows what is in your heart. That is what pleases Him.