“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!

 

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“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!

“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

There is an antidote to fear, and it’s faith, as we learn in Matthew 8:23-27. It’s a good lesson as many in America celebrate Independence Day.

As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

On this American Independence Day, this Fourth of July by its other name, this may be a very suitable passage of the Gospels for reflection. America is very deeply divided politically. There are ominous signs on the horizon for where the country is headed. The darkness at the end of the tunnel, to mix metaphors, reaches beyond America’s shores as other countries reflect on the nation’s leadership and the direction it appears to be taking not only for America but for the world. Many in America and, indeed, the world are crying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” If they are praying.

Jesus would admonish them with, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Not because they have nothing to fear, but because you have it within you to do something. Jesus teaches us that we have the power of prayer to the Father, which if we ask in Jesus’ name the Father will answer.

America has many issues before it which vex its people. Income inequality. Homelessness. Joblessness. Health care access and affordability. Housing access and affordability. Climate change. Voting rights. Civil rights. Minority rights. Sexual orientation rights. Pay equity. A living wage. Minimum wage. Pro-life versus Pro-choice. Environmental protection. Vaccination rights. Increasing road rage. Civility on social media and on the streets. Terrorism from abroad and from within. Immigration policy. The list goes on and on. And they all create fear in the citizenry. Again, Jesus would admonish them that they have the power of prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name.

By his example, Jesus also teaches us that we can do more than pray. We can DO. Jesus didn’t just pray to heal people, he touched them and healed them himself. He didn’t just pray to calm the seas, he “rebuked the winds and the sea” creating a great calm. He took action in addition to praying. And Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospels that with strong faith we can move mountains. It is your faith that healed you.

So Jesus’ lesson for Americans celebrating Independence Day this day is that we should reject fear and do two things: Pray to the Father in Jesus’ name for help and take proactive steps to solve the problems.

From a psychological perspective, feeling in control of a situation helps stave off fear. Taking action helps give us a feeling of being in more control. And praying should be a part of that process, which gives us hope and confidence.

When you feel overwhelmed or under assault, don’t go into flight mode, go into fight mode. Heed Jesus’ words. “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then pray and take action. Fear is our worst enemy, but we don’t have to let it win.

“As you have believed, let it be done for you”

There is power in faith, as we learn in Matthew 8:5-17.

When Jesus entered Capernaum,
a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying,
“Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” 
He said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority, 
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him,
“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven,
but the children of the Kingdom
will be driven out into the outer darkness,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
And Jesus said to the centurion,
“You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.”
And at that very hour his servant was healed.

Jesus entered the house of Peter,
and saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
He touched her hand, the fever left her,
and she rose and waited on him. 

When it was evening, they brought him many
who were possessed by demons,
and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick,
to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

He took away our infirmities
and bore our diseases.

“As you have believed, let it be done for you,” says Jesus. I’ve read that somewhere else in the Gospels. Also, “It is your faith that has saved you.” Faith. In this case, it was a Roman centurion who had faith. And Jesus pointed out, it was a Roman centurion, normally an enemy of the Jews, who had a greater faith than the Jews whom Jesus had come to save.

Faith plays a huge role in healing. Think of the woman in the crowd following behind Jesus who touched His garment. Think of the blind man on the side of the road as Jesus passed by. Think of the leper who was among the many lepers that Jesus sent to cleanse themselves in the pool and was the only one to return to Jesus. All were people of faith whom Jesus cured because of their faith or said they were cured because of their faith.

Jesus also said that if we had faith but the size of a mustard seed we could command mountains to move. The power of faith. To cure, to move mountains.

What else might we be able to do if we had faith — true faith? Solve world hunger? Prevent holocausts? Eliminate war? Bring about lasting peace?  Find shelter for the homeless, maybe even create jobs at a living wage so many of the homeless could find shelter for themselves? Conquer cancer and mental health issues? Embrace others who are different from us? These are pipe dreams for a secular world, but what if they were achievable for people of real faith.

In faith, there is hope. In faith, there is charity. In faith, there is love. In true faith.

“As you have believed, let it be done for you.” What do you believe?

Glory to God!