The Gospel for Sunday, November 29th, 2015

­­The Gospel for November 29th, 2015, First Sunday of Advent: “The Coming of the Son of Man” and “Exhortation to be Vigilant”

Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

Jesus said to his disciples:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the seas and the waves. People will die of fright in the anticipation of what is coming in the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

“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.”

Reflection:

Upon reaching the first Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that the Son of Man is coming. We are reminded of this ecclesiastically because Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’s first coming into the world. However, this advent Gospel is about Jesus’s second coming, which will be marked by frightening and disorienting signs prior to His arrival and accompanied “with power and great glory” (25-27) in its manifestation. The imagery of this is impressive. Will it really look like this, or is this language figurative and not to be taken literally? I raise this question because the passage suggests there will be signs of the second coming. Of course I want to be able to recognize them. But then I realize I recognize these descriptions already. How many hurricanes and tsunamis in recent years have left “nations in dismay “ and “perplexed by the roaring of the seas and waves,” including the United States from the destruction New Orleans at the hands of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago? How many people throughout history have died “of fright in the anticipation of what is coming in the world” (26) due to war, famine, and disease?

Since Jesus is not clear about how many signs to expect, we are not in a position to put off our vigilance for His coming. The day could be very near to which years of signs have been pointing. Or it may not happen during our lifetimes. It seems to me the only way to avoid being caught unprepared is to be ready every day.  And so on a daily basis, we find ourselves in the familiar position of deciding whether to serve Christ or to live selfishly for ourselves. Vacations for “carousing and drunkenness” (34) on worldly escapes and desires are not an option; there are no breaks for “me time.” In the end remaining alert to Christ’s coming is a lifelong commitment to Christian discipleship, which in a culture fraught with “commitment issues” can be difficult to maintain. But those of us who have tried to live without Christ under the misguided belief we will be happier pursuing our own plans have learned over time that there is no lasting happiness without Christ. Once that lesson is learned, the concern is not that I as a Christian will give up, for there is nowhere else to turn; but rather become fatigued by the daily battle to live an unselfish life of faith when surrounded by the temptation of a world that says we should live for the moment. I feel this tension most days. In this state, Christ’s words resonate deeply with me, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (34).The signs are already there; but like Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane, we fall asleep in prayer and at watch, even though the Son of Man is in view.  Is it impossible to stay awake? Are we doomed to fail?

No! This is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit and gave us the Church to strengthen us to keep walking the path of holiness. We are not left alone waiting for His coming; He is with us in the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist. The Church in Her sacraments shakes off the drowsiness of life in the world, and the saints who have completed the road to Jesus will pray for us if we only ask. With the season of Advent, the Church does more than just deliver Jesus’s exhortation to be vigilant, She offers a season with many opportunities to be charitable and to celebrate masses and feasts with the supper of the Eucharist. Advent is not a lonely wait for Jesus’s coming; our watch will be a celebration of His love in His presence if we just remember to join in.

 

 

Gospel for Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Gospel for November, 22nd, 2015: “The Trial Before Pilate”

John 18: 33b-37

Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Reflection:

“Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” (34).

Jesus answers Pilate’s question about who He is with this question of His own. I have always found this dialogue puzzling in Jesus’s apparent evasiveness. I almost feel for Pilate; it would be nice to get a straight answer.

In my current reading of this passage, however, Jesus’s question strikes me as underscoring Pilate’s free will to recognize Him for whom He is. His question dares Pilate to reach his own conclusion about Jesus’s identity, not to determine guilt or innocence of the blasphemy for which He is accused; but simply because free will is a necessary disposition for opening one’s heart and recognizing the presence of Jesus. Pilate, as we all are when confronted with the presence of Christ in our lives, must consciously choose to acknowledge and surrender to Jesus’s divinity.

But Pilate, in the presence of the Lord, uncomfortably gives a worldly answer, “I am not a Jew, am I?” (35). In other words, how could I be expected to know who you are? I am not one of your people!  This is the response of one with a closed heart.

Contrast this to Peter’s answer to Jesus when engaged in a similar conversation about whom Jesus is: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16: 16). With an open heart, he recognizes who Jesus is and accepts Him as his savior.

If our hearts are open, the presence of Jesus the Christ is unmistakable in our lives. He does not need to reveal Himself intellectually, His love communes with our hearts and spirits. We will know Him. However, we have free will to choose whether we will keep our hearts open with love of God and neighbor or closed in the divisiveness of sin, throwing our loyalty to the world. In a sense our choice is between being Pilate or Peter. History makes the wise choice pretty clear.

Gospel for Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Gospel for November 15th, 2015: “The Coming of the Son of Man,” “The Lesson of the Fig Tree,” and “Need for Watchfulness”

Mark 13: 24-32

But in those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather [his] elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. 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.”

“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Reflection:

Advent is coming, a time to watch for the “parousia,” the coming of Jesus. Today’s gospel gives us a preview, a teaser if you will, of the Church’s season of keeping watch, strategically placed before Christmas, our celebration of Jesus’s first coming into the world. The day will come when he returns to “gather [his] elect from the four winds” (27). And so Advent will remind us to be alert for His return.

This reading is part of Jesus’s preview to his disciples of His passion, crucifixion, and resurrection that makes up the entirety of Chapter 13 in Mark’s gospel. He is preparing them to understand a fate for their Messiah they could not possibly expect without His help. In His divine wisdom, He knows they will need this help to hold on to their faith through dark events that await them. Their salvation, like ours, depends on maintaining a faithful relationship with Jesus when times are dark, and He appears beyond our reach, as would certainly have been the case during and immediately following His crucifixion.

The lesson of the fig tree Jesus teaches us that the signs of His coming will be daunting and hard to understand:  “…[T]he sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (24). We must not perceive such signs as our savior abandoning us, but rather, that He is close to arriving. What a wonderful turn in logic! What an incredibly hopeful message! Jesus is nearest to us precisely in our moments of deepest despair. This knowledge piques our interest in all the despair and suffering we encounter in the world. We should not turn away or eyes in fear. Instead, we should watch for Jesus at these moments since He is indeed very close. It is in these moments when we can be of most help in loving our neighbors in need, and even our enemies, if only we stay alert to Jesus’s nearness. And ultimately when He comes a final time, “of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (32), we will know Him and He us so that we will be gathered in for eternity. Therefore, I pray that our anticipation of our savior be heightened for the coming Advent season, for we will know Jesus is near if only we stay alert to the signs.

Gospel for Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Gospel for November 8th: “Denunciation of the Scribes” and “The Poor Widow’s Contribution”

In the course of his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.

Reflection:

By juxtaposing the “Denunciation of the Scribes” and “The Poor Widow’s Contribution,” today’s gospel provides on opportunity to consider appearances. On first reading, with other gospel passages in which Jesus denounces the scribes, the Pharisees, and the rich, I find Jesus’s lesson obvious: One seeking God should not model his or her behavior after the selfish ostentation of the scribes and the rich, but rather the genuine self-sacrifice of the poor widow. However, on further examination of conscience, I realize that when I find myself among the knowledgeable and rich in my own life, I quickly forget what this lesson demands of me.

I have always been easily impressed by both knowledge and wealth, which are often the indicators of success in our modern culture. When in the presence of a really successful person, I find myself wanting to know what they know or have the things they have so that I may be accepted by this person. I am not even sure that I am seeking the same level of public adoration that these people may have, in other words I don’t want to necessarily trade places with them. However, I cannot deny my need to be included as a friend or peer with this person I admire. In those moments, my mind is not on Jesus or really even on the genuine needs of my successful acquaintance; instead, I am thinking only of me and holding on to some misguided sense of importance or power that I have attached to this person. I have been seduced by an outward appearance that the world adores.

In contrast, I rarely seek the company of someone like the poor widow, nor do I move to help those in her poverty out of anything more than my own surplus. And yet she is who Jesus holds up as a model. Instead of seeing the appearance of powerlessness and despair, Jesus points to her genuine unselfishness. He is calling us to serve others and deny ourselves as the widow does.

So how does one see beyond appearances to find Jesus in unselfishness? Certainly, I think time with Him in prayer, in the scriptures, in the Eucharist, in the sacraments, and in habitual acts of service all help us to avoid the dangerous distraction of worldly appearances. But I think this gospel reminds of another sobering point. Regardless of how others may see us, Jesus sees through those appearances and knows us for our true motivations. He knows the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites, and He knows the widow as one of His children despite her appearance of vulnerability. This understanding deflates our pride and returns us to a proper position of humility. We cannot fool Him; it is futile to try. So, we must resign ourselves to God’s will so that we may know Him who can give us eternal life.