Please read the bulletin for October 13, 2019 here.
Good morning, everyone. The turn of the Twentieth Century, there was a very famous Jewish philosopher. His name was Martin Buber. And Martin Buber, who thought about many things in the world and really why things are the way they are and why people act the way they are, found his own religious tradition as a place to understand a little bit about human psychology. And being Jewish, he looked at the Genesis account of the creation of man and the fall of man as being a way to understand what seems to trip us up as people.
Now all of us know that the story of Adam and Eve is a way for us to spiritually understand our origin. And while we can debate as to exactly how much this is grounded in science and history, that is secondary to the importance of how we can understand the way that God creates us in love, and also how we men and women – created men and women – fail to respond and love to God.
Buber makes the point that the great sin of Adam, it’s not just simply that he was disobedient or not just simply because he desired to do something that was bad. His desire for something that was bad is what wrecks his relationship with God. Buber makes the point that what Adam was seeking was something good. If it wasn’t something good, then he would not have actually have pursued it. And what was the good that Adam was trying to seek in the garden? Like you might remember from that story ,it’s the serpent who says that if your should eat of this particular fruit you will become like God.and know what is good and what is bad. And therefore what Adam’s great sin is is actually knowing that he was doing something good – knowing that he was doing something good.
Now what does he mean by that? Well, prior to this encounter, what we can conclude is that Adam was always participating and doing the good. He knew nothing other than the good. But what he did not know was that he was actually doing the good. Kind of an example would be, imagine if you were always were in a place of light. There is always just brightness everywhere around you. If you always experience that, you would not even know that there was something other than brightness . Of course, it’s when the lights go off or when the sun goes down that we are able to make the distinction between brightness and darkness.
Adam was in a place of light, of goodness, yet he did not know that it was good. So his desire to want to know the good is actually where Adam’s fault lies. Now what is this really mean and what’s the takeaway here and why is it bad to know that you are doing something good or that you’re partaking of something good? Clearly all of us want to get better in life and the only way to get better is to be able to make assessments as to how good you are in the present, and what you need to do to improve.
Yet when we come to looking at the Gospel today, we’re able to get a glimpse as to why this is extremely problematic in the spiritual life. This sense of self-assessment, while we may think it’s very valuable, can actually trip us up and lead us to a place known as spiritual pride. It’s exactly what ends up happening when the Disciples, who seemed to make a very noble request, say increase our faith. All of us would probably resonate with the Disciples saying, if we could only believe more, if we could only have more confidence that God is active in my life, that God is active in the world. When I’m suffering or going through pain, or when I see just to letdowns of families and friends and all the craziness that happens in my life and I just had more faith that somehow God would see me through. Increase my faith, Lord. I do believe – help my unbelief, as we hear a different portion of scripture. How would this not be a noble request?
But Jesus seems to throw and put everything on the other side, meaning he says that faith isn’t your own project. Faith isn’t something that you need to possess and do and to increase. Faith is actually a response to what is. A response to who God is.
This is exactly why Jesus use this is this very interesting story when he talks about the servants. He says if a servant goes out and does his work, is he to be rewarded for his work or is he expected to just actually accept the fact he did exactly what he was supposed to do? He was able to just be who he’s meant to be. This ultimately here is exactly what faith in our lives is meant to be: a recognition of just simply who we are in light of God. Because faith ultimately is recognizing that God the Father has been faithful to us. God the Father is the one who is in a certain sense a servant to us. God the father is the origin of all life. He is giving us our life. He sustains our life. And He leads us safely to the conclusion of our life here on Earth with the promise of life to continue a glorified perfected state. All of the actions so to speak of Life comes from God. God’s ever faithfulness to us.
Just use another simple analogy: we all know that none of us make the sun rise in the morning. We all know that tomorrow the sun will come up. There’s a certain faithfulness that the sun has to us: it’s reliable, it’s constant, and even when we don’t see it clearly because of being a cloudy day, it’s still there. Granted, the sun is also part of creation, but it can be used as a very strong analogy and understanding the persistent presence of God’s faithfulness in our life. We don’t have to do anything in order to make the sun rise, and when the sun rises, none of us should be taking a certain type of complement or congratulations because we’ve done something to facilitate it. We simply are able to be basking in the goodness of the Sun, and perhaps this is exactly what we can also think about when we look back on our lives.
Of course there’s always a great danger looking backwards, because many times we start thinking about our regrets, and we can think about how we failed in the past. If only we did things differently would our life be different now, but if we look at our past and we think about certain moments we thought that all hope was lost that there didn’t seem to be any way out, that we just thought that we backed ourselves in a corner, you pretty much can almost guarantee that today we’re able and living to tell the tale , because the faithfulness of God prevailed, that somehow, in some way we got through whatever that was in the past which we thought was almost the end of the line.
So looking back at our past can actually reveal the faithfulness of God to us. This ultimately is how Jesus says our faith should be on our end. Not this idea that it’s something that we just have to do, not this idea in the sense that it’s something to show jumper to God that we’re getting it or as if there’s something some type of tyrant or some type of big boss that we have to somehow please and we just have faith that he’s going to somehow do it the essence of the faith life is to become the smallest of seeds: the mustard seed. To understand that ultimately in our relationship with God we are very very small very very insignificant practically nothing but that’s not meant for us to feel down on ourselves it only reveals how much God loves, God loves inconsequential us. The more we become who we are the created beings that we are the very insignificant pieces of creation The more we are able to have the faith life that Jesus offers, because what Jesus offers us, its not us knowing that we’re progressing in our faith life or progressing and knowing that we’re doing something good, but just allowing ourselves to be. And by being we’re able to be exactly how we were created all of the Gospel teaches us is how to bring ourselves back into right relationship with God.
Yet it’s not about us going back to the garden with Adam and living in the paradise that existed in Genesis the paradise that Martin Buber spent much time reflecting upon. It’s about moving beyond paradise, knowing that who we are despite our sins despite our Brokenness is still completely lovable by God and that is a far greater take away then Adam could ever take away at the beginning of time. When we live in darkness, when we live in times of confusion, when we live in times of suffering, it is a time to just be, and by being, we are who were called to be: faithful sons and daughters of a loving faithful father, we experience that faithfulness of God love today as we received Him in His son in the Eucharist.
May God bless you .
Last week we heard the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus’ plight was ignored by the rich man in this life and this ignorance let to hi, the rich man’s, banishment to the netherworld in the next. The early Christians identified with Lazarus. They too were cast aside by neighbors, friends and even family. This is understandable but we can forget that we too can be the rich man and Jesus addresses this today.
Between the story of Lazarus and todays reading Jesus has spoken to the disciples – all who are following him – and tells them that sin is inevitable. He assures them that they will be forgiven if they show awareness and repentance. However, speaking about a leader, he says: “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin “ (Lk 17:2)
The apostles are the leaders and although often a bit deaf to Jesus they get the point immediately and beg “Increase our Faith”. Jesus is particularly blunt with them” “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed”. That is exceedingly tiny, and Jesus is saying they don’t even have that. We need to ask what faith is to the disciples. Is it merely holding that Jesus is the Messiah and will fulfill the Messiah’s duties? That is wonderful but it is not enough, faith is the realization that Jesus is the way to a deep relationship with God. That through him everything changes. Therefore, any relationship with Him no matter how tenuous can accomplish the otherwise impossible. This image is particularly striking, the mulberry tree has a very extensive root system and is virtually impossible to uproot and of course no tree is planted in the sea.
This relationship is difficult to achieve especially for leaders because of the deep-seated need for power and position. Already in Luke an argument broke out among them was the greatest. (Luke 9:46.) Jesus’ response was to put a child by His side and tell them that” For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” (Lk 9:48).
Today He is even more direct. The apostles who are his chosen leaders expect to be treated as Rabbis when their apprenticeship is over. In this world they will be greeted with marks of respect in public, given places of honor at table and the means for a comfortable life. (Luke 11:43) They expect to be masters and would sympathize with the master in today’s story. Imagine their shock when Jesus ends the story with: “So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” (Lk 17:10)
The apostles needed to be reminded of their job description: Look at the images that Jesus uses throughout Luke and Acts for the apostolic ministry.
He speaks of spreading the word and calls it plowing (Luke 9, 62) He speaks of being pastors and reminds them that they are to tend the sheep (Acts 20:28)Most powerfully he speaks of being a leader by serving others: let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant”. Lk 22:26).
Apostle means one who is sent, and Jesus is telling them that they are sent as stewards.
Leadership is important as anyone who has been in an institution where that leadership was missing whether a classroom, church or corporation will attest. Leaders can too often think that they are better than others. Certainly, there are those among us with more marketable skills and will be rewarded accordingly but there is no one with greater dignity than another. In a few chapters St Luke will tell us the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. “He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else”. (Lk 18:9) The Pharisee told God how good he was, and the tax collector asked for mercy. Remember the ending: “14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
Jesus owes us nothing; we are always in his debt – he is never in ours. A great and dangerous trap is to think that if we have in any way suffered for our relationship with Jesus or done anything particularly well God should be grateful.
Jesus may not be grateful to us, but he is joyful for us especially when he finds us being true disciples. He has already told us:37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. (Lk 12:37).
This is the joy filled heavenly banquet that awaits all who follow him and even more for someone who has led others to him acted as a true apostle. We would hope that all priests would be apostles, but all apostles do not have Priests. Being an apostle, accepting the role of Jesus’s steward is not by ordination but by invitation. It is call that comes from our Baptisms.
Are you invited by Jesus to take a greater role in being his presence in the world? If you feel this then think about this Gospel passage. Are you prepared to be a servant? There are people who seek involvement in the church because they are good at manipulating small groups and a parish provides amble fodder. Others have unresolved issues and mistakenly think they can be worked out through ministry. The basic requirement for stewardship is humility, to give up not to take in.
For the past few weeks and for several more we will be talking about stewardship. The most tangible sign of this will be a request for increased financial offering. But it is not the most critical. Stewardship if it is to be apostolic is giving up more than what you have but sharing who you are. It is not only raising money but using it effectively. Stewardship really begins after the money has been collected and we need to put it into action. There is no greater excuse for lack of action than lack of money. When that is removed, we stand before God with either empty hands and a cold heart or full hands and hearts on fire.
Please read the bulletin for October 06, 2019 here.
Habakkuk and God; Illuminated Bible from the 1220s, National Library of Portugal
This is the first time we have examined the prophet Habakkuk. He prophesized during the time of Jeremiah. (Background for the time can be found here.) The book was most likely composed between the first signs that the Babylonians were preparing to attack Jerusalem – 598 BC and final assault in March 597.
It is composed of 3 sections: An opening dialogue between Habakkuk and God, a vision and a concluding psalm. Our reading today is only from the first section, but we will refer to the others as well. Note however that it is divided.
As with virtually all the prophets, Habakkuk is persecuted for following his call and the God who called him has not, in his view, sufficiently defended him:
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene. Hab 1:2
Also, as the prophets before him he is especially hated because of his calls for justice:
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble? Hab 1:3.
In verses immediately after the one we first read today; he continues:
This is why the law is benumbed,
and judgment is never rendered:
Because the wicked circumvent the just;
this is why judgment comes forth perverted (Hab 1:4).
Experts in the law have used it to pervert indeed undue its basic meaning. How can it mean anything when it is used against the weak and defenseless?
God now speaks and tells Habakkuk that He will be using the Babylonians, (Chaldea) to punish the Judeans.
For see, I am raising up Chaldea,
that bitter and unruly people (Hab 1:6).
God continues for 5 more verses on how destructive the Babylonians are. (Hab 7-12). Finally, Habakkuk can take it no longer and he cries out with:
Are you not from eternity, O LORD,
my holy God, immortal?
O LORD you have marked him for judgment,
O Rock , you have readied him for punishment!
13 Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil,
and the sight of misery you cannot endure.
Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence
while the wicked man devours
one more just than himself? (Hab 1:12–13).
This is Habakkuk’s second question to God. However bad the Judeans have been they are not as evil as the Babylonians. Why is God using them against his people?
But Habakkuk ends this wisely with:
I will stand at my guard post,
and station myself upon the rampart,
And keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what answer he will give to my complaint (Hab 2:1).
He is ultimately humble enough to know that he must listen to God. In the second part of today’s reading God responds:
2 Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision
Clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
3 For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
If it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
4 The rash man has no integrity;
but the just man, because of his faith, shall (Hab 2:2–4a).
Neither Habakkuk nor any human will have the answer to ultimate questions. That must come from God. It will not come immediately, nor will it be immediately understood. Therefore, it must be written down so that it can be pondered later. We should remember that this was composed before the exile but would not be fulfilled until the return to Jerusalem. The primary meaning of Prophecy is not predicting the future and indeed most times it does not. But as we have seen with Ezekiel and a bit with Jeremiah sometimes it does. This is one of those cases. He is telling Habakkuk that vindication will come but not in his lifetime and so he must not only wait for his word to be given but write it down for those who will see it fulfilled. Those who are rash will not wait and will not see but those who are open will.
The visions now follow, to give just a few:
5 He who opens wide his throat like the nether world,
and is insatiable as death,
Who gathers to himself all the nations,
and rallies to himself all the peoples—
6 Shall not all these take up a taunt against him,
satire and epigrams about him, to say:
Woe to him who stores up what is not his:
how long can it last!
he loads himself down with debts.…
9 Woe to him who pursues evil gain for his household,
setting his nest on high
to escape the reach of misfortune!
and establishes a town by wickedness (Hab 2: selections).
Prophecy often follows the pattern that after the condemnation of the Jewish people the other nations are condemned and indeed even if they are following God’s will in chastising the Jews if they are not just, they too will be destroyed. The basic need to act justly and fairly is given to all whether Jew or Gentile. Note that God will use the nations to chastise and reform the Jews, his people, but will not perform this therapy for the nations.
We are required to learn God’s way of telling time and fulfilling promises. His intervention may be powerful, but it is rarely swift. When we look at our nation and world, we might ask ourselves, “Why is God not changing this?”. Why is he not showing his power? Yet he will require of us that we respond immediately to his call. We need to change our minds and hearts, so let the words of Habakkuk become our own. The book concludes with:
For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
Though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 Yet will I rejoice in the LORD
and exult in my saving God.
19 GOD, my Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet swift as those of hinds
and enables me to go upon the heights