We can look at today’s readings in two ways. On the one hand, we can be intimidated by the warnings. Jesus talks of people who have died tragically and unexpectedly. Twice he warns, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:3, 5). Saint Paul warns the Corinthians that many Israelites disobeyed God and were struck down, an example for future generations. On the other hand, we also hear of God’s mercy. God hears the Israelites’ suffering and rescues them, leading them to the promise land. Should we be worried or consoled? The two aspects come together in the parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. The owner of the orchard threatens to cut down a barren fig tree because it hadn’t borne fruit for three years. But the gardener pleads for mercy, promising to care for it and feed it for another year. He makes a deal: if it doesn’t bear fruit after another year, it can be cut down. The warning was not empty, but the promise takes precedence. Despite continually failing to bear fruit, the fig tree gets a final chance.
How can you bear fruit, given another chance?READ MORE
When you go to a movie, what do you see first? Trailers, right? Teasers for upcoming movies. Clipped scenes and arresting images designed to intrigue you. What’s going on? What does it mean? Wow! Today’s readings are life a trailer. Look at all the vivid images: an old man looking up at the stars, animals being scarified, birds of prey swooping down among the carcasses, a flaming torch floating between the corpses in the dark of night. Still reeling from all that, now you witness a man’s face morphing as his clothes became dazzling white, two old men back from the dead talking to him, a voice out of the clouds. What’s going on? What does it all mean? Peter, James, and John much have had these questions, not knowing that what they were seeing was a preview of Jesus’ return to the Father in glory. Jesus (in dazzling robes) prepares to fulfill his destiny after God (symbolized by that flaming torch) had fulfilled the covenant made with Abraham (the old man). Like the voice-over in a movie trailer, the voice from the cloud speaks to Peter, James, and John: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Coming attractions: Easter and the whole Easter season.
What might the trailer for the rest of your life look like?READ MORE
The Holy Spirit, who came upon Jesus at his baptism, who came upon each of us at our own baptism, plays two major roles in today’s Gospel. First, the Holy Spirit is the one who leads Jesus out into the desert. Jesus’ forty days in the desert recall the Israelites’ journey of forty years. Unlike the Israelites, who grumbled about their hunger, chose to worship other gods, and wished they were back in Egypt, Jesus was able to resist temptation. Which brings us to the other role played by the Holy Spirit, the role that may be overlooked even though it is revealed in the first five words of today’s Gospel: “Filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was able to resist every temptation the devil offered. Each temptation was an opportunity for Jesus to use his divine power for his own benefit. This is not why God became human. This is not why Jesus was sent. Just the opposite; he came not to save himself, but to save others. We too received the Holy Spirit. We too are filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we too can rely on the Holy Spirit, God’s presence within us, to help us resist temptation.
How are you able to resist temptation?READ MORE
Both Sirach and Luke pack a lot of aphorisms into just a few verses. Each is trying to give moral guidance to his audience, as Jesus is to his disciples. In the Gospel, Jesus reinforces the lessons that we heard the last two Sundays. Recall what he said: Blessed are the poor. Woe to those who have plenty. Love your enemies. Be merciful, as God is merciful. Today Jesus warns us about the human tendency to ignore our own flaws while we point out the faults in our neighbor. Not merciful! “Every tree is known by its own fruit,” he tells us (Luke 6:44). What we produce is dependent upon what we have stored in our heart. We may have a store of goodness, but also store of evil. A splinter, a branch, or maybe a whole beam may be blocking some of that goodness. We must remove this, and compassionately help others remove theirs, in order to bear more and better fruit. Remember, “the fruit of a tree show the care it has had” (Sirach 27:6). We are called to provide that care—to ourselves and to others—so that your fruit and our fruit is better, richer, and more abundant.
What kind of fruit do you bear to the world?READ MORE
Jesus challenges us again this week. It is not enough for his disciples to be blessed when they are persecuted; now he tells them they must turn the other cheek. They must give the clothes off their back—not to the poor and needy, but to the very person who has already stolen their cloak. This kind of attitude is radical, preposterous. It goes beyond even the magnanimity David showed in sparing Saul’s life even though Saul was ready to kill him. In David’s age, in Jesus’ time, in our day, society tells us it is appropriate to retaliate against those who hurt you. It is difficult to resist the urge, let alone to turn around and be generous—to give your other cheek , your possessions, your forgiveness, your love—to those who hate you. But this is what we are called to do. Be merciful, as God is merciful. Jesus isn’t just teaching here. He is revealing himself and his mission. His mission is to love, in fact, to save those who steal, who curse, who injure, who hate. Sinners. Us. He is revealing our mission as well. We are called, after all, to “bear the image of the heavenly one” (1 Corinthians 15:49). We are called to be Christ.
How can you show mercy to those who have hurt you?READ MORE
In Christ, the world is transformed and we are called to be transformed along with it. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, which we hear today, is more direct than Matthew’s. More difficult, as well. It is not the poor in spirit who inherit the kingdom of God, but the actual poor. It is not those who hunger for righteousness who will be satisfied, but the plain old hungry. As if that weren’t enough, Luke, unlike Matthew, also includes the flip side: “Woe to you who are rich...woe to you who are filled now” (Luke 6:24-25). Basically, the Kingdom of God reverses your current place in society. As Christians we are paradoxical people. In baptism, we die with Christ. Because we have died with Christ, we receive the promise of eternal life. As Paul points out, we trust that Christ has been raised so that we may be raised as well. To borrow Jeremiah’s image, we are the tree planted beside the waters of baptism—the waters that bring plenty out of poverty, fullness out of hunger, joy out of mourning, and life out of death.
If your current place in society were reversed, where would you be now?READ MORE
What in the world does she see in him? We ask incredulously when the object of a friend’s interest seems unworthy. One may ask the same of God regarding the imperfect people who become prophets or disciples. Why would God choose Isaiah, a man who admits to being unclean, and worse, doomed, for such was the fate of those who had seen God? Why would Jesus choose Peter, impetuous, stubborn Peter, who admits to being a sinful man, foreshadowing his eventual denial of Jesus? Yet God chooses both and both end up playing major roles in the history of the church. So too does Paul, who calls himself unworthy because he had persecuted Christians prior to his conversion. All three have an unexpected encounter with the Lord. We hear of two today. Both Isaiah and Peter receive a sign and an invitation. A seraph symbolically burns away the sin from Isaiah’s lips. Peter’s net, empty all night, fills with fish. Thought unsure of their worthiness, each accepts the call. Paul recognizes how this can happen, for it happened to him. It is not their own virtue but the grace of God that made them worthy. And so they respond, “Here I am,” and “left everything and followed” (Isaiah 6:8, Luke 5:11).
How is God calling you? Can you recognize God’s grace?READ MORE
It is the fate of the prophet to be rejected. A prophet challenges those who think that they are doing fine. They do not want to hear that they really are not. Jeremiah told the people of Judah that they must repent of their infidelity or God would destroy the temple. They responded by threatening to put him to death. But Jeremiah was able to bear this, for he knew God had called him. After all, God had warned him from the start: “Gird your loins...They will fight against you” (Jeremiah 1:17, 19). Jesus faces similar opposition in the Gospel. He upended his neighbors’ expectations, first by revealing that the hometown boy is a prophet and secondly by pointing out that prophets often show favor to outsiders over their own people. Rather than welcoming the universality of his message, they reject him and drive him out of town. Jesus was able to bear all this and more. “(Love) bears all things,” Saint Paul writes the Corinthians (13:7). Indeed, it is out of love, love for God and love for the people they served, that Jeremiah and Jesus were able to bear all things.
How does love enable you to bear all things?READ MORE