The Mother Lode of Teaching

faithinthealleyWhat riches we have today. One hardly knows where to begin. I could write an entire reflection on the beauty of the words attributed to Moses:

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

God is as near as your very breath. You do not need degrees in theology or biblical studies to know this. You can feel it. As Moses said, it is already in your mouths and in your hearts. It is part of who we are. God’s love resides within us as the spark that ignites our life and sustains us until it pleases God to return us to Himself.

It is what moves us as our stomach tightens at the beauty of a sunrise, the sweet smell of a newborn, or the tender caress of a loved one. God sighs in the morning breeze and kisses our shoulders in the warming rays of sunlight. God is close and if we sit in the silence of his love, we KNOW both this and what it means to “carry it out”, being the human that we are called to be.

The parable of the good Samaritan brings us up sharply against our desire to somehow make “God’s will” hard to understand, and thus excusable when we fail. For we do desire that understanding God’s will be hard. We after all, are using so much of scripture to work out our salvation. We want to be different, apart from others who don’t care about “being saved.”

Look at the opening gambit by the scholar. What is he interested in?

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Not what must I do to understand God’s will for me? What might I do to be a good person? What must I do to honor God? No, his concern is what must he do–what is the minimum requirement that I must fulfill to get where I want to go–my eternal salvation. It’s a “me” question.

Jesus simply confounds the scholar with his answer. The scholar must have been deeply pricked by the implications.

First the priest avoids the wounded man. The priest is following good “law”. He is following good religious law–avoid the unclean lest you have to interrupt your journey to return for purification. He didn’t have time, he had important “church” business to attend to.

How many times have you heard  remarks from alleged Christians who claim that the bible doesn’t “support” government aid to the poor, that it is the proper jurisdiction of   individuals–individuals like themselves who need and want to feel “good” and “righteous” through their largess? How many times have you heard them say that to support the homeless by feeding them only encourages them in their “laziness”?

We rely on out-of-context remarks from Paul suggesting that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat as justification for our “legalism”, and our refusal to help, much as the priest did in the parable.

Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask the fellow questions and first be satisfied that his behavior is not a ruse for free food and lodging. Jesus DID NOT SAY, ask at the innkeeper if the fellow is known as a vagrant, lazy and unwilling to work. Jesus DID NOT SAY, tell the innkeeper that once he is on his feet that he should work off his debt or be thrown out. Jesus DID NOT SAY, worry yourself sick wondering if you’ve been duped by a con artist out of a few dollars and a loaf of bread.

Jesus DID SAY to GO AND DO LIKEWISE, as the Samaritan had done.

I am continually confounded why those who claim that the Word of God is just that, the ACTUAL LITERAL WORD of God, and yet continually caveat, ignore, explain, and parse the meanings of this parable as well as the great commandment of Matthew 25: when you failed to do it for them, you failed to do it for me. The literalism screams at us in both these statements, yet somehow it is explained away.

I have to wonder why.

I can only come up with the fact that too too many of us supposed Christians are like the scholar–the poor (whom they claim Jesus admitted would always be with us) are there for the purpose of helping us “real Christians” work out our salvation. They are the fodder for our charity machine that spits out a “receipt” if we wish one, that can be taken to our graves to present to St. Peter as our proof that we were properly charitable.

We have our receipts, and we have taken our proper deductions from our tax obligations. We have done our duty, and so leave the rest of my money to me, government, for I plan on going to Disney world this year. After all, I’m entitled. I did my Christian duty and I have the receipts to prove it.

I bet that Samaritan fellow couldn’t wait to tell all his neighbors that he had worked out his salvation too on that road to Jericho that day. Yes I’m sure that’s what Jesus meant. I’m sure that’s what he really meant.

Amen.

Taste and See the Goodness!

 

 

Sophia, or Lady Wisdom tells us:

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;
she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
She has sent out her maidens; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
“Let whoever is simple turn in here;
To the one who lacks understanding, she says,
Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.” Prv 9: 1-6

Lady Folly tells us:

The woman of folly is boisterous,
She is naive and knows nothing.

She sits at the doorway of her house,
On a seat by the high places of the city,

Calling to those who pass by,
Who are making their paths straight:

“Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
And to him who lacks understanding she says,

“Stolen water is sweet;
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

But he does not know that the dead are there,
That her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Prv 9: 13-18

We are called to wisdom, signified by the “perfect” table set by Lady Wisdom, and not the table of Lady Folly, who tells us, “no matter, eat, drink, and be merry–take what you need, cheat, lie, it is all toward the goal of satisfying only you.”

Yet, as always the question remains, how do we discern the wise and forsake that which is evil and wrong? On some things of course, it is quite easy–we know not to cheat or murder. We know not to steal, but what exactly constitutes cheating?

Paul offers us his advice:

Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Eph 5: 15-20

Note that he tells us to “try” to understand the will of God. Paul reminds us that it is not always easy. He suggests that immersing ourselves in scripture and prayer, and praying continually are useful in opening ourselves to the Spirit which we know will guide us aright.

Lastly in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us the most important help: the Eucharist. Now admittedly, not all of the Christian community agree that the bread and wine that we receive each mass is indeed the real body and blood of our Lord, changed in some mysterious way from their original elements.

We as Catholics do believe this, and we take this offering as God joining us in a special way that we can count on to bring us to God’s will for us.

What does that mean?

Often, as a dissenting Catholic, I find that those who profess a strict adherence to church teaching, tell me that my way is “easy”. It’s easy to just love everyone they claim. It’s hard, so they say, to cut across what is popular and secularly permissible. That is how they discern “it is the right thing.”

But is it hard?

I really don’t think so.

If we take the Bible as a whole, we see a steady progression, it seems to me, in understanding that God’s love extends to all his children. Those that thought they had his exclusive attention are often angry and shocked, and yes, unwilling to accept that “others” also find His favor.

While it may seem “hard” to speak against the poor’s “drain” on the budget, or why gays should be denied marriage and the full sacramental life in the church, or why women should be regulated in their health care by more “knowing” men, is it really hard to take these positions? Or is it really quite easy?

Easy in the sense that it always makes us feel better when we can point our finger at someone, anyone, and say they are not as good. They don’t live “right” in one fashion or another. They are different, not holy and “saved” because they are not willing to forgo this or that perceived sin. But what is hard about not getting an abortion if you are post menopausal? What is hard about not engaging in homosexual behavior if you are not homosexual? What is hard about not marrying a divorced person if you are happily married to your first spouse? What is hard about working hard and paying your taxes if you are blessed with a good-paying job.

What is hard about being “holier than thou” toward someone else? It’s really easy isn’t it? It is human nature to not want to feel oneself to be the most disadvantaged, the worst off. We quickly look for someone to point to who is worse off, or simply worse  as we define things.

In discerning that is God’s will for us, it seems to me that we are better off doing that which doesn’t divide people into groups of “like me” and “not like me.” For in the end, we are all God’s chosen. We are not God. Our job is be gracious, kind, loving, charitable, open-hearted, strong in spirit, helpful, compassionate. If God wishes to judge anyone as unworthy, I’m sure he doesn’t need our help.

Lift up your Hearts to the Lord!

Amen.

 

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