Sunday, November 26, 2017

The King Whose Name Is Love

November 26, 2017 –– 34th (Last) Sunday in Ordinary Time / Solemnity of Christ the King (A)
Ezekiel 34:11–12, 15–17 / 1 Corinthians 15:20–26, 28 / Matthew 25:31–46
The King Whose Name Is Love

Imagine a world in which no one was put down, left out, or abused….

There would be no stories in the news with details we need to hide from our children.

We could trust people in authority to do the right thing––and certainly never to do anything atrocious.

Earlier in the chapter of the first reading, God lets the people know that he is quite aware of the inequity and injustice happening on earth: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! (34:2). It’s not only in our day that prominent––and not so prominent––people have abused others. But that is not the way it is supposed to be, and it’s not the total picture.

From each big politician, each pastor, and each individual parent, from those who are relatively good and strong to those terribly weak and bad––above and beyond every person on this earth who has the prerogative of any power over others, we have a Good Shepherd who has promised: I myself will look after and tend my sheep (Ez 34:11).

Today we celebrate in a focused way that this Good Shepherd is Jesus Christ the King. This Shepherd says:
I myself will pasture my sheep;
  I myself will give them rest.
The lost I will seek out,
  the strayed I will bring back,
  the injured I will bind up
  the sick I will heal….
This Shepherd is able to do what he says because the Shepherd is the King.

How many of us need rest? How many people close to us are straying or injured or sick? Our Shepherd-King says, I will pasture my sheep.

A mom was concerned about her kindergarten son walking to school. Johnny didn't want his mother to walk with him so she had an idea. She asked a neighbor to follow him to school in the mornings, staying at a distance, so he probably wouldn't notice her. The neighbor said that since she was up early with her young daughter anyway, it would be a good way to get a bit of exercise, so she agreed.

The next school day, the neighbor and her little girl set out following behind Johnny as he walked to school with another neighbor boy. She did this for the whole week. As the boys walked and chatted, Johnny’s little friend noticed the same lady was following them every day. Finally he said to Johnny, "Have you noticed that lady following us to school all week? Do you know her?"

Johnny nonchalantly replied, "Yeah, I know who she is."

The friend said, "Well, who is she?"

"That's just Shirley Goodnest," Timmy replied,"and her little girl, Marcy."

Who is that, and why is she always following us? "

"Well," Johnny explained, "every night my Mom makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers, 'cuz she worries about me so much. And the Psalm says, 'Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life', so I guess I'll just have to get used to it!"

We have a King, and one of his names is Love. He is our Shepherd, and he promises to follow us all the days of our lives. All we need to do to truly profit from this is to believe it.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


November 5, 2017 –– 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi 1:14b–2:2b, 8–10 / Psalm 131 / 1 Thessalonians 2:7b–9, 13 / Matthew 23:1–12

No one likes a hypocrite. Some of the strongest words in Scripture are directed toward religious people who say one thing and do another. The first reading and the Gospel are examples. Through Malachi, God warns priests who do not keep my ways. In the Gospel, Jesus describes some of the Pharisees by saying: they preach but they do not practice.

It’s likely that many of the Pharisees meant well. They understood that God had commanded his people to be holy. Have you ever thought about how hard it is to define the world holy? “Holy” can be threatening. It can seem unattainable. It can even project images of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. It seems easier to describe what holiness is not than to define what it is, but that can turn into a negative bunch of rules. Some perfectionists are rigid because they so deeply want everything to be right. Even beyond that, some people who want to emphasize holiness do so by exalting themselves––what they do and don’t do, and that is the essence of hypocrisy.

It’s not that boundaries and rules are bad (try to imagine football with no boundaries or rules!) but, again, no one likes a hypocrite. So the thing that puts the boundaries and rules in proper perspective is, using the football analogy, a love of the game and good sportsmanship.  A good word for those things is integrity. People respect integrity––in total contrast to hypocrisy––and especially in religion. It is refreshing to find a wonderful example of this in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

There have always been so-called “spiritual leaders” who are charlatans. There are hucksters and hypocrites in our world, and in Paul's day there were many wandering teachers and magicians who made a living by fleecing other people and living wicked lives. Some of Paul's opponents in Thessalonica tried to put him in that category. They said: 
––he was in error (v3) 
––he had impure motives (v3) 
––he was trying to trick them (v3) 
––he was trying to impress them (v4) 
––he was a flatterer (v5) 
––he was greedy (v5)

Paul was not that kind of man. Later in this letter he urged his readers to embrace his own standard: to abstain from every form of evil (1Thess 5:22). He did not even take what he could have legitimately received for his ministry. It was his right to receive from the people his upkeep for the time he was with them. But no, he worked night and day in order not to burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God (v9). One loose translation says, "Day and night we worked so that our preaching of the gospel to you might not cost you a penny” (J.B.Phillips). Paul's way of living was so entwined with that of Christ that his very life was an expression of the gospel. That is integrity. 

The Thessalonians saw a picture of the heavenly Father through Paul. He says we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God (vs.11,12). Paul was able to affirm: in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe. It was out of this that the Thessalonian church was born. One goal of a Christian life is to model who God is; the Lord builds his Church on that.

The Psalmist describes integrity as someone who stands by his oath even to his hurt or to put it another way, makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise (15:4). Integrity is someone who is willing to say "I was wrong.” Integrity is helping others at a cost to ourselves. The test of integrity is when the heat is on––when we are under is pressure. Paul reminded the Thessalonian church: we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition (v2). Our integrity, or the lack of it, also shows when we think no one looking. Someone has said a man is what he does when he is alone.

Often the biggest impediment to integrity is trying to appear better than we are. This is why Jesus criticized the Pharisees. We are not here to impress each other. In the Gospel Jesus says the way to be great is to a servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. And Jesus tells us why this is so important: you have but one Father in heaven and you are all brothers. We need to walk humbly before God (see Micah 6:8). When our thoughts turn to who might be looking at us, let’s remember that––first of all––we are living under the gaze of our Lord.

God is calling us to love him––each one of us with our personal gifts and weaknesses, and in our respective places. St Augustine said Love God and do what you will.  When we do that, through his grace and strength, our lives can model consistency and love and faithfulness. That is one of the best ways to evangelize. The world is hungry for people who live with integrity.

Hear again these words from St Paul: we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.… That is the Christian character of integrity.

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