17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 25th 2020
In our first reading today from the First Book of Kings we hear words of praise for King Solomon because rather than asking something for himself, for his own benefit, he asks for the gift of wisdom so that he can rule wisely like his Father David. We know from reading the story that God Loved Solomon but if we were to continue to read the story the relationship takes an interesting twist. Solomon loses his desire to please God and he begins to long for power and for prestige. He loses sight of God. Today it is enough to know that Solomon desires to please the Lord in his actions and in his decisions.
In the Gospel we come to the end of the parables in chapter 13 of Matthew. There are three parables today – in the first an individual is strolling through a field and he accidently discovers a treasure – in response to this discovery, the person hides the treasure and then sells everything and buys the field.
In the second parable we are told the merchant is intentionally looking for fine pearls. He fines one and once again, is willing to sell everything just to obtain that pearl.
In the third parable we are told someone casts a net that draws in everything. At a certain point that which is caught is sorted – the good is kept and the bad is thrown away. The person must choose that which is of value and that which is not.
In our second reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans, Paul tells the Christians of Rome that those who love God are blessed. God transforms those who love God so that they become more and more like Christ. Those who love God are called, justified and glorified.
People often ask me if I believe in evil. I often give a quick answer – NO! They are often shocked. I tell them I BELIEVE IN GOD. I KNOW that evil exists – I spend my time trying to deepen my BELIEF in God – trying to express in my choices and in my actions, my commitment to God and the relationship I have with God.
The real challenge for us is not dealing with some outer/external evil wreaking havoc in the world; the real challenge for us is our inner desire to do what we want rather than surrendering our body, our mind, our heart and soul to God.
The early Christians had a hymn, it is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-11), where they marvel that Christ did not deem equality with God as something to grasped at – but rather surrendered his will to that of the Father…
Today, we as men and women, grandparents and children – we continue to struggle with choosing between ‘my way’ (what benefits me) and ‘God’s way’ (what honors God and the common good).
We often choose friends not because they are good people, but because they make us feel good or look good; we buy things, not because we need them but because we want them; we vote for particular politicians, not because they have the common good as their focus and guide, but because of what we think they will do to benefit us. Often it comes down to money in my pocket.
I am not opposed to money, satisfying my wants and needs or feeling good. What I am concerned about opposed to and what God is concerned about and opposed to is putting the needs of the poor, behind my need for fame and fortune and feeling good.
Solomon does okay when he seeks to do what is pleasing to God. He runs into trouble when he loses sight of his desire to please God and instead seeks his own personal well-being and when he seeks to increase his power.
The parables encourage us to keep our eyes open for that which is good around us – the treasure – if we keep our eyes open we can see it in the course of our daily activities. The parables encourage us to wake up in the morning with the intention to seek that which is good – the fine pearl, and when we find it to make sure to do all that is in our power to hold on to it. The third parable tells us that at some point we are going to have to make a choice – sorting the contents of the net - between that which is good and that which is not good. Again, we must do all that we can to choose that which is good. Make no mistake this is hard work.
The kingdom of God is not about what I want or think I need. It is about what is good in the eyes of God. It is not always easy to recognize that which is good because we are often looking for what will benefit me! Sacred scripture encourages us to keep our eyes open so that we focus our resources – our time, our talent, our treasure, on that which is good.
Paul reminds the early Christians of Rome that love of God will never lead us astray. The more we love, the more we will become like Christ. Loving, becoming more and more like Christ will always lead us to God and it will lead us to justification and it will lead us to glory.
It is true, there is evil at work in the world. The source of that evil is good people who take their eyes off of God and focus their eyes on what is pleasant to them, ti what benefits them. Each of us is easily distracted by and attracted to things that please us. Each of us, and all of us are challenged every day to make sacrifices. We are challenged every day to choose that which is good and to reject that which is evil.
As summer stretches out before us and we take time to relax – let us keep our eyes focused on the common good, on what is pleasing to God. Let us not fall into the trap where I come first and others and God are left behind as I tend to my wants and needs, to what pleases me and gives me more power over others!
Today, the author of the Book of Wisdom reflects on the very nature of God. You have to remember when you read the Book of Wisdom that this text was written a few thousand years ago. At that time, not unlike today, people wanted a God who would take charge and punish – namely those who were evil – those who did not follow the Ten Commandments – those who were enemies of Israel and they wanted a God who would reward those who were faithful sons and daughters of Israel.
The author speaks not of a vengeful, protective punishing God but rather a God who is just – who welcomes all people. God shows power not through domination but through mercy and forgiveness, through tenderness and kindness. The author reminds us that God teaches us not to judge and condemn but to be kind and compassionate.
Today I chose the shorter gospel reading. In chapter ten of the gospel of Matthew people are curious about the Kingdom of God/the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells three parables that give the crowd some insight into the very nature of God and the Kingdom. The crowds would have been shocked.
In the first parable someone has sown weeds into the field. The servants are angry and want to tear out the weeds. The Master says, “let them be, they will be taken care of in due time! If you take them out now you might destroy the crop. You might destroy something that is good – thinking it is a weed when it is not, pulling up that which is good when you pull up a weed.”
In the second parable, the mustard seed is small and it was considered a weed and yet Jesus uses it as an image of the kingdom. In this parable the mustard seed is useful and provides shelter for the creatures of the earth. Using the mustard seed as an example of the Kingdom would have stunned his hearers.
In the third parable – a woman baking bread is used as an image of the Kingdom – she adds yeast to 3 measures of flour (144 cups) – enough to make 52 large loaves of bread – about 800 slices of bread – that is considered abundance – generosity. Again, Jesus uses a woman baking bread as an image of the Kingdom – a huge shock to his hearers.
Paul tells the Christians at Rome – the Spirit is on your side – the Spirit helps you when you are weak. God knows your heart – knows the Spirit – knows the goodness that is within you.
So what do these readings have to do with us?
I am not sure about you but I grew up with the understanding that as a Christian I have to act better than everyone else – if I am going to be a good Christian I have to make sure that what I do does not diminish the Church in any way. As such the focus was on my moral conduct – what I could and could not do and not on my relationship with Jesus.
Somehow in my formation as a Christian the idea that I am friends with God was pushed into the background. I had to be good so that God would reward me, much like my parents did when I did all my tasks or much like my teachers did when I studied hard and wrote good papers and finished my assignments. God would reward me for doing good and punish me for doing bad.
While there is merit in this approach – the reason why we do good – Jesus Christ - was not front and center. My salvation was – heaven or hell was or the reputation of my family or the Church was – heaven forbid that the Church looks bad.
Today that type of religion, religious faith, that understanding of God and the relationship between God and creation is nuanced, corrected. God reminds us that relationships are important; real power is not about domination or control; it is about mercy and forgiveness. This is what God wants from us. God is about kindness, abundance, generosity and patience. God is busy doing anything and everything to get our attention so that we live up to how we were created.
God still wants to save us. The reputation of family and Church is still important. The reason for doing what we do is not a rule or a regulation – it is a relationship. We are in relationship with Jesus Christ. We are loved. We cannot earn God’s love – it is a gift. We do good things not out of fear but because we are loved! As one of my Oblate elders used to say, fear takes us half way up the mountain – love will take us all the way up the mountain to God.
God wants us to receive the gift of love and then turn around and give that gift to others. Our work as Christians is not to force/beat/scare/shame people into the Church. Our work as Christians is to point people in the direction of God. The God we point to is not a God who scares, threatens, intimidates or dominates but a God who loves, forgives, calls, invites us into life with him.
We are then encouraged to share that love with others through acts of kindness and mercy and forgiveness.
As per usual I have some homework for you.
I invite us to notice the kindness of other people – those around us. I want us to take note of our own kindness – the times when we ourselves are kind, merciful and generous.
I invite us to practice doing kind actions to strangers – it can be something as simple as waving your hand in greeting – it can be as simple as giving another the right of way – it can be as simple as saying thank you – it can be as simple as offering a complement – buying someone a cup of coffee – or it can be as simple as giving a donation to a group of people who help to feed the poor!
We are fed by God’s Word, God’s Presence, God’s Body and Blood, God’s holy people (those that at first glance look like weeds) – we are fed so we can become more and more like our God.
I have two questions for you! Has anyone ever made you a promise, (I swear to God I will do it) and then not followed through with their promise/their commitment? Have you ever made a promise, (I swear to God I will do it) and then failed to follow through!
In our daily life we often experience people making promises that are not kept and we ourselves often make promises that we fail to keep. Our human experience is that there are countless promises made and broken – individuals do it, trusted people do it, groups, organizations and leadership councils do it, and governments do it.
This morning in our first reading, we hear Isaiah tell us that God is powerful – God’s words go out and they never return empty. They do exactly what God wants them to do. God does what God says God is going to do. This is what Isaiah tells us.
In the gospel we read a part of the parable of the sower. I like this text because Jesus is acting foolishly. Jesus is being unreasonable. How is he foolish or unreasonable? Jesus is sowing seeds everywhere – on the path, on rocky ground with little topsoil, among the thorns, and even on good soil. Jesus, rather than sowing seeds where he is certain they will grow, scatters them everywhere. He would not be a good farmer here in Saskatchewan. Some of the seeds don’t really have much of a chance but then again one never knows.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul suggests that creation has been fashioned by God. Creation has limits – there is suffering and meaninglessness – God knows what God created – it is not like God is out of touch. In the midst of this suffering and futility there is something within creation that makes it yearn for completion, for union with God. That same yearning or longing is alive within us. What we are searching for and longing for is God – even if we do not know it! God is present even if we cannot see God.
When we look at our life we can and we do ask countless questions. What is my purpose in life? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why, if God is so good, why is there so much suffering?
I have discovered that at various moments in our lives we fashion answers to these questions. We answer these questions based on what is happing for us. If we are suffering then we tend to have a negative view of people around us or of God. If things are going well for us – we tend to talk about how good God is. The measure of our faith is our ability to give God thanks and praise – our ability to trust God even when things look dark and painful.
The scriptures today – beginning with our reading from Isaiah remind us that God is faithful – ultimately God is aware of how things are unfolding – when God intervenes it is never to destroy – it is always to create life and to communicate love. Jesus scatters his love, his invitations to love, his mercy and forgiveness everywhere. Paul tells us everything is as it should be.
So what do we do? We have choices to make. We can welcome God’s life and love or we can reject it. I can be nice to my neighbour or I can be terrible. It is our choice. I can be generous or I can be stingy. I can be helpful or I can be greedy. The goodness we do or the evil we do causes ripples in our world.
God calls us to goodness and to do good. The Spirit in us prompts us to goodness. We choose to say yes or no. The nasty things we see around us, the nasty things we do flow from choices we make. Here is where we often get upset. We think if we are good everyone should be good to us. We think if people are bad then they should be punished.
Jesus is unreasonable – whether we are hard, rocky, thorny or good soil Jesus reaches out to us. That is okay when it pertains to us. But Jesus treats others the same way. It is this that we don’t like. As long as we are the recipient of forgiveness and mercy we are okay. When people we don’t like get the same treatment we cry foul – we say it is unfair – unreasonable.
Today, God says to us – I have one goal to draw all people to myself – I have put my Spirit within you to encourage you to come to me, to long for me. I am not going to give up on you.
Think about that folks. God will not give up on us. We welcome that kind of mercy. We are glad for it. God shares that same kind of mercy with everyone – even people we don’t like. We have a choice – we can respond to God’s goodness or not. It is up to us.
This week – I invite us to take a look at those people we don’t like and see God reaching out to them. We cannot change God. We cannot change others. We can change ourselves. If we resent God’s goodness to them then we have some work to do. We have some new choices to make.
We are invited to be like God – to be like Jesus. It is not about fighting – that kind of language is not helpful. We are to love, and we are to love always.
I don’t know about you, but I know that I have to listen more closely to the Spirit alive in me. A spirit who encourages me to surrender my way of seeing so that I become more and more like Christ. Let us pray for each other this week!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI