In our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah we hear the Lord getting into it with Shebna – the steward of the house. It would seem he has not been doing his job well and so the Lord is going to pull him down from his office and give it to Eliakim – his responsibilities and his power. I notice in this reading – there is an expectation that things be done according to the direction of the Lord – that the steward be a real steward, providing for the people.
In the Gospel, we hear Jesus pose two questions to the disciples, “what are people saying about me? and “Who do you say I am?” Peter responds and his response is a response rooted in God’s grace. Peter knows what he knows not because of his own human wisdom. He gives a response that is prompted by the grace of God. We are then told of the faithfulness of God. God will give him the keys of the Kingdom and will have his back forever. Grace is the foundation for everything Peter is to do.
There is an interesting twist to this story. Jesus does not want the people to know what Peter knows. It would seem that the people are not ready to hear the full truth about who Jesus is.
In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul reminds the early Christians of the power and wisdom of God. It is impossible for people to fully understand and appreciate the wisdom of God.
As I sat with these readings it struck me that as Christians we sometimes get confused about who we are and what we are to do. We make claims about who we are and what our obligations are without checking them against sacred scripture, against the mind and heart of God.
We make claims about who God is and what God does without really paying attention to God at all. We create God in our own image and likeness and we tell people God will do this and that when in fact it is our own selves who would do this or that. The bottom line being, we don’t really know God at all.
When we speak of God, when we speak about Jesus what do we say about him? What kind of language do we use to describe God? It is important for us to listen to what others are saying about God but ultimately, we have to answer the question too! What are we going to say, when Jesus says to us, “Who do you say that I am?”
What we most often get wrong about God is the generosity of God. The God we often talk about and proclaim is harsh and unforgiving, picky, narrow minded and local. We want our God to help us win against the other!
In the time of Jesus, the religious leaders of the day spoke about the Messiah as someone who would come and liberate them from the Romans – a messiah who was going to make Israel great again – powerful, rich, bigger and better than everyone else. A messiah who would destroy their enemies and install them at the top of pile. They did not expect Jesus and his call to love God AND neighbour. They thought that the messiah would be a King, born in a palace not a cave, a King who would rule not serve, a King who would help the people fight and conquer their enemies with force, a King who would have his feet washed, not wash the feet of the poor.
Jesus was not what they expected! Jesus is not what we expect!
When viewed together, all of the scriptures we hear today tell us that on the one hand it is not easy to understand God/Jesus while on the other hand they tell us God/Jesus cares for us and cares about us. The scriptures give us a clue about who God is and who we are.
From Isaiah we are made to understand clearly that our God wants us to be stewards – we are to take care of one another – we are responsible for each other – we are to be Father like. In other words, we don’t take care of ourselves first and then care for others. We are to provide for those around us – that is what good stewards/fathers do.
From the gospel we are made to understand that God is faithful. God showers us with grace – with wisdom. We need to allow that grace to influence us so that what we are building flows from our relationship with God – from a place of love and kindness and not hatred and selfishness.
From Paul we are reminded that our natural tendencies often lead us away from God. When we act on our own, without God we do things that are at odds with the heart and mind of God. Paul encourages us to take on the mind and heart of Jesus, to do the hard work of understanding and appreciating who our God is.
This week I encourage you to sit down and write down who Jesus is for you. What does your Jesus do? What do you let Jesus do in the world and in your own life? You claim to be a Catholic – a Christian! People turn to you and are relying on you to teach them something about Jesus – what do you have to say?
Sometimes we get the impression that it is enough for us to show up at Church, receive the Body of Christ and everything will be ok! Sometimes we put so much effort into getting the Body of Christ that we fail to discover who Jesus really is. Coming to Church every Sunday is not a bad thing to do! As your pastor I encourage you to do that. However, the other six days of the week are important to. What you do then matters a lot!
While we are busy with many things, going to school, working, caring for children/parents, volunteering and ‘holidaying’, we ought to find a little time to nurture our relationship with God, with Jesus! It is hard to do what Jesus wants if we do not know Jesus, who he is and what is important to him.
If Jesus walked up to you and said, “Who do you say that I am?” would you have an answer? Take some time this week and think about what you might say. Be sure to use your head and your heart, your body, and your spirit – let the Spirit of God within you speak. Let grace inform your thoughts, your words, and your actions.
In our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah the words of the Lord leap off the page and challenge us to maintain justice and do what is right and be inclusive. God promises salvation to those of us who do this – who keep God’s words. This promise is no longer just for the People of Israel, this promise is for foreigners – Gentiles too. All people will be invited to the Holy Mountain – our prayer and our sacrifices will be seen, heard and welcomed. This is a huge change of vision and would have shocked the People of Israel – that God might love foreigners too!
In the Gospel, we hear the painful story of a woman and her daughter. There is great suffering and it would seem that both the disciples and Jesus are not interested in listening to her and her needs. Why? She is a woman, she is a Canaanite – a known enemy of the People of Israel. The woman’s respect and persistence pay off as Jesus finally notices her, pays attention to her faith, grants her prayer and holds her up as an example of faith.
In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans Paul reminds the early Christians that the gift and the call of God are irrevocable. In other words, God is with us – there is nothing that can reverse the love and mercy God has for us. God’s mercy is for ALL of us.
The readings today are a real wake-up call for us. As followers of Jesus, our task is to maintain justice, do what is right AND recognize that ALL PEOPLE who obey God are welcome on God’s holy mountain.
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption – this feast reminds us of the dignity of the human person. We are called to make sure that every human life is valued – from conception to natural death. At this moment in history it would seem that some people are valued more than others. Those of us who have power in our society make our selections on who has value based on:
Skin color (are they white or not), on language spoken (speak English), on religion (they are not even Christian/they do not believe in God), on gender (she is just a woman), on sexual orientation (they are just not normal), on country of origin (foreigner/alien), job status (they don’t even have a decent job) and economic status (they don’t make much). We make our selection on who has value based on age (too young/too old), health and well-being (they are sick, they are going to die anyway, they are not worth spending money on them), education (high school) and address (they are from…).
We are fortunate to live in Canada – while our country is far from perfect, our leaders are working at justice and doing what is right and at being inclusive. Having said that we have a long way to go. Too many people are considered ‘throw away’, and of little value in our country. Rather than caring for the poor, the marginalized and the immigrants there is a growing movement – extends across the country – just check on Facebook - to ‘keep our country the way it is’, to keep power in the hands of a few and to make sure the poor and the marginalized, stay poor, and marginalized.
We do that by ignoring people who suffer domestic abuse. We do that by ignoring our problems and our divisive attitudes. How are we dealing with: alcohol and drug addiction, suicide, systemic racism, prejudice and discrimination, our care for our earth, creating policies, and practices that will care for our environment and finally, how do we invest in education and health care?
We as Catholics often drag our heels when it comes to maintaining justice and doing what is right, and when it comes to welcoming ALL people. We are often slow to take up the challenge. When we look at the history of our Church we often say one thing and then do another. In other words, we remind ourselves to maintain justice and do what is right, to be inclusive and then we are slow to get behind and practically support initiatives that make a difference. Alternately we make one issue a priority and ignore all the others.
Today, God’s word invites us to wake up.
As I prayed with these texts, I asked myself, who is being silenced or ignored today by people with power? I came up with a list. I invite you to use the Gospel to create your own list. If we need help we can look to our Holy Father for direction and guidance.
Since he became pope, Pope Francis has been highlighting for us groups of people who need our thoughts, prayers and attention. If we were to listen to him, we might discover that we, ourselves, are being mentioned by the Pope as people who deserve the attention of the rich and the powerful.
Each of us is capable of making a difference – for others and for our earth. We might think that what we can accomplish is small and does not matter and yet today we are reminded that our individual actions together can create a wave of change.
I look to the action – the faith of one woman who approached Jesus. She lacked power, she was considered an enemy, worthless, with no voice, and no rights. She was poor and in need, she had nothing to offer, to negotiate with.
She did not have much but what did she have? She had her love for her daughter. She had her courage; courage to do whatever had to be done so that her daughter would be healed. She had faith in Jesus. She would stop at nothing, she would beg to get what she could. She would argue with men – those who held power! She challenged Jesus himself. I may be wrong but, in the Gospels, Jesus changes his mind only twice – when his mother asks him to do something when the wedding runs out of wine and here in this story when the woman asks him to heal her daughter.
What will it take to change my mind, to help me see the suffering of the poor and the marginalized around me? What will it take for me to use my power for the well-being of the poor? What am I willing to do to make sure the people of our community get what they need to live and flourish? Who are the foreigners, the Canaanite women in my community? Who are the peoples most in need of mercy in my community? As this week unfolds what is the one thing I am prepared to do to maintain justice and do what is right, to include all people?
In our first reading from 1st Kings we have the wonderful story of Elijah. He had been wanting to die because he felt abandoned by God, he had been tested, threatened, bullied by king and companions, and persecuted. The Lord convinced him to make an incredible journey. The prize at the end, an encounter with God. At the end of the journey we find Elijah waiting in a cave where he has spent the night waiting for God to reveal God’s self. God speaks and invites Elijah to go and stand on the mountain with the promise that he will pass by. We are told there is a great wind, an earthquake, a fire and then absolute silence. Each event holds the possibility of God’s presence. Somehow Elijah understands that God is there in the silence and with face covered he greets him.
In the Gospel, we pick up where we left off last Sunday. John the Baptist has been murdered by the King and Jesus had gone in search of solitude. After feeding the crowd, Jesus sends everyone away: the disciples to the other side of the water, the crowds are sent home. Jesus goes up the mountain to be alone; to pray.
The disciples had given everything they had to the crowds and are now on the water; a dangerous place, far from land and battered by winds and waves. Jesus comes to them. They see him but do not recognize him and fear overtakes them.
Immediately Jesus tries to calm them, “Take heart,” he says, “it is I, do not be afraid.” When Jesus calls him, Peter gets in the water and moves towards Jesus and he is doing okay until he takes his eyes off of Jesus – he focuses on the wind, the waves and the water and he begins to sink. He cries out in fear and Jesus reaches out and touches him. The story concludes with Jesus asking Peter, “Why did you doubt?” One gets the impression from Jesus that walking on water is an ordinary thing that everyone does.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of how blessed the People of Israel are. In Paul’s eyes they don’t understand who Christ is – they are not connected to Christ. Paul says he would sacrifice his life and his own salvation if only they would/could recognize that Christ is their Lord, that Christ is everything.
We believe that God loves us. But sometimes we doubt. In our day to day life we see wonderful things; we are witnesses of God’s goodness. While we have not seen five loaves and two fish feed thousands, we have seen what generous people can do.
At the same time, we experience all sorts of struggles. We experience poverty, illness, job loss, racism, harsh judgment, abuse – we watch people we love suffer – we pray for miracles and like Elijah we are met with the silence of God.
We also experience people making sacrifices for us, we feel the power of love. What do we do with our experiences? How do we respond to a God who reaches out and lifts us up and then disappears? What do we with a God who calls to us and when we respond, meets us with silence? What do we do when God does not give us what we think God should give?
Sacred scripture suggests we pursue God; we look for God with everything we have – all our resources, all our strength.
2020 has not been the year we expected. Here we are in the middle of summer, with lots of uncertainty in our lives. What once was normal is not anymore. How do we move forward when there is so much change? What might moving forward look like for us?
For me moving forward means:
What will help me? Sacred scripture suggests that long journeys, waiting in darkness, in silence, engaging the storms and winds of my life, giving all that I am and stepping out of the boat when God calls my name are some of the pathways that will help me find life. God wants all of me. God calls forth everything I have – even the last loaf and fish I possess.
I might be frightened and sinking, overwhelmed by the winds, the waves and the water, the storms of life, but I am called to get out of the boat. I may be frightened, persecuted or threatened but I am called to walk with God. When I fall and when I fail, for I know I will, I can cry out to God and God will catch me!
God is present. This week I invite each of us to look for God’s presence in unexpected places – in the experiences of loss and grief, betrayal and abandonment, in darkness and silence and in confusion and uncertainty. Do not give up – God walks with us. We are not alone!
Two weeks ago we were invited to be kind, to notice kindness and last week we were invited to do that which is pleasing to God – set our wants aside and do that which serves the common good. As we begin today I want you to think about those times when people said, “Leave that alone it is none of your business!” or “That is not your job – you do this and leave that be!” or “I don’t need your help! I will do this myself!” or “You are not smart enough to do this!” or “You are not good enough to do this!” Have you ever in your life heard those phrases? They are not nice…they are painful in fact! I am sorry to have you think about them – but I want you to hold those memories for a moment and listen for God’s word – what God wants to say to you, what God does say to you!
In our first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear God say, “Come to me you who are hungry, thirsty, poor, neglected – I will provide for you. Don’t waste your money on things that don’t satisfy. Listen to me and be nourished – because my love for you is sure.”
In the gospel, Matthew tells us that John has just been killed by Herod – that is what happens when you challenge the social order – we don’t like people or leaders who invite us to change. Jesus goes away to grieve. While he thinks he is alone – he is not. The crowds find him and they have needs and Jesus responds. Jesus places their need for healing ahead of his own need to grieve. When evening comes, the disciples want Jesus to send the crowds away. Jesus reminds them that they should feed the people. The disciples go in search of food but find very little. Jesus blesses it and thousands are fed.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul reminds the Christians of Rome that nothing can separate them from Christ’s love. Nothing in heaven or on earth can make God stop loving them.
So what has that got to do with us?
So often in our lives we receive and we give mixed messages. We tell our family members and those who are important to us…I love you and then we add conditions…and we hear that same message…that is not all…we are often told we need to take more responsibility and then we are told we are not needed. The messages are sometimes delivered subtly and sometimes with brutal force.
Today in sacred scripture, our first reading reminds us that God sees us and that God cares for us. God invites us into a relationship that is rooted in love – unconditional love that touches our life, our hungers and our thirsts. In the Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that despite his own personal grief – the sufferings of others are important. He allows himself to be impacted by their suffering. He temporarily sets his grief aside and reaches out to those who are in need.
After a long day of healing – evening comes and the crowds are hungry. When the disciples suggest they have nothing for the crowds to eat – that they are not responsible – the people can feed themselves, Jesus reminds them that they are responsible for the folks who are hungry. The disciples gather what they can – a few loaves of bread and fish. After the blessing of Jesus thousands are fed.
Folks we are not responsible for everything but today scripture makes it clear we are responsible for something, we are responsible for each other – in the midst of our lives, our struggles, we are gently invited to be attentive to the needs of others. In our grief, can we reach out? When we have little for ourselves, can we share what little we have. It is amazing what sharing can do…think of the Potluck meals we used to have.
When I was in a leadership position with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate we had a meeting in San Diego – one day we went to visit our Oblate brothers who were working with the poor in Tijuana. There is a huge slum – thousands of people. The slum is near the garbage dump. The poor make a living sifting through the garbage for food – they fix broken things – things that the rich have thrown away. We took a walk through the slum – many are Catholic. Two women recognized the priests and they invited us to come and have tea…just tea…that is all they had…they lived in shacks – constructed from tin – the poverty hurt my heart. They shared what they had…I was so humbled. I was given an example to follow.
God usually does not do things that are flashy and attract lots of attention. God is usually changing things one person at a time. Jesus fed thousands. It all started with a little – five loaves and two fish – people sharing what they had.
You and I, we matter to God. What we do makes a difference. We may not see it, people might not give us an award, we may not get paid big bucks, but in point of fact in the same way that Jesus needed the disciples, today Jesus needs us. Not only that, what we do on a small scale has a huge impact as God continues to build up the Kingdom of God. God needs us and we are responsible for giving what we can – whether it is our time, our talents or our treasures. It is not how much we give – it is that we give as we are able.
Sometimes we offer and our gifts are turned down. That hurts. Hopefully, we step back, remember who we are and when a new need emerges, we offer again. It is what we do. It is who we are! Our persistent generosity is a sign of God’s love – that nothing can separate us from the love of God poured out in Christ Jesus the Lord.
You see – we are the connectors. We connect God’s love to those people who are hurting and in need.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI