A Homily – Matthew 5: 17 – 37 ©

The Gospel According to Matthew – 2017.02.12

 

 

The Law

 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.

 

‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

 

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.

 

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

 

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

 

‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

 

The Way

 

The divine way is simple and elegant, and it is also the greatest of mysteries and the most difficult of challenges.

 

The writers of Matthew’s Gospel attempted to summarize Jesus’ teaching on the law. Those who had known Jesus, or had been instructed in the faith by those who had, they believed sincerely that they knew what was in Jesus’ heart.

 

Nevertheless, their summary of it fell short of the mark, because, as with all matters pertaining to the divine, to God, the creator of the universe, our human understanding falls short.

 

Know this, in this passage, the kingdom of heaven which Jesus refers to, is not a place beyond this world. It is the world we live in, not as it is, but as it could be, if we and it were free from sin.

 

Know this, the hell which the gospels refer to is not a place beyond this world, it is not the diametric opposite of heaven, it is the place where we are, as we are still caught up in the inclination toward sin.

 

We have a choice, a choice we can exercise right now; to live in the divine way, in a community of peace and love, or to live in a world a strife and pain.

 

If we chose the way, no matter how much we may desire it, we cannot have it, be in it, bring others to it, if we are not reconciled to the community that we live in. If we hold a grudge, if there is enmity, we must address this first and bring it to the place of healing. We have departed from the way (or have never entered it) if we do not.

 

In the divine way, our deeds matter, yes, the things we do matter, but our intentions matter as much or more.

 

A person may not be a thief, but if they covet their neighbor’s possessions there is no peace between them. What we hold in our heart, that determines the nature of our relationships.

 

Forgive and be forgiven, this is not a transaction, it is a simple injunction.

 

Let go of the hardness and covetousness in your heart, accept the understanding and mercy that is offered to you.

 

Be loved, and love.

 

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

A Homily – Matthew 5: 13 – 16 ©

The Gospel According to Matthew – 2017.02.05

 

 

Shine and be Tasty

 

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.

 

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

 

The Way

 

There are no guarantees in life.

 

Listen to Jesus as he teaches his disciples. He understood the natural failings of human beings, who can be at one moment salient and good, and at the next moment bitter, and coercive.

 

Not even the disciples, as close as they were to Jesus, were free from these risks. Why would it be any different for the Christian who follows them.

 

If you set out to teach, and be a light in the world, then do that. It requires your intention, and your constant attention.

 

A lamp, once lit, should be put on the lamp-stand, but even still it requires constant attention. The lamp oil must be refilled, the wick must be trimmed, replaced, and the soot must be cleaned from it.

 

If you intend to live your life as an exemplar of the way, you must be diligent, intentional, and humble.

 

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

A Homily – 1 Corinthians 26 – 31 ©

2nd Reading – The Epistle – 2017.01.29

 

 

The Weak and the Foolish

 

Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.

 

The Art of Persuasion

Speak to the lowly, the outcast, the marginalized. Tell them they are great.

 

Tell the unloved they are loved. The lonely they are desired.

 

Tell the sick that they will be well, and the poor that they will be rich.

 

Speak to what is lacking; state unequivocally that it will be whole.

 

Reverse everything, it is the art of persuasion.

 

If you speak to strength as a weakness, you can convince the weak that they are strong.

 

Give the people something outside of themselves to believe in.

 

Let it lead them, something that they cannot see, or touch, or hear, as such it will be irrefutable, unassailable, and captivating.

 

The person who cannot boat of what is food or beautiful in themselves, will boast of their participation in the good and beauty of another, and defend it to the bitter end.

 

This is the art of persuasion.

 

The Apostle understood it.

 

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

A Homily – The Gospel of Matthew 3:13 – 17 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2017.01.08

 

 

Jesus Baptized

 

Jesus appeared: he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. John tried to dissuade him. ‘It is I who need baptism from you’ he said ‘and yet you come to me!’ But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands.’ At this, John gave in to him.

 

As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’

 

Propaganda

 

Jesus was baptized by John.

 

It was the first moment of his public career.

 

He was baptized, he was purified, he was shriven.

 

The forms had been obeyed, and the gathered crowds were there to witness, the heaven open, and the Spirit of God, creator of the universe, descending on Jesus like a dove.

 

John was like Moses at the river Jordan. He was never meant to walk in the promised land. Jesus was like Joshua, he ushered the people in.

 

John was the elder son, he was not meant to inherit. Jesus was the promised son, in whom the hope of humanity was carried.

 

John was the goat, at the rite of expiation, Jesus was the lamb taken to slaughter.

 

High priest and king, they were one with each other.

 

Believing it does not make it true.

 

 

3rd Sunday of Christmas

A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 2:16 – 21 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2017.01.01

 

 

The Three Shepherds

 

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

 

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception

 

 

Propaganda

 

There is a lot packed into this short passage.

 

Before we begin to explicate its meaning we must understand that, Luke the Apostle, he never met Jesus. Luke was not one of the disciples. Luke was a protégé of Paul, and Paul had never met Jesus either.

 

Luke and Paul, travelled broadly and met many of those that had followed Jesus during his life. Paul met with James, who was Jesus’ brother, but they never met Jesus, and everything they knew about Jesus was heresay.

 

It is also important to note, that while the Gospel of Luke bears Luke’s name, it was not written by Luke. None of the Gospels were written by individuals, that were exercises in collective development, and the writing of them took place over generations, as the communities who authored them did their best to narrate their understanding of the life and mission of Jesus in terms their audience would understand.

 

The Gospel of Luke says that Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were visited by three shepherds. This is presented in distinction to Matthews Gospel which says that they holy family was visited by three Magi, who were “wise men” and Kings.

 

The Gospel of John, the earliest Gospel, and that of Mark, they do not treat the subject at all.

 

Matthew’s community, and Luke’s community, they were writing to very different audiences. As such, they tailored the narrative of the birth of Jesus to their audience. They each in their way created a fiction that was pleasing to the people to whom they were preaching.

 

This is propaganda.

 

To understand the Gospels, this must be understood first of all. The Gospels contain some legitimate historical data, but the facts are difficult to sift out. They are the product of artifice, they are fictions. The Gospels speak to some truths that are universal, and relate some true events, but cannot be relied on as a true account.

 

They are propaganda, and that is not to say that they are bad, but it is to say that they must be seen for what they are. Because the gospels are propaganda, they are less reliable as a tool to teach us about Jesus and more appropriately used to teach us about the diverse Near Eastern and Mediterranean communities that formed the early church.

 

2nd Sunday of Christmas (The Solemnity of Mary)

A Homily – Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 1:1 – 6 ©

The Epistle, The 2nd Reading – 2016.12.25

 

 

The Light of God

 

At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe by his powerful command; and now that he has destroyed the defilement of sin, he has gone to take his place in heaven at the right hand of divine Majesty. So he is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.

  God has never said to any angel: You are my Son, today I have become your father; or: I will be a father to him and he a son to me. Again, when he brings the First-Born into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.

 

(NJB)

 

Well intentioned and Confused

 

The Apostle makes a fundamental error when he writes about the station that Jesus occupies.

 

I do not fault the Apostle for this, not personally, he is a product of his time. He had even less freedom in his consciousness to uncouple himself from a hierarchical view of the world than we do today, and we still struggle with this in our own time.

 

The Apostle tell us that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, through whom all of creation, the entire universe, everything that is, was or will ever be, came to be.

 

The Apostle tells us that Jesus of Nazareth possesses the exact copy of God’s nature, expressing his faith in the categories of Platonic thinking.

 

The Apostle tells us that the universe itself is sustained by the power that resided in Jesus of Nazareth, and that in this same power the defilement of sin has been destroyed, which is an odd statement insofar as it is clear to anyone who observes our world that sin is a constant reality that every human being struggles with.

 

The Apostle tells us that this perfect copy of God, the creator of the universe, sits at the right of God, the creator of the universe, and is per se the creator of the universe.

 

The Apostle begins to express concern that we, his audience, properly understand the majesty of Jesus, a majesty above all of the angels, because he, Jesus has inherited the title, Son of God, a title belonging to no other.

 

This begs the questions; are we not all, each and every one of us the children of God? Is Jesus only the Son of God by inherited title? Will God be the father of Jesus, or was God always the father of Jesus?

 

We must understand that Paul, the Apostle, he was winging it here. He did not know what he was talking about. But he was trying to say that God, the creator of the universe dwelt within Jesus of Nazareth in a special way, and as a result Jesus is a unique being, a being fundamental to God’s sovereignty of the universe, and whose life was the critical instrument in the resolution of sin and evil in the world.

 

The Apostle’s message gets muddies with his incessant commentary on the hierarchy of the angelic hosts, the role of sonship, qualities of majesty, position and station.

 

It would have been better for the world if he had spoken plainly.

 

Jesus was a child of the creator, he was our brother. In Jesus the conflict of sin was resolved, by following the example of his life we may resolve it for ourselves. The entirety of the eternal and infinite God dwelt perfectly within Jesus, as it dwells perfectly within each of us, whether we know it, believe it, or not.

 

The whole is in the part, undivided, and one.

 

1st Sunday of Christmas

A Homily – The Gospel of Matthew 11:2 – 11 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2016.12.11

 

 

John and Jesus

 

John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’

 

As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says:

 

‘Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;

he will prepare your way before you.

 

‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’

 

Politics and The Way

 

John came before Jesus. It is said that they were cousins, but the evidence for this claim is scant.

 

It is said that the James, the apostle and the bishop of Jerusalem was Jesus’ brother, but that claim has long been rejected by the church.

 

There is no way for us to know the veracity of these claims, and it does not matter.

 

John came before Jesus, for a time the worked as contemporaries. It is said that they met at the river Jordan, where John was carrying out his ministry of baptism, healing, and repentance.

 

John baptized Jesus at that time, the moment is presented in the Gospel as a passing of the torch from John to Jesus.

 

John prepared the way for Jesus as the Gospel for today indicates. He was arrested shortly thereafter, and shortly thereafter he was murdered.

John and Jesus belonged to a movement, a movement of the people, for the people, a movement calling for justice, for unity, for salvation.

 

They saw their work as something connected to the prophets, they were reformers, they were people whose preaching synthesized the sacred texts. They boiled the commandments down to their essence and returned them to the people in their simplest form.

 

“Love God, with all your strength and all your heart, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

That is the whole of the law, and all the words of the prophet were summarized therein.

 

Many of John’s followers became followers of Jesus. Leaders in John’s group became leaders among Jesus’ disciples.

 

But not all who had followed John came along. It is to these people that this gospel is pointed.

 

It was written to remind them of the sequence of events; first John, then Jesus. It was an ancient theme among the Hebrews. It is a story reflected in the most ancient narratives, God’s expressed favoritism for the younger son; for Able over Cain, for Isaac over Ishmael, for Jacob (Israel) over Esau, for Joseph over all of his brothers.

 

The gospel of today is a piece of politics. It is a message to the holdouts among John’s camp, expressing love and pride in the work of John, while telling them in no uncertain terms the way forward was with Jesus.

 

This was the beginning of Church politics. And as with all such actions, it healed some aspects of the divide, while exasperating others.

 

Such is the way of human beings.

 

 

3rd Sunday of Advent

A Homily – The Gospel of Matthew 3:1 – 12 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2016.12.04

 

 

The Preacher in the Wilderness

 

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:

 

A voice cries in the wilderness:

Prepare a way for the Lord,

make his paths straight.

 

This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

 

 

Fire

 

 

John the Baptist was a prophet. He was a social critic, and that is the role of the prophet. To stand within a tradition, and criticize the institutions of that tradition.

 

In his day John the Baptist was not alone in this, but he and those who saw the same troubles that he saw, they were on the margins. They were on the margins both figuratively, and literally, they represented a new movement, and preached a new path for his people, they were so controversial that they had to do their preaching away from the towns and cities. That is what they did, the preached in the wilderness and the people came out to see them.

 

Isaiah did not foretell the coming of John the Baptist. Isaiah was most likely not a real historical figure. But the school of Isaiah, those who wrote in his name, they offered their criticism of their tradition, and assured people that when they were gone others would come,

 

John did the same thing. He knew his days were numbered, and he knew another would come after him. He might even have known that this other was Jesus, but that fact is unimportant, because he knew that if not Jesus, then another would follow; sooner or later another would follow.

 

That is still true today.

 

The prophets are among us, they are preaching and teaching and pointing the way. They are present in every generation. The voice of the prophet is present in the heart of every human being; waiting, nascent, patient, desiring to be voiced and heard.

 

Do not believe that being baptized and being a Christian makes you special. Being a member of one of the tribes of Israel did not make the Sadducees or the Pharisees special.

 

What is special is doing good, loving justice, and being merciful to all of those within your power, or whom you have the power to help.

 

Do not be distressed or afraid of the harsh language in this gospel. Do not be afraid of the fire, because in scripture, fire is a symbol of the encounter with God. The fire that never ends, the eternal fire in the fire of God. We know this because God, and God alone is the arbiter of the eternal, and there is no other eternal being who is not God.

 

The encounter with God is a moment of transformation, transfiguration, it comes to every person, and depending on who you are or how ready you are to receive the encounter, it might be painful, but it is not destructive. The fire of God refines, just as the power of love, and justice, and mercy do.

 

Be like John. Preach the faith, love what is good, walk humbly in justice and mercy.

 

That is the good news.

 

 

2nd Sunday of Advent

A Homily – The Gospel of Matthew 24:37 – 44 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2016.11.27

 

 

The Son of Man

 

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

 

‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

 

 

e Unexpected Hour

 

The future history of the world has not been written.

 

Any suppositions about our future on earth is a guess. Some guesses are more informed than others, we can speak in terms of possibility and probability, but we cannot know anything about the days and nights to come.

 

There are thousands of ways in which the plans we have laid, or the hopes which we cherish can come undone; lightening will strike, a tornado will blow, a meteor will fall, a volcano explode. A person in the fullness of their life may trip, and fall, hit their head and die, leaving everything behind them without warning.

 

The promises we have received from God, they are not of this world. God has promised to bring an end to suffering, injustice, hunger, illness. We can believe in this promise, but those promises are not of this world. They are the promises of the next world, a world in which human beings are not subjected to the vicissitudes of the material condition, or the hungers of the flesh.

 

I cannot speak of that world. I have never seen it. No one living has. Our belief in a loving God, our hope in the words of the prophets, our trust in the Gospel, these allow us to believe that the better world is real. Anyone who pretends to know for certain, they are over stating their case, or lying outright.

 

What we have been taught is this, we can live out our present lives as if the reality of those promises were real. That is the secret of the Christian way. If we are just, and loving, and caring for one another, well then, we do not have to wait for the end of time. In those moments, God is with us. God is always with us, but in those moments we are working with God to bring about that other world. If we trust in the reality of the things we hope for, we make it easy to live our lives as if it were true. To the extent that fulfill the promise in our own lives, the presence of God is engendered among us. It is like inviting Jesus to have a seat at the table, he will have come. That is not the end, but a beginning.

 

1st Sunday of Advent

A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 23.35 – 43 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2016.11.20

 

Christ the King

 

 

The Cross of the King

 

The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

 

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’

 

 

Justice, Goodness, and Salvation

 

A person cannot expect a reward in this life, for having lived a good life. One person may experience a long life, surrounded by family and friends, admired by their community, living out their days in peace, and abundance. While another person may be reviled by their community, abandoned by their friends, framed for criminal offences, and executed for crimes they did not commit.

 

There is no divine plan in what happens to us here in this life. God, the creator of the universe, God has made each of us free, and all of creation is free from coercion. The divine plan does not touch us in this world, it only promises to deliver us to another world when this one is done with us.

 

That is the way of things.

 

Believe in that promise. The things we enjoy, and the things we suffer here, they are temporary. We have no choice but to endure the things that come our way, or enjoy them, such as the case might be.

 

They are ephemeral.

 

A person may live their entire life outside of the bounds of good society and wisdom may still come to them at the end. Listen to the voice of wisdom when you hear it. Wisdom is wisdom regardless of the voice that speaks it. Truth is truth, and lies are lies. Attenuate yourself to the differences.

 

Do not make the mistake of believing that God saves one of the criminals who died next to Jesus, and condemned the other. Both men were are children of God, and beloved by the creator. A person is not saved because of their ability to recognize the divinity in Jesus, we are saved because God loves us and made us to be saved. The divine plan encompasses everyone.

 

 

34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Christ the King