26th cycle C

The first reading is from a section of the book of Amos (6:4-10); it is introduced with the opening words of the chapter: “alas for those who are at ease in Zion.” Strong words against the city dwellers come from Amos, the country fellow – words and woes against the northern kingdom of Israel. We hear the third and last woe against the excessive luxury in which they are living although their prosperity is declining visibly; they seem to live for the moment and care little of the future, even their own. They are, unusually, referred to as a group under the eponymous name of Joseph; this could be because of the account of Joseph’s interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dream (Exodus 41) of seven years of plenty followed by seven of crop failure, and his wise management under the Pharaoh of storing up supplies for the future. The exile that will come will be the disaster that follows this decadence.
In the second reading (1 Timothy 6:11-16) Timothy is addressed as a ‘man of God.’ Unlike the people of the first reading and in contrast to those addressed in this letter just before this section, Timothy is chosen and enabled by God to be a minister in the Christian community. Paul’s athletic imagery appears here also, saying “compete well,” that is, ‘run the race’ or ‘fight the good fight.’ The Christian at baptism made confession that “Jesus is Lord”, and Jesus made a similar confession before Pilate according to John’s gospel (18:37); Timothy was baptised but was also a leader in some way, and that meant not to be a covert Christian but to speak the truth even before accusers, as Jesus did before Pilate; the writer could be referring to either of these situations. The requirement to keep the commandments or ordinances is most likely not to the ten commandments of the Jewish religion but to the requirements of being a Christian or, more likely, the specific orders for acting as a minister. He must act as a servant of the King who will eventually appear, and he must be selfless in his work towards the kingdom of God.
In today’s gospel reading from Luke (16:19-31) we have the parable often call that of Dives and Lazarus; but ‘dives’ is just the Latin word for rich man. In many ways the story is straightforward once we accept the different understanding of the afterlife that it portrays. However, whereas the rich man is anonymous, the beggar at his gate is named Lazarus. Luke is writing about 40 years after the resurrection of Jesus but still there are people who aren’t believers; and John’s gospel, uniquely, has the story of the raising of Lazarus which Luke’s readers may have known; but Luke’s point is not about accepting the truth of the resurrection, of Jesus or of Lazarus, because believing is more a way of living than accepting facts – of loving God and your neighbour as yourself, which the rich man in the parable didn’t do.

See Jeffs Jottings – The rich and the poor.

25th Sunday cycle C

The Sunday readings only use the prophet Amos three times; this and next Sunday are two of those. Amos was a country man used to living a simple life: a herdsman tending sycamore trees. Somehow he came to be a prophet of God in the city of Bethel, though he wouldn’t claim the title of prophet and was different from most of them. Such a man coming from the country to the big and prosperous city just had to speak what he thought in order to deliver a ‘scolding’ from the Lord, for the hiking of prices, lowering of measures and fixing of scales (Amos 8:4-7). His natural reactions to the corruption that he saw is described as visions from God, and they are nearly always expressed with an impressive literary style: matching couplets and triplets. Yet it is the language of wrath and condemnation, though elsewhere Amos does tell of a remnant few who will be spared and at the end of the book there is a very positive prophecy though this ‘epilogue’ may have been added later to end on an upbeat note of hopefulness.

The second reading, as last week, is from the first letter to Timothy (2:1-8). In this second chapter the writer is urging the Christian communities to which it is addressed to be sensible and prayerful citizens. Prayers are of different kinds: asking for what we want, praising and thanking God and interceding for others who perhaps wouldn’t pray themselves. God wants everyone to be saved; the rulers and non-believers could easily be looked down on by enthusiastic Christians, and there were some, believing that only the Christians were pleasing to God, who regarded what they would call pagan society as evil; the writer wants to oppose this early mistaken view. The last sentence of our reading about praying with hands held high is gender specific; only men prayed in this way (which was common among other religious groups at the time as well).

The parable that is at the beginning of the gospel reading is only found in Luke. He was writing later than Matthew and Mark and addressing a wider background – Gentiles who were or were interested in Christianity. Luke, like Paul, was utterly in favour of non-Jews also accepting Jesus’ teaching. The parable itself ends in verse 8 and is followed by other and various sayings that can distract from this unique parable.

The parable makes me think of God as an ‘overlord’ of some enterprise (this is all just my view).  Under him is a steward who actually does all the ‘managing’ of the business – one manager representative of a whole body of them. The business is beset with a lot of problems and so the manager is threatened with ‘retirement.’ So the manager must do what he can to persuade the workforce to improve, and is relatively successful.

I like to think that the application of this parable to life is as follows. God is the creator of the whole universe and so for our bit of it – earth. The Jews first and Christians later are ought to be responsible for this creation. Both groups (like many other religious faiths) thought that they were privileged and proud of it, neglecting or even condemning others. But God really wanted (and still wants) all to care for others and for all of His creation. People will be failing if they don’t try to make all proud and feel blessed by the world they are responsible for.

We are these stewards of God’s work and must promote its good to the utmost of our ability. We must not be like some of the Jews and many of the Christians who  image that we are ok but others are not! We will have to give an account of our stewardship and will be praised when we make others happy and caring of the whole of creation. If we do then it will be the case, as the parable ends “The master commended the dishonest steward, because he had acted prudently.”

See Jeffs Jottings – Amos

24thcycle C

The first reading is one of the significant incidents in the tale of the exodus – the going out from slavery in Egypt towards the promised land.  At this point in the story (Exodus 32:7-17) Moses has gone up the nearby mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God; but he had been away forty days and during this time the people had forgotten this unknown God of Moses and remembered the golden calf worshipped in Egypt: an abandonment of the true god who brought them out of slavery.  The account describes this depravity in terms of the wrath of God.  But most interestingly, Moses intercedes with God on their behalf and reminds Him of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants, and that these are the people due for this promise.  This story was kept alive in the people’s tradition because it was a pattern of betrayal and return that was repeated in their lives as a race and as individuals, and the Psalm chosen to follow this reading indicates this.

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are called the Pastoral.  They may well incorporate words from personal letters that Paul wrote, but study of the linguistic style indicates that they are from a different hand.  They are nonetheless accepted as part of the New testament and give us some indication of Christian thinking in the late part of the first century.  The extract we read today (1 Timothy 1:12-17)shows how the pattern of Paul’s life matched that of Israel in general; he was a Jew who opposed the Way of Jesus, but God loved him and brought him round to doing good and even playing an important part in the spread of Christianity.  The passage includes a ‘trustworthy saying’ as do the other Pastoral letters, and ends with what is called a doxology –  a paean of praise to the glory of God, to which the response is ‘Amen’ (‘hear,hear’).

The gospel (Chapter 15 of Luke) has parables told by Jesus in response to criticism by the Pharisees of His sympathetic contact with tax collectors and sinners, both groups who in one way or another were not observing the strict rules for Jewish life.   The lost and found sheep and the parallel one about a coin are respectively about a man and a woman.  Luke seems to have been sympathetic to women more than the other gospel writers.  The point that these two stories make is about the pro-active relationship of God to the sinner – He goes out looking for them.  In the light of the purpose of these in Luke’s gospel, the celebration of friends and neighbours when the lost is found, is very significant; why wont the Pharisees be glad about the work of Jesus?  But these two parables are followed in Luke by the most well-known parable called the parable of the Prodigal Son, though if ‘prodigal’ means ‘generously lavish’ it is the father who has this generosity which represents God’s attitude to sinners.  In the context of Pharisaic complaints about Jesus, the second part of the parable about the attitude of the elder son is quite significant; he doesn’t even acknowledge him as brother, but refers to him as ‘your son.’  This elder son has worked hard at home but has not really shown love to his father.  The whole is a beautifully crafted and challenging story.

 

See Jeffs Jottings – Good News for us all

23rd Cycle C

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18), which is not in the Hebrew Bible and is known to us only in Greek. It is generally only accepted as canonical by Catholics. It may well have originated in Egypt, a centre of intellectual excellence, and like other wisdom writings is attributed to Solomon, though it probably dates from the century just before Christ. Chapter 9 begins with a prayer for wisdom that elaborates on the prayer recorded in the First book of Kings which is more closely associated with Solomon himself. Our reading is the concluding summary of the second section of the poetic prayer. It indicates the tension between the body and the soul, reflecting the Greek understanding at that time of the human make-up which has since dominated church thinking particularly through Thomas Aquinas of the 13th century. The poem ends attributing wisdom to the very spirit of the Lord.

The second reading is from Paul’s personal letter to Philemon(9-17) and as such is a unique piece of writing in the New Testament. It is the third shortest book in the Bible and only has 317 words in it. At the time of writing Paul is an old man in prison for his work, but he refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, for he is so bound to Him in his work and his life that it seems that he has no freedom. Paul has with him a helper, Onesimus, whom he has introduced to Christianity and whom he therefore calls his son. He is writing to Philemon who is another successful convert of his and leads the local church in his household. Onesimus had been a servant to Philemon and Paul offers to return him, and hopes that Philemon will treat him as a brother, a fellow Christian. Interestingly, Paul deliberately doesn’t ‘pull rank’ on Philemon, but asks him gently if there can be reconciliation. No-one is really in authority over another.

Today’s gospel reading (Luke 14:25-33) emphasises again the journey that Jesus is making towards His fulfillment in Jerusalem. The crowd is now a large number of people excited and attracted by many of Jesus’ words and especially by the cures that He has performed – it is all too optimistic and enthusiastic; but Jesus knew that He was heading for a confrontation in which He would not surrender his cause and mission, but would face the dire consequences. He tries to warn the crowd about this; those following him were not as committed to changing the world, but thought only of joy, success and even victory. The reports of what Jesus has to say show up the problems of translation. Matthew knew the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke and so the translation in his gospel captures what Jesus meant (Matthew 10:37); but Luke does what we would call a ‘Google translation,’ namely a literal and word for word one (“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother… ), not realising that the Aramaic could not express “loving less” except with a word which literally means ‘hating.’ We must follow Jesus before all else!

 

See Jeffs Jottings  – Wisdom not rules.

22nd Sunday of Cycle C

The first reading is from Ecclesiasticus (3:17-29 passim) also called the Book of Sirach.  The Wisdom of (ben) Sirach is also sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach; it is what is called a deutero-canonical book because its status as part of the canon (or official collection) of Scripture was not recognised by Jews resident in Israel; though Sirach was used by Jewish scholars and is included in the early Greek version of the Jewish Bible (the Septuagint) and it is included in Catholic bibles.  This wisdom about how to live good lives pleasing to God is expressed so beautifully and simply in our reading.  This proverbial wisdom speaks to us even today in our different situations.

The second reading from Hebrews (12:18-24 passim) really sets one thinking about how we view God and our response to Him.  The author refers to how the Jews at first encountered God; it was a frightening experience of fire and terror; He was a mighty and powerful God and they were His people.  But the author then wants to tell them to leave this behind because as followers of the Way of Jesus they now should see God differently; now they are approaching heaven, the ideal Jerusalem, where God’s Son, Jesus, has set up a new covenant – a new relationship with God – and the unbelievable is possible.

The gospel we have for today (Luke 14:7-14) is introduced with verse 1: “On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.”  Meals were an important social occasion for the host; at a meal he could make friends with the most influential people and show off the grandeur of his living; for those invited (travelling on the Sabbath) it was an opportunity to become closer to influential people and so progress in one’s standing in society.

Jesus challenges them, pointing out how they will break a Sabbath law when it suits THEM and they are constantly looking for ways to promote themselves.  Of course, they could come to the meal and take a lowly position in the hope of being promoted but Jesus would point out that their motive is still self-promotion.  C.S. Lewis wisely once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  Jesus challenges religious authority to practise true humility and make those on the margins their priority. The challenge remains as fresh now as it was then.

Jesus’ parable is about our relationship with God and the religious way we should live; because of our humility we should not expect reward although we believe in the grace of God.  So here, as in the passage from Hebrews in the second reading, the message is about the contrast between one way of life and the way it should be for Christians, whose righteousness comes from God and for whom self-righteousness, as of the Pharisees, is not the way forward: you cannot deserve or earn salvation and God’s love.

See Jeffs Jottings – You have come to God!

21st Sundat Cycle C

The first reading is from the last section of the book of Isaiah (66:18-21). The Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon, and exiles from all-over are returning to Jerusalem; and not just them it says but all nations, people referred to as Gentiles, will be welcomed by God into his Jerusalem. This is an expression of the universality of God’s love; it is for all people whatever religion or nationality they are; this is an idea that was much debated among the Jews and has been among Christians even to this day – but it seems quite clear here in the Old Testament. The psalm that follows the reading in Christian services, with its refrain, “Go out into the world and tell the Good News” continues this theme of the universality of salvation.
The second reading (Hebrews 12:5-13 passim) follows on from last week’s second reading with a reminder to those felt hard ‘done by’ by God; it quotes from the book of Proverbs (3:11f and 4:26). The writer seems to have two parallels for the way God treats us and the way we should react. The first is a parent who must discipline the child to help them to mature; it is an act of love. The second is the physiotherapist prescribing exercises to be done which are often hard to undergo but worth it for the overall good result. Both of these images would be known to the original readers and are understood equally by us today. Though it is a hard lesson to learn when we appear to suffer from our parent or trainer!
In today’s gospel reading (Luke 13:22-30) we are back with Luke’s theme of presenting Jesus as on a journey of preaching and work for the kingdom of God that will climax in Jerusalem with His arrest and execution. But the striking bit is a question from ‘someone’ and the reply. Luke has other sections stimulated by a ‘someone’ (a lawyer/a woman); the person here raises the question which has surfaced again and again in the history of the Jews about the restriction of salvation to a few when there has been a general lapse from devotion to Yahweh, their God. The reply that Luke has Jesus make is a collage from various Christian traditions at that time, both oral and written, about Jesus’ preaching – getting through a narrow door, a house master shutting out people unknown to him, the expectation of the Jews to be saved by ‘their’ man Jesus, the bitterness of the Jews left out while others from across the whole world join the heavenly banquet – finishing with the contrast of the first and the last – thoughts expressed in Matthew and Mark as well. The whole represents the situation Luke has experienced, namely, the first chosen people, the Jews, seem generally not to have accepted Jesus, though hopefully they will in the end, but for now it is the second people, the Gentile Christians, who are the prominent followers of the Way of Jesus.

See Jeffs Jottings on God’s love for everyone.

20th Cycle C

The first reading is verses taken from from Jeremiah. The man of this name was a prophet round about 600 BC, with a very difficult message to deliver but nonetheless a necessary truth. Because the people in general had abandoned their faith and were worshipping false gods, Jeremiah had to say that they would be punished and eventually this was to be their defeat and the capture of many of them and their exile in Babylon. Obviously people were not pleased with this message and Jeremiah was often threatened and sometimes even imprisoned, and all for just doing what God wanted of him – telling them of their forthcoming downfall. Today’s extract is about one such incident. It makes better sense to read from the beginning of the Chapter rather than the extract in the lectionary (verses 4-6 and 8-10), although then one encounters a number of names perhaps difficult to pronounce. The psalm that follows seems appropriate for Jeremiah’s plight.

The second reading from Hebrews (12:1-4) comes after last week’s reading which was about faith, with outlines of examples of Old Testament characters who showed great faith, thinking they realised what God’s will was and set out to make it real. In this week’s reading Jesus is held up as the paragon of faith in the life that He led, but climactically in the manner of His death. Like Jeremiah in the first reading, Jesus’ message may have been shocking to many people – we only have records of it from those who saw the positive side of it; but it must have come across as very disruptive and critical, particularly to the leaders of a society which focused on wealth, power and the externals of living out religion. So He is the prime example for us, the hero who encourages and thus enables us to live our lives of faith.

The gospel we have for today (Luke 12:49-53) follows naturally the previous ones, because of the drastic situation that it talks about using the words fire and baptism to describe these experiences. It may relate to the recorded announcement by the Baptist that Jesus would bring a new baptism of Spirit and fire. The divisions that Jesus is said to foretell in this reading are serious splits within families and between generations; it is not something which we experience or at least not so extremely, as is predicted. For early Christians at the time Luke is writing (about 70 AD) being a Christian was often risky and caused family splits and opposition from one’s society; the words Luke uses here might be influenced by these experiences.

See Jeffs Jottings saying it doesn’t look good.