Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers daily reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
Cyrus, the pagan ruler of Babylon who was God's instrument of freedom for the Israelites in exile there, is grasped by God, named God's own even though Cyrus did not know God. Pagan rulers can exercise justice, and religious leaders, as in today's gospel, may preach a protest against paying taxes to Caesar, a protest really against being an occupied country. Jesus evades the trap of his leaders and instructs us to pay taxes. So did our first patriots protest England's taxes and our revolutionary war began. Such a need for discernment, and Jesus seemed to have the habit of discernment. "Give to the emperor what is the emperor what is the emperor's, and give to God what is God's." Catholics separate church and state.
Notice how God can choose people who don't even know our God, grasp them by the hand, name them. Today reflect on how you know God, how, where and when God has grasped your heart, what God names you, what term of endearment. Then let your imagination roam our world to nations, to rulers who may not know our God, but join God in looking on them with love.
O God, you who claim us as your own, make us instruments of your peace and your justice, not giving each his or her due, but loving each abundantly, with your own abundance of unconditional and faithful love.
Between our two readings is the song of Zachariah at the birth of John the Baptist, a song of justice and hope for a mighty savior. John needed nothing but locust and wild honey, and yet the rich farmer in Jesus' parable want to build bigger barns to store up all his crops. A savior is not one who rescues us, but one who sets us free. Possessions do keep us, like the builder of barns, tied down, tied up and anxious about so much. So Jesus warns: "Be on guard against all kinds of greed."
All kinds of greed. Ask the Spirit to show you what kinds of greed you toy with, and what kinds have grasped your gut. What do you think you need? Dare you show that to Jesus? What is his response to your little addictions, small but quite possessed possessions? How do you want him to set you free and be for you a mighty savior? Tell him.
Jesus, give us your spirit of wisdom to see things of this earth with your eyes, to love them with your heart, to choose them only for your glory. Give us a holy indifference to "possessions."
Our first reading is chosen because the Pastor (not Paul) mentions a Luke who is useful to him. How many richer passages could be applied to this evangelist of God's kind justice, Jesus' compassion, women's role in the community, his Marian material, his inclusion of sinners and Samaritans at the banquet table; and, his second volume, Acts, sometimes called the gospel of the Holy Spirit. Today's gospel is Jesus' missionary instructions, which obliquely apply to an evangelist. It is the psalm which tells us Luke's mission: "Your faithful ones shall tell of the glory of your kin-dom, making known to all your wondrous deeds." It is the entrance antiphon which capture's Luke's poetic gift as Isaiah proclaims: "How beautiful on the mountain tops are the feet of those who bring good news, tidings of peace, joy and salvation!"
How do you share Luke's gift for writing the gospel, living the gospel, bringing good news, letting peace flow through you like a river, shining with joy as an attractive sign of God's presence and work among us, enjoying salvation (which, remember, means being set free)? Do NOT put yourself down. This work of evangelizing is God's work in you, not anything you accomplish. You might write a letter to someone who needs your good news today.
Thank you, Jesus, for calling those first friends of yours, those first communities so alive with the good news that you are. Call us again today to be alive with your Spirit, no matter how limited or tired our bodies may be.
As the psalmist says, we need to escape from the snare of the fowlers, we need the snare broken, and to find our help in the name of the Lord. We are caught in dreary moralism, and our liturgists are skipping parts of chapter 5 and 6 in Romans which are so rich, beautiful and hopeful. Even Luke's Jesus is stern: "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required." As Jesus so often says in all the gospels: "Be not afraid." In Romans 5 we are told that God loved us when we were sinners, even when we were enemies of God. In Roman's 6 we learn that in baptism we have died to sin and been raised to new life. Be not afraid!
So you have received much: much by way of relationships, your faith, your work, your possessions, your retirement fund, etc. First, be grateful. And grateful to be loved even if you ever were an enemy of God. Then repeat frequently now and through the day: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. There is no shame for us in being sinners, in falling short of all that God requires. We are the very ones Jesus loves to hang out with.
Thank you for all that we have received, our God, and thank you for loving us even when we fall so very short. Help us cling to you who are always in the process of setting us free, Savior of the world!
Paul assures us that "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus." Then we pray Psalm 1 which extols the one who is virtuous, keeping every law. The Alleluia verse is from Paul too: I count everything as worthless (literally, as so much manure) compared to knowing Christ Jesus. Finally, Jesus ends this see-sawing between God's gift and our virtue with a bold statement that is just as paradoxical. "I come to bring not peace but a sword." Of course he is the Prince of Peace, but adhering to him will cause division. We see it in our country at this very moment. So many who call themselves Christian (as in Northern Ireland; and worse, who call themselves Catholic in Rwanda!) fight violently to convince others that they have the way, the truth and the life. Life is a free gift, not our possession, let alone a club. Perhaps we could join ourselves to the deep and passionate desire of Jesus that since he has come to bring fire to the earth, how he longs that it be kindled. His fire is the Holy Spirit, the love of God poured out into our hearts (Romans 5: 5). His desire does not quit once Luke has penned the words. His desire is now!
What do you love about Jesus? What desires of his do you share with him? What is your own deepest desire? Ask the Spirit to keep you honest. Show him your mixed motives and let him love you just as you are.
To quote Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, the poet -- Jesus, "we fling with a fling of the heart to the heart of the host!" Thank you for receiving our hearts with all their various desires. We receive yours.
Jesus is still angry with the hypocrites. It is Paul who captures our imagination. Who of us has not cried, as he does: "How wretched I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" The psalmist lists so many needs: "Teach me wisdom and knowledge; let your faithful love be my comfort; let your mercy come to me." And?
List your needs. Where do you feel wretched? Perhaps misunderstood, overlooked, criticized? What desires plague you? What emotions drag you down? What people get under your skin? Show them all to your healer.
O God, we believe that your plans are plans for our peace, not disaster. Thank you for your peace and joy in our lives, and comfort all those who know only wretchedness, physical or relational.
What good news from the wretched Paul! "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." In the gospel, Jesus comments on the news of the day, warning his hearers to repent and comparing us to a fig tree which does not bear fruit, and is destined to be cut down. The gardener begs the owner for one more year to dig around and put manure around it. Putting our two readings together it seems obvious that Jesus is the gardener who would protect us from succumbing to our own wretched fruitlessness. No condemnation but plenty of digging up old habits and plenty of manure.
Are you willing to be dug up and to take what is flung at you? Many of us protect ourselves from change, and from growth (me too!) Pray to believe that you still won't be condemned, for you are in Christ Jesus. Pray for openness, and pray especially to trust and love the gardener even more deeply.
Gather us in, Lord Jesus, Love Jesus, just as we are: barren or fruitful, peaceful or anxious, trusting or afraid, mean-spirited or generous. Thank you for loving us and taking us in to your heart.
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