Solidarity, Judgment, Hospitality.

November 3: Romans 12, 8 - 10 + Luke 14, 25-33

November 4: Romans 14, 7-12 + Luke 15, 1-10

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Hard sayings on discipleship and solidarity today from Jesus. Take up your own cross! These words are dulled by 2,000 years of Christian tradition. We think of the cross as an object of piety. Few of us would mind picking up a sterling silver or 24 karat gold cross and hanging it about our necks, with a nice, safe, Jesus affixed thereupon. For Jesus' first hearers, and for those who were the first readers of Luke's Gospel, however, such words must have been almost incomprehensible. Imagine: Go up to your electric chair and sit upon it.

As if this isn't enough, today's passage ends with, "Whoever does not renounce all his possessions cannot be My disciple." Thanks Jesus, we really needed that.

But we do need that kind of hard saying. We can't imagine life without our comforts; here in the affluent west, things we consider to be absolute necessities are incredible luxuries in the third world. And we finance our luxures by our ruthlessness, our merciless foreign military and economic policies, interest payments stolen from the rice bowls of the poor, contractors for Nike and Adidas and Disney who steal the childhoods of poor children in order to create products to sell in the wealthy west. Children go hungry in foreign lands so we can have fresh tomatoes and lettuce in January. Should we not in some cases interpret these words of Jesus quite literally? If we don't abandon our houses, shouldn't we renounce any of our possessions that are stolen from the poor?

The gospel for November 4th continue's Luke's theme of Jesus' hospitality to sinners and those who are marginalized by presenting two parables -- the lost sheep, and the lost coin. Here is a modern reading of this passage:

"The crack addicts, homeless, and prostitutes were all drawing near to listen to him, but the politicians and respectable people began to complain, saying, 'this man welcomes the underclass and fellowships with them.'"

The readings in Romans are part of the passage where Paul discusses the "division of labor" within the Body of Christ. He calls Christians to love one another with sincerity and "mutual affection." Paul returns to an earlier theme, and calls the Romans to not "look down" upon others, and says that all will give an account to God for their actions.

The United States is allegedly a "classless society," but this is another of those national delusions that gets us in trouble. Many people despise people who are poor, they tell lies and slanders about them with abandon. I live in a neighborhood that is on the boundary between the very poor and the middle class. The stories I hear from people who don't live in my neighborhood. "You live THERE!" When I worked for an African American parish in Northeast Oklahoma City, people told me, "I'd be afraid to go over there." Politicians inflame these misperceptions and fears, and people don't bother to question the assumptions: "Of course it's a bad neighborhood, there are poor people there! How could it be anything else?"

November 3rd is the celeration of St. Martin de Porres, in the Catholic tradition one of the patrons of social justice, one of the "Holy Helpers of the Poor." He was born in Lima, Peru in the 16th century, the son of a Spaniard man and an African woman. His father refused to acknowledge him until he was 8 years old. He was apprenticed as a barber-surgeon, and became a Dominican lay brother. He was famed for his hospitality to the poor -- and also to animals, he often fed the stray and abandoned cats and dogs that he found in the streets. For this reason, he is often portrayed in religious art with a little cat and dog beside him. He lived a long time ago, in a culture different from ours today, but his heroic virtues and witness of Gospel solidarity remain important to us today. St. Martin de Porres did not think that the people who lived in the poor part of town should be shunned, rather, they should be loved, embraced, and comforted. May his example be before us today, and may his intercession on behalf of the poor and marginalized be powerful!

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