Continuing journeys of Justice and Peace during the Jubilee Holy Year
A person attending mass every day for the 40 days and six Sundays of Lent will hear 146 readings from Holy Scripture -- first & second readings, Gospels, and responsorial psalms. This wealth of biblical material provide ample food for thought about its relevance to the works of mercy, justice, and peace. The reflections below are based on materials previously posted during Lent 1998, but they have been extensively re-written and edited for presentation during this Holy Year 2000, including corrections made to conform the readings to this liturgical year.
It is my prayer that these readings will be for all people a source of hope and strength during these difficult times. May the God of peace, who hears the cries of the poor for justice, help us all to keep a just and holy Lent in this the year of our Lord two thousand.
+Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City
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Index of daily reflections
Index of daily reflectionsfor the 40 days and six Sundays of Lent (up until the Wednesday of Holy Week)
Ash Wednesday, March 8th: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
Thursday, March 9: Our daily Cross
Friday, March 10: Some advice from God.
Saturday, March 11: And leaving everything behind.
The First Sunday of Lent, March 12: The world, the flesh, and the devil.
Monday, March 13: More clues from God.
Tuesday, March 14: On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Wednesday, March 15: Turn away from violence!
Thursday, March 16: Righteous prayer, righteous action.
Friday, March 17: Change your ways.
Saturday, March 18: Covenant, Law, Happiness
The Second Sunday of Lent, March 19: Covenant, Example, Transfiguration
The Solemnity of St. Joseph, Monday, March 20: Faith, Hope, Covenant
Tuesday, March 21: Princes of Sodom, People of Gomorrah
Wednesday, March 22: Schemes and conspiracies of evil.
Thursday, March 23: There was a rich man. . .
Friday, March 24: Kill the prophets!
The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Saturday, March 25: The Annunciation
The Third Sunday of Lent, March 26: I have witnessed the affliction of my people.
Monday, March 27: Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan.
Tuesday, March 28: Humility and reconciliation
Wednesday, March 29: Obedience to just law.
Thursday, March 30: Giving voice to those who cannot speak.
Friday, March 31: Return to God
Saturday, April 1: The dangers of religious hypocrisy.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent, April 2: Actions have consequences.
Monday, April 3: Poverty of Spirit
Tuesday, April 4: How to get in trouble with the authorities.
Wednesday, April 5: Building a culture of life.
Thursday, April 6: The culture of death.
Friday, April 7: Let us oppress the Just.
Saturday, April 8: Poor people are stupid scum.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 9: We would like to see Jesus.
Monday, April 10: Corruption and injustice
Tuesday, April 11: The works of the Father.
Wednesday, April 12: Slavery to sin and unjust authority.
Thursday, April 13: Keeping God's word.
Friday, April 14: Continuing a theme.
Saturday, April 15: Promise of redemption
The Sunday of the Lord's Passion of the Palms, April 16: Palm Sunday
Monday of Holy Week, April 17: The poor will always be with you.
Tuesday of Holy Week, April 18: Jesus is betrayed.
Wednesday of Holy Week, April 19: The suffering Servant.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.TOP
Ash Wednesday, March 8, 2000; Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 51, 2 Corinthians 5:20 - 6:2, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
What power is commanded by the words of the prophet Joel today -- even now, says the Lord, even after all that has happened, still I call out to you, return to Me with your whole entire heart and being. Times were tough in Joel's day (about 400 BC), a plague of locusts was causing economic upheaval and famine. Jews were being sold into slavery by the Greeks. The rich were getting richer and the poor were starving. There wasn't much justice or peace and as always, these burdens fell hardest on those least able to protect themselves.
2400 years later, children are still starving, nations are enslaved to ruthless politics, millions of unborn children have been murdered by abortion, additional tens of millions of people have died during war in this century. The structures of sin identified by the Holy Father -- the overwhelming thirst for power at any price, and the overwhelming thirst for profit at any price -- are rampant everywhere.
But it's not too late. It's never over until it's over. We do not have to keep re-inventing the flat tire. We can learn from our mistakes, change our ways, and disrupt the on-rushing process of history, right here, right now. Today Paul the Apostle begs us to be reconciled to God. Today is in fact the day of salvation. All who are in Christ become New Creations.
So we sing with the Psalmist, "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness, in the greatness of
your compassion, wipe out my offense. We fast, we pray, we give alms, we practice abstinence,
and we examine our conscience. We question our uncritical embrace of the materialistic
consumer cultures that foster instant gratification, moral indifference, dehumanization,
marginalization, alienation and despair. We consider how the choices we make affect the lives of
those around us. We examine our personal sins of omission and commission and our willing
personal participation in the structures of sin that are eating away at the foundations of family,
culture, civilization, and community everywhere in the world. This is the day where we find our
hunger for God as we fast and abstain, breaking established patterns of living and creating new
habits of virtue and goodness. We reduce our consumption, that there may be more for
everybody, remembering that prudence is a virtue, and frugality is its associated discipline.
Where there is hatred, there we will sow peace. Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his
land and took pity on his people.
Our Daily Cross.
Our Daily Cross.TOP
Thursday, March 9; Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Luke 9:22-25
Today Moses lays the facts on the people. Life and prosperity or death and doom. Those are your choices. There is no column "C". There is no "all of the above are acceptable". We don't have a problem understanding this when it comes to sexual issues. But justice and peace? Quick, thump that Bible and rattle that Catechism and find us an "out" to affirm our dissent from the Church's teaching. And today, all across the world, we are paying the price for ignoring God's principles of justice and peace.
It is not too late to turn things around. We can choose life and reject death. Jesus says his
followers must take up the cross every day! Most of us don't mind doing this -- as long as the
crosses are small and pretty, preferably of gold or silver. But what about those big, grubby,
wooden crosses that are heavy to bear and fraught with trouble? Often we go to great pains to
avoid them. We put on our special Invisibility Spectacles that allow us to evade sights we really
don't want to see. We define away to nothingness unpleasant truths, unwanted sights, unwelcome
sounds. Yet, we are called to pick up those big and grubby crosses every day. It's a call to
becoming more intentional about life, the universe, and everything. It's living as though your life
has purpose and meaning, because it does -- we are children of the most high God. Life or
death? Blessing or cursing? You choose.
Some Advice from God
Some Advice from GodTOP
Friday, March 10, 2000; Isaiah 58:1-9, Matthew 9:14-15
What fasting and penance does God desire during this Jubilee Holy Year 2000? It's pretty simple. Set free the oppressed! Break every yoke of slavery! Share your bread! Shelter the oppressed and the homeless! Clothe the naked!! Don't turn your back on your neighbor! Think of it as God trying to give the human race a clue.
We certainly need it. Throughout this land are structures of sin -- every one of them built by individual acts of sin -- that are oppressing the poor and destroying our community. It's not an accident there are so many homeless people, over the last 30 years, thanks to urban renewal, most of the affordable housing for the poorest of the poor has been destroyed. The homes and neighborhoods of the poor are always at risk of the greed and covetous of the powerful. Sure, due process is typically observed, but a just social contract should protect people in the security of their homes.
This is a day to examine our consciences: Do I help to smash yokes of slavery -- or do I build yokes to oppress the poor? Do i feed the hungry, or do I steal their food stamps to fund corporate welfare programs? How many homeless people have I sheltered? How often have I supported -- or benefitted from -- destroying the neighborhoods of the poor to build freeways or new urban developments?
Isaiah's words continue yesterday's readings: Remove the oppression! Stop the false accusations! No more malicious speeches! (Are the politicians and newspaper editors listening?) Give bread to the hungry! Satisfy the afflicted! It's not difficult, obscure, nor is it hard to understand. The words are rather plain and obvious, closing our eyes doesn't make them go away. From this journey-ministry of solidarity and service, our strength will be renewed, we will be like a spring whose water never fails. We will not be forsaken or lost or forgotten. There is Someone who remembers His covenant of old.
Today Jesus is again doing the unpopular thing. He's calling a tax collector as an apostle! He even goes to dinner with the man and his friends. Look who Jesus is visiting with, they said. Doesn't he know those kind of people are scum? Jesus' response is to continue to go directly to those most in need, to the ones who were marginalized and rejected, pushed or chased to the very edge.
When Jesus called, Matthew may have been a sinner, but even so he left everything behind and followed Him. What is our answer to Isaiah's and Jesus' calls today? Can we leave behind our lives of sin and wickedness and embrace journeys of peace and justice? Where could we possibly get the strength for such commitment? From the spring that flows and never fails, from the one who rebuilds the ruined homesteads and restores the people. As we encounter and serve, when we call, the Lord will surely answer.
The World, the Flesh, the Devil!
The First Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2000; Genesis 9, 8-15, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:12-15
The temptations of Christ encompass the sins of all humanity. "Turn these stones into bread" -- yield to those fleshly desires. "Accept the glory of these kingdoms" -- the overwhelming desires for power and profit at any price. "Throw yourself" -- unjust use of power, you shall be as gods! The world, the flesh, and the devil, that ancient unholy trinity which remains a plague upon all humanity to this very day.
One of the themes of the preaching of Pope John Paul II has been a warning against the "overwhelming lusts for power and profit". He identifies them as two of the primary "structures of sin" that oppress the poor and destroy community. The Gospel accounts of the Temptation of Jesus illustrate this problem -- and also describe the individual acts of sin (such as idolatry, lust, greed, the desire to cut moral corners, justifying the means by the end) which create and sustain such structures.
Where do the temptations of Christ afflict you? What fleshly desires tempt you? How does power and profit affect you? How just are you in the exercise of whatever power you may have in family, church, society, government? Christ suffered for our sins, Peter reminds us, not for sake of earthly glory, but rather to lead YOU to God.
Don't lie, steal, or cheat your workers. Don't take advantage of people. Do render true and impartial judgment. Don't spread slander and do be in solidarity with your neighbors. Don't hate, seek revenge or nurse grudges. Do love your neighbor as yourself. In the Gospel, Jesus says: Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and don't forget those in prison. As if that wasn't enough, he goes on to say that if you do these things for the least among us, you are doing them to Jesus himself. Or. . . not doing it, as the case may be. Mother Teresa used to speak of the "distressing disguises" that Jesus wears when He is among us. These are all clues. Even I can understand this language.
Who can be against feeding the hungry. . . as long as it's not with my tax dollars. . . welcoming the stranger. . . as long as it's not in my neighborhood. . . visiting the sick. . . as long as they aren't on Medicaid. . . or so the conversation goes these days. According to some people, if you feed the hungry you encourage hunger. If you shelter the homeless, you encourage irresponsibility. But that's not what Jesus said in today's Gospel or what Moses wrote in Leviticus. The question then becomes: who are you gonna believe? Some politician out fanning the flames of public hysteria in order to get elected, or the Lord Jesus Christ, Creator and Ruler of the Universe? Which is more trustworthy -- a newspaper editorial citing questionable research, or the Holy Bible, which is God's word? As far as me and my house are concerned, "God said it, we believe it, that settles it." Beware of people attempting to make political points by dumping abuse on the poor.
Christ today teaches us to pray that our sins are forgiven -- as we forgive the sins of others. Do you suppose he was serious about this? It's not hard to find ourselves in a position where we don't want to even try to forgive someone. And so God meets us at the place we are, wherever that may be, even if it be in anger, sorrow, despair, or even hatred. His presence is a healing power that breaks open barriers and allows love and freedom to flow. We can begin to pray, "Oh Lord, I do not want to forgive, help me to want to forgive." When we pass to the place where there is the beginning of a desire for reconciliation, we can pray, "Oh Lord, now give me the strength to do what is necessary for reconciliation. Bless and heal my enemy." This is not something we can undertake in our own human strength, because no human being has enough inner strength for these kinds of challenges. We are dependent on the grace of God to cultivate a "poverty of spirit," an orientation which begins in the utter reliance on God as the source of life and strength. Without reconciliation, there is no justice and peace. Just as the road to war begins with the sins of individual human beings, the road to justice and peace begins with the righteous and reconciling acts of individual human beings. Thus the will of God is done on earth, as it is in heaven.
The story thus far. God tells Jonah to go to the Nineveh and Jonah doesn't want to go. 3 days and nights in the belly of a large fish convinces Jonah to follow God's instructions. So he goes to Nineveh, preaches the Gospel, and behold, the people repented, the king proclaimed a fast, and everybody started running around in sack-cloth and ashes. Nineveh is not the Bible Belt, it's the cosmopolitan world capital of a wealthy and cruel military empire.
Comes now Jesus, who sorrowfully announces that even though One who is greater than Jonah has come among the people, unlike the Assyrians, few are listening and the Roman Procurator has certainly not called for public fasting. Christ prophesies of his coming death, showing us the path of servant leadership, reconciling humanity to God through the Blood of the Cross. He condemns the cynicism and unbelief of the powerful.
Who knows when the Judgment of the Lord may come upon us! And what will be our reactions? Are we like Jonah, running away from God's call? Are we like the Ninevites, who upon hearing God's word, turn from their wickedness and repent of their sins, putting away violence?
If the seeds of war and hate and violence planted by Nineveh were to be its downfall, what does this suggest about putting our faith in the policies of war, hate, and violence practiced by politicians today? Wars rage throughout the world, and often the US is financing both sides. Yesterday's dictator is today's friend of democracy and tomorrow's threat. Every day children in Iraq die because of the embargo, and the US government says the price is "worth it." What kind of moral monsters find profit in the deaths of innocent children?
In response to the Word of God brought to them by a foreigner, the Ninevites repented and changed their behavior. How can we bring the Word of God to the great urban cities and empires of our own day? What violence do we have in our hands that we need to put aside? How many more children must we kill before our own national leaders are satiated?
Esther, the Jewish queen of Persia, is called to save her people by risking her life by speaking to King Ahasuerus without his invitation. A wicked councilor has persuaded the king to decree death to the Jewish community. Queen Esther and all Israel fasted and prayed, Esther calling upon God as the "Ruler of Every Power" for assistance in this time of extreme need. God heard the prayers, and the Jewish community was saved from destruction. Righteous prayer coupled with courageous action saved the day.
Jesus teaches us in today's Gospel about prayer. "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you." The reading concludes with the Golden Rule, "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you," perhaps the most succinct justice and peace statement in all of the Bible or the justice teaching of the Church.
The work of justice and peace calls for holiness, spirituality, and courage. Our temporal liberation from unjust tyranny is closely interwoven with our spiritual salvation. As we work out our salvation, we are drawn closer in solidarity and love to others, and are called to reach out to them through individual and corporate actions of justice and peace. This is how nations -- and souls -- are saved.
Sin harms our relationships with God and our neighbor. Sometimes it even destroys them. It creates "structures of sin" that hurts the community. Even in this destruction, however, there is a message of hope. The Lord rejoices when the wicked repent and change their ways of living. What you did yesterday cannot be undone, what you might do tomorrow is yet to be determined. What you are doing right now, however, is where your free will cooperates with God's grace to produce repentance and metanoia -- a fundamental change in the way you live.
Jesus talks to us about violence and as usual he goes directly to the heart of the problem. Don't kill -- and beware of your interior anger, because that's where murder begins. Go and be reconciled. Active verbs are used, this is not a message suggesting "be a couch potato". The life of conversion in Christ Jesus goes on forever, it does not stop.
Today the Irish everywhere celebrated the feast of St. Patrick. Before he was a bishop or a saint, Patrick was a slave. His example of perseverence through grave trouble has been a message of hope for the oppressed of every land, but of particular importance to the Irish and their 900 year struggle against tyranny. Even today, parts of the Emerald Isle remains at risk of sudden violence. Yet, Patrick did not seek revenge on those who oppressed him; rather he returned love for hate, evangelizing those who had oppressed and enslaved him. May Patrick's example guide us in the way of Truth, the true source of freedom and justice.
Today Moses calls Israel to obedience to its covenant with God and the importance of following God's laws. Matthew continues to report Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and challenges us -- again -- regarding our relationships with problem people, especially our enemies. The wisdom of this world is that the best thing to do to your enemy is drop nuclear bombs on him, and make sure you kill his children. (The reign of terror the United States is conducting against the children of Iraq is but the latest outbreak of this ancient tactic.)
These have been the common themes in the readings since Ash Wednesday. Repent and follow God's commandments -- which is to say: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, pray for your enemies, do good to your enemies, be reconciled with your neighbor. Ignoring God's laws seems to have no good long-term outcomes for individuals or societies. The popular madness and delusions of crowds, often whipped into a frenzy by corrupt politicians, tries to make it seem as if this isn't so, that somehow we have an "Escape the Consequences of Your Actions" card just because we are the Americans.
By selecting these readings for Lent, the Church is teaching us that our "vertical" relationship with God is greatly affected by our "horizontal" relationships with our neighbors. Those relationships should be framed with justice, peace, and reconciliation.
There is no getting away from this. The Word of God is clear, and the will of the Church, as evidenced by the readings for these days, is no less so. That these are not easy sayings to hear is obvious, that we are constantly falling short of these standards is reality. What's the bottom line for Jesus? "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." Not much room to maneuver on that one.
Justice and peace are not a marginal issues in Scripture nor are they optional choices from a
buffet of doctrines and practices up for grabs. Rather, these principles -- and our response as
witnessed by our actions -- are central to God's concern for all humanity.
If God be for us, who can be against us! God has already proved his love, both by keeping his promise to Abraham, and by giving up His own Son for us, even though we have many times rejected the Lord and his commandments.
From these readings we can learn 3 important things about justice and peace. First, we are reminded that God will keep all of his promises to us. Second, we are promised God's help. And this world has plenty of troubles. Three billion people in this world live on less than $2 a day. The poor are scorned,"Their needs are endless and they are undeserving. It's their own fault that they are poor. They are lazy, demented, and ignorant." It can seem overwhelming, yet we must remember that are not alone, God is with us.
Third, the material world is not all of reality. Generally invisible to our temporal eyes is the spiritual reality, which can instantly transform a humble Jewish carpenter into a triumphant Lord of the Universe. And who was it that Jesus was speaking with? Moses -- the hero of the spiritual and temporal liberation of Israel from bondage in Egypt -- and Elijah, the fearless prophet of God who did not shrink from bringing God's word to the rich, the powerful, and the mighty. May the Transfiguration live today in the lives of each one of us so that we may see all that is around us with new vision.
From Abraham and Sarah, to David and Bathsheba, and thence to Joseph and Mary, perhaps two thousand years of covenant history -- an angel calling Joseph to faithfulness to his betrothal covenant with Mary, an unwed mother, and Joseph not the father -- this is a thread of love and obedience, not by perfect artificial constructs but by all-too-human persons, in diverse times, places, and situations. Joseph is a carpenter, a skilled worker. He stands by Mary, brings her to Bethlehem, flees with her and the Child into Egypt, and returns later with them to Nazareth, where the Child Jesus grew "in wisdom and stature and in favor before God and man," as Luke records.
His voice in the Gospels is not extensive, but his influence passes through all time to the present day -- father, intercessor, protector, and patron. Today let us call upon St. Joseph, and in his name remember the poor. Let us recall his example of fatherhood -- how he stood by his covenant of betrothal with Mary, how he protected her and cared for her, how he worked with his hands to provide for his family. Let us ask for his intercession on the part of fathers and families everywhere. Let us remind ourselves of his protection when we are in need. And let us commit ourselves to him as our patron and protector. May we share his faith in God's covenant, and may this be for us a strong source of hope.
Isaiah really knows how to win friends and influence people: "Hear the word of the lord, Princes of Sodom!" Where can you go from there? He heads right on over to "Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah!" When we hear "Sodom and Gomorrah," we immediately think of sex, but there was more to their crimes than that: they also oppressed the poor (see Ezekial 16:49-50: "And look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and needy. Rather, they became haughty and committed abominable crimes in my presence; then, as you have seen, I removed them.").
Isaiah says: "Put away your misdeeds! Cease doing evil! Learn to do good! Make justice your aim! Redress the wronged! Hear the orphan's plea! Defend the widow!" (Note that "widow" in the Old Testament refers to any woman with children, but without a husband and "orphan" refers to any child without a father. The Lord, through Isaiah, is talking about single mothers with children, one of America's favorite political scapegoats, convenient for kicking around whenever points need to be made with the voters back home.)
Jesus tells us that the greatest among us must be the servant of all. He warns of the dangers of religious and political hypocrisy -- of the tendency of those who rule to do so unrighteously. "They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them."
God help us if we are to be judged in the same way that we judge single mothers on welfare.
The world can sometimes be a dark place, especially in the face of organized evil. Today's readings bring us face to face with the starkness of this all-too-frequent reality. Jeremiah is not a popular man. He was an affliction to the Powers That Be. He held the rulers accountable for their actions. Since he won't shut up and get with the program, a plot is hatched to destroy him, a reminder that it is usually much easier to kill the prophet than to understand his or her message. It rocks fewer boats and upsets fewer apple carts. People may squawk for a bit, but this too shall pass.
Jesus plainly tells his disciples -- for the third time -- "we are going to Jerusalem and I will be condemned and put to death." It's enough to make anyone want to turn around and go home in the face of this dark portent. But Matthew continues his narrative, and jumps the topic of discussion to who will sit beside Jesus in places of honor and power, and how authority is justly exercised. He talks about servant leadership in its deepest and most spiritual sense.
The plots of organized evil, and the unjust exercise of authority are problems that plague humanity. They are best countered with prayer, servant leadership, and a refusal to cooperate with them. The Catechism says that we share in the sins of others when we "cooperate in them by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; by protecting evil-doers." Structures of sin endure because people cooperate with them and keep them going. Lent is a good time to examine our conscience regarding our willing participation in, and profiting from, structures of sin that may be causing grave harm to the common good.
There was a rich man. . .
Thursday, March 23, 2000; Jeremiah 17:5-10, Luke 16:19-31
There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments. . . and lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores. . . barren bush in the desert. . . tree planted beside the waters . . . dogs even used to come and lick his sores-- these are vivid pictures of human reality. The rich man -- traditionally identified as "Dives" -- put his trust in man. Lazarus had nobody but God and the dogs. But who turns out to be the fertile tree by the water, and who is the barren bush in an obviously hot spot? By giving us this reading during Lent, the Church is warning us against trust in material security. And who can disagree? But who can fully live up to this vocation?
The place to begin is where you are, no point in starting at any other place. This is one of the points of the Lenten disciplines of fasting, abstinence, and alms giving. We need to give a portion of our money away more than we need to keep all of it. Food is a pressing daily need and the temptation to eat more of it than we need is always there. By avoiding certain foods, and by not eating for periods of time, we practice our "detachment" from material security. By voluntarily experiencing hunger we show our solidarity with those for whom hunger is a daily reality. And often, if you practice something long enough, you get good at it (or at least, better).
Put your trust in material security, ignore the poor man Lazarus at your front door with the dogs licking at his sores, and you end up a brittle old bush in a dry rocky volcanic desert waste. Trust in God, open your heart and your pocketbook to the poor, and your life becomes "a tree planted by waters" -- fruitful, generative, and redemptive. Here's a free news byte: donations by US Catholics to Operation Rice Bowl typically average about twenty-five cents per Catholic.
Slavery is a dark blot that stains the history of many societies and cultures. Today we read of Joseph, who in the calamity of being sold into slavery by his own brothers who were envious of him, echoes the fate of too many people throughout human history. What we decry in history, however, remains a deadly reality -- in the Sudan, African Christians of a different ethnic group from the governing Islamic majority are targets of violence and exploitation for slavery -- in southeast Asia, children are sold to supply the popular sex tourism trade -- wherever there are desperate people in the third and fourth worlds, unscrupulous first world transnational corporations pay substandard wages and use violence and threats of intimidation as management tools, all for the sake of the Almighty Dollar.
Nor have we improved much on our treatment of prophets who are among us today. Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was murdered while saying Mass. Fr. Stanley Rother of Oklahoma was murdered in Guatemala. Seven Adorers of the Blood of Christ (a congregation of religious sisters) witnessed of their Faith and solidarity with the poor with their own lives in Liberia. Many of the powerful hated Jesus, but the "crowds" -- that is, the poor -- loved him. In today's Gospel, the rulers' know that Jesus is presenting an indictment of them and their stewardship, and they don't like that. Powerful people rarely welcome calls to accountability given by "little people". All too often, leaders of powerful institutions feel they are above law, custom, and morality.
Thus, the call to justice is a critique of the stewardship of those who wield power in human society. Nobody is above God's law -- not any individual, even if he or she be the most powerful and wealthy person on earth, and not any collective, even if it be the most powerful government, or the wealthiest corporation, on the face of the earth.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee, is what the angel said to Mary, a salutation echoed by generations of faithful Catholics in prayer and praise. This is where the eternal God becomes incarnate in the womb of a poor woman from a poor town in a poor province ruled by a cruel military empire. A virgin conceives and bears a son who is called Immanuel, God-who-is-with-us.
Mary is in solidarity with all who suffer. Her own heart was pierced with the sword of sorrow and anguish. We can see her as Mother of Sorrows, and find peace and comfort. We can see her as Our Lady of Guadalupe, appearing in the form of a maiden of a conquered and enslaved people, giving them hope and peace. We can see her as Our Lady of Fatima, who appeared to 3 children of a poor farmer, in a poor town, also in a poor province, calling us to works of justice and reparation for the sins of the world. Mary is the one who shows us an example of obedience to God's call to servant leadership. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
On this day we celebrate both Mary's response and the fruit of her obedience -- the Incarnation of our Lord, the one who brings salvation and justice and healing to all people. Let us also remember that the best celebration is our own obedience to God's call to be missionaries of his justice and peace everywhere that we go.
Paul is in rare form, even for him. He shows deep insight into human nature in writing these words. The Gospel indeed is foolishness to those who do not believe. All that talk about loving your enemies and defending the widows and fatherless children. Jesus should get real and get with the modern globalizing corporate program which has no room for such ancient foolishness. But Jesus is real, and as the Gospel today says, Jesus did not need anybody to tell him about human nature, "he himself understood it well."
Today we see another aspect of Jesus, there is a focus on His righteous judgment against those who were cheating and oppressing the people, turning the sacred into a merchandise market. He overturns the tables of the international bankers, and drives the globalizing corporations from the holy Temple. He knows the penalty for such questioning of secular and religious authority is death, but He also knows something His enemies do not. Kill him and 3 days later He will rise again, triumphant over death and all structures of evil and wickedness in the world. You can't keep a good man down, as they say, and Jesus was Goodness personified as a humble carpenter, a rural rabbi who loved the poor and all who were rejected, and who also opened his heart to those who were not poor, for surely his tent is big enough for all who love him and do justice and mercy, walking humbly before their God and neighbor.
Jesus today again shows a certain ability to get to the consciences of people, who sometimes react in typical human style by attempting to kill him. He reminds those listening of two stories from their history in which persons typically despised in the polite societies of their days (i.e. foreigners and single mothers) receive special tokens of God's favor.
Naaman is a powerful army commander, but he is a leper. Through the agency of a nameless child slave he learns that Elisha the prophet can cure his disease. So he gets a letter from his king to the king of Israel (who suspects some kind of plot), and Naaman takes along gifts to (presumably) impress the prophet and encourage the healing processes.
Elisha doesn't even come to the door when Naaman arrives. He sends a message, "Go wash seven times in the Jordan and you will be clean". But this isn't what Naaman was looking for. He wanted some impressive magic suitable to his dignity to cure his leprosy. And so he heads off back to Aram, still a leper. His nameless servants, however, save the day by telling their master the facts of life. Look, you came all this way, and if this guy had said "do something extraordinary", you would have been happy to do it. Instead, he has asked you to do something simple. Since it is so easy, what can it hurt to do it and see what happens?
Naaman learns a lesson in humility and obedience, and we should learn from his example. When we ask God for healing, do we ignore his often plain and simple advice? What do we think prophets should look and talk like? Would we recognize a prophet if we saw one? Notice that even though Naaman had all the social status and power, it is the ones who are nameless -- the slave, the servant, the wife -- who have the answers to his dilemma.
From the midst of the fiery furnace, surrounded by flames yet protected by an angel of the Lord, comes a cry of repentance. Once mighty and powerful Israel has been brought into slavery, captivity, and powerlessness. In this state of physical and spiritual poverty, they begin to understand and reflect on the true nature of service to God, which is more than religious practice, it is a humble heart and a contrite spirit. It is a fiery crucible, from which Israel emerges with renewed faith and obedience to covenant.
From Jesus comes teaching regarding reconciliation and a parable fraught with contradiction for the modern world. Forgive? Hah, revenge is better. We wouldn't want anyone to think we are weak and can't protect ourselves. We think we know that in this predatory society, those who don't protect themselves are eaten alive. So it's OK to give some kind of respect to this as a pious platitude, but implement as a daily reality? "Get real" is perhaps the mildest thing people would say to you these days.
But Jesus doesn't seem to be interested in leaving us an "out", some way to escape from this dilemma. He says, "Well, the way you deal with those who sin against you is the way God is going to deal with you." The form may be "parable", but there doesn't seem to be anything very ambiguous about its conclusion. We've all known people like the unjust debtor of this parable, a person who has received great mercy, but who refuses to extend such mercy to others. It's true of individuals, and it's true of structures such as corporations and governments. We need to learn that if we expect mercy, we must be willing extend our own hands in mercy to others. Revenge is one of the most ancient human emotions, but it is a dead end quest that brings no satisfaction, only violence, death, and more tragedy.
What is a just nation? One that follows God's word, whose laws are just. Moses spoke these words to a people whose laws included careful protections of the economics rights of the poor -- single mothers with children, foreigners, orphans. It contained provisions designed to limit the centralization of wealth and power. Nations that protect the poor from oppression are blessed, those who do not are cursed.
We should remember these things, Moses says, we should not forget them, but rather teach them to our children and grandchildren. Humans -- both as individuals, and as communities -- often like to forget inconvenient truths and embarrassing episodes. God wouldn't let Israel do this, over the centuries prophets and scribes wrote their history down and taught it to their children and although people often wanted to forget the good things the Lord had done for them and the bad things they had done to each other and to God, this wasn't an option. Our own era has the same problem. History is captive to ideology, and is often re-written to disguise historical crimes and evade accountability and justice. This is why one of the "works of justice and peace" is to "make injustice visible -- witness, remember, teach, proclaim, tell."
The obedience God is calling us to has been made pretty clear through these Lenten readings: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, work for justice and be just in your personal relationships, live in peace, be reconciled with our neighbors, beware of religious and political hypocrisy, obey God's commandments, repent of our sin, change our ways. Do better. Practice virtue. Examine our consciences.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19-20
Beware of giving voice to those who cannot speak. People will say you are filled with the devil and up to no good. They will try to distract attention from the good fruits of your works by casting aspersions on your motivations and backers. Has this not happened over and over again throughout human history? Give power to those who are rejected and those who benefit from exploitation will fabricate lies and slanders against you.
The Lord recaps to Jeremiah the tragic history of his people. Again and again prophets have been sent to preach justice and repentance and again and again the people have turned their backs on the Lord. "Faithfulness has disappeared," in the Newspeak of the Israelite elite, it was not even in the dictionary. God's concern in the prophetic writings is evident in the extensive prophetic denunciations of the exploitation of the weak by the strong.
In response to the slanders of those who profited from corruption, Jesus preaches that all who are not with him are against him, if we are not gathering with him, we are scattering. By giving voice to those who cannot speak, Jesus shows his credentials as the agent of the Reign of God which has come upon them, when they were least expecting it.
Today's message is simple: Turn away from idolatry and worship the one true God. Hosea calls us to put our trust in God, not in the work of human hands, not in the military might of the superpowers of the era, but rather in the God who gives compassion to the fatherless. As we do this, our "defection" is healed, wrath is turned away, the desert blossoms and becomes fruitful. Jesus teaches us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We can't be in love with God if we aren't in love with our neighbor -- the second greatest commandment is solidarity.
We do well to ask ourselves -- where is the solidarity in our communities today? Do we see the poor, the foreigner, the marginalized as our neighbor and thus love them as we love our own lives? If so, why do we snatch the food stamps from their hands and give them over to the rich? (The shift of federal spending from means-tested poverty programs to corporate welfare and pork-barrel appropriations is well documented.) Oh, feeding the hungry creates more hunger, we read, but that's not what Jesus said, that's the message of politicians and editorial writers. We certainly don't see unborn children as our neighbor, we kill them by the millions. Americans don't feel much solidarity with the Iraqi people whose children are dying. (Oops, I forgot, the politically correct response is that "this price is worth it," thus sayeth the Government.) Where is our solidarity with the poor and desperate workers making pennies an hour under unsafe conditions working for transnational corporations making toys for us to give our kids?
These are not comfortable thoughts, but Jesus is the one who says we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. He explains what we needed to know -- clearly and without ambiguity. When we understand this, like the scribe who questioned Jesus, we are not far from the Reign of God.
Oh the pretentiousness of the religious hypocrite. See how we love all people! (As long as they belong to our socioeconomic class and look and dress like we do.) How wonderful it is that we aren't like those kinds of people. (Who are obviously lazy, if they would be more industrious, they wouldn't be so poor.) Christ presents today to two people -- on one hand is the self-righteous leader of the community -- on the other hand is a despised tax collector who collaborates with the Romans.
Whose prayer is heard? Not the one who has status, but rather the marginalized, the rejected, and humble. All who exalt themselves are rejected; all who humble themselves are accepted. Hosea reminds us that in our affliction, we look to God, and we are promised that if we do return to the Lord, he will hear our prayers, he will be to us like rain on a dry desert -- a rain in the springtime, that brings forth fruit in abundance.
Today the readings warn us of the dangers of piety that is only "skin deep", that vanishes like the morning dew or the early cloud. "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Not exactly the best advice from a public relations specialist, but remember that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.
A stern warning is coupled with a promise of redemption in today's first reading. Judah -- its people, priests, and princes -- turned away from the Lord, gave their lives to false gods, and did not follow God's commandments. They rejected the prophets that were sent to them over the centuries, mocking and despising them. And so it came to pass that the beautiful Temple of Solomon and the entire city of Jerusalem were conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians, and the proud rulers who had oppressed the poor themselves became servants of the Chaldean king. Actions have consequences, for individuals and for nations. Much of the biblical material regarding the actions of the rulers and peoples of Israel and Judah has an eerie contemporary feel to it. When we read the sacred text, it's like we're reading our own newspapers.
But within the warning is also the promise of redemption. God has not forgotten his people. In their turn, the Babylonians are conquered by the Persians, an instrument of judgment on the Babylonians iniquities. Cyrus promises to allow the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem and its holy Temple.
The story does not end with the Babylonians and the Persians however. It continues into the time of Jesus and beyond. Salvation comes from God, who sends His only Son into the world -- not to condemn it, but rather to save it. But when light came into the world, it wasn't what we were looking for. Light illuminates dark corners, brings secret deeds to light, stops injustice, and brings reconciliation. No modern globalizing economy can stand this, thus the calls for "darkness, more darkness, let us hide our works from the Lord and from each other" continue in our own time.
But as Paul reminds us, we are God's handiwork, "created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them." By grace we have been saved through our faith in the One who is sent by God, and this change of heart, this conversion, has an effect on the way that we live. Thus we are "raised up with Christ", seated with him in the heavens.
Today John presents one of the seven great "signs" of the divinity of Christ, it is bold and challenging. We have seen during these Lenten readings how the poor and rejected are open to the ministry of Christ. Today we learn God's love is also for the rich and powerful, for those with power, authority, assets, and status. Here we see a Royal Official, who snaps his fingers and actions are done, humbly coming to Jesus and asking that his son be healed. He believes Christ's words and goes and finds that in fact, his child had been healed. He and his entire household came to believe. Do you suppose his behavior changed? We don't know what he was like before this healing, but we can expect that his life was never the same again. God's message is to everybody, and that includes those with power, assets, authority, and status. All are called to come to Jesus in humility and poverty of spirit.
Isaiah's vision of the future Messianic age is fraught with promise and hope. No longer will children die as infants (an echo of this terrible human tragedy so common in history), people shave live in the houses they build -- they will not be dispossessed by the strong, ruthless, and greedy who covet the property of others for their own use. There will be rejoicing and happiness, and Jerusalem will be a joy and its people a delight. It is a place with structures of beauty, goodness, wisdom, mercy, love, and justice. This is in contrast to our present conflicted reality, which is a "zero sum game" where ideologies and special interest groups destroy the common good for private benefit. Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, often quoted St. Catherine of Siena, "all the way to heaven is heaven." If we want to live in justice and beauty rather than oppression and exploitation, then we should commit acts of justice and beauty and model those virtues in our own lives. We got into this mess one sin at a time, and we will get out of it one prayer and one good deed at a time. As we do the works of justice, beauty, mercy, hope, love, peace, goodness, and wisdom, we become co-creators with God of the Reign of God.
Jesus is in trouble again. He healed a man on the Sabbath, a day of rest. The man had been paralyzed for 38 years. He was at a traditional place where sick people came to be healed, but he had no one to place him in the waters. Ezekial gives us a vision of healing waters, flowing from the Temple, restoring fertility to the deserts, symbolizing a return to the primeval paradise, looking forward to the Reign of God here on Earth.
Once again Jesus shows his concern for the marginalized, in this case, a man who was paralyzed. Such people had no status in Roman or Israelite society, they were at the mercy of others. Jesus does not shrink from the sight before him, he does not have on his Invisibility Spectacles that allow him to ignore the poor and weak. He not only notices the man, but He helps him by healing bringing him healing and health.
The rulers are furious, which historically is the typical political reaction to anybody who works to bring justice and peace (structures of sin always vigorously defend themselves against those who would bring them redemption). Once again that wretched rabbi has defied convention and done something unprecedented. Healing on the Sabbath indeed, who does this man think he is? Who indeed, that is the question, then and now. We can ask, who do these rulers think they are to stand in opposition to those who would help the poor?
By our faith in Jesus, manifested in the works that we do, we pass from death into life, we leave behind the culture of death and become part of the culture of life. Isaiah sings a song of that culture of life. Those who are invisible -- the ones we have pushed to the edges of our societies, who hide in the alleys and under freeway overpasses, who live down by rivers and in the other hidden places of our communities -- come out from alienation into healing. Those who are captive in prisons are liberated. No longer will people die of starvation. Their way will be made easy, and the Lord will be their guide. As the days of waiting for our redemption lengthen, we may wonder if God has forgotten us. But Isaiah compares the Lord's love to that of a mother, "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?" Even if she should forget, God will never forget us.
During this Jubilee Holy Year 2000, the Holy Father has called us to build a culture of life, a civilization based on love, by rejecting the works of darkness and bondage to materialism/consumerism which sustain the culture of death. This comes through our conversion in Christ Jesus and our perseverence in the works of mercy, justice, and peace. The culture of death won't just go away by itself, it's the default option in this day and age. May God give us the strength, courage, and faith we need for this journey!
We humans are a stubborn species, and our allegiance to evil is strong. While Moses is on the mountain speaking with God, the people of Israel are building and worshiping a golden calf, an idol made with human hands. Jesus came into the world, not seeking the praise and honor of other people, but rather to do God's will -- to preach peace and justice and liberation to the poor, to proclaim that the day of the Lord was at hand, and that all that was revealed through the prophets would come to pass. The culture of life will triumph over the culture of death, but often you'd never know it by looking at what people are doing with their lives and the bountiful natural world that God has created.
A Golden Calf is a much safer object of worship than the Lord of the Universe. The calf doesn't talk back, it makes no inconvenient demands upon you, you don't have to worry about little details like justice, peace, wisdom, and beauty. It's easy, convenient, and provides instant gratification. It's no wonder Golden Calves are so popular these days. You see them everywhere, on every channel of communication, in the halls of governance and throughout the marketplaces. Yahweh, the God of Israel, however, does make inconvenient demands. When you exploit the poor and commit injustice and oppression, He sends prophets to call you to repentance. If you turn your back on Him, he continues to love you. You may refuse to believe in God, but He always believes in you.
"Let us oppress the needy just man. Let us neither spare the widow nor revere the old man for his hair grown white with time. But let our strength be our norm for justice." These verses from Wisdom 2 (10 and 11) are not in the lectionary readings for the day, but they are part of the thoughts being expressed. Those who are just speak out against the evils of their day. The seek an end to exploitation. For this, the wicked hate the just, and react with oppression.
Jesus, who is Justice incarnate, has spoken often against the wickedness of the ruling religious, political, and economic elites of his era. For this, the authorities are conspiring against him. But the people are more open, they wonder if indeed this is the Messiah. He is the true Just Man, oppressed because he is Goodness, Beauty, and Wisdom personified.
What is it about this tendency of human societies to persecute and kill prophets? What are the consequences to human societies that murder their prophets? What individual human actions contribute to climates that tolerate, even encourage, the persecution of the just? And also we must consider how can we protect and encourage prophets.
The poor are the objects of special scorn from the Beautiful People in today's Gospel. How can they know anything about the Messiah? Nothing good can come out of Galilee -- or Appalachia -- or the dysfunctional inner city -- or from that part of town where all of those kind of people live. How can they know anything? They are poor. Away with them, they hurt our eyes, somebody should do us all a favor and quickly put them out of our misery. If Jesus was the Messiah, We the Smart and Beautiful People would know this. And furthermore, he'd be from our side of town, not from Galilee. Anyone who comes to his defense must be one of them. Jesus is obviously a sensation among the poor and working classes of Jerusalem in 33 AD. Even the guards whose paycheck comes from the ruling elites are impressed. How can we arrest him? Haven't you heard him talk? What's the conventional wisdom's answer to this? Jesus can't be the Messiah because he's poor and the poor love him. He flunks their "Messiah Test".
The Church of the Poor had the right opinion about Jesus 2000 years ago. When was the last time we listened to what the poor are saying to us today? This isn't a popular nor a way to win political power in today's degenerate moral climate, no political consultant would recommend this seriously. The poor are dysfunctional, everybody knows that, if they weren't, they wouldn't be poor. It's their own fault they're in that situation, that's what we tell each other. Thus we allow ourselves to be deluded by our own propaganda, believing the political fictions we have told in order to get and keep power. We refuse to see the structures of sin which help perpetuate poverty, we ignore the exploitations and oppressions that impoverishes a multitude.
It's dangerous to listen to the poor. We might learn some Truth about Jesus, a Truth that brings sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and justice to the poor. That would upset more than one apple cart, so it's not a popular choice.
Greek converts to Judaism come today to visit Jesus. They want to see this man who works miracles. What do they see? A grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, but in its death, it brings forth a new harvest. A Man who is "more than a man, who gives his life for the salvation of all. He is one who will be lifted up in crucifixion, and thus will draw all people to himself, the old divisions between Gentile and Jew would be erased, the Gospel is for all the world, irrespective of nationality. It is a message of reconciliation, and peace among people who are divided by class, ethnicity, language, and culture. As Jesus is speaking, the voice of God cries out glory and power from heaven -- the crowd hears thunder, but some understood that it was a divine epiphany, an unveiling teaching truth to anyone who had ears to hear.
The author of the book of Hebrews reminds us today of Christ's love for and solidarity with us, who has offered prayers and supplications -- "with loud cries and tears" -- which were heard by God for our salvation. Jeremiah looks forward to this Messianic era, the Law has become no longer an external set of regulations to be memorized, but rather a way of life imprinted upon the human heart. All will come to know the Messiah, and the Reign of Justice will be a reality for all people, "from the least to the greatest". From such obedience comes forgiveness and better ways of doing things.
Can we open our hears to hear the voice of God from heaven proclaiming glory and justice? Are we ready for the Law of God to be imprinted upon our hearts and minds so that we may live in the Reign of God? Do we offer hospitality to those who are different from us -- or are we stingy with our friendship and welcome, excluding people because of race, or culture, or economic status?
The story of Susanna is a tale of corruption and the unjust exercise of authority, as well as fortitude and courage and faith in God. Two wicked judges, motivated by lust, demand that a woman yield to their desires. She refuses and cries out for help. The judges accuse her of adultery, and claim that they surprised her in the act. She is condemned to death. But Daniel -- a young boy! -- speaks out against this injustice. He is not cowed by the age and respectability of the judges, he ignores their taunts regarding his youth. He separates the two wicked judges and questions them, finding discrepancies in their story. Their deeds come back on their heads, as the penalty they imposed on Susanna is carried out upon them.
Jesus today offers another message of forgiveness and redemption. His adversaries attempt to trick him. He meets the challenge by scribbling seemingly thoughtlessly on the ground, then looking up and saying, "Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her." One has to wonder where the adulterer in this picture was, but in the meantime, the adulteress is standing there, alone with Jesus. Everybody else is gone. Jesus sends the woman away with the admonition: go and sin no more.
How often today are we faced with situations similar to those described in today's readings? How often are the innocent condemned by unjust and wicked judges? Claims that this crime or that exploitation is justified by "due process" say nothing about the morality of what is be hapening. Many atrocities throughout history -- such as slavery and genocide -- have been completely "legal" in terms of being carried out under some form of "law" that described a process for committing the wickedness. Rule of Law is a fine thing, but we do well to ask -- by whose Law are we being ruled? Daniel's fearless defense of Susanna against the injustice is an example of moral courage that resonates through the centuries to this very day. "I will have no part in the death of this woman." May God send us many Daniels to speak with courage against the injustice of this age.
The people of Israel were quite angry. How dare this God liberate them from slavery only to run them around in the wilderness and feed them bad food. How much worse could things get? Plenty. Their camp was invaded by fiery serpents. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, and from whence does salvation come? From obedience to a command from God through Moses. It's not a very hard command either. Just a simple look.
In today's Gospel, Jesus is again speaking of his upcoming death and the importance of his teaching. Everything that Jesus gives us comes from the Father. God is with him and thus, what Jesus does is pleasing to God. Let us now remember -- what did Jesus do? He fed the hungry, comforted the afflicted, healed the sick, denounced political, economic, and spiritual oppression, challenged religious hypocrisy, and brought the Word of God to all people. These works are pleasing to God. It's not an accident that so many stories are recorded about Jesus visiting and fellowshiping with noted sinners -- tax collectors, prostitutes, bartenders, etc. If we would follow Christ, we must do the works that he has done before us.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a lesson in the just and unjust exercise of authority. Nobody had more power than Nebuchadnezzar. He was the King and his word was law. He built a giant idol and ordered all his subjects to worship this false God. He had authority, and he used it unjustly. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to obey this unjust command, they spoke truth to power and told the king they were content to rest in the love and protection of the one true God. Whether they were physically protected from the flames was not important to them, their obedience to God's command was what mattered -- and thus, their resistance to the unjust demands of this earthly king. Hmmm, what can the Church be saying to us in selecting this reading for today? Certainly there is the message that worship of the true God is important, and worship of idols is wrong, but is there not also a message of courage and fortitude in the face of the unjust demands of earthly governments?
Meanwhile, Jesus is talking to people who are proud of their heritage. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Jesus brings the Word of God -- indeed, he is that Word incarnate in human flesh. His truth brings freedom -- salvation and liberation -- when we hear the Word and become disciples of Christ. Note that there is nothing passive about this -- we are called to remain in the Word and to be disciples of Jesus, with all that that entails, i.e. feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, doing the works of justice, peace, and mercy. It's a warning against trusting in a proud heritage, because our pride can save us from nothing, indeed, our pride can send us to hell. But when we come to know the Truth, we will be set free from every bondage..
Jesus continues his dialogue today with those who trust in their nationality, rather than God, for their salvation. How familiar does this sound today! Especially to those of us who are citizens of the United States of America, our eyes blinded by our trust in nuclear bombs and globalizing corporations, we think we can sow in furrows of injustice without reaping a seven fold harvest.
But Jesus says that it is those who keep his word that will not see death, and his word says to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God, this is not a description of the foreign or domestic policies of the United States government (nor many others on the face of this planet). Pride in nationality may have its appropriate place, but it's not news that we have a problem with the proper ordering of our values. We magnify the trivial, glorify the violent, and praise the greedy, while scorning the poor and marginalizing the weak. But that's not the way to get to heaven or to build a just society.
In today's Gospel, Jesus again claims to be God, and people react by picking up stones. These are hard sayings for people to receive, then and now. It is much easier to think of Jesus as a really good man than it is to realize he was God. Or maybe he was the Easter Bunny, you know, kind of a symbol of spring and rebirth. But not God, no, that would make too many demands on us. If we start doing justice and mercy, challenging exploitation and liberating those who are enslaved, people might start throwing stones at us too!
Jeremiah is also not very popular with the rulers in his era. His sufferings are a "foreshadowing" of the experience of the Messiah. Like Jesus, he is surrounded by secret plots and terrors, deserted by his friends. But God protects His prophet. Those who persecute the just will not triumph.
"For he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!" Thus Jeremiah describes the lot of the poor throughout history. The rich and powerful have forever seen the poor as their prey. From the pyramids of Egypt to the Roman galleys, and on to medieval serfs and the modern transnational corporation, the weak and helpless have suffered from the depredations of the powerful. Jesus, who is God, did the works of the Father and calls us to follow Him and do likewise. It is a message of love, repentance, conversion, solidarity and service.
Today's Gospel begins right after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Many people were believing in Jesus because of this act. Others went and told the rulers. Caiaphas the High Priest, who had obviously studied Roman politics, says that Jesus must die or the whole nation will perish. Better him than us, he argues. Because of these threats, Jesus withdrew from the public eye. The spies of the rulers were about in the streets and marketplaces, looking for the Galilean rabbi. Ezekial sees a vision of the promised redemption of the Messianic era, a time of peace and security, people will be undisturbed in their homes and farms, false gods will be put away; it is a civilization of life and love and justice. It is a vision far removed from our present reality where politics remains the order of the day. Justice is subordinated to power, the wicked rule and the people groan.
The victory of hope is upon us, however. Even as the conspiracies against Jesus mount, the truth of his message becomes more apparent, more convincing, people respond to this radical declaration of love from God and become new persons, passing from death into life, from defeat into victory, and from sorrow into joy.
Paul today quotes a hymn that recalls the divinity and the humanity of Jesus. Three different words are used to emphasize Christ's humanity and thus his solidarity with the entire human race. He speaks of Christ's humility, of his emptying of his self, a voluntary oblation of love.
In Mark's narrative of the passion we see the unjust exercise of authority, the condemnation of the innocent, the open face of evil, the betrayal of friends and the conspiracies of ruling political and economic elites organizing mob violence against an innocent man. We see a cowardly politician, so unconcerned for truth and justice that against his better judgment, he condemns an innocent man -- and Pilate knows Jesus is innocent -- because of the taunts of the crowd. Life was cheap in the old Roman Empire. We haven't learned much in the intervening 2000 years.
The works of justice and peace are human actions that are rooted in the passion of Jesus. While Pilate models the unjust exercise of authority, Christ models the just servant leadership that is a model for all who would help create a better future.
Today the final days of this Lenten journey begin. Events start moving in close succession. The Church calls us together in the time and place of Holy Week to celebrate these deep mysteries, to receive our God in the Holy Eucharist, to welcome new pilgrims to join our journey. At the end we will find joy and peace, but the road that goes there passes first through the valley of the shadow of death. We will fear no evil, because God is with us.
I have called you for the victory of justice, says the Lord through the pen of Isaiah, speaking of the Suffering Servant. This is the one who will open the eyes of the blind, release the prison, and bring light to the darkness. In today's Gospel, the Suffering Servant is at a dinner in Bethany and Mary anoints him with a costly scented oil. Judas, who as we shall see has a lot of room to talk about anyone else, criticizes this gesture, claiming the money would be better spent helping the poor. Jesus replies with his famous statement, "The poor will always be with you."
How often have we heard this statement quoted to justify opposition to the just work of evangelizing economic and social structures? As though somehow the apt and correct and prophetic insight of Jesus 2000 years ago justifies Situation X involving the exploitation and oppression of poor people in the modern world.
Because the poor are always with us, Jesus' explicit commands regarding our social relationships take on even greater urgency. There is much to be done. But is Congress listening to God's word? Is the President? What about the giant corporations? For that matter, what about the Church? How well do we listen to God's word when it comes to our social and community relationships, rights, duties, and responsibilities? Is this why Jesus suffered and died on the Cross, so that 2000 years later, a few could have lives of luxury while many are in want and destitution? Is this the best we can do with 2,000 years experience with the Gospel?
The poor are always with us. Therefore, I am justified in a minimalist approach to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. Not! We are called for the victory of justice.
Isaiah sings a song of liberation through the Servant of the Lord. Not only will He be a blessing to Israel, all the ends of the earth -- the Gentiles -- will be saved and blessed. In today's Gospel, that Servant is at risk of attack and death. Violence from strangers is bad, but when it comes from your closest friends and associates, the situation gets worse. We are reminded that Jesus and his disciples, even though they were poor, regularly gave alms to the poor. It is the one who handles the treasury that raises his hand against Jesus in betrayal.
This tragic evil remains with us today and the Messiah is ever at risk. Jesus is betrayed, virtually every time that Congress is in session. Jesus is betrayed, as poor people prey on other poor people, committing violence, destroying community, corrupting young people. Jesus is betrayed, as rich people prey on the poor, using urban renewal and road building schemes to destroy their neighborhoods for to benefit special interests. Jesus is betrayed, as political campaigns demonize the poor, slander them and bear false witness against them. It's also a story of pride. Sure Jesus, I will do anything for you. But when the going gets rough, what happens before the rooster crows three times?
Today we read again of God's Suffering Servant. He is well spoken to those who are weary. His words bring life and resuscitation. He gives his back to be beaten, his face is not shielded from blows and spit. He is steadfast and certain throughout persecution and will triumph over those who persecute him. And we read again of the betrayal of the Messiah for the price of 30 pieces of silver. A sellout to greed. There are those who say every man, and every woman, has his or her "price". But even without considering "ultimate temptations", how often do we sell our principles for the equivalent of a fast-food lunch? We are silent before those who mock the poor, who heap new burdens on them. When what is due to the poor by right (rights recognized by the Church through its social doctrine) is taken from them by angry violence and given to the powerful, do we cry out to expose such injustice, or do we just go along to get along?
We willingly participate in the sins of the modern era and plead as an excuse, "Well, isn't everybody doing thus and such? What Judas did was monstrously wrong, but before we rise up against him, shouldn't we first ask ourselves how we have betrayed the Jesus who is among us today?
Five years ago today, at 9:01 in the morning, in Oklahoma City, Jesus was betrayed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Let us pray for all those who lost their lives that day, their families, and those who helped in the rescue operations, and also for the perpetrators and their families.