Saturday, July 27, 2013

Teach Us to Pray!

Gospel Luke 11:1-13 
17th Sunday Ordinary Time  
July 28, 2013

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of the disciples asked him, "Rabbi, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples." Jesus said to them, "When you pray, say: 
Abba God, Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins for we too forgive all who do us wrong; and subject us not to the trial.  
Jesus said to them: "Suppose one of you had a friend to whom you went in the middle of the night and said, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for some friends of mine have come in from a journey and I have nothing to offer them,' and the friend answered, 'Leave me alone. The door is shut now and my family and I are in bed. I can't get up to look after your needs ' - I tell you, even if not out of friendship, then because of your persistence, your friend would get up and take care of you and give you as much as you needed.” "So I say to you, 'Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.'  "For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted. What parent among you will give your son a snake if he asks for a fish, or hand your daughter a scorpion if she asks for an egg? If you, with all your sins, knowhow to give your children good things, how much more will your loving God in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?"

  Ask and You Shall Receive So I say to you "Knock and it shall be opened to you", "Ask and you shall receive. "These are promises from the mouth of Jesus that continually perplex people. Everyone, having heard these words as a youngster, has thought to themselves, "If I just pray and believe hard enough, I will get whatever I ask for."  What's more, many adults still think this way. But all stories about people who hold magic genies in their power end up in a bad way; those who can have anything they want always send up disappointed, disillusioned and most times, worse off than when they started.
So just what did Jesus mean when he said, "Everyone who asks receives, everyone who searches finds"?  I think we can most accurately understand what he meant by examining the five petitions of the Lord's Prayer, which St Thomas Aquinas has pointed out to be the most perfect of prayers, for it teaches us all the things for which we might rightly ask and it teaches us the order in which they should be desired. 

"Our Father/Mother  God Who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name" Disciples, first of all, recognize that God is the Source of All and the fullness of life.  We acknowledge that everything of all creation as well as of all human accomplishment owes itself to the Almighty's genius and Loving providence.  We acknowledge frequently, humbly and gratefully, that life and life's pursuits are all gifts, for which God's Name deserves every mortal's constant praise. Furthermore, because of Jesus' Resurrection, as St Paul tells us in the 2nd Reading, all of our sins have been forgiven, 'we are alive together with Christ", and now have  the authority and grace as daughters and sons, to address God as a loving Parent and Friend,  Who we know  is ready to give us everything that is good for us.    

"Your Kingdom come, Your  will be done". God is more gracious than a friend who reluctantly gets up in the night to help us, but God's graciousness does not guarantee that we get what we think we want. I was in 2nd grade when I first began to understand that even though a whole church community could pray for something worthwhile and good to happen, we are sometimes given what we need instead, a mystery that we see best in retrospect. At the time, my beloved classmate Catherine was suffering greatly with her leukemia, and when after months of suffering she finally went home to heaven,  our wise and gentle Sister Bonaventure helped us see how peacefully and brightly Cathy had lived up until the end, and how as young as she was, gave us all, kids and grown-ups alike, the example of how we could go through our troubles in life, counting on Jesus to be with us. Although none of us then, and none of here today have gotten most of the things we've prayed for,  we have in retrospect, discovered more than what we were looking for, and  have been graced beyond our expectations by what was behind the door on which we were knocking. 
When we make this petition, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done",  we are asking God to change us from thinking that God is obligated to us because of our religious acts of worship or service.  ..we are asking that God make us, instead,  into instruments for the Divine Will to be accomplished on this earthly kingdom.
Give us each day  our daily bread". This petition asks us to recall the total dependence upon God that the  Israelites experienced in the desert, of having to pray and wait each morning for 40 years, for the manna  to appear like dew on the land, . Like God's people of old, wandering on their journey, we are to ask only for that which is essential and wholesome to our life--not for luxuries and extras. Mother Teresa once said, "God made the world rich enough to feed and clothe all human beings". So we pray, "Give bread to us; not to me only, but to others in common with me.", asking God to create compassion and charity in me for all those whom God needs me to feed. Finally, we remember that when Jesus was tempted to break His fast and turn stones into bread,  He told Satan, that  "one does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from God." Most importantly then, we ask God to give us hearts that hunger all over again every day, for the true Bread of Life, Jesus Himself, that we might be fed daily in Word and Sacrament.   
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". Which is to say that we will follow the standard set by Jesus' teaching and example. When he was asked how many times we must forgive someone He answered '70 x 70 times', Which is symbolic language for 'limit-less' times, for not even counting at all. And because His dying words from the Cross were "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,", He charges us to have forgiving hearts when we are most hurt by the betrayal and cruelty of others, especially those who we thought loved us the most.  
"Lead us not into temptation, but Deliver us from evil". Since God would never 'lead us into temptation', it's odd that we make this petition,  but it is in fact a plea for the grace of God to so fill us that we  never succumb to the pride of thinking that we can earn our salvation by our works. It is an appeal that we will be drawn to seek God's strength in all of our future unforeseeable trials, especially in those times of fear or despair when we might forget to pray.  

Because most of us have been saying the Lord's Prayer since we've been knee-high, the power of its longing has been lost in the millions of repetitions of it in our lifetimes. But Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God among us, gave us this prayer specifically to summarize and to encourages us in the Good News of His Gospel. To believe in and to call for the coming of God's Kingdom, to daily come to God with our basic needs as individuals and as community, to pray both to be forgiven and to forgive as we know ourselves forgiven by God, and to pray to not be tested beyond our capacity to endure in faith--this is how the followers of Jesus were to live . With perseverant prayer in this manner, asking for the Holy Spirit, we shall indeed receive.  

Reverend Mary Wagner

                              St. Valentine Faith Community
                                                              Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Meditation on the parable of "The Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37).

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply,

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength,
and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.  A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

We have all heard the parable of "The Good Samaritan".  Most of us have heard it so many times, that we no longer listen when this Gospel is read.  We have heard it so many times that we think we know what it means. The Good Samaritan is someone who takes care of someone in need, right!  However, if you really meditate on this parable, you will find that is goes much deeper than that.  So, the question we must ask ourselves, have we really understood this parable, or what Jesus is trying to tell us about our duty as his follower?  
In the following Lectio Divina, Monsignor Francesco Follo does a wonderful job of explaining its meaning.  I would suggest reading this several times and let it sink into your heart.    

Lectio Divina: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time,Year C

By Monsignor Francesco Follo - PARIS, July 12, 2013 -

1) Four characters and a place to be identified
When we listen to the parable of the Samaritan four questions come up.
Who is the priest?
I am that priest.
Who is the Levite?
I am that Levite.
Who is the wounded man?
I am the wounded man.
Who is the Samaritan?
What does He do?
He becomes our neighbor, He takes care of me so that He becomes like me: He is wounded, naked, crucified for me and I’m healed, my dignity is given back to me and I’m brought back to life.
The priest and the Levite had finished their service in the Temple of Jerusalem and were going home. They saw the wounded man but didn’t stop. Perhaps they thought that he was already dead and didn’t want to touch him because it was an impure act to touch a dead body (Lev 21:1).
Perhaps they feared to become themselves victim of an assault. These fears were stronger than compassion. As priest and Levite they represented the wise men that had to incarnate the commandment of God’s love.
What about love for neighbor?
Unfortunately cult and compassion were two different things.
And what is the inn?
It is the Church.

2) Who is our neighbor?
(1) We are used to the expression” Good Samaritan”; it seems a common saying but is  not so obvious. It is an oxymoron (a contradiction).

(2) For the Jews, the Samaritan was heretic, separatist, more despised than the pagans. For a Samaritan it would not have been possible to consider them neighbor. Jesus doesn’t say that the wounded man must be helped because he is the neighbor but He “dares” to donate to his countrymen a Samaritan as the example of human and divine compassion for a happy and eternal life. This “gift” has been so well understood by the Church that Jesus has been forever indicated as the “Good Samaritan” and the Church becomes “neighbor” to suffering humanity.
Christ and the Church with Him bend over the weak and wounded man to save him because God’s kingdom has this “cost”: compassion. The son of God, the incarnate Mercy, carries God’s blessing in becoming neighbor to mankind that is by Him pitied, nursed and healed for the Kingdom of God. To make us understand the greatness and the intensity of this proximity,
Jesus uses various parables: the one of the good shepherd that saves the sheep condemned to death ( John10:10), the one of the son of the owner of the vineyard that arrives after the prophets that were sent in vain (Jh 10;Lk 20:9-18) and that one of the Samaritan that tells of a traveler that doesn’t avoid a wounded man but with compassion kneels next to him and removes him from the road. Let’s imagine the scene and let’s become the wounded man that is rescued by the Samaritan who arrives after the priest and the Levite that didn’t want or couldn’t help him, maybe because he was unknown to them or not belonging to their family or their tribe.
Here we can see mirrored the history of salvation in which Jesus is a despised Samaritan, reveals what other techniques of salvation have forgotten and builds where these techniques have failed. In Christ, God became near to mankind with a simple and human figure. The God that we now know is not "too high up nor too far away” from us and His law is very close to us. It is in our mouth and in our heart so that we put it in practice (first reading of theRoman Rite). Only doing what Christ has done we can truly encounter our neighbor (God) and our neighbor (men and women). Our heart matures only in welcoming the Other, and the other has only one “nice flaw”, it needs to beloved. At the end of the parable Jesus reverses the second question of the doctor of the Law (the first one had been “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”).

(3) He had asked: “Who is my neighbor?” The question seems to have been made to convince Jesus that “to love God” is without limits but that “to love the neighbor” has well defined limits. I think that the question implies that we can choose the neighbor we must love with the possibility to refuse the ones that are not worthy to be loved. Jesus revolves it:

(4)”Which of these three, had compassion  for him?” It is important not only to know on whom we must have compassion but also to know who has compassion for us. Today He wants to teach us not so much who is our neighbor as to make us understand Who comes near us lying on the road. In the foreground there is not the one who organizes his compassion and distributes it to the one he thinks deserves it, but the one who is in need and waits for a sign of compassion by a Traveler that approaching him and nursing him becomes his neighbor.

3) The price of the Kingdom of God: compassion. If on the above lines I suggested to identify oneself with the wounded man so that we can understand that our neighbor is Christ. Now I propose to identify oneself with the Samaritan to be near to the wounded humanity that desires to rise up but cannot do it alone. The priest and the Levite didn’t stop as the Samaritan did because their eyes were not those of the Lord. On the contrary the Samaritan has God’s eyes and looks at the humanity as Jesus does: “Christ, the Son of God, looks at the human pain and uses this pain to reveal his love and to incarnate his mercy.
How much “descending” must be done in me if only the pain can reveal God’s love to me! How much charity must be done by God if He had to go with us on our Calvary so that we can believe in Love!” (Father Primo Mazzolari, Time to believe, Brescia1964, page 103)

This love is moved and has compassion (to suffer with), a word that- even if less stronger than the Greek word that indicate a ”moved womb”- indicates not the giving of the wealthy person to the poor or the rescue of the healthy person of the ill one, but it means living together the passion for the life of the brother or the sister whose humanity has been wounded. The etymology of the word compassion pushes us to live it, feeling the pain of the other as if it were ours. The doctor of the Law has understood it very well. Jesus then confirms his answer and invites him to do the same.
Charity is a mission in compassion; it is to follow Christ in our daily life. To do so Jesus asks for complete availability and pushes us to work for a common cause, and to enter into a history and a stability of life. This is the way to eternal life: to go the same way that Jesus has described and done in coming to live in the place of our illness. We should ask Christ to give us a gaze and a heart like his. While reason wants to measure the gift of God based on what she can understand, Christ reveals to us His unimaginable tender Heart.
Many people in the Church have understood and welcomed this heart and his tenderness. I’d like to cite the example of a Missionary of Charity that I met in Rome. She was an Italian nun who at 60 had left the Congregation where she was General Counselor to become a nun in the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Theresa of Calcutta welcomed her and with maternal concern advised her to go to Calcutta when the weather would have been less harsh. After a month of getting accustomed to the new life, she sent the “new” sister to work (or as Mother Theresa used to say, “To do apostolate”) in the House of the dying. In this House of mercy there are many small rooms where the dying is assisted with love. On the walls of every room there is written a phrase from the Gospel. The Italian nun started to wash the wounds of an ill person while looking at the wall where it was written: “This is my body”. At the end of her “apostolate” the nun returned to the convent for dinner. Mother Theresa asked her: ”What did you do  this afternoon?” The nun answered: ”I’ve been with Jesus for three hours’”.
Like a Samaritan following the steps of the Samaritan she had bent over the man with whom Jesus identifies himself: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a prisoner, I was ill, and I was naked. I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’(Mt25:35).
Let’ s live in mercy and let’s practice compassion kneeling in front of our neighbor as Jesus did washing the feet and on the Cross as many men and women do when they wash the material and spiritual wounds of their brothers and sisters. Looking at us in this communion of reciprocal mercy the others will be able to “read” the Gospel and to “see” it in action. Through our life in Christ, truth is given to those of wisdom and love to the hearts. God puts himself in our hands of mercy. We are the only ones responsible for this mercy and let’s not delegate this responsibility to others. Every one of us has the duty to carry in his/her heart the Living God who never imposes but proposes calling us to live his pilgrimage and to open the door He is knocking at: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock:” If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).
What I’ve said is valid for all Christians, religious and lay people. In what way is the vocation to be a Samaritan specific for those who consecrate themselves? They must show with their life that cult and compassion are not in contrast. To a nun who was asking to Saint Vincent de Paolis: ”If I’m in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a poor person knocks at the door what should I do? Should I continue my adoration or go to the poor?” The Saint founder of the Daughters of Mercy answered: “You don’t abandon God if you abandon God for God”. That not only means that in the poor there is God and consequently we can stop praying to help the needy. It means also that in a virginal consecration to God, one has eyes so pure that he or she sees God in the poor and serves Him in mercy and in praise.

(4) The Inn of “ All are welcomed” In today’s parable Jesus also says that the Samaritan took the wounded man in the “All are welcomed," today translated as an inn.”
This “All are welcomed” is a fragile house suspended between Jericho and Jerusalem that is born wherever a person is willing to welcome everybody. God welcomes everybody into the profound sign of love. The Church welcomes all in a maternal way. In this “public lodging” the suffering person is nursed in the same way a mother bends over her child to take care of him.
This taking care (that in the Greek word indicates how a mother bends over her child)means that it is a concern that becomes action. The Consecrated Virgins are called in a particular way to this service of maternal care. The Rite of Consecration invites them to dedicate themselves to nurse the physical and moral sores of every brother and sister wounded in the body and in the soul because thanks to a pure heart they see in the face of a suffering person the Face of faces: that of Christ.---
(1) The neighbor, in  Greek “pleison”,in Hebrew “ re’a”,indicates “one who is near, who lives nearby and with whom we share something. For the Jew it was his countryman because he was a member of the chosen people and at maximum they could include the ones who had converted to Judaism.
(2) An oxymoron (it is a Greek word from oxus= pointed and moros=blunt) is a rhetorical figure that is made by the union of two opposite contradictory terms or anyway in strong antithesis between them. The result is that of an apparent paradox. For example lucid madness, silent tumult, deafening silence, parallel convergences, senseless sense and disgusting pleasure. If some oxymoron has been devised to capture the reader’s attention, others are born to indicate a reality that doesn’t have a name. This can happen because a word was never created or because the code of the language, for its formal limits, must contradict itself to indicate some deep concepts. This is the case of the expression “good Samaritan”.
(3) The Jewish doctors of the Law counted 613 precepts, 365 negative (one for each day of the year) and 248 positive like the numbers of the bones. It indicated that the law every day enters in a negative way inside a man to purify him, to remove the negativity of evil and to penetrate in a positive way into the bones, the structure of the body, to structure man into right.
(4) The Greek text says splancnizomai “to be moved, to be caught in the deep of the womb”, in the deep of the soul, the maternal womb, loving womb typical of God whose look toward us becomes compassion. Today we translate it with “to have compassion” weakening the original vividness of the text. Because of the lightning of mercy that strikes the soul of the Samaritan, he becomes neighbor going beyond every question and every danger. The question has changed, it is no longer a matter to establish who our neighbor is or who is not. It concerns me. I must become neighbor to the other so that he or she is important for me like “myself”.
(5) In the Greek writing, it is uses the word pandocheion that means “to welcome all” and it is a house between Jerusalem, the celestial Jerusalem, and Jericho. This house that welcomes all is the symbol of the Church that welcomes everybody.
(6) In Greek the word epemelethe means to take care, to worry, to vigil, go out of one’s way.--
St. Valentine Faith Community
2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev. Sue Provost Cell
Mass: Every Sunday at 10am

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Monday, July 8, 2013

How do we show Hospitality?

July 7, 2013
 Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”
 The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Hospitality. We define it today as the way we treat our guests cordially and make them feel at home. It is the way we receive our guests and perhaps the way we entertain them. We go to a hotel and we see hospitality suites and we may say that we were treated hospitably. We have hospitals, which take care of and treat and cure sick people. So hospitality is still a part of our way of life and something to be treasured in our culture. In the time of Jesus, and even in the Old Testament, there is a slightly different understanding of hospitality. The meaning and concept of cordiality and comfort is still the same, but it is extended far beyond what we would feel comfortable doing today.

 We certainly don’t extend our hospitality to anyone who walks up to us and asks for it. Some of us find it hard to be hospitable to street people who beg for money or for strangers who seem to demand or expect it from us. In Biblical times the populations were smaller and everyone was related to everyone else within somewhat large areas. Leaving towns and traveling to another town left travelers at great risk of robbery or beatings. There were no motels to stay at, or hotels or hostels.  If you traveled you were entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers – which is why you attempted to know everyone who might be related to you or who might owe you a favor.

When Jesus said he was sending his Apostles out as lambs among wolves, he was referring to the fact that they would be itinerant travelers and would literally be at risk of robbery and beatings. That is why he did not want them to take much with them.  “Carry no money, no bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no-one along the way. ”If  they had nothing that could be stolen they would be better off.  When they reached a village or town, however, they needed to depend on hospitality. And people were expected to give it. Early Bible stories are based on the concept of hospitality.  If you remember the story of Sodom, it was really a story of how the town was inhospitable. The angels of God disguised as men were not given hospitality, except by one person, who in order to be hospitable offered up his daughters to save the visitors from the inhospitable and savage townsmen.  God destroyed the cities for that crime of in hospitality.

Jesus then tells his disciples how to act when they enter a village. They are to rely on the kindness of strangers and relatives. They are to preach and heal and for this they are to be taken care of – “the laborer deserves his payment.” If the townspeople do not take care of the disciples, they are to go to a very public place in the town like the town square, and shake the dust off their feet, which means having no more to do with the people there, and leave their inhospitality to God. Jesus then tells them to remember what God did to Sodom for their crime against their fellow men. Jesus is being very consistent herein his teachings because his concept of the kingdom of heaven on earth involves treating each other with love.

 So hospitality in Jesus’ sense involves treating everyone, even strangers, with respect and giving them back their due. He also expects the strangers or visitors to earn their keep as well. It is a reciprocal arrangement.

The kingdom of God is the constant and main theme of all of Jesus’ teachings. In the Gospel today he teaches his disciples that when they go into a town, they are to state their theme immediately that “the kingdom of God is at hand for you.” And the heavenly Jerusalem is the main symbol of what Jesus taught. When Jesus explains to the disciples what gifts he is giving them, “the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy” he is talking about all those things that are in opposition to the kingdom.

He isn’t meaning serpents and scorpions literally although they were in abundance when you were traveling in Judea, but he is metaphorically meaning the forces of evil. So Jesus has given the disciples the power to forgive sin, to heal both physically and spiritually and the power to cast out devils and be victorious over the works of the devil.

What can these readings mean for us this week? Can we consider what it means to be hospitable in Jesus’ terms. How can we bring peace to others? How can we practice the love that Jesus says we ought to show to each other? Can we set our sights on the heavenly Jerusalem by beginning the kingdom of heaven on earth through our relationships with others? All of these questions are things which we can ponder this week as we try to live the life of Jesus and follow his way in our own lives. 

                              St. Valentine Faith Community
                                                              Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On Being Truely Free

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                     June 30 2013                          
                    Gospel Luke 9:51-62
When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him,
“I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

13th Sunday Ordinary Time
June 30, 2013 (Year C) on Being Truly Free        

All of today's readings consider individuals' responses to God's call in their lives.  They invite us to reflect upon the fact that answering 'yes' to God's call is the only path to freedom and joy.  Elisha was a prophet in the northern kingdom f Israel in the 9th Century BC, who as we see from the 1st reading, was chosen by God to be Elijah's successor, so that the Jewish people would be assured of the continued proclamation of God's word among them.  The twelve yoke of oxen which he slaughtered and with which he fed his people, indicates that Elisha was fairly prosperous and that  he gave up a great deal to follow Elijah. And the fact that he burned all his plowing equipment indicates that he wholeheartedly chose God as his inheritance and God's work as his future.    
It is this kind of total commitment, and even more, that Jesus is asking of would be followers, as he journeys with His disciples toward his own destiny in Jerusalem.  Jesus has 'set his face' to make this journey because He has been called to do so.  Justas his Galilean ministry began with a rejection in the Temple, so his journey to Jerusalem begins with a rejection too, this time from the Samaritans, and in both cases, Jesus simply moves on, for in the Christian way of life there is no room for violence and getting even, despite that fact that He, the most peaceable person in all of human history will suffer the most violent death.  Later along the road to Jerusalem, to the one who proposes to follow him "wherever he goes", Jesus promises nothing but hardships ahead (nowhere to even lay His head, no place to call home, nothing to count as possession), as if to say that "wherever" the journey takes us, it is a destiny that even He cannot control. 

Jesus' strange reply next, to the man who wanted first to bury his father before following Him, indicates the urgency to get on with proclaiming the reign of God and that it is not a matter of first we'll do this and take care of that, and then, we'll concentrate on our relationship with God and what it means for our life.  Jesus' very point is that it is in the very midst of ours and our neighbors grieving and tragedies and sufferings that we're called to give witness to the hope found in a loving, provident God.  Whereas Elijah allowed Elisha to say his family farewells before following him, Jesus' answer to the man in the Gospel who wanted to do the same is that "no one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God"   

This unsettling reproof of Jesus' illustrates the point that discipleship is a commitment that supersedes family obligations and goodbyes, and that Jesus said long before this, that "my mother and brothers and sisters  are all those who hear God's word and obey it."  The exchanges between Jesus and these three would-be disciples remind us of the cost of discipleship, and of the readiness we must have to accept rejection, poverty, the sacrifice of our previous priorities and a break with our pasts.  The Gospel doesn't tell us if any of these three individuals ended up following Jesus.  Like us, they had intellect and free will and could choose for themselves what they would do.      

Freedom is commonly understood as "I am free to do anything I want, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it and nobody is going to tell me what to do.  After all, it's a free world, isn't it?"  No doubt that in the coming week, most Americans will celebrate our freedom from English rule, our 1776 Declaration of Independence, with that concept in mind. But Paul speaks in the 2nd reading, of an entirely different concept of freedom, indeed our greatest freedom--i.e., the "liberty by which Christ has made us free." [Gal. 5:1] -- it is both the gift and the goal of our lives.  The gift is that we are freed from the demands of the Old Law, the tyranny of sin, and the power of death itself; the goal, is that we are set free in order to love as Christ did. 

That's why Paul reproves the Galatians to stop "biting and tearing one another to pieces",  pointing out that freedom does not mean giving 'free rein' to our physical and emotional cravings.  Rather, to live in true freedom is to live, 'guided by the Spirit", in harmony with God's will for the Good.  In Paul's vision of humanity, we are either slaves to self (working for wealth, status, or pleasure-- none of which last beyond the brief span of our lives anyway) or else having responded to God's grace, we desire only to love as Christ did.   
The wonder of God's grace, is that as I meditate consistently on the enormity of God’s love in relation to my nothingness on my own, a miracle takes place—the Spirit makes my heart fill more and more with gratitude to God such that I more and more desire only to share God’s love with others.    The more I live my life focused on the amazing grace of God, the more the Spirit motivates and empowers me to live a lifestyle of self-giving love.  

The result is that when we act in accordance with a sense of the true and the good that God has put in our hearts, we actually grow in inner freedom.  Paul knew such liberty while waiting to be executed. Regarding himself as a 'prisoner of Christ,' he used his incarceration to help other inmates discover what it means to be an eternally forgiven, dearly loved member of God's family (Philem. 1:10).  Barred windows and doors represented his kind of confinement.  For us, it might be physical paralysis, terminal illness, inescapable poverty, or prolonged unemployment.  Whether we are on the cusp of life or in its twilight, we will all endure imprisonments on our life journeys--Will we be able to live lovingly and freely in the midst of them????  Will we remember that true freedom is not aright, but a grace?

Reverend Mary Wagner

                              St. Valentine Faith Community
                                                              Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)