Authority

One model of authority is to rule over people. A rather clear sign of such authority is the threat or use of a weapon. The weapon might be a fist or a gun. It could be a knife or a tongue sharpened like one. Whatever its shape weapons always cut both ways. They hurt the one targeted and the one using it. The harm done the victim is obvious, so too the offender, if they are judged a criminal. Less understood is the harm done one who is deemed justified in threatening or using a weapon. What is the harm done to an NRA member brandishing open carry, a police officer who shoots an unarmed man, a nation deploying drones against civilians?

Some people in the U.S. support the ‘rule over’ authority model and the people who exercise it. Other people are concerned about an increased normalization of “rule over” and the use of violence to effect it. Which perspective we hold may say something about our status or gender or color. These qualities may also say something about how we interpret Jesus’ authority. Those who rule over people have long interpreted Jesus as authorizing their rule. So it is that Peter being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven in this Sunday’s Gospel is interpreted to authorize ‘rule over’. An entire hierarchical system has been rationalized around the interpretation. It’s odd how things Jesus never did, like rule over people or like use weapons to effect that rule, have been normalized within his faith community. It’s not only odd, it’s harmful. What is the centuries worth of harm done to members of a supremacist class that claim the right to rule over people and do so in Jesus’ name? Is it the same harm done to the gun owner, the cop, and the nation that assume such rule; is it a loss of authority?

There comes a time when authority shifts. It shifts from external to internal; from rulers who tell us what we should do to conscientious people in communion determining what is best to do. It’s entirely possible for a person to make the shift. Is it possible for larger groups, such as Ferguson Missouri or Jesus’ faith community, to make the shift? Can we shift from an oppressive external ‘rule over’ to a collaborative internal power with? Can we model for humanity how to make the shift?

Prayer: Jesus, help us to live with others and not rule over them.

Question: How do we minimize the harm done by people who cannot make the authority shift?

August 24, 2014   Gospel Matthew 16:13-20  Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Play

Jesus is more playful than we might think. This quality is apparent in his many parables when, rather than teaching dogma he offered stories and metaphors that needed to be played with so as to be understood. His verbal exchanges revealed that same playfulness. That quality is at the heart of his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Sunday’s Gospel.

Conversely, neither the Old Testament nor the deity most often portrayed within it are known for their playfulness. Religion was serious business. It made demands, such as worship; worship that Israelites, and foreigners who wanted to be more than dogs in their eyes, needed to perform. It consisted of making burnt offerings and sacrifices at Yahweh’s altar. Doesn’t sound like much fun? It apparently wasn’t of much interest to the playful Jesus who’s never described as worshipping in such a manner. When the disciples are being quite serious about getting rid of a bothersome woman and foreigner, Jesus, is perhaps, being a bit playful when he doesn’t give in to their reactions. Jesus is likely being playful with the woman as well when he doesn’t give in to what may be a reaction on her part; appearing to worship him when she calls him Lord and Son of David. Her offer of praise, true or not, does not elicit a response from Jesus, though it’s likely their repartee drew a broad smile to his face. It seems Jesus doesn’t need to be praised or to be worshipped. He never asked for it let alone demanded it. Doing so would have made Jesus a much too serious fellow.

Play is one of the best qualities we can develop as children growing up. It’s one of the best qualities we can maintain as we keep on growing. It’s all about spontaneity, imagination, and creativity; about being delightfully engaged. It energizes us and enlivens us. It’s so very different from worship that requires burnt offerings and sacrifices as to be its opposite.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to be your playful Presence with people.

Question: How could I be a bit more playful in this life?

August 17, 2014  Gospel Matthew 15:21-28  Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mystery

What is the leap of faith we make to believe in God and to believe that in Christ, God is with us? Such a leap moves us into the realm of mystery. The mystery of God is not revealed in beliefs about being judged or rewarded or punished (or being saved from all that) for such beliefs are not beliefs at all but qualities and people in the known world; i.e. judges, parents, teachers, ?ourselves?. Believing God is a heavenly version of an earthly person is not a leap of faith. It is projecting the known into the unknown.  

Mystery is the reverse. It’s experienced when the unknown permeates that which we know, or think we know. For all of the science informing us about life in the womb and in the stars, every baby born is no less miraculous, all the galaxies no less wondrous. Their mystery continues to unfold. So too the mystery that is God and our communion with God. Elijah encountered such mystery not in the tumult of storms but in a still small voice. When Peter leaps off the boat to walk across the water and meet Jesus it’s because he has heard a still small voice, “Come Peter, walk.” He does so and enters into the realm of mystery and it is miraculous and wondrous. How can it be then that the power that propels us to leap off the boat does not sustain us in our walk across the water? Do we, sometimes, have more faith in the storms surrounding us than in God who is with us; present within the quiet and within the chaos and within ourselves? What is the faith Jesus nurtured in prayer, personally lived, and encouraged for us if not faith in God who is so very much with us as to be within us?

A story is told of ancient times when humans neglected and abused Divinity. The gods became angry and decided to hide it. The first suggestion was to carry Divinity to the top of the highest mountain and hide it there.” “No, humans will eventually climb every mountain in search of it.” “Then let’s sink it in the deepest ocean.” “No, for they will learn to dive into the ocean and will find it.” “We could take Divinity into the heavens and hide it far away.” “No.” said the other gods, “In time humanity will travel to the stars and find it.” They were close to giving up as it seemed there was no place that human beings would not search for Divinity. After a pause one god said: “Here is what we will do. We will hide divinity deep in the center of their own being, for humans will never think to search for it there.”

Prayer: Dear God, we give ourselves to the mystery of your being with us by being within us.

Question: What will it take for me to believe in the spark of Divinity within?  

August 10, 204  Gospel Matthew 14:22-33  Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ache

At various times, for our own reasons we have all felt within us an ache – for something that seemed unable to be satisfied; a longing - for things to be different than they are. Often, it’s a personal ache: for a spouse to love us as they once did, to hold in our arms again a loved one who has passed away. Jesus’ heart ached for John the Baptist - murdered and gone. His heart ached for each person in the vast crowd who sought his healing touch. It seems many of us have hearts that ache for the world these days.    

Much of humanity is aching for the world to be different than it is. Our world need not consist of a Coke Cola corporation that in villages across the world owns all the water so that locals are dying of thirst – “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!” Our world doesn’t need Syrian President Assad blocking food aid to his own people who are starving to death - “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat.” Our world need not include those who bomb people flying over Ukraine and children living in Gaza – “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” Some problems seem so large, too much for us to do anything about and our hearts ache even more. We are paralyzed as the disciples were when they saw 5,000 men and so many more women and children aching to be satisfied. We tend to think there’s not much we can do - that we don’t have enough - but Jesus is there spurring us on, helping: “There is no need for them to go away; give them something yourselves.”

We always have enough because we have each other and together any ache is satisfied. Sip by sip, loaf by loaf, peacemaker by peacemaker our ache for the world to be different is satisfied.

Prayer: Dear God, give us generous hearts.

Question: Who are the family members, friends, and community folks I need to thank for keeping me going?

August 3, 2014 Gospel Matthew 14:13-21 Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Treasure

St. Lawrence, whose feast day is coming up, fits nicely with Jesus’ teaching this Sunday on the Kingdom of God as a treasure. Lawrence (?225-258) served his particular Christian faith community by caring for those who were poor; he distributed the goods of the community to people according to their need. He lived in Rome during a time Roman officials, specifically Emperor Valerian, were targeting Christians for persecution. Lawrence’s friend, Sixtus, had recently been condemned to death and was executed; the evidence suggests Sixtus was beheaded.

In addition to the officials wanting Christians dead, they also wanted any treasures they possessed. Therefore, when officials came to arrest church members and learned that Lawrence handled the community’s finances, they singled him out for attention. As the story is told, the officials told Lawrence they would be back tomorrow and demanded that he produce for them the treasures of the Church. Lawrence gave them his word he would do so. When the officials returned the next day, Lawrence said to them “I have kept my world. Here are the treasures of the church.” He then opened the doors to the community’s gathering space for the officials to see a great number of poor, leprous, lame, and blind people as well as widows and orphans. “These are the treasures of the Church.” said Lawrence. Needless to say the officials were not amused. They led Lawrence away to be executed.

Those who are poor will always recognize Jesus as their treasure, they will always gather round him as church, and they will always experience persecution. And what of we who are not poor? Who or what do we recognize as our treasure? Are we church? Will we ever experience even pushback for the faith we express?  

Prayer: Dear God, help us to treasure the least among us.

Question: What is the one treasure I seek and is it really worth my life?

July 27, 2014  Gospel Matthew 13:44-52  Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Weeds and Wheat

The story is told of a man driving a winding country road. He is almost run off it by a woman who rounds a curve too wide. As she gets back onto her side she yells at him, “Pig!” He promptly responds, “Idiot!” only to round the bend and crash into a pig. We don’t always know the circumstances of any person’s life or the benefit they have. We do know, from Jesus’ parable on weeds and wheat, that whatever or whoever we think are weeds it’s best not to respond by harming them but rather by healing them.  

Some Christians, certain they are wheat and others are weeds, sometimes respond to harm, or its believed existence, by being themselves harmful. What precipitates 57,000 children, on their own, crossing the U.S. border from the south? Could it be the 1994 NAFTA trade agreement? It destroyed Mexican and Central American economies and gutted unions so as to provide capitalist drug dealers legal cover to run corporate sweatshops and kill any workers (i.e. mothers and fathers) who oppose them? NAFTA’s 20 year reign of terror has yet to be brought into a conversation more and more dominated by militant Christians who are so sure of the harm done by children crossing a border. While the children are like the woman in the opening story experiencing danger and warning that it is ahead, for those willing to listen, Christians intent upon preserving the U.S. Empire, are on a collision course with its practices.

The basic problem with weeds is that they don’t know how to get along. They’re aggressive. They dominate nutrients and control conditions for their own benefit so that survival is difficult for other, fruitful life. It’s become an apt description of U.S. Empire and it needs the healing attention of disciples nurtured in Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, help us relinquish any characteristics of a weed and be fruitful instead.

Question: What are the weeds I can transform?

July 20, 2014 Gospel Matthew 13:24-30 Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nature

Jesus’ deep connection with nature is apparent in his parables. That’s the case this Sunday with his parable about the sower, the seeds, and the ground on which the seeds fall. The wise people listening knew Jesus was speaking truths about nature as well as truths about humanity. 

People who are wise are like nature. For instance, they take their time. They care enough to take the time to see, to hear, and to understand so as to nourish others - in the same way seeds and soil and seasons take their time to nourish life. When we’re in the presence of people and nature who take their time we feel at peace. Perhaps wise people are like nature because they like nature. They like planting seeds and watching in awe as the miracle of life emerges. They like listening to birds as they sing to each other so that the concerns of those who are most fragile in the world resonate within them. They like participating in the gentle changing of the seasons and thus come to understand the dyings and risings that happen to us in this life. There seems to be a shared nature between the two. And what is to be made of people who are not at peace and nature that seems to be more and more violent? Do they too share a nature? 

It seems all creation is groaning as something is being born in this world. A longing for peace is emerging; it’s beautiful, gentle and in our nature as human beings as it was in Jesus’ nature. People who have let anxiety, frustration, and anger overtake their own peaceful nature seem to be resisting the whole world’s peaceful nature. How can we invite them to live from their deeper nature? 

Prayer: Dear Creator, such beauty surrounds us; thank you.

Question: What can I do to live in peace with my own nature and with nature itself?

July 13, 2014 Gospel Matthew 13:1-23 Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Dependence

Often hidden from we who are clever and learned is the truth that we live in dependence. Being clever, for example about accumulating money, or being learned, for example in book knowledge, can obscure that truth. Wealth and knowledge tempt us toward self-reliance, even toward using our wealth and knowledge as weapons against other people. Little ones know we need each other. Our lives depend upon the resources and information we share. Withholding such things is cruel.

That cruelty by the clever and learned against little ones is very apparent in Detroit these days. Wealthy unelected officials overrode constitutional law to rob public employees of pension and health benefits. The officials claimed the workers benefits were impoverishing the city and filed for bankruptcy. In truth, the money the workers put in is being systematically stolen. In part, it was such money, trillions of dollars’ worth from these worker’s funds and others across the U.S., which was used in the Wall Street bail out. As the city’s little ones are now suffering under austerity measures the city’s wealthy and learned officials, including bank owners holding the bankruptcy note, are reporting staggering profits. Last week, these same officials shut off water to thousands of residents. Such is the burden placed on little ones by those who are clever and learned.

Looking up to others can be helpful, especially when we’re young, so long as we learn character traits such as service and kindness. Sometimes looking up to others devolves into valuing superficialities such as wealth and scheming. There comes a time when we need to look across; to those who share lives lived in dependence. It is the easy yoke and light burden Jesus knew who was also a little one yoked to other little ones.

Prayer: Dear God, keep us humble, open to child-like vulnerability.

Question: Who are the little ones burdened by suffering to whom I can reach out?  

July 6, 2014 Gospel Matthew 11:25-30 Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 4th weekend)

Church

People’s Movements usually start in someone’s house, around the kitchen table and all its free flowing conversations. Little by little such movements spread, until those imprisoned by empire - its bureaucracies, boardrooms, and bunkers - do what they can to crush them. It’s what those imprisoned by empire did to Jesus, Peter and Paul, union families at Ludlow, Dr. King, Chico Mendez, and the list goes on.

House is the original meaning of church. To believe Jesus started a church means Jesus started a house, a People’s House. It flows freely from the communion, love, and healing power we share in Christ. It’s a House to which all are invited and from which all are sent out. We’re sent out in communion to transform empire’s divisions - for wealth and supremacy. We’re sent out in love to transform empire’s belief that suffering is deserved – for those who are poor and hungry. We’re sent out with healing power to transform empire’s blood lust – for executions and wars. And the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against us. Those imprisoned by that which is deadening may do us harm but they shall not ultimately prevail against the People’s House and our transformation of the world.

In Christ, church is no longer a building - an enlarged Ark or Tabernacle – and God is no longer imprisoned within it whose Presence is accessed through a priestly class in possession of its keys. In Christ, church is the people, commoners like Peter, who receive and share God’s Presence freely throughout the world.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to live as one family, members of one household.  

Question: What are some old ideas of church or of God that keep me imprisoned?

June 29, 2014 Gospel Matthew 16:13-19  Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Bread of Life

Jesus is the Bread of Life, a source of nourishment shared for all, and calls disciples to be the same. Helping to nourish people, specifically ensuring that people have physical as well as spiritual nourishment, is a basic ingredient of discipleship in Christ. As author Monika Hellwig wrote, disciples learned that to be true to Jesus they “should touch the lives of the hungry of the world with authentic and generous compassion, drawing on the bread of life that is Jesus, to become themselves bread of life for the needy.”

Touching other people’s lives with authentic and generous compassion is always shown to be more true of those who are poor or in need than those who are wealthy. While wealthy people are acquiring money and using people to get it, people of average and lower economic status are living lives of basic interdependence. We understand each other’s needs and share what we have with each other. A poor and interconnected way of life expressive of discipleship in Christ is not valued by wealthy people however, who exert a negative influence upon the faith. Their influence explains the ridicule and quick death inflicted upon Pope Francis’ recent exhortation in which he said such things as: the Joy of the Gospel “means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty … as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter.” (#188) Also, “(L)oving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person …  Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor.” (#199) 

The truth of Jesus as the Bread of Live is that we are all one Body, nourished together. Eucharist is not an extraordinary ritual to commemorate a past event but rather a daily communion in which we are nourished by a generous God so as to be ourselves nourishment for others.   

Prayer: God of all Goodness, thank you for the nourishment we are given every day.

Question: How do I experience myself as living Jesus’ witness as the bread of life?

June 22, 2014  Gospel John 6:51-58 Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ