Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Believing is Doing

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Matthew 7:24

Let’s start with the image Jesus gives of a house built on rock.  This is an important image and one that merits prayerful meditation.

First, imagine a house built on sand, by the shore of the sea.  Those who understand the importance of a solid foundation will immediately be aware of the fact that such a house is in grave danger the moment a storm comes or when the sea rises.  The foundation will be washed away and the house will fall into ruins.

Jesus makes it clear, in today’s Gospel, that a house built on solid rock will endure the rain, floods and winds.  In contrast, the house built on sand will completely collapse under the same conditions.

It’s helpful to see the stark contrast of these two houses and to understand clearly that the foundation Jesus is speaking of is twofold.  First, we build the “house” of our soul on solid rock when we “listen” to the Word of God.  Secondly, we build on solid rock when we “act” on what we listen to.

Listening: This is hard to do.  Listening implies more than hearing; it also implies comprehending.  Comprehending means you have internalized that which Jesus speaks to you.  You grasp what He says and allow it to sink in.

Acting: But comprehending and internalizing the Gospel is not enough.  A life of authentic faith also requires that you fully submit to that which you comprehend.  It means you let what you hear have a definitive effect upon your actions.  You become a changed person as a result of your reception of the Word of God.  Truth be told, it’s much easier to believe the Gospel than it is to live it.

However, when one fully embraces the Gospel, intellectually and willfully, the person’s life becomes strong and stable and immovable by any hardship encountered in life.

Reflect, today, upon how fully you have internalized the Word of God both in your mind and in your actions.  You will most certainly see areas for improvement if you are honest.  Where you do see lackings, allow the Lord in so that He can solidify the foundation of your life.

Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.  Help me to have a faith in You that moves beyond my mere convictions and into my daily actions.  Please come and transform my life that I may be a living instrument of Your holy Word.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Scrupulosity

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain.  At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Mark 2:23-24

What a heavy burden this was for the Pharisees.  They were obsessed with the law which led them to misinterpret its holy and authentic meaning.  This was far more of a personal burden to them than it was to those whom they judged.

From one point of view, the disciples were breaking the law of the Sabbath.  Picking grains of wheat was considered, by the Pharisees, as work.  Work was not permitted on the sabbath and, therefore, the disciples were breaking the sabbath and sinning.  This interpretation on the part of the Pharisees was based on confusion and Jesus quickly corrects them later in the passage.

What’s helpful to consider are the possible causes of this erroneous judgment of the Pharisees.  Why did they condemn the disciples and misrepresent the authentic meaning of the sabbath law of rest?  Though it’s not possible to know with certainty the interior motivation they had, it is possible to look at a couple common tendencies so as to consider whether we struggle with similar tendencies.

First, there is the tendency toward scrupulosity.  This heavy burden stems from a self-centered fear rather than an honest understanding of the love, mercy and truth of God.  Scrupulosity leads a person to become obsessed with their own “goodness” in such a way that true goodness is confused.  The scrupulous person falls into the trap of thinking that holiness is more dependent upon them than upon the mercy and grace of God.  In other words, the scrupulous person becomes obsessed with themselves.  The Pharisees, in particular, appeared to think that their extreme attention to their perception of the external dictates of the law is what made them holy.  In doing so, they missed the point of God’s law.

Second, their judgment appears to take on an even worse error in that they use their own obsessive approach to the law as a tool through which they judge the actions of the disciples.  They most likely do so out of jealousy and envy.  This is an ugly sin and, as mentioned above, does far more damage to them than to the disciples.  It led them to be constantly attentive to pointing out what they perceived as violations of God’s law.  This was not their responsibility.

Reflect, today, upon any tendencies you have toward judging others based on your own scrupulous “observance” of the laws of God.  Judging is not our responsibility, it is God’s.  Our duty is love: Love of God first and foremost, and love of neighbor flowing from our love of God.  If you find yourself obsessed with the apparent sins of others you may be falling into the same sin as the Pharisees.

Lord, please free me from being judgmental and scrupulous.  Help me to see the true beauty of Your divine law of love and to live it only in the way You direct.  Help me to be a person of true compassion for all.  Jesus, I trust in You.


The Humility of Jesus

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

When Jesus had finished all his words to the people, he entered Capernaum.  A centurionthere had a slave who was ill and about to die, and he was valuable to him.  When he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and save the life of his slave.  They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying, “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.”  Luke 7:1-5

Did this centurion truly “deserve” to have Jesus come and perform a miracle for him?  Did he have a right to Jesus’ mercy?  Certainly not.  No one has a right to anything from God.  Yet, the servants who came to ask Jesus for this healing spoke as if this man were of a privileged class because he had given much money and resources for the building of the synagogue.

Jesus could have responded by saying, “No one deserves anything from me.  All is a gift and unless you humbly acknowledge that fact I will not come.”  Of course, Jesus was far too humble to be offended by these demands of the centurion’s servants.  So He quietly and humbly began His journey to heal the servant.

Though the central message of this passage is the miracle and ultimately the humility of the centurion himself, we should not miss the fact that Jesus was willing to go and heal even though those asking failed to grasp the truth that no one has a right to grace.  But this only highlights the beautiful mercy of God in that He is willing to love us despite our lack of understanding.

The story does unfold in a powerful way when the centurion reveals his own humility by sending other messengers to Jesus, saying that he is not worthy to have Jesus come to him.  The centurion states, “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.”  Instead, he asks Jesus to simply say the word from a distance so that his servant would be healed.  Jesus is amazed at his faith and quickly heals the servant from a distance.

The key to this passage is humility: first, the humility of Jesus and, second, the humilityof the centurion. 

Reflect, today, upon whether you have this same depth of humility.  Do you find yourself being demanding of God’s mercy?  Do you feel as though you have a right to His grace?  Or are you aware of the truth, namely, that all is a gift and all is a grace.  Seek to humble yourself before God and He will not let that humility go unrewarded.

Lord, I am truly not worthy of You and Your mercy in my life.  I acknowledge that anything You choose to give me is a free gift given out of Your goodness.  Help me to humble myself before You every day and to trust in Your abundant goodness.  Jesus, I trust in You.


The Justice of God

Monday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

“He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’  But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come, put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others.”  Mark 12:6-9

We see in this passage a clear sign of the justice of God!

The first thing to point out is that the evil tenants initially do succeed.  They kill one after another, and then when the owner of the vineyard sends his only son, the evil tenants kill him thinking they will inherit the vineyard. 

This is obviously a story about the Father sending His Son into the world.  The religious leaders of the time were envious and jealous and wanted to remain in power.  As a result, they put their evil plot into motion, killing Jesus in hopes that they would eliminate Him as the Messiah and new King of Israel, thus retaining their religious power.

But what they forgot about was the justice of God.  In the end, God’s justice always prevails.  God will sort all things out and will distribute His justice and mercy in accord with the heart of each person. 

This reveals two important lessons for us.  First, it reveals that, in the moment, evil can seem to win.  We experience this in countless ways.  We experience a lack of justice, persecution and hurt.  At times we can feel discouraged by the apparent triumph of evil all around us and can fall into despair. 

However, we must also remember in those times, more than any, to hold on to the hope of the ultimate triumph of divine justice!  In the end, God will win.  And in the end, all that matters is the final result.  Therefore, from the perspective of eternity, all that matters is that we remain faithful and hopeful in God.  We must always strive to move past any apparent injustice we encounter.  Yes, when God inspires us to confront evil here and now, we must do it.  But we must also remember that, in God’s perfect wisdom, there are times when He finds it better to allow injustice to have its way.  This can be hard to fathom and accept.  But we must hold on to the hope of God’s final fidelity and the ultimate triumph of His Truth.

Reflect, today, upon the ultimate triumph of divine justice.  If you find yourself discouraged by some injustice or hardship, try to turn your eyes to the final victory in Christ.  Know that God will ultimately bring forth perfect justice.  At that time, you will be grateful that you held on to hope in that promise.

Lord, when I am down and discouraged and witness oppression and injustice in my life, help me to turn my eyes to You and retain hope.  May I always have hope in You and faith in Your perfect fidelity.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Navigating the Snares of Life

Tuesday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”  Mark 12:14a

This statement was made by some of the Pharisees and Herodians who were sent to “ensnare” Jesus in His speech.  They act in a sneaky and cunning way to draw Jesus in.  They are trying to get Him to speak in opposition to Caesar so that they can get Him in trouble with the Roman authorities.  But interestingly, what they say of Jesus is quite true and is a great virtue. 

They say two things that highlight Jesus’ virtues of humility and sincerity: 1) “You are not concerned with anyone’s opinion;” 2) “You do not regard a person’s status.”  Of course they went on to then try and trick Him into breaking Roman law.  Jesus does not fall for their trick and does outsmart them in the end.

However, these virtues are good for us to reflect upon because we should strive to have them alive in our own lives.  First, we should not be concerned with others’ opinions.  But this must be properly understood.  Sure, it’s important to listen to others and to consult them and to be open minded.  Other people’s insights can be crucial to making good decisions in life.  But what we should avoid is the danger of allowing others to dictate our actions out of fear.  Sometimes the “opinions” of others are negative and wrong.  We can all experience peer pressure in various ways.  Jesus never gave in to the false opinions of others nor did He allow the pressure of those opinions to change how He acted.

Secondly, they point out that Jesus does not allow the “status” of another to influence Him.  Again, this is a virtue.  What we have to know is that all people are equal in the mind of God.  A position of power or influence does not necessarily make one person more correct than another.  What’s important is the sincerity, integrity and truthfulness of each person.  Jesus exercised this virtue perfectly.

Reflect, today, upon whether these words could also be said about you.  Strive to learn from the statement of these Pharisees and Herodians; strive to live a life of integrity and humility.  If you do so, you will also be given a share in the wisdom of Jesus so as to navigate the most difficult snares of life.

Lord, I do want to be a person of honesty and integrity.  I want to listen to the good advice of others but not be influenced by the errors or pressures that may also come my way.  Help me to always seek You and Your truth in all things.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Knowing the Mind of God

Wednesday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”  Mark 12:24

This Scripture comes from the passage where some Sadducees were trying to trap Jesus in His speech.  This has been a common theme in the daily readings as of late.  Jesus’ answer is one that cuts to the heart of the problem.  He does clear up their confusion, but He starts by simply laying down the clear truth that the Sadducees are misled because they do not know either the Scriptures or the power of God.  This should give us reason to pause and look at our own understanding of the Scriptures and the power of God.

It is easy to try and figure life out on our own.  We can think and think and think and try to analyze why this happened or that.  We can try to analyze others actions or even our own.  And often times in the end, we are just as confused and “misled” as when we began. 

If you find yourself in such a confusing situation about anything you are trying to understand about life, perhaps it’s good to sit and listen to those words of Jesus spoken as if they were spoken to you.

These words should not be taken as a harsh criticism or rebuke.  Rather, they should be taken as a blessed insight from Jesus to help us step back and realize that we are often misled about the things of life.  It’s very easy to let emotion and errors cloud our thinking and reasoning and lead us down the wrong path.  So what do we do?

When we find ourselves feeling “misled” or when we realize we do not really understand God or His power at work, we should stop and take a step back so that we can pray and seek what God has to say.

Interestingly, praying is not the same as thinking.  Sure, we need to use our mind to ponder the things of God, but “thinking, thinking, and more thinking” is not always the way to the correct understanding.  Thinking is not prayer.  We often do not understand that. 

A regular goal we must have is to step back in humility and acknowledge to God and ourselves that we do not understand His ways and will.  We must strive to silence our active thoughts and set aside all preconceived notions of what is right and wrong.  In our humility, we need to sit and listen and wait on the Lord to take the lead.  If we can let go of our constant attempts to “figure it out” we may find that God will figure it out for us and shed the light that we need.  The Sadducees struggled with a certain pride and arrogance which clouded their thinking and led to self-righteousness.  Jesus attempts to gently but firmly redirect them to clear thinking. 

Reflect, today, upon whether you are struggling in any way with misleading and confusing thoughts.  Humble yourself so that Jesus can redirect your thinking and help you to arrive at the truth.

Lord, I do want to know the truth.  At times I can allow myself to be misled.  Help me to humble myself before You so that You can take the lead.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Love Must be Contagious

Thursday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Mark 12:30-31b

It’s interesting to see how these two great commandments go together!

First of all, the commandment to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength is pretty straight forward.  The key to understanding this is that it’s an all-consuming and total love.  Nothing can be held back from loving God.  Every part of our being must be fully dedicated to the love of God. 

Though much could be said about that love so as to understand it in a deeper and deeper way, it’s also important to see the link between the First and Second Commandments.  Together, these two commandments summarize the Ten Commandments given by Moses.  But the link between the two is essential to understand.

The Second Commandment says you must “love your neighbor as yourself.”  So this begs the question, “How do I love myself?”  The answer to that is found in the First Commandment.  First and foremost, we love ourselves by loving God with all we have and all we are.  Loving God is the best thing we can do for ourselves and, therefore, is the key to loving ourselves. 

The connection, then, between the two commandments is that loving our neighbor as we love ourselves means that everything we do for others should help them to love God with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength.  This is done by our words, but especially by our influence.

When we love God with everything, our love of God will be contagious. Others will see our love of God, our passion for Him, our desire for Him, our devotion and our commitment.  They will see it and be attracted to it.  They will be attracted to it because love of God is in fact very attractive.  Witnessing this sort of love inspires others and makes them want to imitate our love.

So reflect, today, on how deep your love of God is.  Just as importantly, reflect upon how well you let that love of God shine forth for others to see.  You should be very free in letting your love of God be lived and expressed in an open way.  When you do so, others will see this and you will be loving them as you love yourself.

Lord, help me to follow these commandments of love.  Help me to love You with my whole being.  And in that love of You, help me to share that love with others.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Delight in the Lord

Friday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

The great crowd heard this with delight.  Mark 12:37b

This passage comes from the end of today’s Gospel.  Jesus just gave a teaching to the crowd and they listened to it “with delight.”  Jesus’ teaching produced much pleasure in their souls.

This is a common reaction to the teaching and presence of Jesus in our lives.  The Psalms are filled with images like this.  “I delight in the Lord.”  “How sweet are Your words.”  “I delight in Your commands.”  These and many other references reveal one of the effects of Jesus’ words and presence in our lives.  His word and His presence in our lives is extraordinarily pleasurable.

This fact begs the question, “Do I delight in Jesus’ words?”  Too often we see the words of Christ as a burden, restriction or limitation to what we want in life.  For that reason, we can often see the will of God as something difficult and burdensome.  Truth be told, if our hearts are rooted in sin or in the pleasures of the world, then the words of our Lord may sting and feel like a burden to us.  But that’s just because we find them in contradiction to the many unhealthy things we become attached to. 

If you find that the Word of God, Jesus’ words, are hard to hear, then you are starting to head down the right road.  You are starting to let His Word “do battle,” so to speak, with the many other lures and enticements that ultimately only leave us dry and empty.  This is the first step to being able to delight in the Lord and His words.

The good news is that if you can allow His Word to cut through the many unhealthy attachments you have in life, you will begin to discover that you greatly love His Word and delight in His presence in your life.  You will begin to discover that the pleasure and delight you experience from His presence in your life far outweighs any other passing attachment or pleasure you may have. Even sin can produce a false sense of satisfaction.  In that case, the satisfaction is more like a drug that soon wears off.  The delight of the Lord is something that continually draws you higher and fulfills you more deeply every day.

Spend time, today, pondering whether or not you truly do allow yourself to be filled with delight in the Lord’s presence and His words.  Try to taste their sweetness.  Try to let yourself be drawn in.  Once “hooked,” you will seek Him all the more.

Lord, I desire to delight in You.  Help me to turn away from the many attractions and enticements of this world.  Help me to seek You and Your Word always.  In the discovery of Your Word, fill my soul with the greatest delight.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Spiritual vs. Material Wealth

Saturday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”  Mark 12:43-44

All she put into the basket was two small coins worth only a few cents.  Yet Jesus declares that she put in more than all the rest.  Are you buying that?  It’s hard to accept that it’s true.  Our tendency is to think of the monetary value of the large sums of money being deposited before this poor widow’s.  Those deposits are far more desirable than the two small coins she put in.  Right?  Or not?

If we take Jesus at His word then we should be far more grateful for the widow’s two coins than the large sums of money deposited before her.  That’s not to say that the large sums of money were not good and generous gifts.  They most likely were.  God took those gifts also and used them. 

But here Jesus is highlighting a contrast between spiritual wealth and material wealth.  And He’s saying that spiritual wealth, and spiritual generosity, is of far greater importance than material wealth, and material generosity.  The poor widow was materially poor but spiritually rich.  Those wi
th the large sums of money were materially rich, but spiritually poorer than the widow. 

In the materialistic society we live in, it’s hard to believe this.  It’s very hard to make the conscious choice to embrace spiritual wealth as a far greater blessing.  Why is this hard?  Because in order to embrace spiritual wealth one must give up everything.  We must all become this poor widow and contribute all we have, our “whole livelihood.” 

Now, some may immediately react to this statement as extreme.  It’s not extreme.  There is nothing wrong with being blessed with material wealth, but there is something wrong with being attached to it.  What is essential is an interior disposition which imitates the generosity and spiritual poverty of this poor widow.  She wanted to give and she wanted to make a difference.  So she gave all she had.

Each person must discern how this looks practically in their lives.  This doesn’t mean that everyone must literally sell all they have and go become a monk.  But it does mean that everyone must have an interior disposition of complete generosity and detachment.  From there, the Lord will show you how to use the material things within your possession for your greatest good, as well as the good of others.

Reflect, today, upon the contrast of these two forms of wealth and choose that which lasts for eternity.  Give all you have and all you are to our Lord and allow Him to direct the generosity of your heart in accord with His perfect will.

Lord, please give me the generous and selfless heart of this poor widow.  Help me to look for ways that I am called to give completely of myself to You, holding nothing back, seeking above all the spiritual riches of Your Kingdom.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

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