Overcoming the Trickery of Evil
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” Matthew 22:15-18
The Pharisees were “hypocrites” filled with “malice.” They were also cowards in that they would not even act on their own malicious plot. Instead, they sent some of their own disciples to try to trap Jesus. From the point of view of worldly wisdom, they set a very good trap. Most likely, the Pharisees sat and discussed this plot in great detail, instructing these messengers on exactly what to say.
They began by complimenting Jesus telling Him they know He is a “truthful man.” They then go on to say that they know Jesus is “not concerned with anyone’s opinion.” These two accurate qualities of Jesus are spoken because the Pharisees believe they can use them as the foundation of their trap. If Jesus is truthful and not concerned about others’ opinions then surely they expect Him to declare that there is no need to pay the temple tax. The result of such a statement by Jesus would be that He would be arrested by the Romans.
The sad truth is that the Pharisees spend a tremendous amount of energy plotting and planning this malicious trap. What a waste of time! And the glorious truth is that Jesus spends hardly any energy dismantling their plot and revealing them for the malicious hypocrites they are. He states, “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21).
In our own lives, there are times when we may find ourselves face to face with the malicious intent and plotting of another. Though this may be rare for some, it does happen. Oftentimes, the effect of such a plot is that we become deeply disturbed and lose our peace. But Jesus endured such malice so as to show us the way to handle the attacks and traps we may encounter in life. The answer is to stay grounded in the Truth and to respond with the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom penetrates and foils every human act of malice and trickery. God’s wisdom is able to overcome everything.
Reflect, today, upon how deeply you trust the wisdom of God to guide you through life. You cannot make it on your own. There are traps and snares that will inevitably come your way. Trust in His wisdom and abandon yourself to His perfect will and you will find that He will guide you every step of the way.
Lord of all wisdom, I entrust my life to Your perfect wisdom and care. Protect me from all trickery and guard me from the plots of the evil one. Jesus, I trust in You.
A True Leader
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Jesus summoned the twelve and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Mark 10:42-44
This is certainly easier said than done. This passage reveals one serious temptation that those “who are recognized as rulers” may fall into. This is the temptation of an abuse of power and a lack of humble leadership.
For example, tradition states that at the heart of the fall of lucifer and the demons was a desire for power. “I will not serve” are the words attributed to lucifer. In other words, the desire for power and to be served by others was real and very powerful for these fallen angels. So it is with each one of us.
Though we may not be in a position of great power over others, we will most likely all struggle with the desire for power. This can happen in just about any context. Take, for example, a friendship. Very often when there is the slightest disagreement on something, we want our own way. We want to be in charge. Or take the example of home life. How many enter into family life with a desire to serve the others and to humbly submit to the others’ wills? This is hard to do. It’s much easier to want to be the boss and to dictate to others what is to happen in this or that situation.
In the passage above, Jesus makes it clear to His Apostles that when they exercise their “authority” over others they are not to make it “felt” by others. In other words, Jesus was not calling His Apostles to be leaders by brute force, intimidation, manipulation or by any other severe exercise of their authority. The authority that Jesus wanted was much different.
Christian authority is centered in love and humility. It’s a “leadership” that is lived in true humility. This leadership wins over hearts, minds and wills of others and invites them to follow in charity and love. This must happen within the family, among friends, at church and within society.
Reflect, today, upon how you lead others. Do you expect to be the “boss” and expect others to follow you because of your authority? Or do you lead others by humility and love drawing them to Christ through your goodness? Commit yourself to Christian leadership as Jesus intended and you will be amazed at the effect it has within your family, among friends and within the larger community.
Lord of perfect kindness, help me to be a humble leader. Help me to let Your heart of love and mercy shine forth and to lead by the goodness and kindness of Your merciful heart. Help me to set aside all pride and egotism and to become a servant of all. Jesus, I trust in You.
Persistence in Prayer
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
“…because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” Luke 18:5
This passage is from the story of the Persistent Widow. She kept coming to a judge, who cared little about doing the right thing, and persistently begged him for a good judgment. Finally he gave in so as to get her to leave him alone.
Jesus used this story to teach a lesson about the necessity “to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). It’s interesting that the image of the judge is one “who neither feared God nor respected any human being” (Luke 18:2). But Jesus uses this image of an unjust judge to reveal the power of persistence and to reveal the depths of God’s mercy.
First, we learn that this woman never gave up. So with us, we must never cease to lose hope in prayer. We must pray always, constantly and persistently. It’s not that prayer changes God; rather, prayer changes us and disposes us to receive the immeasurable graces from God.
Second, we learn that if an uncaring judge will eventually give a good decision, then so much more will the merciful and all-loving God pour forth His good judgments in our lives when we trust Him. There should be no doubt in our lives that God can do all good things for us if we but let Him.
Reflect, today, upon how persistent you are in your prayer. The prayer you must seek to live is primarily a prayer of total trust and abandonment to God. You do not change God’s mind by begging Him. Rather, your prayer must be so persistent that it opens you to the will of God and allows His grace to flow in accord with His perfect will.
Lord, I beg of You that Your perfect and holy will be done in my life. I abandon all to You, dear Lord. Do with me as You will. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
“‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” Luke 12:20-21
This passage is the response from God to one who decides to make worldly wealth his goal. In this parable, the rich man had such a bountiful harvest that he decided to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones so as to store the harvest. Little did this man realize that his life would soon come to an end and that all he stored up would never be used by him.
The contrast in this parable is between an abundance of earthly wealth and wealth in what matters to God. Sure, it may be possible to be rich in both, but accomplishing this would be quite difficult.
One straightforward challenge of this Gospel is to eliminate the desire for material wealth. This is hard to do. It’s not that material wealth is evil, it’s just that it is a serious temptation. The temptation is to trust in material things for satisfaction rather than trusting only in God. Material wealth should be understood to be a true temptation that must be kept in check.
Reflect, today, upon your desire for wealth. Let this Gospel offer you a straightforward challenge regarding your desire for riches. Be honest and look into your heart. Do you spend much time thinking about money and material possessions? Seek God above all things and let Him alone be your satisfaction.
Lord of true riches, I desire to be truly rich in grace and mercy rather than in material things. Help me to always keep the proper priorities in life and to be purified in all of my desires. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Luke 12:35-36
The key here is that we are to “open immediately” when Jesus comes and knocks on the door of our heart. This passage reveals the disposition that we are to have in our hearts regarding the way Christ comes to us, by grace, and “knocks.”
Jesus is knocking on your heart. He is continually coming to you seeking to come in and recline with you so as to converse, strengthen, heal and help. The question to honestly ponder is whether or not you are ready to let Him in immediately. Too often we hesitate in our encounter with Christ. Too often we want to know the full plan for our lives before we are willing to submit and surrender.
What we must come to know is that Jesus is trustworthy in every way. He has the perfect answer to every question we have and He has the perfect plan for every aspect of our lives. Do you believe this? Do you accept this as true? Once we accept this truth we will be better prepared to open the door of our heart at the first prompting of grace. We will be prepared to be immediately attentive to all that Jesus wants to say to us and to the grace He wants to give us.
Reflect, today, upon how ready you are to open immediately every part of your life to the grace and will of God. Let Him in with great joy and enthusiasm and let His plan continue to unfold in your life.
Lord, I do wish to let You into my life more deeply each and every day. I desire to hear Your voice and respond generously. Give me the grace to respond to You as I ought. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Habit of Prayer
Wednesday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Luke 12:39-40
This Scripture offers us an invitation. It can be said that Jesus comes to us at an unexpected hour in two ways.
First, we know that He will return one day in glory to judge the living and the dead. His Second Coming is real and we should be aware of the fact that it could happen at any time. Sure, it may not happen for many years, or even for many hundreds of years, but it will happen. There will be one moment when the world as it is will end and the new order will be established. Ideally, we live each and every day in anticipation of that day and that moment. We must live in such a way that we are always ready for that end.
Second, we must realize that Jesus does come to us, continually, by grace. Traditionally, we speak of His two comings: 1) His Incarnation, and 2) His return in glory. But there is a third coming we can speak of which is His coming by grace into our lives. And this coming is quite real and should be something to which we are continually attentive. His coming by grace requires that we be continually “prepared” to meet Him. If we are not prepared, we can be certain we will miss Him. How do we prepare for this coming by grace? We prepare first and foremost by fostering a daily habit of interior prayer. An interior habit of prayer means we are, in a sense, always praying. It means that no matter what we do each and every day, our minds and hearts are always turned toward God. It’s like breathing. We always do it and do it without even thinking about it. Prayer must become just as much of a habit as breathing. It must be central to who we are and how we live.
Reflect, today, upon your life of prayer. Know that the moments you dedicate exclusively to prayer each day are essential to your holiness and relationship with God. And know that those moments must help to build a habit of always being attentive to God. Being prepared this way will allow you to meet Christ at every moment that He comes to you by grace.
Lord, help me to foster in my heart a life of prayer. Help me to seek You always and to always be prepared for You when You come. Jesus, I trust in You.
Peace on Earth?
Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Luke 12:51-53
Yes, this is a shocking Scripture at first. Why would Jesus say that He came to establish not peace but division? This does not at all sound like something He would say. And then to go on saying that family members will be divided against each other is even more confusing. So what is this about?
This passage reveals one of the unintended but permitted effects of the Gospel. Sometimes the Gospel brings about a certain disunity. Throughout history, for example, Christians have been severely persecuted for their faith. The example of many martyrs reveals that those who live the faith and preach it may become the target of another.
In our world today, there are Christians who are persecuted simply for being Christian. And in some cultures, Christians are severely mistreated for speaking out regarding certain moral truths of the faith. As a result, the proclamation of the Gospel can at times bring about a certain disunity.
But the real cause of any disunity is the refusal on the part of some to accept the truth. Do not be afraid of holding fast to the truths of our faith regardless of the reactions of others. If you are hated or mistreated as a result, do not let yourself give in to compromise for the sake of “peace at all costs.” That form of peace is not from God and will never bring about true unity in Christ.
Reflect, today, upon whether or not you struggle with compromising your faith when it is challenged by others. Know that God wants you to choose Him and His holy will above every other relationship in life.
Lord, give me grace to keep my eyes on You and Your will and to choose You above everything else in life. When my faith is challenged, give me courage and strength to stay strong in Your love. Jesus, I trust in You.
Interpreting Our Present Time
Friday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Luke 12:54-56
Do you know how to interpret the present time? It is important for us, as followers of Christ, to be able to look honestly at our cultures, societies and world as a whole and interpret it honestly and accurately. We need to be able to discern the goodness and the presence of God in our world and we need to also be able to identify and interpret the workings of the evil one in our present time. How well do you do that?
One of the tactics of the evil one is the use of manipulation and lies. The evil one seeks to confuse us in countless ways. These lies may come through the media, through our political leaders and, at times, even through some religious leaders. The evil one loves it when there is division and disorder of every kind.
So what do we do if we want to be able to “interpret the present time?” We must wholeheartedly commit ourselves to the Truth. We must seek Jesus above all things through prayer and allow His presence in our lives to help us sort out what is from Him and what is not.
Our societies present us with countless moral choices, so we may find ourselves being drawn here and there. We can find that our minds are challenged and, at times, find that even the most basic truths of humanity are attacked and distorted. Take, for example, abortion, euthanasia and traditional marriage. These moral teachings of our faith are continually under attack within the various cultures of our world. The very dignity of the human person and the dignity of the family as God designed it are called into question and directly challenged. Another example of confusion within our world today is the love of money. So many people are caught up in the desire for material wealth and have been drawn into the lie that this is the way to happiness. Interpreting the present time means we see through any and every confusion of our day and age. It means we see the cultural and moral errors for what they are.
Reflect, today, upon whether or not you are willing and able to let the Holy Spirit cut through the confusion so manifestly present all around us. Are you ready to allow the Holy Spirit of Truth to penetrate your mind and lead you into all truth? Seeking the truth in our present time is the only way to survive the many errors and confusions thrown at us each day.
Lord of Truth, help me to interpret the present time and to see the errors fostered all around us, as well as Your goodness manifest in so many ways. Give me courage and wisdom so that I may reject what is evil and seek that which is from You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Cultivating Our Souls
Saturday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
“‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:7-9
This is an image that reflects our souls many times. Often in life we can fall into a rut and our relationship with God and others struggles. As a result, our lives bear little or no good fruit.
Perhaps this is not you at the present moment, but perhaps it is. Perhaps your life is strongly grounded in Christ or perhaps you are greatly struggling. If you are struggling, try to see yourself as this fig tree. And try to see the person who commits to “cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it” as Jesus Himself.
It’s important to note that Jesus does not look at this fig tree and discard it as worthless. He is a God of second chances and He is committed to caring for this fig tree in such a way as to offer it every necessary opportunity to bear fruit. So it is with us. Jesus never just throws us away, regardless of how far we have strayed. He is always ready and willing to reach out to us in the ways we need so that our lives can once again bear much fruit.
Reflect, today, upon whether you feel as though you are in need of allowing Jesus to “cultivate the ground” around you. Do not be afraid to let Him provide you with the nourishment you need so as to once again bear an abundance of good fruit in your life.
Lord, I know that I always am in need of Your love and care in my life. I need to be nourished by You so that I can bear the fruit that You desire from me. Help me to be open to the ways in which You wish to nourish my soul so that I can accomplish all that You have in mind for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
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