ELEVENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
The Wonders of God’s Kingdom
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” Mark 4:26–27
What a beautiful image of the sprouting, growing and coming to fruition of the Kingdom of God in our midst!
God wills that His Kingdom come. We pray this in the Lord’s Prayer. What does it mean when we pray for His Kingdom to come? First, it means that God wants to come and dwell within us, establishing His Kingdom within our hearts and souls. We must become living members of His Kingdom, and He must be our Ruler and Guide.
Second, we understand this to be the establishment of His laws and will in our world. This means that the social, political and cultural order must be transformed by God’s grace so as to participate in and bear the fruit of His Kingdom. We have work to do!
Third, it means that we anticipate the final and glorious coming of His Kingdom when Jesus returns in splendor and majesty. In the end, all things will be transformed, and God will bring forth His final judgment upon the world, making all things new.
But this passage above especially reveals to us “how” this will happen. It reveals that God’s Kingdom will slowly, gently and miraculously take hold. This will happen in our lives, it will happen in our world as we Christians commit ourselves to this work, and it will miraculously happen at the end of time when Jesus returns.
Think about this image Jesus gives us. The farmer plants the seed and slowly it sprouts, grows and produces fruit. As this happens, the farmer “knows not how.”
Reflect, today, upon the mysterious ways that God establishes His Kingdom. He is in charge of it first and foremost. But you must do your part. You must make your heart and world around you fertile ground. You must plant the seed, water it as needed but then let God do His part. God wants to bring forth His Kingdom in your life and in the world far more than any of us. But if you do your part, you also will be amazed as you watch grow His glorious handiwork of grace.
Lord, help my heart to be fertile soil for Your Kingdom. Help me to allow You to grow Your Kingdom in my heart and help me to be an instrument of that Kingdom in our world. Jesus, I trust in You.
A New Depth of Mercy
Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” Matthew 5:41–42
As the faith of Israel developed over the centuries, prior to the coming of Christ, there were various stages of advancement in morality. Prior to the establishment of moral laws in the Old Testament, it was common for families to inflict severe vengeance upon other families when harm was done to them. This caused ongoing violence and feuds. But advancements were made when the law of retaliation was established which said, “When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured” (Leviticus 24:19–20). This was a new form of justice that forbade the vengeance from being more severe than the crime that was retaliated against. At the time, this helped end ongoing family feuds that continually escalated.
It is this law of retaliation that Jesus addresses in our Gospel today. The new and much higher form of morality that Jesus taught called His disciples to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” and to turn the other cheek when evil was done to them. Though strict justice requires satisfaction for sin, Jesus’ new teaching was that mercy pays every debt. First, His mercy bestowed upon us, for the forgiveness of our sins, pays the debt of our sins when we truly repent and change. But if we desire our debts to God for our sins to be forgiven and repaid, then we must do the same to others, holding nothing against them.
But Jesus goes even further. In the passage quoted above, Jesus exhorts His disciples to a new and radical form of charity and generosity. This new moral code was how the children of the Kingdom of God were now called to act. It was not enough to only forgive and to forget the debt one owes you because of their sin. Mercy now requires us to “Give to the one who asks” and to walk “two miles” with one who only asks you to walk one mile with them. In other words, Christian charity far exceeds every concept of strict justice and even goes beyond basic forgiveness. This was certainly a new and radical teaching from our Lord.
Think about this new moral law in your own life. What level of “justice” do you most commonly live by? When someone wrongs you, do you live like those prior to the Old Testament laws by seeking to get back at them to an even greater degree than the harm done to you? Do you live by the law that seeks the equal justice of an eye for an eye? Do you seek to forgive and offer mercy as a payment for the debt another has incurred by the sin they have committed against you? Or, ideally, do you strive to go even beyond the act of forgiveness and bestow mercy in a new and generous, superabundant way? This last level of love is difficult to obtain and live, but it is the way our Lord treats us and it is the way that He calls us to treat others.
Reflect, today, upon any hurt you may currently be struggling with. And consider the way in which you have been dealing with that hurt. As you seek to understand this new law of love and mercy given by our Lord, pray to Him that He will give you the grace you need to give to others the same level of mercy that God gives to you.
My generous Lord, You offer Your mercy in superabundance. You not only forgive when we repent, You also restore us to far greater heights of holiness than we could ever deserve. Give me the grace I need, dear Lord, to offer this same level of mercy and love to those who have sinned against me. I forgive all who have hurt me. Please help me to also love them with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
The “Gift” of Being Persecuted
Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5:43–45
Jesus continues to deepen and clarify His call to His new command to love of others. The love to which He calls us is radical, total, and can be very challenging at first. He calls us to move far beyond the Old Testament understanding of justice by commanding that we love everyone, including those who persecute us. This call to love is not an option but a command. It’s a requirement for every Christian.
In implementing this command, Jesus gives us not only the command itself but also offers some very practical advice on how we can achieve this depth of love. He says that we should not only love our enemies but that we should pray for them when they persecute us. First of all, an “enemy” is one who tries to inflict some form of harm on us and, generally speaking, sins against us. The common response to these experiences is to defend ourselves and fight back. So the first step is to reject any such temptation. As Jesus said in the Gospel passage prior to this one, “offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
Today’s Gospel passage takes us even further. The practical advice our Lord gives is to “pray for those who persecute you.” This command not only requires that you reject the temptation to “get back” at a person or even to simply “resist” what they do to us. You must now pray for them. Praying for someone who sins against you is an act of the greatest charity and generosity. And it’s a very practical way to imitate the abundant mercy of God. For that reason, praying for your persecutors radically transforms you interiorly and makes you holy. In a sense, the evil another does to you has the potential to be transformed into a gift given to you, because it gives you an opportunity to return prayer for an injury inflicted. And that is a very real and practical gift we must embrace by this new command of our Lord.
Reflect, today, upon those for whom this new commandment calls you to pray. Whose sin has inflicted some hurt or injury upon you or your family? Who do you hold a grudge toward? Whoever comes to mind, commit yourself to deep and sustained prayer for that person. Pray often for them and continue that prayer for as long as the persecution continues. Doing so will transform any and every attempted malice issued toward you into grace for them and holiness for you.
My Lord of abundant mercy, Your command to pray for those who persecute us was first lived by You to perfection. You prayed for those who crucified You as You hung upon the Cross. Give me the grace I need to not only forgive but to also pray for those who have and continue to try to inflict harm upon me. Give me a heart so filled with mercy that every sin committed against me is transformed into love and my own holiness of life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Transformed by Silent Sacrifices
Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:16–18
Many today have abandoned the holy practice of fasting. Fasting is a powerful penitential practice that bestows great benefits upon the soul. The act of self-denial from certain food and drink, choosing instead simple nourishment from time to time, such as bread and water, or a reduced amount of food, greatly strengthens the soul and disposes a person to many spiritual blessings. Too often, we live for fleshly satisfactions and fall into the trap of trying to indulge our appetites on a regular basis. But doing so has the negative effect of tempting us to neglect the more important spiritual desires for holiness. By depriving ourselves of sensory delights from time to time, we become more disposed to seek the true and lasting delights that come only from God’s grace. Therefore, this passage above presumes that we do regularly fast and engage in other forms of self-denial.
Do you fast? Do you engage in other forms of self-denial on a regular basis? Daily prayer, reading the Scriptures, learning about the lives of the saints, and regular participation in the Sacraments all lead us closer to God and make us holy. But fasting and self-denial are also very important, so it is essential that we strive to embrace them as a part of our spiritual growth.
In this passage, Jesus specifically calls us to seek the interior rewards that come from fasting and self-denial. He points out that if we use fasting as a way of gaining praise from others, then we lose the spiritual benefits of our fasting. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving must all be done in a way that they are as hidden as possible so that our acts are truly sincere and not done so as to receive the earthly rewards of the admiration of others.
Additionally, the lesson taught in this Gospel can also be applied to other areas of our lives. For example, if you are suffering from some illness or some form of bodily pain or discomfort, then of course you should seek the necessary medical attention. But these physical ailments also offer us another opportunity for spiritual growth when they are embraced in a silent and interior way. Even our pain or discomfort can be transformed into grace if we choose to embrace it with joy, offer it to God as a sacrifice, and keep it to ourselves as a silent gift given to God.
Reflect, today, upon your practice of fasting, as well as every other opportunity you have each day to make silent and interior sacrifices to God. If you do suffer from some daily cross that is beyond your control, then try to turn it into a spiritual offering to our Lord. And if you are able to freely embrace fasting on a regular basis, then try to prayerfully commit to this practice. Try to do it every week, especially on Friday in honor of the Good Friday sacrifice made by our Lord. Don’t underestimate the value of these hidden sacrifices. Make them a regular part of your spiritual life and God will bestow upon you many spiritual riches from Heaven.
My sacrificial Lord, You denied Yourself of many earthly delights, especially when You fasted for forty days in the desert. Help me to take seriously this obligation to fast and to mortify my appetites. And help me to do so in a hidden way. May my life continually imitate Your perfect sacrifice so that I may become more like You every day. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14–15
It’s truly amazing how often our Lord exhorts us to forgive. Much of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from which we have been reading all week, continually calls us to offer mercy and forgiveness to others. And in the passage above from the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus offers us the consequences of not heeding His exhortations.
This passage is a sort of addendum to the “Our Father” prayer which immediately precedes it. The Our Father prayer gives us seven petitions, one of them being “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s interesting to note that as soon as Jesus taught us this prayer with its seven petitions, He then reemphasised one of those petitions by stating it again as is seen in the passage quoted above. This added emphasis should assure us of the seriousness of this petition.
At first, Jesus simply tells us to pray for forgiveness “as we forgive.” But He then makes it clear that if we fail to do so, we will not be forgiven ourselves. This should highly motivate us to make every effort possible to completely forgive others from the deepest depths of our hearts.
Who do you need to forgive? Forgiveness can be a confusing endeavor at times. The act of forgiveness gets confusing when our feelings do not reflect the choice we make in our will. It is a common experience that when we make the interior choice to forgive another, we still feel anger toward them. But these disordered feelings should not deter us nor should we allow them to cause doubt in what we need to do. Forgiveness is first an act of the will. It’s a prayerful choice to say to another that you do not hold their sin against them. Forgiveness does not pretend that no sin was committed. On the contrary, if there were no sin committed, then there would be no need for forgiveness. So the very act of forgiving is also an acknowledgment of the sin that needs to be forgiven.
When you make the choice to forgive another, and if your feelings do not immediately follow after, keep forgiving them in your heart. Pray for them. Try to change the way you think about them. Do not dwell upon the hurt that they have inflicted. Think, instead, about their dignity as a person, the love God has for them and the love you must continue to foster for them. Forgive, forgive and forgive again. Never stop and never tire of this act of mercy. If you do this, you may even discover that your feelings and passions eventually align with the choice you have made.
Reflect, today, upon any lingering feelings of anger you experience. Address those feelings by the free and total choice to forgive the person with whom you are angry. Do so now, later today, tomorrow and on and on. Go on the offensive against anger and bitterness by overwhelming it with your personal act of forgiveness and you will find that God will begin to free you of the heavy burden that a lack of forgiveness imposes.
My forgiving Lord, You offer the perfection of forgiveness to me and call me to do the same toward others. I pray for Your forgiveness in my life. I am sorry for my sin and beg for Your mercy. In exchange for this holy gift, I pledge to You today to forgive everyone who has sinned against me. I especially forgive those with whom I remain angry. Free me from this anger, dear Lord, so that I may reap the full benefits of Your mercy in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Your Intentions in Life
Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” Matthew 6:22–23
Every Scripture passage, in a spiritual sense, can teach us many lessons. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, offers one interpretation to the passage quoted above by saying that the “eye” in this passage refers to your intention and “your whole body” refers to all of your actions that follow from your intention. Therefore, when your intentions are in line with God’s will, the actions that follow will be also. This is a very practical and useful lesson for your journey toward holiness.
With this insight from Saint Thomas, we must look at our intentions in an honest and complete way. What are your intentions in life? It’s easy for us to form various intentions that may seem good as well as some that are contrary to the will of God without even realizing it. We may intend to get a good night’s sleep on one occasion. Or intend to have fun with family and friends on a certain day. Or we may intend to cook a good meal, clean the house, do well at work, etc. There are many momentary intentions that are good and are a normal part of daily living. However, the most important intention to consider is that which is the deepest of them all. What is the most central, foundational, and fundamental intention by which your life is directed?
The primary intention that you should work to acquire is to give God the greatest glory possible in all that you do. Giving glory to God is accomplished when you choose Him and His holy will above everything else in life. When this is the deepest and most fundamental intention of your life, everything else will flow from it. All secondary intentions and actions will align with this central focus and work toward its accomplishment. But when there are other “first intentions” that you have on the most fundamental level, then all the rest of your intentions and actions will be misguided and directed in a disordered way.
Reflect, today, upon the most fundamental intention you have in life. Doing so will require a considerable amount of interior reflection and honesty. It will require that you sort through the many things that motivate you and the decisions you make each and every day. Reflect upon the primary purpose of your life, which must be to give God the greatest glory possible by choosing and living His perfect will. Do all of your daily actions align with this ultimate goal? Commit yourself to the holy work of examining all of your actions in this light so that you will more fully achieve the purpose for which you were created.
God of all glory, You and You alone are worthy of all my praise. Your will and Your will alone must become the foundation of all that I choose in life. Give me the spiritual insight I need to look deeply at all that motivates me and all of my most interior intentions in life. May all of my intentions and all of my actions have as their goal Your eternal glory. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24
Mammon is another word for money. Jesus is clear that you must choose to serve either God or money, but not both. A divided heart does not suffice. Saint John of the Cross, in His spiritual classic “Ascent to Mount Carmel,” explains something similar. He says that our desires must become completely purified to the point that all we desire is God and His holy will. Every other desire in life must be purged away so that we are singularly devoted to God. Does this mean that God and God alone should be the object of all of our love? Yes, indeed. But that truth must be properly understood.
When we consider the calling we have been given from God to love, it is true that we must love not only God, but also many other things in life. We must love family, friends, neighbors, and even our enemies. Hopefully we also love other aspects of our lives, such as our vocation, our job, our home, a certain pastime, etc. So how do we love God with singular devotion when we also have many other things we must love?
The answer is quite simple. The love of God is such that when we make God the singular object of our love and devotion, the love we have for God will supernaturally overflow. This is the nature of the love of God. As we love God, we will find that God calls us to love Him by loving other people, and even various aspects of our lives. As we love what God wills us to love and as we express our love for all that is contained in the will of God, we are still loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
But back to our Scripture above. Why is it that we cannot love God and money? “Mammon” in this passage must be understood as a love that becomes an unhealthy attachment and desire. Money is such that we can “love” it by allowing our desires for it to become disordered and, thus, exclude the will of God from that “love.” Money is not evil when it is used solely in accord with the will of God. In that case, the money we use will give God great glory. But when money, or any other object of our desire, begins to take on a life of its own, so to speak, then that desire will be at odds with our love of God. To love God and God alone means we love God and all that He wills us to love in life.
Reflect, today, upon the necessity of being singularly devoted to God. As you commit yourself to this exclusive love, consider also whom and what God calls you to love in and through Him. Where does His perfect will lead you, and how are you called to show your love of God through the love of others? Consider, also, any ways in which you have allowed an unhealthy attachment to money or anything else in life to distract you from the one and ultimate purpose of your life. Allow God to purge those unhealthy desires and false “loves” from your heart so that you will be free to love as you were made to love.
My Lord and God, You are worthy of all of my love. You and You alone must become the single focus of all of my love. As I love You, dear Lord, help me to discover all that Your will directs me to love more and all that Your will calls me to detach from. May I choose only You and that which is contained in Your holy and perfect will. Jesus, I trust in You.