FIFTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Relying on Providence
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. Mark 6:8
Does God care about the smallest details in your life? Does He care about you receiving proper food and housing? Does He care about your proper emotional, material and spiritual support? He certainly does!
Sometimes it can happen that we fail to realize how completely God cares for us. We can fall into the trap of getting consumed by the fear and anxiety of daily concerns. We can worry that we will not have enough for tomorrow or even today. This worry can concern us regarding all parts of our lives—relationships, emotions, material needs, spiritual strength, etc.
What we need to know, with complete certainty, is that God is attentive to every detail of our lives. He knows all and loves us in such a complete way that He will not abandon us ever. He will never allow us to be without those things we need to live a full and fruitful life.
Do you believe that? At times it can be hard to believe. At times we can feel overwhelmed and believe that we must take care of everything ourselves. It is true that we are called to offer all our energy and talent to God so that He can use us and work through us. But we should never forget that God is ultimately the one taking care of us and is the one most attentive to our every need.
Reflect, today, on the level of abandonment that you have to divine providence. Pray this prayer below and reflect upon how completely you can make it yours. Jesus, I trust in You!
Prayer of Abandonment
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
Charles de Foucauld
Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37–38
At first read, this appears to be a difficult teaching of our Lord. But when properly understood, it is clear that it helps us keep our relationships with God and with our family properly ordered in charity and truth. Following this command will never result in a lack of love for family; rather, it will help us to love solely with the heart of Christ.
What does this teaching of Jesus require of us? Simply put, if a family member, or anyone else, imposes expectations on us that are contrary to the will of God, then we must choose the will of God over those other expectations. To understand this more clearly, think about how one might choose to love “father or mother” or “son or daughter” more than God. Say, for example, that a child chooses to go astray in their moral or faith life, and they want their parents to support them in their sin. But the parents remain firm in their moral convictions and, out of love, offer no support for the immoral lifestyle their child has chosen. This would become especially difficult for the parents if the child becomes angry and criticizes the parents, with the claim that the parents are being judgmental and are lacking in love. What the child is actually requesting is “Mom and dad, you must love me more than God and His laws.” And if the parents do not support their child’s misguided lifestyle, the relationship may be deeply wounded. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that Jesus followed this command by saying, “and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Love always involves the Cross. At times, it is a cross of personal self-sacrifice and self-giving. And at other times, it’s a cross by which our love is misunderstood, and we are deemed as “unloving” by those we actually love the most. When parents truly love their child, they will care first and foremost for their child’s eternal salvation and moral living, and they will not choose “friendship” with their child over truth.
Of course this same truth applies to every relationship we will have and even to our “relationship” to society as a whole. More and more, there are those who demand of us all that we support them in behaviors that are objectively disordered and contrary to the will of God. We are told that if we oppose these choices that some make, then we are judgmental and hateful. But this is exactly what Jesus is speaking about. If we choose to “love” others more than God and His holy will, meaning, if our first priority is to make people “feel” supported in the immoral and confused decisions they make, then we are not actually loving them at all. At least not with the love of God. Instead, we are prioritizing their sin over the truth they so deeply need to know so as to be set free and to enter into an authentic relationship of love with the God of Truth.
Reflect, today, upon true love. Love is only true love when it is grounded and centered in God and every moral law He has set forth. Reflect upon your own relationships, especially with family and those closest to you. Do you love them with the pure love of God? Does your love remain firmly rooted in the will of God? Or do you, at times, choose to compromise the truths of faith and morality so as to appease the misguided expectations of others. Kindness, gentleness and compassion must always be present. But moral truth must also be just as present and must be the foundation of every virtue we exercise in our relationships with everyone. Do not be afraid to love others exclusively with the mind and heart of God. Doing so is the only way to have true love for everyone in your life so as to help save their souls.
Lord of All, You call all people to love You with all of their mind, heart, soul and strength. You call us all to adhere to every truth that You have spoken. Give me the courage and love I need to not only love You above all but to also love others with Your love alone. Help me to embrace Your Cross when this is difficult so that I will be a better instrument of the love You have for all. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 11:21–22
Chorazin and Bethsaida were Jewish towns that Jesus visited frequently to preach and to perform many “mighty deeds.” They were located just north of His city of residence, Capernaum. Tyre and Sidon were pagan coastal cities northeast of Chorazin and Bethsaida, in modern-day Lebanon, and were towns known for their immoral living. Though Jesus did not spend much time in those cities, He did visit them at times. During Jesus’ first recorded visit there, recall His encounter with the Syrophoenician woman who begged Him to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21–28). The Gospel passage quoted above took place prior to Jesus making that journey.
Why was Jesus so harsh toward the towns He spent so much of His time in. Why did He rebuke Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum? To answer this, it’s important to remember that Jesus spent most of His time preaching to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, His primary mission during His public ministry was to share the Gospel with those who were descendants of Abraham and had been entrusted with the Law of Moses, the teachings of the prophets and the liturgical rites. For that reason, Jesus not only preached with perfection to these people, He also did miracle after miracle. And though there were many who did believe in Him and became His disciples, there were many others who were indifferent or who flatly refused to believe in Him.
Today, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum could be seen as symbols of those Catholics who were born and raised in the faith and were given good formation by their parents and others. Many parents whose children have gone astray from the faith wonder what they did wrong. But the truth is that even Jesus Himself was rejected, despite His perfect preaching, perfect charity and undeniable miracles. And the same happens today. There are many who, despite being raised within the holy faith given to us by Christ Himself, reject that faith and turn a blind eye to the Gospel and the Church.
Jesus’ rebuke of those towns should echo today in the minds of those who, despite being given so much in regard to a good upbringing, have rejected God. Of course, that rejection is not always absolute and total. More often, it is a rejection in degrees. First, the rejection comes in the form of missing Mass. Then moral compromises. Then a lack of faith. And eventually confusion, doubt and a complete loss of faith sets in.
If you are one who has started down the road of becoming more and more lukewarm in your faith, then the rebuke of these towns by Jesus should be understood to also be directed at you in love. “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required…” (Luke 28:48). Therefore, to those who have been taught the faith well, much is expected. And when we fail to live up to that which is demanded of us by God out of love, a holy rebuke is exactly what we need.
Reflect, today, upon whether the rebuke Jesus issues toward these towns is also issued toward you. Have you been blessed with a good formation in the faith? If so, have you done all you can to help nourish that faith and grow in your love of God? Or have you allowed your faith to dim, to become lukewarm and to begin to wither and die? If you have been given much, have been raised in the faith and have been privileged with good examples in your life, then know God expects much of you. Answer that high calling that is given to you and respond to God with all your heart.
My passionate Jesus, You poured out Your heart and soul through Your preaching to the people of Israel. Although many accepted You, many others rejected You. I thank You for the privilege I have been given to hear Your holy Word preached to me. Help me to respond to You with all my heart so that I will be counted among those who listen and believe. Jesus, I trust in You.
Rejoicing at the Gift of Faith
Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” Matthew 11:25
This passage is in stark contrast to the passage just before it in which Jesus chastised the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for not repenting and believing in Him. And as soon as Jesus issued those rebukes, He turned His eyes to Heaven and offered praise to the Father for revealing the hidden mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven to those who were “childlike.”
One of the greatest threats to a pure and childlike faith is intellectual pride. Those who consider themselves as “wise and learned” are often tempted to rely upon their own reasoning abilities to come to conclusions and beliefs in life. The problem is that even though the matters of our faith are fully reasonable, they go beyond the conclusions that human reason alone can achieve. We cannot figure out God by ourselves. We need the gift of faith for that, and the gift of faith begins with a spiritual communication from God through which He reveals to us Who He is and what is true. Only the childlike, meaning, those who are humble, are able to hear this form of communication from God and respond.
This passage also reveals to us that Jesus passionately rejoices in this form of humble faith. He gives “praise” to the Father in Heaven for witnessing such faith, because Jesus knows that this form of faith originates from the Father.
In your life, it is important that you regularly ponder whether you are more like the wise and learned or like those who are childlike. Though God is an infinite and incomprehensible mystery, He must be known. And the only way we can come to know God is if He reveals Himself to us. And the only way God will reveal Himself to us is if we remain humble and childlike.
As we come to childlike faith, we must also imitate the praise that Jesus offered the Father for the faith that He witnessed in the lives of His followers. We, too, must turn our eyes to those who clearly manifest this pure knowledge of God by the gift of faith. As we see this faith lived, we must rejoice and offer praise to the Father. And this act of praise must be given not only when we see faith alive in others, it must also be given when we see the gift of faith grow within our own soul. We must foster a holy awe of what God does within us, and we must rejoice in that experience.
Reflect, today, upon Jesus giving praise to the Father as He witnesses the faith born in the hearts of His followers. When Jesus looks at you, what does He do? Does He issue chastisements? Or does His Sacred Heart rejoice and give praise for what He sees. Give joy to the Heart of Christ by humbling yourself to the point that you, too, are counted among the childlike who truly know and love God.
My rejoicing Lord, You are attentive to the workings of grace in every human heart. As You see the Voice of the Father speaking to Your children, You rejoice at such a sight. Dear Lord, I pray that my own heart will be the cause of Your joy and Your praise of the Father in Heaven. Please speak to me and help me to believe with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Yoke of Christ
Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11:29–30
For those first followers of Jesus, a “yoke” was a familiar term. Many would have worked with oxen and other animals on a regular basis to plow their fields. To do so, they would place a wooden yoke over the oxen, which was a form of harness that was also attached to the plow (traces), making it easier for the oxen to till the soil. To be strapped with a yoke was an indication of servitude, since that was the role of the oxen.
In commenting upon this passage, Saint Augustine (in Sermon 126) analogized the yoke of Christ with the wings of a bird. A bird’s wings are large in comparison to their body. As a result, if someone were to conclude that removing the wings from a bird would make their life easier so that they are rid of that excess weight, such an action would have the effect of keeping them bound to the earth. But give them their wings back and that “yoke” will enable them to soar through the skies.
So it is with the yoke of our Lord. If we accept the invitation to be a servant of God and we take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ for the fulfillment of our mission of service, we will discover that the act of serving lightens us, refreshes us, invigorates us and energizes us. Service of God is what we are made for, just as a bird is made to have wings. And like the bird, if we remove the yoke of service of God from our lives, then we are weighed down and cannot accomplish the good we are meant to do.
We are also told in this passage that we are not to carry our yoke; rather, we are meant to carry Christ’s yoke. “Take my yoke upon you…,” Jesus said. Carrying Jesus’ yoke means we are called to live our lives with Him and in Him. He came to serve and to give His life for others. It is our duty to do the same by allowing Him to do so within us. It is Christ and His servitude that must be the motivation and foundation of our lives.
Reflect, today, upon your call to be a servant in Christ. How is God calling you to serve? Whom is God calling you to serve? And as you answer that question, how do you see your act of service? Does service seem burdensome to you? Or do you understand that it is what you are made for? If you do see humble service as a burden, then perhaps that is because you have not actually tried to serve with and in Christ Himself. Try to ponder Jesus placing His yoke upon your shoulders. Say “Yes” to that act and to the mission of humble service you are called to fulfill. Doing so wholeheartedly will not only refresh you, it will also give meaning and purpose to your life.
My gentle Lord, You came to us to serve and to give Your life out of love. Give me the grace I need to accept Your act of service to me and to also imitate and participate in the service to which I am called. May I take Your yoke upon me, dear Lord, so that I can fulfill the mission that You have entrusted to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Freedom From Condemnation
Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” Matthew 12:1–2
When Moses gave the Ten Commandments to the people, there was a prohibition against working on the Sabbath. The Third Commandment said, in part, that “you shall not do any work” on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had added much commentary to this law and expanded it to include as many as 39 different forms of work that they believed was forbidden. Included in their list were the practices of harvesting and milling of grain. For that reason, when the Pharisees saw that the disciples were picking heads of grain and rubbing the grain off the husks so that they could eat it, the Pharisees condemned them for violating what they interpreted to be an offense against the Third Commandment.
The first thing we can note from this passage is that the disciples were hungry. They were exceptionally devoted to Jesus and had been traveling with Him from town to town so that He could preach the Gospel. They had given up occupation, home, family and income so as to be singly devoted to Jesus and His mission. And as a result of this, they were living in poverty and relying upon the generosity of others. It is in this context that they chose to eat the most humble of foods: grain that they picked as they walked. They didn’t complain that there wasn’t a hot meal waiting for them at their destination. They were accepting of the many long journeys by foot that they made. They were okay with the fact that they did not get to sleep in their own bed every night. But they did have the basic human need for food, so they picked this grain as they walked to fulfill this basic need of hunger.
Though there are many lessons we can learn from this passage, one clear lesson is that of the temptation to judge and condemn others. When we fall into the trap of judging others, there are a few things that are common. First, judging and condemning often is based on perceived wrongs that are inflated and exaggerated. The Pharisees clearly inflated and exaggerated this “sin” of the disciples. In our lives, judgmentalness almost always makes the perceived sin of another far more serious than it is, if it is sin at all.
Another common temptation that flows from a judgmental and condemning heart is the failure to even understand the condemned party. In this case above, the Pharisees did not even inquire into the reason the disciples were picking and eating grain. They didn’t ask if they had been without food for some time or how long they had been traveling. It didn’t matter to them that they were hungry, and most likely, very hungry. So also with us, it is common that when we judge and condemn another, we arrive at our verdict without even seeking to understand the situation.
Lastly, it needs to be said that judging others is not our right. Doing so is usually reckless and caused by our own self-centeredness. God did not give the Pharisees the authority to expand the Third Commandment into 39 forbidden practices, nor did He give them the authority to apply those interpretations to the perceived actions of the disciples. And God does not give us the authority to judge others either. If another is clearly caught in a cycle of objectively grave sin, we must do all we can to help draw them out of that sin. But even in that case, we have no right to judge or condemn.
Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have toward being judgmental and condemning of others. If you see this tendency within yourself, spend time thinking about the Pharisees. Their self-righteousness was ugly and damaging. The negative example they set should inspire us to turn away from such acts of condemnation and to reject those temptations the moment they come.
My divine Judge of All, You and You alone know the heart, and You and You alone are capable of acting as Judge. Please exercise Your authority in my life so that I can perceive my own sin. As You do, please also free me from the tendency to judge and condemn. Fill me, instead, with a heart full of mercy and truth toward all. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Different Kind of Messiah
Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known. Matthew 12:14–16
This passage goes on to say that Jesus withdrew to a more deserted place to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah the Prophet (Isaiah 42:1–4). That prophecy is the first of what is referred to as “The Songs of the Suffering Servant.” In these songs or poems of Isaiah, the Messiah is presented to us as one who would be sent on a mission from God, would suffer injustice for the sake of others, would be rejected, and ultimately be vindicated and exalted. The mission of the Suffering Servant was to bring justice and salvation to all, including to the gentiles.
At that time, the idea of a messianic king was still prominent in the minds of many. They anticipated the coming of a messiah who would be a political leader and would lead the people of Israel out of oppression, making them a free, prosperous and powerful nation. But Jesus acts in the opposite manner. Instead of raising up an army to combat the evil intentions of the Pharisees and to overthrow the Romans, Jesus withdrew from them and invited people to come to Him for healing and to receive His teachings.
Jesus perfectly fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah by becoming the Suffering Servant. And because His messianic role was much different than what many people had anticipated, Saint Matthew points us to the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah as a way of clearly showing that Jesus truly was the promised Messiah. He was just not the form of messiah that many expected. He was One Who was humble and gentle of heart. He was One Who would redeem people by the Blood of His Cross. And He was One Who would extend salvation to all people, not only the people of Israel.
One lesson this teaches us is that even today we can have false expectations of God. It is easy for us to set forth our own idea of what God should do and what true justice demands. But we also read in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8–9).
Just as it must have been difficult for the people of Israel to come to accept the promised Messiah as a servant Who suffers and Who redeems all people through that suffering, so it is often difficult for us to accept our Lord as He is. It is difficult to shed our own ideas of what we want God to do and this is especially difficult when He calls us to share in His own suffering and servanthood. To serve, suffer, sacrifice our lives, and the like can be difficult to accept. But this is the way of our Lord—it is the way of the Suffering Servant of God.
Reflect, today, upon your own expectations of God. Do you have a long list of things that you think God should do? Do you pray for that list of your ideas, thinking that if you only ask enough, God will grant your requests? If your requests flow from His perfect will, then praying for them in faith will bring them about. But if they flow more from you and your own ideas of what God should do, then all the prayers in the world will not bring them to be. If this is your struggle, then try to start anew by turning your eyes to the Servant Who Suffers for the salvation of all. Reflect upon the fact that God’s thoughts and ways are most often very far above your own thoughts and ways. Try to humble yourself before the Suffering Servant and abandon all ideas that do not flow from His Heart.
My Suffering Servant, I thank You for Your suffering and death and for the redemption that flows from Your sacrifice of love. Help me to shed all false expectations that I have of You, dear Lord, so that I will be guided by You and Your mission of salvation alone. Jesus, I trust in You.