SEVENTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Facing the “Impossible?”
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” John 6:9–10a
Have you ever been faced with what seems to be an “impossible situation?” Jesus was, but He proved He could overcome any apparent obstacle He wanted to. Sure, He is God, but the fact remains that He can do all things He wills. And He can do so in our lives, too!
This passage above reveals His confidence in His ability to feed many thousands with only five loaves and two fish. Humanly speaking, this is not possible, but divinely speaking, it’s easy.
Jesus’ miracle speaks to His commitment to “feed us” in every way. Yes, this was a feeding with food, but it’s symbolic of Him being able and willing to feed our souls with His grace to face whatever hardship or challenge life throws at us. His grace is enough!
The problem is often twofold. First, we face some challenge in our lives, and we see it as something we do not know how to overcome. This can lead to despair and disillusionment. But when this happens, we must reflect upon miracles like this one and realize that all things are possible for God.
The second problem we often face is the ability to distinguish between God’s will and our own limited ideas. Too often we come up with our own ideas of what we think is good and right, and we start praying for that. But what if God’s idea and will is much different and, of course, much greater?! What if God has a plan that we never could have come up with on our own? The truth is that He does have a far more perfect plan for our lives than we could ever dream up. He knows what is best for us, and He can bring that plan to fruition. For our part, we must seek that plan, surrender to it and have faith in His perfect love, mercy, power and love.
Reflect, today, on your future. What is it that seems to worry you the most? What is it that seems to fill you with anxiety? God has a perfect plan for that situation. Your job is to seek out that plan and trust it will be brought to fruition.
Lord, I know You can do all things and that You will the good in all things. Help me to turn and to surrender to Your perfect divine will. As I surrender to it, help me to have perfect faith that You will bring Your will to fruition. Jesus, I trust in You.
Transformed by Grace
Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
He spoke to them another parable. “The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Matthew 13:33
Yeast is powerful. Though it often accounts for only about 1% of a loaf of bread, it causes that loaf to more than double in size. Of course, it also has the amazing effect of turning the dough soft and flexible as it rises. Without yeast, the dough would remain stiff and much smaller in size. The dough would not become the bread it was meant to be.
The Church Fathers offer many interpretations of this short, one-sentence parable. Some say that the three measures of flour represent the spirit, soul and body into which the Gospel is inserted. Others say the three measures of flour represent either three different kinds of persons or three levels of fruitfulness in our lives. The yeast is understood by some as the message of the Gospel in the Scriptures and by others as charity that must permeate our lives and the world as a whole. Of course, the parables of Jesus, as well as every teaching contained within the Scriptures, offer us many levels of understanding and meaning that are all correct and consistent with each other. One of the most important questions to ponder is this: What does God want to say to you through this parable?
If you consider yourself to be the three measures of flour, and the yeast to be God, His holy Word and His gentle but clear Voice speaking to you, in what concrete ways do you see your life rising as a direct result? How do you see yourself becoming that which you are intended to be as a result of God entering your life? And do you see the effect as one that is truly transforming and even exponential?
Sometimes the Word of God has little to no effect on our lives. That, of course, is not the fault of the Word of God; rather, it’s because we do not allow God to do His transforming work. For yeast to work, the dough has to sit still for a while. So in our lives, for God to do His work, we must allow Him to gently and powerfully work. This process requires that we internalize all that God speaks to us. Then His actions must prayerfully be permitted to work within us, and we must allow the change to be slow and certain in accord with His divine plan.
Sometimes we can also become impatient with the workings of God. Again, the yeast takes time to work. If we are impatient with God’s grace, then it may be like taking the dough and kneading it over and over before it even has a chance to work. But if we are prayerfully patient, allowing God to do His work in our lives according to His will and in His time, then little by little we will experience the transformation that He initiates.
Reflect, today, upon this short but powerful parable. See yourself as that dough and see God and His action in your life as the yeast. As you sit with that image in a prayerful way, let God reveal how He wants to work in you and how He wants to transform you. Pray for patience. Trust that if you receive His transforming Word into your soul, then He will do what He wants to do. And trust that if this happens, you will indeed become the person God wants you to become.
My transforming Lord, You desire to enter deeply into my life and to permeate all that I am. You desire to change me, little by little, making me into the person You want me to become. Please help me to be attentive to all that You desire to do in me and to patiently await the transformation that You have already begun. Jesus, I trust in You.
Our Final Destiny
Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Matthew 13:43
This passage concludes Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Weeds in the Field. Recall that in this parable there were good seeds sown in a field. The Sower is the Son of Man, Jesus, and the seed He sows are the children of the Kingdom, which includes all those who are in a state of grace. The field is the whole world. Thus, Jesus is saying that He has sent His followers, each one of us, into the world to build His Kingdom. But the evil one also sows his “children,” which refers to all of those who live evil lives that are contrary to the will of God. The passage above refers to the reward that the children of the Kingdom receive, whereas the passage just prior to this points out that at the end of the age, the children of the evil one will be condemned and sent “into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The end result of being the children of the Kingdom is quite hopeful. “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” This promise from our Lord should be pondered, believed and become the driving force of our hope in life.
Hope is an essential virtue that we often do not speak of enough. The gift of hope is not simply wishful thinking, such as when one hopes they win the lotto. The theological virtue of hope is a gift from God that is based on truth. The truth that it is based on is the promise of eternal life in Heaven if we accept all that God speaks to us and if we fulfill His glorious will in our lives.
By analogy, say that you have a large mortgage on your home. And say that the bank was doing a promotion in which they were going to pay off the mortgage for one lucky family. And that family was yours. They contacted you and let you know that all you need to do is fill out an application for this grant and that it would then be given to you. What would you do? Of course you would go and fill out the application. The bank is trustworthy, and you are confident that if you do what they ask, a small task of filling out the application, then they will follow through with the promise they made of paying off your mortgage. In a sense, there is hope established within you once you learn of this offer; and that hope, which is based on a true promise, is what drives you to do the small task of filling out the application.
So it is with God. The “mortgage” that He promises to pay is the debt of all our sin. And the requirement to receive this promise is fidelity to all He commands of us for our good. The problem is that we often do not fully understand the reward we are promised. That is: to “shine like the sun” in the Kingdom of our Father in Heaven. Having your mortgage paid off by the bank is something concrete and clear and very desirable. But the reward of shining like the sun in the Kingdom is of infinitely greater value. Do you believe that?
The best way to strengthen the virtue of theological hope in our lives is to become more and more certain of the truthful promise of our Lord. We need to understand Heaven and the infinite value we receive by obtaining it. If we truly understood what Jesus was promising us, we would become so intensely driven to do all that He commands us to do that this would become the single focus of our life. The hope would become a strength so strong that we would become consumed with doing anything and everything necessary to obtain such a reward.
Reflect, today, upon the depth of hope you have in your life. How driven are you by the promises made by our Lord? How clearly do you understand those promises? If you struggle with hope, then spend more time on the end reward that is promised you by Jesus. Believe what He says and make that end goal the central focus of your life.
My glorious King, You invite all people to share in the glories of Heaven. You promise us that if we are faithful, we will shine like the sun for all eternity. Help me to understand this glorious gift so that it becomes the single object of my hope and the drive of all that I do in life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Discovering the Riches of Heaven
Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44
Today’s Gospel presents us with two very short and similar parables. In the first, quoted above, the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a “treasure.” In the second parable, the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a “pearl of great price.” Though these parables are very similar to each other, there are also subtle differences worth pondering. It appears that the treasure mentioned in the first parable is discovered almost by accident. The person simply “finds” it. This is in contrast to the second parable, in that the merchant who finds the pearl of great price did so after “searching” for it.
We often encounter the Treasure of the Gospel without even looking for it. We do so anytime God intervenes in our lives without us seeking His intervention. For example, if someone were to offer an act of charity to you without you seeking it out, this is God giving you a treasure of His Kingdom. Or if someone shares with you their faith, or an inspiration they received, this is indeed a treasure given to you by God. The problem is that many times when we are given these treasures of the Gospel, we do not always see them as treasures. Imagine, for example, if the person in this parable were to stumble upon the treasure in the field and fail to open it out of indifference. They see it from a distance, have a bit of curiosity about what is in the box, but they are not energetic enough to actually open the box and look inside. In that case, the person would have no reason to go and sell all that they have so as to buy the field in which the treasure is found.
One clear message that this first parable reveals is that we must be attentive to the countless treasures of God’s graces given to us each and every day. God is so prolific in offering us grace, that we truly do stumble upon His grace all the time. Thus, having eyes to perceive His actions and ears to Hear His Voice is essential.
A second message clearly given in both of these parables is that once we discover the graces God gives us every day, we must foster within ourselves a desire for those graces that is so strong that we are willing to do anything necessary to obtain them. The discovery is made through the gift of faith, but the discovery by faith must then be followed with a zeal that drives our will to conform to that discovery.
Reflect, today, upon two things. First, have you discovered the treasures God has given to you? If you hesitate in answering this, then it’s most likely the case that there is much you have yet to discover. Secondly, as you do discover the riches that come with the gift of faith, then have you allowed that which God has spoken to you to consume you to such a point that you are willing to sell all you have, meaning, do whatever it takes to further accept all God wants to bestow? Resolutely determine to go forth on this holy search and you will find that the riches of grace that you obtain are of infinite value.
My Lord of all riches, You bestow upon me and upon all Your children countless graces every day. The treasures of Your mercy are of infinite value. Please open my eyes so that I can see and my ears so that I can hear so as to discover all that You wish to bestow. May You and the riches of Your Kingdom become the one and only, all-consuming focus of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Familial Friendship with Jesus
Memorial of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, July 29
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:41–42
Today’s memorial was formerly a memorial only in honor of Saint Martha. However, on February 2, 2021, Pope Francis expanded this memorial to include Martha’s sister and brother, Mary and Lazarus. Thus, today we celebrate these three siblings together.
Martha, Mary and Lazarus were close friends of Jesus. They lived in Bethany, which was only a short distance from Jerusalem. Martha is remembered especially for the story in which she had been preparing a meal for Jesus, while her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him, leaving all the work to Martha. Martha complained to Jesus, urging Him to “Tell her to help me.” Jesus’ gentle rebuke of her request is quoted above.
Mary is also known for the above story in which she sat at Jesus’ feet. This has traditionally been seen as a symbol of contemplative prayer. She is also presented in John’s Gospel as the one who poured an entire jar of expensive perfumed oil on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair just six days before Jesus’ death. Though medieval tradition has at times associated Mary of Bethany with Mary of Magdala and with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36–50), most scholars agree today that these are three different Marys. In fact, one of the reasons Pope Francis added Mary of Bethany to this memorial today was so that she was honored with a liturgical memorial that did not confuse her with Mary of Magdala.
Lazarus is, of course, well known for the fact that Jesus brought him back to life after being dead and in the tomb for four days. Little else is mentioned about Lazarus in the Gospels except for the fact that the Pharisees wanted to arrest Lazarus at the time they were also seeking to arrest Jesus and that he was the sibling of Martha and Mary.
Why do we have this memorial honoring all three of these siblings together? When this memorial was established, the Congregation for Divine Worship said, “In the household of Bethany the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them.” By honoring these siblings together, we are especially reminded of the importance of remaining close to family and inviting Jesus into our family. Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived together and shared a common life of love. They invited Jesus into their family life, and He accepted their offer. Jesus’ choice to befriend this family is an indication of His desire to unite each family and to befriend each member of every family so as to be the central source of their shared love and unity. Family love is central to our human lives. And though not every family enjoys unity and mutual love, we must never forget that God wants to enter every family just as He did with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
Reflect, today, upon your own family. In which ways does Jesus desire to befriend you more? How does He desire to enter your family life and strengthen it with His love? And how does He want to use you to help? Even if your family struggles in various ways, know that God wants to love you and your family in the same way He did the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Though they were not perfect, He loved them nonetheless. And He desires to do the same to you and your family.
My loving Jesus, You chose to love the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. In doing so, You also reveal to us Your desire to love all families with a holy love. I invite You into my life and into my family, dear Lord. Please strengthen our bonds, bring unity and mutual respect. Please remove any past hurt and division and enable every family to share more fully in Your friendship and love. Jesus, I love You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Seeing the Greatness of Christ
Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?” Matthew 13:54
Today’s Gospel goes on to say that the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth took offense at Him, which led Jesus to say, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” It is somewhat surprising that they took offense at Jesus after witnessing His wisdom and mighty deeds. Jesus was very familiar to the townspeople, and it seems that that familiarity led them to doubt that Jesus was someone special.
It should be noted that, in many ways, the people who knew Jesus for many years should have been the first people to see His greatness. And most likely there were some from His hometown who did. They would have known Jesus’ mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she would have given daily witness to incredible virtues. They would have known Joseph as a truly righteous and just man. And Jesus would have exuded every human virtue to perfection as He grew, and, again, that should have been easily noticeable. But many failed to see the holiness of Jesus and the Holy Family.
This experience of our Lord should remind us that it is easy to miss the presence of God all around us. If those who were closest to Jesus did not recognize Him as a man of exceptional virtue and holiness, then how much more might we fail to see the presence of God in the lives of those we encounter every day? For some reason, perhaps because of our struggles with pride and anger, it is easier to look at the faults of another than at their virtues. It’s easy to be critical of them and to dwell upon their perceived weaknesses and sins. But this Gospel story should encourage us to do all we can to look beyond the surface and to see God present in every life we encounter.
On the most fundamental level, God dwells within each and every person He has created. Even those who remain in a state of persistent mortal sin are still made in the image of God and reflect God by their very nature. And we must see this. And those who are in a state of grace carry the presence of God, not only within themselves by nature but also through God’s action in their lives. Every virtue that every person has is there because God is at work in them. And we must work to see this divine activity in their lives.
Begin by thinking about the people with whom you are closest. When you think about them, what comes to mind? Over the years, we can build habits of dwelling upon others’ faults. And those habits are hard to break. But they can only be broken by intentionally seeking out the presence of God in their lives. As noted, if Jesus’ own townspeople had a difficult time doing this with Him Who was perfect, then this should tell us that it will be even harder for us to do with those who lack perfection. But it must be done and is a very holy endeavor.
Reflect, today, upon the important mission you have been given to see the presence of God in the lives of those all around you. What if Jesus had grown up in your town? As your neighbor? And though the Incarnate Son of God does not live next door as He did in Nazareth, He does live in each and every person you encounter every day. Honestly reflect upon how well you see Him and commit yourself to the holy mission of seeing Him more clearly so that you can rejoice in His greatness which is truly manifest all around you.
My Lord of true greatness, You are truly present all around me. You are alive and living in the lives of those whom I encounter every day. Please give me the eyes of faith to see You and a heart that loves You. Help me to overlook the faults and weaknesses of others. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Matthew 14:1–2
Herod the tetrarch was one of three brothers and a sister who became 1st-century rulers to succeed their father, Herod the Great, when he died in 4 B.C. Herod governed much of the territory west of the Sea of Galilee, which was the territory in which Jesus spent most of His time during His public ministry. He also ruled a territory just east of the Dead Sea, which is where he had imprisoned and ultimately killed John the Baptist. Herod was known for being a very busy builder and is prominently known for his role in the deaths of Saint John the Baptist and Jesus.
Recall that Herod had taken his brother’s wife, Herodias, as his own, and John the Baptist publicly opposed this. For that reason, Herod had John arrested and ultimately beheaded at the request of Herodias, who took the Baptist’s criticism very personally. Herod, on the other hand, had a strange sort of admiration for the Baptist.
The Gospel passage quoted above reveals a somewhat unusual statement by Herod. After he had killed Saint John the Baptist, he heard about the reputation of Jesus Who was traveling throughout Herod’s territory preaching and performing many mighty deeds. Word spread fast about Jesus and quickly reached even the ears of Herod. So why did Herod strangely think that Jesus must have been John the Baptist raised from the dead? Though we do not know for certain, we certainly can speculate.
In the version of this story found in the Gospel of Mark, we read, “Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20). Herod may have been a man who had a spark of faith but was ultimately ruled by his passions and desire for power. Perhaps that is why he initially kept John the Baptist alive in his prison. It also appears that Herod had some form of either regret or fear over his beheading of John. And it is most likely for this reason that Herod immediately thought of John when he initially heard of Jesus and the “mighty powers” that were at work within Him.
Regret, fear, and guilt are common effects of a conscience that is in conflict. Herod the tetrarch is a good example of what happens when we do not resolve that conflict within ourselves. The only way to resolve the interior confusion of a conflicted conscience is to humbly submit to the truth. Imagine if Herod would have repented. Imagine if he would have sought out Jesus, confessed his sins, and begged for forgiveness. What a glorious story that would have been. Instead, we have the witness of a man who has gone astray and remained obstinate in his sin.
Reflect, today, upon this unholy witness of Herod. God can use all things for His glory, and He can even use the example of Herod to reveal to ourselves any similar tendency. Do you struggle with regret, fear and guilt? Does this cause conflict within you? The good news is that this conflict is easily resolved by a humble heart that seeks the truth. Seek the truth by admitting any long lasting sin you need to resolve and permit the mercy of God to enter in so as to set you free.
My merciful Jesus, You desire that all people experience freedom from the sins of the past. You desire to penetrate our hearts and to bring resolution and peace. Please help me to open my mind and heart to You in the areas that still cause pain and regret, and help me to be set free by Your infinite mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.