Vineyards of En-Gedi | 2019 July
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Homiletics Notes / 31.07.2019

"All the toil and anxiety of the heart" is vanity. Our modern hearts are torn every which way, or as scripture says elsewhere, nothing is more tortuous than the human heart. Jesus says that he knows it well. St. Paul observes that he tries to do the good, but so often fails; it is his heart that is stressed, confused, and scattered. The heart today means the seat of our emotions, their locus. In the ancient world, the heart represented more the inmost part, the core of the person. Our contemporary hearts are awash in emotions over which we seem to have lost control. The spiritual life and practice is a disciplined process to still and calm the modern heart so that it can rest in Christ from all its labors. This spiritual life is arguably very difficult for the modern person who has the attention span of a white fly gnat. We like to read no more than a 40 character text, if we're going to read anything at all. I'm writing this today on the memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola who gave the church the Spiritual Exercises as a rigorous way to attain this perfected heart. He teaches the putting to death of the parts of us that are earthly from the second reading. It is not the path of "eat, drink, and be merry." ...

Homiletics Notes / 30.07.2019

St. Paul gets quite a bad rap in our culture awash in feelings, desires, emotions. They are the "things below" , and the disciple should be trained rigorously in "putting to death" what is earthly. His list of earthly things is bracing and damning, especially for us today. Our politics is all about lies, greed, and impurity. I wonder if Paul means that desire itself is evil in itself, or that desires are some good and she evil. That latter leaves it rather open, whereas one suspects that Paul means that desire itself is evil. "The parts of you" is a single word in the Greek and means literally bodily parts. Remember the hyperbolic times that Jesus himself spoke of cutting off hand, leg, and learning out of an eye! Part of this thinking goes back to Plato and even further, regarding the distinction of "earthly" and "heavenly", above and below, that they exist together in the world, but the heavenly is the better and to be sought after. The rich man in the parable sure did not get it, and is called foolish for his disordered stewardship of earthly things. ...

Homiletics Notes / 29.07.2019

The man's question about his family's inheritance has a larger context in the early Christian communities. St. Paul brings it up several times in the letters. It seems that they were going to lawyers and the secular legal and juridical structures to obtain satisfaction and judgments; Paul criticizes them, telling them to resolve matters "among yourselves." Several of Jesus' parables command the same. "Settle with your opponent on the way to court," Jesus teaches. Discern things communally. Jesus' initial answer was rather picked up by Pope Francis on several occasions now. "Who am I to judge?" In any event, all this stuff is vanity. The Hebrew word literally means "a puff of smoke" or "a wisp of morning fog." In other words incredibly ephemeral. The parable that follows has elements of eastern humor. Remember that this incident occurs at dinner, where the give and take of conversation was expected, and that also meant humor. The man in the parable is presented as foolish and funny. Who tears down old and useful barns to make new bigger ones? The conversation he has with himself is ridiculous. What god is stored grains if not sold on the market? The saying "eat, drink, and be merry," goes all the way back to Siduri the tavern keep in the Gilgamesh epic. Even God calls the man a fool as his life is taken. It's all meant to be an outrageous and over the top parable. Jesus begins and ends the parable with sayings about earthly treasure in perspective of heavenly treasure. Warnings are the bookends to the humor. ...

Homiletics Notes / 29.07.2019

As my generation of baby boomers, those born after World War II, begins to die, I read in the Wall Street Journal that there will be the greatest transfer of wealth in our country's history. The recipients will be the baby bust generation, born after 1965; they are now in their 50's. I'm already seeing at funerals families torn apart by the remainders of the estate and the reading of the will. It's a painful example of greed. This is the issue of the Gospel this coming Sunday. The lectionary skips the rest of Luke 11 and the first part of Luke 12. Beginning in Luke 11, 20, Jesus is at the home of a leading Pharisee for dinner. It is here that Luke arranges this question and teaching about greed and the reign of God. Jesus has already critiqued the "leaven of the Pharisees" parallel with teachings about the cost of discipleship. He will return to the thematic material of this Gospel's question at the end of the dinner. Here we have the parable of the rich man'd harvest, the opening of Qoheleth (Ecclesiates), and St. Paul's contrast between the earthly and heavenly in Colossians. The reading work well together, and are all a part of the question of wealth, greed, and inheritance. ...

Homiletics Notes / 25.07.2019

In the minds of most if not all Catholics, Baptism is thought of only as the washing away of original sin. This has led to the thought and practice that it is some sort of a magical ceremony and rite of passage. People come to have their babies baptized because grandparents are scared to death that the baby will go to hell, without considering that it is the parents they should be worried about. We are still living with a limbo mentality and a 19th century Jansenistic devotionalism. First of all there is no official church statement on limbo; please reference Denziger's Enchiridion Symbolorum. The point is that Catholics miss the whole concept of being born again. When asked by an evangelical friend if they are, the Catholic gets the deer in headlights look. Dying with Christ and rising with Christ is the whole fulfillment of the Exodus template, the central thematic material governing the whole Bible. Sin and transgressions (Our Father language) is death, spiritual death, dead to the reign of God. Sin breaks the fundamental relationship with God, and turns one in on one's self. "Incorvata in se", St. Augustine says. Note the corporate nature of Christ's actions. Everything is in the plural; there's nothing individualistic about it. Christ does three things: forgives, obliterates, and removes. Here Paul is calling the inscription on the cross an indictment, a serving notice that Christ rules. ...

Homiletics Notes / 24.07.2019

"Persistence" in the Gospel translates "αναιδειαν" which is more accurately to say "shamelessness". Abraham bargains with God in the first reading, shamelessly. This quality Jesus says goes over and above any friendship, and Abraham was certainly a friend of God because of his faith. It might be even called presumptuous. This sort of petition and debate stretches the limits of friendship; it has a quality of outrageousness to it, and Abraham is not bargaining for himself, but for people (besides Lot's family) whom he does not even know or like, given the battles in Gn. 14. We've all probably bargained with God, typically when we are sick. We couple the bargaining with promises to be good, often that we know we're not necessarily going to be able to keep. Abraham does not do this. His arguing with God has a certain kind of purity, simplicity, and directness about that is a likable quality. The incident is told with a bit of tongue in cheek humor which our cultural language does not grasp. The prayer that Jesus teaches has these qualities, and we repeat this prayer often and everywhere. Most people memorized it as children. "When you pray, say . . . " are both in the ongoing and continuously repeated action of these verbs. There is no doubt that Jesus intended his disciples to use this prayer often and together. Note that there is no "you" singular; it is "our", "us", and "we" throughout. It is a communal prayer. ...

Homiletics Notes / 23.07.2019

"He was praying in a certain place . . ." when the disciples asked him, "Teach us to pray." Three teachings on prayer follow, and this is our Sunday reading for the Gospel. Most of Jesus' activity on the way to Jerusalem is teaching. Here we receive Luke's shortened version of the Our Father; we have traditionally used the version from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew. It is not a ptroblem to imagine that there were several versions in circulation, first of all because the essential components of praise, intercession, and acknowledge of God's reign and providence are present. Luke's version leaves out the will of God, uses the word "sin" for trespasses, and compacts the idea of temptation avoidance with the final test, without mentioning the Evil One. Then follows two teachings on prayer: first regarding prayer as hospitality, and second, prayer as generosity. "Daily bread" is unfolded in the example of the man late at night begs bread from a neighbor for an unexpected guest. The teaching is about this hospitality of bread that leads to a teaching on persistence in prayer, especially when it seems as if one's petitions are unanswered. The second teaching flows from the midnight knock not the door. Ask, seek, and knock. God will answer prayers. Perhaps a bigger question is what exactly did first century Jewish prayer look like. The Siddur was already in development by the rabbis, and so there were elaborate formal prayers, often memorized. There was also a tradition of contemplative practices. ...

Homiletics Notes / 22.07.2019

Much has been made of the sins of Sodom and Gomorah. The current edition of the NAB has in Gn 19, 5 "that we might have sexual relations with them." One translation has "that we might abuse them." It is this violation of hospitality for which the cities are punished. Troubles begin with these cities in Gn 14 already, stories of violent warfare and unjust acquit ion of war booty, especially enslaving people. Because the Gospel reading which holds first place in the homiletics for the Sunday has nothing to do with homosexuality and the so-called homosexual agenda, it is arguably inappropriate to use the Sunday homily to go off on the topic. The Gospel is about prayer and hospitality, and this takes precedence. In any event the first reading from Genesis is also about prayer, petitioning and even arguing with God to save the cities. This aspect of the tory is much more interesting and relevant than other aspects of this story. Abraham seems to win the contests with God, but that the number in Lot's family falls short of the ten. Abraham's rhetorical skill is very entertaining, reflecting the cleverness of his rationale. Abraham is praying for his enemies, as Jesus commanded us to do. Go back to Gn 14 for the story of the battles of the four kings with Abraham victorious. We find this very difficult to do today in our culture. ...

Homiletics Notes / 20.07.2019

LIke Martha, Abraham has control of his household. He moves quickly; they all respond in haste to his orders. It is not just the servants but Abraham and Sarah themselves who engage in the service of hospitality. The "little food" is a lot; a steer would have provided five hundred pounds of meat, or less if you consider the breeding stock of that time, but still. In return the divine guest, the Lord present in the three, offer a greater gift to Abraham and Sarah, a son! dThe Psalm responsorial praises people like Abraham and Sarah as exemplars of the just and holy person. In both stories, one is left to wonder what the conversation under the great oak tree was about, or whatever Jesus was telling Mary. Moses or Luke do not tell us. Perhaps this is left up to our imaginations, or to suppose that the conversations were about friendship, holy love, laughter (God forbid that a Catholic should think that Jesus laughed!). What would you have heard at one of these meals? What would you have said or asked? What gift would the guest give you? What do you have to offer the guest? ...

Homiletics Notes / 18.07.2019

For years I worked for Unbound, when it was the Christian Foundation our Children and Aging; I travelled to almost all the states and preached for these missions in 317 parishes on weekends in the course of seven years. Typically my flight landed and often someone, rarely the priest, would pick me up at the airport. And the hospitality began, or not. Often the priest, if he was alone in the parish, took advantage of my arrival for the weekend to get away himself for a much needed break. Then I was housed alone in his rectory. Perhaps it was the pastor who had a pet python loose in the rectory which he failed to tell me about, but I learned quickly in these travels that hospitality could sometimes be very sketchy, if not outright inhospitable. On the other hand there was the rectory with the most fully stocked bar of scotches, bourbons, ryes, and cognacs I've ever seen in my life, and he left a note to help myself. Parishioners in these places were consistently very generous and helpful, concerned that their visiting priest was well taken care of and fed. There was actually one place on the west coast that was utterly inhospitable and rude, against which I literally drove the airport rental to the edge of town, got out, and shook the dirt of that town off my shoes. Hospitality is a lot of work,. It seems to be so right now in our country, because we have become an inhospitable nation. If we had been in Abraham's shoes and saw strangers coming up out of the desert, we would have arrested them incarcerating them in inhumane conditions. Abraham offers them a feast. Where is our feast? Why are we afraid? What has become of us that we've gotten this point in our culture and history? ...