Homilette for Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 21:5.8-20a; Matthew 8:28-34)

The townspeople of the gospel today seem like ingrates after Jesus relieves them of a public menace. They beg Jesus to leave their territory because he has cast out demons from two men who threatened travelers. But these people, who are pagan, may be just unsure of who Jesus is. Obviously he has supernatural power. Will he now use it against them? They simply do not want to take any chances.

Much of Matthew’s gospel probes the question, who is Jesus? His words calm storms and heal people’s lifelong illnesses. His teaching based on purity of heart possesses an authority that converts prostitutes and swindlers to righteousness. Jews as well as pagans wonder about the nature of this authority. Near the end the aristocracy of Jerusalem condemns him to death as an enemy of the people. But the final verdict is made by an objective observer, the pagan soldier who after seeing Jesus suffer nobly, declares, “Truly, this was the son of God.”

Many today wonder not so much about Jesus's identity but about the legacy he has left. They question whether Christians truly live the righteousness that Jesus taught. Although Christian virtue is bountifully manifest in figures like St. Francis, there is always evidence of coexistent vice. By daily pursuing the good in his name, we give mounting evidence that Jesus is truly the son of God.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis19:15-29; Matthew 8:23-27)

It may seem like the lesson of Sodom is one of revulsion with homosexual behavior. Remembering the context of the story, we realize that the angels warn Lot to flee the city before God annihilates it out of outrage from the townsmen’s attempt to violate Lot’s guests. But as often happens in Genesis, the wisdom is more profound than what first meets the eye.

When the three strangers visited Abraham in the country, he welcomed them like kings. He gave them water to refresh their skin and a feast to recover inner forces. Now in the city of Sodom, Lot similarly treats two of the same travelers, but his neighbors threaten them. Indeed, the men of Sodom move to rape the travelers as apparently is their custom. Lot in a rather foolish effort to protect his guests offers the men his virgin daughters, but the Sodomites reject the women.

The men of Sodom, like those of Babel earlier in Genesis, demonstrate the corruption of the city. City dwellers conspire to advance their knowledge and technology, but their progress leads them astray. They become arrogant which is to say that city-dwellers see themselves as independent of God’s authority. Not accountable to a higher power, they take advantage of those who are not their own but still represent the Creator’s handiwork. This turning inward on themselves causes the men of Sodom to even despise women. There is no antidote for such barbarity. God must destroy them completely. Although it is a hard lesson, city dwellers must develop a righteous fear of God to accompany their advancement in science.

Homilette for Monday, June 29, 2009

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

(Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8.17-18)

One of the most interesting tours available in Rome is a visit to the scavi (that is Italian for diggings) behind St. Peter’s Basilica. Partakers descend not only below the earth but through time learning on the way both Church and Roman history. The climax of the journey is a little vault directly beneath the altar of the basilica where the bones of the chief apostle are believed kept. No one can verify that the remains actually belonged to St. Peter, but an argument can be made for it.

We can be sure that Peter stayed in Rome, but what he did there is uncertain. If he was commissioned to preach the gospel to all nations, would he have spent his time overseeing the affairs of the local church? More likely he used Rome as an itinerant preacher today prefers to live in proximity of an airport facilitating travel in any direction. Paul, we might remember, told the Romans in his letter that his stop there would be a stepping stone to Spain. In time, however, the bishops who assumed direction of the Church of Rome also took on the task of managing apostolic endeavors the world over.

We should not forget just how good the news of the gospel is. Added to the promise of eternal life, hearers of the gospel are invited into a community of equality, freedom of spirit, and genuine care for their well-being. Today we celebrate the two most illustrious preachers of the gospel. Both paid for the privilege with martyrdom. It is an occasion for all Christians to give thanks to God.

Homilette for Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 17:1.9-10.15-22; Matthew 8:1-4)

As a newly ordained priest the biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown told his pastor on January 1 that he intended to preach on the circumcision. “Ah, you’re not going to do that, are you?” the pastor replied as if even the circumcision of Jesus was a sordid subject. “I most certainly am,” Fr. Brown asserted. All of us, I imagine, would be interested in what he would say about today’s first reading.

Circumcision is a custom older than Abraham. Pagan societies circumcised young men as a sign of sexual potency and the coming of age. But when Abraham and his descendants circumcise their infants, a very different meaning is conveyed. The principal characters are the father and mother of the circumcised, not the boy himself. They demonstrate how carrying out a rite mandated by God does not flaunt sexual prowess but restricts it. The act indicates their intention of raising the child in every way that the Lord commands. Indeed, circumcision implies that the parents do not own their son but that he is a gift from God entrusted to their care.

It may not seem right that this sacred rite is reserved for males. However, we need to take note that the Bible is not concerned about equality in the same way as western humanity. The sad fact is that men need this reminder of duty and chastity much more than woman since nature allows them to distance themselves from the actual birthing of children. Perhaps it is significant that Baptism, which functions in ways similar to circumcision, is obligatory for female as well as male Christians. We recognize the tendency to sin in everyone and the way out of sin’s morass is not through reminding a person of his or her duty but through movement with the Spirit who comes by means of the water.

Homilette for Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 16:1-12.15-16; Matthew 7:21-29)

Children like to fantasize about deathbed conversion. They ask their religion teachers about the possibility of living a life of leisure, then confessing their sins just before they check out, and finally experiencing even greater comforts in heaven. In this way they would defy their mothers’ chastisement, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” But today’s gospel shows mother’s wisdom to be on target after all.

When Jesus says that not everyone praying, “Lord, Lord,” will enter heaven, he has in mind those who think that they might reach salvation by only calling upon God. Rather, he adds, the sincere attempt to put into practice what he has just taught in the Sermon on the Mount is also required. We should emphasize that he is not denying the necessity of prayer as if we might meet the challenges of the Sermon by the force of our will. No, sooner or later, we realize that the tenets of Jesus’ Sermon are beyond even the best of us. We need God’s gracious hand in order to fulfill them, and we need his merciful arm to reach down for us when we fail to do so.

Homilette for Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

(Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66.80)

In Mathis Grünewald’s profound painting of Jesus’ crucifixion, a diminutive John the Baptist stands at the Savior’s side. He is smaller than life because the artist wants to signify the meaning of the Baptist’s words in John’s gospel, “(Jesus) must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). For this reason also, the Church has placed the birth of John the Baptist just after the summer solstice when daylight begins to decrease.

Today’s gospel focuses on the naming of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child. “John” literally means “Yahweh has shown favor.” We see God’s favor in two ways. First, he has blessed the pious couple with a child despite their old age. Second, John will serve as the precursor of God’s greatest blessing – His son, Jesus the Christ. The naming is also significant because by insisting on “John” both parents comply with God’s will. For Zechariah this compliance indicates a turnabout from his previous incredulity when the angel announced to him that he was to have a son. We may see this change of heart as indicative of the grace of Jesus’ coming already taking effect.

A woman I know always sends Christmas cards in July. It seems incongruous to be thinking of cold nights and warm stables when hot winds are blowing across the land. But her sentiment is much the same that the Church wants to propagate with the celebration of John’s birth today. The birth of Jesus is news to good too be contained. It needs to be announced in season and out of season. Today we celebrate one who announced it even before he was born.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 13:2.5-18; Matthew 7:6.12-14)

If Abram is to be the patriarch of a great nation, he must not be greedy and treacherous. Rather diligence and magnanimity befit one whose descendants will number like particles of dust on the earth. Abram’s hard work has made him rich; in the first reading today he displays his golden nature. When he realizes that his and his nephew’s Lot households are too large and complex to dwell together, he asks Lot to depart but does not dictate where Lot is to go. A fair way to determine who will keep what land would be to cast lots or flip a coin. But Abram proves himself more than fair by giving Lot his preference. Shrewdly but unwisely Lot picks the more favorable plains to the east. There he will mix with city dwellers who incur God’s wrath. Meanwhile, God blesses Abram again for his nobility of spirit.

In the gospel Jesus warns his disciples that they should avoid the easy way in life, no doubt referring to “easy money” gained dishonestly or “adult recreation” achieved by degrading others. He might have his ancestor Abram in mind when he gives this lesson.

Homilette for Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 7:1-5)

In order to appreciate God’s call of Abram from Genesis today, we should take note of the context. Babel has just fallen and with it any illusion that humans will by themselves come to a recognition of God’s preeminence and the need to follow his mandates. Although God has scattered the peoples over all the earth, He still intends to bring them together in peace and harmony. His plan is to forge a new nation with Abram as its leader to be an exemplar of loving obedience for the whole world.

We should notice that Abram is an unlikely candidate for the role. His name means exalted father, but he is, in fact, childless at seventy-five years of age! He is also homeless and nation-less. He does have a wife, the beautiful Sarai, whom he loves – a fact that does offer him some recommendation. He also seems to have some ambition as he responds to the unlikely call to greatness.

God directs Abram to leave his father’s house for a new land. There God will teach him the beginnings, at least, of leadership of a large nation. Abram will thus become a patriarch, indeed the greatest of the biblical patriarchs. But we must add that under God’s tutelage patriarchy carries a meaning quite different from that justly condemned by feminists today. God will teach Abram to be conscious and fair, not arbitrary and self-promoting. He will lead Abram to a consistent respect and tender care for women, not to hardness and domination. He will cherish his children, and not neglect them. These are lessons for us also to heed as we listen to the story of Abram unfold.

Homilette for Friday, June 19, 2009

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Hosea 11:1.3-4.8-9; Ephesians 3:8-12.14-19; John 19:31-37)

Why does the soldier stick his lance into Jesus’ side? Is he cruelly trying to pile on disgrace? Or perhaps he mercifully means to put Jesus out of his misery if there is any life left in him? One commentator suggests this soldier’s motive is beside the point. He says that by mentioning the incident, John the Evangelist merely wants to show that Jesus is really dead. More important than its exegetical meaning, the symbolic meaning of the act has captured the imagination of Christians through the centuries. The lance thrust into Jesus’ side pierces his heart indicating that like most people in the world Jesus suffers a broken heart.

Reviewing the gospel, we see much reason for Jesus’ feeling abandoned and broken. His people, the Jews, have almost unanimously rejected him. The supposedly law-driven Roman government has knowingly played into the hands of the Jewish conspirators. One of his closest disciples has betrayed him while another, the leader of the pack, has denied him. Yes, Jesus is spurned by those whom he has cared for.

In this world having a broken heart is not as remarkable as what we do with it. Basically, there are two options. We might allow the bitter experience to teach us that others suffer a similar fate and need consolation. Or we might sulk and complain about our pain. Symbolically again, Jesus takes the former route. Blood and water signifying the grace of Baptism flow from his wound. This same grace enables us also to respond with compassion to the suffering of others.

Homilette for Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 1:1-11; Matthew 6:7-15)

A woman writes of her father, a medical doctor, arriving home late every night but never too tired to sing her a bedtime lullaby. Most fathers, I suspect, see their daughters as princesses worthy of such attention and, we have to add, of the best of men around.

In the first reading today Paul, quite unabashedly and amazingly, declares his fatherly love for the Corinthian church. After all, he gave it birth by preaching Christ in the city and then taking time there to mold a community together. He cannot help, then, but be deeply put out when that daughter begins to flirt with an imposter. The Christ to whom he introduced the Corinthians is not a legal fundamentalist demanding attention to every article of the law in pursuit of personal perfection. This, however, is how competitor preachers among the Corinthians described Jesus. Rather the true Christ imparts his holy Spirit to move his people first and foremost to love for others.

Nevertheless, we should not see the pursuit of excellence as in opposition to a love for others. Excellence means cultivating the virtues which make us spontaneously and generously give of ourselves. Introspection is part of the process, but we have to move out of ourselves to address the needs of those whom we are called to love.

Homilette for Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 9:6-11; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

We know that the fairly common English word hypocrite means pretender. A hypocrite is not who he or she seems to be. The word is actually Greek for actor. This is reasonable since actors are the ultimate pretenders in that they receive rewards from others for portraying someone who they are not. Hypocrisy runs directly against the morality preached by Jesus, especially in this Gospel according to Matthew which emphasizes a radically changed heart. Jesus’ disciples are to love sincerely, that is without pretence.

In today’s passage, which we always read on Ash Wednesday, Jesus warns us three times about being hypocrites. He tells us that we are not to be like actors playing for the approval of others when we give alms, when we pray, and when we fast. Rather we should consider God as our audience who, of course, readily scrutinizes the sincerity of our hearts.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 8:1-9; Matthew 5:43-48)

Once a young man was entertaining tourists at a cable car terminal in San Francisco. He was so humorous that the people actually asked if they might give something for his efforts. The man at first feigned refusal and then, of course, accepted their gifts. In the second reading today St. Paul endeavors to make the Corinthians feel similarly compelled to make contributions to the collection he is taking up for the poor in Jerusalem.

A reform-minded politician claims that money is a lot like fertilizer in that it has to be spread around before it does any good. Certainly Christians have every reason not to hoard it. As Paul intimates here, since Christ has been super-generous with us, we should look for ways to assist others. With plenty of stories about misuse of donations, we are naturally cautious about giving money to anyone who claims a need. But this concern should not make us uncharitable. Indeed, many of us are quite capable of discerning genuine needs and assisting economically those who have them. Paul makes it clear that we have a duty in Christ to do so.

Homilette for Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 5:38-42)

Twenty-five years ago, Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic candidate for vice-president, stated in a televised debate that when someone offends her, she does not get angry, she gets even. Of course, this is not the attitude that Jesus wants us to cultivate. In today’s gospel he tells us explicitly not to offer any resistance to one who does evil.

Jesus’ command is a super-tall order. Many insist with good reason that he is using hyperbolic language. This means that Jesus exaggerates the obligation of his followers in order to move them from the natural disposition of taking revenge. In other words, we do not have to submit completely to the unjust actions of persecutors but we should be forbearing in our response to them.

Forbearance is hardly a virtue of our time. People today either try to get even when they are offended or they sulk in bitterness. Forbearance inclines us to tolerance of others’ faults and a willingness to forgive their offenses against us. In these ways we mirror the Father’s patience with all the world’s sins, including our own.

Homilette for Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 5: 27-32)

It is said that the third century theologian Origen castrated himself with the hope that he might be freed from sexual distractions. Perhaps some of us struggling with Jesus’ command in the gospel today have wondered whether Origen was on to something. Jesus says in the gospel that if your eye causes you to sin (a reference to lust) pluck it out, and if you hand causes you to sin (a reference to masturbation) cut it off. The Church, however, disapproved of Origen’s action long ago and would condemn today the removal of a body part because it seemingly causes temptation to sin. Although spiritual life has priority over physical life, there is a mutual interdependence of the body and the soul. As noble (or as crazy) as it may seem to remove an physical organ involved in spiritual temptation, such action would abuse God’s gift of the body and therefore result in injury to both body and soul.

Jesus’ command in the gospel today then must be considered hyperbolic. He is telling us to take some action to avoid sexual impurity by exaggerating the length to which we may go. In a similar vein a bit later in the gospel he enjoins those who have been injured to “offer no resistance to evil.” This does not mean that they may not defend themselves but that they should pursue reconciliation rather than revenge.

But how do we deal with sexual temptation that plagues us even in old age? We can enumerate a few principles. First, it is serious matter that distorts our love for God and neighbor. For this reason, Scripture continually exhorts us to pursue “purity of heart.” Second, over-emphasis on sin and prohibition has in recent centuries robbed sexuality of its goodness and beauty. However, the reaction of the last fifty years which has spurned efforts to achieve a pure heart has likewise impeded the pursuit of virtue. Third, achieving purity of heart means ridding oneself of the instincts to dominate, to possess, and to be gratified by animal pleasure. To begin the quest requires self-control including “custody of the eyes” over what ignites sexual passion. And fourth, ultimately only the Holy Spirit can render the heart pure so we must continually pray that this will happen.

Homilette for Thursday, June 11, 2009

Memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle

(Acts 11:21b-26.13:1-3; Matthew 5:20-26)

St. Barnabas may not be on any list of patron saints for religion teachers, but he consummately fills the role. We might call him the prototypical catechist given that, besides Jesus, he seems to be the first teacher mentioned in the New Testament.

In the Acts of the Apostles Barnabas teaches by example as well as by words. In fact, his giving the total proceeds of the sale of his property to the community of disciples in Jerusalem has eloquently taught Christians throughout the centuries generosity and commitment. Today’s reading from Acts testifies how the Holy Spirit somehow makes Its favor of Barnabas as teacher known to the church at Antioch.

In the history of the Church ministries have come and apparently gone. St. Paul mentions various ones in his First Letter to the Corinthians: apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of mighty deeds, healers, helpers, administrators, and speakers in tongues. The ministry of apostle remains alive in the bishops. True prophets are rare but, hopefully, still functioning. Teachers are an absolute necessity if the faith is to be consistently passed on and vitally lived out.

Holmilette for Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 3:4-11; Matthew 5:17-19)

It is surely a credit to pro-life advocates that they can see in an infinitesimal human embryo a human being. What gives them confidence, of course, is the knowledge that the embryo has all the life-producing information and dynamism to grow into a vivacious person. St. Paul displays this same confidence in the incipient Christian movement when he compares it to the illustrious Jewish faith in the first reading today.

Paul acknowledges the inherent superiority of Christianity to Judaism because of the presence of the Spirit. Although we have to recognize the Spirit’s role in Jewish prophecy, we should see along with Paul its activity in the lives of Christians as the essential difference in their morality. Where Judaism depends on a code of law to keep a people in line, Christianity looks to the grace of the Holy Spirit. Christians also have a written text. Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount incorporating much of Jewish law provides that. But what is quintessential about Christian life is that this law is everywhere activated by the Spirit of love.

We may see this Spirit at work in many pro-life workers. Some stand voluntarily on sidewalks in front of abortion clinics day after day. They are some criticized as yelling at women about to have an abortion, but this kind of behavior is not the rule. Rather, their love shines through as they pray for the fetus about to be annihilated and gently suggest to the mother that there is a more caring way to handle her child.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 1:18-22; Matthew 5:13-16)

In 1930 Mahatma Gandhi mobilized the Indian subcontinent to demand independence. His tactic called for a protest on the salt tax. Salt is called “the poor person’s spice” because it is everywhere available and enhances the taste of most foods. The salt tax forbade the producing or selling of salt by anyone except the British government. Organizing a march to the sea where salt was to be collected, Gandhi made all the people realize that England had no right to claim sovereignty over their land.

When Jesus calls his disciples “the salt of the earth,” he -- like Gandhi organizing the salt march -- has no mean objective in mind. Rather, he is encouraging his disciples to help lift everyone’s burden by their solicitation. Joyful because as God’s children their destination is heaven, they are to invite the world on their journey. Likewise as light, the disciples are to draw attention to themselves so that everyone will emulate their righteous conduct.

Unfortunately many Christians today doubt their standing as salt and light. They see other ways of living and recognize their own as different not qualitatively better. We should not be so reserved. True, we must examine our motives and correct our faults, but we should also realize that the gospel implicitly followed will fulfill the deepest longings of every human heart.

Homilette for Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 1:1-7; Matthew 5:1-12)

Once an oriental man visiting churches in Italy was amazed to see so many images of someone hanging on a cross. He asked something like, “What evil deed could that guy have done so that they don’t want anyone to forget it?” Unlike this oriental we see the crucifix in a completely benign way. Just as Paul speaks of being encouraged by Christ's sufferings in the opening of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, so our meditation on the crucifix provides us consolation to face the hardships of life with equanimity and hope.

As the year of St. Paul comes to a close, let’s reflect briefly on his contribution to our lives. Of course, he was the great apostle journeying, tirelessly, bravely, and successfully to tell our ancestors about Christ. We may credit our being Christian today to his efforts. He also brilliantly laid the groundwork to our understanding about Christ, especially in relation to Judaism. Equally important, his letters convey sensibilities similar to our own which make credible our following Jesus in the midst of a society which often moves in a different direction. Paul gives us confidence that Jesus’ story is no myth but answers the questions of an acutely honest person who from an encounter with Christ was convinced that whatever sacrifices he had to make for him are well worth the trouble.

Homilette for Friday, June 5, 2009

Memorial of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

(Tobit 11:5-17; Mark 12:35-37)

Once an advertising campaign promised to “bring a mountain to Chicagoland.” The pledge excited the city’s children who never saw a mountain other than in books. It turned out, however, that the mountain was only a new brand of coffee being introduced into the Chicago market.

In today’s gospel Jesus refutes a kind of advertising campaign about the long-awaited Messiah. The people believe that the Messiah is to be a descendant of David, the mighty king whose military exploits established Israel as a regional powerhouse. Jesus notes, however, that one of the psalms refers to the Messiah as “my lord.” Since David is considered the author of all the psalms, Jesus asks how David can call a descendant “my lord.” He means that the expectation of the Messiah as a descendant of David is inadequate if he is to be David’s “lord.” Somehow, Jesus implies, the Messiah’s accomplishments have to transcend David’s military feats.

Jesus’ accomplishments comprise an achievement that would put David in awe. He dies a horrific death in complete submission to God’s will. He rises from the dead as indication of God’s approval for his sacrifice. And he sends his Holy Spirit upon his disciples to guide them to moral and spiritual heights. Yes, David and certainly we as well must acknowledge Jesus as “lord.”

Homilette for Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 6:10-11.7:1bcde.9-17.8:4-9a; Mark 12:28-34)

Dr. George Vaillant is a psychiatrist who has taken up a longitudinal study of Harvard graduates in the early 1940s. One purpose of the study is to answer the age-old question of what makes people happy. Dr. Vaillant believes that happiness has much to do with how people cope with setbacks. If after a difficult experience a person suspects everyone as wanting to do him or her in, happiness is probably going to be elusive no matter how much money the person has or how healthy he or she is. On the other hand, if the person faces setbacks by becoming more compassionate to others, then she or he is likely on the road to happiness.

How might we judge Tobiah’s and Sarah’s responses to their difficulties? In yesterday’s reading we heard how Sarah chose to act on behalf of her father when faced with the ignominy of having seven husbands die before consummating their marriage. We might say that she opted for altruism over passive aggression. Tobiah is challenged in today’s reading. When told of his cousin Sarah’s terrible experiences of marriage, he might have ignored his father Tobit’s advice to marry a kinswoman by feigning illness. But he sublimates his fears by praying to God for deliverance. We should not be surprised on Saturday when we hear how all turns out well for this family.

Homilette for Wednesday, June 3, 2009

St. Charles Lwanga, martyr, and his companions, martyrs

(Tobit 3:1-11.16; Mark 12:18-27)

In the gospel passages this week Jesus may remind us of a champion prize fighter or a pool shark. He takes on all who wish to challenge him and easily turns back their best efforts. Yesterday he outwitted the Pharisees who tried to trap him with a touchy question about taxes. Today he defends himself against the Sadducees who poke fun at his idea of the resurrection. Tomorrow he will respond insightfully to a sincere question about the greatest commandment.

Mark the Evangelist portrays Jesus as superior to all other teachers. His description of Jesus’ perfection will reach its height on the cross where Jesus’ bloody death brings about reconciliation between heaven and earth. Mark shows us that Jesus is not only wise and holy but courageous and self-sacrificing.

The argument which Jesus makes in today’s gospel fills out Mark’s portrait. What good would reconciliation of heaven and earth be if there is no resurrection of the dead? Too often in this world the good eat dirt while the unjust enjoy fine dining. In the resurrection of the dead we expect to find reversal. Those who love God and neighbor will have seats at the eternal banquet. Meanwhile, those who give lip-service to God and their backs to the poor may find themselves smelling the aroma outside the banquet hall.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 2:9-14; Mark 12:13-17)

Tobit tries to please God and to help his neighbor. Being more zealous than prudent, however, his sense of righteousness causes him to err. In the segment of his story today he accuses his hard-working wife of stealing. We can almost hear him cry out afterwards in remorse, “God, what a mess I make of everything. Why don’t you take my life?” Perhaps some of us, after committing similar blunders, have felt the same self-disgust.

As reckless as Tobit’s suspicions are, must Anna respond so bitterly? Does she need to criticize her husband for performing good deeds in the past? No, her words sting Tobit unjustifiably. She also has to control her emotions. A more prudent response in her case would be, “Take it easy, Tobit. I would never steal another person’s belongings.”

Neither Tobit nor Anna needs to despair, however. God hears the cries of those who call to him. Learning from them, we should curb the inclination to judge others harshly. It is a much safer practice to pray for the person we are impulsively tempted to criticize. And, if it turns out that our impulse to criticize was indeed wrong-headed, we can thank God for sparing us a situation where we would have acted foolishly.