September 23, 2018

O. T. XXVI September 30) Sunday Homily

One-page summary of OT XXVI (Sept 30) Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Central theme: Today’s Scripture readings give us a strong warning against jealousy, intolerance and scandal. Scripture lessons:  In the first reading, we find jealousy, in its destructive form of envy, raising its ugly head in Moses’ assistant and successor, Joshua.  Moses and seventy future helpers were called by the Lord God to the Tent of Meeting for the Spirit-giving Ordination ceremony. But two of the invitees were absent, and Joshua could not tolerate these absent men prophesying in the camp without receiving God’s Spirit in the Tent of Meeting. Moses had to instruct Joshua to be tolerant. This selection is intended to provide a Biblical background for Jesus’ response to the same kind of jealousy noticed in his apostles.  In the second reading, James warns the rich against giving scandal by their denial of social justice to their workers in refusing to give them a living wage, by ignoring the needs of others and by condemning and murdering the innocent and the righteous.  Withholding a day-laborer’s wage was a terrible act of injustice, tantamount to murder in the agricultural economy of the ancient Middle East.  Baptism commits every Christian to work for social justice, through peaceable (rather than violent), means. The Refrain for today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 19), “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart,” reminds us that obedience to the spirit of the Law will draw us closer to God and so give us lasting joy.  In the Gospel, we find intolerance among the apostles of Christ. John complains to Jesus that a man outside their group of selected disciples has been exorcising demons in Jesus’ Name, in spite of their attempt to prevent him from doing so.  Jesus responds by giving the Apostles lessons in his kind of tolerance and in the reward to be given to outsiders for good deeds they have done for the disciples of Jesus.  We also hear the strong warning of Jesus against giving scandal, especially to innocent children, vulnerable members of the community and beginners in the Faith.  Jesus instructs the Apostles, and us, that, just as a doctor might remove by surgery a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us or others to sin and which leads to spiritual death.

Life messages: 1) Let us avoid conduct that can lead to scandal.  We give scandal and become stumbling blocks to others: a) when we are unkind or unjust in our treatment of them, b) when we humiliate them by hurting their pride and damaging their self-image, c) when we discourage, ignore, or refuse to accept them, and d) when we become judgmental of those who are still struggling to reach a level of commitment that we feel is too low to be useful.  2: Let us learn the Christian virtue of tolerance: Christian tolerance asks that we bear with the weaknesses of others (without condoning the evil they do), by: a) remaining true to our conscience and beliefs, b) respecting the differences we encounter, c) working together on projects of common interest, d) affirming what is good in the other person’s position, even when we disagree on certain things, and e) allowing the light of Christ to shine through our loving words and deeds.

OT XXVI [B]: Nm 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 

Anecdote: #1: Could you not have tolerated him for just one meal?”   There is legend told about Abraham, the grand patriarch of the Jews, in the Mideast. According to the legend, Abraham always held off eating his breakfast each morning until a hungry person came along to share it with him. One day an old man came along, and, of course, Abraham invited him to share his breakfast with him. However, when Abraham heard the old man say a pagan blessing over his food, he jumped up and ordered the old man out from his table, and from his house. Almost immediately, God spoke to Abraham. “Abraham! Abraham! I have been supplying that unbeliever with food every day for the past eighty years. Could you not have tolerated him for just one meal?” We are all children of God, and, hence, we have to love and tolerate everyone, as explained in today’s first reading and the Gospel. (From Jack McArdle). 

# 2: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” It was one of the most gripping news stories of 2003. In the beautiful but desolate mountains of southeastern Utah, a twenty-seven-year-old mountain climber named Aron Ralston, made a desperate decision. An avid outdoors man, Aron was rock-climbing one day when his right arm became trapped under a boulder, a boulder estimated to weigh at least eight hundred pounds. He saw immediately that he was in deep trouble. Unable to budge the rock at all, Aron took out his pocketknife and chipped away at the rock for 10 hours, managing to produce only a small handful of dust. Obviously, this was not going to work. Days were passing. No one knew where he was. Even worse, his family and friends were used to his going off for days without contacting anyone, so they were not even looking for him. With his arm still wedged beneath this enormous boulder Aron Ralston recorded a video message to his parents telling them good-bye. At the end of several days with no food or water, however, Aron made a remarkable choice. Aron Ralston decided to amputate his arm in order to save himself. And that’s exactly what he did, using only a pocket knife. What an amazing display of courage and determination! After he was finished, he applied a tourniquet to his arm and rappelled nearly 70 feet to the floor of the canyon. Then he hiked five miles downstream where he encountered some other hikers and was rescued. Aron Ralston made the obviously excruciating decision to amputate his right arm to save his life. It is an amazing story! Who can read this story without thinking of Jesus’ words from our lesson for today, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell”? What a stark declaration. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Aron Ralston certainly made a choice – to sacrifice his arm in order to save his life. There are choices that must be made in life, and those choices determine our destiny. 

#3: Gandhi, Mandela, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. With our fallen human nature, we fall victim to the evil tendency of trying to control the Spirit of God by our intolerance.  Our own arrogance insists that another is not qualified to speak on justice or morality because of his/her lower educational qualifications, low-grade lifestyle, humble social background or race.  As a society, we also tend to question people’s legitimacy – especially when they challenge us.  Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu leader in India, challenged the colonial rule of the British Empire over India with his principles of peace and non-violence.  But the intolerant British Empire, initially dismissing him as a “silly, half-naked fakir,” tried to silence him by imprisonment.  But later they found, to their horror that the entire nation was behind him in its fight for freedom from colonial rule.  Nelson Mandela was ignored by the minority ruling class and was jailed for many for years as a radical because of his option for the poor and the oppressed in South Africa.  Dorothy Day was imprisoned in the U. S.  for her beliefs and was accused of being a Communist.  Martin Luther King Jr. challenged a nation and its policy of discrimination.  He was continually under surveillance by the FBI and was accused of inciting sedition and of being unpatriotic.  There are Christians who still look on believers belonging to non-Christian religions and on members of Christian denominations different from their own as heretics and semi-pagans.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a lesson in Christian tolerance along with a warning against jealousy and scandal.    

Introduction: Today’s readings give us a strong warning against jealousy, intolerance and scandal.  In the first reading, we find jealousy, in its destructive form of envy, raising its ugly head in Moses’ assistant and successor, Joshua.  Moses and seventy future helpers were called by the Lord God to the Tent of Meeting for the Spirit-giving ordination ceremony. But two of the invitees were absent, and Joshua could not tolerate these absent men prophesying in the camp without receiving God’s Spirit in the Tent of Meeting. Moses had to instruct Joshua to be tolerant. This selection is intended to provide a Biblical background for Jesus’ response to the same kind of jealousy noticed in his apostles.  The Refrain for today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 19), “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart,” reminds us that obedience to the spirit of the Law will draw us closer to God and so give us lasting joy.  In the second reading, James warns the rich against giving scandal by their denial of social justice to their workers in refusing to give them a living wage, by ignoring the needs of others and by condemning and murdering the innocent and the righteous. Baptism commits every Christian to work for social justice through peaceable (rather than violent), means.  In the Gospel, we find intolerance among the apostles of Christ. John complains to Jesus that a man outside their group of selected disciples has been exorcising demons in Jesus’ Name, in spite of their attempt to prevent him from doing so.  Jesus responds by giving the Apostles lessons in his kind of tolerance and in the reward to be given to outsiders for good deeds they do for the disciples of Jesus.  We also hear the strong warning of Jesus against giving scandal, especially to innocent children, vulnerable members of the community and beginners in the Faith.  Jesus instructs the Apostles, and us, that, just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us or others to sin and which leads to spiritual death.  Jesus is inviting us to integrate our bodies into our following of Christ, so that our hands become instruments of compassion, healing and comfort, our feet help us to bring the Gospel to the world and our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty all around us.

First reading, Numbers 11:25-29, explained: The Book of Numbers was written down after the Exile, in the 6th century BC, by Jewish priests who were hoping to put the broken nation back together and to keep it faithful to God.  Chapter 11 has two stories of God’s responses to the continuing complaints of the wandering Israelites.  First, they had lamented the absence of meat from their diet, comparing the manna unfavorably to the variety of foods they had eaten while enslaved in Egypt. Moses appealed to God, saying that he was unable to manage the people alone. God heard his plea and told him to select seventy elders — experienced men from among the tribes — whom God would appoint as leaders of the people under Moses and assemble them in the Tent of Meeting.  Moses did so, and their God bestowed on them part of the Spirit He had given Moses. At once, they began to prophesy—a sign to the people that God had appointed them as His representatives. They prefigured the ministry of the apostles.  But Joshua, a close follower and aide of Moses who was jealous for Moses’ reputation, complained about two men named Eldad and Medad.  Though both had been on Moses’ list of 70, neither had attended the Spirit-giving ordination ceremony in the Tent of Meeting, yet both were prophesying.  Moses asked Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” and reminded him gently that God is free to choose anyone He pleases as His prophet. Moses promptly corrected Joshua for showing the tendency toward institutionalizing the power and presence of God. Through Baptism, all of us are made God’s ministers and God’s prophets.  We are filled with God’s Spirit and empowered to interpret God’s vision and message to the people around us, and we are not to grow jealous of those serving the community in positions of greater authority or working for the community in different venues.

Second Reading, (James 5:1-6), explained: The passage from James illustrates how the rich give scandal by their unjust treatment of laborers and their gross violation of the principles of social justice.  Today’s passage is a straightforward moral condemnation and a strong denunciation of the unscrupulous rich who enrich themselves by treating others unfairly and spend their riches in self-indulgence. Withholding a day-laborer’s wage was a terrible act of injustice, tantamount to murder in the agricultural economy of the ancient Middle East.  James is merciless in his condemnation of ill-gotten wealth.  There’s hardly a more emphatic passage in the New Testament.  Baptism commits every Christian to work for social justice through peaceable (rather than violent), means.  Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on social justice echoes the tradition of James. Jean Paul Sartre, the French existentialist made the false statement: “Hell is other people!” But the truth is that hell is the “person of only one book.” Hell is me, when I am alienated from others, and, from God.

Gospel exegesis: Today’s Gospel gives us lessons in Christian tolerance and exemplary Christian living.

 1) Warnings against jealousy and intolerance: The apostles wanted to reserve God’s love and healing power to themselves as the “sole owners” and “authorized distributors”! We hear John complaining to Jesus that a stranger was driving out demons in Jesus’ Name, though he was not of their company.  They want Jesus to condemn the man.  As occasionally unsuccessful exorcists, they may have been jealous of this stranger.  Jesus, however, reprimands his disciples for their jealousy and suspicion and invites them to broaden their vision and to recognize God’s power wherever it is found.  Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus challenges a rigid understanding of ministerial legitimacy.  He wants the apostles to rejoice in the good that others are doing, for God is the Doer of all good.  Jesus enunciates a principle for his disciples: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”  God can and does use anyone to do His work. The invitation to proclaim the good news of salvation, in both word and work, is not restricted to the twelve apostles or seventy disciples but extended to anyone who will hear and respond to it “in Jesus’ name.” The Church has no monopoly on God’s work, truth, love or power to heal and reconcile.  The work of the Kingdom is not confined to the baptized, although it is certainly our special work.  This lesson is especially valuable today.  Intolerance rising from fear and envy has a long history in the Christian Church and Christians are still known for a spirit of intolerance.  Ask the average person on the street what he/she thinks is a Christian attitude, and he/she will use words like “judgmental,” “narrow-minded,” “dogmatic,” “condemning,” and “intolerant.”  The road to the brotherly love Jesus commands must begin with each of us.  The cause of Christ is not served by one’s rejecting other ways to God than one’s own, or by one’s claiming that no real good can take place outside the boundaries of one’s own denomination.  It is through mutual respect that we find common ground with others and discover strengths in different beliefs.  Wherever we see God’s work being done, we should give it our support and be ready to work together with those doing the work, whether they are Christians or not, believers or not.

2) Tolerance in practicing ecumenism: The ecumenical movement aims at uniting all Christian denominations as a sign of Christian tolerance taught by Jesus. “The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 820). That is why Jesus prayed: “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me’” (CCC 820). As a sign of tolerance, the Catholic Church sees all the baptized as separated brethren and instructs Catholics to practice ecumenism.  i) by practicing personal holiness, by becoming the best Catholics we can be.  ii)  by public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, including appropriate prayer in common with separated brethren. iii) by “fraternal knowledge” which means first, learning Catholic doctrines thoroughly and next, by becoming friends with non-Catholics, and learning what those friends believe. iv) by promoting collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind, in our parishes and communities.

3) A millstone for the scandal-giver: Jesus’ second warning is against scandal-givers: those who cause the “little ones” to sin.  The Greek word for “little ones” is micron, meaning the smallest or the least.  It can mean children, those who are new to the Faith, or those who are weak in Faith.  Jesus is pointing out that the scandalous behavior of older believers can be an obstacle to those whose Faith is just beginning to develop.  Etymologically, the word scandal comes from the Greek skandalon, which was a trap-stick or bent sapling used for a snare.  With a skandalon a hunter could catch a rabbit or other small prey.  We may remember how the Enron scandal, the Monica Lewinsky affair, and of course, the horrible sexual abuse of children by the clergy were pictured by the media.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” (#2284).

4) Modern scandal-givers: The truly dangerous people to whom Jesus is referring are those evil ones who wear the mantle of religious leadership, and at the same time, by their counter-witness, turn the weak and the innocent away from God, and cause them to sin.  Today, we know the irreparable harm done to the Church and the faithful by the scandals of clerical sex abuse and its coverup by the church authorities.  Likewise, scandal is often given by unorthodox theologians and false preachers, who propagate their anti-Christian ideas under the guise of Biblical and psychological research.   Professors, even at some Christian universities, sometime advocate moral relativism and nihilism, converting students to their false beliefs.  Even teachers at Catholic universities sometimes criticize papal pronouncements as “an infringement on academic freedom.”  Do they not give scandal?  Our major social institutions — the news media, the Internet, law, public education, and the entertainment industry — under the guise of “freedom of speech and expression,” often seem hostile towards religion, erecting stumbling blocks to believers.  We have an obligation to make known, with Christian courage, our views on these matters so as to protect the innocent.

5) Interpreting Jesus’ words about self-mutilation? Our hands become instruments of sin according to what we touch and how we touch, in lust or greed or violence. Our feet are used for sin according to the places we have them take us.  Our eyes become doorways for sins according to what we choose to look at or refuse to look at.  However, it is important to understand that, in these passages about “plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand,” Jesus is not speaking literally.  We have more sins than we have bodily parts.  Besides, even if all offending parts were removed, our hearts and minds — the source of all sins– would still be intact.  Hence, these sayings are actually about our attitudes, dispositions, and inclinations.  Jesus is inviting us to integrate our bodies into our following of Christ, so that our hands become instruments of compassion, healing and comfort, our feet help us to bring the Gospel to the world, and our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty all around us.

By these startling words about self-mutilation, Jesus also means that we must cut out of our lives all practices that keep us away from God, and retain only those habits that draw us closer to God.  Jesus is setting before all his disciples the one supreme goal in life that is worth any sacrifice.  That goal is God Himself and His will for our lives, which alone leads us to everlasting peace and happiness.  Just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything which causes us to sin and which leads us or others to spiritual death.  Billy Graham has a fantastic way of summing up this Gospel message by concluding his Crusades with a final challenge: “Decide!  Cut away anything that prevents you from a radical decision for Jesus Christ!  Decide for Christ!”

Life messages: 1) We need to avoid conduct that can lead to scandal.  We  give scandal and become stumbling blocks to others: a) when we are unkind or unjust in our treatment of  them, b) when we reject them because of their weakness, faults or sins, c) when we humiliate them by  hurting their pride and damaging their self-image, d) when we discourage, ignore, or refuse to accept them, e) when we ridicule them or deflate their dreams, f) when we follow a double standard: “Do as I say; don’t do as I do,”  g) when we set standards which are so high that we are unable to meet them  ourselves, and h) when we become judgmental of those who are still struggling to reach a  level of commitment that we feel is too low to be useful. On the other hand, we become good role models: a) when we support and guide others in moments of doubt, weakness, and suffering, b) when we increase other people’s self-confidence by accepting them as they are and enabling them to discover their hidden talents, c) when we help them to grow by inspiring and correcting them, d) when we forgive them and listen to them with patience, and e) when we make ourselves examples of Christian witnessing.

#2: Let us learn the Christian virtue of tolerance: Christian tolerance asks that we bear with the weaknesses of others, without condoning the evil they do.  Intolerance is a sign of a weak faith.  Intolerance is also ineffective.  It does nothing but damage to the cause it seeks to defend. When we attack a heretic, we don’t change his mind, for the most part. We just give him an audience.  To ban a book, is, almost surely, to make it a best seller. Condemning a sinner immediately draws people to defend him.  An intolerant attitude will alienate, rather than attract, sinners.  Only genuine agape love can overcome hatred.  The Church should display this patient love to a hate-filled world.  The Church is expected to present Christ to the world.  How can the Church present Christ when it is arrogant or intolerant rather than loving others as Christ loves us?  We cannot exalt love by encouraging hate.  Hence, let us try both to learn and to practice the virtue of Christian tolerance in our interfaith and ecumenical endeavors by: a) remaining true to our conscience and beliefs, b) respecting the differences we encounter, c) working together on projects of common interest, d) affirming what is good in the other person’s position, even when we disagree on certain things, and e) allowing the light of Christ to shine through our loving words and deeds.

# 3: “He who is not against us is for us:” (Emailed by Fr. Fredie A.C. freddieac@gmail.com): There is a tendency   in us to downgrade, condemn, slander, ridicule, put down and make defamatory remarks against anybody who is different from us. Since the Church of Christ is scandalously divided on denominational lines, it is in our nature to think other denominations as inferior and ridicule or condemn them. When some lay people do better than the clergy in preaching and healing ministry, it is natural for the latter to feel envious of them and question their authority. The Gospel invites us to respect the gifts and charisms of all those who work in Jesus’ name. Though we need not and cannot accept all the viewpoints of those who are opposed to us, Jesus teaches us to respect them and their viewpoints. All have a right to their own views and thoughts. How wrong we are in thinking that we alone are right, all others are wrong; we alone possess the truth, others do not; we alone possess a monopoly over salvation. This does not mean we accept anything and everything from anybody and agree with it. We too should have our own personal convictions. Tolerance involves a respect for various aspects and facets of the truth. Intolerance gives the impression that nothing is true beyond what our eyes can see. Again, is this also not a sign of arrogance? How difficult it is for us not to hate the person himself when we hate his/her views/ beliefs/ opinions! Jesus calls us to build up a truly tolerant and inclusive society.

JOKES OF THE WEEK #1: Intolerance in the blood: In Belfast, Ireland, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi were engaged in a heated theological discussion.  Suddenly an angel appeared in their midst and said to them, “God sends you His blessings.  Make one wish for peace and your wish will be fulfilled by the Almighty.” The Protestant minister said, “Let every Catholic disappear from our lovely island.  Then peace will reign supreme.” The priest said, “Let there not be a single Protestant left on our sacred Irish soil. That will bring peace to this island.” “And what about you, Rabbi?” said the angel. “Do you have no wish of your own?” “No,” said the rabbi. “Just attend to the wishes of these two gentlemen and I shall be well pleased.” (Anthony de Mello, in Taking Flight).   #2: Die, heretic scum!” I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off.  I immediately ran over and said “Stop!  Don’t do it!” “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!” “Like what?” “Well …  are you religious or atheist?” “Religious.” “Me too!  Are you Christian or Jewish?” “Christian.” “Me too!  Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “Protestant.” “Me too!  Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” “Baptist.” “Wow!  Me too!  Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?” “Baptist Church of God.” “Me too!  Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God.”  “Me too!  Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!” To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off. {An Emo Phillips skit}.

# 3: Jealousy even in death: Feeling very ill, a tough businessman went to see his doctor. After examining him, the doctor backed away and said, “I regret having to tell you this, but you have an advanced case of highly infectious rabies. It appears you’ve had it for some time. It will almost certainly be fatal.” In shock, the man asked the doctor for pen and paper. “Do you want to write your will?” the doctor asked. “No! I want to make a list of all the people I want to bite!” the man replied.)

USEFUL WEBSITES OF THE WEEK

1) Guide to catholic Internet Resources: http://www.catholicusa.com/

2) Your guide to Catholic beliefs: http://www.aboutcatholics.com/

 

3) Families with students: http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/home.jsp

 

4) Catholic mothers: http://www.catholicmom.com/

5) DOUAY-RHEIMS Online Catholic Bible: http://www.catholicdoors.com/bible/index.htm

6) Text Week homilies: http://www.textweek.com/mkjnacts/mark9c.htm

23 – Additional anecdotes 1) Cut it off: According to an Irish legend, in olden days a group of adventurers set out from the European mainland in a few boats to conquer a new territory, what is believed to be the present Ireland. Their leader was a daring man of fortune who announced that whoever touched land first would possess the entire territory and become its king. One of his team members was named O’Neil who was determined to have the new land. He rowed mightily, but a rival boat pressed him hard, caught up with him and then outstripped him. What could he do as his rival was fast approaching the land? This strong-nerved, iron-minded O’Neil dropped his oars, seized battle-axe, cut his left arm, and threw it upon the shore over his rival’s head so that he could be the first to touch the land to make it his own. And he won the land by his heroic sacrifice. In today’s Gospel Jesus uses a similar metaphor asking us to cut off our hand if it causes us to sin and prevent us from inheriting Heaven. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne).

 

2) “If you call her a pig, Robert, you’re calling me a pig, too!” Robert A. Schuller, young Robert, tells of getting into an argument with his older sister when he was eight. “’You’re a pig!’ he screamed when she refused to give him one of his own toys. Their dad, television preacher Robert H. Schuller, heard what was going on. He came into the room and said to young Bob, ‘Robert, don’t you ever call your sister a pig again.’ ‘But, Dad, she is!’ he objected. ‘If you call her a pig, Robert, you’re calling me a pig, too!’ said the older Schuller. Young Bob had to think about that for a while. He certainly didn’t think his dad was a pig. His father could tell that he didn’t fully understand what he was saying. ‘Robert, if your sister is a pig, then I’m a pig. She is my child! I can’t have a pig for a child unless I’m a pig. When you insult your sister, you’re insulting me, too. When you mock or belittle yourself, you’re doing the same thing to me. You’re my son. The same thing is true for you and God or for your brothers and sisters in the human race and God. When you belittle yourself, you’re belittling God. When you insult your neighbor, you’re insulting God.’“ Young Robert said he never forgot that lesson. [Robert A. Schuler, Getting Through What You’re Going Through (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1986), p. 116.] It’s a lesson all of us need to learn. Can’t we all get along? We can, if each of us will open our hearts to the love of Jesus Christ.

3) “The building is on fire! The building is on fire!” Once there was an ecumenical crusade that was being held in a large city. Every imaginable denomination was in attendance for this unprecedented spiritual event. During one very well-attended event a secretary suddenly rushed in shouting, “The building is on fire! The building is on fire!” At which point: The METHODISTS gathered in the corner and prayed. The BAPTISTS cried, “Where is the water?” The QUAKERS quietly praised God for the blessings that fire brings. The LUTHERANS posted a notice on the door declaring that the fire was evil. The ROMAN CATHOLICS passed a plate to cover the damages. The JEWS posted symbols on the doors, hoping that the fire would pass. The CONGREGATIONALISTS shouted, “Every man for himself!” The FUNDAMENTALISTS proclaimed, “It’s the vengeance of God.” The EPISCOPALIANS formed a procession and marched out. The CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS concluded that there was no fire. The PRESBYTERIANS appointed a chairperson to appoint a committee to look into the matter and make a written report. And the secretary grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out [The Catholic Digest (September 1992), p. 37.] It is amazing the multitude of different groups there are, all calling themselves Christian. And each one, of course, feels that it has a corner on the truth. God must get a good laugh out of it all!

4) “Lord have mercy,” the old man whispered, “He’s gonna be a politician!” Some of our older members may remember a ridiculous, time-honored story about an old country preacher who had a teenage son. One day, while the boy was at school, his father decided to try an experiment. He went into the boy’s room and placed on his desk three objects: a Bible, a silver dollar, and a bottle of whiskey. “Now then,” the old preacher said to himself, “I’ll just hide behind the door here, and when my son comes home from school this afternoon, I’ll see which of these three objects he picks up. If he picks up the Bible, he’s going to be a preacher like me. If he picks up the dollar, he’s going to be a businessman, and that would be okay, too. But if he picks up the bottle of whiskey, he’s going to be a no-good drunkard.” Soon the old man heard his son’s footsteps as he came in the house. He watched as the boy walked over to inspect the three items on the desk. First, the boy picked up the Bible and placed it under his arm. Then he picked up the silver dollar and dropped it into his pocket. Finally, he uncorked the bottle and took a big drink. “Lord have mercy,” the old man whispered, “He’s gonna be a politician!” I guess we could say that, unless you’re going to be a politician, you are going to have to make some choices in life. Life is a matter of choices. Choices about how you spend your time. Choices about how you spend your money. Choices about what you think is important.

5) The “greatest moment in sports history” anyone has ever seen. The members of the opposing Central Washington University softball team did something that stunned spectators. Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Sara. The umpire said there was no rule against it. So Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace put their arms under Sara’s legs, and she put her arms over their shoulders. The three players headed around the bases, stopping to let Sara touch each base with her good leg. The three-run homer would count. Here’s what’s amazing. Listen up all you sports addicts. This act of sportsmanship by the Central Washington team contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs. There was a price for their compassion, but still they did what was right. Sports writers around the country have hailed this event as the ultimate act of sportsmanship. Others have said it is the “greatest moment in sports history” anyone has ever seen. (Billy Strayhorn, http://www.epulpit.net/080810.htm.) I say it reflects a change that must take place in human hearts before God’s kingdom comes on earth, even as it is in Heaven.

6)  “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” It was one of the most gripping news stories of 2003. In the beautiful but desolate mountains of southeastern Utah, a twenty-seven-year-old mountain climber named Aron Ralston, made a desperate decision. An avid outdoors man, Aron was rock-climbing one day when his right arm became trapped under a boulder, a boulder estimated to weigh at least eight hundred pounds. He saw immediately that he was in deep trouble. Unable to budge the rock at all, Aron took out his pocketknife and chipped away at the rock for 10 hours, managing to produce only a small handful of dust. Obviously, this was not going to work. Days were passing. No one knew where he was. Even worse, his family and friends were used to his going off for days without contacting anyone, so they were not even looking for him. With his arm still wedged beneath this enormous boulder Aron Ralston recorded a video message to his parents telling them good-bye. At the end of several days with no food or water, however, Aron made a remarkable choice. Aron Ralston decided to amputate his arm in order to save himself. And that’s exactly what he did, using only a pocket knife. What an amazing display of courage and determination! After he was finished, he applied a tourniquet to his arm and rappelled nearly 70 feet to the floor of the canyon. Then he hiked five miles downstream where he encountered some other hikers and was rescued. Aron Ralston made the obviously excruciating decision to amputate his right arm to save his life. It is an amazing story! Who can read this story without thinking of Jesus’ words from our lesson for today, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell”? What a stark declaration. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Aron Ralston certainly made a choice – to sacrifice his arm in order to save his life. There are choices that must be made in life, and those choices determine our destiny.

7) Sodium chloride: If there are any chemists here this morning, you know that sodium is an extremely active element found naturally only in combined form; it always links itself to another element. Chlorine, on the other hand, is a poisonous gas that can stand by itself. Chlorine is what gives bleach its offensive odor. When sodium and chlorine are combined, the result is Sodium Chloride. What is Sodium Chloride? Salt. Common table salt. The substance we use to preserve meat and bring out its flavor. The substance we use to add spice to meals. Love and truth can be like sodium and chlorine. Love without truth is flighty, sometimes blind, willing to combine with various doctrines. On the other hand, truth by itself can be offensive, sometimes even poisonous. Spoken without love, it can turn people away from the Gospel. When truth and love are combined in an individual or a Church, then we have what Jesus called “the salt of the earth,” and we’re able to preserve and bring out the beauty of our faith.

8) Dante’s View:  In Death Valley, there is a place known as Dante’s View. From this location you can look down into the lowest spot in the United States, a depression in the earth two hundred feet below sea level called Black Water. But from Dante’s View you can also look up to the highest peak in the United States, Mt. Whitney, rising to a height of 14,500 feet. In one direction you move to the lowest spot in the United States, in the other, to the highest. From Dante’s View, only the traveler can decide which direction he or she will take. [Maxie Dunnam, The Devil at Noon Day (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).] There are choices we must make. If you’re going to have a healthy spiritual life, there are choices you must make about the input you give your mind. If you’re going to have a healthy marriage and a healthy family, there are choices you’re going to have to make every day.

9) Can you be the new Telemachus? One person armed with the Gospel of peace can change the world. Telemachus did. Who was Telemachus? He was a monk who lived in the 5th century. And his story is a story of courage. He felt God saying to him, “Go to Rome.” He was in a cloistered monastery but he put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why all the excitement and was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus. He thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for enjoyment?” He ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar!” and he thought, “This isn’t right.” He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, and tried to stop them. The crowd became enraged and stoned the peacemaker to death. When the Emperor of Rome, Honorius, heard about the monk, he declared him a Christian martyr and put an end to the games. Legend has it that the very last Gladiatorial game was the one in which Telemachus died. Jesus said, “Have salt in yourselves – be at peace with each other.” Sometimes it seems we have gladiatorial games going on inside the Church, inside our homes, at work. And the games have been going on for as long as we can remember! Who will be a Telemachus? Who will be the monk who jumps into the arena, sacrifices himself, and brings peace? Peace can be made but it sometimes comes at a heavy price.

10) 268 years of peace and 8000 broken peace treaties:  Here is an interesting statistic: The Society of International Law, in London, observed that during the last 3,550 years of recorded history there have been only 268 years of peace. That means that since the beginning of recorded history, the entire world has been at peace less than eight percent of the time! What is even more interesting is that during this time in excess of 8000 peace treaties were made — and broken. My friend, that represents a lot of turf wars. Why do we not have peace in our life? Because, at any cost, we fight to protect our turf, and we fight to get the turf of the other fellow.

11) USA flag on a Russian ship! Some time ago there was an interesting story about whales that were trapped in the ice off the coast of Alaska. These whales swam in the cool waters of Alaska so long that they missed the last plane to Hawaii! They were completely enclosed by the deepening ice. Some people saw their plight and tried to rescue them by sawing through the ice, but they were unsuccessful and called for additional help. The United States Navy sent in a ship to rescue the whales. That, too, failed. Finally, a Soviet ice­breaker was asked to plow through the ice allowing the whales to swim out into the open sea. This was in American waters, and thus, before the Russian ship started its work, a United States of America flag was raised on its mast. People, especially the Press Corps, could hardly believe it! Here was a USA flag on a Russian ship! A whale was used to bring two countries, often at odds with each other, together for the sake of rescue. [Eddie Fox & George E. Morris, Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So! (Franklin, TN: Providence House, 1999).] It’s interesting. God also used a whale to get the attention of the prophet Jonah. As you’ll remember, Jonah was prejudiced against the people of Nineveh. He wanted God to destroy the people of that city. And then God sent a whale . . . and then a gourd . . . and then a worm. Finally Jonah got the message. It’s a message we still need to hear. All the world’s people belong to God. God loves us all the same. God’s will is liberty and justice for all the world’s people. But here is what we also need to realize: there will not be peace in the world until each of us resolves to live out the message of Christ’s love in our own family and neighborhood. If you and I cannot love one another, there is no hope for the world.

12) “If I don’t remember who I am in Him, I’m done.” Some of you are familiar with superstar singer Mary J. Blige. Blige is a three-time Grammy Award-winning rhythm & blues and hip-hop soul singer, songwriter and producer. She has had several #1 songs. Many people regard her as today’s queen of soul. Mary J. Blige has changed her image significantly over the course of her career, and she credits much of that change to her newfound faith in Jesus Christ. Blige claims that her early years in show business were marred by heavy alcohol and drug abuse. She projected an image of toughness, but inside she was hurting. One day, Blige read an interview with superstar Beyonce in which Beyonce spoke of her love for her mother and father. Blige found herself crying over the desire to experience that kind of love. In recent years, after giving her life to Jesus, Mary J. Blige is able to say, “It was later, when I gave my life to Jesus Christ, that I found out who I am. I’m a child of God. God is my mommy, my daddy. That’s the only thing that’ll keep my head up. If I don’t remember who I am in him, I’m done.” [“Oprah Talks to Mary J. Blige,” O, The Oprah Magazine (May 2006), p. 243.] It was important for Mary J. Blige to find Jesus. What difference does it make whether I become one who really is affected by Christ’s presence in my life?

13)  “Sacred Doves of Peace.”  Mark from Wisconsin wrote in to his newspaper with this most ironic story: He stopped by a pet store one day to look for a bird. As he entered the store, he noticed a strange rustling noise coming from the back. In the back of the store was a large cage with a sign underneath it advertising “Sacred Doves of Peace.” And in the cage were two white doves . . . beating each other to a pulp. [Life As We Know It, edited by Daniel Kelly (Kansas City: Andrews and McMee, 1996), p. 32.] I would like to say that is the way of the world, but it has often been the way of the Church as well. It reminds me of a proposal made by the Mennonite Church a few years ago. The Mennonites historically have been a Church that advocates peace. Here was their proposal: Can’t we agree that, as Christians, we at least won’t kill other Christians? The reference was to Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Liberals objected that this proposal makes it sound okay to kill Muslims or atheists or Hindus, which of course isn’t the point. Conservatives protested that this proposal might make war impossible.

14)  Sin is hell. And hell is serious business. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger [What Ever Became of Sin? (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973)] notes that American Presidents used to mention sin once in awhile, but that none has done so since 1953. The Republicans refer to the problems of “pride” and “self-righteousness.” The Democrats refer to “short-comings.” But no one uses the grand old sweeping concept of sin anymore. Thus, it seems, we as a nation stopped sinning sixty-five years ago! And, speaking of politics: a poll on Heaven and Hell in the Des Moines Register awhile back found that only one Republican in 35 expects to end up in Hell, whereas one Democrat in nine assumes he will. I am not sure what that means. It may mean that it does little good to preach hellfire and brimstone to a congregation that is filled with people who don’t believe there is a chance in hell that they will end up there. And that reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous statement. He said that when he died, he would like to go to Heaven for the climate but would probably prefer Hell for the companionship. Mark Twain was clever and witty, but he missed the point. Sin isn’t fun. Sin is hell. And hell is serious business.

15) An Intolerant person: The following anonymous piece offers a profile of such a person: “When the other person acts that way, he’s obnoxious;
When you do it, it’s nerves.
When she is set in her ways, she is obstinate;
when you are, it’s just being firm.
When he doesn’t like your friends, he’s prejudiced;
when you don’t like his, you are simply showing good judgment of human nature.
When she tries to be accommodating, she’s polishing the apple;
when you do it, you’re using tact.
When he takes time to do things, he’s plodding and slow;
when you take forever, you’re being deliberate and careful.
When she finds fault, she’s cranky;
when you do, you’re discriminating.”

16) Ecce Homo – Behold the Man!  A war story provided William Sangster with the picture he wanted in order to show that we see ourselves only when we see ourselves in Christ. “During the war a soldier picked up on the battle fields of France a battered frame which had once contained a picture of Christ. The picture had gone but the frame still bore the words: ‘Ecce Homo’. The soldier sent it home as a souvenir, and someone at home put a mirror on it and hung it on the wall. One day a man went into the house and understood the startling words ‘Behold the man!’ as he saw himself in the mirror. We only see ourselves when we see ourselves in Jesus. Blots we barely knew there come to view in his white light” [James Feeban in Story Power! Quoted by Fr. Botelho.] 

17) Small is beautiful:  For months the chapel was decorated with artificial flowers. While they looked pretty they lacked one vital thing – they emitted no scent. Then one day someone brought in a small bunch of fresh bluebells and placed them on the altar. As soon as you walked into the chapel you noticed the difference. The fragrance given off by the little bluebells filled the entire chapel. How the genuine article shines out, how it quietly makes its presence felt. It doesn’t have to be big. Even the dew lessens the heat. Jesus said that anyone who gave one of his disciples even a cup of cold water would be rewarded. The “cup of cold water” is a symbol of the small kind deed.   (Flor McCarthy in New Sundays and Holy Day Liturgies: quoted by Fr. Botelho.) 

18) Envy destroys: In Greek history we read of a young man who so distinguished himself in public games that his fellow citizens raised a statue in his honor, to keep fresh the memory of his victories. This statue so excited the envy of another rival who had been defeated in the races that one night he stole out under cover of darkness with the intention to destroy the statue. But he only nicked it slightly. He gave it a final heave and it fell – on top of him and killed him. –Envy always harms the one who is guilty of it. That is why in today’s Gospel Jesus warns us against jealousy and envy.    (Frank Michalic in 1000 Stories; quoted by Fr. Botelho.) 

19) A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle: A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, except one little boy who, tumbled, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down, then all turned around and went back……every one of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, instead of becoming jealous, even if it means slowing down and changing our course. (Fr. Botelho).

20) Send him to hell! O Henry, the master storyteller, once wrote a story about a woman whose mother had died when she was a little girl. When the father came home from work the little girl would ask him to play with her. Her father would tell her that he had no time and that she should go out into the street and play; then he would light up his pipe, take off his shoes, put his feet up and read the newspaper. By the time the little girl grew up, she was used to the streets, and made her living there. When she died, St. Peter looked up to Jesus and asked, “I suppose we send her to Hell?” The Lord said, “No she deserves Heaven. But go down to earth, look for that man who refused to play with her when she needed him, and send him to Hell because instead of training his daughter by good examples he ruined her life by bad example!” (Harold Buetow in God Still Speaks: Listen! Quoted by Fr. Botelho).

21) Feeding Sin: In 1939, a coast guard vessel was cruising the Canadian Arctic when the men spotted a polar bear stranded on an ice floe. It was quite a novelty for the seamen, who threw the bear salami, peanut butter, and chocolate bars. Then they ran out of the food. Unfortunately, the polar bear hadn’t run out of appetite, so he proceeded to board their vessel. The men on ship were terrified and opened the fire hoses on the bear. The polar bear loved it and raised his paws in the air to get the water under his armpits. We don’t know how they did it, but eventually they forced the polar bear to return to his ice pad–but not before teaching these seamen a horrifying lesson about feeding polar bears.

Some people make the same mistake with sin that these sailors nearly made with the polar bear. That is why Jesus gives the strong warning about the surgical removal of sources of temptation in today’s Gospel. (Sermons.com). Fr. Kayala.

22) Thomas Aquinas once remarked, “Beware the man of one book!” Narrowness, intolerance or living life according to only one book or point of view is as much an injustice to the person so trapped as it is against others. The following anonymous piece offers a profile of such a person:

“When the other person acts that way, he’s obnoxious;
when you do it, it’s nerves.
When she is set in her ways, she is obstinate;
when you are, it’s just being firm.
When he doesn’t like your friends, he’s prejudiced;
when you don’t like his, you are simply showing good judgment of human nature.
When she tries to be accommodating, she’s polishing the apple;
when you do it, you’re using tact.
When he takes time to do things, he’s plodding and slow;
when you take forever, you’re being deliberate and careful.
When she finds fault, she’s cranky;
when you do, you’re discriminating.”

Each of the readings for today’s liturgy invites the gathered assembly to shatter this profile and shake itself free of its “one book mentality” by becoming more aware and appreciative of the Spirit of God at work in others, even in those we least expect. (Sanchez Archives).

23) Difference between charity and social justice: Someone once told the following story as an illustration of the difference between charity and social justice: A huge boulder rolled down a mountain and landed in the middle of a narrow, curving roadway. An approaching car rounded the turn and crashed into the boulder. Families living nearby rushed to rescue the injured passengers, brought them into their own homes and tended to them until they were well. That’s charity. Not too many weeks later, another unwitting vehicle collided with the boulder and the families took them in and cared for them also. That’s charity. Within a month, still another carload of travellers hit the boulder. After seeing to the needs of the accident victims, the people in the area got together to decide how to get rid of the boulder. That’s social justice. When James, in today’s second reading, called upon the rich to attend to the needs of the poor, he was not recommending charity; he was demanding social justice. He was not pleading with the wealthy to dip into their surplus in order to throw a few crumbs to the needy. James charged the rich to give the poor what was their due on two counts. First, as members of the same community, all were, therefore, responsible for the well-being of one another. If one was in need, those who had the means to help were bound, by the Christian law of love, to do so. Second, that which was being withheld from the poor were their just wages. To refuse to pay the farmhands who had harvested the fields was not only an act of injustice, but it was an affront to God who is ever alert to the cries of the poor. (Sanchez Archives).

“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle B (No 50) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit my new  website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of FaithAdult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 196 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of my homilies.

Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.