Friends, the parable at the heart of our Gospel today from Matthew 20 is one of those passages in the New Testament that really bothers people. It proves that this parable is not just conveying correct information about God; it is reaching into our souls and doing spiritual work, shining light upon a certain darkness in us that resists him. And in this case, the darkness is a false view of what heaven is all about.
Friends, today in our second reading, St. Paul says, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.” In many ways, the whole Bible, the whole of revelation, is summed up in this statement. Yet everything in our culture militates against this: it’s all about your life, your choice, finding your voice, asserting your prerogatives. When we live in this little world, we remain stuck in a kind of permanent adolescence; when we live for the Lord, we enter into the adventure of being truly human.
Friends, they say that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Well, today I’m going to rush in to some stormy waters by looking at the central issue of the Protestant Reformation: this issue of faith and works, or faith and the law. Martin Luther famously said that what he discovered in Paul is that we are justified or saved by faith alone. But why does the same Paul, in our second reading, say that "one who loves another has fulfilled the law"? The witness of the New Testament is richly complex on this question, and the Catholic position honors that richness and complexity.
Friends, our first reading for this weekend is from the twentieth chapter of Jeremiah. There is so much spiritual wisdom in Jeremiah, but more than any of the other prophets, we come to know his personality and his life. And in this passage, all the texture of being a prophet is on display: both the terror on every side and a fire burning in the heart—both the opposition of those who refuse to hear the Word and the irresistible desire to announce it.
Friends, I do a lot of debating and dialoguing with agnostics and atheists, and very often, when they attack the faith, it's along the lines of: How could an all-knowing and all-good God allow (fill in the blank)? Why does he allow childhood leukemia, or natural catastrophes, or animal suffering? Much of the objection hinges upon the puzzle that is proposed by the existence of God. And we hear a classic answer from within the heart of our tradition today in our second reading from St. Paul to the Romans.
Friends, our Gospel today from Matthew 15, the famous story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, is one of those Gospels that bothers and unnerves people. How should we read it? It is not that Jesus was grouchy after a tough day of ministry, and this plucky woman speaks truth to power to get what she wants. We are meant to read it in a much more subtle way. This story is driving at an issue that is central to the Bible—namely, the relationship between Israel and the other nations.
Friends, our Gospel for today is Matthew’s account of the calming of the storm and the walking on the water. This is an event that reached very deeply into the hearts and minds of the first Christians: we can find an account of it in all four Gospels. And the iconic representation in the Gospels shows us the theological and spiritual implications of this real event. It is an image of the Church, the barque of Peter, passing through the stormy times of life.
Friends, it’s a wonderful grace that the Feast of the Transfiguration this year falls on Sunday. The first reading the Church gives us from the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel might strike you as curious, but it’s very apropos. Daniel has a vision of four beasts rising from the sea, symbolic of four worldly kingdoms, each one being destroyed in preparation for a final kingdom—the kingdom of God. In Jesus’ time, they read these four kingdoms as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. If you think this is just wild speculation that had nothing to do with Jesus, think again.
Friends, our first reading is from the First Book of Kings, and it's one of my favorite passages in the entire Old Testament. If you're going on a retreat, spending a Holy Hour, or just wanting to get in touch with the Lord at the end of the day, it's a wonderful little passage to focus on. The setting is the early days of the reign of King Solomon, and the question it raises is this: If you could ask God for anything, what would you ask for?
Friends, we are reading during these weeks of summer from the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which contains many of the great parables of Jesus. But I want to focus just on one today because it’s so rich both theologically and spiritually: the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jesus’ story shows us how evil, by its very nature, is a corruption of the good. It is a parasite—and we need requisite care and patience in dealing with it.