Tuesday, Twenty-second Day of Ordinary Time

Today’s Scripture Readings

1 Corinthians 2:10b-16, Psalm 145:8-14, Luke 4:31-37

There are lots of spirits in today’s readings: the spirit of men, Spirit of God, unclean spirits. Personally I’m big on Spirit. My sense of my relationship with God is with God’s Spirit.

Without going into the details, the Corinthians are having an esoteric argument about having the proper spirit that would make a person wise, mature and perfect so they would be superior to others. The Gospel tells a simple story to illustrate that God’s Spirit overcomes evil spirits and heals people.

In both cases the proper Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. When Jesus is present the Holy One of God drives out whatever afflicts a person. Paul says it this way, “so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.”

We certainly don’t always understand the things that go on around us, or things that happen to us. I’m sure each of us has had demons that have hobbled what we were able to do. Sometimes our society can’t accept a change that would mean more equality or opportunity for others. It isn’t always clear where we need contemporary exorcisms.

However, I think we should still recognize that it is the Spirit within us that needs healing. If we can heal the spirit, then life changes. The simplest example I can think of is rainy days. Sometimes a rainy day makes me feel like I don’t want to get out of bed. Just stay under those covers and leave me alone. Yet just as often the day can be rainy and dark and I am eager to light a fire in the fireplace, sit on the couch and read a good book. On those days the rain gives me a reason to do what I want. What’s the difference? The difference is the Spirit of the day. Spirit can change anything. How many stories do we hear about physically disabled people who go on to overcome adversity and challenge our very understanding of what it means to be disabled?

These may not sound like spiritual examples. But I think they are. God’s Spirit is so woven into all of reality that you can’t separate worldly concerns from heavenly concerns. I think every decision we ever make is a spiritual connection to the God who made us. How else do we define ourselves except by the decisions we make. We either express in how we live, a life of love and care and humility, guided by what we have learned of God’s love and care for us or we don’t. We either do things that reflect and create a relationship with God or we let other ideas, other spirits, rule who we are. It doesn’t mean we get it right all the time. It means we are trying to follow what Jesus showed us. When we do, when we choose the way of love and generosity, then unclean spirits will be driven out because we too know who the Holy One of God is and just as Paul said, “we have the mind of Christ” and it is his Spirit that can change lives, rainy day or not.

Thursday, Twenty-First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s Scripture Readings

1 Cor. 1: 1-9, Psalm 145:2-7, Mt. 24:42-51

Both of this morning’s readings have to do with waiting for Christ. As we can tell from the letter to the Corinthians this wasn’t any easier in the first century than it is today. In fact, the Corinthians had a challenge we don’t have, they were thinking that Jesus might be coming back in their lifetime. For us, the issue of staying faithful is a challenge since we live in a world that isn’t supportive of many of our values.

What I noticed about the readings this morning is they seem to take two very different approaches to staying faithful. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is addressed to people who live their faith. In fact my sense is that they have made their faith a part of who they are. Paul compliments them as having been enriched with “all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ has confirmed among you.” It is evident that they have faith because they are talking about Christ to their friends and neighbors. They are excited about being Christian.

It seems to me Paul knows these people are solid in their faith. All they really need is a reminder that, “God is faithful” and the relationship they already have with Jesus will “keep you firm until the end.”

The scene in Matthew’s Gospel is completely different. First of all, this is set at least 25 or 30 years earlier and there isn’t a believing community yet. Jesus is trying to explain what a relationship with God might look like. So in this story from Matthew, Jesus is literally trying to explain what it means to be faithful. The example is about leaving someone else in charge. That someone may act out of your wishes consistently, all the time you are gone. Or as soon as you are not there to oversee what is happening that someone may, in fact, act contrary to your wishes, since you won’t know anyway. In this situation, when the person is not following your wishes, he or she had better keep watch. The story essentially expects that people need some oversight, or fear of discovery to be kept in line. If you’ve raised children you understand the necessity for this approach.

These two stories are great examples of at least one difference in how people can respond to God. In the Gospel someone is following directions, rules and guidelines established by another. If he or she follows them faithfully then as Jesus says, the Master may well put that person in charge of more property give them more responsibility. The motivation for acting a certain way is from outside the person.

In our letter to the Corinthians, these people have long ago been put in charge of more property, they have more responsibility. They have come to take charge of their own lives because they have developed a relationship with Jesus that has resulted in their confidence about life and the values they try to live. They have received spiritual gifts that enrich their lives. They are “in Christ Jesus.” They have a fellowship with Christ. Which doesn’t mean they have all the answers or don’t find keeping faith a difficult task. Rather there is no question about how they want to live and how they are trying to live. It is a part of who they are and what they are about. They may be challenged by situations from the outside but that is not the source of their motivation. The motivation, the desire, the care they exhibit is their own, from the deepest part of who they are, because of a love, a connection to God and Jesus. There is no need in this situation to stay awake as if God’s coming would be a surprise. For these people of God who were in Corinth, God is already there. Jesus has already come.

Tuesday, Twenty-First Week Ordinary Time

Today’s Scripture Readings

2 Thes. 2:1-3a, 14-17, Psalm 96:10-13, Mt. 23:23-26

Today’s readings demonstrate that for all the change that happens in the world the basics of human life stay the same. In this case, the challenge of holding on to what we believe and acting accordingly. I think it is easy for us to conclude that our world with its instant communication and awareness of the variety of cultures and beliefs that surround us is a more challenging environment for faith than in the past. Both Thessalonians and Matthew tell us the opposite.

Paul’s letter shows that even when communication was highly limited people were still challenged by those who held a different view. Others were telling Paul’s followers a different version of the Christian story. They were writing letters too and making speeches. Who is to be believed?

Matthew is telling the story about another side of this issue. Can we authentically live out what we believe? Clearly for Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees have missed the point of their Jewish law and heritage. They have found it convenient to expect compliance from others while absolving their own behavior. They are using the Jewish law to exclude and judge others while establishing themselves as preferred and right thinking. How easily we can fool and protect ourselves at the expense of other people.

Once again, none of this is new, it recurs because we are each given the freedom to become in our own time and in our own circumstances. Such a terrifyingly wonderful gift. The result is an intertwined mix of having to learn it all for ourselves yet within a web of relationships that teach, support and challenge who we are. So Paul and Matthew saw their communities facing the same human issues we face. The question is which of today’s narratives will guide us? What ideas will we adopt as our own? What will we choose in each new moment that shapes who we become?

Paul and Matthew are saying we are not alone. We have guides should we choose to listen. We can learn to see what is loving, honest and life giving in ourselves and others. There is joy to be had in this life, no matter our material circumstances, by living openly, caring for others and not being afraid of a new tomorrow. As Paul says, it means we should not “be shaken out of your minds suddenly.” Nor can we become hypocrites, as Matthew says, who “cleanse the outside of the cup” while “inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.”

Today’s psalm offers the solution, the story we can believe, the path we can follow, “let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice … for he comes, for he comes to rule the earth … with justice.” “He has made the world firm, not to be moved.” We live in a world that can be trusted because it is of God’s making. It is not an uncertain, unreliable place because God stands behind it as creator and also with it as evidenced decisively by the life of Jesus of Nazareth. God has given life and God shares in and supports our lives for the glory and joy of all. Don’t “be shaken out of your minds” by any other message.