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“Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Angels are important. They are the messengers of God. Without the angel Gabriel, would Mary have received the message that “the Lord is with you.” It is the angel Gabriel that tells Mary ” Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God” and it is the angel Gabriel who told Mary “and behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” The Angel Gabriel said to Mary; The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
Angels are important, and the messages they deliver are important. Angel Gabriel is the message of Gods strength. How often it was that Mary must have prayed for Gods strength, and how vigilant she must have been to receive Gods message and messenger. Through the messenger Gabriel Mary listens about of a child conceived by God, and that listening to Angels is important; if you don’t listen to the angel of God, then chances are you will fall prey to the messages of his opponent. Mary prayed to God and listened for Gods messenger, she awaited an Angel.
Gabriel is the angel “the strength of God”, an answer to prayers to Gods strength. Michael is the angel “who is like God”: Quis ut Deus! Michael battles Satin, the angel Michael is that of a warrior in search of an opponent, a protector and guardian. Prayers to Saint Michael the Archangel are for protection. Gabriel’s symbol is the horn delivering Gods message to Gods people, Michael’s is the sword for the defense of those people from the devil Satin.
The Angel Raphael is the message of Gods healing, or the prayer “God, please heal” and the message “God has healed.” From John, Chapter 5: “And an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he lay under.” The angel is Raphael. As simply human, people make mistakes. As people in battle with a devil enemy, people fall in battle and are wounded. We are subject to human frailties, disobedient, sinful, and easily deceived; we are victims of our human nature. It is the angel Raphael who delivers the message of Gods healing.
Angels are important; they are the messengers of Gods strength, protection, and healing. Throughout the bible, both old and new testament, are encounters with Angels. In the ancient world they were attentive to the works of angels. Over time though the image of angels has shifted through art and legend, cultural influences, and folklore that the theology of Angels can easily be obscured. That is sad because if the role of an angel becomes lost, there is always the danger that the message they are to deliver also might be lost; and the messages delivered by these messengers, Angels, are supremely important.
Well, what did I think of this Sundays’ reading, the story of Lazarus and the rich man? Lk 16:19-31 First, this person noticed that concern for the poor and infirm, notably absent in this story, is a cornerstone of Christianity. It is the religions defining trait, which is Christian charity. It is an outward display of Christian love that is so often the theme of the gospel. It is the alms giving of Lent. It is the Christ centered foundation of the homeless shelter, the reason for Christian education initiative, and the inspiration for the development of Catholic hospitals. Can I suggest the root word hospital is in hospitality or good will towards men? Charity towards the likes of Lazarus, the man begging from beneath a table, is absolutely fundamental to Christianity. It is nothing new today, but it was radical at the time of this story.
My other thoughts towards that story revolve around the details and how they are used. The story takes place at a table, so suggestive of the heavenly banquet mentioned frequently in Old Testament. The story does hint at that heavenly banquet; yet in heaven roles reverse; it is the rich man that begs beneath the table. In heaven Lazarus is granted that cherished seat at the table. As a side note, can anyone ponder the Lords table. That theme of table is common in many of the stories of Jesus. The dinner of the Last Supper , was it set in motion to offer Lazarus a seat at the table? “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Lazarus would have gladly eaten crumbs that fell off that rich mans table, yet he was so far removed even they were a dream. How far can an outcast be cast, how great can a barrier be?
Next I marvel at those purple robes, the color of royalty. It is so much the color of royalty that it was worn exclusively by royalty, for anyone else to wear that color was a crime. Jesus clearly wanted those Pharisees to see how they identified with royalty. They were (in their minds) religious royalty. There also was the royal court, and one should not leave out the King of all creation. Those Pharisees did behave like they were royalty, so obvious as they avoided all who were ritually unclean. At their table Lazarus would not even be granted a seat under the table, he would be pushed out the door. That was the reality of the day, there were clear boundaries between the privileged and the suffering. The gospel story clearly mirrors the society of that era. Lazarus was an outcast, ritually unclean and the definition of a sinner. The illustrated facts of life. Does this paint a picture?
“And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”
The next detail comes from the beggar himself, Lazarus and his name translates “God is my help.” With him is the call for society to change. In the “next” world he is the one rewarded, and the rich that behaved as royalty is sent to hell. That, to put it bluntly, is in direct opposition to the common belief. To those Pharisees, those who were suffering or cursed on earth were cursed for eternity. To make matters worse, that condemnation was as contagious as influenza is today. A vision of heaven and hell should be interpreted as the Ancient’s would have envisioned it. Heaven resided beyond the firmament ( a tangible physical barrier) and the place of the stars. Hell that frightening tortious place beneath the earth. Jesus, in His story, clearly argued for a call to change. That change is the good news of Jesus Christ, it is the essence of Christianity. To Christ the fear could be replaced with compassion, and compassion meets its reward in heaven. Christian compassion, and Christian charity, they begin with Jesus Christ.
Much of the world in my opinion has taken the lesson of this story to heart. That does not mean there isn’t room for improvement. I think of those hospitals Christian religious orders set up throughout Europe in the middle ages. I think of the charitable work with youth carried out by the likes of John Bosco’s Salesian order, I think of the outreach efforts off the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities. I think of the parishes St. Vincent De Paul Societies, and of the generosity of a country, and a churches citizens. Christianity in action, a table turned over and a world upside down.
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Odd thing about padre Pio, nobody believed in him. They all thought him a fraud and he was chastised and belittled by his superiors. Eyes rolled. The scent of roses, it was perfume from some other. The stigmata, mutilation. Rolling eyes, what can we do; an embarrassment for sure . That is until the bombers flew above the monastery , world war two. He stood atop it screaming and arms waving, go away go away. On the roof with bombers, chasing team away. Then they knew; that his preaching was truth. His life in danger , defending the faith. Saint.
They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
“He deserves to have you do this for him,
for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.”
And Jesus went with them,
but when he was only a short distance from the house,
the centurion sent friends to tell him,
“Lord, do not trouble yourself,
for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.
A small detail caught my eye in this healing of the centurions slave. The centurion had sent the Jewish elders to Jesus regarding that solders request. Note how that Jewish elder tells Jesus “He deserves to have you do this for him.” Those elders were not always the biggest supporters of Jesus, but they found themselves in a situation where Jesus might be able to help their cause. Note that I said help the elders cause, not help the centurion or his slave. Even though they disagreed with Jesus, the Lord could benefit them. With that they could turn a blind eye. Now I am no expert in the Latin language, though I certainly do wish I was. I regret not studying it in the past. In this situation though there is a phrase that leaps into my mind. It enters, although I don’t know how appropriately. Quid Pro Quo, what does that mean? I vaguely recall tit for tat, but that is not right. Quid Pro Quo.
To the dictionary: Quid Pro quo means an exchange of goods or services, where one transfer is contingent upon the other. English speakers often use the term to mean “a favour for a favour”; phrases with similar meaning include: “give and take”, “tit for tat”, “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”, and “Skid row bro.”
The Elders of a society would do something like that, and even back in the first century? Really, I thought that was the domain of the twenty first century politician. I had no idea a devout religious society would do such a thing. I do like the centurions statement though “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” Such Sincerity ! It is that sincerity that God seeks. A humble and contrite heart the LORD will not spurn.
Mercy, confession, forgiveness. They are present in all of the readings of this Sunday. All of the readings remind us of Gods infinite Mercy towards His children. In the first, the Lord has delivered the Hebrews from slavery. As Moses converses with God atop the mountain those people regress to their old ways, they build a golden calf for worship. Old habits die hard. The Lord warns Moses of the transgression, and Moses pleads on that flocks behalf. God is a Merciful God and forgives their transgression. Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 Those sinners are able to move past that sin and continue their journey towards the grace of God. Moses acknowledged what they had done was wrong, he did not try to justify a sin. Mercy, confession, and forgiveness. God is a merciful God that allows people to move from sin towards grace.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
Paul in his epistle acknowledges his sin. Paul was a persecutor of Christians. He was present at the stoning of Saint Stephen. In his letter Paul confesses his arrogance, he also confesses the faith he had discovered in Jesus Christ. It is in that faith that he preaches Christs gospel to others that once were unbelievers. Paul does not remain stuck in unbelief, and he does not remain condemned for his unbelief. He does not remain condemned because of his condemnation of Christians. He is able to continue his journey, he can move from darkness to light. Through the mercy of Jesus Christ he is forgiven. Dark to light, and sin to grace. 1 Tm 1:12-17
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
This is what Jesus in the Gospel argues with the Pharisees. A God of infinite mercy who offers forgiveness is the God that Jesus preaches, it is not necessarily the one that the Pharisees recognize. The Pharisees see Jesus associating with the sinners, and to them these sinners are the condemned. To those Pharisees the sinners have offended God, and because of that were condemned. Often irrevocably and that is a curse. To them Mercy and forgiveness are not apparent, and they fear the same vengeful curse. (The thing is a merciful and forgiving God is not a radical departure from their scriptures. Jeremiah, whom I have been reading, speaks of forgiveness. Gods mercy and forgiveness is etched throughout the Old Testament) It was the curse of the blind, and the crippled, and the leper. Vengeance versus mercy. Condemnation versus forgiveness. A God of wrath, and anger versus love and forgiveness. Jesus teaches of a God that goes after those that are lost and wounded, and a God that reaches out at all costs. That is a God of infinite mercy and forgiveness. God uncorrupted. Lk 15:1-32
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
The parable of the prodigal son also tells of two sons. The one that is disobedient and sinful, and the other that is sternly obedient. The sinner confesses his sins, and is embraced by the father. The other, he is arrogant and jealous of the sinner. Jealousy and arrogance are sins, they also are sins that are neither recognized nor confessed by that so called good and obedient son. Parables have many interpretations. One for this of the prodigal sons is that Jesus likened the righteous obedient son to the Pharisees. The Pharisees and Sadducees and Temple Priests and Scribes were the people’s conduit back towards God. The problem though was that they often functioned more as a roadblock to God, putting one barrier after another between God and man. Jesus wanted them to notice this, and to notice their own behavior in that righteous and arrogant son. He did not wish them to become like the sinner, but like the father that reaches out in an effort to bring that wayward soul back to the kingdom.
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time