From the Archives: Fr. Metzler’s Homilies

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

“Who is ‘the Other’?”

Malachi 1:14a-2:2b, 8-10     1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13    Matthew  23:1-12

Today’s readings are trying to tell us how to hear the Message preached to us, not just as weekly homilies, but in everyday life, as truly God’s word, and be transformed by it.

In the second reading, Paul is writing his first letter to the Thessalonians, to whom he had recently successfully preached the Word. He says to them in verse 13, “when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” What, exactly, is this ‘Word’ that we receive, and that we carry to others?

I don’t think that what Paul means here is that the Thessalonians in some way took Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to be ‘gods’ ,nor that they believed the words spoken were not those of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, but the voice of God speaking through them.

I believe that what the Thessalonians recognized was that the words spoken by Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy witnessed to the nature and activity of God, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To put it another way, they recognized the very presence of God in the act of proclamation. God is made known and becomes visible at the very point in time, the social circumstances, the physical space in which the speaker and the audience meet. In that moment, we become alert to God with us. The message that is proclaimed is a word that has its origin in the life-generating nature and activity of God.

This is also the way in which God becomes truly known — not in the abstract, but on the ground, in the midst of people’s lives.  The whole of our lives are lived in the presence of God, whatever our circumstances , because the power of God is at work in life-giving ways.

In the Gospel, Jesus confronts the Pharisees. They were religious leaders, whose authority lay in their ability to interpret Torah, or the Law of Moses. He acknowledges they “sit of the seat of Moses”, that is, have much reason to be respected,. But he insists, “…follow their words, what they say, not their deeds.” What they “say” when they cite the Scriptures is good, but Jesus and his followers do not accept their interpretation.

Clearly they are not telling people that Torah permits theft, murder, covetousness, or other such obviously immoral activities. Rather, the list here turns on issues of justice or status. They impose heavy burdens on others, requirements of such things as Sabbath observance and purity codes that become impossible for poor peasants or the urban poor to follow.

The detailed emphasis on following these laws was central to the teaching of the Pharisees, and not taking care to mitigate such things for people marginalized by their society added the burden of religious stigma to the burdens of poverty–disdain on top of suffering. ‘Rabbi’, ‘father’, and ‘teacher’ are specific titles to be shunned. They are all titles that carry both status and authority in the value system of the Empire. The vision and practice of an egalitarian community, with God and the Messiah as the only authorities to be accorded honor and obeisance, are hallmarks the early Christians wanted to share with the divine reign whose coming Jesus proclaimed.

Jesus affirmed that they should be servants; servant hood and humility were to characterize life in the Christian community. And Jesus made clear that one’s present action and attitudes about status and dominance would have consequences in God’s final judgment.

‘Father’ in particular was the term for the head of a household, whose total life-or-death authority mirrored the role of the emperor. To seek such roles and titles would be seen as desirable and in conformity with values about ‘pecking order’ in the Roman Empire, but those values should not prevail for Jesus’ followers.

We heirs of Jesus’ early followers adopted the very culturally more comfortable view that this text is opposed to. We have become the targets of what began as our own community’s rhetoric and trash-talk about those we consider ‘other’. A story from my own childhood too sadly reminds me of how it is ingrained, even from our earliest days.

My only excuse was that I was only 8 years old, a mill-town kid, and being the youngest of our neighborhood group of boys, I wanted to impress my friends. I did not know their name then, but I joined in the taunting of them when we were near their ramshackled house as we explored the nearby woods. After all, they were not one of us, they were not mill kids, and they were poor- as if mill kids could lay any claim to wealth. But today, after reflecting on these scriptures, for some reason, some unexpected reason, they are now very much with me; I now know their name, they were the ‘Other’.

On Sunday mornings they even dared to show up in church and so our taunting was silenced with only laughs and comments behind their back as they sat in Sunday School and in the pews during the service dressed in their tattered Sunday best. We watched them as we watched the pastor’s face to see if it would become as red and inflamed as the fire and brimstone sermon he always preached in his attempt to scare us into heaven.

Little did I know then, and unfortunately, neither the preacher or our Sunday School teachers let us know, that there in our midst, in our classroom and in the pews, the Gospel Truth was right before our eyes and all we could do was snicker, laugh, and talk behind their backs. I pray to God that now this memory that has been evoked by today’s reflections on these readings may NEVER leave me.

 

 

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A142OT28_1_cf03_4cIsaiah 25:6-10   Philippians 4:12-20   Matthew 22:1-14

“I Cannot Come to the Banquet”

The parable of the wedding feast has all the ingredients of a good story. There is the ‘larger than life element’ – not one or two guests failed to turn up but every last one of them. Then there are those who put on airs getting their payback and the triumph of the ‘little people’ when their attitude of putting on airs was scoffed at by the people from the streets who took their place.

There is the humor of imagining what it must have been like when you comb the streets to fill the seats: some of them won’t know what fork to use, who must have found themselves sitting next to whom.

Finally there is the shock ending which brings one up short. In spite of the open door policy, someone is turned away.

So the king’s true colors come through! And then the parallels kick in: salvation is rejected by those groomed for it, but you don’t receive God’s grace just by default – it places upon you an obligation of some seriousness.

But, of course, it is not a story. It is a parable of how our seeking of the ultimate banquet of God will go if we are not careful. You can’t assume you will simply get there because you belong; and just because those won’t get there just because they think they have a lock on it, doesn’t mean that we will inherit it by default.

One of the most dangerous temptations for traditional Christians is an easy assumption that they have responded to God’s invitation and are now comfortably seated at the banquet table waiting for their final and inevitable reward. This temptation is so insidious because it really is based on the fact of faithful religious observance.

Our lovely wedding garment begins to look somewhat soiled and shabby, when we begin to probe our hidden prejudices. Most of us claim not to be prejudiced, of course, but It’s almost certain that such a claim is in fact the worst prejudice of all, because it means that we’re not even conscious of our biases. It’s much better to be aware of them so that we can at least try to correct our attitudes.

It’s just those traditional and confident Christian communities that are most likely to be burdened by racism and sexism. It’s so easy to forget that Jesus associated freely and lovingly with all kinds of people who were considered unworthy by the “upright” folks of his day. The Samaritan of today would probably be the gay and the transvestite person. Until recently, they were them true outcasts.

This reminds us that the true characteristics of followers of Jesus are love and tolerance and respect for others, regardless of their social status or perceived unworthiness.

This doesn’t at all imply that one should condone unseemly behavior. But we should spend at least as much time removing the log from our own eye as in searching for the speck in our neighbor’s eye. Pride is such an insidious spiritual virus that it can spoil even our best efforts. I find it helpful to consider that definition of pride which notes that it is not so much the tendency to think too much of oneself as it is to think too little of others. How we think of others, and how tolerant we are of their shortcomings, will tell us a lot about whether we think too highly of ourselves.

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A139OT27_2_cf03_4c

Isaiah 5:1-7    Philippians 2:1-11    Matthew 21:33-43

Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-9: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

Paul, in his beautiful letter to the Church at Philippi, encourages Christians at all times to rejoice, regardless of the situation, and asks them in this passage today to throw their concerns upon God with “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving”. He encourages them to “have no anxiety at all” and to let the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding… guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.

Paul certainly had a right to express these feelings; as the Apostle commissioned by the Risen Lord, whose rock-solid faith was able to allow him to endure imprisonment, beatings, humiliation, and the loss of all things.

But, in second Corinthians, Paul speaks of being “under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.” In 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks twice of not being able to “bear” separation from the Thessalonians any longer. Paul, too, struggled with anxiety, especially for his Churches.

Indeed, some have made the intriguing suggestion that the “thorn in the flesh” which Paul says he was given, about which he writes in second Corinthians, might not be a physical illness at all, but anxiety itself. This is hard to prove, but it does point to the very real struggle Paul himself had with anxiety.

Anxiety in a religious context is a lack of dependence on God, or trust that God is on your side, that God is at work in us, that God cares for us.

What is the solution to this anxiety? What is Paul’s own prescription? In addition to prayer, Paul says to place oneself completely in God’s hands. And then, to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”. In other words, don’t short-change God by selfishness, discrimination toward others, dishonesty, or injustice. Our Gospel story today is a reminder about returning to the vine grower what is His due.

This doesn’t indicate that anxiety will never again strike Paul, but that he does have a prescription for how to deal with it when it does strike. It is sometimes easier to know the prescription, though, than to take it.

These past several months have had to have been among the most anxious times our parish has encountered financially for many years. Anxiety, especially my anxiety, rises to unbelievable levels at these times. Things even like prayer becomes harder to do.

Likewise, focusing on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable,” The peace that surpasses all understanding seems farther and farther away.

It is at times — and now in months, like these — that I am glad that Paul gave to us his own struggles, his own humanity, because it seems more possible, more likely, at a strictly human level, to want to try, one more time, the prescription he left to us, since he needed to use it himself. (John W. Martens © 2008 America Press Inc.)

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

“God is Looking for Gardeners Not Guards”

Ezekiel 18: 25-28    Philippians 2: 1-11    Matthew 21: 28-32

Gospel Summary

Today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story about the two sons and working in the vineyard after the chief priests and elders had asked him on what authority he taught.. In this parable, the vineyard stands for God’s people and the two sons represent those who are called to care for them.

The first son represents the established Judaism, which was in place when Jesus came. As often happens in such cases, the religious leaders of that time paid lip-service to the God of mystery but, when Jesus came in a way they had not expected, they were unable to accept the mysterious ways of God,

The second son stands for the “outsiders;’ including Gentiles, who had been accustomed to saying “No” to God but, having been chastened by their experience of sinfulness, responded positively to the challenge of Jesus. They were joined by the “tax collectors and prostitutes” who, though despised by the religious types of that time, were more humble and therefore more open to the message of Jesus. The point is that pride and smugness are far greater obstacles to true conversion than a sinful past ripe for repentance.

Life Implications

Most mainstream religions have developed elaborate rituals and clear moral guidelines to help their members to establish and maintain a good and fruitful relationship with God. This is a great guide and moral help, since it’s so easy to lose one’s balance in matters of religion.

All this becomes more a problem than a help, however, when one’s relationship with God is reduced primarily to observing rituals and keeping rules. This kind of behavior is readily encouraged by society. It is certainly much preferred to unruly and destructive actions. But ritualistic religious behavior can remain very superficial, focusing only on external observance and appearances rather than on deep and personal conversion. The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day certainly appeared more religious than the tax collectors and prostitutes. But their strict observance hid a deep and fatal flaw. It was self-righteous, expressed most often inrash judgment of others.

Obviously, Jesus is not suggesting that we despise ritual and disregard moral codes. But he wants us to not only say the right things (like the first son), but also to act in a way that benefits others (like the second son). This will happen only when we’re truly converted from selfish ways and become exemplary tolerant, compassionate and forgiving.

Most people are repelled by a religious observance that has no depth and is in fact accompanied by questionable behavior. But if they look more closely, they will see that there are also observant believers whose behavior is perfectly in harmony with their faith.

It’s easy to be scandalized if that is what you want. It is easy to be scandalized if you want to have an excuse for not being a truly moral person. The ideal is to faithfully observe rituals and rules and at the same time act like the kind of person called by those rules to moral observance. (Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.)

But there is another perspective from which this Gospel passage may be interpreted. The chief priests own authority in Israel, after all, had been given to them by God in the time of Moses and passed down through generations.  Jesus’ questioning of them comes as a challenge to that traditionally held authority. They are being challenged to confront the fact that they have refused to recognize messages and people sent by God in other ways than through their interpretations.

In the parable of the Two Sons, those leaders are put in the place of providing an answer that undermines their own authority and implicitly recognizes the establishment of a new one. The two groups represent the chief priest and elders have lost touch with both God and the people while those whom they have identified as outsiders are the very ones who are speaking and living the truth.

What does this have to do with us? We are living in the same dialogue; we are in a time when within our churches and across much of the Christian world we are being challenged with the question of authority. This is not a question of ecclesiastical authority or church structures for that matter, but a question where we can best hear and be embraced by, be liberated with, and be responsible to the God who created, redeemed and sanctified us. We may miss the challenge of this passage if we simply interpret it as a call to go out into the vineyard, to find the “outsiders” of our day – which we should rightly do — and fail to see its challenge to us as individuals in our communities of faith.

Shane Hipps in his excellent book, “Selling Water by the River”, has a wonderful quote that captures some of what is going on in this passage: “Some, in an effort to protect and preserve the gospel message, have become like the guards in a museum, fueled by fear that its treasures could be damaged or stolen if they are not vigilant in their watch. They’ve mistaken the good news for an ancient artifact that needs to be protected. But that is not its nature. This kingdom is a lot more like a tree. God is looking for gardeners, not guards. A guard is trained in a defensive stance of fear and suspicion. A gardener is motivated by love and creativity”

Perhaps this passage is challenging us to consider the ways we act as the second son, who said “Yes”, but did not go. After all these years we may be the ones who are confronted daily by fresh and sometimes strange voices who are calling for a kind of faithfulness that seems foreign to us. All around us we, inheritors of a rich history, can hear the voice of Jesus in a strange cadence that perks up our ears while at the same time causing us discomfort. We desire a faithful response to God’s call but wind up as guards in a museum protecting a treasure.

But there is also the possibility that we, as followers in the way of Jesus and as members of the church, may wind up like the first son; resisting the voice of God and refusing to follow, but eventually working as master gardeners in an ever-growing garden.

Are we in need of fresh eyes and changed hearts in order to be faithful to the God revealed to us in Jesus? Should it be a constant challenge for us to follow a person who regularly confronted calcified authorities in order to bring about new birth? Given the age of Christianity and its identification with so much of society in the western world, are we now in the position of the chief priests and elders? Have we become guards of an ancient treasure or are we gardeners growing both heirloom plants and sturdy hybrids, and adapting as the garden grows? (Mark Suriano)

 

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Generous With God’s Gifts

Isaiah 55:6-11   Philippians 1:20-30    Matthew 20:1-16

The theme of the Gospel today is generosity – the generosity of the Lord who is hiring all. Jesus is painting a picture for us of a man who obviously isn’t hiring people because of what they can do for him, but because of what he can do for them.

Scripture scholars tell us that this Gospel was a warning to the Christians of Jewish ancestry. It is presenting a picture of the equal value between Jewish and Gentile believers. The gentiles enter the church later than the Jews but get equal treatment.

Old timers in the Church will have to admit to a tendency to think that we have some special standing with God that “newbies” do not have. It’s as if they believe there is a long period of building up seniority. The longer the seniority, the better is our standing with God. But it is not so, says Jesus.

You’ve heard of companies where the pecking order is measured by the nearness of the employees’ parking spaces to the front door. When someone leaves the company, other employees are begging for their parking space even if it is only three spaces closer to the door. We have an innate need to measure our place. We want to progressively be moving up from the cubicle, to a real office, to the office with a window, to the office on the corner, to the office nearest to the president’s. Leave people alone and they will come up with their own pecking order.

Johnny Carson tells a story about the time when, as the host of the Tonight Show, he made a joke about there being a toilet paper shortage in the city. The next day there really was a shortage because all the viewers who had watched his show ran out afterward and bought up extra toilet paper just in case. There was no trust in the fact that people, if they chose to work together, could ration out the toilet paper to make sure there would be enough for everyone. People panicked and grabbed not what they needed, but more than they needed, leaving others with nothing at all.

Heaven consists of a heartfelt desire for the good of others rather than our own good. If you are motivated primarily by a need to provide for yourself you won’t be very comfortable in “heaven”.

Be thankful you don’t get what you deserve. Yet, God is more generous to us than we deserve.

God is being merciful, not fair, and this parable is what mercy looks like. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more!   “It is simply a fact that people regularly understand and appreciate God’s grace as applied to themselves, but they fear and resent seeing it applied to others. Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions is grace. Grace is always amazing grace.

Jesus himself is the best parable of the extravagantly generous God. He makes far too much wine at the wedding at Cana; far too much bread for the hungry crowd; he tells a story about forgiving a debt far too large ever to be paid; and he tells us to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven. And as the ultimate revelation of extravagant affection, he willingly gives up his life for us on a cross.

At communion, we are given a little bit of bread and just a sip of wine…our hungers are so deep. Yet in a strange new math, just that little bread and one sip is enough to feed us forever

The good news of the gospel is that we share the extravagantly generous Spirit of Jesus. Sometimes we too can act with extravagant generosity, beyond the rational rules of justice. God’s kingdom is meant to be a new order of grace. Isn’t there always something unexpected and wonderful about a gift of love, even a kind word? A gift is never earned in the way that a wage is earned, and expected.   (W. Metzler)

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

“Seeking God’s Shalom: Reflections on Labor Day”

Jeremiah 20:7-20    Romans 12:1-2    Matthew 16:21-27

Labor Day celebrates the prophetic concern for justice for the hardworking, poor, and vulnerable. The celebration of Labor Day—a day of rest and respect—emerged out of conflict. First celebrated in 1882 by the Central Labor Union in Boston, “Labor Day” became a federal holiday in 1894 in response to the deaths of a number of workers during the Pullman Strike between labor unions and railroads. Sadly, government was pitted against the people as U.S. marshals and military forces were responsible for the deaths of striking workers. In response to this abuse of power, President Grover Cleveland made reconciliation with the labor movement a top national priority.

The labor movement, often in partnership with Christian leaders, went on to become the source of many of the benefits and rights that both blue and white collar employees hold dear today: vacations, holidays, workers compensation, days off, health insurance, disability, and collective bargaining. Although church leaders were often at the sidelines and even, in some cases, opposed workers’ rights, the Social Gospel movement affirmed the intersection of faith and social ethics and played a major role in securing justice for working people.

Labor Day is more than symbolic. It reflects the prophetic concern for justice for the hardworking, poor, and vulnerable. The prophetic writings and the gospel message consistently affirm the rights of laborers and the dispossessed in relationship to wealthy landowners and greedy business people. Economics matters in the biblical tradition.

What people eat and where they live is a spiritual as well as economic and political issue. Disparity of income and power is a recurring biblical concern: the widows, landless persons, and unemployed people matter to God. Just as God heard the cries of the oppressed Israelites, God hears the cries of the poor. Jesus’ ministry embraced rich and poor alike, but his most controversial acts involved his inclusion of outsiders, people at the margins of the religious, social, and economic worlds, as members of the realm of God, deserving care in this life as well as the next.

With the growing disparity between the wealthy and middle class—not to mention the poor—in the United States, Labor Day is an opportunity for the church to give thanks and recognize the importance of those who stand up for workers, as well as embrace the larger implications of this holiday. This is not a matter of class struggle, but the recognition of God’s Shalom in which property and wealth are ultimately a matter of spiritual stewardship rather than private ownership.

The scriptures do not oppose property ownership or wealth, but see them as part of God’s care for the whole earth. Despite the imperfections of governmental agencies, recent calls to disband the Environmental Protection Agency, eliminate regulations related to business practices and the environment, and radically restructure Medicare need to be examined closely in light of worker’s concerns by persons who seek to follow Jesus. The earth is God’s, the economy is a matter of justice, and care for the vulnerable is a moral and spiritual requirement.

Labor Day, then, offers us a reminder and challenge to affirm the value of work, seek healthy workplace environments, and support opportunities for entrepreneurial adventure in the context of a just social safety net. On Labor Day, we give thanks for those whose efforts have led to workers rights and care for the least of these. And we can make a commitment to seek justice for all workers and balance the need for profit making with care for our society’s most vulnerable members.   (Rev. Bruce Epperly)

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From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A121OT21_1_cf03_4c“The Power of the Keys”

Isaiah 22:12-23    Romans 11:33-36    Matthew 16:13-20

We might call this, “Power Sunday”. There is a theme of handing over “keys” which open and shut. We are reflecting on Power and asking that this gift be handed over to us that gives us the power to be open to all God’s gifts and to shut out what hinders our journey.

We want to recognize the authority Jesus gives each of us to use our gifts to continue God’s creation of the Kingdom in our time here. And, we want to tend to God’s garden of life. We want to give “power” a good name, a good image by the way we exercise compassion, patience, and justice.

REFLECTION

Let’s start with a careful reflection on the First Reading. Shebna has had a rather lofty image of himself as well as a high-up position in the palace. He has begun to really immortalize himself by beginning to construct his own tomb in a high place on the mountain. And God stops him in his tracks and tells him that he will be waded up like a ball and thrown out of the country with all his finery and he will die there in disgrace.

God not only takes away Shebna’s symbols of domination, but God calls somebody else from a different family to rule God’s people. Eliakim will be a “father” to the people of Jerusalem and all the people will be his family under God. Instead of warring with power and striding about arrogantly because of his family of origin, Eliakim will be steadfast and use his authority for peace.

In the Gospel, Jesus travels with His disciples to a city whose very name — Caesarea Philippi — celebrates Roman power and Caesar’s domination over Israel. And it is there that Jesus poses the big question for the purpose of eliciting a bigger Answer: “Who do people say that I am?”. For the first time in their relationship, Peter, speaking for the other disciples, declares publicly the name which is opposed to the power of Rome and all other worldly force. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed and Expected One, and the Son of God.

Peter, or Simon “son of Jonah” is given a new name and as with Eliakim, Simon is given a title and a power. Peter, the name in Greek and in Aramaic means “rock”. He is to be the foundation of the Church. Not Peter as person, but Peter’s profession of deep belief in Jesus as the Christ — that is the emphasis here.

Next Sunday’s Gospel will show Peter’s faith in Jesus tested severely. For now, though, we hear Jesus conveying upon this Rock, the “keys” of God’s power. The Book of Wisdom, says, “Your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all. But though you are master of might, you judge with kindness.” The “keys” which Peter receives are the instruments of governing as Jesus received that power from His Father. Those keys in the hands of Jesus opened ears, eyes, and hearts. Those “keys” in the hands of Jesus shut out darkness, evil, and death from dominating God’s creation and God’s family. That’s what real keys do; that’s what real Power does.

From another perspective, today’s passage of the keys is often cited to prove papal primacy and the right of the Church to admit or exclude, to loose or unloose. But what really proves the authenticity or our mission is whether our personal priority is including others with leniency and kindness. We are the Church, those called together. We have our structures based on tradition and Scripture with our Pope Francis as chief key-holder. Each of us has been given the Key of the compassion into the very heart of God through Jesus. The power of God has been placed into our hands, and we don’t need to jingle it around as a false sign of belonging and domination. We are each invited to exercise Christ’s power to open ears, eyes, and hearts and to shut out the noises of dishonesty, false posturing, and false temptations to power.

In the history of the Church, power has corrupted and made fools of those who used the power-keys for establishing their own importance. As with Shebna, God brought them down to size. Power can be used as a prop, as a crutch to assist the insecure of spirit. True power is received in open hands, not grabbed and wielded like a club. Each of us receive the power of the keys and our hands are stretched out to accept this blessed gift, this power. These are the same hands which are writing the new and present history of Christ’s church. This power does not corrupt, but in the hands of the faithful, it gives life to the world in His Name.

Someone once wrote that power does not corrupt, but power in the hands of a fool, corrupts the fool. Keys can be a sign of control- car keys, house keys. I have observed that people who jingle their keys are saying that the power they have comes from outside; from what they possess. They make the noise of power to frighten away anybody who might not listen to the noise and might want to ask if anybody’s home in there. That is the fool who has been corrupted by pretentious power. This fool has been fooled by the evil of this world into thinking that things make you who you are, and one’s position proves one’s authenticity. On the high mountain, at the beginning of his public ministry, the Devil offered Jesus power over all things and told Jesus that this power would prove that Jesus was the “Son of God.” But Jesus had received His identity from the Father, and needed no jingling of power-keys to satisfy this world’s demands.

At a gathering of several of Wilkinsburg’s ministers this past week, we reflected on how similar with but a single incident our situation could become like that of Ferguson, Missouri and the false hopes that grip our community leaders. Everyone fears how one misunderstood incident might bring the same fearful crisis to our community. Leaders in Ferguson scramble for an end to the violence and instead create more violence in peaceful people with tear gas and national guard troops. And, as almost with blinders, nobody in our nation or in our own town notice what the real problems are — the addictions, the killing of the young, the spiritual emptiness in the lives of our residents; the pain in families and the despair of the jobless, while officials pat themselves on the back that they are getting state and federal grants to build new buildings and rehab old ones.

The pain and emptiness will still be in Fergeson when the national guard is gone, one minister said. But our job as church is to name the Evils, to bring Christ’s compassion to those suffering, to keep all eyes focused on the real needs of our community — not the lack of funding, but consequences of racism and the lack of seeing with compassion.

We have been given the keys. Let us not squander its power.

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 20th Sunday in Ordianry Time, Cycle A

“Crumby Gospel”

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7    Romans 11:11-32    Matthew 15:21-28

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

I’m thinking about the crumb of bread I will receive this morning and the morsel I will place into your cupped hands during the Eucharist today. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” He said. The body of Christ broken for me. For me! We all will receive crumbs from the Master’s table — bread and wine, body and blood. It won’t take much. There will be no three-course sit down dinner. A morsel and a tiny sip are enough, yes more than enough, at Jesus’ table.

We need this ‘crumby’ gospel, especially on days when the world seems crummy. We need this taste of Jesus to whet our appetite for more and to sustain us and remind us again and again of what really matters and that we belong. We need to come to the table and kneel, as it were, at Jesus’ feet with all our sorrow, pain, baggage, and badness. Yes, even the little whelps and aged curs get something from the master. No one is excluded. So why do Jesus’ disciples get all lathered up over the Canaanite woman?

You’d think by now they would have realized that Jesus is not out to impress the religious elite or to maintain the status quo. In fact, he’s just delivered, in the passage before, a graphic object lesson about the source of human filth and rottenness. Ouch! Oh, what dark hearts we hide beneath the clothes of respectability and righteousness. Jesus lists some of the dark and dirty things: evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. You get the idea. Not keeping nit-picky rules, abandoning hollow traditions, and refusing to get hung-up on religiosity do not render us ‘unclean’ or outside of God’s love.

I wonder how this encounter in the gospel lesson really went down. We have the words on the page, but we don’t have the tone of voice, the looks, the entire scene before us. When the woman appeals to Jesus he doesn’t answer her. What hangs in that silence? The disciples are evidently quick to fill it by urging that Jesus send this inconvenient truth of an outsider away. His next words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” must have sounded mighty fine to the annoyed and embarrassed disciples.

Perhaps there was a lesson for them in the words that they overlooked. After all, they were quite prone to overlooking both the obvious and the obscure. Yet even in the midst of this rather crummy situation, the woman will not be deterred from holding out her hand for a crumb from Jesus. She instinctively knows she belongs at the table. That is great faith, my friends. And, this too, is great stewardship. This outsider woman gets it. She understands that you don’t hoard grace and that you aren’t stingy with love and healing. A crumb from Jesus makes all the difference in the world.

Chances are that this week you, like all sensitive followers of Jesus, are reeling and/or numb from world events. War and torture everywhere, riots in our own country, hatred toward children at our borders. Add to that the usual list of prayer needs and human brokenness and pain. So I hand out this crumby gospel, these crumbs of abundant love, grace, and salvation, and I won’t be stingy. You, too must believe that Jesus is still about the business of working miracles, changing lives, and ushering in the reconciliation of this world. Come to the table, every last rag tag and gimpy one of you. Hold out your hands for these precious crumbs and receive – and then go out to share — this very good news.  (Sharron Blezzard)

Readings: St. James Day, July 23, 2017

All readings from The Message Bible (© Message Bible Eugene Peterson)

  • Sirach 1: 17-24

My son, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.

For great is the power of God; by the humble He is glorified. What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not. What is committed to you, attend to; for what is hidden is not your concern. With what is too much for you, meddle not, when shown things beyond human understanding. Their own opinion has misled many, and false reasoning unbalanced their judgment. Where the pupil of the eye is missing, there is no light, and where there is no knowledge, there is no wisdom.

  • James 2:14-17

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup. Where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

  • Matthew 20:20-29

     It was about that time that the mother of the Zebedee brothers came with her two sons and knelt before Jesus with a request. “What do you want?” Jesus asked. She said, “Give your word that these two sons of mine will be awarded the highest places of honor in your kingdom, one at your right hand, one at your left hand.”

Jesus responded, “You have no idea what you’re asking.” And he said to James and John, “Are you capable of drinking the cup that I’m about to drink?”

They said, “Sure, why not?”

Jesus said, “Come to think of it, you are going to drink my cup. But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business. My Father is taking care of that.”

When the ten others heard about this, they lost their tempers, thoroughly disgusted with the two brothers.

So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has d   one: He came to serve, not be served; and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: St. James Day 2014

“Walking the Camino”

Sirach 1:17-24   James 2:14-17   Matthew 20:20-29

A couple of years ago I was very excited about the film ‘’The Way”.”The Way” is a fictional story about an American eye doctor, played by Martin Sheen, who takes his deceased son’s place on the Camino, the 500 mile pilgrimage across northern Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago (St James) and is transformed.

This past Wednesday, I was privileged to see a showing of another film, a documentary this time, called “Walking the Camino, Six Ways to Santiago”. The film follows six pilgrims, on their real journey, including a mother pushing her 3 year old in a stroller, along this path of suffering, reflection and beauty.

As one priest says at the beginning of the film, people make the pilgrimage for many reasons: devotion, purification, and penance being the more traditional motives. In the olden days, going back 1,200 years, people used to walk the Camino instead of going to jail, and even then some people would pay others to walk it for them, which rather defeats its purpose. One thing is for sure, walking the Camino will change your life.

Single mom Tatiana is walking the Camino with her 3 year-old son Cyrian in a stroller and her brother Alexis. Tatiana is a believer while her brother is not and they are an unlikely pair because they don’t usually get along. They make it together almost the whole way before Alexis’ party behavior and language divides them. But at the end Tatiana admits that she started the Camino wanting to change Alexis but she is the one who changed.

Samantha lost her job and is depressed. But she discards just about everything, even the pills, before starting the Camino. She cut her hair and dyed it another color. And for a whole month she goes without shampooing her hair. By the end she has found interior meaning and a resolve to really live. She admits that people told her she would find answers on the Camino but realized that she didn’t even have the questions. The more she walks, the more her depression lifts.

Wayne is a 70 year old widower who is walking with Jack who had presided over his wife’s funeral four years before. Early on he reflects that “there may be something beyond this, but today I have this, the Camino, and I will walk this day the best that I can.” Jack is more spiritual than Wayne and says, “If you go to Santiago searching for him you will not find him… unless you take him with you from the beginning.” Later Wayne says, “Every day is a journey and the road itself is home.”

Annie is a wide-eyed American and walking the Camino is very hard for her. Besides enduring the physical pain, she doesn’t want to sleep mattress-to-mattress with a stranger but she does it anyway. The next day the German man who slept next to her sees how she is struggling with her backpack and carries it for her. Annie is moved and says, “I have never been that kind to anyone in my life.”

Tomas is a young man from Portugal who “parachuted” in to walk the Camino, meaning he did it without much reflection or preparation. The film opens with him popping the blisters on his feet.

Misa is from Denmark and it’s only she and her mother at home. She walks very fast. Misa meets William from Canada and though he is about 10 years younger, they have a lot in common and spend every moment together until they get to the coastal town of Finesterre beyond Santiago, once thought to be the end of the world. They are the only pilgrims who seem to begin a relationship. Perhaps they will have a future. But it is Samantha who comments that “No woman would try to find a husband on the Camino … between the snoring, farting and smelly boots …”

“Walking the Camino” is beautifully shot and we get to see inside the hostels, and refuges. We meet some of the volunteers at the monasteries who welcome and feed the pilgrims. At one monastery the volunteers wash the feet of the pilgrims. At another, they are invited to spend time in silence, to reflect on their experience. Throughout, the scenes of the churches are warm and landscapes are stunning.

The film briefly introduces Martha, a South Korean woman who is making the Camino alone. She has been married 27 years. She says that throughout her married life her husband always said, “I love you” and she could only respond, “Me, too.” Then one night on the Camino she called him and told him, “I love you” for the first time. “Walking the Camino makes me brave; I can do anything,” she says.

As the pilgrims go along some send home what is extra or leave things behind. They find that they can live on very little. Wayne says, “It is a simple existence, addictive. All you own is in your bag … and then you walk.” Another says, “The only baggage you carry are your fears.”

“Walking the Camino” makes me wish I had heard of ‘El Camino’, when I was younger and stronger and in better health. But I think it works even for us who are unable to make that 500-mile pilgrimage because we are all on a journey, we are never “finished.” The film lets you see that it is no “walk in the park.” It can rain frequently and the mud can be thick — if it is mud, because it could be cow dung, too.

But there’s a freedom to walking the Camino. Just as Tom, played by Sheen in “The Way,” comes to see life and faith differently by the end of his Camino, we see it in the pilgrims in “Walking the Camino.” I think these two films, one fictional and one a documentary, complement one another beautifully. In fact, the documentary lets us see more details of what the pilgrimage entails than does “The Way” such as what the hostels and facilities look like and how much more Christian imagery is to be found along the way. Both films conclude at the Basilica of Santiago but the documentary is less dramatic than “The Way” except for Tatiana for whom it is a deeply religious experience.

The Camino is a Christian activity but it is open to people of all cultures and religions. There the pilgrims will encounter new people, culture and food, and it will change them. The film a special reminder of us who are part of the parish community of St. James, of what it means to be a pilgrim and a follower of Jesus and His Apostles in this journey of life.

As the Franciscan priest says, “The Camino is pure medicine. It heals many hurts of the heart and the soul. Contact with nature, attachment on so little, dependence of the kindness of strangers, does much good. When we are in harmony with nature and God and others, we feel so much better.”

“Walking the Camino”, as a film, is a spiritual experience in itself. I am sorry to say that its showing was only for two evenings, Wednesday and Thursday of this past week. But the good news is it will be out on DVD this November, just in time to be a focal point in our retreat for our St. James parish 145th anniversary November 15th. Perhaps we can all ‘’walk the Camino’ then, so to speak. In fact we can come to realize better how we walk it now every day of our lives.   (N.C.R. film review May 2014)