Suppose we were all good law-observant Jews, and you heard these words of Jesus’ and decided to follow them. The next day I have to go out of town, and I ask you if can look after my ox while I’m gone. You’re a decent sort, and pretty well set up for ox-tending, so you say, “sure!” Unfortunately, while I’m away, the ox catches what you think is a bad case of flu. It gets sicker and sicker and then dies. I come back, and I’m pretty upset about my dead ox, who wasn’t a cute pet, but really essential to my ability to provide for my family (let’s say we’re all subsistence farmers here too). I demand you pay me the price of an ox, something you definitely do not have the resources to do, not without ruining yourself. “Hold on,” you say, “that’s not fair, it wasn’t my fault, the ox just got sick and died.” You remember that the law of Moses actually deals explicitly with this situation, and you’d just heard Jesus say that he hadn’t come to abolish the law. The law says that in this exact situation, all you have to do is swear an oath that the ox’s death wasn’t your fault, and I would have no claim against you. But, Jesus just said no oaths. None at all. And the law of Moses doesn’t say you can swear an oath if you like, it says, Exod 22:10-11, in this situation, you must. The debt-collectors are at your door, and they’re telling you, “follow the law, the law God gave on Sinai, if what you’re saying about the illness is true, and swear the oath. If not, cough up.”
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Sunday, February 5, 2017
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C; Holy Infant parish.
Now, I know that in this congregation we have quite a few scientists, engineers, physicians, etc., and people whose gifts lie in different areas. But, I’m pretty sure that everyone here knows the First Law of Thermodynamics. Now, I don’t mean that you can necessarily recite it, but you know it. The first law of thermodynamics states that work is heat and heat is work. Knowing the first law of thermodynamics really just amounts to knowing that when you run your car engine, it gets hot. Now, that’s not really its function (its function is to spin the gears and thus wheels and move your car forward), but a side-effect (a pleasant one during those chilly morning commutes we’ve been enjoying recently) is that doing that work creates heat. You know the first law of thermodynamics if you know that when you exercise, you’ll start to warm up. Doing the work of contracting and extending your muscles to move around creates heat. A room full of children running around won’t just be noisy, it’ll warm up. And when things get hot enough, they start to give off light. Think of sparks on a bandsaw. Or, think of those light bulbs, which are designed to give off light and, incidentally give off heat. The work there is the electrons in the metal of the filament moving backwards and forwards, changing direction over a hundred times a second. These tiny particles buzzing around do enough work to heat those coils and produce enough light to light up this Church.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, parish celebration of St. Francis de Sales; Holy Infant parish.
When I was teaching confirmation class, this passage we just heard from Matthew, the beatitudes, was in our textbook. But, rather confusingly, it was in the section on Christian morality, on a right hand page, right next to the Ten Commandments on the left. I, at least, was confused by this, because the beatitudes aren’t primarily about what we’re meant to do at all. We have beautiful Christian teaching about what we are to do and not do; the Ten Commandments, inherited from our Jewish roots, work great as a to-do list (along with a not-to-do-list). I could tell the kids, make sure you honor father and mother this week, careful of that coveting. But the beatitudes? How could I tell them, go out and be poor this week, or go mourn?
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Ordinary Time, Year A, Wk 3; Holy Infant parish.
“When Jesus heard that John had been arrested…” That’s how Jesus’ earthly ministry starts in Matthew. Jesus’ earthly ministry starts with tragedy, the arrest of John the Baptist. Jesus gets baptized by John, then he goes through his forty days in the desert (our lectionary moves that reading out of sequence, so we read it at the start of Lent), then he waits an unknown amount of time, until this moment, “John had been arrested.” Matthew doesn’t tell us how Jesus felt. Was his reaction something like frustration? – John was meant to be preparing his way, and he wasn’t done yet (we’ll see throughout the gospel how unprepared his way is!), but now he’s gone and got himself arrested so Jesus will just have to start ministry anyway. Maybe it’s fear? – if they arrested John, what will they do to him? Maybe there’s some grief, pre-emptive grief knowing what’ll likely come next for John, with all the weird mix of sadness and anger that entails.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Second Sunday of OT, Year A; Holy Infant Parish.
Normally, the Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of Christ on the Sunday after Epiphany. This year is strange, in that with Christmas being on a Sunday, the Baptism of Christ got moved to last Monday (when the local Church here was celebrating the feast of ‘not dying on icy roads’) and this is the first Sunday of Ordinary Time, which (confusingly) is the Sunday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time (which started with a half week last Tuesday). Confused yet? All of those arcane calendrical calculations aside, in a coincidence, or probably act of Providence, this week we’re assigned a reading which is about the Baptism of Christ, albeit in a rather different sense than the Feast we observed on Monday. That feast is about the Baptism of Christ, as in, the time when Christ got baptized. This reading from John is about the Baptism of Christ, in the sense of the Baptism with which Christ baptizes. This reading is the kernel of the gospel, that God acts in Christ for us. In this case, the promise that Jesus will baptize us.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A; Holy Infant Church
“Here is your God.” Behold, your God. Those are the words we heard from the book of Isaiah. It goes on: He comes with vindication, with divine recompense, he comes to save you. It goes on, talking of all the miraculous healing that will happen, all great cause for rejoicing on this Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing. But, the future, what will happen, can distract us, almost water down, the exultant immanence of the Hebrew acclamation: Hinneh elohekem! “Here Is your God.” Not, here’s the spot where he will be, just hang on; certainly not, there’s where he will be, but he’s distant now, so don’t bother Him. No. Here is your God. The cry might go up… “where?”
Saturday, December 3, 2016
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A; Holy Infant parish
We use cute kittens for praising friends. Ask anyone who got confirmed at Holy Cross grade school in South Bend, IN in 2014 or ’15 what the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are, and right before they tell you wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord, they’ll probably think to themselves: we use cute kittens for praising friends. It taught the confirmation class to our 7th and 8th graders, and made up that mnemonic (where the first letter of each word matches) to make sure they remember the seven gifts, because I knew that our bishop would base his confirmation homily around asking them what the seven gifts were and preaching about each one. Only on one quiz did I ever get told that the seven gives were wisdom, understanding, counsel, kittens, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.