Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 7, 2014

Love – The Law of the Kingdom

By Dennis S. Hankins

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-9)

It was only hours away. Beginning to feel the birth pangs of his Passion Jesus longed to be near his disciples. At his Last Supper with his closest associates, he first knelt before each one, bathing the feet of his followers. There was some resistance to this from Peter, but Jesus answered his reluctance explaining, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

After washing their feet, Jesus returned to the table and asked, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anther’s feet. I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Your are servants and the servant is not greater than his master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”

Just before Jesus departed to pray in the Garden, he gave them a new commandment. Even now the droplets of sweat that would become great drops of blood formed on his brow. Knowing that the greatest enemy of his cause would be foolish and divisive bickering and gossip and pride, Jesus wrote on each of their hearts with is Spirit, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

More important than all the beautiful and ornate cathedrals, and the greatest tomes of theology and philosophy, and the loftiest thoughts ever conceived, is this last and new commandment Jesus gave his disciples. More magnanimous than being oracles and masters of great and profound words, or the ability to speak with the tongues of men and of angels, is this last commandment encompassing all of the fulness and meaning for why Jesus came into this world. More powerful than if someone had all the faith necessary to move mountains are these last few words of Jesus that if believed and lived can move the most calloused heart and heal the heart broken beyond all telling.

For more than anything else Jesus calls us to be filled with the great love of God. To owe each other nothing but a gracious and generous heart, moved by nothing greater and most certainly by nothing less than that Love that never fails. Just as sunshine is necessary to sustain us in body and mind no understanding of the Church is complete without knowing what is meant by the Body of Christ which is loving one another just as He has loved us. We love him because he first loved us. And by extension we should love one another with that love that covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

The most impoverished and weak expression of the Church is when she fails to look and live like that love with which Christ loves the Church. As we think more and more as we should about what a New Evangelization looks like perhaps we ought to begin at Home, in the parish where we Worship, Teach, and Serve – where Jesus is present wherever two or three are gathered in his name.

We should be acutely aware that no one really gives a plug nickel how much we subscribe to the letter of the Creeds or how much we can expound upon the finer points of what we believe. For the bottom line is that no one cares how much we know and can recite chapter, verse, and line the Holy writings, or can even pray in Latin. For no one will really care how much we know or how spiritual we are until they know how much we care.

Love is the first and last law of the kingdom. We fulfill it when we do no wrong to one another and forgiving each other when we fail to love each other as we should; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 31, 2014

The Renewal of our Mind

By Dennis S. Hankins

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

The mind Paul speaks of is more than the rational faulty. He invites us to a renewal of the highest faculty of human nature – literally, the ‘eyes of your heart enlightened’ by which we comprehend God in all of his redeeming goodness. Orthodox Christians pray before the reading of the Gospel, “Illumine our hearts, O Master who love mankind, with the pure light of your divine knowledge.”

A powerful ray of this ‘pure light’ enabled Peter to confess, “You are the Christ. The Son of of the living God.” Jesus said this understanding was more than human intelligence, that his Father revealed this to Peter. Peter became a mouthpiece of the ‘pure light of divine knowledge.’ Humbling stuff, don’t you think? For sure!

But in today’s Gospel Jesus tells the rest of the story. He reveals what that revelation fully means. It means going to Jerusalem to face hostile religious leaders. It means betrayal, trial, and finally death; death on a cross. People whose hearts are mysteriously dark because the pure light has not entered them, will kill the Son of the Father’s love, the pure and holy Light of the world.

And then looking into the bewildered hearts of his disciples, Jesus says, “Brethren, do not be afraid of this. On the third day I will rise.”

It is nevertheless a moment very difficult to grasp. Peter himself struggles deeply with the meaning of Jesus’ words. So much so that he takes Jesus aside to speak his mind: “God forbid, Lord! Never! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” We can imagine Peter grasping the shoulders of Jesus so the fulness of his determined face will not go unnoticed. Maybe his lips are trembling a bit. Perhaps his eyes well up with tears; he drops his hands from the Master’s shoulders while Jesus turns away for a moment; a moment of intense discomfort.

Turning back to Peter, Jesus grasps the shoulders of the man entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven and looks straight into his eyes. He speaks so that only Peter hears him. The words sound harsh to us, but for Peter they are meant to get him back on track. Peter listens intently as Jesus says with firm, yet gentle strength, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are not thinking as God thinks, but as human beings do.”

Before we judge Peter too quickly let us remember that the renewing of our mind may not always be in full play either. That we may not always live up to our baptism even among our closest loved ones. That too often we don’t allow love for God and neighbor animate us. And we may not rejoice enough in the reality that it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory God in the face of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 4:6)

So the readings today remind us to pray with humility and to ask more often for help to be faithful. To be more empty of our way of living and more filled with God’s life. I know that sometimes being a Christian is not popular. Our message and witness is not always accepted. Ageless truth and timeless hope are treasures we offer to a world often filled with criticism of the mystery of the Christ we serve. But consistent with Christian witness throughout all time we are a living sacrifice. The aroma of Christ in the world. We cannot help but speak of him; his word in our heart is like a burning fire – a fire that purifies our minds and makes us acceptable to God.

We are in the world but we are citizens of a heavenly city. In our union with Christ we recommend to the whole world that there is another way; that there is another King. This is our cross. We are honored to take it up and to follow him. Losing our life for his sake we find it. For what profit is it to gain the approval of the whole world but lose our soul?

Today let us desire an even deeper renewal in our lives so that we will ever have that illumination to know what is true, and good, and beautiful and thus be found faithful disciples of Christ and his Church. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 24, 2014

God’s Plan of Salvation

By Dennis S. Hankins

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord?
“Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

If we don’t get Jesus right we don’t get heaven. I didn’t make that up. It’s in the Bible. The guy Jesus gave the keys to testified under arrest that this Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you the builders; it has become the cornerstone and there is salvation in no one else, for there is only one name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved!’ (Peter – Acts 4:11-12)

Jesus asks two questions: “Who do folks say that I am?” And, “Who do you say that I am?” The second question is more important for us. Because if we don’t get this question right we really won’t know God’s plan of salvation; the reality of God’s life for us in His Son.

Paul exults in the ‘depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!’ Without the Holy Spirit we may condemn God’s plan as anemic, weak, even unreasonable. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

God sent his Son not in the clouds of glory riding triumphantly with a battle cry of victory over Satan and his minions. Rather, in the fulness of time, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, born under the law of Moses, in order to redeem those who were under the law as well as those outside of the covenant made with Israel. He came to us wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. For the angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people! To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.”

Paul yearned for his kinsman to receive Christ as God’s only Son who came to his own riding on the back of a donkey with palm branches lining his path. Not as a King commanding homage but rather as a Servant-King on a mission to shed his blood not only for the house of Israel but for the whole world. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? As it is none of the rulers of this age understood the wisdom of God, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. Satan didn’t know what hit him. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

What a plan! A second Adam to redeem the first Adam; to liberate the progeny of the first Adam from the law of sin and its first fruit, death. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

St. Leo the Great elaborates on this plan: For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that [nature] which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the battle with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. (Pope Leo Sermon 21)

What a plan! God’s plan of salvation! Do I hear a heartfelt, “Thank you, Jesus?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 3, 2014

A Love Story

By Dennis S. Hankins

Brothers and Sisters, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” – St. Paul to the Romans

In the darkness of the night an old man, bent by the burden of time, caresses the brow of his bride. Their eyes meet and they hold hands. A long time ago they pledged to each other their love until death should part them. Throughout the years many things challenged that pledge, but their love remained strong through thick and thin.

Tonight, like all the hundreds of nights before, they take refuge in the love of Christ. For it is his love that makes their love possible. It’s been their ritual for fifty years to pray together at bedtime: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God. Pray for us sinners, now, and at the our of our death. Amen.” Afterward they say goodnight with the promise of saying good morning one day in the presence of that love that never fails.

Above their bed is a crucifix. He placed it there on their wedding night. He had said to her, “No matter what comes, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” Pointing to the cross he had just hung he promised his bride, “And with his power in me, I’ll never leave you; my heart is yours.” And from their first kiss until their last kiss he kept his promises and she kept hers.

Imperfections? Arguments? Sure they had their tussles. Some had predicted, “It’ll never last!” But they had a secret power, a secret love to guide them through their disagreements and quarrels. While reading the scriptures together they grew in that grace and love and in the knowledge of their salvation. In fact, after one particular bad week, or was it two, he read in the Bible of his need to tend to the log in his own eye and to stop worrying about the splinter in her eye. After that it was amazing how much more often they saw eye to eye!

Now the old alarm clock on the night stand announces each passing second of time and goes tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. And both go to sleep with the assurance that as in life so in death, nothing shall separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

In the morning, Mary kisses the old folks on their cheeks and greets them with these familiar words:

“He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.”

Then the old folks replied with vibrant and confident voices, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us!”

And sitting down to breakfast, the old folks greeted each other with a good morning kiss. Then they blessed and broke bread and ate and were satisfied. A new day had begun.

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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