Living the readings: The bounty of summer

In this Year of Mercy, we find God’s grace is truly abundant

By Father Joseph Brando

Now that they Easter season is completed with the feast of Pentecost, we return to Ordinary Time. However, this year is different. We are celebrating a Year of Mercy, which changes the way we look at the Scripture readings this year.

We add one additional factor to them, namely God’s mercy. And that changes everything. The search begins with God’s mercy and ends with our response to it. The concept of “mercy” puts us in the picture. So let’s begin searching through each of the nine Sundays in June and July looking to heaven for mercy and in our souls for thankfulness. The first Sunday in June is the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time. We will start here and continue on until we reach the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time on the last day of July.

The first Sunday in June starts us off with the Prophet Elijah. He already had destroyed the incursion of pagan religion into Israel that Jezebel had sponsored. He followed up by calling down a drought on Sidon. Their religion prided itself on guiding farmers as to when to perform the various farming tasks. Elijah was the voice of God telling the people of Sidon their power is totally useless in the face of God’s. Yet, even in a time of famine, God still is merciful. God was already fulfilling his promise to the woman who cared for Elijah by giving her food during the drought. Now, he showed his infinite love by raising her son from the dead.

In today’s Gospel Jesus follows Elijah by raising up the deceased son of a widow in Nain. We also hear of the response of the people. They acknowledge Jesus as a prophet and spread the report of this miracle throughout all of Judea and beyond.

Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is the second reading for all four of the Sundays of June. Here, Paul explains how he tested his first impression after he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. He thought of himself as the Disciple to the Gentiles. To prove this, he waited three years before meeting with Peter and James. His original enthusiasm was gone and the buzz of his experience among the Christians had abated. Still, Paul was responding to his call by giving thanks and dedicating himself to the role of a missionary.

The Old Testament reading for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time is the story of David’s response to being confronted with his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his plot to murder Uriah, her husband, to cover up his sin. David admitted his sin and surprisingly received in return the forgiveness of all his sins. God is great in his mercy to sinners.

Paul reveals to the Galatians that justification comes to us from God, not by works of the law. It comes through faith in Jesus Christ. So, after realizing we have already been crucified with Christ then, we can come to say with Paul, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” Another person who realized her faith in Jesus is the woman who anointed Jesus. How much was your income the last two years? That’s the value of the oil with which she washed Jesus’ feet. She knew Jesus forgave her sins. Her response to the Lord’s mercy was to empty all she had saved for her future on Jesus’ feet.

The 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time asks us to meditate on the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah. Speaking for God, Zechariah says the Lord “will pour forth grace and petition” on the occasion of Jesus’ crucifixion. “On that day, there shall be open…to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” Once again God’s infinite forgiveness is shown to us even before it takes place on Calvary (some 550 years later). The way it comes to us is in the person of the Son of God accepting death on a cross for us.

Paul responds to Zechariah and to God by proclaiming, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying that, on the cross, Jesus died for us; but, through baptism, we join Christ on that cross becoming children of God. The net gain for God, the Father, is tremendous. As a result of Jesus’ act of divine mercy, the Father continually receives new baptized Christians. That’s why, in this day’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” This salvation is yet another cause for our thankfulness.

The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time highlights the Old Testament man who replaced Elijah. His name is Elisha. His story fits in with all we’ve been reading. Imagine a well-equipped farm in the Midwest. It’s the ultimate in modern farming technology. After kissing his mother and father goodbye, Elisha trashes all his equipment and slaughters all his livestock, giving the meat to his farmhands to eat. That would be the biblical era’s equivalent of millions of dollars. Then, he becomes Elijah’s attendant.

If Elisha’s action was a sincere attempt at thanking God for Elijah’s ministry, then Paul demands that we must become servants of one another in love. Notice that Elijah kept emphasizing Elisha’s freedom in doing what he did. Paul reminds us of the freedom God gives us. We should happily give away all we have. It would be an act of love and an appropriate response to Christ’s love for us.

Jesus adds one more quality to the list necessary for becoming a disciple of Christ. He or she must not look back. Our memories must be clear of family ties or any ties to the past. Our eyes and heart must be totally focused ahead on God. Jesus’ total giving to us must be responded to in like manner.

The Old Testament reading for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time brings us to Isaiah. He provides the reasoning for the solid commitment demanded for discipleship. Leaving all our issues behind opens us up to complete joy. The prophet wishes for us all the happiness that the Lord in his overwhelming mercy wishes to bestow on us.

Ending our month-long use of Galatians as the source for our proper response to God’s manifold gifts to us, Paul gives us a rule. It does not matter on which side of the issues of the day we stand. (In Paul’s day it was circumcision versus uncircumcision.) The only thing that matters is new creation. That sums up all that God can give us. It is all we should be thankful for. Becoming a “new creation, in Christ” means we abandon our old self and become a new creation of the hands of God.

The 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time begins a new theme. For one thing, the second readings for the whole month are taken from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. They tend to provide for us a rich theological background for the basic questions of religious life that rise in the first and Gospel readings of the month of July.

We start off in the desert with Moses commenting on the law that God gave the people of Israel. Moses said, “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord.” Life could be very simple since the law is not mysterious or remote. It’s already in your mouths and in your heart. So, keep it simple.

Paul was a student of the Torah. He seems to do for us what Moses did for his people. The New Testament is just as simple. The basic teaching is simply “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” He is the head, the beginning, the first raised from the dead. Everything we do is based on Christ.

The scholar of the law who approached Jesus in the Gospel asked a truly basic question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, in answer, quoted him the prayer the scholar (and all Jews) prayed every day. In a sense Jesus told him it wasn’t very hard. So, the scholar went deeper (or, perhaps, more basic) asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells him a parable, “the Good Samaritan.” The key point is: if we want eternal life we need to possess mercy toward everyone, even enemies. It’s really easy; yet few ever try.

The 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time hails us back in time to the days of Abraham. He’s in a quandary. God told him he was to be the father of many people. Yet he was very old; so was his wife, and they had no children. Then, out of the horizon come three travelers. Abraham treats them to the essence of great hospitality. At the end of the story, one of the guests told Abraham he would have a son by next year. Abraham’s hospitality betrayed his mercy. He lived 800 years before the Torah proving the law was not too difficult at all.

Paul considers himself living proof of that thesis. Even bearing the bodily aches and pains, he is abiding by the law of Christ. By accepting his pain, Paul is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” He is being Christ for others. He is continuing what Jesus did on the cross. And he is doing it with the attitude of Christ, namely with mercy.

The Gospel stays with the basics as it relates the best-loved story of Martha and Mary. The implied question here is how should I live the Christian life in a real household? The implied answer is simply don’t get anxious; get close to Christ.

The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time also starts with Abraham. The issue is the toleration of evil. Sodom and Gomorrah were cities that were undeniably and thoroughly bad. Unfortunately, Lot, a relative of Abraham, lived there. His family was the only good one out of both towns. Abraham wanted God to spare the cities so Lot’s family would not die with evil people there. So he begins his near-eastern way of coming to a deal. He negotiates God down to saving the two cities if there were only 10 good people in both of them. Abraham realized God’s justice and mercy. The ultimate solution was to rescue Lot’s family and destroy all the rest due to their evil.

The reading from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians gets a little close to us. There still is evil in the world, even in us. The same question of Abraham remains: how does God handle the issue of justice and mercy when it pertains, not to cities, but to us? Paul answers that even when we were dead in transgressions, God obliterated the bond against us; he nailed it to the cross. Thanks be to God’s overwhelming mercy.

The Gospel answers the disciple who asked Jesus to teach us to pray. Of course, Jesus answered with the “Our Father.” However, Luke goes much farther. He comments on an aspect of prayer we all worry about. Will our prayers be answered affirmatively? Jesus’ extended answer in Luke’s Gospel is “yes, it will all be answered. One reason is that persistence will get a positive answer even from human beings. Another insight from Jesus is that the most important gift to ask for in prayer is for the Holy Spirit. The Father will always grant our prayer for the Holy Spirit. So we should always pray for the Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is the perfect remedy for any problem we’ll ever confront.

The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time continues the topic of the previous Sunday. It began with questioning how we should pray and quickly evolved into what we should pray for. Should we pray for the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah? Is the only real reason to pray a request for the Holy Spirit? Today the author of Ecclesiastes raises that same question from the human perspective. Qoheleth, who is a theologian, a philosopher, a poet and church man, (a literal translation of Qoheleth) and a teacher of wisdom, analyzes what people want. His bottom line is that everything humans think they need is without substance. The word “vanity” is a beautiful translation of what is literally “wind.” Since every human prayer request is for something basically groundless, then you are left with a very unhappy world.

That’s where St. Paul comes through with bugles blaring. He commands the citizens of Colossae to “think of what’s above, not of what is on earth.” That should give us more reason to pray for the Holy Spirit. We can also pray that when Christ comes again on the last day, we will appear with him. Just keep our eyes looking upward in our prayers; everything else we should get rid of.

One great example of Paul’s point is Jesus’ answer to the man who asked the Lord to tell his brother to give him a rightful share of his inheritance. Jesus refused. That may be an indication of what Jesus would tell us if we had a similar request. Finally, Jesus tells the story of the man who did get every earthly thing he could ask for. He told himself to rest, eat, drink and be merry. God’s judgment on that man is that he was a fool. He did not look up. He had nothing that would matter for his relationship with God. So when you prepare to retire, make sure you‘re ready for what happens after retirement. ■

Father Brando is retired from the active priesthood in the Diocese of Knoxville.

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