Living the readings: The end of the road

Christ’s journey that we have been taught is our journey as well

By Father Joseph Brando

Way back on June 26, the Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time was taken from Luke 9:51-62. “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey up to Jerusalem…” That journey ends, appropriately enough, with Jesus arriving at Jerusalem and commenting on the temple.

Every Sunday Gospel since June has come from Luke’s narrative of that journey and what Jesus said and did on the way. The account of Jesus’ arrival begins on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time with Jesus saying, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” On the very next Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, and the last day of Ordinary Time, we hear Jesus predict that many of us will share in Jesus’ suffering.

The journey we have followed from spring to autumn is our journey as well. The liturgy, every three years, gives us the time and the appropriate Scripture passages to prepare ourselves to follow Christ. The last eight Sundays of Ordinary Time rushed us precipitously into Jerusalem. What seemed like a long time will soon be over. Meditations on the events of this journey, Christ’s parables, confrontations and challenges have raised our awareness that the kingdom of God surrounds us.

Our last leg of the journey begins on Oct. 2, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time. During this last stage of the Gospel readings, the Church offers us a parallel. Readings from 2 Timothy accompany us most of the way. This New Testament book (and the other pastoral epistles) seem to be a collection of Pauline letters that were pieced together by a follower or followers of Paul to give us an idea of what situations faced the Church in the generation of Paul and give us the benefit of good advice attributed to Paul himself. In addition, we know that Luke was a follower of St. Paul. So insights from Paul can illuminate what Luke tells us about Jesus. We’ll put these passages next to one another to see what we can learn.

In this first passage from Luke, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. It’s a critical request. Jesus responds that only a little will accomplish great things. Paul underlines the necessity of asking this question, pointing out that faith is a gift directly from God. The amount of faith we have is not as important as what we do with it. What we do is “stir it into flame.” We should “guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.” It looks like this was a deeply considered topic among Christians nearing the end of the first century.

On the 28th Sunday, Jesus was confronted by 10 lepers. Luke tells us Jesus is traveling along the Galilee-Samaria border. When only one returns to give thanks for being cleansed from the leprosy, Jesus announces the reason for this healing. The leper was saved because of his faith. That is to say Samaritans have faith also. In the passage from 2 Timothy, Paul has come up with the same insight. He writes, “The Word of God is not chained. I (Paul) bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen so that they, too, may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.”

So Jesus’ message is expanded. It is more than attributing faith to a Gentile; it is demonstrating to us that it is Jesus’ will that he responds to the faith of Jews and Gentiles alike.

On the 29th Sunday, Luke gives us a glimpse of Jesus preparing his disciples for difficult times when their faithfulness in prayer would be tested. He tells them a parable of a widow who couldn’t get justice from a crooked judge. But she remained persistent. Then Jesus floors us by ending the story with three powerful questions. “Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Paul thunders back his strong thoughts on the same topic. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” Whether the judge is God or man, there must be “wisdom for salvation through faith.”

On the 30th Sunday, Jesus tells another parable. It’s the story of the two people who happened to be praying in the temple at the same time. One, a Pharisee, spoke this prayer to himself: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity.” And another, a tax collector, prayed: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke concludes with Jesus’ verdict: “the one who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

With the illustration of the Pharisee and the publican as background, check out how Paul stands in regard to his own prayer life. “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”

Paul is not afraid of meriting a crown. Yet by no means does he pray to himself. He prays as part of the throng who have longed for the Lord’s appearance. And it is correct to add ourselves to those longing for the Lord.

On the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus and his retinue have made it to Jericho. He’s near the Dead Sea, which at its deepest is about 2,300 feet below sea level. Jerusalem is about 16 miles away but almost 5,500 feet higher. That road is the last leg of the trek.

One of the objects of the journey was to gather all the disciples. All would have the joy of joining Jesus for his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Jericho would be the last place to find worthy folks.But Luke’s spotlight falls on a short tax collector. Just the fact that Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus started the people groaning.

By the time the tax collector got down from the tree he had climbed to see Jesus, an argument had developed. The vast majority of the crowd warned Jesus this man was a turncoat collecting taxes for the Romans. He had adopted the dress and culture of the Hellenistic overlords who were running the economy and the government as well. That alone warranted being called a sinner.

But, in addition, he was getting rich in the process. Then, spontaneously, Zacchaeus volunteers to give half his net worth to the poor and retribution to anyone he may have cheated. Jesus’ response was to accept his change of life and proclaim that he truly is a son of Abraham. Subsequently, Jesus goes to the tax collector’s house with the words, “Today, salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

The parallel reading this Sunday is not from 2 Timothy but from 1 Thessalonians. Paul wrote this letter to a group of new Christians among whom some were so excited by the coming of the Lord soon at the last day that they stopped working. Paul’s advice to them was: “not to be shaken out of your minds….that the day of the Lord is at hand.” For sure, hosting the Son of God in his house had to be a cause for great excitement for Zacchaeus and to follow him to Jerusalem and perhaps even to participate in Palm Sunday would stir his emotions. Yet, Jesus’ admonition to the Thessalonians would be meant for Zacchaeus and for us.

On the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Jesus meets a major sect of Judaism that was strongly opposed to him. They did not believe in life after death and mocked those who did believe in heaven. Luke has a good illustration of such contempt when they confronted Jesus with the example of a woman with seven husbands.

Who will be her husband in the afterlife? Jesus’ answer was serious and twofold. First, those who enter into the resurrected state do not die again nor marry. Rather, they are like angels. Second, God is (note: present tense) the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If so, the patriarchs are still alive. He is not the God of the dead.

On the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus and his followers have reached the city of Jerusalem and gathered around its brilliant showpiece, the temple. Immediately, the Lord predicts its destruction. He also predicts terror on all sides and persecutions against Christians. Then Jesus turns the scene around. Persecution presents the opportunity for us to give testimony. A time of terror is the exact time for us to bring ultimate peace to the world. By not preparing our answers, the world will hear a wisdom it cannot refute. St. Paul clarifies this scenario, telling the Thessalonians to keep busy and not act in a disorderly way. So Christians can control the terrorism of the world by providing it order.

The final Sunday of Ordinary Time is not known by a number at all. It is the feast of Christ the King. The feast demonstrates through a historical event what the readings of the previous Sunday claim.

The event is the crucifixion and death of the Lord. Jesus speaks with the thieves who were crucified with him. The atmosphere is hectic as death and hostility run rampant. Nevertheless, at the request of one of the thieves, all the noise and clamor fade away, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Out of the unexpected silence, the words of the Gospel win the day, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” ■

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