I have always liked today’s first reading – the story of how a young boy named Samuel was called to a life of service to the Lord. It was the only story I knew where a young child was the center, the protagonist, the “hero” of the story. I remember my Catholic school religion teacher telling me what I was supposed to learn from the story: always go to church – after all Samuel heard God’s voice in the temple. Always obey my parents and adults – Samuel did exactly what Eli, the temple priest, instructed. Always keep your heart open to God and then act – Samuel invited God to speak to him. Continue reading
Today we celebrate the visit of the magi to the child Jesus. It is often referred to and celebrated as “Three Kings Day” especially in Latino and Mediterranean cultures. Its official name is Epiphany, from the Greek epiphania, meaning that which is revealed, unveiled. The meaning in Greek is reflected in our English language definition: (1): a usually sudden manifestation of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure. There is a certain excitement and energy that accompanies the moment of epiphany. Continue reading
In today gospel account, it is now forty days after Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph are performing their duty as pious Jewish parents by coming to the Temple to fulfill the requirements of Exodus 13. It is a ritual that reminds the parents that this child is now a member of the family that God redeemed from the slavery in Egypt. And so, they come to offer a simple sacrifice as they dedicate their first-born child to the Lord and to the larger, holy covenant family of God. Continue reading
King David – living the dream! I mean who could have imagined? The Lord God had sent his prophet Samuel out to anoint the one who would be king – and the young shepherd David was selected among all of Jesse’s sons – the one to be king of Israel and all of God’s chosen people. And the Lord had been with David on the battlefield as he stood before the giant warrior Goliath. The Lord had stayed with David when he was a wanted man on the run from the murderous hand of King Saul. The Lord had guided David as be took on the mantle of leadership and had united the 12 tribes of Jacob into one nation. And now David was king. Continue reading
I feel sorry for the Levites, the scribes and the Pharisees that were sent from Jerusalem to investigate all the commotion and buzz surrounding John, the one baptizing out in the wilderness at the Jordan River. Israel has a history of people coming along and claiming to be the Messiah – the people get caught up in the fervor and are just sure that this is the One to Come who will lead the army that throws off the yoke of the occupying army and re-establish the throne of David. The cycle is this: a self-professed Messiah appears, all the world runs to him, the revolution starts, foreign armies come and crush the rebellion, and in the end, it was a false Messiah. So, you can see why the Jerusalem authorities send investigators down to the Jordan river to ask John: who are you, what are your intentions. The religious authorities in Jerusalem have a responsibility to acclaim the Messiah when he comes, but there is this legacy of false messiah, misplaced hope, and people needlessly dying – all for naught. So…. They seek out John – once again wondering if the promise of the Messiah is true. Continue reading
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, it makes me recall the words of Revelation 19:16 where the expression “King of kings, Lord of lords” is spoken of Jesus in his second coming. But did you notice that the word “king” is hardly mentioned in our readings today. It is used once in the gospel, not at all in the other readings. Odd, don’t you think? But then again, “He will sit upon his glorious throne…” are the words in the opening verse of our gospel – rather “kingly” I would think.
The idea of kingship fills Scripture. We speak of the kingdom of God and who can forget King David of Israel. But did you ever wonder how Israel got a king? Abraham, the father of all believers – not a king. Moses – not a king. The great judges and leaders of Israel, Sampson and Deborah – not kings. So where did the idea of king come from? That is an interesting story, told in 1 Sam 8: “Israel gets a king.”
The Lord had always watched out and cared for Israel, raising up great leaders when needed – like Moses and the Judges. But the people of Israel got tired of instability and this ebb and flow of anointed leaders, and so one day they ask the last of the judges, Samuel, to go to God and ask for a king – so they can be – not God’s people – but people like other people. Reluctantly Samuel does. God tells Samuel, this is disappointing, but then Israel has always been hardheaded. OK, but tell them the king will have certain rights. And so, Samuel tells the people, OK, but here will be the rights of the king:
He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.
“Still want a king?” The people say “yes” only proving the old adage of being careful what you ask for. In 1st and 2nd Kings, as well as 1st and 2nd Chronicles, scripture recounts the failings of all the kings of Israel (and Judah) from David to Jeckoniah. At the end of each account of the king, the accounts give an assessment of the king on how they did in shepherding the people of God in their covenant with God. Notice “shepherding” – not any of the regal, lofty terms we would use to describe the actions of a king
Where our readings today hardly use the work “king” there is no shortage of references to “shepherds.” Listen again to the words of the first reading from Ezekiel: “For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark…I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy), shepherding them rightly.” Our Psalm cries out, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
So, you have two descriptions of kings: one from 1st Samuel that describes a king as an absolute monarch who takes from the people for his own benefit. And then there is the one who comes as King of all those other kings, and yet will be as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing. The one who sits upon the “glorious throne” a reference to the great vision of God as King – there upon the mercy seat in the Temple.
Maybe now, the scene foretold by Jesus to his disciples about the great end-times judgment makes sense. There is Jesus, judging, enthroned upon the Mercy Seat, separating the sheep from the goats – and the criterion is “were you kingly? Not as people imagine a king, but as you were baptized?” In your baptismal ceremony, the words were spoken that say, Just as Christ is prophet, priest and king, so too … “so too” – and that means you. “So too” do we share in the kingship of Christ. The king who rules as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food,” said Jesus, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
We care for the poor not out of guilt, ascetic renunciation, some secular theory of a socialistic ideal that rejects private property, nor because the poor are virtuous. Rather, in serving the poor we care for our own souls by imitating the character of God himself.
Christian care for the poor isn’t just a utilitarian act of social justice (Bill Gates does that), an altruistic act with no element of self-interest or expectation of reward (per Emmanuel Kant), and not even merely a sign of a believer’s personal faith (per the Protestant Reformers). Rather, care for the poor is the privileged way to serve God and to live out our baptismal vows.
It is the way it has always been. When St. Paul met with the early Church leaders in Jerusalem and was commissioned to be an apostle to the Gentiles, he says that the only thing he was asked to do was to remember the poor, “which is the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
If you are to claim Christ as your king, if you are to claim your part in the kingship, then right and holy shepherding of others is part and parcel of that claim. You are anointed in baptism to share in Christ’s kingship, his right shepherding.
May the grace to live out that anointing… may that grace be yours.
One of my favorite films is the 1994 drama, The Shawshank Redemption. It is a movie I never tire of watching. One of the central characters in the movie is Ellis “Red” Redding, portrayed by Morgan Freeman. As a young man Red was rightly convicted of murder and has spent 40 plus years of his adult life in Shawshank Prison. There he knows the routine, has a certain status among the inmates, and has settled in. As he remarks about himself – he is an institutionalized man. Part of that life is that he lives in a state of managed fear from the guards, prison gangs, and the long silence in the night when he is alone with his thoughts. Part of that life is the operation of a contraband business acquiring and selling goods and hard-to-get items to other prisoners. In his own way, he is comfortable… safe. He risks little, he gains nothing. Continue reading
Here at the tail end of hurricane season (officially Nov 30th), let me ask you…. How many of you were prepared this past season, stocking up on extra flashlights and batteries? Extra water and food? Something to charge your cell phone? Of course, forecasting is pretty good these days, we always have advanced warning, and there is time to run to the store or borrow from our neighbors. Right? Given the scenes from the days preceding Hurricane Irma, I think that was most people’s strategy. But not all things in life are well forecast. Some rain comes down upon us without notice. Continue reading
Depend, rely, trust, hope – all synonyms, but each one brings its own nuance. But all generally carry the same questions. Do we depend on a what or who? Upon what or whom do we rely? Where do we place our trust? Upon whom do we trust? And the same questions surround “hope.” What do we hope for? Who do we hope in? Continue reading
I am always somewhat bemused when folks ask me for dating advice. Is it that they see in me a font of wisdom, experience, and a treasure chest of great advice?…, yeah…OK…that passes pretty quickly. More apropos is the naval expression: “any port in a storm.” The storm of dating confusion is upon them and I happen to be the nearest port; and that’s ok. If you are a parish priest long enough, you have had this conversation hundreds of time and often you know how the different stories turns out. So, perhaps there is a wealth of advice in the stories. Continue reading