Sunday, November 6, 2016

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14
Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8,15
2 Thes 2:16-3:5
Lk 20:27-38

The Gospel reading is complex. Taken out of the larger context in which it appears, it makes for a strange story.  What does it mean?

Like the Gospel for the past weeks, this narrative appears late in Luke's Gospel.  Jesus is close to his crucifixion.  Indeed, the events of what we call Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem to the sound of the crowd shouting, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  have already happened. He has arrived at his final destination.

The officials were not pleased with the joyous welcome Jesus received in Jerusalem.  Soon they would be furious because of interactions such as the one described in today's Gospel. The previous chapter ended with Jesus expelling the money lenders from the Temple. That act set the stage for a conflict that would seal Jesus' death warrant.  It was a conflict that was played out through a series of questions and encounters. The questions the authorities asked Jesus were complex.  They were intentionally hostile; constructed so as to force Jesus to say something blasphemous. Any perceived blasphemy could then be used against him.  At the time blasphemy was a crime punishable by death. Today it is at the heart of the routines of many pathetic comedians and late-night talk show hosts.  

Earlier in the chapter Jesus' questioners asked whether they should pay tax to the emperor. Jesus’ well-known reply was to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.  Luke Timothy Johnson described the effect Jesus’ answer to the question of paying taxes had, “They were unable to trap him publicly in speech.  His answer completely disconcerted them and reduced them to silence.”  The narrative we just heard, comes immediately after the tax question and has a similar effect of ending the conversation. 

A question about a woman who marries and is widowed by seven brothers in sequence is very strange to modern ears. It makes no sense, particularly the part about the law requiring the brother to marry his elder brother's childless widow so as to have children for him.  It is important to recall that in the Ancient Near East social structures and the understanding of
marriage and family were very different from those of 21st century Europe.  But the question the Sadducees asked was not about social structures or marriage laws.  It was an attempt to trip Jesus, to catch him in a contradiction if not blasphemy.  Kind of like the current campaign for president in the U.S.  One wrong word or comment and you're dead in the water.

It is important to pay attention to the form of the question more than it is to the content.  And the question is trickier than it would seem on the surface.  The Sadducees, who asked the question, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees did. Thus had Jesus answered, “brother number 3” he could have been criticized either for believing in the resurrection of the dead or for claiming to know specific details of the afterlife. This last possibility, knowing what eternal life will be like,  is a popular heresy today.  The question is an example of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.  However, once again, Jesus’ response stopped his questioners dead in their tracks.  There was no possible reply.

The first reading is not taken out of context but it is very much shortened.  Except for the first verse it is the middle of a long chapter that describes an event during the Roman persecution of the Jews.  Seven brothers refused to violate Jewish dietary laws. Because of this they were tortured and put to death, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. The killings took place in front of their mother who was also put to death.  Before his death the youngest told the emperor, “My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant. . . . “ 

"Never failing life under God’s covenant." 

That is the same answer Jesus gave to the Sadducees’ question.  Never failing life under God’s covenant.  Jesus didn't give details of the decorations in the afterlife, or who will be sitting next to whom,  or a chart of human relationships after death. Jesus made an eloquent statement of never ending life under God’s covenant,  "the covenant with the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; not the God of the dead, but the God of the living, for to him all are alive. “ 

For this reason we can pray with the psalmist:

"Keep me as the apple of your eye,
Hide me in the shadow of your wings.
But I in justice shall behold your face;
On waking I shall be content in your presence."

And we pray for each other as Paul prayed for the Thessalonians:
"May the Lord direct your hearts
to the love of God
and to the endurance of Christ."
__________________________________________________ 


This morning produced one of the bigger surprises or shocks, depending on how one looks at it, of my time in Slovenia.  Fr. Peter came into my room to ask if I would celebrate the 7:00 PM Mass.  Alone.  In Slovenian.  The priest scheduled has a wicked cold.  The others were all booked.  Uh oh.  We were just planning that I would perhaps say the concelebrant's prayers at Mass.  Instead of one paragraph I had the whole Mass.  There was no homily.  It went reasonably well.  Fr. Jo┼że spent three days per week the first two weeks with me teaching me the parts of the Mass in Slovenian.  He then graciously recorded them into my phone, I put them on the computer, and practiced.  Apparently the congregation, except for my Lithuanian buddy who attended, understood everything.  Tonight might be a good one for a beer.  

We have had rain for the past two days.  Last night I woke three times due to very heavy downpours on the skylights.  And some lightning.  

Below find some photos of mushrooms.  I love mushrooms.  Br. Robert brought home a basket of what he called 'birch tree mushrooms' because they are only found on birch trees.  The following morning he cooked them with minimal ingredients.  No butter (I thought there was), no sherry (I thought there was).  Just a bit of oil, some garlic, some onions, and touch of basil.  At the end he tossed in two eggs not to create scrambled eggs with mushrooms but to bind things a bit. Probably would have needed a dozen eggs to even notice them.  Those mushrooms on some of the very chewy bread seen in the background, is one of the best breakfasts I've had in a very long time.  

A closeup of the mushrooms in the basket.  Wouldn't this make a b****rd of a jigsaw puzzle?  A 500 piece one.

The one mushroom kept out of the pot.

The same mushroom two days later.  It is now completely shriveled up but the green leafs are still attached.

I've been dreaming about this dish.  Just the mushrooms simply cooked and terrific bread that you actually had to chew!  None of this Wonder Bread nonsense.  This was perfection.

+ Fr Jack, SJ, MD

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