“Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Lk 12:6-7).
Some thirty-five plus years ago I was in high school and either in my junior or senior sociology or psychology class, my teacher mentioned that if we thought Stephen King told amazing tales, we should definitely read the Bible. He keyed in especially on the imagery expressed in the Book of Revelation. My teacher’s comment piqued my interest because at the time I enjoyed reading Stephen King, though I had not spent any time reading the Bible.
My teacher’s words stayed with me beyond that class period. A few weeks or months later I remember going to Waldens, a bookstore, at the Enfield Mall in the next town over from where I grew up in East Windsor, Connecticut. I purchased a King James Bible. I don’t remember reading it right away, but shortly sometime after, I do remember leaving a party. I don’t remember anything about the party or why I left, but when I arrived home, I remember going up to my room and for some reason grasping my new Bible. I then opened it at random and began reading. The verse above was what I read, and it was the first time I can remember experiencing God speaking to me.
It was not a booming voice emanating from the burning bush that was directed to Moses, the room didn’t shake, nor did the lights flicker. Yet, in that quiet and still moment, I heard in my mind, “You will not ever win the lottery, but like the sparrows, I will take care of you. I will always give you the ability and means to work.” God has proven true to his word. I have not won the mega millions, but God has provided me with the opportunity to have regular, gainful employment and even though experiencing some tight financial times through the years, God has provided beyond work through the kindness of friends, families, as well as some amazing assistance outside of the norm at times.
Does God still speak to us as he spoke to the people in the Bible? Absolutely! God does speak to us directly, he also speaks to us through his written word in our personal reading, in our time of communal worship, and through preaching. He also speaks to us through the sacraments, music, art, movies, through others, through our serving each other, through his creation, and a myriad of other infinite possibilities.
The question is not so much, does God still speak to us? The question is why do we not hear and how do we open ourselves up to his words or his silence? One way is to ask God to help us to recognize his voice. So we can be like the sheep that come to learn the shepherd’s voice. Another way is to stop and be still. Doing so gives us the opportunity for reflection, to ask God to reveal times in the past where he has spoken and we were not aware. When we examine and reflect on our day, with God’s help we can see where God has been with us and reaching out to us.
Not only do we need to make a consistent time each day to pray but we need to stay long enough to listen! One of the biggest reasons many of us do not hear God is because we are not listening or we don’t make the time to stop. God’s silence is also a profound answer. There are many people that may want to give us advice, to offer solutions to fix our problems, when sometimes, we just need to stop, slow down, and be still. Are we willing to be open and believe that God speaks to us, and guides us? Fr. Jim Martin, S.J., has expressed the search for finding God in this way: “God is always inviting us to encounter the transcendent in the everyday, the key is noticing” (Martin 2010, 86).
God knows us better than we know ourselves and he loves us more than we can ever imagine. Let us be a little more aware today than we were yesterday, and may we have eyes, ears, and minds open to notice God present in our lives. Our Loving God and Father cares for and provides for us as he does the sparrows. Are we willing to answer his invitation to spend time with him and to listen for his word or his silence?
Photo by Tejas Prajapati from Pexels
Martin, S.J., James. The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. NY: Harper Collins, 2010.
Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter” (Lk 11:52).
I have quoted my friend, mentor, and brother, Dr. Sixto Garcia often, and it is worth quoting him again: “We are a living, craving, hunger, and desire to be one with God and one another. This is true for the atheist and believer alike.” At our root, in the very bowels of our being, we yearn for God. The psalmist echoes this point as well: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Psalm 42:2). Whether we know it or not, believe it or not, we yearn for God. He is the only one who can fulfill what our deepest longing is because as St Augustine wrote in his Confessions, he “has made us for himself and we are restless until we rest in thee”.
To prevent access, to those who seek, as did those for whom Jesus points to in today’s Gospel, is an egregious offense. Especially in the way that Jesus describes. They themselves have the key to enter, do not avail themselves of the gift they have received, and worse, prevent others from going in! I remember a time in eighth grade where I had wanted to ask a girl I liked out to the school dance. I confided this hope with someone but of course, the word got out. A few days later in math class, the teacher laughed aloud and announced to the whole class that I was the first one he had ever heard of being rejected before I could even ask someone out. I wanted to melt into the floor.
Now, this may not be the most direct example of what Jesus was talking about, but there is a parallel. Teachers, like religious leaders, are to open up greater access and care for those that have been placed in their trust. When they do the opposite by denying access, betraying that trust, belittle, or worse abuse those they are charged to empower, they slam doors in the faces of those who seek the fulfillment of their being. We are all caretakers of each other. We need to resist any temptation to demean, dehumanize, or crush the spirit of anyone.
St Paul in his most theologically mature letter wrote: “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). People are hungry for God. We must resist building walls or refusing to open doors to those who seek. We need to build bridges of encounter and accompaniment, even when the seeker does not recognize they are seeking, and when they express their thirst in not the most pleasant of ways. Here it is even more important that we resist reacting and slipping into a defensive posture but instead be open, understanding, willing to listen with our spirit instead of our ego for what their need truly may be.
As Pope Francis wrote: “Each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls! Let us dialogue and meet one another in order to establish a culture of dialogue in the world, a culture of encounter” (Pope Francis, 128).
Photo: My first year teaching, 1997, hoping to share some keys, open some doors, and plant seeds of peace.
After Jesus continues to call out those Pharisees who follow their own will and put themselves in the place of honor instead of God, one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
Jesus does not miss and beat and convicts the scholar as well when he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them” (Lk 11;45-46).
Jesus is clear about his mission, about what the kingdom of God is not and what it is. Jesus is shining a light on the practices of the Pharisees and the scholars of the law in the hope that they can see the darkness that is blinding them. Unfortunately, unlike Bartimaeus (see Mk 10:46-52) who knew he was blind and wanted to see, this is not true for these men who Jesus confronts in today’s Gospel.
How about us? As Jesus shines his light and love in our direction, do we cover our eyes because the light is too bright and withdraw further into the shadows or do we remain still and allow our eyes time to adjust so that the brightness of the Mystery of God will reveal to us that which has kept us bound? Will we justify, or rationalize our behavior or that of others that we know are sinful, or will we be transparent and walk further into the light and the embrace of Jesus, so to repent and believe in the Gospel?
We need to resist the path of those Pharisees and scholars of the Law who imposed heavy burdens on those seeking a relationship with the living God and instead be willing to follow Jesus and meet others where they are in the moment, so to accompany, encourage, and support each other in living the Gospel in our everyday lives. Hiding in the darkness, enslaved by our fears and prejudices, is no longer an option. Jesus beckons us to come out from the shadows and into the radiance of his light. As we experience his love and mercy, he encourages us to continue to move out of our comfort zones and complacency so that we may encounter others with the same love and mercy we have received.
In actuality, the prescriptions that Jesus places on us as his disciples are more challenging than those of the Pharisees and scribes. The difference is that what Jesus invites us to do, he will accompany us and give us the divine assistance to accomplish. What we need to remember is that it is Jesus working through us, not us doing it on our own. Apart from Jesus, we are nothing, but with Jesus all things are possible.
Photo from remehernandez from Cathopic.com
The Lord said to him, “Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools” (Lk 11:39).
Jesus’ harshest critiques were for acts of hypocrisy. He did so to show, in no uncertain terms, how dangerous this was, especially for religious leaders. These men were entrusted with the care of God’s people. They may have observed the proper rituals, spoke, and dressed to match the part but this all meant nothing if their hearts were hardened and they were closed to the will of God. Most of all, the danger was when they themselves became obstacles, stumbling blocks to those who sought God. Jesus indicting them as fools meant that they were bereft of the wisdom of God they projected to have.
A recent Pew study tracing religious affiliation from 2007 to 2014 found that approximately 56 million Americans identify themselves as following no religious affiliation. Some have labeled this group as the “Nones”. The context and nuance of why this trend is on the rise has many components. One ingredient is the unacceptable levels of hypocrisy which has turned many off to organized faith traditions. The most recent report from France reminds us of the present crisis regarding the abuse of minors and the indigenous children recently found in unmarked graves throughout Canada boarding schools support this trend in horrific and unconsionable ways.
In the depths of our very being, we seek and yearn for the transcendent, the infinite. We are spiritual seekers, yet, time and again, we experience suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy at the hands of the very ones who are our leaders in both the religious and political sphere. This is why Jesus convicted those who abused their positions because he knew the significant damage that they could inflict.
No one is perfect, our leaders nor ourselves. We all fall short of the perfection of Christ, even those of us who seek and aspire to live by the Gospel. If we put anyone up on a pedestal they, sooner or later, are going to fall, and the higher up they go, the greater the fall. God is to hold priority of place. One way we can sidestep the trap of hubris is by resisting the urge to project all is well and good, that we are fine when we are not. None of us are super men or women. If we think we can go it alone, we will fall sooner or later.
When we turn to Jesus to reveal our weakness and our sin, we can experience his transformative and healing power in our lives. To be vulnerable, to allow Jesus to shine his light into our inner darkness takes courage, but when we open all of our lives to him we will identify and be able to release our own “plunder and evil”. The Holy Spirit can also help us to trust one another with our weaknesses, faults, and shortcomings.
In assuming a posture of humility and openness, in reaching out for help, in entrusting ourselves to a core group of people will allow the unique gifts of others to come to the fore so we can empower one another while holding each other accountable at the same time. When we are transparent with our weaknesses and willing to accompany one another, we as Church can resist the temptation of hypocrisy and instead of driving people to the nearest exit, we can welcome people home.
Painting: Supper In the House of Simon, by Italian artist Moretto da Brescia (1150-1554)