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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

7th SUNDAY -C- February 24, 2019

I Samuel 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Ps 103; I Cor. 15: 45-49; Luke 6: 27-38

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

A friend said that when she was a girl she heard today’s Gospel in church and thought, "That’s awfully hard! But no one does it in my church so I don’t have to do it." If ever I were tempted to change the Gospel reading, this would be one of those Sundays I would give in and look for an easier one. (Actually, there are no "easy" passages, but some seem to require less of a gut-wrenching struggle for the preacher.)

In the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up this Gospel flies in the face of the behavior we learned from earliest childhood. You would be laughed to scorn if you suggested, "love you enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." And, of course, no would have suggested, "turn the other cheek." Even if it were noted, "Jesus said it," someone wold surely have retorted, "Yeah, well that was back then, this is now." Or, "Well he could do it because he was God, he can’t expect us mere humans to do that." And since it was Brooklyn, some kid would certainly have added, "Whada ya nutz?"

You can see why this preacher would be tempted to find another reading. Who wouldn’t? There are just too many innocent people suffering at the hands of tyrants in the world to make this passage acceptable at first glance. Maybe we would be "nutz" to take it seriously. But then again, considering the condition of our world, nothing else seems to be working. Let’s not dismiss this passage too handily. Let’s give it a chance to speak its liberating message to us.

Jesus is asking a lot, a whole lot! It’s perfectly clear that he isn’t just presenting a slightly improved way to live, an ethical code a notch or two above other such codes. He’ not just proposing a way of behaving that good people, with extra effort, might try. "Be just a bit kinder...bite your lip and forgive one more time...." If he were doing that, we wouldn’t need him, we could, with effort, manage it on our own and then collect our hard earned reward from God.

Jesus is introducing something entirely new. Not just a new code of ethics; but a whole new age with an entirely new way to live with one another. Those who enter this "new way," this new reign, find themselves animated by a different Spirit. Their whole lives are changed, down to the very core. They now look at life through a different lens. What seems so contrary to ordinary human wisdom, now comes, as if, by second nature, for the citizen of God’s dominion. The members of the reign whose presence Jesus announces, see themselves and others, by the light Jesus has introduced into the world.

I don’t look upon Jesus’ teachings as things I must do to please God, to earn merit, or to get to heaven. Rather, I first believe that he has done something radically new in my life, as a result, a new life in me urges and motivates me to an entirely new way to live. It is because I have this new life that I can receive these teachings as a guide to another way of interpreting my life and the life of those around me. Through my Gospel eyes and ears I take in the world differently and I respond to it differently. When wronged I try to respond in a way that reflects Jesus’ ongoing presence living in me. I know that I cannot continue to act and react as everyone else does. That would mean Jesus is dead, that his resurrection never took place and that his Spirit does not live in the world. Rather, the life he lived has become a possibility for me too. What would seem impossible behavior, based on the usual human reckoning, now is possible. Now it is possible to love and forgive in the way Jesus did.

The most difficult part of Jesus’ teaching is to consider its consequences for those who have suffered abuse, who have been victimized. Some people might misinterpret Jesus and hear him saying that they are to remain victims and suffer abuse. Jesus isn’t telling us to be victims. (I am helped in interpreting this passage by the insights of Fred Craddock and Robert Schreiter, C.PP.S.). Craddock reminds us that the people to whom Jesus is speaking are the most poor, victims of abusive Roman power and wealthy land owners. He suggests Jesus’ teachings are about how not to be a victim.

In verses 27-31 Jesus is saying: take charge of your life and the situation, by taking the initiative in loving, caring and giving. The second section of this passage (32-36) is like the first, telling us not to reciprocate. But where the former was applied towards those who mistreat us, this section is applied to those who treat us favorably. In both cases, our behavior is not determined by either a friend or an enemy. We act the way we do because of the God we worship ("be merciful as your Father is merciful"). God does not hold back forgiveness from those who have previously not been friends with God. Nor does God treat harshly those who have not previously loved God. Our norm is God – not society. If God is the criteria for our behavior, then how dependent we are on God’s graciousness to help us fulfill this teaching!

The third section (verses 32-36) underlines just how generous God has been to us – "a good measure, packed together, shaken down and overflowing will be poured into you lap." This verse seems to overflow and dominate the last one that speaks of getting back to the extent that we give others. God is busy at work, transforming and encouraging us to be to others what God has been to us. Jesus doesn’t allow us to draw a circle around family, friends and good neighbors, placing only them under the umbrella of our love. He won’t let us be the determinant of who is "deserving" of our beneficence. He bursts through our categories and beyond our natural inclinations to love and enables us to reflect the divine presence at work in us.

In addressing the case of victims, Robert Schrieter says, "... God initiates the work of reconciliation in the lives of the victims." Ordinarily we would expect reconciliation to begin with the repentance of the wrongdoers. But experience shows that wrongdoers are rarely willing to acknowledge what they have done or to come forward of their own accord. If reconciliation depended entirely upon the wrongdoers’ initiative, there would be next to no reconciliation at all.

God begins with the victim, restoring to the victim the humanity which the wrongdoer has tried to wrest away or to destroy. This restoration of humanity might be considered the very heart or reconciliation. The experience of reconciliation is the experience of grace – the restoration of ones’ damaged humanity in a life-giving relationship with God (Gen 1:26). It is that image by which humanity might mirror divinity, by which humanity comes into communion with divinity, that is restored. That God would begin with the victim, and not the evildoer, is consistent with divine activity in history. God takes the side of the poor, the widowed and the orphaned, the oppressed and the imprisoned. It is in the ultimate victim, God’s son Jesus Christ, that God begins the process that least to the reconciliation of the whole world in Christ (Col; 1:20)" (cf below, pages 14-15).

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022419.cfm

ONE GOOD BOOK FOR THE PREACHER:

Robert J. Schrieter, C.PP.S. THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION: SPIRITUALITY & STRATEGIES. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, New York, 1998 (paper, 136 pages).

Schrieter presents a spirituality of both individual and social reconciliation based on Jesus’ resurrection. He shows how, with a spirituality of reconciliation, we can then create an environment for reconciliation to help us deal with violence in society, our neighborhoods and families.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.

1 Samuel 26: 8

Sometimes the need for revenge gets the better of our higher angels but not in today’s first reading. Saul had tried to kill David on several occasions. However, David, perhaps sensing Saul’s change of personality over the years to something we would call today, psychotic, refuses to put him to death. It is in this light, that we examine the new revision to the Church’s teaching on the death penalty and human dignity.

This past August 1, 2018, Pope Francis approved a new revision of paragraph number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, according to which "a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state, thus "the death penalty is inadmissible." On many occasions, Pope John Paul II intervened for the elimination of capital punishment describing it as "cruel and unnecessary" and Pope Benedict XVI appealed for "the attention of society’s leaders to the need to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty."

The Catechism text as revised reads as follows:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person"[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

[1] FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017.

As today’s responsorial psalm states, "God redeems life from destruction."

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC

QUOTABLE:

I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said, "Love your enemy," he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it our in our daily lives.

Let us be practical and ask the question, How do we love our enemies?

First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He [sic] who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and , like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm water of forgiveness.

----Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted in RICHER FARE: REFLECTION ON THE SUNDAY READINGS, Gail Ramshaw, pages 161-2.

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

"Be merciful just as your Father is merciful"

Reflection:

Our behavior is not determined by either a friend, or an enemy. We act the way we do because of the God we worship. God does not hold back forgiveness from those who have previously not been friends with God. Nor does God treat harshly those who have not previously loved God. Our norm is God – not society.

So, we ask ourselves:

  • To whom do I find it most difficult to extend forgiveness?
  • What group of people have I found offensive and ignored?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Randy Atkins #0012311 (On death row since 12/8/93)
  • Frank Chambers #0071799 (3/10/94)
  • William L Barnes #0020590 (3/19/94)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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