Reflections for the 11th Week in Ordinary Time 2011/2020**
** These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2009 and 2010.
They refer to the daily readings for the 11th Week in Ordinary Time 2011.
John 20: 19-23
Pentecostes (literally “fiftieth”) is the Greek word for the Israelite feast of Weeks. The feast of Weeks was called “Fiftieth” because it occurred seven weeks, fifty days, after the feast of Passover. Originally an agricultural feast that celebrated the end of the grain harvest, Pentecost eventually came to be a feast of celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. There are many similarities between this event on Sinai and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit that come to the Church on Pentecost are listed in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. St. Paul tell us that “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” The presence of these gifts in our lives is indicative of our being followers of the Spirit of God.
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, points out a couple of interesting things about these gifts of the Spirit and how we can tell if they are authentic or not. First of all, no one has merited such gifts, and since each community member’s gift comes from the same source, the Spirit of God, no one is above or inferior to the other. There is certainly a great diversity of gifts in the members of the Christian community, but all of these gifts in all of their diversity come from the same God and are given through the agency of the Spirit. Some manifestation of the Spirit is given to each member of the Community. Any claim by any member, therefore, that any one particular gift is a fuller manifestation of the Spirit than some other gifts is out of the question. Thus, any and all arrogance that would claim that certain gifts are superior to others is simply false. We all receive and we are all equal. The Spirit favors no one.
Paul also tells us that any gift that is truly from the Spirit, a gift which is an authentic manifestation of the Spirit, must in some way benefit others. The Spirit’s gifts are not given for our own personal self-gratification or status in the community, but they are all given for the common good.
It would be well for us to keep these two criteria for the authenticity of the Spirit’s gifts in mind on this feast of Pentecost. These gifts are not for us personally, but for all the community. There is no room for ego trips, for thinking my gifts are greater than yours. All are from the same Spirit and all are to be used for the common good, for everyone else. Am I looking at my God-given gifts and talents in this way?
Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5: 38-42
The Gospel for this Monday in Ordinary Time resumes with the fifth antithesis of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” This antithesis is concerned with the so-called ius talionis, the right of retaliation, of the Jewish law. This was based on the principle of equal reciprocity. The law placed limits on retribution so things wouldn’t get out of hand with greater vengeance for a misdeed than was called for. In the legal code of Hammerabi the principle of exact reciprocity is very clear. For example, if one person caused the death of another person’s child, that person’s child would be put to death. This, of course, has been replaced in newer modes of legal theory. And it goes without saying that the merciful and forgiving Jesus would put the kibosh on all of this.
Jesus shows us there is another way, a higher way, of responding to harm or injustices inflicted by another with a positive act that can encourage the breaking of the cycle of violence and one in which the reconciliation of the two parties can be achieved. In actual cases of this nature we should remember that vigilante-type activity is wrong. Charles Bronson’s movie Death Wish is not the way to go. Our civil law is well equipped to handle such cases when necessary.
We are not to take matters into our own hands with violent retaliation. The sixth and final antithesis is going to have a bearing here too. We should further remember how Jesus forgave those who crucified him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Revenge never entered his mind.
Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5: 43-48
We now come to the sixth and final antithesis: “You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
What a marvelous quote! Marriage Encounter used to emphasize (and maybe still does) that love is not a feeling but a decision, and the decision Jesus challenges us with is to remain faithful to his covenant of love. Nowhere in Scripture is there a command to hate an enemy. The word hate can also mean to “love less”, which is pretty much how it effected the Jewish people. They loved their Jewish brothers and sisters more than strangers and probably wouldn’t go out of their way to do much for a stranger in need. Reversing this trend is the very point of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel (c. 10).
There is an old cliché that I have seen proven true many times over: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Hatred, treating people disrespectfully, shaming them, putting them down, taking advantage of others, ignoring them, failing to listen to others – all of these ways of treating others badly are certainly not the way of Jesus. We may not like some people and do not care to be around them. And I am sure there are some who feel that same way about me. Fine! So be it! But that doesn’t mean I can’t pray for their well-being and wish them well in their journey through life.
What good has hatred every accomplished? It only makes everyone concerned miserable. Loving and being loved makes us all happy.
Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
The treatment of the antitheses is now completed and Jesus in today’s Gospel shifts gears to talk about a few things that are pillars of the Jewish spiritual life: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The main point of this discourse is to discourage us from drawing attention to ourselves, from blowing our own horn, when we perform these spiritual pillars. Jesus rules all this stuff out right off the bat. It is pride pure and simple and has no place in Jesus’ way, truth and life.
Some of us think we are really something; look at me everyone and see how great I am, and that is a crock and a half! When we really pause and take a good look at ourselves, to truly know ourselves (humility), we see all of our weaknesses and faults and realize we are no better than anyone else is this whole world. Jesus calls the act of self-inflating hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is posing as something or someone we are not. We are, rather, to focus on the Lord and not on ourselves.
Humility is the basis of prayer, alms-giving and fasting. We need to remind ourselves of our own defects and the need to be aware of them and to help others. These three pillars of Jewish spirituality are good for us also. Focus on God and one another and not on myself. Once again, life is not all about me. Blowing our own horn, hypocrisy, making ourselves appear to be what we are not, is not the way Jesus wants us to go.
Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6: 7-15
In our Gospel for today, Jesus tells his disciples how they are to pray and teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. Luke has a shorter version. The purpose of prayer is to communicate with God and when doing so we are to shut other things out of our minds and focus on Who it is we are communicating with.
Jesus tells us that when we pray we are not to “babble on like the pagans.” Jesus here is criticizing those who think they can manipulate God by the sheer multiplication of words and time. The Lord’s Prayer is really a short prayer and right to the point of our powerlessness. Words are external. It is our internal disposition that Jesus is concerned with: our powerlessness, our surrender to his ways, our need of him for our happiness and peace, our need to thank him for all he does for us, that makes the difference.
Finally, as we have seen before, communication with God is necessary to progress in our intimate relationship with him. We are his children, seeking the Wisdom of a Father in our lives.
Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6: 19-23
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to put the accent on the spiritual things of life and not on the material things. We are not to seek the treasures of the earth but the spiritual realities of God. We are to use the material things of this world to continue the life God has given us. Some material things such as food and shelter, among others, are necessary for our survival. God made it so. But these material things are not meant to be an end in themselves.
We are basically spiritual beings. Most of our problems are spiritual problems and they demand a spiritual solution. You can’t solve a spiritual problem with a material solution. It won’t work. This is why yesterday’s Gospel urged us to pray, fast, and give alms. These are spiritual things and we can use them to help spiritual problems.
Our treasure should be spiritual and not material. We need to seek the light of the spiritual things and not the darkness of material things.
Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6: 24-34
The closing verses of chapter 6 in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount point out that the choices made by the disciples of the Lord must be centered on God and not on the material things around us. We are to focus on light, love and eternal life with God in the life to come.
Today’s Gospel reading is pretty much a repetition of what we said on Friday. Earthly treasures can be eaten by moths or stolen by robbers. Lasting treasures, that no one can destroy or steal, are centered on God. The “wealth” of God consists in love, prayer, compassion, forgiveness, service to others, kindness, acceptance, equality, respect, humility, honesty and the other ways of God. These center on God and the spiritual side of our lives and bring us an abundance of his life even in our lives here on earth.