February 24, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Last Sunday we began Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” with Jesus turning the world upside-down with his “Blessings and Woes.” Those 4 blessings and 4 woes reveal a theme woven throughout all of Luke’s Gospel of the “great reversal,” which begins in Chapter 1 with Mary’s Magnificat as she sings about how the Lord lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.” Throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus is the “prophet par excellence” who turns the world on its head, who challenges his hearers to rethink what they assume to be true.
As I mentioned in my homily last Sunday on the “Blessings and Woes,” Jesus is inviting us to think like him, to see the world and our place in it through his eyes. Those blessings and woes only make Gospel sense when we put on the mind of Christ Jesus. If we only think with the mind of our culture, then we will never understand Jesus’ teaching that the blessed ones are the poor and hungry and sorrowing and persecuted, while the woeful ones are those who place their trust in their riches and seek only to keep their bellies full and to find social acceptance.
If last Sunday’s Gospel called us to “put on the mind of Christ,” then this Sunday’s continuation of the “Sermon on the Plain” challenges us to have the heart of Christ. We can only love as Jesus challenges us to love with his help, inviting Him to love through us, by joining our heart to His.
There is no way we can love our enemies on our own power. Only with Christ’s help can we do so. It is impossible for us on our own power to do good to those who hate us, to pray for those who persecute us, but with Christ’s help we can do so.
Only when our heart beats in union with Christ’s heart can we love in such a way.
This kind of loving only makes sense from the vantage point of the cross. There we see in the clearest and fullest way possible the heart of Jesus and what it means to love our enemies and to pray for them.
Jesus practices what he preaches. He lives what he teaches. On the cross, his body broken by the torture of the scourging and the crucifixion, Jesus prays through bloodied lips: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Jesus shows us how to love our enemies by opening up his heart to those who are killing him.
Pope Benedict, in his encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love), says the only way we can understand this truth of who God is, is by contemplating the open side of Jesus on the cross. After Jesus takes his last breath on the cross, a Roman soldier plunges his spear into Jesus’ side, opening up for all to see the heart of the Son of God.
In that merciful heart we find our salvation when we make ourselves enemies of God by our sin. In that merciful heart, we find forgiveness for the hatred we carry toward those who have hurt us.
We come to that open heart because we know it is only by his love that we can find new life and the power to love as he does. Only by joining our heart to His Sacred Heart can we do good to those who hate us.
As we stand at the foot of the cross, we see more clearly the lies we live by. Such as: “People are supposed to get what they deserve and deserve what they get.” The truth revealed by the open heart of Jesus on the cross is that none of us actually deserves anything, and yet God has given us everything always.
Living by this truth moves us toward forgiveness of others, instead of judging and condemning them.
The “Sermon on the Plain” in Chapter 6 of Luke’s Gospel is about conversion, inviting us to join our lives more completely to Jesus. These powerful passages in Luke’s Gospel prepare us to enter the Holy Season of conversion, which is only ten days away.
The cross is the central symbol of Lent. During the 40 days of the Lenten Season we recall how we have been marked by the saving cross of Jesus in baptism, and how we are being called to die with him to all the ways we think without him and love without him.
Lent comes around every year as a gift so we might look more closely at our lives and see where they are not yet fully conformed to Christ. To ask the question: “Jesus, show me where I am still blind?” “Where am I still blind to your love and to your call to love with you?”
Lent is a special time of repentance, of turning back to Jesus Christ, of dying with him and rising with him, so we might think with Christ and love with Christ.
So that we can indeed live and love as children of the Most High God and “Be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful.”
Then in all cases and in every circumstance we can do to others as we would have them do to us.
Remember: we are not to do to others what they do to us, but what we would want them to do to us.
More to the point, we are to do to them what Jesus would do to us.
When we put on the mind of Jesus and join our hearts to his, then we can abide by this golden rule.
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies
do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
February 17, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Farmer Jones was working in his garden one day when one of his pumpkins started talking to him. That’s right, a pumpkin spoke to him. The pumpkin said: “I just woke up. Today, I woke up. I suddenly realized that everything I have comes from outside of me. That the life I have does not come from me. So I give thanks for the soil which feeds my hunger and the rain, which quenches my thirst. I give praise for the sun that warms me, and the wind which cools me.
Because I finally woke up, I’ve decided to give my fruit to Mrs. Jones to make pumpkin pies. Because I’m grateful for all that has been given me, I want you, Farmer Jones, to take the seeds in my belly and plant them next Spring in this garden to bring forth more pumpkins from the earth. And give my shell to your kids that they might carve me up into a ‘jack-o-lantern’ to scare away the bad spirits.”
There are 2 types of persons in this world: There are pumpkins and there are bumpkins. There are those who are awake and know where life comes from, and there are those who are sleepwalking, unaware that all they have and are is a gift from God. There are the “pumpkin people” who place their trust in God, sharing generously what they’ve been give, and there are the bumpkins who fearfully hold onto what they have and are always filled with worry and anxiety.
The evangelist Luke addresses his Gospel to an affluent community whose members are tempted to place their trust in their riches and to hoard what they have. So the blessings and woes spoken by Jesus turns their world upside down, and ours as well.
The poor and hungry and sorrowing and persecuted are much more likely to turn to God in their need, to recognize that everything they have comes from the hand of God. The rich and full and laughing and well-thought-of are much more likely to place all their trust in what they have and make into a “god” what they have and worry constantly about losing it.
These blessings and woes of Jesus have been re-imagined by the famous Jesuit preacher, Fr. Walter Burghardt, to help us understand that we are blessed only if we put on the mind of Christ, who was poor and hungry and sorrowing and persecuted.
Fr. Burghardt says:
“Blessed, fortunate, happy are you who are rich, rich in money or power, in talent or time, because you can do so much for the poor, can lift the yoke of the oppressed. But blessed only if you have the mind of the poor, the mind of Christ. Only if you recognize that you may not do what you will with what you have. Only if you realize you are stewards, that whatever you ‘own’ you hold in trust.
Blessed, fortunate, happy are you who are full now, who are sleek and well-fed, because you are strong enough to feed the hungry, to touch empty stomachs with compassion. But blessed are you only if you have the mind of the hungry, the mind of Christ. Only if you do not take your food for granted. Only if you are uncomfortable as long as one sister or brother cries in vain for bread or justice or love. Only if you experience your own emptiness — how desperately you need the hungry, how far you are from God. Blessed are the full, if you are always hungry.
Blessed are you who laugh now, because you can bring the joy of Christ to others, to those whose days are woven of tears.
But blessed only if with Christ you can laugh at yourselves, if you don’t take yourselves too seriously, if human living does not revolve around you and your needs. Blessed are you only if you take delight in God’s creation and in the presence of the Trinity within you.
You are blessed only if laughter means you let go— let go of all that shackles you to yesterday, to dead hopes, to all that imprisons you in your small selves.”
Blessed are you because you are free, free to be loved and to love more fully.
In the waters of baptism, we became a new creation and were clothed in Christ, joined to him heart, mind, body and soul. As with our own human minds, we have to develop the mind of Christ given to us in baptism and use this great gift, we have to grow in thinking more and more with Christ Jesus and like Christ Jesus.
Each day we have to renew our commitment to put on the mind of Christ. We have to plant ourselves like a tree next to the living waters of our baptism, and realize that the life we have been given is not ours to hold onto but to give away.
So that those suffering from the scorching heat of injustice, might find shade under our branches. So that the fruit we produce might feed those hungering for compassion. So that we may give away a branch here or there to be wood for a blazing fire, providing light to those who walk in darkness and warmth to those whose hearts have grown cold.
Put out into deep water and lower your nets
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.
February 3, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Today’s 2nd reading from the 13th chapter of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians is one of the most well-known passages in Scriptures. It is the most popular Scripture reading for weddings because of its emphasis on love.
But the love Paul sings about is not romantic love, which in Greek is “eros.” Rather, Paul uses another word for love in this famous passage — “agape.” Agape is understood as charity or compassion, that is, love which spreads outwards and does not grab or keep for itself. It is the most excellent gift—not possessive, envious, angry, or begrudging. Love that is agape always seeks the good of the other, and the good of others— the common good.
Paul proclaims the power of “agape” because the Corinthians are looking out for their own individual good and are therefore divided. They are seeking the gifts of God in order to be “better” than others, or to lord their gift over others. Thus, there are many divisions in this early Christian community, because they are not loving in an “Agape” way.
Paul teaches them that any gift given by God is not for oneself, but is meant to be used in service of others. Paul has to remind them that no matter what great gifts they receive— knowledge or prophecy, speaking in tongues or a faith that can move mountains, if these gifts are not used in loving service of others, then they are worth nothing at all.
So, this powerful passage, this beautiful hymn to love, is in the end very appropriate for a couple entering into marriage, and for how we are to relate to anyone. For to “agape” another means looking out for the good of the other, building the other person up instead of being puffed up by our own pride, being patient and kind with the other and not seeking one’s own interests. Agape gives us the strength to hold our tongue and reign in our temper.
This kind of love can endure all things, because it is a “godly” kind of love. It is a life-giving love because one freely gives one’s life for the others.
Jesus, son of Joseph and son of God, embodies this kind of love. When we want to see what “agape” looks like, we look to Jesus. God is love — God is “agape” — and Jesus is the love of God enfleshed.
Jesus is always focused outward on the needs of others, what’s best for the other. The gifts he has received he shares with others and in service of others. The life he has been given he gives away daily for others, so that the offering of his life fully on the cross is a natural result of how he lives and loves every day.
Jesus’ “inaugural address”, which we heard last Sunday in Luke’s Gospel, reveals how Jesus understands his mission — what he is to do with his life. He is to “agape,” especially those in greatest need of love— the poor and those who are oppressed by injustice, to open the eyes of those who are blind to the needs of others, to proclaim a year of favor for God’s favorites — those in greatest need of compassion and care.
Jesus challenges the people of his hometown of Nazareth to love in an agape way. But they reject him and his message, even to the point of trying to kill Jesus. Jesus challenges them to look beyond their own interests and learn that they are God’s chosen people precisely so they can reach out to others, especially outsiders, with the love of God.
But the people of Nazareth are held captive by a me-first, Israel-first mentality. They have heard of the mighty deeds Jesus has performed in Capernaum, and they want him to do something for them. They want to profit from his extraordinary gifts.
They especially do not want to hear from the hometown boy of how God’s love extends to foreigners, those beyond their borders, even if these foreigners be in great need— a widow who is starving in Sidon and a Syrian with the terrible disease of leprosy.
The inherent danger of being self-focused, of being concerned only with one’s own interests, is this kind of deadly attitude fuels violence— they try to kill Jesus. But he passes through their midst and goes away.
We do not want to make the same mistake. We do not want Jesus to pass through our midst and go away, because life without him is no life at all. After all, we were chosen by God in baptism and joined to his son in those life-giving waters, so that we might give our lives away in love with Jesus.
As Pope Francis points out, Jesus lives in our hearts, and he is constantly knocking at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to open our hearts and let him out into the world.
With Jesus, with his help, we can love in an agape way. Without him, we are the most pitiable of creatures.
Jesus’ love for us transforms our selfish instincts into loving in an agape way. So that with Jesus, we discover there are no borders to God’s love.