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Monthly Archives: September 2019

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 29, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


In this parable, Abraham informs the rich man suffering from eternal torment that his brothers back on earth have “Moses and the Prophets” to guide them to repentance. If they will simply heed these instructions from Sacred Scripture, his brothers will be saved.

“Moses” is shorthand for the first 5 books of the Old Testament, called the Pentateuch, The Jews of Jesus’ day attributed the authorship of these 5 books to Moses. In these 5 inspired books, over and over again the people of Israel are reminded that those who have, have been given what they have, to share with those who have not. Three special categories of people are identified to be cared for in a special way: the widow, the orphan, and the stranger (also referred to as the “alien in the land”).

The prophets challenge the people to care for the poor and remind them that not doing so will ultimately lead them away from God and into exile. Every year on the Friday after Ash Wednesday we hear the text from Isaiah stating that if we want God to hear our cries, then we need to listen to the cries of the poor and attend to their needs. (Isaiah 58: 6-9) Today and last Sunday the Church challenges us with the fiery words of the prophet Amos. Last Sunday Amos warned those who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land and this Sunday his warning is directed against those who seek only their own comfort and disregard the needs of others.

The living Word of God, which cuts like a sword to the very essence of what is important, is very clear— God is for the poor and God’s people must be so as well. Like a mother who pays special attention and takes extra special care of one of her children who is in greatest need, so is God when it comes to the poor.

The Word made Flesh, who is the Son of Mary and Son of God, is also for the poor. We have heard numerous times in this year of the Gospel of Luke how Jesus is for the poor.

In his inaugural address at the beginning of his ministry in Luke, Jesus proclaims: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” (Lk 4:18)

He then goes on to reach out to heal those who are hurting, to lift up those hungering for God’s mercy, and to teach by way of parables about God’s special concern for the poor. Think of the Good Samaritan who helps the man who has been robbed and left half-naked and practically dead on the side of the road, or the impoverished prodigal son who comes back home penniless and in tatters.

At the end of last week’s parable, Jesus warned that one cannot serve both God and mammon (Lk 16:13). Immediately after that statement and a little before today’s parable about Lazarus and the rich man, Luke states: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things, and sneered at him.” (16:14). So to them Jesus addresses the parable of the great reversal, the parable of the Rich Man and the poor beggar, Lazarus. The consequences are clearly spelled out for ignoring the cry of the poor at one’s very own door.

Note that Jesus does not condemn the rich man for his wealth, but because he does not share anything of his abundance, not even a scrap of food, with Lazarus. Jesus ate meals with those who were rich, and his ministry was supported by the generosity of several well-off women. (Lk 8: 2-3) What is important is what one does with God’s gifts, and the warning from Jesus is that riches can blind one to the needs of others. Also note that he does not propose a program for combating world-wide poverty, but challenges his followers to put his words into practice by first of all helping the one in need on one’s doorstep, at one’s front door.

We must not forget, either, that Jesus was not only for the poor but that he became poor that we might become rich in God’s grace. Born in a stable far from his home, he soon became a refugee on the run from the murderous wrath of King Herod. Jesus traveled around the countryside preaching and teaching, depending on others to support him and his merry band of followers. He died without a single possession to his name, naked on the cross.

The Son of God was poor and he was for the poor.

The real sin of the Rich Man in today’s parable is that he was blind. He allowed his riches to blind him to the person of Lazarus at his door. His self-centeredness also caused him to be deaf to Lazarus’ cry for mercy.

The challenge, then, is to ask the Lord Jesus to heal our blindness and help us to see the human dignity of the poor at our door. To ask him to open our ears deafened by the screed of individualism and see how we are connected, how we are to be in solidarity with those who suffer in any way.

Too many people treat the poor person or the immigrant or the refugee as a problem instead of seeing them as a human being with inherent dignity, deserving our respect and love and care. Too many people in our own land see the poor as a threat to our security or our material wealth instead of as a God-given opportunity for us to do what we have been commanded to do: share our bread with the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, let the oppressed go free.

St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast day was this past Friday, wrote the following: “Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor.”

As our St. Vincent de Paul Conference continues this saintly man’s work, they operate on the same principle, going two by two to visit those who cry out for help, to hear their story, and to treat them first of all as a fellow human being, and to see even deeper the Son of God crying out for help.

This practice of “encounter,” which Pope Francis teaches frequently, changes the equation. When we can encounter the one in need as our brother or sister, as one like us, and see in them the face of Christ, everything changes. We want to share what we have, and we do so joyfully and generously. But as long as we wall ourselves off from the poor, we can be as blind as the Rich Man. As long as we build barriers between “us and them”, we become as deaf as the Rich Man was to the cries of Lazarus.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 15, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


The Son of God comes into the world, becoming flesh of our flesh, in order to show us who God is and what God cares about. God’s Son seeks out & finds those who are lost & brings them home to His Father. By how he lives, Jesus teaches us about God’s longing for us, God’s great desire for us. By what he teaches, Jesus reveals the inner life of God, the very nature of God.

The nature of God is to find those who are lost, and these 3 famous “Lost and Found” parables in Luke’s Gospel reveal this passion. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, we see Jesus putting these parables into practice. On his last stop on this long journey to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters “lost” Zaccheus in Jericho and clearly states his mission: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Leaving Jericho, he will then arrive in Jerusalem, where on the cross, Jesus will reveal to what extremes God will go to save what was lost.

It is somehow ingrained in human nature to be lost, or at the very least, to feel lost. Perhaps this is because imprinted in the deepest part of who we are is the knowledge that we have come from God, and all our life is spent finding our way back to our eternal home.

In this life-long journey home, we mistakenly think we have to find God, as if God were hiding, but actually the reverse is true, for we are hiding from God. From the very beginning with Adam’s choice to try and make himself into God, we human beings have been hiding from God, & God has been tirelessly looking for us. God’s question to Adam after his sin, as he hides naked among the trees in the garden, is a question God asks eternally of humankind: “Where are you?”

In Jesus Christ, we discover God’s passionate desire to find us where we are. In Jesus, our Heavenly Father proclaims: “Everything I have is yours!”

Today we come to this holy place to be found by God in Christ Jesus. We come feeling lost for any number of reasons, longing to be found by God’s mercy in Christ and to be renewed by His merciful love.

We find our way home to this banquet table of the Eucharist, and eventually to the heavenly banquet, with the help of others. Together we find the way, especially when we are feeling lost and cannot seem to find the way forward.

In the summer of 1992 I went to Italy with some good friends. We started our trip by meeting one of their friends, Sylvia, in a very small town about an hour and an half outside of Venice. We arrived in Sylvia’s town and immediately drove to Venice for a day visit. When the day ended, Sylvia took a couple of our group in her car and led the rest of us in our rental car back to her home in the country.

I was a passenger in the rental car, and I remember the terrible sinking feeling, when about 20-30 minutes outside of Venice, those of us in the rental car realized we were not following Sylvia’s car, that we had lost her. This was in the days before cell phones, so we had no way to call her. Also, we did not have her home phone number, nor did we remember the name of the little town she lived in. We felt so foolish and so very lost.

We stopped in the first town we came to and tried to communicate with an Italian policeman, but it was impossible. We were lost and did not know how to find the way home. However, as we left that first town, one of my friends saw a landmark that he remembered— a large round grain silo. “Turn here,” he said. Another friend saw a building that jarred her memory—“Turn there,” she said. I saw something familiar along that road as well which pointed us to our next turn. As we each remembered this or that landmark, we found our way home that night. Alone, we would have been lost, but together, we were found.

It’s one of the best reasons for the existence of the Church—together we journey home.

We “lost ones” are given to one another to help one another remember the way home. We remember the One who is our way home, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, as he finds us in our wayward wanderings and carries us on his shoulders. His life-giving words are a lamp unto our feet, showing us the way forward. We remember that He has destroyed death and restored life, so in Him and through Him and with Him we find newness of life, even now.

So that found in the eternal embrace of God’s love, we are sent forth from this place to find others who are lost and bring them home. This is what disciples of Jesus do— we seek out and find the lost. We invite them to join us in the never-ending party of God’s merciful love in Christ. We rejoice because we who were “dead” have come back to life again in Him.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 8, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


Paul’s letter to Philemon is the shortest book in the Bible. In this very brief letter, Paul encourages Philemon to embrace the dream of Jesus, to live as a member of the kingdom of God.

Onesismus is Philemon’s possession—he is a slave of Philemon. Onesimus ran away from his master, encountered Paul, become a Christian and then a helper to Paul during his imprisonment. Paul calls the runaway slave “my child” and “my own heart” and challenges Philemon to receive Onesimus as if he were Paul himself. So, Paul is sending Onesismus back to his master, Philemon, as more than a slave— as his brother in Christ Jesus.

Philemon lives in Colossae and is a member of the Christian community Paul has established in that Greek city. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Philemon and the other Christians in Colassae hear more about this dream of God for humanity Christ Jesus:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all in all.”

Jesus Christ breaks down the barriers between God and humankind, and also the walls human beings build between each other. By preferring Christ above everything else, by making one’s relationship with Jesus Christ the top priority in one’s life, one discovers with St. Paul that there are no longer distinctions that divide us, but Christ is all in all.

In Christ, our family expands beyond our nuclear family to include the family of humankind. The relationships of love we have with our own particular family members are meant to strengthen us to love of others as our own brothers and sisters, to include in “our family” the Christ who lives in the refugee and immigrant, the hungry and homeless, the vulnerable and voiceless ones.

In order to live from our identity as adopted sons and daughters of our Father and brothers and sisters to the Son of God, we have to renounce and reorder. Living the dream of Jesus, bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, means renouncing the hold that other things have on our life in order to prefer Him above all things.

That’s the meaning of the powerful phrase of Jesus, you cannot be my disciple without hating father and mother, wife and children…. That Semitic expression Jesus uses with the word “hate” means in our terms, “love less.” In other words, we are to love Jesus first and foremost and then all the other “loves” of our life fall into place, into proper order.

Renouncing possessions means there is no-thing which can take the privileged place of God in our life. No-thing can be made into an absolute, because when this happens, we become enslaved to it. When our relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in our life, we experience more freedom. When we are living out the dream of Jesus for a world where all people live as sisters and brothers, then we see that our possessions are given to us to share with others, especially those in most need.

What we have been given by God is more than just material things but also time— 1440 minutes each day. How we spend our time says something about our relationship to Jesus and our desire to further the Kingdom he establishes. What we give our time to speaks volumes about what holds importance in our life.

Renouncing the stranglehold that possessions can have on our life is one way to renounce our life, to prefer a grander and greater and more expansive life in Christ over the small, self-contained, self-centered life. To “hate” our life means rejecting the demands of our “ego”, means rejecting the temptation to live life with a small “l”. To prefer Jesus Christ, to make him the center of our life, means living life spelled with a capital “L”. In Him, we discover abundant life, a life which takes us out to others.

A life spent pursuing God’s dream for us after the example of Christ brings meaning to our life and gives our life eternal consequence.

Preferring Jesus Christ over family relationships, above any thing we have, making him the center of our life and not our selfish, death-dealing desires— all of this naturally leads to taking up our cross. Because as we follow Jesus along the way to Jerusalem, we are going to the cross with him. After all, the cross is his destiny and ours.

Christian discipleship means following where he leads, and he leads us to the cross, the most powerful image of sacrificial, life-giving love.

Sacrificial love is the energy the sons and daughters of God bring to building towers which connect heaven to earth and opposing the forces that want to diminish the dignity of human life. Empowered by the Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Lord, we can love sacrificially. We can enter into the battle with Christ Jesus to oppose the “isms” of our day– consumerism, materialism, secularism, sexism, racism, nativism—and emerge victorious.

From the perspective of our relationship with Jesus Christ, and empowered by his Spirit, the sacrifices of discipleship look radically different from an ego-driven life. An ego-driven life— a self-centered life—views discipleship as way to costly, as giving up “stuff” we need, and sacrifices as painful. In a Christ-centered life, sacrifice becomes the act of self-giving which makes life holy and fashions a future never seen before.

We all pay a price. There is a cost to every decision, to every action which demands our time, energy, attention, our very life. We are “spending” our life away each day, in minutes and hours we will never recapture.

We can spend our life being enslaved by the desire for more money and more stuff. We can spend our life focused on the small, death-dealing desires of the ego. We can spend our life pleasing others instead of God.

Or we can choose to spend our life following Christ Jesus as his disciples. To be worthy of Jesus we follow Jesus rather than follow the expectations of anyone else. Discipleship demands something of us–it is costly. It costs something of us, more than we can even imagine. But the reward is beyond our best and brightest and most glorious dreams.