Rev. Bev Bingle and Rev. Judy Lee, Women Priests, Reflect on The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time 1/26/14
Jesus says….. Follow Me and we will build the Beloved Community together…. Matthew 4:19 (Paraphrased)
Once again I am happy to present Rev. Bev’s Homily Reflections and share some of my own in a dialogue of sorts. Indeed Rev Bev is right on in saying that Jesus is asking us to change our ways of thinking and acting and thereby transform the darkness of this world with the light of love and justice.
See The Light-Change Your Hearts- Follow Me
In the readings for this week the writer of Matthew (in Matthew 4:12-23) is presenting Jesus as the light in darkness, the prophet of inclusion and justice, the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy who draws disciples to him from the poor and the outcast,from the backwater Gentile town, and teaches them how to reach others with the light. In Jesus’ language, Aramaic, NOOHRA means light, understanding, enlightenment, and true teaching. Ancient writers saw light as the source of all life. In the Gospel of John Jesus will refer to himself as the light of the world even as the writer of Mathew presents him as the light-the one with the true teachings that will dispel the darkness of ignorance, prejudice and hatred. Jesus also asks us to follow his teachings and BE the light of the world in John(8:12). Aramaic scholar Rocco Errico ( Let There Be Light, Noohra Foundation, 1994:184) says that to be disciples of Jesus it is our job to let love, justice, compassion and goodness shine in our everyday world to change it.
Jesus, upon hearing of John’s imprisonment, courageously moves from Nazareth to Capernaum a lakeside town under Roman control in “the Galilee of the Gentiles”, a much maligned backwater town despised by the religious and political establishments. The prophetic oracle of Isaiah (CH 8:23-9:3) says that “in the end” our God has glorified the district of the Gentiles because “anguish has taken wing,dispelled its darkness” by the shining of the light that turned gloom into great rejoicing and the yoke of oppression is smashed. The 27th Psalm’s beautiful response is “O God, You are my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear”. And the Epistle (ICor 1:10-13) tells us that God has chosen “those whom the world considers foolish to shame the wise, and singled out the weak of the world to shame the strong”. Indeed the disciples Jesus called were not the scholarly and the religious leaders but the fishermen, two of whom were apparently too poor to have a boat as they fished with only a net and a despised tax collector and of course a woman healed of seven( or infinite) illnesses, Mary of Magdala,among others. How is it that the broken and the simple folk were drawn to Jesus and his teachings? Or, indeed, how is it that this is whom Jesus chose to spread the good news of God’s love for all and justice for the oppressed? The individuals that Jesus called by the sea shore came immediately. They were ready for the light, for his light,his teachings and for him. They were ready for his healing touch, for his love and for his liberation. As Rev. Beverly Bingle said they were the underdogs and Jesus saw them as winners. They were ready for the glow of the home light shining steadily in Jesus’ heart.
I think of my communities-both the one I was raised in in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy and the one I serve now in central Fort Myers. Indeed I serve the latter because of the influence of the first. Both are characterized by caring plain folks that respond to the Gospel and to one another with love. They don’t overthink it- their theology is simple- God IS,and God is LOVE so love God, love Jesus, love one another,share what one has, and do this is without conditions. Both communities had a good measure of poverty balanced in a way by a good measure of communal caring. Both dealt with discrimination, prejudice, yes, oppression, violence,illness, and hard times. Yet the caring of the neighbors and friends,of the church, made all the difference.When a sense of community is missing there is profound darkness to dispel. Today we know that the homeless do not suffer from a lack of affiliation, but only a lack of income. For some this is complicated by addictions and mental and physical illness. But with an income and housing homeless can be banished. How we, the people of God, continue to tolerate it in our midst is still a mystery to me. Economic inequality is a great sin and yet we tolerate a minimum wage so low and a welfare system so bankrupt that individuals and families pray not to get ill and need four jobs to just survive. And among the poor as among the well to do there is sometimes the pain of human isolation.There are many sectors of society where there are those who are alone and isolated and cast out. Jesus reached out to them and drew them into the beloved community. We have just celebrated the civil rights and human rights prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. May we join him following Jesus and building the beloved community. He too identified with the poor and outcast and that was the last straw for his detractors. May we join Jesus at the seashore in backwater Galilee and follow him in his work of love and justice. May we learn to draw all who need love and justice into Love.
Rev. Beverly Bingle Reflects:
There is a light shining, a promise, coming out of Zebulun and
Naphtali, the north part of Galilee, the land dominated and destroyed
by the Assyrian army. It’s Jesus of Nazareth, rising up out of the
peasant population of that God-forsaken land, come to announce the
reign of God n the midst of a land oppressed by the Romans. Follow
me, he invites, Change your life! Adopt a new way of thinking, a new
way of acting. Make this world a place of justice and peace.
Transform it. By your love you can bring about fullness of life for
Super Bowl XLVIII is coming up, and the media is hyping the
vacillation of underdog status between the Broncos and the Seahawks.
Who expects underdogs to win? Jesus! He picked Galilean peasants.
He picked tax collectors. Samaritans! He also picked lawyers.
Centurions. Pharisees. Foreigners. And, goodness gracious, women!
And this Jesus of Nazareth is not calling only the best and the
brightest. He’s calling fishermen, farmers, parents, tax collectors,
Jeep workers, students, the unemployed, amputees, the poor,
politicians, the marginalized. He’s calling the bail bondsman, the
typist, the gay and lesbian, the divorced, the bereaved, the lost, the
forsaken, the waitress at the greasy spoon, the incarcerated. He’s
calling doctors, lawyers, CEOs. Everyone. Jesus had the wisdom and
heart to see the Divine Presence in everyone—the poor and the wealthy,
the educated and the illiterate.
We are called to follow Jesus—to fish for people—and today’s readings
give us guidelines for how to do that. In the first reading, Isaiah
tells us that God has smashed the yoke, the pole, the rod of our
taskmaster: we are free! We once walked in darkness, but the light
has come. Nothing can hold us back. Our second reading tells us that
we must be united, each of us holding the same mind and purpose. No
divisions among us. Each of us must focus on the message; each of us
must acknowledge the Divine Presence among us and in us and in each
other. In the gospel we hear Jesus preaching the good news: it’s
time to change, time to follow the Way, time to fish for people
instead of casting our nets in the waters of the world.
It’s pretty easy these days to get distracted by the flotsam and
jetsam of the world, all those trinkets and gewgaws held up for us by
TV commercials, the internet, our friends and co-workers, and even our
family members. We hear messages telling us to buy beer for a Super
Bowl party or a new car before the interest rates go up. We hear that
we will be worthless unless we wear a certain brand or eat at a
certain restaurant or buy the latest smartphone. We hear that we need
to get away from it all, that we deserve a break today, that we are
nobody unless we are spending money. When, bombarded with those
messages, we ask, “Who am I?” the answer is, loud and clear, “I am a
loser, a nobody unless I buy the right stuff.” If we are to be
fishers of people, we must speak Jesus’ message, just as loudly and
just as clearly as the commercial giants are doing.
We are doing that with our actions. With our prayer. With how we
treat people. With how we use our resources—our time and effort and
talent and money.
We are free, free to take action. Nothing can hold us back. We are
called to cast our nets by what we do and who we are. Called to
change minds and hearts: the kin-dom of God is at hand!
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Mass at 2086 Brookdale (Interfaith Chapel):
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.
Sundays at 9 a.m.
Mass at 3535 Executive Parkway (Unity of Toledo)
Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
Rev. Bev Bingle, Pastor
A-men, A-men, A-men,A-men, A-men sing it over, A-men, A-men-A-me A-men, Amen!
Blessings and Light,
Rev. Judy Lee, Pastor
Our Scriptures for this Sunday are not the warm fuzzy ones we like to hear about our loving God-or are they? It all depends on how we understand love and what love can help us to do. Here, we are asked to follow Christ and to more deeply understand what that means. We are asked to count the costs of our decision to follow Christ. We are asked to look at those things and relationships that “ground us”. Not in the sense of anchoring us in stormy seas, but in the sense of holding our feet to the ground when we are ready to fly or just plain need to go. In the Gospel (Luke 14:25-33) we are asked to “Turn our backs on our loved ones” (some translations say “hate” them) and turn “our backs on even our very selves” to follow Christ” ; to “take up the cross” to follow; and to “say goodbye to all of our possessions” to be disciples. Wow! If this is about only what we give up it is too hard. But, if it is about learning how to love as Jesus loved that is a different story.
I am reminded of a scenario from my older adolescence-one that I did not handle very well although I tried. I lived in a poor inner city neighborhood where violence was on the increase. My mother loved me very much and wanted to protect me. She also had many internal fears about how dangerous life was and I fought to embrace life and saw it differently. When any event planned by the Church or the Youth Group involved returning home late at night I could not go. There was a particular event involving an inspirational and evangelical speaker and it was far away necessitating several subway rides. Although people would accompany me there and home, my arrival home would be very late. I loved my mother who in many ways was giving her life for me, but I needed to let her know that I it was important for me to go to this event. My Grandmother even advocated for me. Mom was adamant and I wound up yelling at her and saying things I was sorry for. My Pastor called me on this and he was right. But, I still couldn’t go until my Pastor convinced her that he, himself, would bring me home. In my mind my mother had wrapped herself around my ankles and literally held me from following Christ. I could not see that she, too was a woman of faith, or comprehend her fears of losing me and how much I was her life. I didn’t know how to be loving in my distancing. I didn’t know that growing up could be so difficult and complex. But for me it was.
And I would learn in later relationships in life that the call of God and the demands of the relationship were sometimes in conflict. This is not an argument for being single and celibate though some are called to be that. It is in relationship with loving others that we learn what it is to be in relationship with a loving God, and the reverse is also true. In relationships, the beloved is first. But it can be particularly hard when there are two beloveds-when God, our love, is first and when our spouse, partner or child is ,in another way, first. That is when Jesus asks that God and the needs of the kin-dom be our greatest love. No spouse or life partner finds it easy when the pastoral response demands attention to others, even strangers, at the worst times and hours and sometimes at the cost of other important plans or even one’s health. When Pastor took me home, he would get home even later and at his own peril. Somehow in love we negotiate these times. We don’t hate those we love, but we do put the call to serve first and for the right reasons, and I think that is what Jesus meant in the Gospel.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? Why does it sometimes take some hard self-denial? What are the ‘right reasons’ to put our following before those we love and our very selves? What does it have to do with love?
First, what “following” is not-it is not admiring what Jesus did. The wise theologian Soren Kierkegaard said that Jesus wants followers not admirers. The “rich young man” (Mark 10:17-22) admired Jesus. He admired his goodness and called him “good master”. Jesus was not up for this adoration and told him only God is good. When he pressed Jesus on what he should do to have life forever, Jesus told him to keep the commandments and to sell what he owned and give his money to the poor,and follow him. He went away sad because he couldn’t part with his great wealth or change his lifestyle. Jesus too was sad because he “looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him.” Many times people will tell us how much they admire our work with the poor and homeless, adding “I couldn’t do it”. Sometimes I answer that God has given many gifts and talents as if it is only a gift and not the essence of the Law and the Great commandment to live a Matthew 25 life. If I were true to the Gospel, and not afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, I would say as Jesus did “inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me”.
One does not need a special ministry. There are many opportunities in every day life everywhere to live this Gospel. Our Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) Bishop , Bridget Mary Meehan enjoys McDonald’s ice cream and goes regularly to get it. She has a ministry of presence as she greets, smiles and talks with people that no one else would talk to. A woman who was homeless and mentally ill shyly approached her. She engaged her and was happy to buy the woman a meal. Subsequently, the woman would approach her at various times. On one occasion another friend accompanied Bridget Mary. This friend, “Betty” who is generous in many ways to her own friends, chastised Bridget Mary and tried to convince her that she should not talk to or give anything to this woman, “who probably drank”. Without chastising her friend in return, for she loves her, she continued to relate warmly to this lonely woman. I know Betty admires Bridget Mary, but she does not follow her.
To “follow” is, then, to do what Jesus did. To respond in love to the needs of all, especially those who are poor, sick, lonely, and outcast. To work hard for justice and peace so that no one is left out of having what they need, be it a bed indoors at night or a simple meal or a place to raise children without fear, or medical treatment. To welcome the stranger and open the doors of the Kin-dom to everyone. To create a culture of sharing and giving rather than having and hoarding. And, yes, to challenge those who make religion into endless rules that no one is good enough to follow perfectly and an exclusive, members only club. To overthrow the tables of those who sold doves and animals for sacrifice, to set all God’s creatures free, including those who made money from their sale, from their perversion of religion,their misuse of God’s House. To risk righteous anger at all systems that oppress,exploit and starve some while others are inordinately rich and sleek. Pope Francis is now giving an example in simplicity and priority on serving the poor that is moving to all who want a renewed church. Last week workers in some major cities of the USA united in a strike against fast food chains to lift the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour so they could begin to live and not barely survive. It takes 3 such jobs to pay rent, bills and care for a family. Dear followers of Christ, this too is our fight. This month too we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech and the dramatic changes the Civil Rights era brought. This too is an ongoing dream of equality for all through nonviolent activism that we as Christ followers are still fighting for.
In the Epistle reading (Philemon verses 9-10; 12-17) the Apostle Paul is challenging the institution of slavery “left handedly” by entreating Philemon to take back his slave Onesimus, who ran away to Paul and became “Paul’s Heart” and was loved as Paul’s own child. Philemon is asked to love and treat him as a brother,not as a slave. While we may have preferred a polemic from Paul against slavery, and wish that he did not send the slave back to his owner(thereby giving a double message), we can full well appreciate the love Paul had for Onesimus and Philemon. We can appreciate Paul’s “appeal in the name of love” and we can learn to do the same along with whatever courage it may take in the face of injustice. The book of Wisdom reading (9: 13-18) helps us because it reminds us that we do not have to rely on our own faulty mortal reasoning, but on the Spirit of our living God to learn what pleases God. We are so thankful for the Spirit of Wisdom (Sofia) when things are too hard for us to know or do otherwise. Sofia teaches us the love of Christ, hence how to follow.
Jesus embraces all of us, including the rich young man who could not allow himself to follow him. Jesus had a special love for him. We are challenged to have that love as well. To have enough love to lift Lazarus from the grave. To love when we are too tired to love, to care when our caring dries up because we do not feel cared for ourselves. To care for people who cannot give up the addictions and ways that are killing them. There is a Memorial wall of pictures in our church and a few candles beneath it. The wall has become too filled with pictures of our people who have died homeless, or addicted to alcohol or both. I am actually astonished at those we have helped to turn around-and there are many who have expelled demons and only by the grace of God. Some we got into good housing and all was well for a while. Then, and it breaks my heart, they still could not stop drinking and died rather than use help. Last week I almost cussed at a man who was doing really well in housing and then got hooked on prescription painkillers that took away his rationality and good judgment. I told him that I was not planning to do his funeral and bury him. I did cuss when he was gone. When I get over my anger at him, I will gently start my work all over again. To love as Jesus loves is sometimes to have a broken heart.
Hence, to “follow” is not only to do what Jesus did but to feel what Jesus felt. To feel the love that filled him until he wept, until he cried out to God and sweated blood in intensity and even fear, To feel the “dryness” when God seems too far away. To feel alone and exhausted. To be reproached and battered for taking on the “powers that be”. To carry people on your back when you can hardly carry yourself. To crave time away only to be followed on your bathroom break. And, maybe even to keep on loving and forgiving when you feel like you are dying. Can it be that we are asked to love as God loves? I think so and that is the cross.
The beautiful spiritual poet, J. Janda says it this way in the closing lines of a poem called “Covenant” from his book IN EMBRACE published by Life In Christ Press:
“….I know/it is/difficult/ to suffer/but look/I am taking/away your heart/and in/its/place/I am/putting/my heart/now I will/ be suffering/now I will/be/forgiving/now I will/be loving/in you/my heart is/beating in you”
“Following” is when Christ’s heart beats in us. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Judith A. Lee, ARCWP
Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community
Fort Myers, Florida 9/4/2013 Sculpture at the FDR Memorial in Washington DC