Little Can Be Big

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home

October 6, 2019 – 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Luke 17:5-10 Depositphotos_47365383_m-2015.jpg

Jesus knew that good seeds were important. During his lifetime food was always in short supply. Israel was mostly barren desert. Good seeds ensured survival. Even today, one of the most important ways our world is being made better is through the acquisition of good seeds especially in impoverished areas. Help people grow grain and other seed-based foods and hunger can be overcome. Don’t underestimate the value of tiny seeds.

Jesus was always trying to find effective ways to explain deep and complex truths. He was an excellent teacher. So he searched for “teaching aids” to assist him. One day he found a mustard seed lying on the ground. This is perfect, he thought. So he put it in his pocket and carried it with him wherever he went. One day he would need that seed.

After dinner one evening, his apostles were feeling down. Not much was happening that indicated that Jesus was enjoying much success in his ministry. So they asked Jesus to increase their faith and confidence. They needed a boost to their spirits.

Jesus reached into his pocket and pulled out that tiny seed. It took a while for him to find it. It was very small. Pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, he showed it to them. “See how small this seed is? That’s a measure of the faith that’s needed to make that tree over there uproot and be planted in the sea.” Such an example really got their attention. In other words, a little goes a long way.

Another way to think about this seed image is to believe that God can work miracles with just a little help from us. It’s good to remember (very good sometimes) that if we do our best, however little that might seem, it will be enough. So take comfort, you parents and anyone who is trying to make things better, that it’s not always necessary for us to be fully in control with lots of power at hand. Do what you can -- and know that in God’s Kingdom, that may be quite enough. Do your tiny bit, and let God add the rest.

The gift of our lives, Jesus reminds us, is filled with paradox. Small can grow large, weakness can become strength, and even death can result in fuller life.

©David Thomas, PhD ([email protected])

REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method of Review of Life.

Much Is Expected

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September 29th, 2019 – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 16:19-31

Years ago, I heard a very interesting play on words. Maybe you too are familiar with it. It goes like this. “Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Perhaps these words came to the mind of a poetic person after reading today’s gospel about the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus. One was described as quite comfortable in this life and one was very afflicted. They both died as we all do. And you know the rest of the gospel story. Once you hear it (even as a child), you don’t forget it.

Also of interest is the gospel’s conclusion. The rich man thought that if his rich friends knew what God expects them to do during their lives on earth, and additionally, if they knew that divine judgment awaits them after death, they might change their ways. They would share their wealth with the poor. Or maybe they wouldn’t. The gospel implies the latter response.

This gospel is one of the foundation stones for the Catholic Church’s social teachings. Popes for the last hundred years have been pointing to the needs of the poor and the duty of those more well-off to share their wealth with the poor. Some, of course, do this with a generous heart and helping hands. Many don’t.

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Adjusting to Change

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September 22nd, 2019 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 16:1-13

Today’s gospel is about people who had to change their lives because of new circumstances. We learn about a fellow who was given a pink slip by his employer, but before he cleaned out his desk, he made some deals with people who owned his master (the boss) some money. Since he still had the key to the employee’s bathroom, he still had some clout so he decided he would befriend those who owned money to his company, so he lowered their debt. He might need them later. He wanted to make the best of the change he was about to experience, namely unemployment.

While I would not advise doing what this so-called wise steward did, I have to admire his desire to make the best out of his new situation. He wasn’t going to move ahead by just sitting around. He looked in the mirror, admitted to what was ahead and make the appropriate moves to survive. For him, times were changing.

Jesus used this story to remind his followers, then and now, that each new day brings on new possibilities. The wise person does not live in the past, but more in the present and the future. We might call this approach “Christian realism.”

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Lost and Found

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September 15th ,2019 – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 15:1-32

We have all had the experience of losing things, like keys or a wallet or even a child in a crowded department store. Or having that feeling of being lost in an unfamiliar place. Where I live in the open spaces of Montana, it is not unusual to go for a hike in the woods and suddenly finding oneself “lost.” In today’s gospel, we read about three instances of being lost. There is the story of a lost sheep who was suddenly missing from a large herd. There is the story of a woman who had ten coins and lost one of them. And finally, there is the memorable story of the lost son who left his family, took his share of the family’s wealth and selfishly squandered it.

But if we reflect on these stories, we realize that these are not narratives about being lost, but rather about being found. The good shepherd temporarily leaves his large flock of sheep and finds the lost one. The woman cleans her whole house and eventually finds that lost coin. And the irresponsible son eventually returns to his family and his father arranges a celebration in his honor because his lost son is now found.

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All in the Family

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September 8, 2019 – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 14:25-33

If you have been reading my gospel reflections for a while, you know that I view family life as very important. There are times when the needs of my family come first. For example, I pass on buying that new shirt, which I really want, because one of our children needs something more pressing. And I believe this valuing of family life is totally in line with my role as a follower of Jesus.

Thus, when I read the words in today’s gospel about hating one’s family, I was perplexed. Was Jesus serious about this? Is not Jesus pro-family? Shouldn’t social obligations within one’s family be first on the list of “things that must be done?” Doesn’t family come first?

What was Jesus thinking? A knowledge of history might help. In his time, people were not so much viewed as individuals, but more as members of groups. Family connection was all-important. Thus, Jesus was occasionally addressed as “Son of David” or people thought of him simply as “the carpenter’s son.”

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God Plays Fair

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September 1, 2019 – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 14:7-14

Luke’s gospel is filled with meals. It’s said he was a physician, but maybe he was a chef on the side. In his gospel there are at least ten stories of Jesus eating with others. But, as today’s gospel suggests, meals (especially those involving guests) were not just about satisfying hungry appetites. They were also about creating or recognizing social standing.

Jesus warns about taking a place at the table above your social position. If that’s recognized by the host, he will likely tell you to take a less-esteemed position, like the seat right next to the noisy kitchen. In that sense, Jesus was simply offering what might seems to be common sense advice. So why is this story included in the gospel? Is there a deeper truth being offered to us?

I think it might have to do with how God rates us. We might wonder whether God has favorites, a first, a second, a third and so forth. We know that secular society rates people all the time. It positions people according to all sorts of things: looks, background, education, accomplishments, financial holdings, appearance. Even religious affiliation. Lots of calculations are being processed about all of us. That’s the way the world works.

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God Knows Best

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August 25, 2019 – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 13:22-30

I once thought that it’s very important to know everything. It was part of my religious responsibilities. I knew enough to know, however, that this was not possible, but I still believed that I should at least try to know everything that I could. So, I diligently went to school for most of my young life. I listened to what teachers said and took a lot of notes. I read the books I was assigned to read and many more besides. After completing formal education, I became a theology professor and kept listening and learning and reading. Deep down I believed that my daily life and my eternal salvation were tied to what I knew and what I did. Lifelong learning contributed to my belief that I was in charge.

As I read the gospel for today, I became a little uncomfortable. Especially the concluding words of Jesus that the last will be first and the first will be last. Of course, this makes little sense in our world (and my own) which values position and accomplishment and all sorts of criteria about who will be truly best of God’s Kingdom, both now and forever. I want to think that I will be at least near the front of the line, reserved for those who did a lot for God. I thought about all the books I had read, all that I had written and all the good things I did during my life. Surely, that qualifies me for earning “early boarding” on to that final ‘airplane’ flight to heaven.

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Burning Love

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August 18, 2019 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 12:49-53

The ancients believed that the world was composed of four basic elements: earth, water, wind and fire. We might say today that this theory was pre-scientific, but still, there is a wisdom contained in their view. These elements made up most of what they experienced. They lived on the earth. Water came to provide them with food and drink. The wind brought the air they breathed. But what about fire? Well, certainly it warmed them during the cold and some groups used fire for preparing food. But there was also the fire of destruction. Thus, fire can be the source of both blessing and destruction.

In a common prayer to God’s Holy Spirit, we ask that the fire of God’s love enkindle our hearts. I am also reminded of what the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin wrote almost a century ago: Someday, after mastering the winds, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” In that sense fire becomes a powerful symbol for God’s love and our own. In the words of today’s gospel Jesus says, “I have come to set the earth on fire.” Not a fire of destruction, but rather one of creative love. Recall the words of the disciples at Emmaus when visited by the risen Christ: Were not our hearts burning within us?

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Be Ready

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August 11, 2019 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 12:32-48

I live less than a mile from our local volunteer fire department station. It’ a modest facility. Two trucks and an EMT emergency vehicle. No one lives there but when the call goes out, these first responders are there in a flash. They carry special phones so they can be alerted at any time of the day or night. I asked one of them how often they are called, and he said maybe once or twice of week. But there’s never a predictable pattern. Then I asked how often he thinks about that phone he carries wherever he goes. He said, “Maybe a hundred times a day.”

Today’s gospel is about always being ready to respond to God’s call, like our local first responders. Jesus talks about masters who come and go and servants who are always on duty. Jesus says it is wise to be aware of the master’s concerns and the work expected, even when he is away. If he returns and finds his servants playing cards when they should be working in the fields, well, it won’t go well for those servants.


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Live Generously

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August 4, 2019 – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 12:13-21

I was driving by an open field near where I live and wondered what was going on. The land was being cleared of trees and bushes. Perhaps a new housing development was being built for low income people, a major need in many places. Then I saw a sign erected at the edge of the property. “New public storage units coming soon.” I wasn’t surprised.

At least once a year, our town of a few thousand residents builds another of these facilities. And they seem needed because there are so many. I occasionally wonder what fills these locked units. Furniture in between moves? Seasonal equipment for yards or gardens? Summer stuff during winter? A friend of mine stores all his hobby stuff in one of those units. Still, I had to wonder whether many of us, myself included, may just have too much stuff.

The message of Jesus in today’s gospel may not have increased the popularity of Jesus, especially among the more well-to-do. It is aimed at those who, simply put, have too much. They are well-heeled, as we say, and are greedy for acquiring more riches. Really, as much as they can. Sound familiar?

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