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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

29th SUNDAY -C- October 20, 2019

Exodus 17: 8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3: 14- 4:2; Luke 18: 1-18

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

We preachers need to be wary of today’s parable of the widow and the unjust judge, lest we convey a false image of God. (Remember the command, "Thou shall not have strange gods before me.") Well, if we are not careful, we are liable to preach a "strange god" and even seem to make what we say sound legitimate or backed up by this parable.

The trap lies in our modern tendency to be too literal. By that I mean, we tend to miss the imaginative aspects of these parables and apply a strict formula to them in our interpretation. It goes something like this: the judge is God and we are the widows. So, like the widow we need to pray incessantly if we want to get what we want from God. Keep at it, God will eventually give in – isn’t that what the parable seems to imply? This, or similar ways of interpreting parables, treats them as allegories – not parables. Look what such an interpretation does to our faith: it paints God as hard hearted and our constant prayer like water dripping on the stone heart of a reluctant God, hoping to eventually wear God down on our behalf. Remember too that the judge in the parable is unjust – making it even more dangerous to allegorize this parable, lest God take on the features of this judge in our hearers’ imaginations.

If God gets so misrepresented then we, who are praying earnestly and even desperately for something, are made to feel doubly alone, with no one on our side against the Almighty and seeming-reluctant God. If this is what we convey, no matter how unintentionally, then we will have preached a "strange god" indeed! Certainly not the God of Jesus’ words and actions. This false image will only reinforce an old stereotype of a God so offended by our sin, that God would punish us severely, were it not for Jesus, God’s beloved child who, by his faithfulness and sacrifice, stays God’s angry hand. This makes God sound schizophrenic – partially with us in Jesus, but ill disposed as our Creator – with the Holy Spirit going back and forth between us humans and the two trying to tie up the loose ends.

Even if we didn’t have the citation telling us that this is a parable from Luke’s gospel, we could easily guess its authorship. The parable has the signs of a Lucan tale, for again, we hear his often-repeated themes about the poor, women and prayer. Widows were especially vulnerable in biblical times and in the scriptures we often hear the reference to "widows and orphans" – two particularly defenseless and needy groups. A widow would be dependent on her sons, or a close male relative to take care of her. She was especially vulnerable if the responsible males were indifferent to her welfare, or worse, had defrauded her. In such situations a widow would have recourse to a judge who was supposed to protect the rights of widows and the poor. But the judge to whom our widow turns has no regard for her plight and "neither feared God nor respected any human being." What chance would she have against a judge like this who disregards the basic commandments about God and neighbor? The cards are stacked against her and things look pretty grim for her ever getting her due.

But this is no ordinary widow! She confronts the judge using the only things she has on her side – her voice and her persistence. What she wants is justice, but from a judge who is not in the least bit interested in giving it to her. The only recourse she would normally have had is not in the least bit interested in her just cause. But by her persistence she wears down the judge who finally gives in to her. Don’t you find it amusing to hear the judge’s fear that a widow is going to come and "strike" him? The original language suggests that he is afraid she will give him a black eye. I hear Jesus’ listeners, so often denied their own rights before the rich and powerful, chuckling as Jesus paints this picture of a "dangerous" widow who will give a good boxing to a corrupt male judge.

The widow’s plight calls to mind those who are deprived of justice in our own society. As elections draw near, whose voices are going to be heard by both politicians and voters? Whose interests will be at the top of the list? Will the voices of the poor and powerless be outshouted by individuals and special interest groups who have more financial or voting power? It would be a rare election indeed if this didn’t happen. Most often the poor, minorities, immigrants, homeless, infirmed, aged and very young are not first on the minds of those running for office, or those casting votes. We can hear the widow’s voice in another way, for now she is speaking for those in our society who are not heard despite their just and desperate need. Will her voice be heard today by city planners deciding where to put a new power plant, city dump, petro-chemical plant, refinery? Who will influence municipal and federal governments when decisions are being made about which homes will be destroyed to build a super highway? Picture the widow standing among those disenfranchised at our borders and hear her voice, "Render a just decision for [us] against [our] adversary."

This is one of those "how-much-more parables." Jesus paints a picture of a despicable judge who eventually gives in to the persistent demands of the widow. It is as if he is saying, "If this kind of a person eventually responds, how much more will God?" Why? Because God is not turned against us and will "secure the rights" of God’s chosen. Of course, our struggle lies in the fact that so much in our world is unjust, especially for the disenfranchised. We pray for things to be put right and even pray that we can help make them so. Yet often, conditions don’t improve, sometimes they even get worse. Doesn’t that make you want to despair of every seeing things righted? So, we are tempted to cease our works and quite our prayers. "What’s the use?", we lament. Even when things improve a bit there still is an enormous mountain of wrongs to address – in our homes, church, community and world. We feel our efforts are so puny and so we are tempted to withdraw back into our private world saying, "What difference can I make?"

Such feelings tempt us to quit our efforts at prayer and works on behalf of God’s reign. Jesus expresses how serious the issues are, how powerful the forces against us are and seems to worry about the effects on his disciples. He asks, "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Not an idle, or speculative question, but one that is based on the experiences of the church from its beginnings: disciples have hard work and prayer to do until the Lord returns and the wait, without immediate signs of "success," can disillusion us and threaten our faith.

If we are looking for an image of the divine in this parable and don’t find it in the judge, is there another possibility? Here is another approach by the New Testament scholar Barbara Reid. (PARABLES FOR PREACHERS: THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, YEAR C. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000.) She suggests finding the God-like figure in the widow who persistently pursues injustice, denouncing it until justice is achieved. This interpretation is consistent with the New Testament message that power is found in weakness. A conclusion we would draw for ourselves then is that if this is the God in whose image we are made, then we too should tirelessly pursue justice even if it is against more powerful forces than we can muster.

I like the first reading’s image for prayer. As powerful and exemplary a model of faith Moses was during hard times, nevertheless, as the battle against Amalek wears on, Moses’ raised hands "grew tired." We can identify with that fatigue, we who find it hard to keep our hands raised in prayer as life tries to wear us down. Even Moses needed help. So, Aaron and Hur support his hands, "one on one side and one on the other, so his hands remained steady till sunset." We all need help in our struggles against evil forces and in our desire to stay faithful in hard times.

Look around at those who worship with us at this Eucharist. We see the elderly, even infirmed, here – still praying. We know of those who can’t get out of bed to come to church, but we also know they are praying and staying faithful. They give strength and determination to our faltering prayer, they help keep our hands "raised." Perhaps someone notices us here at worship. We don’t think of ourselves as great models of faith, but who knows what straggling soul at prayer is helped by seeing us here? We may be helping them keep their faltering and tired hands "raised" in hope and prayer.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102019.cfm

QUOTABLE

Silence
The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided. During the Liturgy of the Word, it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the first and second reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the homily.60
----#56, from the GENERAL INSTRUCTION OF THE ROMAN MISSAL, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Proclaim the word: be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4: 2

This passage today reminds me of the memorable quote made by St. Francis: "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." How do you preach the Gospel without using words? You preach it by the actions of your life to live the Gospel. Today is World Mission Sunday. It is a day for the laity to consider how we live the Gospel to the people we are called to champion and support in our world. Often, we are given examples of missionaries who go out to difficult areas of the world but we can also be missionary by going into areas in need of attention right here in our own neck of the woods.

The Vatican II document on the laity makes it quite clear that for all able-bodied lay Catholics: "Preeminent . .is that of Christian social action which the sacred synod desires to see extended to the whole temporal sphere, including culture." As the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, writes: "It is the vocation of the laity to go out to be as leaven in the world, a light in the darkness." Pope Francis affirms, "With solidarity, nobody is devoid of the necessary, each community can meet the needs of the poorest." Furthermore, he states, "Human ecology and environmental ecology go hand in hand" (6/5/13, U.N. World Environment Day). Taking care of others extends to taking care of our natural world. This is the preeminent task for lay followers of Jesus—to go out and be the loving, merciful, and just Christ to both our environment and other living beings, to heal brokenness, to bind up wounds, and to end divisions. We, the laity, are called and gifted to do this.

We need missioners for several of our parish outreach ministries--more people willing to feed and care for the poor for Family Promise, Helen Wright Shelter, and Oak City Cares Center and leadership and help at Catholic Parish Outreach Food Pantry (our fall collection of food is happening this weekend). We need parishioners willing to walk in the CROP Hunger Walk next Sunday. The Door Fund/ Ministry is looking for new interviewers to help people with past due rents and eviction notices. Our Habitat for Humanity 10th house is being built right now. And, we need people to advocate for Creation Care. To preach the Gospel with your life, check out the Cathedral website: https://www.raleighcathedral.org/social-justice-programs

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

The Lord said, "Will not God then

secure the rights of God’s chosen ones

who call out to God day and night?"

Reflection:

The judge in today’s parable cannot be taken as representing God, for he "neither feared God nor respected any human being." But, can we see in the widow an image of our God?

She is a persistent voice for justice for the poor and those without voice in our society. Like our God, she will not stop her cry for justice until it is given.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What voice speaks a persistent message for justice in our parish? In our church? In our world?
  • How do those voices affect your choices and actions?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"Can you imagine what it’s like to have your boy on death row? Can you imagine what it’s like to visit him there every Saturday and tell him, ‘I love you. I’ll see you next week,’ when you never know if they’re going to call and say, ‘He’s up next—it’s time for his execution."’

----Jeanetter Johnson, Mother of Alan Gell, who was retried and found innocent because prosecutors withheld evidence that might have cleared him of first-degree murder.

[The News and Observer, February 15, 2004, Raleigh, NC]

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Eddie Larmar Taylor #0762634 (On death row since 8/24/05)
  • William Raines #0526698 (9/9/05)
  • Jeremy D. Murrell #0940436 (2/17/06)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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