Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year C


Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
What follows is a homily for January 18, 2004, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. What might mystagogical preaching sound like on this day when the lectionary, rather than diving into Luke, gives us John's story of the wedding at Cana and, in doing so, makes this Sunday not so much the start of the Ordinary Time that follows but the conclusion of the Christmas/Epiphany mystery that we have been observing since December 25? Mystagogical preaching is a communal exploration of the mysteries into which we are initiated lifelong. As it happens in 2004, in the United States this is the day before the observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gabe Huck


On the books we have returned to what is called Ordinary Time, those counted Sundays between Epiphany and Lent, between Pentecost and Advent. On the books. But were we to judge only by the readings, we would see that on this Sunday - seemingly so far from Christmas in our bodies and souls - we are in fact still caught up in the Christmas/Epiphany mystery. The same words from Isaiah that we heard this morning were the words that began the liturgy on the Vigil of Christmas - "No more shall people call you 'Forsaken,' / . . . but you shall be called 'My Delight,' / . . . for the Lord delights in you / . . . as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, / so shall your God rejoice in you" (Isaiah 62:4, 5). That sounds like a wedding, the clamorous celebration of two persons casting their lives together. That image of two lovers - even more than the image of the Bethlehem manger - proclaims the mystery that holds us through the season of Christmas. The stories we tell of birth giving, angels singing, shepherds and magi processing, innocents slaughtered - all these are part of a larger story, how God weds this world of ours, despite everything.

In some places Christians know Epiphany as the celebration of three manifestations: the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, the wedding at Cana. Old songs of the church have taken these stories and playfully brought them together in chants like this one:

Today the Bridegroom claims the bride, the church,
for Christ has washed our sins away in Jordan's waters;
the magi hasten with their gifts
to the royal wedding;
and the wedding guests rejoice,
for Christ has changed water into wine. Alleluia!

So there is a wedding, and here come the Magi with their wedding presents, and at that wedding see what happens: Christ changes water into wine! The stories run joyously together, all of them being proclamations of how God clasps the world in wild and wide and tender love. When we spread out the stories of Magi, baptism, and Cana's wedding, as we do this year, we are weeks past December 25 before we tell this final story of how the wine ran out! Never hear this story as some flashy miracle. In fact it wasn't flashy at all: nobody except Mary and Jesus, a few servants and few disciples ever knew what was going on. The point is not that somebody once got water to taste like very good wine - more than a hundred gallons at that. The point is the wedding of God and us, the point is that the good wine is in our midst, the point is abundance, the point is - as we heard in that second reading where Paul is writing to the church at Corinth - God's lavish gifts of wisdom and healing and discernment.

And where is all this happening? Let those with eyes to see, see! What we do here Sunday by Sunday around this table on which we place our bread and our good wine, what we do here is sing out this single word: Today. Hodie was the Latin word and it marked the great feasts of the church because they were never about the long ago and the far away. They were Hodie! They were "Today!" We heard this a moment ago: "Today (!) the Bridegroom claims the bride, the church!" Today. All that is true in the stories of shepherds and farm animals and crib, in the stories of stars and magi, in the stories of John the fierce baptizer of Jesus, and in the strange story of that wedding at Cana, all this is the stuff of our Hodie, our "Today!" We the baptized give thanks at the table that God has clasped us in love, clasped the world in love, and done this in Christ our Lord. Done it when? Done it today! Today the six stone jars of water are filled to the brim. To the brim! Jars that big you'd think would hold plenty if they were anywhere near the top. But the point is: To the brim! And then some. It is a story of God's way with us - forgiveness to the brim, tender love to the brim, peace to the brim. Today is the best wine. So what if all the guests have used up the wine supply? Here is wine in abundance and not just any wine, but the finest of all.

That's the cup that is set on our table, that's the cup that we are all (all!) called to taste on this Lord's Day, the love of God poured out in abundance, intoxicating and sobering all at once, sweet and bitter all at once. That is Christmas and that is Cana and that is this Lord's Day round this table and this mid-January week. All at once. These stories haven't been told to make us think: Oh how pretty Isaiah talks! How lucky for that couple that Jesus was on the spot! What a guy to come through for his mom that way! The literal has nothing to do with why we are here this morning with our book open and our table about to be set. Let us together open our eyes to the great hodie of the church. See what glory is revealed here, this parish, this Sunday.

How else are we, all of us baptized into the death and risen life of Jesus, to look at the one we honor this weekend, Dr. Martin Luther King? We don't canonize, we simply praise God that in the hardest of places our God raises up such a person, that manifestations of the Spirit abound in tough times. We have eyes wide open then to see this one time not so far away and not so long ago when a man who never made it to age forty - and pretty well knew he wouldn't because of what he was doing - when this Martin Luther King drank deeply of the new and fine wine of God's love for this world, and then talked in a straightforward way to the world and straightforwardly walked the talk.

Now as then the world is full of harshness, of cruel deeds, of hunger and of sickness in a time full of food and medicine, yet even more full of racial hate, greed, and discrimination. Now even more than in King's time the world's rich are scrambling to separate themselves from the world's poor. And now as then the world is full of decent people like us who are sad about all of this but are too busy or too rich or too scared or too overstressed or too discouraged or too plain selfish to open their mouths or move their feet forward. King opened his mouth. King moved his feet forward. He didn't say he had everything figured out, he didn't say he wasn't afraid, he didn't say it was simple or always clear. But he figured this much out: the God we meet in Jesus is calling us to the side of the poor, the hungry, the old, the disabled, the prisoners, the persecuted and humiliated, and all those the powerful have left out. And he figured out that the God we meet in Jesus wouldn't care much for the praise of folks who live apart from all that harshness.

Now many people get that far as they ponder the scriptures and the gospels. Then a lot of us shake our heads and say: It's too much and I'm just not up to it; all I can do is not contribute to the hate. I'll raise good kids. I'll be a good neighbor. I'll vote for decent politicians. I'll get on a committee or two, write some letters to the editor and the senator, pray for the poor and pray for justice. For some of us some of the time, that is the gospel. But maybe we have to keep our eyes open and one day we'll see what King saw. He saw those big stone jars that were brim-full and he saw that this was the best wine and he saw that he could talk and walk as if that's what we could expect of our God.

Sometime this weekend we'll probably all hear King's "I have a dream" speech and that's fine, but we can't take it as the whole of this servant of God. Yes, he could speak of dreams but we have to pay attention to how King figured out, with help from some other just souls, that the God we meet in Jesus' gospel, even the God who loved the innocents slaughtered by Herod, wasn't dreaming about revenge, wasn't dreaming about bringing down punishment on those who had for centuries loosed violence on the descendents of African slaves. He figured out that this God loved the soldiers who did the slaughter and loved even the tyrant who sent them. That was the hard part, but that is what we need today to take hold of. What does it mean to do these two things at once: to care about justice and to renounce violence? Is God's abundance that abundant? Is God's way so unlike our way?

A year to the day before he was assassinated King took the pulpit at Riverside Church in New York City and let flow what had been in his heart a long time. If we would keep his memory this weekend, then what he said that day about his country and ours must trouble and rouse us.

King began by saying that the time comes when silence is betrayal, that even when the issues are complex and we are "on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty," we must move on. He said he was moving to "break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart." He spoke of his confrontations with angry young people in the ghettos of the North, when preaching nonviolence to them brought this question: What about Vietnam? "They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home," King said, "and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government." He continued: "For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."

King said he came to speak out not only as a civil rights leader but as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. "To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. . . . Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the 'Vietcong' or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life? . . . We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy."

King's judgments were severe. He said: "Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken - the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment." All that, thirty-seven years ago. "Our only hope today," he said, "lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism."

Such is the abundance of God's love, the jars brim full, the wedding of earth and heaven proclaimed, the finest wine come as grace. It is not to a peaceful retirement home that Jesus summons us, but always to the cross, to a love like God's own that knows how outrageous we must be.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.
Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
This homily is intended for the January 28, 2007, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. It is about borders and how scriptures and liturgy mean to shape a people to deal with the way we love to draw lines, to wall in and to wall out. The homily considers the reading of 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 that began two Sundays before, as well as the story that Luke began last week and continues this week. January homilies in this column over the past four years have also dealt with baptism (2003) and with the light our scriptures throw on the work and teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr., as the United States marks his January birthday (2004 and 2005). The January 2004 homily was for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, also Year C, so with scriptures the same as our current year.
Gabe Huck


Two weeks ago we began reading the concluding pages of Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. These intense passages will be our second readings all the way to the beginning of Lent, but today Paul is at his most eloquent. When we read from this letter last week, Paul was trying to work out a way to understand how it is that some members of the church are good at one thing and some at another, how to understand that some members seem so important and others so mediocre.

First, Paul went at this from the angle of where our gifts and talents come from. "Look," he said, "it is a good but sometimes troublesome thing that we have different gifts, different abilities, different roles. But every single role is just as much the work of the Spirit as every other role. The one who sweeps the floor is just as much doing the work of God as the one who preaches. The one who is pastor is meant to do this job in the Spirit and the one who takes up the collection is meant to do that job in the Spirit."

But apparently Paul felt the need for stronger Images to express what he believed about how all these different roles work in the church. So he seized on the image of the human body. Here's something we all have: a body. What then do we observe? Is the eye more important than the hand? Can the ear go off on its own without the rest of the body? Can the foot and the nose tell the tongue it isn't wanted any longer? If the whole body were a knee, what a catastrophe! If I stub my toe, do my eyes go right on as if nothing had happened or is every part of me not somehow affected by that hurting toe?

So far, so good, but the same metaphor, the body, could well be used for any community of people: a town, an office, the staff of a hospital. Paul knew this, of course, and he tried to make clear that when it came to the church at Corinth or the church at [this city or neighborhood], this body metaphor is even more powerful because of what happened to each one of us in baptism. Into what, Paul asks, are we all baptized? We are baptized into one body. We are all together the body of Christ.

If Paul had stopped there, it would have been enough to give the church, every church, everywhere, in every age, an image for what life together is to be for us who are the body of Christ. As another preacher would put it a few hundred years after Paul: When the minister says to you "The body of Christ," "The blood of Christ," then say Amen! Say Amen - to what you are! You are the body of Christ!

But Paul didn't stop there. He grasped for more. Even if we succeed in thinking about ourselves as members of one body, even if we recognize the importance of each member, all alike hurt by any evil done to or by any other member, even if we do all this, Paul says, I'm going to tell you that there is a yet more excellent way to think about, and go about, our lives as Christians.

And so he begins the poetry we heard this morning. This is Paul at his most eloquent. "If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. . . . If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."

Paul knows the Torah and the prophets, and he knows this Jesus who was crucified. And he knows the stories of women and men who have embraced this way of life. And in these verses it all seems to come together, an insight into God's love and our own. "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Paul has two adjectives to describe what love is. He has half a dozen to describe what love is not. Are "patient" and "kind" the first words most of us would have to describe love? But pay attention because somehow for Paul, as he grappled with God's love for creation as the Bible tells it, as he grappled with the love that brought Jesus to suffering and death, these two things, "patient" and "kind," best described the love that he found there. It was easier to say what he did not find in such love. Jealous? No. Pompous? Never. Inflated, rude, self-seeking, quick-tempered, brooding over injuries, rejoicing in anything that does harm? No, no, no. And what is Paul's alternative to those all-so-natural ways to behave ourselves? Just this: Practicing a love that bears all things, believes and hopes all things, endures all things.

We have today the story in the first reading of the call of Jeremiah the prophet. Can we hear it as Paul must have, part of the love story of God and God's people? Part of the love story of the prophet and the people, a story that seems more mutual antagonism than love? The Lord tells the young Jeremiah that this prophet will have to be like a pillar of iron, a wall of brass because the rulers and the owners and the police and the media aren't going to like what Jeremiah says. They'll bring in other prophets with sweet and encouraging things to say. Jeremiah will be beaten, dumped in a well, and worse: he will be laughed at.

Again, what is love? Patient, kind? Not inflated or self-seeking? What does that mean?

The Jeremiah story is clearly to be juxtaposed today with Luke's telling of what happened when Jesus came home to Nazareth. Last week the visit there seemed to be going well. Jesus came with everyone else to the synagogue, he was handed the scroll of Isaiah, he read the prophet's words about bringing good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. Then he rolled up the scroll and with all eyes on him said: "Today this is fulfilled in your hearing."

So far, so good, but when we pick up the story today, it isn't so good at all. Jesus makes clear that he hasn't come with a bundle of miracles for his old home town. In fact, he seems to say that the bonds of blood and language and ancestry aren't really what matters when God's love is what we're after. Jesus reminds the listeners, who are getting very restless, of two stories they know well. One is about the great prophet Elijah. Elijah did what God told him and brought a drought on the people who had grown careless of the commandments of God. Then, when so many of his own people were suffering from hunger, God sent Elijah outside the borders, beyond those who belonged to the in-group, sent Elijah into what is now Lebanon to help a certain widow's family survive the drought.

Then Jesus reminds them how another prophet, Elisha, healed a person with leprosy. But who was this person? Not a member of the clan, not one of the descendents of Abraham, but an outsider, a foreigner, an alien. A Syrian, of all people! Naaman the Syrian was the one Elijah healed.

Jesus' listeners got the point and they were furious. Most of us, like them, depend on some clear borders. We need lines drawn so we can tell who's inside and who's outside. Love may be patient and kind, but it has its limits. Otherwise who's to know what's what or who's who? We are constantly reminded of this today. Some would have us draw lines around the political entity called the United States. Others would have us draw lines around the institutional entity called the Roman Catholic Church. Race, class, gender, sexual orientation, income - there are so many lines to be drawn! All these ways to make the world into "us" and "them," some of our lines are up front and in your face, some are so subtle we carry them inside and never notice.

We live in a time when it is possible to know and even understand so much about those outside our immediate circles. The love that Paul struggled to describe (and struggled to practice) was the love he found in the stories about Elijah and the widow who was of another people and about Elisha of Israel curing Naaman of Syria. Paul himself got to know people who lived in what are now Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Italy, maybe even Spain. He was forever among those outside the lines that everyone else was trying to enforce. He was forever pondering whether there were to be any lines. He told and retold the story of Jesus and he must have seen that if you take your baptism seriously, the boundaries won't hold. The walls are coming down. The neat and safe categories are falling apart. Maybe Paul meant to write: Love is patient, love is kind, love is dangerous.

But we are endlessly inventive and endlessly afraid. So have we Christians tried through the centuries to draw new lines, make a safe world of insiders. But so far, it never quite works. The problem with it is exactly what is happening here today. That is, when we get together, we have this unbroken tradition of opening the book and reading the stories and the stories themselves undermine our diligent efforts to proclaim ourselves the possessors of all truth, the practitioners of all justice.

And the problem is also that when we get together, we have to do this one simple thing that, if we're not careful, will give us the best practice possible at living lives outside the borders, beyond the walls built by humans. What do we do that so shatters the walls, crosses the borders? We take a loaf of bread, a loaf made of many grains, and we break it and we all eat, all alike, and the one loaf feeds us all. We take a cup of wine, a wine made of many grapes, and we all drink, all alike, the one cup for the thirst of each one of us. And in this way are we who make Eucharist at this table made by the Eucharist. So are we through the generations, through the years of each life, practicing at dining at a common table, all alike, no boundaries.

We have miles and miles to go. We have often made even of this liturgy something that separates one from another. Not only separates one Christian church from another, but separates us from each other, each of us being so private and removed from one another. But this is a table here, and there is bread and wine become for us the very body and blood of Christ that we ourselves are. Say Amen to what we are! At the gathering at table for Eucharist and Holy Communion, we rehearse the kind of love Paul was trying to articulate when he wrote to the church at Corinth. It is big and it is often frightening to us. But we have these beautiful scriptures, we have beside us Elijah and the widow, Naaman and Elisha. So we come here Sunday by Sunday and we practice how to love.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
These homilies are intended as exploration of the mystagogical dimension of preaching, the vital task of the preacher: to unfold the mysteries that we keep (the mysteries that keep us) in our ritual. That ritual includes not only what we generally call "liturgy," but also those habitual ways of marking days and seasons and occasions that are necessary to the full life we seek in community, the life of a church. So most of the February homilies in this column over the past four years have explored the keeping of Lent and have invited the assembly into a vigorous keeping of the season. What else would we expect when the paschal season, Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, has been vital to the formation of Christians since our early times? What follows departs from the usual format of a single homily and instead offers two shorter homilies, one that could be used on Sunday, February 18, 2007, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, and the other for Ash Wednesday, four days later. On both occasions, as on the First Sunday of Lent, February 25, it is a good thing when the homily sounds like exhortation, the preacher's urgent speech to self and to assembly, to take this Lent with great eagerness.
Gabe Huck

For February 18, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
In our tradition this community today will sing its last Alleluia until the Forty Days of Lent are done and we enter those Three Days that are for us the center of the year, the days that bring us to the darkness of the night between Holy Saturday and Easter itself. Then we will end our fasting from this ancient word Alleluia and will put its wondrous combination of l's and vowels in our mouths again as we prepare to approach the waters of baptism where we all once died to live now in Christ.

We are coming to Lent. A few more days and Ash Wednesday will be here. But where will we be? What chance has Lent got in modern lives, busy lives, lives with calendars set by our places of work, by sports, by our organizations and our government, by paychecks, by schools whose various winter and spring breaks come regardless of what this church is doing or not doing? Aside from remnants of Mardi Gras and Carnival, Lent is unknown to the larger society and that may be just as well. But it is not just as well if it isn't known to us.

For Lent is so vital in a church like ours that if we lost it, we would quite naturally have to invent it all over again. But could we? Has Lent slipped away from us so quietly that we hardly noticed? In the early church Lent's forty days evolved as part of a late winter/early spring cycle whose center became the baptism of adults and children who were ready to embrace life in the body of Christ, the church. Lent was forty days for the newcomers and the veterans to get the habits of life in Christ into our bones and muscles, our words and deeds, our waking and our sleeping. The keeping of Lent was for all the church, for all the baptized people a time to get down to the basics: to repent, reform, and renew.

Whatever the century and whatever the year, wherever any community of Christians has made a home, like this one here, the announcement of Lent should sound to all of us like both good news and terrifying news. If Lent, like the gospel itself, doesn't have both these aspects - the good news and the terrifying, both, and all the tension between - then all that's left of Lent is just some private project, a way for you or me in the privacy of our lives to make modest efforts at a little fasting, a little denial. But this isn't Lent. This doesn't shake the church and each of us from inside out and outside in.

The disciplines of Lent should be on our minds a good deal between now and Wednesday. There are three of these disciplines and each of them has a spectrum of expressions. There is prayer, there is fasting, and there is almsgiving. We can search the scriptures and the day's headlines for ideas on how to let these three find expression in our lives. Simply to hear today's Gospel gets the possibilities going. What could you or I do for these forty days that would somehow train us to live the kind of life Jesus speaks about in this Gospel today? Remember? Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Offer that other cheek. Lend what you have and expect nothing back. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. Give. Forgive. Give. Forgive.

Did we all hear those words spoken by a Jesus who was serious? Love enemies. Be really good to people and nations who hate you. Be ever ready with the other cheek. Give what you have and expect no return. Stop judging and stop condemning and just give and forgive and see what happens.

But look, we say back to Jesus, we don't keep two million human beings in prison in this country for nothing. And we don't spend half a billion dollars on weapons and wars each year for the fun of it. We'd love to use that money for a lot of good stuff, but it's a tough world out there and if we don't do it to them first, they'll do it to us. So the other cheek might work in some utopia somewhere, but it won't work here. And as for lending and not getting anything back, who are you kidding?

Church, this is what Lent might be for us this year. It might be the once-a-year or even once-a-lifetime summons we get to take Jesus, whom we purport week by week to call our Savior, to take this Jesus at his word. Lent might be the way this church, all of us here in this assembly, can discover just what it was we did when we passed through those baptism waters.

So we should go home or go somewhere and between now and Wednesday, as individuals and as households and as small groups make bold plans. Sure, these plans will go amuck, they always do. But did you hear? Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Be merciful to yourselves as to others. But mercy isn't some soft Easter bunny. Mercy is how God would clothe us. Mercy is all we can cling to. Mercy is what we learn or even what we become through the prayer, the fasting, the alms. So we go home and make bold plans for how we will fast: fast with our mouths, certainly, but fast with our eyes, our vocal chords, our ears, our precious time. What must we cut down or cut out in our lives if there's to be room for mercy to take root? How will we fast?

And how will we give alms, Lent's second discipline? How will we explore some new ways to be related to our stuff, our money, our incomes and investments and such, and not only that but the larger bundle that we as a nation hold and withhold? How can the forty days, with some imagination and work on our part, give us a glimpse of a gospel way of life? Are we afraid to face the truth about our use of the earth and the burden our comforts place on other people and on generations to come? Don't be afraid. Let's do it together. Every bit of the gospel we embraced at baptism's waters summons us.

And then we must reflect on how we will pray in Lent, that's the third discipline. How we will use our wonderful vocabulary of words and songs and keeping silence to train ourselves in ways of morning and night prayer that will carry us on through the year and daily rehearse us in being baptized people.

We have these days to prepare. A week from now we will be here again at the threshold of Lent, inching our way in, together. Always, always together.

For February 21, Ash Wednesday
Ashes are not so much grim as they are true. They are real. They tell an honest story, perhaps more honest than any story about our human life that we're listening to anywhere else in twenty-first century American life. The ashes and the words "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will surely return" are nothing if they are not the gospel summons to enter into Lent as a church. Here we are, the ones marked with ash, the ones told to remember and to repent.

Let's be clear about a few things that Lent is not.

First, Lent is not a one day show. Lent is today and every day until we are exhausted and ready to enter that amazing grace of Three Days that get us from Holy Thursday night to Easter Sunday.

Second, Lent is not some sort of churchy self-improvement program that asks just a tiny bit of self-denial and rewards us with lost pounds or saved money.

Third, Lent is not something I do by myself, my own little good resolutions, my own little prayers, my own little coins for the poor.

What is Lent? It is literally breath-taking and life-giving. It is hard and deeply disturbing because it is not about your piety or mine, not about sins, not about earning grace or points or anything else. It is the church becoming the church. It is baptized people becoming baptized people. It is good human beings like ourselves trying to grapple with what the gospel asks of good human beings now, here, the end of February 2007 and in our city, our nation, our world that is so beaten down by greed gone wild, yet remains the world that God so loved.

Ashes are honest, church, and today we wear them to remind each other that they summon us to take these forty days and get ourselves, however young or old we are, into training to do and be all that we promised and all that we renounced at our baptism. By learning how to pray, by learning to fast in some ways that will tell us what we really hunger for, by learning to give what we call "ours" without counting on anything except the mercy of God: that is what Lent will be for us.

No one does it alone. I don't keep Lent. You don't keep Lent. The church keeps Lent. And more than any other season, in Lent we need to see each other here on the six Sundays of Lent, we need to hear each other singing, we need to join each other at the table and in the procession that surrounds the table. We need to bring here our best efforts and our constant failures. We need to hear the stories Sunday by Sunday, the crucial stories that will unfold in us what our baptism means.

So, as the gospel has made urgent, let's make a Lent like we have never made a Lent before. We will pray in many ways. We will fast and discover what it is that we should be so hungry and thirsty for. We will begin to let go of our desperate hold on what we call "ours," and start working ourselves out of slavery and into the freedom of God's children. And doing this, we'll walk boldly and yet with trepidation toward that font where on the night of the sacred Easter Vigil we will dare to promise and renounce anew and we will dare to baptize those newcomers who want to drown all the works of sin and want to live freely and as servants in Christ our Lord.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org.
Thirteenth Through Seventeenth Sundays in Ordinary Time
Year C
The lectionary of this July is almost too much. We have Elijah and Elisha, we have mother Jerusalem, we have lovely poetry about God's law, and we have two of the best stories of Genesis: Abraham the host and Abraham the relentless bargainer. And that's just the first readings. Paul finishes his letter to the Galatian church and begins the letter to the Colossian church, both with Images of the church we need to hear and talk about. And Luke is building the journey to Jerusalem with stories and rhetoric. These should not be seen as a menu from which to select something from here, something from there for five Sundays of preaching. First see it (and what comes as August begins) as continuities of Gospel and epistle and even this month in some of the first readings. The quest in this column each month is to explore the preacher's responsibility to "unfold the mysteries." This takes engagement with Bible (Lectionary) and with rite, and with the world itself which is in some way assembled in our ecclesial house on Sunday. What follows this month is not the usual homily for one Sunday but a "starter" or a brief part of whatmight be the homily on each of these Sundays.
Gabe Huck

 July 1: Thirteenth Sunday
There is the old prophet and there is the youngprophet. Their names sound much alike to us: Elijah and Elisha. Elijah is the prophet whofor years has been calling kings, queens, and other powers-that-be to repent. Elijah has been told to get ready to take his leave of earth. But first, the nation must not be left without a prophet, the rulers must not be left without a troublesome conscience. Young Elisha is out plowing the fields one day when old Elijah approaches and, for no apparent reason, Elijah throws his well-worn cloak over the young man's shoulders. Elisha becomes a sort of prophet-in-training until the old man, as the story tells, is taken up in a fiery chariot leaving behind that cloak of his for Elisha, the prophet's mantle. Such were the stories about old Elijah among the people that hundreds of years later when another prophet named Jesus asks: Who do people say that I am? One of the obvious answers is: You are Elijah. They were still waiting for that fiery chariot to return.

Perhaps Elijah's fiery temper and fiery chariot are behind what is happening in the gospel story when the disciples James and John plot the punishment of a Samaritan village that wouldn't welcome Jesus. Their idea is to burn it down! Not very original. Were they day by day in the presence of Jesus and still not understanding?

But who does understand? The Christians in Galatia had believed in Jesus and been baptized. But here is Paul writing to them with an aching heart. He has heard about troubles and divisions in that church and we hear him put it to them bluntly: "If you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another." Paul liked the language of food and he uses it here: biting, devouring one another, consumed by one another. In our own time a German playwright would have a character say these words: "What keeps a man alive? He lives on others. He likes to taste them first, then eat them whole if he can."

Do we see this as we look at our world today? Do we see a nation and all its wealth put to uses of biting and devouring? We are not alone in acting this way, but we have more of what it takes to consume others, to bite and devour them. We unleash violence, call down fire, but never see or smell or feel the ashes we are making of human lives, cities, towns, rivers, farms. "You are called for freedom, brothers and sisters," Paul writes to the church. That should trouble us deeply this week as we mark the anniversary of our nation's founding. What has it come to that our freedom is the freedom to lay waste without being called to judgment?

Where is Elijah? Where are the ones who confront the rulers and the people? This book of ours and this table of ours are not some cozy escape but are like Elijah's cloak whereby we in our time and our place wrap ourselves in love and confront the evil done by powerful people.

July 8: Fourteenth Sunday
Perhaps a church like ours must always renew itself by taking to heart both of the conflicting Images that today's first two scriptures hold. The poetry of Isaiah soars when the prophet speaks of the city Jerusalem, an image not only of God's care but truly an image of God. Here is what we need so much: God as our mother. "Oh that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!" It is hard, hard, hard to find this feminine imagery in our tradition. It's there, but it's often underground. Some discover it, many do not.

But we take to heart also the seemingly contrasting image Paul speaks at the end of his letter to the church of Galatia. "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." What does that mean, to boast of the cross of Jesus, and to say the world has been crucified to me, I to the world? How did Paul dare speak of himself as crucified, of the world as crucified? What is it about being Christian, being baptized into Christ, that puts such tension into our stance in the world? And we know that "the world" is not something apart from us, but it is us.

To speak of us as crucified to the world, the world to us, seems a long way from Isaiah's image of the abundant breasts of God that nurse us. And it is. Yet both matter. When we gather here on the Lord's Day week after week of our lives we enact these Images. For we set this table with good bread and good wine, the abundant breasts of our God in the form of life-giving bread and wine. Here indeed we, like infants, nurse with delight. And as we lift our hearts and give God thanks and praise, we can do nothing else but remember that this good bread is the body given up for us, this good wine is the blood poured out for us. At the heart of our being nursed and fed by God is the cross of Jesus.

July 15: Fifteenth Sunday
Think about the people who heard Jesus tell the story about the traveler left half-dead and the other travelers who passed by until one didn't pass by but was moved by compassion and did everything possible to help. Undoubtedly some who heard Jesus were thinking: "Oh yeah? Well, I know for certain a Samaritan would never do such a kind deed. I know it! It's just another story, another fairy tale." But the one who started this conversation, the "scholar of the law" as Luke says, had to answer a question: "In your opinion," Jesus says, "who was neighbor to the victim?" And this scholar of the law replies: "The one who treated him with mercy."

Again and again, it comes back to mercy. To justice, yes. But justice will never be enough. It comes back to mercy. What have I to do with the people who lie battered by the side of the road? Whoever they are, however different they are from me in sex, age, color, religion, moral standards, economic status, ethnicity, citizenship here or there, education, sexual orientation, language, what have I to do with them?" This isn't a theoretical question. The roadsides of the earth have more beaten up and beaten down people in them now than ever before. What have I to do with them? The resounding answer most of us give day after day, as regular as sunrise, is: nothing. I have nothing to do with them. In fact, I seldom see them. And if twenty or thirty thousand of them disappear every day, dying of simple things like starvation and diarrhea, I don't notice that either. I don't have time. I don't take chances. I pay taxes so that such people keep their distance. That's all I can manage.

Paul's passion, the passion that got him into trouble so often, that sent him to so many distant places, that made him confront the other apostles, Paul's passion was reconciliation. He gave himself and the church around him eyes to see and hearts to know that the work of God in the world, to which we Christians are to lend a hand, is reconciliation. It isn't cheap. We heard Paul today: "For in Christ all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of his cross." And right there is that very mercy that would turn our world inside-out. When we say "Amen" before we take the cup and drink, we are saying amen to what the minister has proclaimed: "The blood of Christ." "Amen." And we drink. Listen again: "To reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of the cross." That is what we dare to drink, what is what we thirst for.

And what does it make of us? Neighbors, reconcilers and reconciled, people of justice, people of mercy.

July 22: Sixteenth Sunday
Among the Orthodox Christians of Russia there is no image more familiar than the one taken from the first reading today: the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. We in the West may barely find this story familiar, but for the Russian church the three strangers at the table became an image of the Holy Trinity. As we listen to the story, we may think it strange that when Abraham looks out from his tent and sees three strangers, he asks them to be kind to him. How? By letting him give them some rest and comfort and a meal like a banquet while he, Abraham, waits on them like a servant. He took it as a kindness to himself that these strangers allowed him to lavish his time and his possessions on them. Jesus may have been remembering this story when he told about the judgment: I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. If you did this for the least person in the world, you did it for me.

I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. That is right there with feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and caring for the sick. We know the response: "Wait a minute! When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger?" "If you did it for the least person, especially for the least person, you did it for me."

We have in the world now a multitude of such strangers, people who have had to flee their homes and seek refuge somewhere a little safer. It is one of the constant refrains of the last century, perhaps of many centuries. Large numbers of people are on the move: Is it Darfur? Is it ethnic cleansing somewhere we don't think about very often? People are made strangers, an old story and we figure someone will put up tents and send in bread and rice. But sometimes the stranger is closer to us.

Right now more than two million of these strangers are men and women and children from Iraq. One in every ten Iraqis is no longer in Iraq. They have fled their country in the horror that has followed the U.S. invasion and occupation. Most of them are living in the neighboring countries of Syria and Jordan. These are poor countries, but they took them in. What is that to us? Our country broke all the dishes, but others must pay for it? And where are we Christian Americans who tell of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, of Martha and Mary? Lord, when did we see you a stranger?

Here on Sundays we rehearse this awareness of the stranger, we rehearse the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, of Mary and Martha. We rehearse it outside before and after our liturgy. We rehearse it when we see friends and when we see those whom we do not know. We rehearse it when we extend the peace greeting to one and all around us. Above all, we rehearse it at this table where all eat and drink alike. But then rehearsal ends. How will we live toward these Iraqi strangers?

July 29: Seventeenth Sunday
Last Sunday Abraham was welcoming strangers, now he is desperately bargaining with God as he tries to save the city of Sodom. Such audacity and such cleverness in a delightful story. God reluctantly concedes to Abraham that if there are fifty innocent people in Sodom, the whole city will be spared. And that's it. That's Abraham's foot in God's door. "If you will spare it for fifty, what if there are only forty-five? Will you destroy the whole population because we could not find just five people?" What God would do such a thing? And so it goes. Abraham takes God down to ten people, then figures he has saved the city.

Jesus might have been thinking of this story when he offers the disciples a little story from life: Someone knocking on the neighbor's door at midnight to borrow bread. If you keep at it, Jesus says, you will get that bread. We've all seen this. It sounds like Jesus wants us to annoy each other, all be squeaky wheels. Maybe. But the point is to be like Abraham. Abraham kept coming back: "But if you would spare the city for forty innocent people, what if there are thirty? Twenty? Ten?"

So we do keep coming back. We prayed for the sick last week. Most did not get better. We'll be naming them again in a few moments. We prayed for an end to the violence in Iraq last week. It didn't end. We'll be shouting to God about it again in a few minutes. We prayed last Sunday for daily bread, for forgiveness of our sins, and we prayed for God to keep us from evil. We will do it again today.

But will we do it with the passion of the church, the passion for healing, for justice, for God's mercy? Will we make our intercessions and pray the Lord's Prayer, both here and in our homes, with a sense that everything depends on us, to keep on knocking, to keep on lifting up the troubles of this world to God? This is the task of baptized people: eyes open all week, bedside prayers at night to ask God's care for all in need, Sunday intercession. This is what we do, we baptized people, the church.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
What follows is cast as a homily for July 25, 2004, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. On the previous Sunday and this Sunday we have a rare occurrence: the first readings on these two Sundays are from the same group of stories in Genesis 18. Preaching both weeks on Abraham and the Genesis stories is one possibility. In addition, on the last three Sundays of July we have second readings from the beginning of Paul's letter to the Colossians, also texts with much to offer the homilist, especially in preaching consecutive Sundays with the second reading as the central focus (rarely done). But the text below attempts something else: to provoke interest in the Genesis story and from that a way to hear the Gospel parable and Luke's text of the Lord's Prayer in the context of the way our assembly does its own interceding, its own singing and recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Like others in this series, we are seeking to find how are we to do mystagogy, to "unfold the mysteries" of our Christian rituals.
Gabe Huck

The obvious question to ask after the Genesis story in today's first reading is: Why did Abraham stop at ten? The bargaining had gone on for some time. Abraham was winning. Notice, he started off with a fairly high number: "Suppose, God, that there were fifty innocent people in Sodom and Gomorrah?" Fifty . . . Innocent . . . People! Today we would call them, obscenely, "collateral damage." Innocent people who get hurt or killed when they are leading their everyday lives and are suddenly in somebody's line of fire. In this case, God's. Listen to Abraham talk to God: "Wouldn't you spare these cities for the sake of fifty innocent people? What kind of god are you, anyway?" Abraham, of course, thinks he knows. He takes an awful chance by putting his notion of God to the test. "Far be it from you to kill so many innocent people," Abraham says. But why is it up to Abraham to remind God that killing lots of innocent people isn't right? What's going on here?

God backs off. "If," God says, "if I can find fifty innocent people in Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."

Abraham knows when he has the advantage. God has blinked. "OK," says Abraham. "That's good. But do you mean to tell me that if you find only forty-five innocent people, then the whole city goes including the forty-five? If fifty is enough, would the lack of just five people mean all are to die?" Notice too that bold Abraham wants to let God know how much he appreciates the opportunity to even have this debate. "I am only dust and ashes," Abraham says. "Should I really be talking to God this way?"

When God says all right, forty-five will be enough to spare the city, Abraham knows he has the upper hand and he presses on. What if you find five less than forty-five? OK. Then what if there are only thirty? All right, thirty will do it. What if only twenty? Twenty will do! Ten? Ten!

And there the story has Abraham stop. The bargaining is over. The Lord moves on, Abraham goes home. But what was this about?

At the start, Abraham said something crucial to God: "Would you sweep away the innocent with the guilty, the just with the unjust? Far be it from you! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"

We might well wonder why some pious scholar didn't clip this story from the pages of Genesis early on. Censored! What business is it of Abraham, of anyone, to be standing up to God, reminding God of what God is supposed to be, reminding God that we're in this covenant together, so can we talk? Somehow the story survived.

Notice this is not extortion. Abraham isn't saying, "OK, God, if you'll just do this one little thing for me - you know, spare Sodom, heal my arthritis, give me a winning number in the lotto, help me find a job - just this one little thing, then I'm going to do something really great for you or for somebody else. A big donation maybe." It isn't that kind of bargaining. Abraham is talking to God about what it means to be just and to do justice.

Jesus, on the other hand, says justice is OK, but maybe it isn't enough. Maybe we have to press on beyond justice. The neighbor shouts back, "Do you know what time it is? My family is in bed! I cannot get up to give you anything!" The person knocking on the door in the middle of the night had no claim on the neighbor's bread. All this person had was an empty breadbox and a hungry guest just arrived. And no convenience store. Justice has nothing to do with this story.

Where is Jesus, who certainly had heard often the story of Abraham bargaining with God, taking us with this parable? A popular song thirty years ago said, "Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door." Or maybe it should have been, in Jesus' version, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. Whatever it takes to get the neighbor out of bed, to get God's ear.

The bargaining story of Abraham and the knocking story of Jesus give us a way to understand what it is we do every Sunday when we come to the prayers of intercession. We're taking the covenant seriously. We've got our responsibilities but God has responsibilities also. We're confronting God with unfinished business, the woes of the sick, the loneliness of the elderly, the terrors of those with no one to protect them from violence and poverty and disease, even the tired and sad old troubles of the church. We have the troubles in the family here and we have the troubles of the neighborhood and the city and the nation and the world. No lack of troubles. We are knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door. Last Sunday. This Sunday. Next Sunday. On and on. And we do this knocking on God's door in those prayers of intercession, but not only there. In our Catholic tradition we're naming the family's and the world's woes to God each night in our bedside prayer also. Call it justice, we say, or call it mercy, but dear God, you had better attend to the cries of this world. That's exactly what we mean to do when we raise our voices to remind God that all is not well.

What we do in those prayers of intercession echoes through other moments of the liturgy. Even within the eucharistic prayer, when we lift up our hearts to give God thanks and praise, even there we have words of intercession before we can say to God that all glory and honor is yours! When we have said our Amen to that, we take a deep breath and together we sing or recite the prayer that draws together all our acclamation and our intercession. We heard it this morning in Luke's Gospel. We call it the Our Father or the Lord's Prayer, the Pater Noster in Latin. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, this is what they received.

Jesus certainly had that knocking neighbor in mind when he taught them this prayer, and Jesus knew from scripture how Abraham went to intercede with God. And Jesus knew the psalms and all the ways handed on from generation to generation to speak to God. So Jesus gives us - as Luke tells the story - six lines of prayer so we can begin to learn our part. In Matthew's Gospel, the Our Father is longer and that is the form we still use to pray together. But listen again to the intensity of Luke's version:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
as we forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial (Luke 11:2–4).

Maybe this is more a "beginner's version," a version without sugar-coating, that we can take hold of and so learn how to imitate the knocking neighbor and the insistent Abraham in our address to God. Listen to it phrase by phrase and think about each line as spoken not by an individual but as the sound of the whole baptized community. "Father," the simplest word of address: abba, papa. "Hallowed be your name," the ancient praise that echoes Jewish prayers. "Your kingdom come," the plea for God's kingdom, that single image from prophets and from Jesus of God and sinners reconciled. "Give us each day our daily bread," the demand for that which we need until kingdom come. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us," the plea for reconciliation, the will to reconcile. "Do not bring us to the time of trial," the final plea with "trial" probably a stronger notion than "temptation."

Each Sunday we sing or recite the Lord's Prayer. Probably many of us pray it every day, perhaps many times. What kind of a person, what sort of life, does this most basic of our Christian prayers give us? What does this church think it is doing when we raise our hands and begin, "Our Father. . ."? With what persistence and with what attention do we proclaim the Lord's Prayer? Are we capable of being as bold and as firm as our ancestor Abraham in calling on the God of justice to be just? Are we capable of being as brash and obnoxious as the knocking neighbor of the parable in rousing God?

When we, like other disciples, say, "Teach us to pray," we better be ready. If we pray, for example, day after day and Sunday after Sunday, for God's kingdom, God's reign on this earth, are we ourselves little by little learning to long for that reign of God? If we demand daily bread, for whom? If we say, "Forgive us," have we forgiven?

Now each of us hears those questions, and I think about how I'm doing, and each of you thinks about how you are doing. That's the easy part. Today, in a little while, when we have finished our eucharistic prayer and we begin, "Our Father," it doesn't do to act as if so many individuals are praying at the same time. The hard part is this: The church is praying. Maybe we can take a common posture, the ancient posture of arms and hands extended. Then we start to look like what we want to sound like, a church praying. Maybe we can chant rather than speak. Maybe those of us who are parents or grandparents or godparents or teachers can do with these words what the Lord spoke to Moses: "Teach them to your children, speak them when you rise up and when you lie down, when you sit in your house and when you walk by the ways." What times of the day should this prayer be ours? Maybe just once, but once every day. Then on Sunday when we are ready to pray "in the words our Savior gave us," we will know Sunday by Sunday and year by year what it is to stand before God and demand that the just one do justice, to stand before the neighbor God and demand even more, demand mercy.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
Year C of the three-year cycle continues to bring an abundance of scripture texts that beg for reflection and discussion. The homily that follows is intended for August 5, 2007, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The preacher's eye is ever on the calendar, even on those days that never make it to the art calendars and the commercial calendars. August 6 marks sixty-two years since the first nuclear weapon was used against human beings, Hiroshima 1945. August 9 marks the second and (so far) last time this was done, Nagasaki 1945. In the 1980s the bishops of the United States actually called on Catholics of the United States to repent of those two deeds. That call was little noticed and quickly forgotten. But as long as our churches continue their gathering to read scriptures together and to bless and break bread, to bless and share the cup, preaching that springs from scripture and liturgy must invite a pondering not simply of past horrors done in our name, but present attitudes and deeds that are of a piece with this sad anniversary. The quote from Cardinal Bernardin is from his pastoral letter on the liturgy, Our Communion, Our Peace, Our Promise.
Gabe Huck


The Gospel of Luke during these August Sundays will not be easy. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem in Luke's telling of the Gospel. His suffering and death are never far off. We should hear these episodes with all their intensity, all their urgency. We are listening for words like these on our August Sundays:

Today we heard: "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?"

And next Sunday: "Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out. Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."

And the next: "I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished."

And on August's last Sunday Jesus tells a story of visitors who arrive after the door to a friend's house has been locked for the night. They beg to enter, but the owner refuses and says: "I do not know where you are from." Jesus continues: "And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see . . . all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God."

The words of Jesus these August Sundays are not some sweet Hallmark card of a gospel. The tone is urgent. Do we think we know who will be sitting at table in the kingdom of God? Guess again! Do we presume that we know who is in and who is out? Don't even try. Do we sometimes look around this room, look over the people coming to the communion table, and wonder are some of them really in good standing - like ourselves? Jesus has a word for that, a harsh word. These may well be those strangers, those foreigners, those we least expect of grace, and they come from east and west and north and south and they recline at table in God's kingdom.

We Christians of the United States would seem to have a special need to hear the scriptures of this August and especially the Gospels, to hear them and to ponder what they would have us do, what they would have us be at this moment. The business of each day allows us to keep our noses to the grindstone, oblivious of much that is crucial to the world. But the Gospel won't allow this. The Gospel says to lift our eyes and see what's going on. Lift our noses and get a whiff of what's happening. Stop the noises of one busy day after another and listen for the voices we are meant to hear today.

This Monday, the sixth of August, is an anniversary we ignore at our peril. Sixty-two years ago the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later the United States dropped another atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. In a century that saw human beings learn how to make weapons more and more deadly, we reached a new arrogance: Our lives are worth more than your lives. Anything goes. To save our lives we can do anything with your lives. The repulsion that once kept us from killing vast numbers of non-combatants had vanished in the firestorms over German and Japanese cities in 1944 and 1945, and in the concentration camps and in the ovens of the Nazis.

Why remember now? Six decades after Hiroshima, almost four decades after the treaty that pledged us to dismantle our nuclear weapons, and more than a decade after the United States became the only so-called superpower, 27,000 nuclear weapons remain. The hypocrisy is blatant: we have a right to them, but others do not. Each year we Americans are spending more and more on new generations of nuclear arms for use under the earth or in space. The rest of the world gets the message clearly: Our American lives are worth more than your lives. We can have any weapon we wish, but you can have only those we approve.

The arrogance of power has become so great we cannot stand outside and see it any longer. We are inside. This arrogance about weapons that are outlawed carries over to the right we bestow on ourselves to burn energy until all the ice melts and the oceans rise, carries over to our exemption from the international laws on torture that we want other nations to observe. On and on. But we are inside and it is so hard to see ourselves putting one value on our own lives and another, much lesser value on the lives of Asians, Arabs, Africans, Latin Americans.

What's a church to do? Do the urgent words of the Gospel find any echo in our hearts? Certainly they must. But we are so busy, so weak, so preoccupied with everything from our aging parents to our needful children. We are good people. We answer when someone needs our help. We contribute to the emergency needs of victims here and victims there. Most of us make no blanket condemnations toward other religions or other ethnic groups or other nations. And now our eyes have been slowly opened to the lies that got us into invading Iraq; we know at least vaguely that this has led to years of suffering and horror for most of the twenty-some millions of Iraqi people and that this invasion and occupation has also led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them. We want out of Iraq, the polls say. The polls say nothing about what we owe those people. And if it starts to happen somewhere else tomorrow, we have no good ideas for how to stop it.

August 6 will come and go. Will we struggle with what gave us then and still gives us now the idea that we as a nation could with impunity kill the good and ordinary and civilian people of Hiroshima? We live inside all these beliefs and all this arrogance, and there is so little that prompts us to feel our way toward a place where we can see and judge and take action. But now we come face to face this August with these Gospels implying that Christians and their churches are not meant to live so inside a particular national culture. We are part of all the human realities that we call "the world." In baptism we put on the Christ, the one who grappled with all the forces of death. What then are we to do? Where do we grapple with death so that we may proclaim life?

We do it here and we do it now. For that is what we intend each Lord's Day when we gather and give thanks and bless God over gifts of bread and wine, body broken and blood poured out for us. Eating and drinking at this table would seem to pledge this church to recognizing and confronting the power of death wherever it is - even in our own nation's use of energy, money, entertainment, weapons, armies, violence. To see it, to name it, to say no to it.

At this table all are welcome and this table is what we would make of the world, a place of life and grace. "At this table," Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote in 1984, "we put aside every worldly separation based on culture, class, or other differences. Baptized, we no longer admit to distinctions based on age or sex or race or wealth. This communion is why all prejudice, all racism, all sexism, all deference to wealth and power must be banished from our parishes, our homes, and our lives. This communion is why we will not call enemies those who are human beings like ourselves. This communion," he wrote, "is why we will not commit the world's resources to an escalating arms race while the poor die. We cannot. Not when we have feasted here on the 'body broken' and the 'blood poured out' for the life of the world."

Sometimes we seem to believe that it is just some arguable moral theory that sets us against nuclear weapons, against the waste of human life in Iraq, against the burning of fossil fuels until the earth drowns, against greed and against the arrogance of power. But it is not theory or politics or even theology that sets us against such things. It is this table and what we do here. Here it is that we come to know ourselves as first and last obliged to live and see and smell and taste and hear and feel by the gospel burden we took on in baptism. How does it all look for this table? How does it all look when we clothe ourselves in Christ and not in the pretensions of nations? Some powerful people would have us clothed in fear, but at this table we are not afraid. Some would have us clothed in pride, but at this table we know our sins. Some would have us believe that our lives are worth more than the lives of the other people out there, but at this table we say no to that for here we make no first and no last.

It would take some real effort to avoid seeing our collective American self in that character Jesus tells about, the one who tears down the barns to build bigger ones. This man never looks around, never notices that he may be part of some larger body, never trusts his brothers and sisters to take care of him because he never considers taking care of them. His life is worth more than theirs. He is so like what has become of our national self. By happy coincidence, the portion of the letter to the Colossians that we heard today had a word for this: "Put to death the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry." Notice that last: Put to death the greed that is idolatry. Greed, like the fellow in the Gospel story, is a turning from God to worship something else. It is idolatry, it is staking our lives on something other than God. That is what we did on August 6 more than six decades ago and what has become so easy to do in our own times. But yet we come here to do something else Sunday by Sunday. The challenge is to take this table and our thanksgiving here and our communion here as the strength to live for God alone, the strength to know others as brothers and sisters, all of them, all of them of equal worth with ourselves.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
What follows is cast as a homily for August 8, 2004, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. It is the Sunday the church begins reading the later chapters of Hebrews (chapters 1 through 10 of Hebrews were read last October and November). It is the Sunday that comes between Transfiguration (the previous Friday) and Assumption (next Sunday). It is also the Sunday between the anniversary dates of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). A mystagogical preaching this Sunday would keep all that and more in mind.
Gabe Huck


When we say this morning, as we do every Sunday, that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, what does the "holy" mean? Where is the holiness of the church? What and when is the holiness of the church? Or maybe it is not a question of where, of what, of when, but of who: Who is the holiness of the church?

Sometimes we pray a shorter form of the creed and we say: We believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Again, the "holy" catholic church, but this time it comes right before "the communion of saints." Perhaps if "holy" is a "who" question, then "the communion of saints" is part of the answer. Where is the holiness of the church, what and when is the holiness of the church? Who is the holiness of the church?

Every Sunday when that creed is finished and we have prepared the table, we gather around it to lift up our hearts and give God thanks and praise. And the words of that praise always get around eventually to the "who" of our "holy." Sunday after Sunday these words are spoken in our assembly. Sometimes we are listening, sometimes they sail by. But listen now to several ways that our different eucharistic prayers talk about this "who" of the "holy." If we want to know what the "communion of saints" means, listen well. Here is the first example:

Make us worthy to share eternal life with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with the apostles and with all the saints
who have done your will throughout the ages.
May we praise you in union with them, and give you glory.

Don't let such words wash harmlessly over us. Listen because in reality these words are the word of our whole assembly. We say: "The saints who have done your will throughout the ages." Throughout the ages! That's with whom we'll praise you, God, and give you glory.

Another of the prayers at our table puts it this way:

May [Christ] make us an everlasting gift to you
and enable us to share in the inheritance of your saints,
with Mary, the virgin mother of God;
with the apostles, the martyrs, Saints N and N, and all your saints,
on whose constant intercession we rely for help.

Listen: "Enable us to share in the inheritance of your saints." Are we sure that's what we want? Don't be too quick to make it all sugar and sweetness.

And another of our eucharistic prayers has us say:

Help us to work together for the coming of your kingdom,
until at last we stand in your presence to share the life of the saints,
in the company of the Virgin Mary and the apostles
and of our departed brothers and sisters
whom we commend to your mercy.

Listen to that: work together, we work together for God's kingdom come, for then we'll be standing with Mary and the saints.

Until 1970, the eucharistic prayer we used every Sunday was full of the actual names of saints. Some will remember lists like this one: Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and June, Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian. Good list except for three things: first, only Jews and Romans and Greeks made the list; second, nobody from the last eighteen centuries; third, no women. Not very "catholic." But fortunately that same eucharistic prayer has yet another list: John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia. At least we name a few women and a few Africans.

And here is a last example from our eucharistic prayers:

You have gathered us here around the table of your Son,
in fellowship with the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and all the saints.
In that new world where the fullness of your peace will be revealed,
gather people of every race, language, and way of life
to share in the one eternal banquet with Jesus Christ the Lord.

Here the emphasis is right here at the table that is surrounded by saints past and by us and so may it be until the new world is revealed where peace will overflow and God will gather - who? People of every race, every language, every way of life! But how could that be? Every race? Fine. Every language? Of course. But "every way of life"? Think about it: Why would God let people of "every way of life" into our cozy communion? Sounds risky, but maybe we don't yet get just where the holiness comes from.

We never, never, never gather at our table then without words to remind us of this communion, this community, this commonwealth of the holy ones. It is an amazing juxtaposing of the past times when these ancestors of ours lived, with the present time when we pray to carry on, and with the future when we'll all go marching in together.

Next Sunday will be August 15, a day when in some places and times people celebrated summer's harvest: the juicy berries and cherries and leafy plants, the vegetables just getting ripe on the vines or underground, the fruit taking shape on the apple trees, the grains ripe or nearly ripe in the fields. Catholics came to mark this time of earth's bounty with the feast of the harvesting home of Mary, the feast sometimes called the Assumption and sometimes called the Dormition or the "falling asleep" of the Mother of God. Mary, it has seemed to Christians, is the best harvest earth has to offer, the saint we always call by name in our eucharistic prayers. Later in the fall, on November 1, when most harvests are complete, we celebrate the whole company of the saints. But in the middle of hot August we bring into our home the fruits of the early harvest, grapes and sweet corn and apples and tomatoes and basil and thyme and juicy watermelon. Whether we dwell on concrete or wide-open fields, the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands is what we await and savor. Mother Mary, Mother Earth. One reflects the other. There's a bond there that is expressed in a prayer for Assumption Day:

God, harvest of mercy, our hearts exult in you.
In the abundance of this August,
we see the mothering of Mary.
Let us know her in fragrant herbs, in grains and grasses,
in fruit trees and vines,
in all that grows wild and all that is cultivated.
The eyes of all who hunger look to you
and at this table you provide.
Open now our hands to share your abundance
until the day when hunger and thirst are no more.


Within this communion of saints, this harvest into which we too shall be gathered, call to mind now today's second reading and see what wonder it proclaims like the start of a mighty litany. We heard about Abraham: "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out . . . not knowing where he was to go. . . . By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country . . . By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age . . . By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac" (Hebrews 11:8, 9, 11, 17).

If we look up that remarkable eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we find that the author begins even before Abraham: "By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain's . . . By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death . . . By faith Noah . . . built an ark for the salvation of his household" (11:4, 5, 7). And after Abraham we hear about the faith of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people fleeing Egypt, and Rahab the prostitute. The writer says: "I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful … They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword's point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented. . . . They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, and in caves and in crevices in the earth" (11:32, 33, 34, 37, 38).

So it seems that these holy ones named around the table are more the rag-tag dregs-of-society, and not some respectable, well-ordered choir. Their number probably includes convicts and some who are homeless. Also the occupied, the abused, the spat upon, the welfare folks, the refugees, the demented, the child-like, the child. And we must add some other names to that litany of God's holy ones. Last Friday marked fifty-nine years since the atomic bomb was used by the United States on a city full of civilians, Hiroshima. And fifty-nine years ago tomorrow, Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands died. The safety of the little ones, the weak ones, always shaky in war time, was violated on a vast scale. Years ago our American bishops called on all American Catholics to do penance for these deeds, but the call was a feeble whisper, unheard. Perhaps, many savage wars later, we are nearly ready to hear that summons.

When we think then of the holy ones, the holy innocent children especially, we cannot forget the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The scripture only knew about things like stoned to death, sawed in two, killed by the sword. Such simple times! But listen to what the scripture says today: "God is not ashamed to be called their God, and has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:16). O what a beautiful city that is and will be! No wonder when we praise God around this table we always ask, always, always, to be counted in their number.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
What follows is cast as a homily for Labor Day weekend: Sunday, September 5, 2004, the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. In the United States, this weekend feels something like turning a corner. "Summerness" is left behind. School may already be going or yet some days away, but this weekend still stands for some mythical move from relaxation to discipline. Labor Day will this year fix attention on the coming elections, but perhaps also on the rights and dignity of those who labor. And at the end of the week stands September 11. All of this should be on the homilist's mind. Beyond that the lectionary of the four September Sundays - Philemon and 1 Timothy, Lukan sayings and parables in abundance, two jaw-dropping passages from Amos - should all be in the preacher's charge. Only a bit of all this enters this homily; as mystagogy, it attempts to bring the above realities to that very worldly ritual moment, the collection.
Gabe Huck


The scriptures and the calendar have conspired this month. The three-year cycle we use to read the Bible was not made up thinking of the northern world moving into autumn or the southern world moving into spring. It was not made up thinking of United States days like Labor Day and September 11. No, the lectionary is just doing what it does, taking us this year through the gospel of Luke and so it happens that in September we arrive at places where Luke is telling some of Jesus' sayings and parables. And in the second readings we're getting now to some of the shorter letters.

So what is the conspiracy of calendar and lectionary? It is Labor Day weekend and here comes this letter of Paul to his friend Philemon. This whole letter is only about two dozen sentences. It is a letter like one of us might write to someone we know well: first the greetings and good wishes, then a fond memory or two, then down to business. Paul is doing time in prison, but there is this urgent business. It seems Philemon's slave, Onesimus, has turned up in the same town as Paul. Perhaps Onesimus ran away from his master (we don't know), but now Paul has baptized Onesimus and is sending this new Christian back to his owner, Philemon, with this short and very polite letter.

Paul takes no direct stand against holding slaves. It is our burden and a caution to us that many Christians saw no problem with slavery for nineteen centuries. But Paul ever so subtly seems to say: "Philemon, you are getting Onesimus back, but now he's more than a slave, he's a brother. Welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me." Later Paul says, "Philemon, I know you will do even more than I am asking here." Did Paul mean that Philemon should set Onesimus free? He doesn't quite say that. Paul wrote elsewhere that for Christians all the differences are done away with: no more woman or man, no more Jew or Greek, and even no more slave or free. But Paul is also on record as telling slaves to be obedient to their masters. Paul is a cautious fellow with a revolutionary gospel that got him in and out of jail and finally beheaded.

Still, Paul avoids the question: Can one human being own another? We may think ourselves superior in this twenty-first century. But Labor Day comes and we look around and see straight what has happened to human beings and their labor. Year by year, more and more people have less and less of the world's goods. Year by year, more and more people compete for hard jobs that pay pennies a day, often in wretched conditions, and with no recourse from the demands and harassment of managers. The sweatshops have been moved across oceans so that profits may soar. When there are more hungry people than there are jobs, the boss calls all the shots. We, the recipients of so much of this cheap labor, are expected not to notice that even here in the United States, each Labor Day finds fewer good jobs and more jobs that keep people poor and needy. Can one human being own another? That's far too crude. And far too expensive! We Christians were slow to see that slavery is a sin. Now we are slow to see that the new and improved ways of relating human beings to work and livelihood are also sin. Like Paul, we may be too close to it, too close because these new ways may be working to our benefit and comfort.

So how good it is that lectionary and calendar conspire and very shortly on two Sundays we will hear from the prophet Amos. Amos had none of Paul's subtle way with words. He was a common laborer, not an educated person. But the word of the Lord sent him to the powerful and wealthy people of his day. Get ready now to hear Amos two weeks and three weeks from this morning. It will begin this way: "Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!" And if that were not enough, September's Sundays are going to end with the tale of the rich man enjoying his bounty while that poor man Lazarus is begging outside with the dogs licking his sores.

This calendar and lectionary face-off also happens as we approach this Saturday, September 11, 9/11. Four years ago it was an ordinary day. Three years ago it was immense tragedy. It still is that and will always be. But what has happened in those three years? We have answered three thousand deaths with more than ten thousand deaths and devastation of lives and homes. We have seen grief at home become the rationale for multiplying that grief in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We have given in to haughty pretensions that our country has all goodness as well as all might and all right and that we have somehow been ordained by God to rid the world of anything we perceive as evil. This 9/11 should find us with eyes wide open to the mockery that has been made of our grief. We know now there were those in high places who openly hoped for a September 11-like event so that they could take hold of the nation's anger to manipulate us toward empire, toward domination of the world, toward scorn for the laws of international conduct.

Sunday by Sunday we try to heed God's word, so what are we, the church, to do with this whole catastrophe? We have a gospel, don't we, that talks today about what matters to the Christian. Jesus says: Think about a farmer building a tower, a silo. Does the farmer start without figuring out if there are enough materials? Think about a king going into battle: Wouldn't that king be wise to proceed only if there's a chance to win? Just so, you must count what being my disciple requires. This isn't a social club. It isn't a therapy group. It isn't a heavenly insurance plan. It's a gospel-heeding church.

Jesus goes so far as to say: "Anyone of you who does not renounce all possessions cannot be my disciple." No need to be literal - but if we get the drift, then we know that it is right here in the scriptures and right here in this eucharistic deed that we seek the meaning of what is happening in this world with human labor. Right here we seek the meaning of what has come from 9/11. Anything else and we'll be building without tools, battling without troops. Does the gospel we listen to and do the deeds we do here not say that there's something wrong when one out of every five people on this earth are living off the poverty and the desperation of the other four? Does the gospel we read and the deeds we do here not say that there's something wrong, something crazed, when a people can pour the world's wealth into military might, into walling themselves off from a world they've come to fear and even hate? Have we weighed ourselves down with fear, weighed ourselves down with thinking that sure, it's too bad, but there just isn't enough to go around and thank God I've got mine? The gospel says we love our possessions way too much, we Christians of the so-called first-world, or we'd be working hard, training hard for the life of disciples.

Each Sunday we gather here we have one tiny moment that reminds us how we're intending to make over the economics of the world. I mean the collection. Here is where the world and the church are clearly met. We take out our money and we give it away. Some of it gets used for the needs of this community. That part is only as worthy as the work this local church does for the world. Some other part of what we place in a common basket gets used more directly for those in need. And maybe a tiny bit goes toward inching us along toward justice in the world. We must be attentive to our common responsibilities to pool our money and put it to good use.

But surely we could do this apart from the liturgies of word and eucharist? Why is it that from the earliest writings about what Christians do together on Sundays, there is mention of bringing their goods and their money to be used for the common good and for the poor? Might it have to do with getting our lives into the gospel vision? Here, where the rich and poor are equally at home and each one of us is confronted by the gospel, here where the eucharistic bread and cup are shared and shared alike, here where we intercede with God on behalf of friends and enemies alike, here this taking up of the collection is only partly about fixing the roof or paying the staff. We have here a liturgical gesture of reaching into one's pocket or one's purse and giving away what we are little by little coming to know is not ours anyway. This little deed of tossing something into the common basket is, like every deed we do here, a kind of practicing. It's a rehearsing of how we intend to be and how we intend the world to be. Putting our dollars or our pennies in this basket is practicing for the gospel way of life. What do we cling to? What are we afraid of? The money may say "in God we trust," but holding the money dear and tight says: in the system we trust, in the market and the military we trust. When Christians gather for eucharist, they rehearse another way.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
In the year of Luke's Gospel, we come to this place in late summer and early fall when we are each week reading parables. On these September Sundays, we read about: an invitation to a banquet, building a tower or fighting a battle, the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost child, the clever steward, the rich man and Lazarus. Some of these are unique to Luke, some not. Churchgoers are familiar with the word "parable," but perhaps this September is a time to ponder what kind of talk this is. Illustrative stories? Morality tales? Humor? And how are we to listen to these stories, many of them so familiar we easily tune them out? Most of us, like Jesus' listeners, may enter in quite naturally so that the parable can do its work: that is, our work. The homily below offers some reflections for any one of these September Sundays and, in its mystagogical task, tries to open up the deeds of our liturgy as themselves parables. September 16, 2007, the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, will be the Sunday we listen to the Prodigal Son.
Gabe Huck


We have been reading the Gospel of Luke now since last December. On these Sundays of September we reach a section of Luke's Gospel where parables abound. September has five Sundays this year, and even more parables. So we are told parables about behavior at a wedding banquet. About what to do before you build a tower or go into battle. About a person who owns a hundred sheep and loses one of them, a woman who has ten coins until one of them is lost, a father who has two very different sons. About a landowner who fires his manager and how the manager quickly settles accounts with those who owe money to the landowner. About a rich man and a poor man and their fate in this world and the next. And if we look into October we can add two wonderful parables, one about a stubborn judge and a more stubborn widow, and another about two men who went to pray at the same time but in different ways.

The longest and best-known of these Lucan parables is that of the prodigal son. There are two sons. One is bored by life on the farm and asks for his share of the estate. This is enough money to let him live well for a while in a distant country, but not enough to go on and on. The money runs out. Hard times hit the country and he finds himself back on a farm, but now as a hired man. He is paid so little that the food that goes to the animals looks good to him. Enough! He heads for home, but not to resume his former life as part of the family. He says he will beg forgiveness of his father and be satisfied just to work alongside the other hired laborers. Makes sense. But if we didn't know this story so well, the next part would shock us. The father sees the son coming back and runs to embrace him. The son says he only wants to work on the farm, he does not deserve now to be a part of the family. The father seems not to listen to this but instead lavishes gifts on his son and orders a great banquet. The older brother, the one who stayed home and did all the work, is furious. He protests to his father that this lavish welcome of his wayward brother is uncalled-for. The father has the last word: This child was dead and has come back to life.

What happens in parables? "Parable" isn't simply a word for any story Jesus told. It is a particular kind of story, whether told by Jesus or someone else. Usually the teller of the parable takes us into the story in a way that makes us nod our heads: "Yes, isn't that the truth." What parent wouldn't nod in agreement as the story begins: "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'I want my share now' "? Same parents, same home, two different personalities. We know this situation well. This is something out of our own lives, so let's see what happens. Then, sometimes very briefly, sometimes at great length, Jesus takes us down interesting but familiar steps of the story. The younger son leaves home, lives well for a while, but the money runs out and famine hits his new country. Serves him right, we may be thinking. Hope he's learned his lesson! Some of us may see it from the young man's side: "Seemed like such a good idea at the time to get away from the family and that boring farm, but what a mess I'm in now."

What makes a parable a parable is this: After the teller has gotten us on familiar ground, the ground gives way. The story stops going where we thought it was going. We've been tricked by this parable-teller. The problem for us may be that we have heard Jesus' parables since we were children and we no longer listen with fresh attention, fresh interest. Yet parables like this one of the father and his two sons are such strong stories that we can at any age hear them as if for the first time. We are always finding new ways of knowing how the familiar parts are familiar indeed to our lives, and so we can feel it when the parable takes its sudden turn and we're not home safe as we expected to be, but instead we have to deal with a very different kind of world.

See how that happens with the father and the two sons. The younger son trudges the long way back to his native land, weary and probably rehearsing over and over: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers." Over and over. "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you." He is still saying this to himself, but now with some agitation, when suddenly there is his old father right in front of him, embracing him, kissing him and holding him so close he can hardly say the well-learned words. And when he does say them, his father's only response is to tell the servants to bring the best clothes, rings for his fingers and (at last!) sandals for his feet. And then more busy things to do to prepare a feast.

Hold everything! That's what we really think if we come to this fresh. Wait a minute, please. This was a good story of a young man who did great wrong to his whole family, and great wrong to himself too, and he needs now to be taught a lesson. In fact he himself is asking to do some penance if he can only be secure and near his home again. Now what is all this with hugs and kisses, rings and robes, music and dancing and banquet? What kind of example is that to other young people? And the young man having been forgiven once, well, he might do it all over again. Whatever happened to tough love?

All of a sudden, in a good parable, the story isn't any more about the father and his two sons. All of a sudden, the story is about-us! We have been drawn in, nodding our heads, as if the parable- teller were supporting us on the surface of the water as we paddle along like little children. And then the parable-teller somehow lets us go, and we have to sink or swim. We thought this parable-teller was a holy man whose story would have a moral: Doing things like this young man did leads to no good. Penance must be done! But instead, this Jesus who started his ministry calling people to repent because the kingdom of God is at hand, this Jesus has us right in the middle of a story where you can forget penance. You can forget the wages of sin. What can you do with a story like that? How are you ever going to keep people in line if there's no punishment for getting out of line? What happened to the logical ending that we all expected?

What's worse, there's another short concluding scene. The character most of us here on Sunday mornings identity with, the older brother, now takes the stage, and he is furious. He won't even enter the house when his father asks for him. Outside, then, they talk. And we are nodding and saying, "I can really understand that. What a slap in the face. You work day and night, you never take a vacation, and your father never offers so much as food for a picnic with your friends. But this brat (whom I always resented anyway) comes back from wasting his whole share, and this is how he gets welcomed?"

Who wouldn't side with this older son? But again, the ground he's made for us to stand on starts to slip away when his father speaks. Here's the other sharp turn we never saw coming. His father doesn't argue with the older son. He simply tells him the truth. Two truths. "My son, you are here with me always, everything I have is yours." That is one truth. And the other: "Now we must celebrate and rejoice because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." For the father, these two truths live side by side. For the older brother and for us, they often do not.

So for a second time in the parable, we've been led into agreement, this time with the older son, who is saying: "This isn't fair! You aren't fair!"-only to find ourselves cut loose again, ground gone from under us, when the father responds. And as was true before, we have ourselves become part of the story because we have to make decisions, we have to take the father's demand for joyous celebration as our own attitude or we have to shrug and mutter, "It just isn't fair." Can we grasp what the teller of the parable intended and go along to new ground we had not stood on before?

So that is the work of parables: to take us into something familiar, then pull the rug out and see what's really at stake. When Jesus told these parables to his disciples, or to those who came to hear him, or when he told them to groups of people who were putting him to the test with hard questions, and even now when we tell them here to ourselves again through the Sundays, it isn't just you as an individual or me as an individual being drawn into the story so that we can't quietly back out. The group itself, this church that we are, is challenged to change its way of understanding how life's to be lived. Each of us listens here, each of willing to go where the story goes. But we could do that at home. Here we listen to the parables as the church, and little by little we learn something of what there is for us only in parable. This church must react to being challenged by Jesus, left in the middle of the parable to find our way out. This church must over and over again realize we're still not so comfortable when we see living forgiveness. This church is all too often sitting outside on the fence with the older brother.

Not all parables come in words. Our liturgy here on the Lord's Day is itself a parable. It seems, on the surface, such a safe thing to do. But wait. What sorts of behavior are going on here? And how will we accept or reject them? As with the parables, we think we're on safe ground. We know our way around here: the moves, the songs, the words, the flow. But as with the parable, we look more closely, and suddenly it is clear that how we move, the words we use, the flow of ritual are subverting and subversive. As with the parable, we are led in by the familiar; then suddenly we are in the story ourselves and some strange turns have been taken and-what do we do now?

One example. Others you can add yourselves. At the core of our Sunday deeds here comes our great eucharistic prayer, the great thanksgiving prayer. We lift our hearts, we say yes, let us give praise and thanks to God. That can be hard to do, to give thanks, but we go along with it. Then, moments later, as we are doing this giving of thanks to the Father, this lofty and vital deed, at the core of our thanksgiving we remember-because there is bread and there is wine on the table we surround-we remember who we are, people brought together, baptized into the death of Jesus and now once more telling that death, that death of death. Like a parable, the liturgy makes us take action; it becomes our doing. How it will end involves our decisions, our participation.

Parable and liturgy come together these September Sundays, but really they are always together.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
As we come to the end of this year of reading Luke on this Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, October 21, 2007, we can become more conscious of the way the Lectionary has allowed us to ponder Luke's particular telling. The verses from the Magnificat are in the ICEL translation. The quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and from Elizabeth Johnson are taken from her book Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, an excellent book that could well inform any preaching about Mary.
Gabe Huck


At the end of November, we will finish reading the Gospel of Luke and open the Gospel of Matthew for the year ahead. Luke has been our companion since last December. As we have listened Sunday by Sunday to Luke, we have heard elegantly told stories like those that surround Jesus' birth. We have noticed how Luke's Gospel sharpens some of the stories Luke shares with Matthew. For example, Matthew's "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" is a bit easier to take than Luke's sharper, more direct "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." We have seen Luke pay great attention to the Bible as he knew it (what we call the Old Testament or the Hebrew scriptures). The characters Luke draws in Jesus' parables can impress us deeply even when they receive only a few words: the father and his two sons, for example, in the Prodigal Son story; or Lazarus and the rich man; or, during this month of October, the widow and the judge. Luke gives us masterpieces of storytelling like his account of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus or the repentant thief on the cross or Zacchaeus the short tax collector who climbs a tree to get a better view of Jesus passing by and then ends up hosting Jesus at a dinner.

Luke puts great emphasis on how Jesus took meals with all kinds of people. These meals are foreseen already when Luke tells us in his introductory stories that the newborn Jesus was laid in a manger, the feeding trough of the farm animals. And at the end of Luke's story, when Jesus stands in the midst of the disciples and says he is no ghost, he seems to demonstrate just how real he is by asking them a very urgent question: "Have you anything here to eat?" They find some broiled fish and he takes it and eats it in their presence. Between the manger and the broiled fish, Jesus has fed people and been fed by them, including sitting at table with both the arrogant and the outcasts. When the two disciples who had walked to Emmaus with a seeming stranger later tell how they recognized Jesus only when he broke the bread, Luke was of course telling the church what it already knew so well. All of Luke's readers, like us, had come to recognize the Lord in the breaking of the bread.

Between now and the beginning of Advent, alone or as a household, we might try to reread all the Luke stories. Read Luke's Gospel from beginning to end. Listen to the meals, the stories with well-drawn characters, the finely told parables.

This morning we heard one of those stories that come to us only in Luke's Gospel, the parable of the widow and the judge. It echoes some insights and ideas that occur often in Luke's Gospel. Like bits of melody that return again and again in a symphony, these may be the keynote to this entire Gospel.

"There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being." That's how it starts. We can nod our heads: Yes, we know people like that. "A widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.' " Notice that she "used to come to him." Not just once or twice. She had to come often, and we learn, as the story continues, that "for a long time the judge was unwilling" to have anything to do with her case. That sounds like a pretty good assessment of the lot of the poor in this world. They don't make the laws, they don't become the judges, they don't expect very much. But sometimes they keep coming back.

This judge didn't want to involve himself in the widow's case. Jesus seems to imply that those with power didn't get there by worrying about poor widows. Characters like this judge serve their bosses best when the system hums along as usual. By now those listening to the story may be nodding: "Yes, we know. That's the way it is. Justice belongs to those who can pay for it."

But then the story takes a sharp and unexpected turn. Listen to what the storyteller says: She wore him down and she wore him out. "This widow keeps bothering me," says the exasperated judge. "I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me." Notice that the judge presumes the widow will use the same violence that has been used against her. And notice, too, he knows the decision she wants made is a just decision.

The churches to whom Luke was telling these stories probably had few if any judges in their membership, few if any people with power. But they likely had plenty of people who could identify with this widow who had suffered injustice. Most had learned, as poor people everywhere learn, that if you set yourself out to be too loud, too outspoken, to call too much attention to injustice in the city, you're in for a lot of grief and maybe worse. But always there are a few like this widow who keep on pestering the authorities, the regime, the powers-that-be. The story nearly loses us when it turns out nagging was the way to go. Not what we expected.

This "not what we expected" runs deep in Luke's Gospel. All these years later we may not get it the way Luke intended. The dangerous stories have been turned into harmless stained glass windows. Luke made a remarkable effort to tell a story that would be heard as true to the longing for justice and longing for peace that flows deeply in the scriptures. How could Luke know that the sting of these stories would become sugar-coated beyond recognition? Are we today feeling "Good for you!" in our hearts when we hear the poor widow prevail? Are we celebrating the widow's triumph over the crusty judge? Are we excited to be among those who will never give up demanding justice no matter how weary we get or how impossible it seems to get a hearing?

Luke's story of the widow and the judge should be read, like this whole Gospel, in light of the way Luke introduced his Gospel with stories of Zachariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph. October, like May, is a time when the church has celebrated Mary, the mother of Jesus. But were it not for this Gospel writer named Luke, we would have little to tell about Mary. Luke, building on all the Bible's stories of miraculous births, finds in Mary someone who gathers up the generations of waiting, all the beauty of pregnancy, all its patience and impatience. Luke pours all of the tension of the waiting ages into the poem we have come to call the Magnificat. When her cousin Elizabeth greets Mary, Mary's response is a vibrant song praising God, who is lifting up the lowly. As we listen to one stanza of this song, we can't help thinking about the widow and the judge:

The mighty arm of God
scatters the proud in their conceit,
pulls tyrants from their thrones,
and raises up the humble.
The Lord fills the starving
and lets the rich go hungry.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis, said this of Mary's song: "It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here . . . It is a hard, strong, inexorable song about the collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary's mouth." With that in mind, listen again to what may well be the keynote of Luke's Gospel:

The mighty arm of God
scatters the proud in their conceit,
pulls tyrants from their thrones,
and raises up the humble.
The Lord fills the starving
and lets the rich go hungry.

Who would sing such a song? Elizabeth Johnson, a contemporary theologian, explains that Luke may have learned it from the people of the land, people with lives made difficult by armies and authorities both local and foreign. Listen, she says, to the verbs and their objects in the song. They tell what the singer thinks God is doing: scatters the proud, pulls tyrants from their thrones, raises up the humble, fills the starving, lets the rich go hungry. Who would sing such a song? Only those believing that their God is going to come to their help, put down the greedy landowners, send the occupying armies back to their homes, share and share alike the land's bounty, end the systems that let some lord it over others.

Johnson writes that preachers have often "spiritualized" this song "to take away its political teeth, to blunt its radical tone." But in its tone and time, she says, it is clear that this "is a revolutionary song of salvation whose concrete social, economic, and political dimensions cannot be blunted. People are hungry because of triple monies being exacted for empire, client-king, and temple. The lowly are being crushed because of the mighty on their thrones in Rome and their deputies in the provinces. Now, with the nearness of the messianic age, a new social order of justice and plenty is at hand. Like the beatitudes Jesus proclaims for the poor and brokenhearted, Mary's canticle praises God for the kind of salvation that involves concrete transformations."

So it has been, so it continues to be. Those like most of us who acquire enough security, enough property, enough wealth to worry about what justice might look like-we have a hard time facing the song Mary sang, a hard time facing the noisy, nagging widows. And we should have a hard time here on Sunday also because we are supposed to be here to join Mary in giving God thanks most especially for the death into which we have been baptized, the death and the raising up of Jesus. Here for us is the injustice of our world judged and the pledge given, our pledge given, to sing what Mary sang, to demand what the widow demanded and to do it day in and day out until justice is done for all.

Sunday by Sunday we rehearse here the world we are meant to demand and to make, a world where we share and share alike at every table as we do at this holy table. We do this with some inkling that if this Gospel we bear means what it says, we, like the widow and like Mary, must be about witnessing to what is possible. This is not work for our leisure. It is our life's dearest and constant work in a world where we are daily trained not to see and not to care. Will God bring down the mighty, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry and send the rich packing? So says Mary. But it takes a lot of bothersome widows like us.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org)
Thirty-First Sunday Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
The following is cast as a homily for the Sunday that comes at a very interesting intersection this year. October 31, 2004 is obviously Halloween, the vigil of All Saints. It is also the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). And in the United States, it is two days before the national elections in a year that has seen (already at this writing) a good deal of clamor about the responsibilities of both voter and elected official and what that might have to do with their participation in the deeds of the Sunday assembly. Given all of this, one who would preach from the scriptures and the liturgy would seem obliged to probe today the mystery of the holy communion. And one would do that in light of the powerful bundle of scriptures the church has been reading together through the month of October.
Gabe Huck

In a church in the Bay Area of California the congregation gathers around an altar with a quote from the gospels carved into the altar's edge, facing the assembly. There's nothing unusual about that. We often see familiar texts in this place: "Take and eat, this is my body," or "Do this in memory of me." But here we find instead another gospel text. The words on this altar are not the easy, familiar ones, but instead are based on our evangelist Luke in chapter 15: "This fellow eats and drinks with sinners."

We have just heard in today's gospel a variation on that saying. The meal at the home of Zacchaeus is the final meal story Luke tells before the last supper. Jesus and his companions are in Jericho, by the Jordan River, making their way toward Jerusalem and all that is to happen there. Luke says they were passing through, not intending to stay, but then Jesus looked up and saw this man Zacchaeus perching in a tree. He was "short in stature," Luke tells us, but he didn't want to miss the excitement. When Jesus spotted Zacchaeus in the tree, the plans all changed. "Come down quickly, Zacchaeus! I'm staying at your home today."

That did it. There's a murmur in the crowd: "He has gone to stay in the house of a sinner!" It is an echo of the crowd in chapter 15, "This man welcomes sinners and dines with them!" Or as that Bay Area church said it, "This fellow eats and drinks with sinners." Now the crowd in Jericho knew Zacchaeus only too well! They know he's gotten rich working for the Roman occupation forces, collecting the so-called taxes from those who never invited the Romans and would love to see them leave. To say the least, he's a collaborator. So, Luke tells us, the people who'd come to see Jesus out of curiosity or out of hope were shocked and angry. The word is: "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner."

To read Luke all year, as we have been doing, is to listen for the sound of tables being turned. It starts out with the pregnant Mary exclaiming to the even more pregnant Elizabeth: "The Lord fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty." But Mary is only echoing Hannah, the mother of Samuel, a woman who lived a thousand years earlier. Hannah, who waited so many years for a child, could finally sing out: "Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil." But see how Luke goes beyond a dull, literal sense for turning upside-down the world's business-as-usual. Zacchaeus isn't poor and he isn't hungry. But - he's a sinner! Everybody says so! Jesus says no different, but it seems Jesus never met a sinner he didn't want to have a meal with.

Well might we look on any image of Jesus at table and think of that line: "This fellow eats and drinks with sinners." And well might we realize that image is right here among ourselves. Every Sunday morning when we do what we do, we had better hope that this is true once more: "This fellow eats and drinks with sinners."

And we sinners one and all say, "Lord, I am not worthy." Those are words from another character in Luke, this time not just a friend to the Roman occupiers, but himself one of those occupiers, a Roman officer, albeit one who acts kindly toward the local people. This officer has a slave who is sick and so the officer sends a message to this vagabond preacher he's heard can cure the ill. When Jesus hears the officer's message, he doesn't lash out at a man who is a Roman, a soldier in the occupying army, and a slave-holder. He starts to walk toward the house. But the two, Jesus and the Roman, never do meet. The Roman sends another delegation to say, "Please don't trouble yourself. I am not worthy to have you come under my roof." All these generations later, in such a different sort of world, we still make those words our own in this Sunday assembly: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you."

Twenty years ago, in a pastoral letter about liturgy in our lives, the archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, who would himself soon know what it is like to be called a sinner, said this: "At this table we put aside every worldly separation based on culture, class, or other differences. Baptized, we no longer admit to distinctions based on age or sex or race or wealth. This communion is why all prejudice, all racism, all sexism, all deference to wealth and power must be banished from our parishes, our home and our lives. This communion is why we will not call enemies those who are human beings like ourselves. This communion is why we will not commit the world's resources to an escalating arms race while the poor die. We cannot. Not when we have feasted here on the 'body broken' and 'blood poured out' for the life of the world."

Bernardin next says that if we understand what it is to share the holy communion in this way, then: "Let that be clear in the reverent way we walk forward to take the holy bread and cup. Let it be clear in the way ministers of communion announce: 'The body of Christ,' 'The blood of Christ.' Let it be clear in our 'Amen!' Let it be clear in the songs and psalms we sing and the way we sing them. Let it be clear in the holy silence that fills this church when all have partaken."

Then Bernardin put those words "Lord, I am not worthy" into the context of this communion he has been unfolding. He says: "Before coming forward we say, 'Lord, I am not worthy.' We are never worthy of this table, for it is God's grace and gift. Yet we do come forward. This is food for the journey that we began at baptism. We may eat of it when we are tired, when we are discouraged, even when we have failed. But not when we have forgotten the church, forgotten the way we began at the font; not when we have abandoned our struggle against evil and remain unrepentant for having done so. Let us examine our lives honestly each time before approaching the eucharist. Worthy none of us ever is, but properly prepared each one of us must be. Christ, present in the eucharist and in us, calls us to be a holy communion, to grow in love and holiness for one another's sake."

Sisters and brothers, this Jesus eats and drinks with sinners! At our Sunday gathering we are not in some la-la land where we ignore sin and the trouble and the hard things of this world, of our own lives in fact. We dine here because we are so hungry. We take the cup because we are so thirsty. So hungry for the Lord. So thirsty for the Lord. Of course, "we are never worthy of this table." But here we are, Sunday after Sunday, because this Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. It is no la-la land and no la-la communion between me and God that happens here. The table here is the table of hunger and thirst, of every need, of every injustice and every wrong. But the song we sing here proclaims that God yet spreads a table here and calls us all and there's no word said about passing judgment on one another, but only "I" am not worthy and each one of us is that "I." As one American bishop wrote to his diocese last spring: "Note that it says, 'Lord, I am not worthy.' It does not say, 'Lord, my neighbor is not worthy.'" Strong words, but remember last Sunday's story from Luke: "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this …" Like this - what? Each one of us probably fills in the blank too often in our lives.

What does this mean for tomorrow, All Saints Day, and for the day-after-tomorrow which is both All Souls Day and Election Day?

We have been reflecting on holy communion this morning. Tomorrow is a festival of the holy communion, the communion of saints it is called in the Apostles Creed. All Saints Day is a magnificent day. It is "for all the saints, who from their labor rest." It begins the month when our liturgy and daily prayer and scripture reading bring us to ponder our relation to those who have died and to ponder how we too shall die. But we can do this because we walk through November in a holy communion of saints, in a great cloud of witnesses, from Abel on to those who will die today. We even know how to sing: "I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in." This morning when we walk in the procession to the holy communion, we are a holy communion and we are in a larger procession, a centuries-long procession, a procession wrapping the world around. That's the communion of saints. And that's the communion of sinners. We aren't lining up when we come to communion, we are in this procession. When I "line up," I line up alone, no relation to who's in front of me, who's behind me. That's the bank. That's the grocery store. The church never "lines up." The church processes. That's what happens at this table today but that's what we want to happen with our lives and with the whole world, even the banks and grocery stores.

On Tuesday many of us in that procession will walk by a ballot box. Earlier this year the body of Catholic bishops in the United States said: "We urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or self-interest. . . . We hope that voters will examine candidates on the full range of issues and on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance." It is at best a messy situation, not unlike all those times when Jesus heard the crowds grumbling: "This fellow eats and drinks with sinners." Well, that's us. Welcoming and being welcomed. Sharing with all kinds of folks. With ballots and all the means at hand, we have a world to love and transform. We are a world to love and transform.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org)
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
The following is an example of preaching from the liturgy and its scriptures for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year C, November 7, 2004. The church concludes October and begins November walking consciously as the communion of saints, remembering the dead, dealing with our own mortality. As we progress through the final Sundays of Ordinary Time and make the turn into Advent, all of this November work draws us toward final things. The preacher is mindful of this flow of lectionary and song and Images on each of the Sundays and reaches backward and forward as needed. This example of mystagogical preaching draws on Eucharistic Prayer II for Reconciliation (which could well be used on this Sunday).
Gabe Huck


Do you know this story? In a country occupied by a foreign power, a woman and her seven children have been arrested for disobeying a law imposed by the occupation authority. They are brought before interrogators, military police, and torturers. After six of the seven children have been tortured to death in front of their mother, the soldier in charge takes the mother aside and urges her to save the life of this last child, a son in his early teens. "You want your son to live, don't you?" he asks. "Then persuade your son to give up the old ways and follow our ways. What harm can this do?" The officer may be asking an honest question. The young man is not being asked to do some horrible deed, just to eat a few bites of a food that is prohibited under the young man's own religion.

When this woman does speak to her son, she uses the language of their own country. None of the police and soldiers can understand. "My son," she says, "have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life." She reminds the young man of what has always been the foundation of their home: a gracious God who created all life. Finally she tells the boy: "Do not fear this butcher. Accept death."

When the police again ask the young man to make a choice, he replies: "What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's command. I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors." So he too was tortured to death. And, last of all, the mother.

This is the conclusion to the story we heard a few minutes ago, the seventh chapter of Second Maccabees. This book of our Bible isn't opened often here. We read it just once, today, in the three-year cycle of Sunday readings. It's a book about life in Palestine a century and a half before Jesus lived. It tells stories about Jewish life under foreign occupation. Among the Jews we are told of the collaborators, the resistance, the martyrs, and those who just go along to get along.

The story of the seven brothers and their mother is a story about martyrs. The occupation forces want to break any resistance movement. They do this in what seems a fairly harmless way. The Jews do not eat pork. The occupiers see this as a way to separate people from their traditions. What harm can there be? And many give in, choosing not to die over the details of dietary law. Not so this family. They announce their readiness to suffer and die rather than break the command God gave them about what can and what cannot be eaten. We heard this morning how one young man held out his hands to have them cut off saying, "It was from Heaven that I received these hands; for the sake of God's laws I disdain them. From God I hope to receive them again."

These are the stories with which people keep the memory of their oppression, their suffering at the hands of outsiders. The stories become part of the very core of identity. Koreans tell of how they were oppressed by the Japanese. Jews tell of pogroms and the holocaust. Native Americans of Wounded Knee and smallpox epidemics and genocide perpetrated by Europeans. African Americans of the cruelties of slavery and Jim Crow, of the bomb that killed four young girls in the Birmingham church. Poles remember what the Russians did, Slovaks what the Hungarians did. Are we Irish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese? We have our martyr stories. Americans have their martyr stories: planes crashing into skyscrapers, truck drivers beheaded in Iraq.

And certainly Christians, like Muslims and Jews and other religious groups, have their martyrs. Fifty years ago the gory tales of second-century martyrs and their gruesome deaths were the stuff of every Catholic child's catechism class. Like the stories of the Kuwaiti babies that were killed by the invading Iraqi army in 1990, many of these stories are made up. But made up or truth, they do their work.

None of these martyr stories are about clashing armies. The martyr stories are like that one in Maccabees: the suffering of the innocent, those without any power, the nonviolent, the people who are trying to be faithful to the ways of their people. What do these stories want to do?

People use their martyr stories to bring about anger and outrage. They are used to fuel fires of revenge even centuries later. When one hears about how the occupation army treated this mother and her seven children, what does it do to you? We may wish we could punish those soldiers - or their descendents - these twenty-two centuries later. Will the story of 9/11 still be generating hatred and revenge a generation from now?

Here is the gospel question posed by these stories. Why is it that such stories - from the Maccabees to the Holocaust - generate anger more than sadness? Even if it is our own people who have suffered, why don't we take such stories as reports on the depth of sin and the progress of evil in the world? Why don't we hear them telling about how we too are tangled in sin and in evil? The martyr stories seem to say: Look at what these horrible Greek invaders are doing to your innocent people. Look at what the communists did to priests and nuns in Albania in the 1950s. Look at what government thugs did to Archbishop Romero and the four American women in El Salvador in 1980. And when we tell the stories of what our side did to their side, it seems somehow justified.

The stories are important. They must be told. But how do we break their power to incite hatred and violence again, and instead let them open to us that tangle of sin in which we are all involved?

What about us? What about this church right here on Sunday doing our eucharist? It helps to remember that at the heart of Christian faith and at the heart of what we are doing here today is - a martyr story. It is the story told by the gospels of the innocent Jesus tortured and executed by the occupying Romans. We proclaim that martyr story when we recite the creed - "crucified under Pontius Pilate." Then at the heart of this liturgy, when we lift up our hearts to give God thanks and praise, we tell that martyr story of a body given up and blood poured out. Let's be clear: In many places over hundreds of years this story of the crucified Jesus was used to stir up hatred for and violence against Jews, especially on Good Friday. Like other stories of martyrs, this one has been used as a club over the heads of others.

What about us then? What becomes of us when Sunday after Sunday we proclaim a crucifixion of the one whom we call Lord and Savior? What becomes of us when we turn the story of a brutal killing of an innocent person into a "mystery of faith," a passover, death destroyed by this one's brutal dying? What becomes of us is this: We say that here the cycle of violence is over. This death will, if we allow it, end in us the downward spiral of weaponry and oppression, of revenge and of force. Enough! We have been baptized into Christ, into the crucified one, and so we stand and so we understand. We stand with all whose lives, however lost in the scales of the world, are as lovely and important as our own. And though we may groan and complain and argue with God about how things could be so bad for some, we understand that we only make this complaint to God as people who are in the habit of giving thanks and praise to God.

One of the prayers that we may speak around the table struggles to express the meaning of this mystery, the meaning of death destroyed by Jesus' dying. We pray with these words:

Father…in the midst of conflict and division,
we know it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.
Your Spirit changes our hearts:
enemies begin to speak to one another,
those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and nations seek the way of peace together.
Your Spirit is at work when understanding puts an end to strife,
when hatred is quenched by mercy,
and vengeance gives way to forgiveness.

That is the break of the cycle of violence. "Vengeance gives way to forgiveness." This is not only about parent and child, boss and worker. It is about whole tribes and nations. "Hatred is quenched by mercy, and vengeance gives way to forgiveness." Then we speak words that show how, even amidst a story of torture and crucifixion, we are trying to grasp God's mystery here:

God our Father, we had wandered far from you,
but through your Son you have brought us back.
You gave him up to death so that we might turn again to you
and find our way to one another.
Therefore we celebrate the reconciliation
Christ has gained for us.

Listen to that: "Death - so that we might turn again to you and find our way to one another." This is turning upside down and inside out the way of sin and of evil in the world's life.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

Originally written for Celebration, the worship and preaching resource of the National Catholic Reporter (visit their Web site at www.celebrationpublications.org).
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
In past years, some of the homilies for November have explored how the liturgy and scriptures of this month bring the church to ponder death. The homily given here, intended for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 18, 2007, the Sunday before Thanksgiving this year), takes this in a different direction.
Gabe Huck

 
We heard something in the first reading today that might have been mistaken for a news report. We heard the lector read: "The day is coming, blazing like an oven." Whatever the prophet Malachi may have had in mind, he knew that particular forecast of doom would sound terrifying to his listeners. A day blazing like an oven. It may remind some of us of a later bit of writing: a thoughtful little poem by Robert Frost that begins this way: "Some say the world will end in fire." Prophet Malachi and poet Frost had little in common, but "blazing like an oven" and a world that will "end in fire" are what a lot of people, especially those who know the science, now say about planet earth. They call this "global warming," but that sounds almost pleasant. The prophet and the poet had more realistic words for it: Blazing like an oven. The world will end in fire.

The media are paying attention at last to this global warming, though they are inclined to seek out the rare deniers and give them equal time. That's dangerous. Still, we hardly get through a week without hearing about some new study of glaciers melting or another hundred thousand acres of farmland lost to the desert. The gloomy predictions of a few years ago seemed to give us a handful of decades to get it together and stop this thing. Newer studies seem to be talking about drastic changes coming sooner and sooner. The day blazing like an oven isn't so far off, and all the air conditioning imaginable isn't going to help.

Consider Malachi and his "day blazing like an oven." Consider Jesus and his warning of terrible times full of "earthquakes, famines, and plagues . . . awesome sights and mighty signs from the sky." Of course, neither Malachi nor Jesus could have had global warming in mind. What they did have in mind was this: The things we do and the things we don't do have consequences. Physical consequences. Moral consequences. Political consequences. Life and death consequences. Both Malachi and Jesus were looking at very real human conditions and they were seeing these in the light of the covenant that bound their people to God. They wanted to alert people to the seriousness of the times, alert them to the radical change of heart and behavior that alone might head off terrible suffering. So they grasped a vocabulary of disaster, of suffering upon suffering, of the day blazing like an oven and of the familiar hills and valleys and seacoasts made unlivable.

These scriptures and others like them mark for the church the last weeks of each year's reading from the Bible. Always in November something like this is read. But it is not simply that November brings All Saints Day and All Souls Day and, at least in Europe and America, brings the end of harvest and death-like resting of nature. In many places where Christians have lived, November has been the good time to think about death, about the communion of saints, about judgment. These scriptures are not about weather forecasts but about a world under judgment, about the consequences of what we have done and what we have failed to do. The Images of heat and fire and cruelties both natural and human - these are speaking about how fragile is the whole web of life.

In November we get a handle on the limits of our lives and our powers, like it or not. But it isn't a handle that lets us off the hook simply by acknowledging our obvious mortality: We're going to die. That's good for us to know and say, but it is only a beginning. This November handle on the limits of our lives and powers is a biblical handle, a handle that John Donne understood when he wrote "No man is an island." What do my days on our planet have to do with the whole human community, the whole ecology of all the living things and the non-living things that make up the world that hosts our short lives?

As November turns to December and to the weeks before Christmas that we call Advent, there will be no sharp break from these November thoughts. Rather, Advent at first continues to speak of the tribulations of the world, of our longing for an end to all the harm we inflict on one another and on creation. November and Advent have their different songs, their different tones and their different Images. Yet together they make demands on our church here: Will we open our eyes and look around us? Will we consider what matters and what responsibility we have for the life of the world, for the lives of children and grandchildren and on and on? Will we act according to what we profess, that we are responsible for our deeds and their consequences? Will we once and for all stop acting as if religion were some private deal between me and Jesus, between me and God, and see what should be in our faces every Sunday here - that religion for us is about being the church, the body of Christ, loving the world dearly, loving the world as God so loved the world?

The consensus in science is clear: Either we act in major ways to turn off the greenhouse gases, or the earth is going to continue warming, just a few degrees, enough to melt the ice, change the climate in various ways, raise ocean levels, likely make it more and more difficult to raise enough food to feed our six billion, wipe out various species and in countless ways upset the delicate balances that we depend on. The things human beings do, especially human beings in our so-called developed world, are causing the composition of the earth's air to change just enough to trap more of the sun's heat. There is no real argument any longer about how this happens or what it will mean if we don't stop it. The rich countries, especially our own, are the major cause of this. The solution is no mystery. The mystery is why we hesitate. Perhaps because we ourselves aren't hurting yet? Perhaps because it will cost us something we've come to see as our right, like driving any sort of vehicle we wish? Perhaps because the coming catastrophe is so large we can't really believe in it? Perhaps because we think we can always head for higher ground, figuratively or literally? Perhaps simply because however well meaning we want to be, we don't have the guts to be the first on our block?

The prophets who warned of coming days that will be like living in an oven really wanted to talk about the never exhausted mercy of God. They scolded and they ranted, sometimes, but the word they brought to the people was a word of hope. The stronger the language of doom, the deeper the prophet's grasp of God's unending love. The prophet's eye was most often on the poor and on those who had no power to look out for themselves. The prophet's words most often were directed to those who were not poor but who had lost sight of ways of justice, ways of sharing, ways of mercy. The words may be harsh, but the vision is inclusive and welcoming of all.

This week we have a day called Thanksgiving, sometimes a day when we echo that character we met in Jesus' parable three weeks ago, the one about two men who went in to pray. Remember the one who said: "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity." That is clearly not something the followers of Jesus give thanks for. Yet it is an immense temptation for us, who find ourselves, even if we are not wealthy by American standards, among the wealthiest of earth's peoples. Does our Thanksgiving Day seem to whisper: "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity"? That must never be the thanksgiving we make. Around this table, Sunday by Sunday through our whole lives, we learn a very different thanksgiving.

And what is that thanksgiving of the church? We will be invited again today, as on every Sunday, "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God." And we respond: "It is right to give God thanks and praise." The thanksgiving proclamation that follows is filled with memories of God's saving deeds, including those deeds of suffering and of death. This is to be the constant thanksgiving that is at home in our hearts. It does not separate us from other human beings as somehow superior to them, but it marvels at God's all-embracing care and it laments, though perhaps not loudly enough, how we and our world have refused God's love. What we do here we do with eyes wide open to death, eyes wide open to the greed and selfishness and the other tools of death that now bring the world so close to catastrophe. What else can we do but lament and give thanks? And both are the deeds not only of each of us but of all of us as the church assembled here on Sundays. This thanksgiving we never attempt alone.

We learn to be church at this table. At the table, it is thanksgiving to God that clears our sight and we start to see a way to be disciples of Jesus in this warming world, this threatened world, this world that more than ever manifests how we must treasure God's creation and take our humble part within it. We do this not with dread or fear but with something like enthusiasm, something like joy, something like the freedom that comes in making here an honest-to-God community. We are giving thanks in solidarity with all God's creation - in solidarity, not separation, not domination. Solidarity!

We are even now the people who live by this thanksgiving and this lamentation. We are the people who say that communion is holy. How then are we to act as believers in the holiness and goodness and joy of communion? How can we standto have our eyes wide open to the devastation of the earth and its water and atmosphere? We rehearse here a holy communion, a solidarity with one another and with the people of earth, with earth itself, the generations to come. It is by living in gratitude to God that we become those who see truly and act for the life of the world. We rehearse and practice at this table. At this table we are to find the vision, the direction, the joyous solidarity for tasks we cannot imagine yet, for changes in our lives that challenge our old views and ways. In the simple deeds and words of Eucharist, of thanksgiving and of lament, of communion that is holy, we must come to make here a church that loves the world.

Copyright © Gabe Huck. Used by permission.

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