How many of you have ever struggled with jealousy?
Oh, jealousy, that ugly response that can lead to ugly things!
We all fall prey, do we not?
I do! I can recall jealousy of Gordon, who effortlessly swam to victory,
Dana, whose Master thesis was brilliant,
and Eric, whose pastoral faithfulness seemed beyond reach to me.
Jealousy, as a result of which, I never got to know these people.
Jealousy is sadness at another person’s good:
looks, achievements, possessions, relationships, social position, upbringing…
Sadness at good? Terribly disordered.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello”, the general is wrongly convinced by Iago, junior officer at his command, that his wife is unfaithful.
We hear Iago say,
O beware, O lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meet on which it feeds.
Jealousy plays tricks on the mind—and heart.
St. Augustine (+430) says, “He that is jealous is not in love.”
As it intensifies, jealousy becomes envy--deadly sin.
The sadness at another person’s good becomes anger and contempt,
with a desire to destroy that good.
Terribly, terribly disordered.
Hence, the words of Proverbs 14:30,
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot”.
The book of Wisdom (2:24) reminds us,
“By the envy of the Devil, death entered the world”.
The chief priests and elders are jealous, becoming envious, of Jesus,
and are unable to hear and welcome him.
Just before this passage, in the first half of Matthew 21,
we have Jesus’ entering Jerusalem with triumph, cleansing the Temple, “cursing” the fig tree and declaring such things as
“Whatever you ask in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
Saint John Chrysostom (+407), Church Father, says that
the Priests were tormented with jealousy, because they had seen Christ entering the Temple in great glory. And not being able to master the fire of jealousy, which burnt in their breasts, they break forth in speech.
Their question does not seek truth and encounter.
“By what authority…?”
Jesus’ response? Well, there is no inclination to cancel them.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question, but He’s not dismissive.
He gives them an opportunity to think, thinkers that they should be.
But, alas, they refuse… And, even then, “what do you think?”
In mercy, Jesus reveals their lack of faith.
Saint Jerome (+420) says “thus much prefaced,
the Lord brings forward a parable, to convict them of their irreligion.”
But, the parable is, as suggested, one of mercy,
designed to attract to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is seeking to reach them where they are fragile.
The doorway to the Kingdom is mercy,
the doorway to the heart of the King is gratuitous love that reaches us
in our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness.
Which son in the parable “did the will of his father”? The first.
The one whose immediate response was not exactly enthusiastic,
but who came around and did.
There may be times, in our relationship with God,
when we are not enthusiastic, are indifferent,
feel like we are going through the motions.
There may be times when we say “no”,
and pursue and get entangled in other stuff.
It is never too late to come around
—like the workers of the 11th-hour in last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16).
The wasted time is not held against us.
Indeed, the most unlikely people are “going into the kingdom of God ahead” of the elders, i.e., ahead of the serious people in Church,
accessing the heart of the King: tax collectors and prostitutes!
In other words, those who work for the occupant system
and those, well, whose lives are rather complicated
and make use of their bodies in ways they may prefer not.
These are messy lives that, likewise, do not seem to be
an immediately enthusiastic response to God’s invitation.
What liberating revelation for us:
our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness
are not a hindrance to God’s attraction and embrace
The only hindrance is deliberate, pondered refusal,
for God respects our freedom to say “no”.
All that is necessary is a whisper of faith,
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,
but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.
The story is told of two fellows riding a tandem bicycle up a steep hill. After significant effort, they finally make it to the top. The front rider says, “That was a tough climb.” To which the second rider replies, “Sure was and, if I hadn’t kept the brake on, we might have slipped backwards!”
This is an odd parable that takes poor collaboration much, much further--
to say the least!
A land-owner leases his vineyard; a lease implies an agreement.
It is harvest collection time,
and the tenants to whom the vineyard has been leased, kill the servants
who come to collect the produce, to which the landowner is entitled
per the agreement.
What is that all about?
Then what happens?
The landowner sends another round of servants, larger in number;
and the tenants kill these servants.
Now, at this point, one would normally conclude: “problem!”
and prudentially send no one else.
The landowner, however, sends his son—alone.
Naïve and imprudent, to say the least?
When the tenants have killed several of your servants,
you do not send your son into harm’s way.
The tenants are crazy.
Moreover, they actually think that, by killing the son,
they will get his inheritance!
This is not how it works.
Remember that this is a parable,
wherein illogicality can serve as a doorway to something deeper.
The landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence are significant.
This parable can refer to the prophets and to the Son (of Man/of God)
coming to the Chosen People, His people—to whose leaders He is speaking.
They have been entrusted, in a special way, God’s vineyard.
In a sense, they, with the people, are the vineyard.
In the first reading, Isaiah 5:7, we read,
“The vine of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel.”
Today’s psalm, 80, suggests the same.
Given God’s covenant with Israel, we might find this parable disturbing.
God seems vengeful and vindictive, like He is breaking the covenant.
Know that this is not Jesus looking into His crystal ball, declaring game over.
This is Jesus making a strong appeal to these leaders
who hearts are not open because of entitlement.
This is an invitation, not a verdict.
We must, of course, ask how this parable applies to us, today.
What is being revealed to us who are “tenants”,
i.e. children of God, to whom the life of God is entrusted
and in whom the life of God must bear fruit.
God shares with us His life, not because He is lonely,
but because goodness, by nature, radiates.
What is the fruit that must come forth in our lives,
which the landowner would like to be able to “collect”?
We can surely consider the fruit(s) of the Spirit,
i.e., what the life of God does in us.
9 of them—per Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These characterize relationships between Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
Which leads us to John, chapter 15,
in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine,
of us as branches on the vine which must bear fruit,
and reiterates the new commandment to love one another.
The life of God, entrusted to us “tenants”,
must produce the fruit of love for one another.
Indeed, if our hearts have been lovingly seized by Jesus,
we cannot but love our Sisters and Brothers.
Being loved by God transforms and expands the heart,
enabling us to love divinely—even enemies.
This perhaps explains the persistence of the landowner.
In actuality, the landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence
are persistence in relationship and the bestowal of gifts.
With each visit, the landowner gives more of himself,
until he gives everything in his son.
Why does the divine landowner do this?
Because goodness, by nature, radiates.
Also, perhaps because God sees how we struggle to love one another.
We have been incorporated into Christ, His Body,
with people who are very different.
It is frankly a little much, a little intense for our sensibility.
We also all have, of course, that one person (the Rector)
who really pushes our buttons, such that we bark and maybe even bite,
or despairingly declare game over.
God, however, never grows weary. He persists.
So much does God persist that “the stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone!”
Normally, a rejected stone is, well, rejected.
God always triumphs. Divine love will triumph in our lives.
All we must do is dare to hope.
All we need to do is cling to Jesus.
When you receive Him in the Eucharist—here or spiritually if watching, express your hope.
Acknowledge the struggles to love, and ask Him to transfigure your heart.
And so, we press on in Him, like St. Paul says in our second reading,
with a heavenly call, preceded and indwelt by divine love.
How blessed we are.
Fr. Dominique Peridans
At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 11, Jesus’ ministry is in full swing: soaring sermons, holy healings, companion commissioning and town tussles. If Jesus had a Facebook page, it would be bursting at its seams! [A good question to ponder: if the Incarnation had occurred in our time, would Jesus have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account?]
Jesus then underscores the unbelief and the resulting inhospitality of his own people. Early Church Father, Saint John Chrysostom (+407) says that Jesus “puts this question, showing that nothing had been omitted that ought to be done for their salvation.” In other words, God gave His people all that they needed for their encounter with their Savior, and they did not believe in or welcome Him.
Contrasted with this, from a place of vulnerability, we have a surprising, surprisingly intimate moment, a conversation with the Father—and we get to eavesdrop! Jesus thanks the Father for sharing His secrets (i.e., what He carries deep in His heart) with those whom one might not expect: not the leaders of His people, but with the child-like. “You…have revealed them to infants.”
In so doing, Jesus reveals the key to receiving the secrets of God: being child-like. Is that it? You mean: no ascetic practices, no social justice campaign, no theology degree, no moral perfection, no yogic stillness, no perfect church attendance? No. These are all secondary—important, perhaps even intrinsic, but secondary. Children are not ascetic or engaged in social justice, have no degrees, are morally immature, cannot typically sit still and, on their own, would probably not attend church because too boring . The child-like: those who trust, who judge not, who welcome.
Now, what is beautiful, and so hope-filled, is that God actually wants to share His secrets. It is His wish. He does not need to. God, however, is love, and love, by nature, radiates. God simply wants to share His secrets, and His true(est) secret is Himself. God opens His mystery to each of us. And thus the great(est) secret in our lives is God, is Christ.
From this intimate conversation with the Father, Jesus extends the unconditional invitation that we read in verse 28: “Come to me.” You will notice, as suggested, that there are no contractual terms. Jesus does not say, “Come to me all you who can pay dues, all you who understand the divine mysteries, all you whose track record is impeccable and have your act together.” Au contraire, we are invited to “come” as we are: indebted, misunderstood, hobbling, incomplete, uncertain, scared, indifferent—“all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” What an invitation!
There is one unusual condition in the un-conditional invitation, however. If we are to experience the rest of which Jesus speaks, rest that comes directly from His heart, we must take upon ourselves His yoke and His burden. And this is where Jesus loses me.
Another yoke does not equal rest! And, so, I respond, “Jesus, if you give me your yoke and your burden, I’ll be pressed to the ground, and will never find rest.” Well, if ever there were a man of his word, it is Jesus. And, Jesus promises rest—somehow, in taking His yoke and burden upon us. This, of course, can only make sense if the yoke, is, in fact, a source of liberation and strength. What liberates and strengthens? Love.
Now, which act of Jesus—although burdensome at one level for a time, in fact, supremely communicates divine love? The Cross. The mystery of the Cross. And so, I think Jesus says, “Meet me at the Cross.” Which does not translate: “Meet me, in your imagination, in Jerusalem on Calvary.” or “Meet me in your ascetic attempts at imitating the Cross”. Instead, “Meet me in my pouring forth of divine love—which can even occur in your suffering.” The love that Jesus poured forth at the Cross is eternal. The horrific pain that he endured at the Cross was momentary. The love liberates and strengthens, and attracts us to Jesus, who says—unconditionally—“Come to me”.
If we accept the invitation, we are set free from all that keeps us from loving, i.e. burdens of the heart, and we find rest for our souls. Our souls can only find rest in our Source, in God, our home. “Come to me” can otherwise be said, “Come home.” We have only to let ourselves be drawn, to accept the invitation. Jesus will take care of the rest. Jesus deposits His Spirit within us Who, within us, “takes care of the rest”.
Let us then “rejoice greatly” and “shout aloud!” “Our King comes to us…triumphant and victorious, humble” (first reading), gracious and full of compassion, of great kindness…loving to everyone” (psalm).
Sermon prepared by the Rev. Dominique Peridans
for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Preached by the Rev. Dr. Tricia Lyons.
A Sermon prepared by Fr. Dominique Peridans
for Corpus Christi Sunday
June 14, 2020
Set aside the eye-glasses of faith for a moment and, with fresh, naked eyes, imagine entering a church, our church, for the first time, as also your first time ever with a group of Christians, hearing “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” for the first time, from their religious leader, Jesus Christ, unfamiliar to you, and observing what the people then do after a few prayers and hymns (something that they do every Sunday): Eucharist, Communion.
You go home and, when asked about your experience, say, “Really weird. They claim to eat the flesh and drink the blood of a guy who lived over 2,000 years ago. Really weird.”
If Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, creators of the musical The Book of Mormon, were to create The Book of John, they could draw plenty of weirdness from this passage! I actually hope that we never grow too accustomed to the weirdness, truly.
We are in chapter six of John’s gospel, in which there is an interesting succession of events: from the feeding of the 5,000 to Jesus walking on water in the middle of a storm, to the crowd chasing Jesus down and demanding more bread, to Jesus seizing this opportunity and saying that he is the bread, the Bread of Life come from heaven, to the anger of some upon hearing this. Then, rather than backing off, Jesus makes it even weirder, by saying that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.
Jesus seeks to deposit this revelation in the hearts of his listeners. Some disciples eventually leave. It’s hard to blame them. Really weird. The Twelve, however, as weird as it may seem to them, stay. They will carry this revelation in their hearts until Jesus gathers them at the Last Supper, when he celebrates this, giving them his flesh and blood for the first time: Institution of the Eucharist.
There, Jesus simply commands “Do this in remembrance of me”, recalled in our second reading today. Jesus does not address the Apostles’ difficulty in understanding the weirdness. Jesus simply commands “Do this in remembrance of me”, words that Jesus, in the person of the priest, echoes during our celebrations. This is really the gift that most unites the Christian Church. We do not all believe the same thing about the gift, alas. Thankfully, Jesus simply (and forcefully) says “do this in remembrance of me”, not “understand this in remembrance of me” Do this—in remembrance of Jesus, in living remembrance of Jesus, in Jesus.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran minister, described by the Washington Post as a “tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick and tired of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right and too Jesus-y for the left.” She says:
“What unites us isn’t a doctrine, it’s a table—a table that is open to all, in which we receive this Bread of Life come down from heaven. The body and blood of Christ is what unites us and makes us a church. Hopefully not in a
prideful see-how-inclusive-we-are way, but in a Lord-to-whom-shall-we-Go?-way, a You-have-the-words-of-eternal-life way.”
We are welcomed each week at this altar, which is also a lavish table, to receive the bread and wine, which are the body and blood of Christ. Some of us have perhaps grown so accustomed to this Church “practice”, that we don’t realize how radical, how wonderfully weird this is.
Jesus is adamant about Communion. Indeed, in today’s gospel, Jesus doubles-down on what he says. To those who grumble “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” he responds “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus is adamant about Communion because he is adamant about loving us, forever. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. That is love.
We are welcomed each week at this altar, which is also a lavish table, along with surprising guests, guests we might not have included on the list. But, recall who was at the Last Supper: one betrayed Jesus at table, all but one abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. That God would become human, walk among us, and offer his own flesh for the sake of life that lasts forever, and do this knowing who was gathered around the table.
That is love. It can be hard to accept that persons we may not like receive the same overflowing love, that Christ welcomes all of us. It is sometimes even harder to accept that Christ welcomes all of me: the part that gave at my spouse the silent treatment this week or yelled at my children, or drank alone, or has a problem with lying, or hates my body; the part that suffers from depression and can’t admit it, or is too fearful to give some of my money away, or is riddled with shame over sexuality or cheats on my taxes or judges and is afraid of getting sick and/or old and dying.
All of us and all of me are invited to this feast. We unfortunately cannot gather yet to celebrate it. But, we are invited, and we respond affirmatively, by expressing our desire to participate and partake. This desire and the response of Christ, touching us as if we were present, is called “spiritual Communion”. Respond affirmatively and, in your response, bring the broken pieces of our world and lives. In return, Chris will share Himself. We will, hopefully soon, re-gather in person and celebrate and rejoice. In the meantime, let us believe in Jesus, Bread of life, knowing that “whoever believes has eternal life.”
Proper 7 Year A
Fr. Dominique Peridans
There is too much in this gospel with which to wrestle.
And, it seems to spill out in no logical order.
Jesus, all over the map:
from foreboding and fatalistic to sweet and supportive
to harsh and hard.
On first hearing, someone unfamiliar with Jesus might be inclined to think that He is emotionally unstable or has quite an ego.
Well, we are familiar (enough!) with Jesus, to know, to presume
that all that spills out of His mouth—really, His heart, is loving.
This too, somehow, is a revelation of divine love.
This is a revelation of the urgency and the absoluteness of divine love--
which brought us into existence, sustains us and awaits us at the end.
If revelation of divine love,
then we must be willing to engage Jesus “de face” (“head on”),
for love is the fitting response to love and love is receptive.
We must, of course, also probe
beneath the unpredictable unevenness and the apparent courseness.
A revelation of divine love that includes things not easy to hear:
Jesus: the master at messaging and marketing!
There indeed is too much in this gospel with which to wrestle.
Let us thus focus on one aspect.
This may seem like an easy out, and you may be right!
Let us focus on divine love as providential, on the Lord as Provider.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
St. Jerome, the 4th-century theologian, born in what today is Croatia,
a prolific writer, know for his translation of the Bible into Latin,
patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists, says,
“The hairs of your head are all counted”
shows the boundless providence of God towards man,
and a care unspeakable that nothing of ours is hid from God.
St. Hilary, also from the 4th-century, says,
That we should know that nothing of us should perish,
we are told that our very hairs are counted.
No accident then that can befall our bodies is to be feared.
God watches over us. God provides.
God provides because God is love.
Providence is easier preached, however, than believed and practiced at times,
the rough times when life throws an unexpected curve ball:
health issues, financial challenges, death, divorce or depression…
Where is Providence in all of this?
Well, if we are expecting God to be the big fixer of problems,
we may be underwhelmed or disappointed.
Through the rough times,
God is providing what we need to be in intimate relationship with Him
and to love those around us.
The rough times do not have the last word in our hearts and lives,
for Providence touches us in all that we love and live.
The 6th-century monk, St. Thalassios the Libyan, says,
Being Master, He became a servant,
and so revealed to the world the depths of His Providence.
So revealed, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the 17th-century French mystic, says,
Do not be afraid to abandon yourself unreservedly
to His loving Providence, for a child cannot perish
in the arms of a Father Who is omnipotent.
To abandon oneself unreservedly to God’s loving Providence
is to do what Jesus says at the end of this Gospel:
to lose oneself for His sake and, in so doing, to find oneself in God.
Jesus invites absolute surrender
so that God can truly and lavishly provide for our hearts and lives.
The surrender must be absolute
because the love with which we are loved is absolute.
“Well, I am unable to surrender absolutely!” you might say.
Join the club!
It is intention and desire: “Lord, I want to surrender”.
It is not about feeling surrendered.
A word of advice from St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century Bishop of Geneva:
In all your affairs lean solely on God's Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part, work in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that, if you have trusted Him entirely, you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.
Trusting in Providence makes sense if we love.
Let us trust that the Lord is providing in the midst of all that is happening,
as we seek to grow as individuals, as a Church and as a society,
seeking justice and peace for all, inner and outer freedom for all.
My prayer is that we grow in the divine love that sets us free
and enables us to trust in our Lord as Provider.
“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
“Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 10:31)