Today's Gospel presents us with a conflict between Jesus and a small but influential sect within first-century Judaism: the Sadducees. In a bizarre attempt to trick Jesus, they spin a story which we might call “One Bride for Seven Brothers.” (The similarly-titled Hollywood musical, 7 brides for 7 brothers, is a lot more fun, with fantastic dancing!) But for the Sadducees, this is no laughing matter. Their whole convoluted story is a legalistic attempt to trick Jesus, to ridicule his belief in the Resurrection.
A contemporary spiritual master, the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello, once told the following story: “A notorious sinner was excommunicated and forbidden from entering the Church. He went to God to complain: "Lord, they won't let me into the Church, because I'm a sinner." The Lord replied, "I know how you feel. They won't let me in either!"
Yes, wouldn't the Church be a wonderful place ... if we could just get rid of all the sinners! We could finally escape from all the messiness associated with human sinfulness and imperfection. The Church could be like an exclusive country club or high-end private school, with high standards for admission to keep out the riff-raff: a gathering-place for the spiritual elite.
A young priest went to the hospital one day to visit an elderly Italian parishioner prior to surgery, wearing his Roman collar. As soon as the woman saw the collar, she said “No, no, Padre! I’m not dying!
When we pray, most of us have no shortage of intentions. It's not at all hard to come up with a list of all the things we need – or at least, think we need. Some of us are more in touch with material needs, others with psychological or emotional needs, yet others with spiritual needs.
In the Gospel of John, defending the woman who, before his Passion, has anointed his feet with expensive perfume, Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you.” In many ways, this is true: no matter how hard we try to build an egalitarian society, there will always be haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor, those who rise to the top of the system and those who sink to the bottom. But Jesus did not intend these words in a fatalistic way, as if this must necessarily be the case; nor did he fall into the trap of blaming the poor for their fate. Jesus specifies: “And you can do good to them whenever you choose.”
When we were preparing the liturgies for this joint celebration of our anniversaries of ordination, Fr. Bertoli and I both agreed that the suggested Gospel of the day – Jesus’ parable of the “dishonest steward”, the corrupt manager who, when he learns he is about to be fired, “cooks the books” to give himself an exit strategy with his master’s debtors, might not be the ideal text to have to preach on!!
The French novelist Charles Peguy famously wrote that if, in some tragic cataclysm, all the copies of the Bible were lost, and only the one page containing the parable of "The Prodigal Son" was salvaged, we would still know the God whom Jesus Christ came to reveal, and could eventually reconstruct the entire Gospel message. It is a text not only of literary genius, but layers upon layers of depth and meaning.
“Lord, it is good to be here.” These words of St. Peter, uttered in awe at the manifestation of Christ’s glory at his Transfiguration, express well how we feel as we come together this weekend to give thanks and praise to God in this Eucharist, and especially as we celebrate our beloved Fr. Adelchi Bertoli’s 65 years of faithful service as a priest, of which the last 50 have been spent right here at St. Monica’s.
Unexpected guests arrive at your door. What do you do? Jump up, Martha Stewart-like, immediately ready to entertain? Rejoice internally in the prospect of good time spent with friends? Curse at the re-arrangement of previously-made plans for the day which will now have to be rescheduled into an already too-full week? Or stay very quiet, and pretend that nobody is home, in the hope that they will go away?
A few years ago, in a story that shocked our city, a 17-year old girl was savagely beaten and left for dead near the Vendome Metro. Apparently, she lay there for hours. For who knows what reason – busyness, fear, apathy, confusion, hard-heartedness – her plight was ignored. She remained in a coma for many months. We do not know who her assailants were. We do not know the motivations or the stories of those who walked by and literally did not see her, or of those who did see her, but looked the other way. The report showed that although we are capable of great compassion in some instances, we can also be oblivious to human suffering in our midst, indeed on our very doorsteps.