Sermons

November 10: Thirty-Second Sunday

“May our Lord Jesus Christ, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts, and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5.

We have been reading this past year passages from the Gospel of Luke, and today’s reading in Chapter 20, Jesus has finally arrived in Jerusalem, and he is within the precincts of the Temple itself.

Recall that Jesus returns to this place of worship – where once he was a “child prodigy,” now he is challenging the Sadducees on who is worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here’s one of the few mentions of the resurrection at this point in the gospel; how the God of the Jews is not a God of the dead, perhaps some had the idea of a form of ancestor worship. But instead, Jesus returns to the image of Moses and the burning bush, the sign of a living God.

These matters are part of a giant theological squabble among Jews about who are the chosen or the elect among the tribes of Israel. This example is an intermural fight; organized religions all have a version of the same issue.

I’m reminded of a New Yorker Magazine cartoon where you see Saint Peter checking the list of souls at the “pearly gates” of heaven and the majestic door to the eternal kingdom of God, but a very long line of patient travelers. Opposite to that one entry, there is an open lane with the sign, “EZ Pass.” The idea here is that there are some souls on the waitlist, while others glide by, and perhaps waving!

At our Wednesday prayer service, this past week, we heard about your good works for the Santa Catalina Children’s Fund and listened once again to Luke’s gospel, which appears just before today’s reading.

Jesus says: ‘Let the children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these…whoever does not accept the kingdom of God as a child will never enter it.”

So here’s an insight about our moral lives and how we should live now — if we expect to gain entry into this invisible Kingdom of the heart.

What about our spiritual lives?

The point of today’s gospel passage is that Jesus sees the maze of religious rules and regulations focuses on what is central and excellent in a tradition for the real benefit of our spiritual well being.

Recall Jesus told the scribes: “You shall love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Of course, his response was complicated by the 613 commandments found in the Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the very rules and regulations of the Torah that governed Jewish life. Also, of the 613 commands, 248 were positive, and another 365 were “shall not” or negative.

With his sharp focus on two commandments, Jesus stresses loyalty, the fidelity of purpose in our spiritual lives, and religious practice.

So it’s upon these principles that we have an informed heart and, in Jesus’s words, “not far from the kingdom of God.”

Today modern Judaism speaks of five moral precepts: the sanctity of everyday life, repair of the wounded world, benevolence and charity, love neighbor as yourself, and holiness as your God is holy.

This moral path or compass is still very much alive and clearly expressed in Jewish communities. The young rabbi, Jesus, reminds Christians of how the eternal life begins now and abides not in a God of the dead, rather a living God who inspires our every deed of healing and service in his name.

We are not far from the kingdom of God, as we keep to this moral path that directs us to the love of God and neighbor.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

Afterword

This homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday focuses on the shortened version of the passage from Luke. I avoided the more complicated issue of disenchantment and how we need to bring the hope of the Gospel and encouragement of Christ to those in the grips of personal despair.

So for an older and more experienced group, I would add another thought.

Those of us, of a certain age, may recall the famous singer Peggy Lee. Fifty years ago, Miss Lee had a hit song, composed by the American songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. The young Randy Newman was the musical arranger and producer for Capitol Records.

Lieber and Stoller were best known for their composing hit tunes for Elvis Presley. However, this song of theirs, for Peggy Lee, sounded nothing like “Hound Dog.”

“Is That All There Is?” left its effects. Recently, Sirius XM radio devoted an entire hour of commentary to the song and the artists. “Is That All There Is?” won the 1969 Grammy Award for Peggy Lee as the best female pop vocal performer, and later the song was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The lyrics reflect the point of view of a person’s anguish and disenchantment. The refrain is chilling: “Is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep on dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball. If that’s all there is.”

With a little research, I discovered the words themselves were borrowed from Thomas Mann’s 1896 novel “Disillusionment.”

Of course, there is a backstory. It turns out that the lyricist Jerry Lieber’s wife had lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation, and she introduced her husband to Mann’s writings. The deep resonance of Europe on the brink of disaster brought everything to an emotion standstill. We can only imagine what it was like for the witnesses to see Jews like Anne Frank taken to the death camps.

Several years ago, I was in Washington, D.C., to see the National Holocaust Museum. You begin the tour on the fifth level the facility and walk downstairs and past memorials to those thousands upon thousands, the victims of the genocide. You ask yourself how would I have acted as a Christian? Or, in my case, how would I have responded as a priest and a personal of moral conviction? I don’t have an exact answer.

As I came to the bottom of the landing, I caught sight of a woman who was overcome with tears and emotion at what she had seen that day. A guard came to her assistance and helped her to an exit.

When I reached the lobby level, there was a docent there. So I told her of my experience and how this woman’s emotional response was so clear and so profound. I asked: “Does this happen often?” The docent replied: “It happens every day, and sometimes more often than you may imagine.” I said to myself: “So, it is!”

As believers our task is to bring healing to those wounded and help repair a broken world that we may see more clearly the light of the resurrection.

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