Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, the scripture which inspired “Joy to the World”.
Psalm 98 describes God’s redemption of Israel and the jubilation that will ensue. In other words, it is a song of “rejoicing in the future tense”. When the community sang it for their great occasions, they had not yet seen the Savior. But their profound faith allowed them to celebrate in spirit what they believed would be accomplished – as the psalm’s concluding verse asserts:
In righteousness shall God judge the world and the peoples with equity.
We too are called to let our lives sing to the Lord in hope and confidence because we know that what we believe is true. That kind of faith in action is called “witness”. And we, my dears, in ALL circumstances of our lives, are charged to be WITNESSES!
Like the seas who sing in either still or storm
Like rivers who clap in ebb or the neap
Like the mountains who sing in all seasons
Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell in it; Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy.
Like our hearts that believe even through life’s intermingled joys and sorrows
Poetry: Flickering Mind – Denise Levertov
Lord, not you it is I who am absent. At first belief was a joy I kept in secret, stealing alone into sacred places: a quick glance, and away -- and back, circling. I have long since uttered your name but now I elude your presence. I stop to think about you, and my mind at once like a minnow darts away, darts into the shadows, into gleams that fret unceasing over the river's purling and passing. Not for one second will my self hold still, but wanders anywhere, everywhere it can turn. Not you, it is I am absent. You are the stream, the fish, the light, the pulsing shadow. You the unchanging presence, in whom all moves and changes. How can I focus my flickering, perceive at the fountain's heart the sapphire I know is there?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 145, a luxuriant song of praise to a God who overwhelms us with generosity.
I will extol you, my God and king; I will bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you; I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and worthy of much praise, whose grandeur is beyond understanding.
Psalm 145: 1-3
Citing verses 13-20 which are structured around the word “all”, Walter Brueggemann says:
The image is an overflow of limitless blessing given without reservation to all who are in need and turn to the Creator.
Which brings us to Nathaniel and how this prayer might have sung in his heart.
I got to be friends with Nathaniel over 50 years ago when, at my reception in our community, Mother Bernard decided to give me his name. And after an initial shock, I came to love it.
Nathaniel and I have spent countless hours under his fig tree sharing both our lives. I’ve asked him many times what he was thinking about when Philip came to invite him to meet Jesus. Nathaniel always has a different answer… one amazingly similar to whatever happens to be preoccupying me at the time.😇
One element remains constant in every circumstance: in his quiet moment, Nathaniel sought God’s Light. As our Gospel shows, that Luminous Word came to him and he responded.
I think that in our “fig tree moments”, we have finally sifted through all that we are capable of in order to find Grace in our lives. Now we wait, in the shade and quiet of prayer, for the True Answer.
When that answering Word comes, it shatters our doubts and pretenses like an egg. And like a shattered egg, the Word releases new life in us. We move deeper into the unbreakable Wholeness and Infinity. Like Nathaniel, even in our ordinary lives, we begin to “see greater things” than we had ever imagined.
Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
After that momentous afternoon when he was drawn from the shade into the Light, Nathaniel’s life became a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.
Poem-Prayer from Christine Robinson
Psalm 145 – Opening Heart
I exalt you, Holy One, and open my heart to you by remembering your great love. Your expansiveness made this beautiful world in a universe too marvelous to understand. Your desire created life, and you nurtured that life with your spirit. You cherish us all—and your prayer in us is for our own flourishing. You are gracious to us slow to anger and full of kindness You touch us with your love—speak to us with your still, small voice, hold us when we fall. You lift up those who are oppressed by systems and circumstances. You open your hand and satisfy us. You ask us to call on you— and even when you seem far away, our longings call us back to you. Hear my cry, O God, for some days, it is all I have.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we pray with Psalm 34, our Sunday readings present us with spiritual ultimatums.
In our first reading, sensing his impending death, Joshua gathers the tribes on the Great Plains of Shechem – the land of their father Abraham. Joshua requires a commitment from the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve … As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
In other words, “fish or cut bait” – you’re either with God, or you’re not. And your lives should reflect the choice.
In our Gospel, Jesus too feels death’s approach. His teachings have become more intense and direct, particularly regarding the Eucharist. This intensity has caused some of his listeners to waver. They’re not sure they can accept his words. Some drift away.
Jesus challenges the Twelve, those on whom he depends to carry his message after his death.
“Do you also want to leave?
These readings talk about the big choices, the soul’s orientation, either:
to seek and respond to God in our daily interactions
to be indifferent toward God’s Presence in our lives
(As for the unfortunate and contested second reading from Ephesians, this long but superb article from Elizabeth Johnson is worth your time.)
You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
The darkness that comes with every infinite fall
And the shivering blaze of every step up.
So many live on and want nothing
And are raised to the rank of prince
By the slippery ease of their light judgments
But what you love to see are faces
That do work and feel thirst…
You have not grown old,
And it is not too late to dive
Into your increasing depths where life
Calmly gives out its own secret.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85, a prayer celebrating what God will accomplish through a listening heart:
I will listen to what you, Lord God, are saying, for you are speaking peace to your faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to you. Truly, your salvation is very near to those who fear you, that your glory may dwell in our land.
Psalm 85: 8-9
Our psalm flows naturally from our first reading in which Gideon listens to God’s messenger who has a nice visit with him under a terebinth tree. In scripture, many great revelations and conversions happen under trees and bushes – for example, consider the stories of Moses, Jacob, and Ezekiel.
Gideon’s Angel is patient, lingering in the shade while Gideon lets the lamb (and the angel’s suggestion) stew a while in the quiet. It’s like that sometimes when we are trying to listen to God. We need a little time to hear through our circumstances to the real Word God is whispering to us.
It helps sometimes to go among the trees where angels always seem to nestle. It helps sometimes to mull over grace as we simmer a fragrant stew. It helps sometimes to quietly work a knitting needle or finger a rosary’s cool beads.
It helps to take a little time, a little silence and let God speak to us.
The range of Divine sound may be as gentle as a soft kiss, so that we must listen with a delicate heart. Or it may be as loud as an exploding volcano, so that we must resist the temptation to hold our ears:
Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall erupt from the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.
Psalm 85: 11-12
Poetry: God’s Word – Hildegard of Bingin
The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we meet the rich young man of Mark 19. Since the first reading and psalm would be challenging to pray with, I would like to offer this homily I wrote some years ago on our Gospel for today
Most had come to the rolling hills beyond the Jordan because of the miracles: the crippled walking, the dead raised, the demons cast out. Who wouldn’t take an afternoon hike to witness such amazing things? They came with their blankets and lunch baskets. They came to see.
But today, Jesus is not about miracles. He is about teaching. And it is hard to listen to him. The words are gentle but incisive. Like small scalpels, they deftly strip away the listeners’ harbored illusions. He says things like this:
Become humble like a child.
The last will be first and the first last.
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off.
Forgive seventy times seven.
His words challenge everything they had learned, believed, based their lives on! Nobody got anywhere in life by behaving the way he described! Jesus can see their consternation. What they had relied on – all that had justified their self-satisfied successes – lay now at his feet like a sculptor’s remnants.
Jesus pauses to allow a long silence to envelop their startled hearts. Quietly, he retires to a shaded grove to let his own heart settle. On the hillside, it is lunchtime. The large crowd bundles into small neighborly bands. They open their baskets and uncork their water-skins while the curative words begin the hard transformation of their souls.
But one man is not hungry – at least not for earthly food. He slowly approaches Jesus in his solitude, perhaps with a shy glance that asks, “May I come closer?” Jesus nods for the young man to join him. Settling beside Jesus, he asks, “Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?”
There is no lack of directness in this man. He comes bluntly to the point. But there is, nonetheless, a blindness in him. Jesus has already taken its measure even as the young man approached. His garments distinguish him from the rest of the crowd. His robe is fine linen not rude camel hair. He is not unshod, but rather wears sandals of expertly tooled leather. He carries no basket; it is held by a servant standing off at a modest but ready distance. He is so accustomed to his privilege that he is unaware of his difference from all those who surround him. He no longer sees his wealth, just as he no longer sees their poverty.
Jesus at once pities his obliviousness yet loves his sincerity. He tests the young man even though he already reads his heart. The questions are not intended to derail the man. Instead, Jesus leads him by a rabbinical path through the levels of spiritual commitment.
Do you understand true goodness?
Do you then keep the commandments?
Do you then seek perfection?
Will you then give everything you have to embrace it?
At this final question, the young man goes away sad, “for he had many possessions”.
Here Jesus defines for us the ultimate sticking point for a nearly committed person: “All you possess”. In other words, can we give everything in Christlike love?
The Christian ethic teaches us that this kind of self-donation is the only path to joy and salvation. Yet, it is a perfection few achieve. This failure in achievement leads to broken marriages, fractured families, rescinded vows and unfulfilled hopes. What is the secret to meeting its challenge?
Jesus may have given an answer two chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel. A desperate father has brought his possessed son to the disciples, but they are unable to cast out the demon. Jesus is frustrated with their impotence, saying, “How long must I be with you (before you learn)?” What is it that these disciples have yet to learn? Jesus goes on to tell them that if their faith were even the size of a tiny mustard seed, they would have the power, not only to cast out this demon, but to move mountains.
To live fully by faith is to live in the understanding that we possess nothing. Everything we think we have, including life itself, is a pure gift of God’s mercy to us. Abandonment to such understanding makes us truly rich and renders us divinely powerful. This is the continuing lesson Jesus is teaching his beloved disciples. This is the secret of eternal life to which Jesus tries to lead the rich young man. This is the daily invitation God places before us within the circumstances of our lives. Will we embrace it or will we go away sad?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 95.
This psalm and our other readings today are filled with rocks. So that seems to be the symbol speaking to us today.
Psalm 95 is a summons to rejoice, but laced within it are stern reminders to remember and repent.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your forebearers tested me; they tested me though they had seen my works.”
Psalm 95: 8-9
The rock referred to in the psalm is the one Moses struck to release the waters. It is a contentious episode where the Israelites test God and Moses wavers in his faith.
These are the waters of Meribah, where the children of Israel contended against the Lord, and where the LORD’s sanctity was revealed among them.
On the other hand, the rock in our Gospel passage refers to the strength and stability Peter receives and which will endure through the ages.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
So the “rock”, like any symbol, takes its meaning and relevance from the circumstances which surround it.
This is true as well for the “rocks” we meet in our own lives. Some are sources of strength, some nearly insurmountable obstacles. Some are a test, some a consolation.
Praying with today’s psalm and other readings, we might take the time to reflect on our current or past “rocks”.
May we realize and gratefully remember how God gives life-giving water even from these seemingly unyielding sources.
Poetry: Sorrow – Renee Yann, RSM
You must be alone
before you can leave it,
or it will crush you
like a black, heavy rock.
You must drive into
the hollow of its face,
under the ledges
it projects against you.
Feel its cold granite
pressed to your grain.
it will allow your turning
to rest your back
within its curve.
you will be free to leave it,
walking lightly once again
on yielding earth.
When you return, it will be freely,
on a pilgrimage,
to touch the name you carved once
with the anguish of your heart.
Music: Rock of Ages
“Rock of Ages” is a popular Christian hymn written by the Reformed Anglican minister, the Reverend Augustus Toplady, in 1763 and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.
Traditionally, it is held that Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England. Toplady, a preacher in the nearby village of Blagdon, was traveling along the gorge when he was caught in a storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he was struck by the title and scribbled down the initial lyrics. The fissure that is believed to have sheltered Toplady (51.3254°N 2.7532°W) is now marked as the “Rock of Ages”, both on the rock itself and on some maps.
Today in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with our Sunday readings, so full of wisdom for our lives.
“Don’t we have anything decent to eat around here?” “There’s nothing to eat in this house !”
How many times do parents hear these complaints from their growing teenagers! The problem? They’re not looking for the apples, or eggs, or yogurt, or avocados which actually are in the fridge. They’re looking for junk!
Today’s first reading reflects a similar situation with the Jews in the desert. They are hungry, but not for the spiritual food Yahweh is offering them. They complain continuously. So God relents, feeding them manna and quail. But God is clear. He says, “I have done this so that you may know I am the Lord, your God.”
In the Gospel, Jesus admonishes his listeners, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus doesn’t mean we should stop eating. He knows that we need food and other things in order to live. What He wants us to understand is that these things have only secondary importance to the food for our soul, a sustenance which we often relegate to inferior status, to “when we have time”.
In his advice to the Ephesians, Paul says that to live without spiritual awareness is “to live in the futility of our minds”. It’s a powerful phrase, generating an image of us running around in our heads after all sorts of vain worries and goals — junk.
Paul’s advice? Get over that running around! Put on a New Self!
we are such a mix of thorns and thread; why do You insist on living in the midst, even among the broken bowls and spilled strengths? I’ve seen You sift among the crumbs and find (I don’t know how) a loaf; what we tear, touch to make us mend; and show again to sift and share and be again the bread.
Music: Bread of Life ~ Bernadette Farrell
Bread of life, hope of the world,
Jesus Christ, our brother:
feed us now, give us life,
lead us to one another.
As we proclaim your death,
as we recall your life,
we remember your promise
to return again.
Bread of life, hope of the world,
Jesus Christ, our brother:
feed us now, give us life,
lead us to one another.
The bread we break and share
was scattered once as grain:
just as now it is gathered,
make your people one.
Bread of life, hope of the world,
Jesus Christ, our brother:
feed us now, give us life,
lead us to one another.
We eat this living bread,
we drink this saving cup:
sign of hope in our broken world,
source of lasting love.
Hold us in unity,
in love for all to see;
that the world may believe in you,
God of all who live.
You are the bread of peace,
you are the wine of joy,
broken now for your people,
poured in endless love.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 69 whose speaker, not to make a pun, is in bad straits!
I am sunk in the abysmal swamp where there is no foothold; I have reached the watery depths; the flood overwhelms me.
This is painful stuff – the kind of desperate pain we find threaded throughout the psalms in the prayers of lament.
These laments follow a pattern:
a petition for God’s help
multiple repetitions of this plea
detailed descriptions of the suffering being endured
proclamations of the sufferer’s innocence
assurances of the sufferer’s goodness
and often, a list of suggestions about how God should solve the problem
So the prayer, at least mine, would go something like this:
Dear God, please help me get out of this mess!
Do something, please. I know you can do something!
I am being harassed and destroyed. Let me tell you all about it.!
And it’s not my fault- (well, not completely anyway)
I try to be a good person and look what happens anyway!
I still believe in you and pray that you take care of my persecutors
(By the way, here are some tips on how you might do that, God.)
All in all, such a lament is a really healthy prayer. If we pray it completely, we get to the “BUT” of the pictured verse – that place where we allow God to teach and change us.
When we pray like this, we do these things in God’s Presence:
recognize our pain and name it
admit that we need help
analyze what’s really at the root of our pain
acknowledge our part in causing the suffering
rehearse our vengeance until we have exhausted it
reclaim our faith as a way to healing
THEN allow God to convert us to the Love of which we are made
The psalmist has given us a gift by laying out such vulnerability for us. It is healing to humbly and honestly pray this psalm when we are “overwhelmed” by hurt, confusion, anger, fear or any form of desperation.
We may have to pray Psalm 69 many times before we let God through to teach us the real meaning of our suffering. It is only then that we might pray the psalm’s final verses:
See, you humble ones, and be glad; you who seek God, take heart! For the LORD hears us, and does not turn away from our pain. Let the heaven and the earth praise God, the seas and whatever moves in them! For God will rescue usand rebuild us so that we can be at home with ourselves as the dwelling place of God.
Psalm 69: 33-36
Poetry: Psalm 69 – Christine Robinson
Save me, O God,
I have gotten myself in deep waters.
and find no firm ground under my feet.
I am tired of crying.
I feel at war with myself and with others;
I’m unable to do what is expected of me.
O God, you know my foolishness and my faults—
Do you love me anyway?
I really am sinking.
These rushing, dark waters are going to swallow me up.
Answer me, God!
Your loving kindness would save me.
If I could see your face, it would be enough
to ease my distress and help me relax in the flood.
I will remember that you are here,
even in the torrent, even in the war.
I will give thanks for the small beauties
and kindnesses of the day.
And for the love that is in my heart.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 124 which is a raw remembering of how bad things could have been without God’s help.
The psalm opens with these lines:
Had not the LORD been with us, let Israel say, Had not the LORD been with us, when all rose against us, Then we would have been swallowed alive, for fury blazed against us.
Psalm 124: 1-3
Have you been there? What flares up to swallow your life, your hope, can wear many disguises:
or the many forms of hunger and dying.
The psalm calls us to remember these things for two reasons:
so that we don’t get caught again
and that if – sadly – we do, we remember who freed us
We were rescued like a bird from the fowlers’ snare; Broken was the snare, and we were freed. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124: 7-8
“Re-membering” ourselves, pulling our new selves together in God, releases us to fuller, deeper life.
Our help is in the name of the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
… so surely that Omnipotent God can heal and remake us.
Poetry: The Fowler by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1868-1962)
A wild bird filled the morning air
With dewy-hearted song;
I took it in a golden snare
Of meshes close and strong.
But where is now the song I heard?
For all my cunning art,
I who would house a singing bird
Have caged a broken heart.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 115, bringing a welcome comfort after the always disturbing story of Isaac’s aborted sacrifice.
This story fascinated Rembrandt. Notice the differences between the 1635 and 1655 interpretations. The old man in the 1655 image has darkened eyes, covers his son’s eyes – not his mouth, and embraces the boy in his lap not laid out on an altar. Old age has gentled what Rembrandt found in the story.
But here’s what I think. It was never about a human sacrifice. God was never going to let that happen.
It was about whether Abraham’s trust would allow him to really see God – God who is never a God of death, but always of life.
As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh; hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”
We live in a world full of choices that run the gamut from death-dealing to life-giving. They may be small, personal choices like what we eat, or how we drive. Or they may be more consequential choices such as the political views we foster or the global ideologies we embrace.
Psalm 115 helps us to solve any confusion we might have about our choices. Always make the choices that lead ourselves and others to the land of the living.
Abraham must have been thrown into the dark by what he believed was God’s expectation of him. But it was really Abraham’s own expectation that had to be broken through. He did this by staying with his pain while trusting that God was bigger than it.
Christine Robinson’s interpretation of Psalm 115 fits well here:
O Great Mystery We must love and praise you without understanding. You are not a little tin god with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear and a mouth that does not speak. You can not be described or boxed up or tamed You are beyond our understanding. Still, we yearn to hear you, know you, feel your love, and in mystery, we do. We know awe at the intricate majesty of the heavens, We cherish the work of caring for each other and the Earth. We praise you, Great Mystery all the days of our lives.
Poetry: Silence – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Abraham failed the test. For Sodom and Gomorrah he argued but when it came to his son no protest crossed his lips. God was mute with horror. Abraham, smasher of idols and digger of wells was meant to talk back. Sarah would have been wiser but Abraham avoided her tent, didn’t lay his head in her lap to unburden his secret heart. In stricken silence God watched as Abraham saddled his ass and took Isaac on their final hike to the place God would show him. The angel had to call him twice. Abraham’s eyes were red, his voice hoarse he wept like a man pardoned but God never spoke to him again.
(It is true that, in Genesis, this is the last recorded exchange between God and Abraham!)
Music: Story of Isaac – Leonard Cohen
(If there’s no picture below, just click on the underlined phrase “Watch on Youtube“
The door, it opened slowly
My father, he came in
I was nine years old
And he stood so tall above me
Blue eyes, they were shining
And his voice was very cold
Said, "I've had a vision
And you know I'm strong and holy
I must do what I've been told"
So we started up the mountain
I was running, he was walking
And his axe was made of gold
Well, the trees, they got much smaller
The lake, a lady's mirror
When we stopped to drink some wine
Then he threw the bottle over
Broke a minute later
And he put his hand on mine
Thought I saw an eagle
But it might have been a vulture
I never could decide
Then my father built an altar
He looked once behind his shoulder
He knew I would not hide
You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children
You must not do it anymore
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god
You, who stand above them now
Your hatchets blunt and bloody
You were not there before
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father's hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word
And if you call me brother now
Forgive me if I inquire
Just according to whose plan?
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must
I will help you if I can
When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must
I will kill you if I can
And mercy on our uniform
Man of peace or man of war
The peacock spreads his fan