Courage and Truth, Even When it Seems Insignificant


We start off today with words written 50 years before Christ in the Book of Wisdom,

“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.”

How about the words of the second reading?

“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to apply this to our families, our careers, and even our Church. But even as dark as that all sounds, the first reading from the Book of Wisdom (and boy do we need wisdom now) gives so much hope. We aren’t the first people to feel beset upon.  It’s been going on for a while now.

The challenge before us is applying this to daily life.  Every day, we’re called to be God’s light and truth to others.  Sometimes that means a random act of kindness to a stranger.   Sometimes it means being a light shining in the darkness, and it feels hopeless, because even so, you’re still surrounded by darkness.   In the opening of the Gospel of John, “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”  I love this image.  Imagine someone standing in a field with a single candle.  The field remains essentially completely dark, but the light shining remains visible.  For how far could that light be seen?  Two guys from MIT actually answered this question scientifically.  Saving you the details, it can be seen for 1.6 miles. By the beauty of the internet and math, I calculated that a single candle (assuming a flat field with no obstructions) would be seen over an area over 8.7 square miles.  Talk about a little going a long way!

The idea of a little going a long way is something we’re familiar with if we look to Christ’s acts.  In the Gospels, there are six accounts of two separate miracles of feeding thousands with a few loaves and fish.  The source of the original few loaves and fishes seems to be rather unimportant because only in the Gospel of John does it mention specifically they came from a boy.  While the source may not be of the utmost importance, the loaves and fish likely came from someone among the crowd.  They came from somewhere, from someone, and THAT is important.  Christ could have, but didn’t just say “Presto! Let there be food for all!”  It started with something insignificant.  On its own, a few loaves and fish was totally useless.

If the objective is how to feed thousands, how insignificant are these few loaves and fish?  I’ll tell you this post feels far more insignificant and as inadequate to make a difference today.  But I do it anyway, because Christ has a way of making our efforts go further, but you have to give Him something to start with.

There’s no shortage of evil in our world, and as we heard a couple weeks ago, we don’t have to worry as much about the evil around us as we do from the evil that bubbles up from inside us.  This reading should give us courage to use all that we have at our disposal to bring ourselves closer to Him, and to speak His truth.

So in this context, how do we bring ourselves closer to Him?  We have the “lowercase church,” meaning our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to look after.  We have the sacraments.  We have His words, which we need to do a better job of actually reading.

When confronting any evil or wrong, we should expect incoming arrows.  This is what the “just (righteous) one,” sets out to do, and he was “reviled and tortured,” in the first reading.  When you feel jabs and barbs, you’re probably doing it right.  In going to look up what Jesus said about turning the other cheek, (it’s in Matthew chapter 5 in case you wanted to read the other good stuff there), I stumbled into what the whole point and tenor of how we speak that truth to power; we should be “salt and light.”

Don’t hide your light.  Being light through kindness to others, especially a stranger, takes courage.  Being light through speaking truth takes faith.  Today’s readings give us the direction to give Him something to work with and see how much further He’ll multiply the good.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Matthew 5:14-16

When Good Rule Followers Miss the Point.

How much of what we do as Catholics is clinging to human tradition?  How much of it fits the definition of “good religion” in the second reading?

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Considering where we are as a church today, there’s no question we should be examining our institutions, heiracrhy, and our purpose as a people of God.  Today,  I hear Jesus calling the first Christians to stop worrying so much about the minutiae of the letter of the old mosaic laws, and start focusing on the reality of where our troubles and failings come from; they come from within us.  Sound familiar?  I thought so.  So what do we do?

The first thing we ought to be doing more of, is being “hearers of the word.”  We must be better hearers/readers/audio-book-listeners of the Bible.  Growing up Catholic, I was told we read the whole bible every three years through a three year rotation.  That’s not exactly true.  If you were to go to mass every single day my best internet research says we get through something like 80% of the New Testament… so if you’re like me and don’t remember the last weekday mass you went to, think about how much of Christ we’re not getting.  There’s no way we can know the way if we’re not exposing ourselves to “the way.”

Here’s the good news though; if you think your Catholic faith is complicated, get ready to be shocked at the simplicity of Christ.  When he could righteously accuse, exclude, or condemn, he doesn’t.  He welcomes, forgives, and accepts people without excusing our shortcomings.  Maybe most importantly, He gives us perspective when we miss the big picture and get wrapped around the axle on little things as He does in today’s Gospel.

Today, the Pharisees are upset that the disciples are flouting the old laws of ritual cleansing before eating.  Beyond the Ten Commandments, there’s over 600 other laws pertaining to every aspect of a good Jew’s life.  These scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem.  These are the big dogsfrom the big city, and they know what they’re talking about.  According to the law, they’re not wrong.  Christ then gives us some perspective.   He points out how hypocritical they’re being using Isaiah’s own words.

“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

The Pharisees are teaching their “human precepts” as godly doctrine.  With all the tradition we’re steeped in as Catholics, it’s a worthy question to ask how much of what we do within our institutions are either not rooted in Christ’s way at best, and at worst are antithetical to growing His kingdom.

If there’s any question as to what kind of evils that we should be guarding against, he spells it out, simply, and in no uncertain terms.  We should look inward at ourselves.  None of us are exempt. Every single member of our church from the Pope to the church-goer (or those of us ‘bad Catholics’ who don’t go to mass every Sunday too) should be looking at ourselves.

“From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”

So that’s what evil is and where it comes from… so what are we supposed to do?  Look no further than the second reading.

“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”

Let’s do, and let’s read it, more than what we hear on Sunday.

-John Bielamowicz

Here are today’s readings if you missed them.