The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Homily: Monday, 9th Week of Ordinary Time (Year 1)

Readings: Tb 1:3; 2:1a-8 • Psalm 112 • Mk 12:1-12

Our readings today are both beginnings of a sort. We begin a week of readings from Chapter 12 of Mark's Gospel, and also begin a weeklong series of readings from the Book of Tobit.

Tobit is a delightful book, one of the inspired books the Church includes in its canon, but one considered apocryphal by our Protestant bothers and sisters. That's too bad, and I always encourage my Protestant friends to read the book because Tobit offers us a wonderful story of suffering, of faithfulness, of charity, and of the presence of God and His love. It reminds us of the nearness of God, who is always merciful to those who turn to Him in need.

Tobit and his family are Jews living in Nineveh, exiled among the Assyrians, and yet in the face of persecution they keep the faith and follow the Law as God intended. When the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, allowed the persecution and killing of the exiled Jews, Tobit secretly buried the dead. For these acts of charity he had to go into hiding until the king was assassinated by his own relatives.

Now back home with Anna, his wife, and Tobias, his son, he prepares to celebrate Pentecost, the Jewish feast of the harvest, 50 days after Passover. We celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Easter, and even for us it is a feast of harvest, the birthday of the Church and the harvest of souls for God.

Back to Tobit...Before the feast, he sends Tobias to find a needy devout Jew among the exiles and ask him to join the family for the meal. But Tobias returns and reports instead that a Jew had been murdered and his lifeless body left in the street. At great personal risk, Tobit goes out and brings the body back to his home for burial. And for this he is mocked by his neighbors, who are more concerned for their personal safety than for helping those in need, especially for this corporal work of mercy: to bury the dead.
Tobit and his son, Tobias bury the dead
Tobit, of course, sets a wonderful example for us. He rejects the challenges and mockery of the world and instead commits to doing acts of true justice in accordance with God's will. When, like Tobit, we accept God's call to be active witnesses of His love and mercy, we can change the world.

St. Boniface, whose memorial we celebrate today, did exactly that: at great personal risk he changed the world by converting the barbarian German tribes, a vocation that ultimately led to his martyrdom.
St. Boniface (Bishop & Martyr), Apostle to German Tribes
When we contrast the courageous Boniface and the just Tobit with the attitudes Jesus encounters in today's Gospel passage, the difference could hardly be greater.

Jesus confronts the priests, scribes and elders with a parable that points to Himself as the Son of God, as the foundation of the new Temple, the cornerstone rejected by those who thrive in the old. This they cannot bear. It threatens their way of life, a way of life centered on themselves and not on the true worship God desires of them.

In the parable, Jesus portrays them as murderers, who will do anything to protect themselves. In that sense it is, of course, a prophecy through which Jesus, once again, describes His own death. Interestingly, in Mark's version, he tells us that the tenants "seized him [the son] and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard" [Mk 12:8]. But both Matthew [Mt 21:39] and Luke [Lk 20:15] reverse the order, and the son is first thrown out of the vineyard and then killed. This, of course, is more in keeping with the reality, in which Jesus is thrown from the vineyard, from Jerusalem, and killed outside its walls on Golgotha.

As we listen to this parable we run the risk of applying it only to the scribes and Pharisees, and forgetting that the Gospel isn't about all the others in our lives, all the "thems," but about us, about you and me.

How often do we resemble those Pharisees or those neighbors of Tobit?

How often do we turn away from God's way and choose our own path, one that leads to sin and alienation?

Yes, like those who reject Jesus outright, we too need mercy and reconciliation. We, too, need to drop to our knees and come to God in repentance, and then rise up and do His work in the world.

Lord, teach us to serve you in all things, to measure our lives not by our will but by yours. Help us to serve you by serving those who enter our lives, those you place there in need of your love and mercy.

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