Thoughts on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time & the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
October 6, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
At today’s Liturgy two readers proclaimed the Gospel passage from Luke 17:5-10
So, you may ask, why two readers of a Gospel passage that is written in the one voice of Jesus; one that is not all that long anyway that we would need to hear more than one voice reading to keep our attention. Why two and not one reader?
Well, I’ll tell you. If you are like me and you recognize that the task of each of the four Gospel writers was to write a story of a life, a story mind you that relates the central and vitally important life of Jesus, then perhaps you also agree with me that none of these Gospels, either collectively or each one singly, none is a biography in the sense of the well-ordered literary form which we expect from a biography these days. Perhaps, also, you agree with me that, given what we understand history to be these days – namely, an interactive and interpretive account of time as a relative thing, for example, our realization that history is written by the winners.
So, when the Gospels are read and studied as is this passage today from the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, if this also is neither biography nor history then what is it? Well, what it very definitely is, is a story requiring interpretation.
So, let’s interpret..
This passage is most likely a compilation. This means that this single voice of Jesus in the passage has come to us as a result of the Gospel writer compiling a variety of episodes, teachings, venues in Jesus’ life. We have here in Luke 17 a compilation of what they call in the trade – periscopes, that is, sayings of Jesus. In today’s case it’s the saying about faith having the power to defy physical laws and command a tree be thrown into the sea. A saying on spiritual strength, to be sure.
The second part to today’s Gospel passage is a parable about the workers who work all day and still wait upon their Boss’s commands that they serve at table. These workers are willing to see themselves as useless for the sake of their vision of total service to the employer. In some circles this willingness to regard oneself as useless is a sign of weakness, to be sure.
Further evidence that this passage is part of the wider compilation that forms the Gospel of Luke and put together apart from any pre-set biographical order of what Jesus said when is that this parable appears only in the Gospel of Luke.
Now, the result of this brief scriptural exploration may be that in one passage Jesus teaches balues about both strength and weakness. And what are we to make of that?
It’s my opinion that these verses – compiled as they are here – take us to another place altogether apart from strength and weakness. This place may be lower, deeper, beyond, higher, apart from or maybe no place at all. For me what is clear is that Jesus’ invitation is to be indifferent to both strength and to weakness and, let’s say, to go deeper to that place where we wait upon God. It’s an invitation not unlike the Zen teacher inviting the student to be mindful, to clear oneself of the debris that is both within and around us, mentally, spiritually, physically. In mindfulness one finds quiety stillness or, one and the same, the voice of God.
In this invitation Jesus shows to us that his teaching is not so much new as it is universal. With our knowledge and sense of history we now know that what Jesus taught was the same universal message that other teachers and other cultures believed. And that message is one of being indifferent to strength and weakness in all that lies at the surface of our lives. Rather, be mindful of the One whose invitation is to push through the useless, senseless, frivolous tripe of our lives and center oneself on the Eternal One, the Stillness, the nothing from which something is created.
When Thomas Merton was a young monk (after 7 years at the Abbey) he wrote of his pushing through in prayer as his way to eliminate the debris in his mind and thoughts as well as his prayer to not be the target of the bombarding ideas that assaulted his mind. It was his prayer to achieve mindfulness (for him, contemplation as he phrased it) – this same attitude that removes one from both the strength that throws trees to the sea and the weakness of being the useless servant.
When we even glimpse what this mindfulness results in, we begin to love the quiet stillness that lets the voice of God speak. We are, after all, a Christian people who share in the universal message of mindfulness.
We Christians, who just celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, have in him a cherished figure whose desire to sit quietly with the stillness resulted in his own fire for caring. We see his fiery inspiration in the Call to Peace as well as the Command to love and sustain Earth.
So, you see, the Gospel story, when interpreted as each generation is called upon to do, this story requires us to exercise mindful care. When we acknowledge the universal message taught by such as Jesus, the Buddha, the indigenous peoples, and other enlightened ones then maybe, just maybe, we will make Peace and sustain Earth.
A Prayer (JR)
We seek to remove the debris in our hearts and spirits—the flotsam and jetsam of useless, senseless, and frivolous tripe— which conceals your beauty, truth, and goodness. These motivate us to fire our love for you, all loving One, and for all your creation.
As you invite us here to carry on our search for you, just so do we commit to carry on your justice, peace, and love. Holy One, make it so today through your light that shows the way.
We pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen. (JR)
Canticle of Sun and Moon of St. Francis of Assisi
Most High, all-powerful One, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my God with all Your creatures, especially the Sun of warmth,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
Who is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, this Sun bears divine likeness.
Praised be You, my God, through the Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my God, through Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my God through Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my God through Fire,
through whom You light the night. Fire so beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my God through, Earth, our common home,
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my God through Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Blessed are they whom Death finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my God to whom thanks is given and whom I, with my sisters and brothers, serve with great humility.