MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on the lessons for us from observing the exile of Israel about which Isaiah speaks. Do the “people of God” get special treatment? What is lesson for conservatives and liberals? Listen to this podcast of his reflection on the readings for 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time to find out. Please read Isaiah 55:1-3. #Prayer #Sermons #Homilyhelper #ChosenPeople #Poor #ChosenNation #Humility #Christian
MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 8/3/2014 The 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Isaiah 55:1-3.
The Knights of Columbus are usually seen as a bunch of old guys who get together and have a beer once a month in a free standing club or in a designated room of a local Catholic Church. I know people who refer to the Knights as “the Catholic bar.” Although, they do imbibe, this is not the sum total of what they do. It is actually just the opposite.
The Knights of Columbus is a men’s guild within each local Catholic Church. It is an organization that has secret meetings and ceremonies, similar to the Masonic Order’s secrecy. Like the Masons, the Knights are a generous lot. What is different than the Masons is that the Knights of Columbus promote vocations to the priesthood and diaconate, serve the poor of their local community and do their charity work strictly within the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Masons have their own teachings and principles apart from any protestant denomination.
On a night in March of 2007, the Good Shepherd Council of the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Merrillville, IN voted to write checks to the seminarians of the Diocese of Gary for living expenses. At that time, I was a seminarian for the Diocese of Gary, studying for the priesthood. I was under the pastoral provision which allowed former married protestant clergy to study for the priesthood. During that time, I was a pastoral associate at a local church and drove an hour and half one way two days a week to attend seminary.
Sandi and I have five children, I was paid around $32,000 per year and we were sending our kids to the local Catholic school. To move, we had used up every bit of our life savings. We moved from South Bend, IN where property values were 33% lower than Northwest Indiana two years before and our mortgage payments were killing us. We had absolutely nothing left in our savings or checking account. Everything was day to day.
One night in late April of 2007, I came home from seminary at my usual 11:30 p.m. to find my wife sitting at the kitchen table with the checkbook out and a worried look on her face. She looked at me and said, “Peter needs a haircut to be within the code at school and Ruth needs a pair of pants because her school uniform is too short now. We got a letter for each of them.” She went on to say, “We don’t have enough money to do both.”
I asked her, “How much money do we need to make it to the end of the month?”
She replied, “$250.00.”
That night, we went to bed and I wondered what I was going to do. I couldn’t take on another job because that would be embarrassing to the Church and to myself. I was crushed in my relationship with God because I had left a very successful career as a Methodist Minister and trusted that God would take care of us. I knew I was called to the priesthood, but the salary that the diocese was paying me was not enough to make ends meet. I watched as others around me in the affluent community where I lived gave their children so much, and mine were just enduring unjustified embarrassment because they went without.
“Lord, where are you,” I thought.
The next day, after going to work at the church, I got home and retrieved the mail which had miraculously not been taken in yet. In that mail was a letter from the Good Shepherd Council of the Knights of Columbus from Merrillville, IN in my mailbox. The letter stated that they had taken a collection for the seminarians, but had made sure to double mine because of my family. There, stuck in the envelope, was a check for $250, the exact amount my wife had said we needed the night before. It was then that I went inside the house and called the Bishop to request a meeting to see if I could get an increase in salary or benefits and give us room to breathe again.
The passage from Isaiah today is a very important passage for us who believe in Jesus Christ, a Jew, who is the Messiah. This same passage is read on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday as part of the Vigil Mass. It is part of the important readings that recount the history of salvation that manifested itself in Jesus Christ delivering us from our sins.
We hear the wonderful promises of bread, milk, and wine without cost. Come, eat. We also hear the reference to spiritual feeding in this passage. Yet, what stands behind this passage is a prophecy of restoration of Israel by the prophet Isaiah. They would be restored after being taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Israel, at the time of the invasion, had been raped of its resources, especially their skilled craftsmen, workers and intelligentsia. Everyone had been taken by force away from their homes, crops and shops to lands far away. Their families had to live under Babylonian rule for centuries until finally; they were allowed to return home.
This was particularly galling to the people who understood themselves as “the people of God.” Israel thought that they were the people through whom God would work his will in the world. So, when God sent Amos and Isaiah the prophets to condemn them for their lack of concern for the poor as the money was rolling in from international trade, it fell on deaf ears. It was only when Babylon came and overtook the country that the prophets’ words rang true.
The people Israel were devastated. Their faith was shaken. They were in disbelief that God actually used someone who was not an Israelite to chastise them for their inattentiveness to the poor and their lack of attention to their faith and worship in all areas of their lives. It shook to the core their understanding of what it meant to be “God’s people.”
Left in Israel was a remnant that was subsisting on what was left of the economic raping of the land. Leadership was lacking. The economic infrastructure was made deliberately weak to keep the Babylonians in power. So, this land which was so prosperous was being returned to in ruin.
The men of the Good Shepherd Council are not men of wealth and means. They are blue collar, by and large. They are men who have bills to pay and mouths to feed. They live in Northwest Indiana, sometimes referred to as the “arm pit of Indiana”. It is a highly industrialized de-industrialized area where the economic disparity and racial polarization are striking. Yet, in this place that people think of and cringe, there were people who understood my plight of being a man in his late thirties, early forties, wanting to serve God and just take care of his children. It was in their willingness to share from one of God’s people to another of God’s children that I heard these words,
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!”
It was no accident that they shared with me from what they had harvested. They gave because that is what God’s people do: they give without asking a price. They give without drug tests. They give without a moral test. They give without thinking of anything but that this is one of God’s children who has a need. These common men, who are part of the people of God, restored me to my children. They restored my faith. They restored my vocation for the time being. It was a simple act to maybe give a little more individually than they had before so that all of them together could increase their gift to my children and restore my dignity as a man and a father.
There are some observations that need to be made about the implications of these passages. The first is that we as a Church, and as a human race, exist in community. Like the Trinity, we are a single community of one people. It is a breach of our role in creation to think we are singular and individual without the need to rely upon anyone. No matter how much Madison Avenue wants to tell us that we will look unique in their pair of jeans, we will still look like the other 3 million people they have sold them to and the 3 million people they want to sell them to. The appeals to our individualism are just appeals to our vanity. The people of Israel needed to stick together and the people of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Church need each other to make sure that struggling people around them survive.
The next observation is that God will use anyone, even those who do not profess to follow him, to do his will. No one can claim a special relationship with God when it comes to his justice or demand for us to love one another. It was folly for the people of Israel to think that they could ignore the Father’s pleas for the whole nation to tend to the poor just because they were a legend in their own minds. Americans, in particular, might want to think of the lesson in humility and responsibility to the poor, the alien and the outcast, which the exile brings. The next person who speaks to you, and you despise, just might be speaking for God.
Another observation from this passage of Scripture is that even when we mess up, God will always find a way to restore us. Sin has consequences. Ignoring the poor as a nation, like Israel did, or worshiping a false god, like Israel did, they have consequences. We like to juxtapose moral holiness in either two camps: social gospel or conservative morality. It is neither one or the other, it is both. Liberals will be made uncomfortable with this because there is a God given morality that protects the family and children. Conservatives will be made uncomfortable because it means that social structures which favor the rich at the expense of the poor will not be looked on kindly by God. In short, all of us need to stand in humility before God for our beliefs and actions. Yet, after the lesson in humility, God will raise us up and restore us to heights that were greater than they were before. This you can bank on as an “everlasting covenant.”
One thing to be learned, too, is that God works through people and always has. His message was delivered through prophets. When he wanted to save the world, he sent a Messiah. When he wanted to discipline a people, he sent a nation of persons who conquered his “chosen people” so that they would learn to not think there is more privilege than responsibility for the rich and powerful.
The next observation for our time this weekend is that God tends not to just the spiritual needs in the distant future. He is concerned about the here and now. Wine, milk, and honey are not just metaphors of a spiritual reality. They are indeed a call for us to aspire for freedom from sin within our souls, yes. They are also a call for us to turn to God and ask for our material needs. God is calling on people to answer the cries of the needy. Those who are humble and hear the voice of God will feed the poor, heal the sick, visit those in prison, clothe the naked, and bury the dead. Spiritual and physical should have never been separated like they were in the philosophical period of the Enlightenment. This separation has just caused more objectification of people so that we hate them and have reason in our minds to kill them, or let them go hungry, naked and sick.
The last observation is that this passage is not just for us communally as a nation, a city, a town, a church or a family. This passage is for us personally. Where is it in our own lives that we have become so high and mighty that we think because of what we are we don’t have to be who God calls us to be? Where could we use some humility? Where could we use some tenderness to the needs of others? Where could we be the best person that God calls us to be? Where could we be the one who provides the bread, wine, milk and honey for someone who really needs it? Have we taken a moment to think of the treasure that we are storing up for in heaven? Have we stopped and thought about the bread, wine, milk and honey that await us in heaven? Have we said thank you to the God who has given this glorious world to us for safe keeping? Have we taken good care of the person, family, community, nation and world around us?
With these reflections, hear the words of the prophet one more time, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant.” Amen? Amen.
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