Welcome to Green Reflections, the blog dedicated to reflections on the readings from the Roman Catholic Sunday Lectionary, with particular sensitivity to the needs of the earth. Use this blog to deepen your own awareness of our Creator's desires for the planet and ways that we can appreciate God's goals for the earth,giving it the loving care that it deserves.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Here we are just two weeks away from the end of the liturgical calendar. It seems very right that we focus our attention on the final things of life, death and resurrection. After all, life on earth is very short compared with eternity! Even so, focusing on death is not at all easy. Most of us would prefer not to think about it unless absolutely necessary, like when we attend a funeral. Unlike birthdays, anniversaries and graduations, we do not usually anticipate and prepare gleefully for our own deaths, so it is good for us to be reminded and see what we need for a good transition into eternal life.
God is love and desires that we live forever in bliss and love. Today’s gospel reading from Luke reminds us that there is more than God’s desire to consider when we think about our own deaths. Hidden away in a debate about a theoretical woman who was married seven times, Jesus speaks in this passage saying, “Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection ….” So eternal life is not necessarily a sharing in the resurrection unless we are worthy! Now that gives us something to really think about! Who is worthy of eternal life? I doubt that there is any human way to earn the worth needed to enter heaven, but we don’t need to worry about it. Fortunately, God has already made us worthy of Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. What we cannot not do for ourselves is pure gift from the heart of Love Itself. This is reason to rejoice and sing God’s praises. The worth that we have been given came to us at baptism, on the day that we confessed Jesus as Lord and received the gift of redemption. We have been made worthy but we can lose this gift, too. Just like having faith in Jesus means more than belief and includes a life lived in loyalty to Jesus and His teachings, so also the gift of redemption and worthiness must be prized and preserved through our faithfulness to Jesus.
I am sure that most, if not all of us, desire to be faithful to Jesus not just because we want to enter into the resurrection, but simply because we love Jesus. We do our best to live honest, loving, generous lives. We try to live sustainable lives because we know that the Earth and all its creatures are precious to our God who gives them existence. I wonder, though, how far we would be willing to go to live our faith in complete integrity?
In the reading from the Maccabees today, seven brothers were tried and found faithful to the God of Israel, so they were tortured and killed for their faith. Listen to their courage and fidelity. One brother tells the king, “You accursed wretch! You dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to everlasting life, because we have died for His laws.” Another brother stretches out his arms and tongue to have them cut off in punishment for remaining faithful to God. He told the king, “I got these from Heaven, and because of God’s laws I disdain them, and from God I hope to get them back again.” Their faith and trust in God gave them the courage to give up their lives, even when they were to be tortured. They were certainly worthy of the resurrection.
We will probably never be asked to die for our faith in such a literal way. Nevertheless, we are given ample opportunities to stand up for our faith and proclaim it to the world. In California, USA, elections were recently held. One proposition on the ballot allowed voters to suspend hard fought for laws protecting the environment. Californians roundly defeated that proposition. Another proposition proposed an $18 vehicle license surcharge to help fund state parks and wildlife programs. This proposition would have prohibited politicians from raiding these funds for other purposes, thus protecting wild lands and wildlife. When it came to personal sacrifice for the environment, the citizens of California said, “Enough! No more,” and they defeated this environmental proposition. It was an opportunity to be faithful to our Creator and Californians said it was too much sacrifice.
We are given opportunities and we can create opportunities to be faithful to God’s plan expressed in the words of Genesis, “Tend the garden.” We want to be found worthy of life in the resurrection. Let us, then, choose faithfulness in every aspect of our faith so that we will be judged worthy.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Happy Halloween to all my readers! This Sunday we hear a gospel story so familiar to us that we automatically know a number of lessons that we might draw from Zacchaeus’ and Jesus’ encounter. We might consider how Zacchaeus’ conversion led to justice for the poor or we might ask ourselves how far out on a limb we are willing to go in order to follow Jesus. Even with these more obvious considerations, I want to consider something quite different that this story embodies.
The story of Zacchaeus tells us that he is a rich man. It is important to remember what that meant in Hebrew society. To be rich meant being someone who does not have to work for a living. A rich person is so well off that he can hire others to do his work for him. As the senior tax collector, Zacchaeus probably had an entire staff of tax collectors working for him. He would stay at home running his business; he would not personally collect taxes somewhere. At the same time, he would be mindful of the cultural expectations of his day regarding riches, namely, that anyone who has more than enough to live on is obliged to give to the poor his excess. Yet, when we hear the story of Zacchaeus, we might imagine that he must be some spectacular kind of sinner in order to have “all who saw” him grumble because he is a known sinner.
Another hidden jewel in the story is that the name Zacchaeus in Hebrew means “clean” or “innocent” or “pure.” Since the Bible only uses the name twice, it cannot be an accident that this senior tax collector is called Zacchaeus. The other place in the bible where we find the name is in the second book of Maccabees and Zacchaeus is a general who leads thousands of men in battle. He is completely capable of overpowering the enemy; he cannot be overcome. It is to Zacchaeus that Judah left his precious sons before Judah went to war, knowing that the his boys would be safe with Zacchaeus. In this case, Zacchaeus is trustworthy and a person who provides safe shelter. So, Luke’s story of Jesus and Zacchaeus may be telling us that this Zacchaeus is like the Old Testament Zacchaeus, someone who is trustworthy and safe.
Another aspect of the story that we need to know is that when we read the story in Luke’s original Greek, it reads, “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’” If we take this present tense used by Zacchaeus, he is not promising to give away half of his belongings. No, he is telling Jesus that he already gives half of his possessions to the poor. In fact, according to the Greek text, when Zacchaeus says, “If” I have cheated someone, the Greek does not imply that he has cheated anyone. Instead, it simply says that if Zacchaeus discovers that any of his tax collectors has cheated someone, then he, Zacchaeus, will remit four fold the amount the tax payer has been cheated. So, the text is saying something closer to, “If I have cheated anyone, (not that I am aware of it) then I will repay four-fold.”
What we see before us is the story of a truly righteous man who lives his religious life sincerely, yet because of his profession, people regard him as a sinner. How easy it is to misjudge people! From mere externals we believe that we know the core of a person. This is true for us today as much as it was for the people who misjudged Zacchaeus. We need to be aware that like Halloween children who go around in costumes begging for candy, people’s external life can act just like a mask, hiding the true treasure inside.
It is worthwhile to consider people in our own lives, people we see in the forefront of the green movement. Not everyone has a “respectable” image. Sometimes, actions of Green Peace members have been pronounced “illegal” and disrespectful of the “rights” of others, for example, when they block trawlers from catching shark or whales. But when we listen to the whole story of fishers who would torture sharks by removing their fins and tossing them into the sea to drown or killing protected species of whales, we find that Green Peace actions have pointed out the immoral and illegal activities of others by their protests. I wonder how many of us would be willing to risk our reputations to save others from such activities.
Zacchaeus was aware of his bad reputation and provided evidence that he was not the sinner people believed him to be. When Jesus heard it, he proclaimed that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house. Perhaps, one lesson this story teaches us is that Jesus defines our reality, not the gossips and pundits. We should stand ready to explain our environmental activities to those who believe that green protestors deprive them of their rights to over-consume nature’s bounty or destroy the quality of land while farming. Like Zacchaeus, we can know that many protestors are innocent of wrong doing and join in activities that preserve the integrity of our planet even in new or unorthodox ways. If you’d like to know more about ways to be involved in environmental activities, consult Green Peace and other environmental organizations on the Internet or the ones listed below.
The Green Nun's Favorite Links
- Audubon Society
- Carbon Footprint Calculator
- Catholic Coalition on Climate Change
- E Magazine
- Earth Literacy Masters Program at SMW College
- Environment California
- Environmental Defense Fund
- Forest Ethics
- Friends of the Earth
- Global Climate Change Report
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Ocean Conservancy
- Pacific Environment
- Sierra Club
- The Nature Conservancy
- Union of Concerned Scientists
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