Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B
Fr. Steven Roth

Treadmills. They have a feature where at the end of the workout a message appears that simply says “great workout.” It feels so great to see that message after beating a previous record for time or speed or simply walking the distance the person had hoped for. The other day, however, I had only run no more than 60 seconds when I accidently touched the stop button. Immediately the treadmill stopped, thinking I had completed my intended workout, and guess what message came up? “Great workout.” The same message obviously appears regardless. As I saw that, a question dawned on me. Do we expect the same in our relationship with God? In other words, do we look for faith and our relationship with God to always repeat the same message to us time and again, compliment and praise.

We know what God asks of us. We often do the opposite, but hope and expect God to still say good job. Thankfully, for our sake, God loves us too much to do just that. Instead we see in the gospel exactly what He does. Jesus could have easily let His apostles continue arguing about the nonsense they got distracted with. Yet He didn’t. By asking the question, “what were you discussing? ” He helps them to acknowledge what they were doing. After having been able to recognize their focus, Jesus corrects them. Notice He does not scream or insult them. Rather, He uses an example so that they remember.

In turn, the Lord does the same for us. Whether here at Mass or in our private prayer, sometimes through family and friends, the Lord reaches out to us. He stops us and asks in a sense, “what are you focusing on?” It is such an important question because we can then realize maybe we are mixing up our priorities. Even though God wants to be most important in our lives, maybe more often than not, He isn’t. Maybe money and careers are becoming more important than family and friends. Perhaps we spend more time thinking of ourselves than we do those in need? Let’s face it, for a time doing our will feels good and free, but soon it becomes empty, frustrating and not fulfilling. Without God stopping us and calling us to answer, we would never find our way to happiness. Instead He helps us to get focused on the right things, so that we might find happiness and contentment.

Let’s not be afraid, also, if the Lord speaks to us in such a way that makes our heads spin. Sometimes we miss out on the full meaning of Jesus’ words since we are hearing them 2,000 years later. Today, when Jesus used the example of a child we often think of cute, adorable and lovable child. However, in Jesus’ day children were not viewed in the same light. Instead, children ate dinner last in the family. Children also had no rights. Now consider, Jesus uses a child as an example for a group of men who were arguing over who was the most important? The apostles must have been shocked.

Sometimes the Lord might use our experience here at Mass to open our hearts and minds in a drastic way. Let’s not be alarmed or scared. He might be calling us to make family more of a priority over work. He might be inviting us to make Him more of a priority in our lives. The Lord gets our attention so we might see, believe and change our ways, so that we can experience the great happiness God has for us. We know that it is God’s ways, not our own that will bring peace. So often, we need a reminder to consider what we spend our time focused on and then to consider how God wants us to change. “What were you arguing about?” What were you spending your time on?

And so today, we gather in the presence of our God who loves us so much that He does not offer us an automated response. Instead, He has called us to this church to hear His words individual and unique to each one of us. As we walk on the journey of life, out of love, the Lord’s words tells us not what we want to hear, but that which we need to hear not to have a great workout but that we might have a great life!

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B
Fr. Steven Roth

Do you know anyone that loves to window shop at the mail; checking out what’s the newest and latest? Some people can find this to be a lot of fun, but others might find this frustrating; especially if you see an item you really want but just know you will never be able to get it. In a sense, this feeling of being so close, but so far from getting, I suspect, could be how we feel in hearing not only this miracle story today, but all of the healings of Jesus. Can’t you just imagine, almost feel like you were there, as Mark describes in detail this deaf mute begging Jesus to heal him? Then to see, almost before us, in the vivid language that Mark describes, that Jesus touched this man and even used His own saliva to heal Him. Yet what about us? Why doesn’t Jesus heal us? Why doesn’t He cure the people in our lives that we know are suffering from cancer or Alzheimer’s, addictions or _____. It seems that we are so close in hearing these stories, but so far at the same time.

But do we really want to be healed like the deaf man? Before we answer, have we remembered where is this deaf man today? Dead. And the lepers He cured. Dead. And remember Lazarus? Dead. Peter’s mother-in-law? She is dead too. So either Jesus is not a good miracle worker and healer, or His mission is about something more.

That is exactly what Mark is trying to help us to understand in this miracle story. Jesus heals the man, but He then tells him, do not tell anyone. It’s almost as if Jesus was afraid of His miracles and cures; afraid they might distract people from His true Mission and purpose. To indeed be a healer, but a healer of souls so that all people will be brought back to the Father.

So indeed He is a healer, but a healer of the pains and breaks, the disease of our souls that keep us from the Father. He is a healer like none other. That is cause for great rejoicing because Jesus is the one, the great healer! He is the one spoken of in the book of Isaiah that will bring happiness and joy. He will do it!

He will do it, but not in the way we wish or hope or perhaps at times even demand. In all of Mark’s gospel, no one, not one person announced that Jesus was the Son of God in any of the miracle stories. As profound and incredible as they were, not one was moved to say Jesus is the one. He is the Son of God. He is the one we have been waiting for.

Instead, the first person in Mark’s gospel to announce this was a man who stood in the shadow of the cross. A man who stood looking upward to see not only a poor man now dead on a cross, but a man who had been executed in the most horrific way, reserved for the worst of criminals. It was a Roman centurion who said “truly this was the Son of God.”

It was the cross that brought us to the Father because it is the clearest, most obvious reality. When the world has done its worst, when from the outside, Jesus looked like an absolute failure, the Father did not abandon Him. Death was not the end. Even death could not keep this healer down.

My brothers and sisters that is the Mission of Jesus. Not some immediate fix for this life, but a permanent fix for the next; to heal our souls so that we can trust in God totally. That we can have faith in our own lives to trust and believe in God no matter what. He will not let us down. It is the stark reality of the cross, not the glamour of His miracles and healings that leads all of us to the Father.

So perhaps none of us are window shoppers with God, unless we choose to be. Instead, God invites us to buy what He has to offer. To buy the love He has for us. To buy the forgiveness and compassion that only He has to offer. The price is the same every day, our hearts. Oh great Healer, open our ears to hear You calling us and our mouths to proclaim your goodness!

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B
Fr. Steven Roth

Would you ever leave Him? Would you ever stop following Jesus? Just think how different our lives would be! Just think we could live as we want. Money, well money is money. We can earn as much as we want not taking into consideration how fairly we earn a living or the impact our job might have on family. Our lives would be different because we would no longer have to exert energy to forgive others. We could hold grudges and dislike them as much as we want. And helping those less fortunate than ourselves would no longer be a concern. Let them fend for themselves. There would be no more guilt or frustration in trying to live according to the gospel. Instead we could do as we feel. You have to admit, it sounds appealing.

I’m sure life apart from Jesus was appealing to Peter as well. So often we think of Peter as some peasant fisherman with a row-boat and fishing pole. Peter, with three others, owned a fishing business. They had boats, equipment etc. We also know that Peter had this business in a town called Capernaum on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. A major road ran right through this town that became a trade route. So we can be sure that Peter saw and encountered many people who lived very different lives. These various lifestyles, we could imagine, must have been very appealing and even enticing.

And so when Jesus says to Peter, are you going to leave too? Peter’s reply in saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the words of everlasting life” is essentially saying “Jesus, I know the other ways people live their lives. Yet it is Your way, as hard at times as it might be, which is the way I want to live.” Brothers and sisters, we too echo those same words. Week after week we continue following Jesus for the same reason.

However, in this realization, let’s not forget that like Peter, we too will make mistakes as followers, despite our commitment to follow Him. Like Peter, we will deny Jesus in word and deed. Like Peter, we too will get mixed up, say dumb things and need to be brought back on track. But brothers and sisters, it is far better for us to be an imperfect follower of Jesus than to not follow Him at all.

While it might be appealing to not follow Jesus, we know it would not make us happy. Just think, do we admire or like the people who hate, hold grudges, are self-centered or self-absorbed? Do we aspire to be like people who are cheap or stingy? Of course we don’t. They are not happy or content because they are following an unattainable goal. How much is enough? What job is prestigious enough? What car or house will ever be good enough if that is what we direct our lives according to?

Today, Jesus asks you and me the same question He asked Peter. “Will you leave Me too?” Indeed our lives would be so different not following Him, but is that really what we want?

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B
Fr. Steven Roth

Living a vocation in life is very difficult. Now I know you are expecting a long homily on the woes of priesthood. While priesthood certainly has its struggles, I’d like to focus on the other noble vocations in life that deserve our admiration. Parents sacrifice so much each day. Many of you as parents work so hard to make sure your children get educated, develop good morals, do their homework and on and on. So often you put your needs after the needs of your children. Grandparents, you might have it even a bit harder. Not only do you care for your children, but now you have the added worry of your grandchildren.

The vocation as a married couple certainly has its burdens too. Spouses care for one another in illness. They are patient when the other spouse just isn’t his/herself because of a job. So often as spouses you work diligently to love each other even if it means working through some tough stuff.

The single life has its shares of difficulties too. Whether it is loneliness or the dilemma of who to marry or how you want to make a difference in the world. This is no easy path as well.

These vocations can be exhausting and can bring us to our knees like Elijah. Yet, brothers and sisters, our relating to the story of Elijah is not just to commiserate on the difficulty of life, but instead to be assured of hope because of where we are. We find ourselves beneath a tree, not a broom tree like Elijah.

We find hope because we find strength, nourishment and help because we reflect on this story beneath a tree, the Tree of Life. Underneath this Tree, on which we see our crucified Lord, we soon will find and experience the nourishment the Lord offers to us for our journey. Not a hearth cake and water, but beneath the Tree of Life we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. This passage offers us incredible hope. Life is indeed difficult and there is no point in pretending otherwise. But we are not alone on this journey called life. God walks with us on this journey not placing obstacles in our way to make this journey harder. He does not stand back and watch to see what we will do. Instead like the experience of Elijah, God is there with us to help. God sends to us not just an angel pointing us to hearth cake and water. Rather God directs us to the food for the journey, the Eucharist. We gather here, more often than not, exhausted from the week and yet God invites us to this privileged place beneath a tree. Not the broom tree, but beneath the Tree of Life where we receive the necessary strength we need to continue on our journey.

How incredible it is to be here and to be nourished. But how good it is that we gather here together. What a wonderful witness and reminder this is to each one of us that as we soon will walk up one by one to receive the Eucharist, we do so because we are hungry people. We eat the Body and Blood of Jesus because we need strength. It is not a parade of honor and glory, but a moment in which each one of us recognizes we cannot continue on our own, but need the nourishment our loving God freely gives us.

But with any journey, we always need to remember where we are going. Elijah, we are told, was on his way to Mt Horeb. Ironically this mountain was formerly called Mt. Sinai, the place in which Moses received the Ten Commandments and the place where later Elijah would receive direction as well. We too journey in life to be closer to God and better understand what He wants us to do.

So let’s eat of this Eucharistic banquet because we need it. This week we continue our journey called life and we will need all the help we can get. Whatever our vocation in life is, may we know we are never alone.