Our first reading belongs to the collection of wisdom books of the Bible. This book can also be categorized as deuterocanonical which means “second canon”. The word “canon” refers to the list of religious writings that is considered authoritative for our faith. This reading provides advice about how we might assess the quality of a person; how we can judge another and determine their true nature by listening to their words.
Our second reading comes from Paul’s final section on resurrection and is a continuation from the previous three Sundays’ readings. In this last section, Paul makes a proclamation of faith about the transformation that we will experience at death, when the physical body takes on an immortal body. Dramatically, Paul asserts that our victory over death and sin comes through Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel is the conclusion of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. It is very similar to the more common Sermon on the Mount and some believe it’s a sermon Jesus proclaimed wherever he went. Luke 6:12–20a details the events leading to the sermon. In it, Jesus spent the night on a mountain praying to God. Two days later, he gathered his disciples and selected 12 of them, whom he named Apostles. On the way down from the mountain, he stood at “a level place” where a throng of people had gathered. After curing those with “unclean spirits”, Jesus began what is now called the Sermon on the Plain. This sermon consists of three brief parables or sayings:
“Stop judging and you will not be judged … Forgive and you will be forgiven … Give and gifts will be given to you.”
We are called to be vulnerable in the face of shame and violence, to give without expecting a return, and to love our enemies. Lastly, to be merciful as God is merciful.
Our first reading reminds us of the fact that what people say and do reveals what is in their hearts. The fruit we produce is evidence of the disposition and intentions of our inner selves.
As you know I’ve been struggling and working on connecting to my soul and my God. So many of the books I have studied over these past few years have similar themes to today’s readings. One of my latest ventures, The Seat of the Soul, is a blend of science, spirituality, and philosophy. The author stresses the idea of our time here on Earth being a psychological and spiritual evolution. This evolution involves a shift from external power to internal power. As I’ve mentioned during previous meetings, a shift from the five sensory to the multisensory being is also a construct of the book. If you view the world with only five senses, you generally conceptualize power as something that can be taken away or given to someone else. Authentic power is the ability to do great things with your life. It comes from within and it’s closely tied to a higher purpose in life. Gary Zukav, the author, also talks about the difference between the soul and one’s personality. The soul is immortal and works toward perfection, while personalities are mortal and exist only in the material world as bodies, which work to fulfill the soul’s mission.
Karma dictates what each personality must do to help its soul become whole again. People need to cultivate reverence for others instead of getting caught up in judging their behavior. According to Zukav, before a soul takes on a form, it agrees to fulfill some kind of purpose during its time in the body. The soul knows this purpose but an individual may not be aware of it, at least not consciously aware of it. Luckily, it’s acknowledged that everyone can take many different paths in life and they’re not any better than the others. The universe will provide for people who trust it even though they don’t understand why or how it works. Even if bad things happen, they are a part of the soul’s evolution towards wholeness.
Intuition plays a key role in the multisensory life even though it can’t be explained in rational terms. This is where our unseen Teacher gives us guidance. At times, we need physical cues to help us interpret our feelings and emotions; assuming they are accessible. We use intuition to make important decisions when rational information is lacking.
Zukav recommends infusing the activities of life with reverence, compassion, and trust to make them come alive with meaning and purpose. Lastly, Zukav emphasizes the importance of paying attention to your intention.
For me, the greatest challenge is to become vulnerable and to trust. Our pasts play such a key role in our current actions, reactions, and interactions. I have been “clobbered” in the past in relationships and it’s difficult for me to become close to others as a result; unfortunately, it also plays a role in my ability to trust in God and His plan for me. According to extensive research completed about the impact of negative experiences, it takes five good experiences to counterbalance one negative experience. In my head, I know that I have been blessed more than challenged but it seems my heart is unable or unwilling to let go of the negative experiences. Over these past few years, the negative experiences don’t become front and center as much as they have in the past but they still stir within me on occasion.
My latest read, Braving the Wilderness but Brene Brown, is focused on “the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone”. One of the many points in her book that resonates with me is that unless we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world we will never fully belong because it will never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. What our faith tells us is that we are part of the same spiritual story and we are connected by God whether it’s obvious to us or not. This connection is based in love and compassion.
And now I return to today’s readings. The first reading talks about assessing another person’s integrity. So often in today’s environment, I find myself not always listening to an alternative point of view but rather composing my counter argument. I found myself surprised to be instructed to judge another by their words in this reading. Granted, we are in the Old Testament here but still it feels contradictory to what I consider to be the lesson of judging another by their actions. Words are very powerful and I often forget how powerful they are in the heat of an argument, when frustrated, or when I’m not acting but just reacting so it’s my hope I am not being consistently judged by my words. Also, aren’t we not to be judging others? I think this is why so many people of faith are confused and unclear about our instructions and interpret the lessons of the Bible to fit their perspectives; so many contradictory messages.
I connect on a deep level to the second reading. I have always believed that we existed before we come to Earth and that we will exist after our time on Earth. Zukav, to whom I referred to earlier, talks about our time here on Earth as “Earth School” and we are all here to learn what we need to learn and each person’s lessons are different. As the second reading so clearly states, our victory over death comes through Jesus Christ but so do the lessons we need to practice and master. Once again, that sense of connecting with the Teacher so that we can discern our personal lesson and strive for mastery resonates profoundly with me. The connection is so fragile and at times feels just out of reach for me. I am in a near constant struggle to discern how to best connect and understand His message for me. How many people don’t even realize their connection or that they have something to master while here on Earth?
Lastly, let’s talk about the gospel and its very challenging messages. The first lesson is to be vulnerable in the face of shame and violence. Raise your hand if you’re comfortable being vulnerable. I am so uncomfortable being vulnerable that there is no rating scale that goes high enough to measure my level of discomfort. This is the area I need to work on the most personally and I feel it’s the main reason I am unable to fully connect with God consciously and discern my purpose. My memories are filled with times I felt vulnerable and then the feelings of either pain and/or embarrassment quickly followed. It’s challenging for me to not put human characteristics on God, so I am often unable to understand that God is different than the humans who have shaped my sense of self and with whom I interact.
Moving on to giving without expecting a return. I like to think this is a strength for me unless I’m not being the best version of myself and holding or attending my own personal pity party. The example that comes to mind is when my brother was nearing the end of his life in 2002. I was between teaching assignments and my sister-in-law needed to work as she was now the bread winner in the family and my brother could not be left alone for long. Three days a week, I would go and stay with my brother while his four kids were at school and his wife worked. This was a time of great grace and I have never felt closer to my brother. After his death, my relationship with my sister-in-law, which had never been very close, became even more awkward. In addition, my brother’s family spent holidays and vacations solely with their other side of the family. The pain of losing my brother had a life altering affect on my family and the distance between his children and us has never been repaired. However, even knowing the outcome, I would not change the time I spent caring for my brother. Does this qualify for giving without expecting a return? Time will tell …
Now the easy one! Love your enemies … ahhh, they saved the best for last. This is a request to do something radically different. Graciousness and mercy are virtues of honor and are linked to justice. Why is it connected to justice? The connection lies in the fact that mercy is considered a weakness unless it’s connected to the higher law of justice. God is a god of justice; we need to pay back what we owe. As we know, mercy is the love we do not deserve. We know our own hearts and know our level of worthiness, the truth. We are told that God gives us what we need and it’s easy (at least for me) to forget the worth we have in the Lord by His grace. We also have brokenness within us. It’s often stated that when we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely that we try to protect ourselves. This can often result in less empathy, more defensiveness, more numbing, and less sleeping. Has anyone else been experiencing this during the pandemic? In addition, it seems that in our current environment fear plays an ever-expanding role. As fear hardens, it expands and becomes less of a protective barrier and more of a dividing barrier. In my mind, it’s near impossible to overcome a dividing barrier to forgive our enemies. Fear was a very necessary emotion in human history but now it seems to be overwhelming so many of us, especially our youth. I don’t always live like a daughter of God and I know in my head and when I am not being the best version of myself, turning to God in prayer is the answer.
A few questions for you to ponder: How do you handle your fear? Have you experienced being vulnerable in a positive way? We are divine partakers of the divine nature by our birth, how can we live up to that? I know I can’t do it alone, can you?