Sunday, September 04, 2016

Stretch Out Your Hand

Your boasting is not appropriate. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our Paschal Lamb, Christ has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored. But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.  Luke 6:9-11

"The fruit of silence is prayer"
--- Teach us to pray.
"The fruit of prayer is faith."
--------Help us to believe.
"The fruit of faith is love."
-----------Guide us to love.
"The fruit of love is service."
--------Strengthen us to serve.
"The fruit of service is peace."
------Lead us to peace.

(Prayer on the back of Saint Mother Teresa, M.C., of Kolkata’s business card)

We encounter some very “yeasty” readings for the end-of-summer.  Work is the common theme between the today’s Scripture and today’s “holy-day” in American civil religion.  To celebrate the works that we do, we take the Labor Day Weekend day off.  To celebrate the works that Jesus commands, the Messiah takes a day to engage his followers in the works of mercy.  We are there to see Christ stretching out his hands in service to cure the crippled man in the temple.  Where is the corruption in that act?  Precisely because Jesus went to work on the Sabbath is why and how he got himself into trouble.

Yeast, which induces fermentation, is a natural symbol for a source of corruption that becomes all-pervasive. Once the fermentation process begins, it is hard to end.  The dough will keep rising.  Beer will keep brewing. The old yeast of corruption will keep corrupting. However, the new yeast of mercy will remain perfectly merciful.

In the Jewish calendar, Passover was followed immediately by the festival of Unleavened Bread. In preparation for this feast all traces of old bread were removed from the house, and during the festival, only unleavened bread was eaten. The sequence of these two feasts provides Paul with an image of Christian existence: Christ’s death (the true Passover celebration) is followed by the life of the Christian community, marked by newness, purity, and integrity (a perpetual feast of unleavened bread). [i]

Jesus is showing the sincerity and truth of the works of mercy.  He commands the man with the disability to stretch out his hands, just like Jesus will do as he is nailed to his cross.  The crippled man complies with Jesus’ commandment. 

Jesus wanted to throw out the old bread of blindly following rituals in favor of the new bread of life dedicated to blindly performing works of mercy.  We are fed by the new unleavened bread of the Eucharist. Once Jesus starts to leaven his environment with the spirit of service without regard to the day of the week, mercy also becomes pervasive.  Maybe that is why the scribes and Pharisees feel so threatened.

If you looked at the pictures and video broadcast from St. Peter’s Square anytime this weekend, you could be forgiven for thinking it is a good time to be a Catholic nun. The canonization of St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata brought out throngs of worshippers for the Mass.  Tens of thousands were there – so many that if you stretched out your hands, you would probably hit the person next to you in the nose. 

Mother Teresa stretched out her hands to lift up the poor and the sick.  She stretched out her hands to form a community called the Missionaries of Charity.  Pope Francis explained, "[Saint Mother Teresa] bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity," Francis said. "She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created."

But, -- unfortunately – the publicity has not been as good for some as it has been for others.

Take Sr. Sola Matas, 51.  She was born in Barcelona but spent her adult life and ministry in Haiti.  Sola was a member of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary.  She helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to build a parish vocational school where Haitians could learn everything from catering to electrical wiring to music.  Sister Sola was gunned down while driving an old SUV through the crowded street of Port Au Prince.  Her purse was stolen.  I cannot even image how little was in that purse.

Take Sr. Paula Merrill, a nun with Kentucky-based Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.  She was a nurse practitioner to residents of one of Mississippi's poorest counties.

Take Sr. Margaret Held, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was living her dream of erasing racism and poverty in the deep South.

Sr. Paula and Sr. Margaret were stabbed at home, apparently victims of a robbery.  The car one of them owned was found a short distance away.  At least, in this case, the alleged murderer is in custody and news reports say he has confessed.

We pray in gratitude for the precious lives of Sisters Sola, Paula, and Margaret … they and others are drawn to the consecrated life as brides of Jesus.  They serve the poor so well.  Why would modern scribes and Pharisees, thieves and blind fools cut off that wellspring of love? Despite these acts, we remain a church of Hope.

What religious sister stretched out her hands to you in service?  Who is your hope, your inspiration?

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