Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.

In his second letter to Timothy Saint Paul reminds his protégé of that sacred moment when, amid a gathering of the entire church, he commissioned Timothy as the bishop of the local church. The spirit that came upon Timothy was not “of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”

That Spirit is, of course, that of Jesus and his Church. Just as an inferior basketball team may be inspired to win the championship despite the superior talents of their rivals; and that eager, joyous, self-sacrificing spirit abides in each athlete; so does the Holy Spirit abide in each member of the Church. But the Church also needs an inspired leadership. There is a synergy between leaders and members, each inspiring each that overcomes obstacles together.

A willing church will often point to its pastor and say “He (or she) brought us to this!” and the pastor will insist, “Everyone pitched in and did their part.”

In today’s parable the Lord describes a well-functioning household with its master and its servants. There is a tacit understanding in the group that each person does his and her part. They need little direction and no gratitude; they throw themselves into the work and would not consider neglecting their tasks. They are grateful for the opportunity to serve.

Reading this text two thousand years later we might wonder about the stratified society of masters and slaves. Was that just? Why did Jesus not challenge that unfair arrangement?

But, because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, his fictional household was truly just. A household or company is justified by Holy Spirit who governs it, not by its internal structures. Or it is condemned by its diabolical spirit. The news has been saturated lately with stories of major corporations that lacked God’s spirit; they did not hesitate to exploit the vulnerabilities of their employees, treating them like domestic, sexual slaves. Ostensibly democratic, they could not match the most basic measurements of equality.

In today’s first reading we have heard the Prophet Habakkuk’s cry for mercy:

How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.

Though we pride our western civilization for dismantling slavery and other forms of institutionalized abuse, the Prophet’s cry is all too familiar. Psalm 127 warned us,

Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.

As we labor through this particularly difficult election year, frightened of the unappealing choices before the electorate, we beg God to anoint his people again with the Holy Spirit of Jesus. We pray that our house will not fail nor our city collapse under the burden of our own evil spirits.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.