Judge Joseph Wapner, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Judy. For over 30 years, judges like these three and many more have dispensed justice for thousands of regular folks wanting their day in court.
There are American Idol judges, Miss America pageant judges, Olympic judges, science fair judges and judges at the state fair determining the best jams, jellies, pies and salsas. I myself like the State Fair winning Merlinda’s Blue Ribbon Salsa made by my cousin Merlinda Sedillo, found in your local grocery store’s salsa section.
Of course there are the legal judges, probate, municipal court, district court, state court, and all the way to the United States Supreme Court, all of them interpreting the law of the land and passing judgment on the guilty and it is not by any means a perfect system.
But then there are the harshest judges of all, each of us judging ourselves. We are sure that we can’t be forgiven by others and many times just can’t forgive others…or ourselves.
Let’s be real about today’s readings, they are tough to hear. We are not just reminded gently, but told boldly that we are sinners.
In the first reading from Deuteronomy we hear, “But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you that you shall perish.”
Also from Sirach, “for great is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power and sees everything. His eyes are on those who fear Him and He knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked and he has not given anyone permission to sin.”
Yes, sin is a choice and not sinning is a choice.
Then there’s the gospel from Matthew. If all Christians lived today’s gospel, could we ever finish a church service? Many would be leaving their gifts at the altar to reconcile with their brothers and sisters and we would wait until everyone came back. Gift, gifts everywhere.
Any given day almost all of us need to ask forgiveness of someone in our lives who we have hurt or who have hurt us. We can’t come to the altar without a clear heart. Of course sometimes going to that person to confess our sin to them could be worse than the original sin.
In the early church that is just what happened. People tried to tell someone, “I took one of your chickens, I cheated you in a financial deal, I coveted your wife…and the ensuing confrontation was anything but Christ-like. This is where the original concept of confession started, the priest would sit in as a representative of the community and you could tell him the sin and he would give you forgiveness as a representative of the whole community.
Back to the judges. Some of the harshest, cruelest and most unforgiving judges in the world are our own Christian brothers and sisters. The words “holier than thou” come to mind. I admit I had a bit of a struggle and was a bit judgmental of Christians I knew who got divorced, couldn’t they have tried harder, gone to counseling? Now that I am one of those divorced people, I see things differently. And I’ve said this before, the people here at Live at Five helped me through that terrible time in my life when my other Christian friends kind of turned their backs on me.
Now I see now how many people, Christians included, judge harshly on topics like divorce, adultery, abortion and gay marriage, but they see no sin in not taking care of babies after they’re born, taking care of children, the elderly, the homeless, the prisoners and the sick.
In the gospel, Jesus speaks about how what we think of as the lesser sin, being angry with your sister or brother, is just as bad in the eyes of God to murdering that person. I think that is very important; all sin is sin in the eyes of God. Every sin hurts God and our relationship with God, but sin can be forgiven. Forgiveness can be given and received. But we do have to ask for it.
A very important thing to remember is that all governments and churches are flawed, because they are run by humans and all humans are flawed. God only has one perfect child and that is Jesus. The rest of us cannot reach that perfection and judging each other won’t help us get any closer to reaching that goal .
I get a cold chill running down my spine as I think what would happen if a panel of human judges were to pass judgment on me at the end of my life…I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the outcome, probably none of us would. But fortunately for me…and you, we have a loving, compassionate and forgiving God, sitting at the only real judgment seat in heaven…and I feel way more comfortable with our Lord passing judgment on me. Although I hope it’s not anytime soon so I can take care of a few things I need to fix first.
But when the Lord does take me and I do stand at that judgment seat, I don’t want God to say “case dismissed” like Judge Judy, but instead, “You are loved and forgiven. Well done good and faithful servant.”
Lord, may the words of my mouth, settle in the hearts of those you love. Amen.
In preparing for today, I found myself examining the story of the prodigal son from a different perspective. I have never really seen myself as a prodigal son. I am one of the only people of my generation, that I know personally, who never left the church. Most of my family and friends did the typical “stray from the church” during college, trying to find themselves or decide for themselves where God fit in their lives. Many came back to church to get married, baptize their children or bury their loved ones. Some stayed, realizing how much they missed their church family and worship. Some left again until the next event.
Some left the church of their youth to join a large evangelical church like Calvary Chapel or Legacy Church. I used to get a kick out of how my mom would always pray for all the fallen-away Catholics, that they would come back to the true church. I know she particularly meant members of my extended family who left for Calvary over the years. Mom, I said, why don’t you pray for all those fallen-away who are not going to church at all, they probably need your prayer even more.
Some left their church after a bad personal experience with a pastor or priest, or a church that shunned them.
You know, you’re only a prodigal until you come back, some find a new church community that is loving and accepting very quickly. Some stay on the prodigal road for years, turning their backs on the Lord. The funny thing is, when you turn your back on someone, that doesn’t mean they’re not there anymore, you just don’t look at them. In any prodigal time in our lives, we turn our backs on Jesus, but He still has our backs. I’ve always kind of chucked at the question, “Have you found Jesus?” Why, I didn’t know He was lost. The prodigal son was lost and is found.
So I think it’s fair to say that each of us has had some type of “prodigal time” in our lives that eventually brought us home to God.
Now how about the other side of the coin? The brother who stayed at home, working for his father…could be like many of us, involved in everything at church from being an acolyte, proclaiming the scriptures, Eucharistic minister, choir, working in the food pantry or as part of the vestry.
I remember that in my family, I always felt like the odd one out. My oldest brother Diego was the firstborn and really smart. Next was Steve who became a dad at 18 and gave us our nephew and the first grandson, Ramon, but who had many struggles as a young man. Then came my sister Theresa who was the middle child, but she was the only girl. Next was me, nothing much to talk about…and last but not least my youngest brother Julian, the baby of the family. Then one day when I was in my 30’s, Steve told me, “You know you’re mom’s favorite right?” Why me? “Because you’re the only one of us who goes to church every Sunday!” That’s when he called me the white sheep of the family.
In the parable, the oldest son, who stayed home with dad working his fingers to the bone, doesn’t like the father’s excessive reacting to the prodigal returning home. Do we as church react to the prodigal’s return in the same way? At my old parish, a very proud church in the Atrisco area in the South Valley, most of the families are Hispanic with deep roots in the community. In the last twenty or so years, the influx of Mexican, Central American and South American immigrants has been huge and it bothers many of the old-timers that the church is just fawning over these new church members, who are only coming back to the church they worshipped at in their homelands. After all, we built this church.
Why did the elder brother have so many issues about the younger son coming back? I think he was being jealous and selfish because, he built this and the younger wasn’t going to get any of my stuff.
I really feel like this community is like the older brother but with the right attitude…welcome home. Like my father, I have been waiting for you too. Sometimes we even have a little celebration after mass for us to share.
One final thought, the father waited every day, looking out at the horizon waiting and hoping for prodigal to return. And whether we’re gone for a long time, or during a time of anger or resentment in our lives, or for the five minutes we are bad mouthing that person in the office or screaming at the jerk that just cut you off on the freeway, God is waiting. And in those times when we have the desire but just don’t have the strength to make it back all the way, God will run to us, take us in His arms and love us, for we were dead and are alive again, we were lost and are found.
I have always wondered what kind of relationship Jesus and his cousin John had. John was the first person to ever recognize Jesus when he lept for joy when Mary came to visit his mother Elizabeth. Were they cousins who played games and visited each other? Did John ever come to Nazareth to visit with Jesus and his parents? Did they spend summer vacations with each other? Did they ever get into trouble with their mothers for doing dumb and dangerous things? My answer and my hope is yes, because after all, they were kids.
Could you imagine if they were the same as kids as they were as adults? No one would want to play games with Jesus because he was so perfect…he hit a home run every time. And no one would trade lunches with John because all he ever had was honey and grasshoppers. Yuck!
But eventually, they grew up. Jesus, the carpenter, and John, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord. Repent!” John the preacher, who was baptizing people in the Jordan River. And he lets everyone know he is not the Messiah. “I baptize you with water, but the one coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Then came that fateful day. The story of John’s preaching and Jesus’ baptism is the first story to appear in all four gospels because Jesus’ ministry begins here. Most people ask, why would Jesus even need to be baptized? Even John said,
“I need to be baptized by you and yet you are coming to me?”
I love this explanation from a sermon by Saint Maximus of Turin entitled,
The mystery of the Lord’s baptism:
The Gospel tells us that the Lord went to the Jordan River to be baptized and that he wished to consecrate himself in the river by signs from heaven. Reason demands that this feast of the Lord’s baptism, should follow soon after the Lord’s birthday, during the same season, even though many years intervened between the two events.
At Christmas he was born a man; today he is reborn sacramentally. Then he was born from the Virgin; today he is born in mystery. When he was born a man, his mother Mary held him close to her heart; when he is born in mystery, God the Father embraces him with his voice when he says: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: listen to him.
The mother caresses the tender baby on her lap; the Father serves his Son by his loving testimony. The mother holds the child for the Magi to adore; the Father reveals that his Son is to be worshiped by all the nations. That is why the Lord Jesus went to the river for baptism: that is why he wanted his holy body to be washed with Jordan’s water.
There is another first in this story. This is the first time scripturally that the Trinity is mentioned, Jesus being baptized, the Father’s voice is heard and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove.
As His baptism was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, our baptism is the beginning of our ministry. No, we’re not all ordained to the ministry as our priests and deacons are, we are called to live a life of ministry, in whatever way the Lord leads us.
I’ve mentioned before that I lost my firstborn son back in April 24, 1987. He only lived for nine minutes but the one thing I did before he died was to hold him in my arms and baptize him. It wasn’t like he was not going straight back to heaven, but I wanted him to know, that Larry Guadalupe Gallegos is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. So I always remember April 24, 1987 as his birthday, the day he died and his baptism day. Here’s my Baptismal Certificate. My birthday is March 21, 1958 and I was baptized at San Jose Church on South Broadway on April 6, 1958 which is my baptism day. I usually treat myself to a favorite meal and sometimes even take the day off to celebrate they day my ministry started.
Baptism is a gift from God to His children. Now whether the choice is made by parents of a child or by a person old enough to make the choice to be baptized on their own, it is a choice that is available to all the children of God and with it, we accept that God is our Father. God has no grandchildren…only children, so we must be cleansed in the water the way our brother Jesus chose to do.
So I ask all of you, if you don’t know it already, to find out and mark the day of your baptism on your calendar, and celebrate it because each of us is beloved, God is well pleased with us too!
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Help in time of need. We all need help in various times of need in our lives.
The rich young man needed to know what else he had to do to follow Jesus. When Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor, the young man walked away.
In this political season, we hear a lot about the 1 percent, the 47 percent and the 99 percent. It seems to be pretty easy to figure out who the rich ones are…or is it? On the surface, the ones with the money are the rich ones. Now, if it was just about having wealth the answer would be easy.
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Scary thought if you’re one of the “rich” ones, but no fear, I’ve heard research is going on right now and they’re trying to breed tiny, little camels and make build really giant needles. Problem solved!
Again I ask if being rich is just about having great wealth. A few years ago, my son and I were able to do some work in the slums in Juarez. I’ve considered myself to be middle class most of my adult life. There in Juarez, we learned about how rich we really were. We had a home with indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning. We were a family of four with three cars, cell phones, a computer with internet access, cable TV, we were rich!!!!
Our host family had a 2 bedroom house and my son and I stayed in the 2nd bedroom while the 3 boys slept in their parent’s room. The mother worked in a concrete block factory and was allowed to bring home a few blocks a week for free. When they had enough blocks, they would add another interior wall to create a new room. Some of the outside walls were made of 2x4’s with cardboard for insulation and anything they could find for outside sheathing; sheet metal, wood pallets, even a bed spring, until they got enough blocks to build those walls. It was quite a fire trap. The house was heated with a wood burning stove made from an old oil barrel. This was in January of that year, the coldest part of the winter. The father was a plumber so they had indoor plumbing, cold water only. In the morning I took the coldest…and fastest shower I had ever taken in my life.
We ate beans, rice, chicken and tortillas. And their hospitality? I was treated better than in any hotel I had ever stayed in.
Here’s the funny thing, in their neighborhood, they were the rich ones!!!
Pretty much almost everyone in the United States, including our poor, are rich compared to most of the world. So does that mean in comparison to the rest of the world, we all need to look for those tiny camels and giant needles?
I do think that Jesus was speaking of worldly goods when he spoke of the young man, but also of the way in which we put things in front of God.
What riches in our life interfere with our relationship with Jesus? It can be money, or possessions, even people that can get in the way. When anything comes between us and the Lord, it becomes our riches.
Our own egos can be the worst of the riches we have. Thinking that we don’t need Jesus to take care of a situation, or making excuses for not making time to pray, for scripture time, for quiet time with God, these are all ways when our “personal richness” makes it harder for us to get to heaven. And if left to our own richness, we can’t make it to heaven.
“Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
For God, all things are possible. When we understand that all things are possible, we learn to lean on the Lord, to let go of those things that get in the way of that relationship. Only then can we “approach the throne of grace with boldness.” The boldness comes from knowing that our God makes all things possible, no matter how much we may have let our riches get in the way.
“So that we may receive mercy,” the mercy that comes from a loving and forgiving God. The mercy that God offers continually, we just have to accept that offer of mercy every day.
“And find grace to help in time of need.” We will always find grace especially in our time of need if we just open our hearts to God’s grace.
God is always showering us with mercy and grace; it’s just that much of the time we don’t let go of our riches long enough to see it happening. Our times of need seem to be those times when we turn our back on our Lord. I’ve seen many people go through tremendous hardships, health issues, family issues, financial problems and more. For some, those burdens seem to cover them and permeate their lives, causing frustration and a feeling that God has abandoned them.
For some, it seems like there’s nothing bothering them. They have a strength and faith that all can see. Why? Because they are allowing God’s grace and mercy to cover them completely. Their faith helps them to overcome any trial that comes to them by letting go of their riches.
A dear old family friend, Mrs. Aurora Chavez passed away at 2:00 this morning after a long battle with cancer. Her grand-daughter told me that her grandma was praying earlier this week that God would give her family the strength to make it through this tough time. Not to ease her own pain, but to ease the pain of those she loved. I have no doubt that Aurora is in heaven at this very moment looking at each of us and her family and friends, because her riches were stored in heaven.
Let us become like her. If our riches are stored in heaven, then we can accept God’s help in time of need and let God’s grace and mercy be abundant in our lives.
So it’s not just about how much money or stuff we have…
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.