Jesus’ address to the Pharisee teaches us that exterior actions are crucial for interior transformation. He tells the Pharisee, “inside you are full of extortion and wickedness… But give for alms those things that are within; and, behold, everything is clean for you.” To counteract his sin of extortion, Jesus tells him to give alms. The root of the sin, greed for money, is counteracted by the very giving away of that attachment. In doing so, the Pharisee not only does justice to his neighbor but also works to remove his heart’s attachment.
As bodily creatures, interior transformation requires our whole person, both body and soul. If we are angry with someone, we can counteract it by considering the good in that person. If we are experiencing spiritual lethargy, we can add an extra Mass a week. Jesus carries out the work of transformation, but he does so in a way that calls us to put forth an effort.
Jesus’ words are harsh; is he talking to me? I am tempted to exclude myself, but I tend to seek signs, while ignoring the ones in plain sight. I condemn myself in my failure to recognize the One among us, the One who is greater than Jonah, or Solomon, the One who is in the destitute, the disenfranchised, who exists on the margins; the One I walk by every day, without truly seeing.
St. Ignatius asks “What more can I do for Christ?” It might start with me actually noticing him. I so often compartmentalize my commitment to seeing the One. I make my solidarity with the One a mental exercise, free of Incarnation. I ask for signs, but the signs are all around me.
I want to believe Jesus is talking about those people, but I cannot assume this; he is talking to me, and it is Wisdom. May I be attentive.
—Tom Murray teaches Theology at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, NE.
Brené Brown suggests: It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful. We are not just to cultivate an “attitude-of-gratitude” or simply feel grateful, Brown says, but rather it is about inviting joy into our lives through creative, intentional, tangible practices of gratitude.
In the first reading (2 Kgs 5: 14-17), Naaman, a foreigner, insists on taking two mule-loads of Israelite dirt back to his homeland so he can continue praising the Lord. The psalmist sings new songs (Ps 98). And in the Gospel, only one of the ten lepers return to give Jesus glory and honor. Each of these figures finds intentional, tangible ways of practicing gratitude: concrete acts of praise, singing, and deliberate expressions of thanks. Their joy is palpable and leaps off the page. Their witness inspires us to consider how we might more creatively, intentionally, and tangibly practice gratitude, that our joy may be more complete.
At first glance, today’s Gospel might appear to have Jesus slighting his mother. In response to a woman acknowledging Jesus’ greatness by calling out blessings to the woman who gave birth to him and raised him, Jesus turns the blessing around. His reply, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it,” seems a bit jarring.
Throughout the Gospels, we see evidence of the profound love Jesus had for his mother. It is at her request that Jesus performs his first miracle at the wedding at Cana. One of his last acts before dying on the cross was to entrust Mary’s care to the disciple whom he loved.
Jesus’s response in today’s Gospel should not discount Mary’s role, but rather to focus on the future. We are not to look to our past to give us glory, but rather on how we live our lives going forward. Do we hear the word of God, take it to heart, and live it out in our daily lives?
—The Jesuit Prayer team
For a long time, I had a hard time reading this Gospel without picturing small cartoonish red demons chasing people around with pitchforks. Surely this wasn’t what Jesus was warning us about! But while I am happy to let go of this childish image, I recognize that I shouldn’t so quickly dismiss the idea of evil spirits among us. While recovering from a battle injury, St. Ignatius of Loyola began to recognize what he would later refer to as the movement of spirits. He acknowledged that there are both good and evil spirits acting in our lives. The evil spirits may manifest as those things that make us afraid, doubtful, proud, or jealous. They lead us away from the path that Jesus invites us to follow.
The Examen prayer tool offers us a way to help identify these evil spirits in our lives. As we reflect back on the day, we look for those times when we felt distant from God, or perceived a decrease in faith, hope, and love. Noticing these patterns can make it easier to discern where the Holy Spirit is inviting us.
How can you take note of the movement of the spirits in your life today? What is the good spirit leading you to do?
Personally, I don’t want a rash of unprepared neighbors beating on my door at midnight asking for something that could wait until morning. “Hey, sorry to bother you while you sleep, but I was wondering if I could borrow your lawn edger.” No. That’s a terrible idea, and I don’t think Jesus is advocating for that. In today’s Gospel, the unprepared neighbor has a little more at stake than my thoughtless neighbor doing lawn work at 1am. The neighbor in the Gospel is put into the position of living up to a strict code of hospitality. Unprepared to meet this societal obligation, he asks his friend for aid, likely ashamed because he knows it’s unreasonable, but persists because of the need’s importance. The friend in the parable is also understandable in his reluctance to open the door but still meets his obligation as devoted friend and one who respects the norms of the culture.
Jesus, as he often does to us, switches our lens on his proposition: what if we are not the awakened neighbor, but the one unexpectedly in need? Should we fear asking for something important or deeply desired? What if we’re not asking a fallible human neighbor but our infinitely merciful God for help? Can God be annoyed? Will God tell us to go away? Jesus assures us God would not. We absolutely should ask for what we desire. God may not answer us in the way we expect, but God will answer and likely with something much more appropriate. If we ask God for a lawn edger, we should be confident we will not be sent away with a monkey wrench. But we may need to be prepared for God to send us home with something even more useful.
Jonah was so focused on his own desires that even though he was following God’s will, he was angry when things didn’t go his way. God pardoned the nation that Jonah wanted to see destroyed. He was so overcome with hatred that he wished to die instead of seeing his enemy live.
How often do we hear it preached to love your enemies, practice mercy, and welcome the stranger? But how quick are we to judge when things don’t go the way we want. It’s easy to follow God’s will if we get what we want. But what if we don’t get the results we desire?
Can we relate this story to a person or group that we do not like? How do we respond when we see them receive the same mercy that God extends to ourselves? How might we try to respond differently in those cases?
—Sam Mauck is the Director of Youth, Campus, and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Memphis, which is a member of the Charis Ministries partner program.
There’s a saying – if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. I have convinced myself through years of work and study that I’m happier when busy – that, when faced with a mile-long to-do list, I rise up and become my best self. Pay no mind to the stress and anxiety, the resentment that others aren’t working as hard, the feeling that the whole world rests on my shoulders. I feel like Martha most days, and it doesn’t always feel good.
Busyness stalks us. There’s always more to do. Demands will always be made on our time. Yet, I also know that my finest moments exist in between the tasks – tender encounters with loved ones, mere minutes of unstructured time, moments when I see God seeing me. For all of my Martha, my Mary knows better. May I, for just a moment today, sit with God.
—Eric Immel, SJ, is a member of the Midwest Jesuits. After six years in Chicago, he recently moved to Boston where he studies theology.
How many times have we heard today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Good Samaritan? As a child, it was one of the first stories that helped me make the connection between faith and doing good in the world. When I was younger I was sure I would always be the good Samaritan in this passage. It can’t be that hard, right? Re-reading it now, it’s much easier to sympathize with the priest and the Levite. The right thing to do isn’t always obvious or comfortable or even endorsed by society at large. I don’t like discomfort and tension, and often it’s easier for me to choose the path of least resistance.
As we move into this week, can we pause to recognize the ways that the Holy Spirit might be moving in our discomfort, challenging us to discern a difficult but holy way forward?
—Christine Dragonette is the Director of Social Ministry at St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis.
There is such a thing as preaching to the choir – or to the usual readers of this site – too much. With all of September and now into October, the Gospels from Luke have been words of warning not to the occasional Christian but to seasoned followers of Christ.
We are not to take the place of honor (1 Sept) or to love even the most precious things of this world too much (8 Sept); we were to identify with the elder son, not the younger, prodigal one (15 Sept), and were warned that like the dishonest steward, we cannot serve both God and mammon (22 Sept); we flinched at noticing the unnamed rich man in all of us (29 Sept); and today “We are worthless servants; we have done only what we ought to have done!” What are we to do?
Perhaps we are only to remember that we are loved sinners who actually are invited to the Lord’s table, where our God calls us servants no longer, but friends.
—Fr. Greg Ostdiek, SJ, is a Jesuit priest of the Midwest Province. Ordained this past June, he is spending his first year after ordination studying education at Harvard.