Sunday, October 30, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor 

Quote of the Week: “What we love we shall grow to resemble.” — St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Today’s Gospel is a simple story involving a man, a tree, and love and hate.

Ultimately, love wins. It always does, because it gives — not takes — life.

Zacchaeus is placed at the center of this story between love and hate.

The townspeople did indeed hate him — and with good reason: He worked for the enemy collecting their taxes; he charged them more than he should have. He got rich off them.

He had an army of Romans to back him, since he was working for Rome. Even his physical details gave them opportunity to display their hatred for him.

When Zacchaeus tried to move up to the front of the crowd to see Jesus when he passed by, they blocked him and prevented him from doing so. Since he couldn’t see over them, the only thing left was to climb a tree. But just as much as the townspeople hated Zacchaeus, Jesus loved him.

He loved him not because he did anything to earn it. Jesus loved and offered love to Zacchaeus because he knew he needed it, believed in the power of love to help and save, and Jesus never missed an opportunity to teach others about love.

When Jesus arrived at Zacchaeus’ tree, he looked up, called for him to come down, and loved him by inviting himself to his home — an act of entering into intimacy and hospitality.

It worked immediately.

The town displayed more hate, but Zacchaeus countered it with love. He had already been affected; loved by Jesus, he changed on the spot. He loved Jesus back by publicly giving a sign of repentance (metanoia) and thereby saving face for Jesus.

Jesus was being indicted for entering the house of a sinner. But the sinner declared not just a little change; he declared a total change of heart.

Zacchaeus’ willingness to give a portion of his wealth to the poor (20 percent) would have been considered generous by any standard. He went way beyond — he publicly declared that he would give half of all his wealth to the poor.
And he also promised to pay back those he defrauded four times what they lost.

This was total conversion!

Then in one sweeping statement, Jesus restored wholeness and welcomed back Zacchaeus. He placed him on equal ground with everyone else who was there. He revealed the real meaning of community: not rejecting and condemning what is lost but seeking it out and welcoming it home.

"Today, salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

With whom do we wish to be identified: the town and hate, or Jesus and love?

Today’s Gospel is a simple story involving a man, a tree, and love and hate, but the results are miraculous.

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112; email perry.leiker@gmail.com. Follow Father Perry on Twitter: @MrDeano76.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor 

Quote of the Week: “The rivers of Grace cannot flow uphill, up the steep cliff of the proud man's heart.” — St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

What happens to a person who exalts himself, thinking he is better than others?

What becomes of a person who thinks that because she follows some rules or procedures that her life is better than someone else’s life?

Jesus, not surprisingly, has some strong opinions about this. The final line in today’s Gospel states it clearly: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

But what is underneath all of this?

It would be dishonest to say that the Pharisee did nothing good. On the contrary, as he states: “I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on my whole income.”

These can hardly be criticized; in fact, they are praiseworthy, but it reminds one of the person who is so busy bragging about himself he can’t hear anyone else giving him a compliment.

Even this in itself is not the problem. What good is it to do good if it only becomes the platform to judge and condemn others? Who has the right to judge?

Is there any difference in condemning actions rather than persons? Might it not be just a little arrogant to condemn the rest of humanity?

It seems rather strange to lump all of humanity together as greedy, dishonest, and adulterous — that doesn’t appear to be how God sees it.

A good representative from the rest of humanity gives quite a different view of himself. He “stood at a distance” and he would “not even raise his eyes to heaven.”

Instead, beating his breast, he just prayed: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The contrast is embarrassing. One is so proud he condemns all of humanity; the other is so humble he only asks God for mercy.

Self-righteousness is the one thing attacked most consistently by Jesus. It is clearly the attitude that gets in the way of caring for anyone except self. Jesus’ own description of the self-righteous is the one who “despised everyone else.”

The self-righteous truly think that their efforts are the most important ones. Yet far more important than anything that we do is what God does for us and in us; far more important than our achievements is his love.

One filled with judgement and condemnation is probably not empty enough to be filled with love and compassion. Isn’t it obvious why Jesus was so concerned about this?

Is Jesus’ truth not our truth: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112; email perry.leiker@gmail.com. Follow Father Perry on Twitter: @MrDeano76.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor 

Quote of the Week: “Expect much of God, and he will do much for you.” — St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

We all like stories about the little guy beating the big guy in a struggle.

Today we hear the biblical David and Goliath story in yet another form. There is a deep sense of justice, of right, of good winning over bad. This story satisfies on the deepest levels.

Today, such a fight takes place with a mighty judge and not just a woman (the odds are already against her) but a widow. That means she has no property, no money, no power. Some injustice has been done to her.

The judge, however, seems to be siding with the forces that be: the money powers (since Jesus describes him as a corrupt judge). That usually means one is taking bribes and so they will decide in favor of those who can pay; therefore, this woman would have no chance.

But there is something powerful about someone who really believes in their point of view or their case. Even without any power, probably not even the means to have a lawyer, she keeps coming to the court day after day. She keeps shouting out her case day after day. Day after day, she keeps telling the judge and anyone she can about the injustice, as she seeks justice from the court.

Persistence, conviction, self-confidence, need, hope, and the willingness to fight on to victory, are the stuff that keeps her going. The judge’s corruption, and his greed and concern only for himself, prove no contest to this woman’s honest fight; she would not give up until justice was done.

This is the example Jesus gives for prayer.

Pray, always. Do not become weary of prayer. Ask again, and again, and again, and again. This is what it means to pray. The point is not the number of times. The point is not even just what we ask for. That can change as we ask. That can become more clear as we keep praying.

Sometimes we realize we are asking for the wrong thing. In order to be so persistent and to keep at it again and again and again, we have to believe in ourselves, our need, our prayer. Therein lies the power.

This also verifies what Jesus consistently says at every healing. He always turns to the person and finally says: “Your faith has saved you. You faith has healed you.”

At the end of this parable Jesus winds it all up with the real issue, the real question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112; email perry.leiker@gmail.com. Follow Father Perry on Twitter: @MrDeano76.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor 

Quote of the Week: “We find rest in those we love, and we provide a resting place in ourselves for those who love us.” — St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

The Gospel today focus on two themes: the power of faith; and dutiful service.

The apostles frequently asked questions of Jesus: informational ones or specific actions from him.

Today was no different. They asked the Lord to “increase our faith.”

He did respond, but he didn’t do what they asked. Rather, he gave them a response contrasting two hyperbolas.

His first combined two proverbial ideas into one hyperbolic statement. He said that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed (hyperbole — one of the tiniest seeds) that you could say to this mulberry tree (one of the most deeply and tenaciously rooted), “be uprooted!”

Not likely, though.

Then he added to this idea another hyperbole by saying you could plant it in the sea — clearly one of the most unlikely places since this tree could not possibly grow there.

The exaggeration makes the point super strongly, which is exactly what hyperbole is meant to do — exaggerate through the example to make the point or meaning even stronger.

What the apostles were asking for was nothing in comparison to what Jesus wanted to give them — extraordinary faith and trust in God.

***

In A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous), and other 12-step programs, people in the group take on tasks or responsibilities of service to the group. At each meeting they usually give a little report to the group, and typically they finish their report with the words: “Thanks for letting me serve.”

Thanks? Why would one be thankful or grateful for being allowed to serve. The Gospel today gives some understanding to this simple yet profound attitude.

Most of us could never really relate to an example involving slaves. In our national consciousness we have developed an abhorrent response to the very idea of slavery. We wish we could erase the reality and any memory of it from our history.

But in Jesus’ time it was a part of the social fabric of both the Romans and the Jews. It was acceptable. In fact, some people sold themselves into slavery with the hope that one day they could be emancipated.

Even so, there were expectations of a slave, both from the master and from the slave. The slave knew what was expected. To do the service was to be responsible and fulfill one’s obligation as a slave.

Not anyone would think that a slave was to be thanked. It was simply their job. They were unworthy (that is, not worthy of praise), because they were only fulfilling their duty.

Duty was dignified. Duty could bring one’s freedom. Duty was a moral obligation and one’s responsibility.

Jesus was probably directing this parable at the Pharisees who routinely thought they deserved to be praised for what they did.

We are at our best when we realize who and what we are. As God’s creation we have been loved into existence and blessed each day. This is not because of what we do, but because of who God is. He loves us all — the good and the bad — equally and always.

His example to us is and was to love and to serve. In this we find meaning, life, satisfaction, joy, dignity, and have no problem saying the words: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” (Luke 17:10).

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112; email perry.leiker@gmail.com. Follow Father Perry on Twitter: @MrDeano76.