I love that, four days into Lent, four days into this season of fasting, we’re reading about a feast.
For me, nothing captures this passage from Luke quite like the scene by the Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese. He turns Luke’s “great banquet” into a wild party. The enormous canvas of The Feast in the House of Levi bursts at its seams with dozens of figures: the disciples and Levi, as well as entertainers, soldiers, children, slaves—even a cat and a dog. Jesus is a still, calm center in the midst of riotous humanity.
The scene is seductive—outstretched arms and turned bodies invite us in, like a friend who opens a place in a circle for you to join. The scene invites us in, to join the throng of “tax collectors and sinners” whom Jesus comes to call. The key question of this scene isn’t that of the authorities—“why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk 5:30)—but the one that Jesus leaves unvoiced—“why don’t you join us?”
Imagine for a moment how those at the banquet might have felt. Tax collectors and sinners were the outcasts and the undesirables, cut off from community. Jesus does not seek to segregate and excise them, as others do, to tell them they are unworthy of his ministry and friendship. He calls them. He claims them.
Feast of Richard Meux Benson
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
I’m struck today by this little word “if.” “You are my friends if.” When was the last time you said that to a friend? “You are my friend if you take my side.” ”You are my friend if you do what I say.”
But how often does this “if” go unspoken? “You are my friend,” we say, while thinking, “if you do what I expect, if you believe or read or vote the way I do.” How often do we find ourselves unconsciously closing the door on those who do not fulfill our unspoken ifs?
The founder of our Society, Richard Meux Benson, whom we celebrate today, had a dim view of friendship, in large part because of these ifs. He recognized that, in practice, earthly friendships are often divisive, based as they are on “certain idiosyncrasies which we may share in common, and which naturally . . . separate cliques from the rest of mankind.” In short, he later wrote, “earthly friendships are apt to make us feel lonely both in their enjoyment and in their removal.”
We come to know God as love, as light, and as indwelling presence, so that we may become love and light and presence for others. In this season, reflect on how you can come to know God more fully. Pray that you may live and act so that others may know God through you.
Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle
What would it mean for you to have proof?
This question is in the background of P. D. James’s novel Death in Holy Orders. A theological college holds a papyrus that purports to disprove the Resurrection. Surely, if this document proves to be authentic, the inspector asks one of the priests on staff, if it is hard proof about something that had until then only been a belief, this would surely be relevant to your faith. “My son,” the priest responds, “for one who every hour of his life has the assurance of the living presence of Christ, why should I worry about what happened to earthly bones?”
Earthly bones very much worry the apostle Thomas, whom we celebrate today. Bones and flesh, blood and wounds—the physicality of Jesus’s body, the fleshly reality of his friend and teacher. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25) Jesus lets Thomas see and feel his body, giving him the proof he seeks. But not without a rebuke: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).
During this season of Advent, as we await the coming of Jesus, we can recognize that Jesus is already here—in word and sacrament, the gathered body of Christ, and within each of us. Jesus comes to us now, in the particularity of each moment and circumstance, and waits for us to meet him.
We find ourselves this Advent in a world that seems to be breaking down. A litany could encompass all ills and lands and peoples, and still feel incomplete. We find ourselves, this Advent, hurting, injured, crying out. Crying out for hope. Crying out for hope in God’s promise of healing.
The season of Advent layers time: past and future, memory and expectation, already and not yet. And God’s promise of healing is present in both layers. Part of Jesus’s ministry, as we hear in our Gospel today, was in curing every disease and every sickness. In the next chapter he will answer the messengers from John the Baptist by pointing to his own healing: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, [and] the dead are raised” (Mt 11:5).
This healing is also in the future—at the end of things: the time of the harvest, in Jesus’s words. The prophet Isaiah reports God’s promise that, after the day of judgment, the people of Zion will weep no more, and that the Lord will bind up the injuries of God’s people, and will heal their wounds.
As we close this liturgical year and begin Advent this evening, we are reminded of our common vocation as Christians: to be Christ’s light in a dark world. Pray for the grace and courage to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, that we may be equipped to do the work God has given us to do.
To be agents of God’s kingdom on earth, we must be in conversation with God. Rather than, “what do I desire?” ask, “what do you desire for me?” Rather than, “how can I change myself?” ask, “how can I be open to you changing me?” Bring your desires to God, and bring God into your desires, and take comfort knowing that God will transform them, and you.
What if this story is all about Mary’s brain?
The beats of today’s Gospel reading are familiar to most of us. Here at the Monastery, we recount them in the Angelus, which we pray before Morning and Evening Prayer. “The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary . . .” pause, “and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
So much happens in that pause. And what if it’s all about Mary’s brain?
Of all the young women God could have chosen, God chose Mary. And what is the first thing we find out about her? That she hears the angel’s news, is perplexed, ponders over his words, and questions him. The first thing we find out about Mary is that she responds to God by using her own God-given faculties of reason and intelligence.
Byzantine writer Nicholas Mesarites provides a cognitive description of this episode: “The word comes to the hearing of the Virgin, and enters through it to the brain; the intelligence which is seated in the brain at once lays hold upon what comes to it, recognizes it by its perception, and then communicates to the heart itself what it had understood.” This then leads Mary to question the angel to determine the truth of the angel’s words. Only after she verifies the truth does Mary gives her yes to the angel, and to God.
All Saints’ Day
I had a tough day yesterday.
Not that anything was particularly bad; everything just seemed slightly off. I felt like I wasn’t able to see things head on. I couldn’t wrap my head around what needed to be done, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t seem to stay on top of things. I had to sit down, take a breath, and say to God, “I need something. I don’t know what I need, but I need something, just to get me through to the next thing.”
It was just one of those tough days. I’m sure you’ve had one or two of those yourselves.
But it was also a day that felt completely self-indulgent. With so much going on, here and around the world, with so much pain and suffering, who am I to complain about an off day? Surely it’s better to acknowledge my own struggle and move on to praying for these bigger issues. I had a tough day, but so many people are having tougher ones.
I’m sure you’ve felt this way, too.
Yesterday was a tough day.