When Moses came down from the mountain he had with him the tablets with God’s ten major ordinances – the Ten Commandments. The most important, of course, was that God’s people were to worship Yahweh faithfully and honestly, but down the line a bit there was the one that we now call “VII” – Thou Shalt Not Steal. We all know that stealing is wrong. To intentionally take something that is the private property of another person, is almost in cases a moral evil. I say in almost all because there are certain circumstances which would allow a person to make quick decisions in order to survive; for example, food when faced with hunger. In general, it is always wrong to steal.
But some kinds of theft are worse than others. Walking into a liquor store with a handgun in order to empty the cash register is theft and if you don’t get killed, you certainly can go to jail for a long period of time. You may not understand this but there is a certain honesty in that kind of theft. You have money, I want it and if you don’t give it to me, you are going to get hurt!
However, let me tell you of a worse kind of theft. Put yourself in the executive offices of a fast food place. It doesn’t matter whether it is McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King. You see the hourly charts coming in reflecting that Gene Jones or Raul Martinez worked 52 hours at the minimum wage. No one can actually survive on that in an urban setting. Why should those two guys who sweated for so many hours get so much money? We will just say that he worked 40 hours cutting him out of overtime. Stealing from the poor is, in my opinion, the very lowest form of theft!
A few weeks ago the United States Department of Labor announced the results of a survey indicating that the scope of wage theft in this country is stunning. The practice of stealing wages, commonly called “wage theft”, is a national epidemic. It eats away at the livelihood of already underpaid workers. Eighty percent of surveyed fast food workers experienced off the clock violations, meaning that they were required to work without pay before punching in and after punching out. Forty-eight percent who worked more than 40 hours in a week did not receive overtime pay. Wage theft has ramifications beyond the employees who are cheated. We suffer when wage theft becomes a way of doing business. Law abiding businesses can’t compete with wage cheats who shave their operating costs by breaking the law. The less money that wage earners bring home, the less money they have to spend on basics, such as food, clothing and household necessities depriving local businesses of much needed consumer dollars and hampering our economy. When that happens everyone loses.
The Department of Labor has studied and documented that this heinous crimes. Now let’s give them the charge of cleaning this utterly cruel form of theft up as quickly as possible.
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September 15th, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s first reading describes a dramatic scene, an important event. God is angry, very angry. His people are journeying slowly and with great difficulty towards the Promised Land and time after time in moments of fear or discouragement they fall back into the pagan idolatry of their neighbors. At the moment Moses is up on the mountaintop negotiating with God. Yahweh informs him that he ought to immediately go right down into the valley because his people are about to be destroyed.
We see the awesome reality of Moses dealing directly with God but he is not afraid. He argues, he prays, he implores and his expectations produce results. He reminds Yahweh of how He has helped these people again and again on their painful journey through the desert. Will He now wipe them out and erase the great work of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? He reminds Yahweh that Yahweh, Himself, had promised to make of them a great nation. Won’t he be going back on his word if he destroys them now?
“So the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on Israel and his people.”
Remember, Abraham prayed in the same way when Sodom and Gomorrah were about to be destroyed. In the Old Testament, God’s people are conscious of his great love for them but frequently see him as awesome and terrifying. It was not until the coming of Jesus that we are able to experience the infinite gentleness and love that is manifested through His human nature. God is pleased with us when we express our dependence on him and when we intercede for our needs. When we do so we are expressing both dependence and faith simultaneously. Both are good qualities and necessary for prayer.
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August 5th, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today is one of those Sundays where the sacred texts come together to form an almost perfect collage. We begin with the book of Exodus about eleven or twelve hundred years before the birth of Jesus. The chosen people have been wandering in the desert slowly making their way towards the land that had been promised them by Yahweh. The people are complaining about inadequate food supplies and the Lord directs Moses to tell them that He will now feed them with bread from heaven and a miraculous form of bread will descend from the skies.
Over a thousand years later, Jesus finds himself in a similar situation. He is confronted by many critics demanding a sign as to who he was. Jesus makes an awesome promise; namely, that their forefathers had consumed bread from heaven while starving in the desert, but that source of food satisfied only for a few hours. Hunger returned quickly. Jesus then said an amazing thing.
“It is my father who gives you the real heavenly bread. God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
He then goes on to say,
“I, myself, am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry. No one who believes in me shall thirst again.”
Baptism gave us a sharing in the life of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist nourishes that life as we journey towards our eternal destiny.
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The salvation history is just loaded with wonderful stories and images relating to water. In the book of Genesis, the creation story tells about God separating the land and the waters on the third day. One of the best water images is the fact that humanity is given a new life when Noah saves so many species from dying in the great flood. As an infant, Moses is placed in a basket in the Nile River in order to protect him from the pharaoh. When escaping Egypt, the chosen people walked through a dry area with miraculous walls of water on either side. Jesus begins his public life by being baptized in the Jordan River. In his first miracle, Jesus changes water into wine. While hanging on the cross, his side is opened by a spear and blood and water come forth. After the Resurrection, the apostles see Jesus walking on the water. Peter attempts to join him but not with complete success.
The one that I like the most is the image of the Church as being a boat, the bark of Peter. Just as Jesus slept through a storm on the Sea of Galilee while the boat bounced to and fro frightening the apostles nearly to death, so the bark of Peter has for 2,000 years continued to be bounced, thrown up and down, turned this way and that and despite the height of the waves and the power of the wind, it has stayed afloat. That is the outcome of Jesus’ promise that the Church would last, that Jesus would be with us until the end of time.
The Church is always going to be battered by the tides of history. Confusion and convulsion is always part of human existence. The boat’s crew always needs to endeavor to keep it in as close to perfect shape as is possible. We need the right equipment, the right directions, the instinct for survival and certainly an ability to utilize the winds to move us in the right direction and not blow us off course. Those winds are really blowing right now but with all my heart I believe that the Holy Spirit is at the tiller!
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March 18th, Fourth Sunday of Lent
As we transition from looking at St. Mark’s cryptic style for the last few weeks and now we look at a profoundly different method of writing of St. John’s. John’s writings reflect the fact that the Christian community has been thinking about and remembering what Jesus did for about 65 years. John also seems to be influenced by Greek philosophy which dominated the Roman Empire at the time of his writing.
Today’s text from the third chapter of St. John is really wonderful. It connects Moses actions as prefiguring of actions by the Messiah, Jesus. It summarizes the wonderful love that our God has for the whole human family. He advises his listeners to have strong faith and live in the light.
John started his Gospel talking about a strong relationship between light and life. He begins this excerpt with an exhortation to live the good life out in the light of day. He points out that, “An evil person hates the light for fear his deeds may be exposed, but he who acts in truth comes into the light to make clear that his deeds are done in God.”
In the middle of Lent, this is a good time to ask ourselves are we really children of the light? We are called to be. Are we?
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March 4th, Second Sunday of Lent
Today, Mark walks us through a startling scene, a scene that today we describe under the title, “The Transfiguration.” Jesus has taken Peter, James and John to the top of a high mountain where suddenly he is transformed before their eyes and he is not alone. Elijah and Moses are with him and the three of them are talking. The three apostles, being healthy human beings, are flattened, overwhelmed and, most of all, frightened.
What would you and I do? Jesus is standing there in an explosion of light, extraordinary men in the Jewish story have been brought back from yesterday, a cloud suddenly envelopes the whole scene and a mysterious voice is heard to say, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” Then it was over.
Our Lord does not quickly settle down and give an analysis to this experience. It is just part of the mysterious reality that always surrounds Jesus. Everything he does generates questions – questions – questions. While some answers do appear, the final answer will only be had by those who look at the reality of this Divine Person being present in the human story and embrace that presence with faith.
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The Lenten scripture readings are really wonderful. Oh, how these excerpts of God’s Word jump at us on the weekdays of Lent!
Today’s first reading is from the book of Leviticus. In it, Yahweh gives us Moses, and through Moses, his word is passed to God’s people. First of all, he presents a summary of the basic commandments, the dos and don’ts of how to live, and then he gets a little more detailed.
“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind but you shall fear your God. Do not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. You shall not go about spreading slander nor shall you stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake. You may have to reprove your fellowman. Do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge, cherish no grudges. You shall love your neighbor as yourself for I am the Lord.”
All of us have work to do in Lent and thankfully we have the opportunity to carry out that work.
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