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Battle Lines

  • October 14, 2021 (readings)
  • Thursday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
  • Fr. John Bartunek, LC
  • Luke 11:47-54

    The Lord said: “Woe to you who build the memorials of the prophets whom your fathers killed. Consequently, you bear witness and give consent to the deeds of your ancestors, for they killed them and you do the building. Therefore, the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and Apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute’ in order that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who died between the altar and the temple building. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be charged with their blood! Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.” When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.

    Opening Prayer: I join my voice to the words of today’s psalm: Lord, let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication. I come into your presence knowing that you are interested in my life, that you care, that you want me to grow in holiness and bear everlasting fruit for your Kingdom. I open my heart to receive whatever word, whatever grace you want to give me. Hallowed be Thy Name, O Lord, in me and through me…

    Encountering Christ:

    1. A Love-Hate Relationship: The history of God’s chosen people, the Jews, and indeed, the history of the entire human family, is marked by the beneficiaries of God’s generosity repeatedly rebelling against God. Jesus invoked this history when he pointed out the violence committed against Abel and Zechariah, two bookends of the Old Testament. He showed that the generation of religious leaders who were rejecting him, and who would crucify him, were linking themselves to all the past rebellions against God, bringing them to a climax, in fact. In short, Jesus called out their sin. He hoped that in so doing, he would stimulate them to reflection and repentance. This rebellious spirit is within each one of us. As children of Adam and Eve, the initiators of mankind’s rebellion against God, we have a strong tendency to want to dictate how things should be in our lives and in the world, regardless of God’s providence or sovereignty. Where do I see this rebellious spirit in my life? Where do I join the crowd who opposes God’s will and God’s plan? 

    2. What Knowledge Is For: Jesus rebuked the scholars of the law for having much knowledge but not living in accordance with that knowledge. Unfortunately, this too is a trap that we easily fall into. We know so much, simply by knowing our catechism and having heard so many explanations of the Gospel. We know that obeying the moral law is the path to a flourishing life; we know that we are each called to help build up Christ’s Kingdom; we know that happiness is not to be found in money, pleasure, power, or popularity. And yet, do we act according to this knowledge? Do we follow the moral law? Do we dedicate ourselves to bringing people closer to Christ and his Kingdom? Do we direct our energy towards living in communion with God, confident that whatever else we may need will be given us as well if we keep his Kingdom first? Yes and no. Like the scholars of the law, we profess faith in the truths God has revealed, and we follow them to a certain extent. But when we take an honest assessment of the authenticity of our Christian discipleship, we find an awful lot of room still to grow.

    3. The Pharisees Got Defensive: Jesus hoped his “woes” would startle the Pharisees into openness or repentance. Maybe in the end, after his Passion and Resurrection, these words came back to their minds and helped them accept the Gospel. But their immediate reaction was to get defensive: the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him. What do I get defensive about? In what circumstances do I get defensive? When we interact with our loved ones, when we have challenging encounters at work, we often find ourselves getting defensive. Anytime a difference of opinion seems to question our intelligence or integrity, our initial reaction is usually to assert our intelligence and integrity, even violently. If we can catch ourselves when we do that, if we can become aware of when we are acting defensively, we will capture a golden opportunity for spiritual growth. Defensiveness exposes insecurities. Insecurities expose areas in need of God’s grace and light. Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount that the meek and the poor of spirit are blessed. The peacemakers are blessed. Whenever we find ourselves reacting to something violently, it’s an opportunity to pause, ask ourselves where that reaction is coming from, and adjust the reaction to be more Christlike, more in harmony with virtues like humility and patience. The truth is that we all have weak points, blind spots, areas where we need to work hard to grow in wisdom, fortitude, faith, and temperance. When someone triggers emotional defensiveness, we can rest assured that nine times out of ten they have exposed one of those weak points, giving us a golden opportunity to exercise one of those virtues.

    Conversing with Christ: I want to welcome your words, Lord. I want to truly hear what you are saying to me. But I fear that I may be more like the Pharisees than I realize. I may be closed to your grace without realizing it. I may be attached to my own opinions and expectations and ideas so furiously that there is little room left for me to learn from you. Help free me from my stubbornness, from my blindness. As painful as it may be, I want to leave my old self behind, every single day, so as to become the new creature you want me to be.

    Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will notice quickly whenever I start feeling defensive and respond by inquiring about the reasons behind someone’s statements instead of just shutting that person down.

    For Further Reflection: Read the first chapter or two of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High, in order to understand better where our triggered defensiveness really comes from and how to deal with it fruitfully. 


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