Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 20 July 2014 – Of Justice and Kindness


16th Sunday Ordinary Time – July 20, 2014  – Of Justice and Kindness

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86:5-6,9-10, 15-16; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-30

About four o’clock in the morning at this time of year the birds in a tree just outside my bedroom window start singing. I imagine they are singing to me. I think of that tree, like the bush in today’s gospel, the one that grew from a tiny mustard seed, as if it were a place, a safe haven, for all of us. 

However, most birds are territorial. Likewise, we who occupy this bush, this tree of life, are not always compatible. We fight for space, food, water, privileges, power and fame. Often it is hard to spread our individual wings to sing of goodness.

Jesus told the stories of the mustard seed, the weeds and wheat for a reason. As John Pilch reminds us the Mediterranean society in the time of Jesus was agonistic — hostile and conflict oriented. If you were born into a Middle East family you inherited its honor, status and friends but also its enemies who would try to shame you. Honor and shame are key words in understanding Middle Eastern culture. Jesus was mindful of these tensions when he told these parables. [1] 

In the gospel Jesus saw the wheat representing the outcasts he welcomed and with whom he ate many meals. He compares the weeds to the authorities who ruled over those people, trying to shame them as well as Jesus. [2] Rather than fight back at his enemies the landowner in the story did not seek revenge upon his enemy. He outwitted them because he really did nothing. He let the weeds and wheat grow together.

Today can we imagine Israel and Palestine doing nothing but sitting down to iron out their differences? How about the Russians and Ukrainians? And in our country how about Republicans and Democrats trying to find agreement on how to fix the United States so all citizens would have an equal chance to find a spot in our national tree of life without worrying that someone will knock them off a branch or shut them out of the sustenance and shelter the bush provides? 

To have power, over the other, the other political party, the other nation is hard to give up. Fear often drives the urge to accumulate power. The increasingly volatile situation in the Middle East and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict risks death to innocent people in order to solidify power. 

In the United States we are caught in a similar situation. It may not appear as dangerous but beneath the vibrant colors of liberty there are stains of injustice, greed and power mongering. It rears its ugly heads not in rockets, invasions and boycotts but mean spiritedness and ideological jockeying in constitutional debates, neighborhood shootings and borderline acts of hatred toward people, even children, who just want to perch on a branch in a tree that gives them life.

Sophia in the Book of Wisdom today suggests that God’s care is for all people, even the weeds among the wheat. In addressing God, she says, “Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us.” [3] She adds, “those who are just must be kind.” [4]  In paraphrasing the words of today’s second reading … the whole world is “groaning” for kindness, for justice.

There is room for all of us in that bush born of the mustard seed. There is enough space for the weeds and the wheat in that tree where the birds of happiness sing about the goodness of God and one another. We just need to move over once in awhile, to make space, to let others in.

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1 John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (The Liturgical Press. 1995) pp. 112-114.

2 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Liturgical Press. 2006 – Third Edition) pp. 158-160

3 Tobin, Thomas in Attridge, Harold W. (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV (San Francisco: Harper) 1989, p. 1349 ff.

4 DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 210


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Homily – 6 July 2014 – Freedom and Equality Are Not the Same


14 Ordinary A – July 6, 2014 – Freedom and Equality Are Not the Same

Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2,8-11, 13-14; Roman 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

The Chicago Sun Times recently quoted The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. as he reflected on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act (1964). He said, “We’re free but not equal. There’s a gap in health care and education, jobs and income and housing.” [1] 

This weekend you and I celebrate our Declaration of Independence from a tyrannical King George III. The bold document asserts that all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator, with unalienable rights — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted among us. They derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. 

Has Abraham Lincoln’s classic address about a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” [2] been modified? Do civic regimes today honor only those who can afford to be heard? Does not the freedom of expression belong to all classes? What are the responsibilities of those who are governed? By treating one another with generosity, trust and respect instead of cynicism, suspicion or hatred we promote unalienable rights for all. But there is more that is expected of us as citizens of this country and as Christians.

Today’s gospel calls for sharing one another’s burdens. The word “yoke” is used metaphorically by the author to describe those things that control the lives of people.”  Religious laws during the time of Jesus were most restrictive. The Pharisees led the peasants to believe that by strictly adhering to 613 commandments they would please God. Jesus spoke of a new law, a new spirit. He challenged religious and governmental leaders to treat all people with compassion and understanding. [3] In doing so, Jesus understands himself as a spokesperson of Wisdom.

The founders of this country broke away from the yoke of imperialism. However, there are new oppressions that must be shared to make the American burden light. Learning to be tolerant of one another’s values and aspirations in a pluralistic nation can be difficult. Divisions among people occur when the interests of powerful political, religious, corporate and even family entities suppress the rights of others. It is a complex situation that can be resolved only by breaking down the boundaries that divide us.

These divisions are deep according to Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics. Corporate welfare increases while we curtail public assistance for poor people. Rich farmers get subsidies while we cut back nutritional support for needy persons. Drug companies are given billions of dollars as we limit Medicaid benefits. Stiglitz continues, “Economic inequality yields political inequality and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality.” He concludes, “justice has become a commodity affordable to only a few.” [4] 

When George Washington met with some governors and states of our new nation in 1783 he shared a prayer for our country. That God would dispose us, he prayed, “to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with charity, humility, and a peaceful temper of mind.” He went on to say if we do not do so, “we can never hope to be a happy nation.” [5] 

Some say the American dream is to be happy. Not all people can achieve that dream. There are still too many yokes that burden us because, depending on your race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, education or class, not all people are treated with equity. On this Fourth of July weekend you and I give thanks for our freedoms. Let us continue to work and pray for equality.

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1 Sfondoles, Tina. “Marking 50 Years of Civil Rights Act” in Chicago Sun Times 06/28/14 p. 9

2 See Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address  (November 19, 1863)

3 John J. Pilch The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1995) pp. 106-108

4 Stiglitz, Joseph E. “Is Equality Inevitable?” The New York Times June 29, 2014, SR7

5 George Washington Circular Letter to the States, Newburgh, NY, 1783