At first reading, it may seem that there is little connection between the first reading and the Gospel. The Maccabees text reports on the successive deaths of seven sons and their mother, each of whom died as a martyr for their faith. In the Gospel, the Levirate law governs the conversation between Jesus and some Sadducees. This law provided for the marriage of a widow to her deceased husband's brother to ensure the continuance of the family line (see Deuteronomy 25:5; Genesis 38:8).
Earlier this year, news outlets reported that the Internal Revenue Service may have been targeting certain individuals and organizations and subjecting them to unnecessary audits. Given many people's less-than-positive attitude regarding taxation, this news evoked quite a bit of criticism and many a negative remark. But the aversion to taxes is not a new development. Through the centuries, many have commented on this necessary but often unwieldy burden. Will Rogers suggested that the system of taxing people and their property was primordial.
After having taught Scripture for almost 50 years, I'm still puzzled by one constant phenomenon: Some people find God's inspired word to be one of the most important aspects of their faith, while others can live their faith very well without it.
When I began studying Scripture years ago, I also began giving some scriptural confessional penances. But I'd always first inquire, "Do you have a Bible?"
If there was any hesitancy in the response, I'd relieve the tension by lightheartedly suggesting, "Maybe, as a birthday gift next year, you could buy yourself a Bible. But in the meantime ..."
In today's first reading from 2 Kings, we are told of the healing of Naaman, a Syrian commander in the army of his king, Benhadad II. In the Gospel we become acquainted with the uniquely Lucan narrative of the 10 lepers. All were healed, but only one returned to Jesus to offer worship and thanksgiving.
In her book Preaching from the Pew (Geneva Press, 1998), social worker and author Patricia G. Brown, an elder of Kennedy Heights Presbyterian Church, insists that for faith to be authentic, it must "go public."
As I consider today's story about Lazarus, I recall chauffeuring a visitor from our sister parish in El Salvador through Kansas City, Mo. The quiet, the order, the lack of people walking in the neighborhoods were all part of the cultural puzzle he was trying to piece together. But perhaps more than anything, he was astounded at the large homes we passed in a nice area of town.
Today's three readings bring up some essential questions of faith: Where are we going with our lives? Do we have a specific direction? If so, does the way we actually live our everyday lives fit into the path we've decided to take?
Students of Scripture know, in dealing with any biblical text, it's often more important to know the issues being addressed by the author in his or her own time than to know the history of the past events being recalled.
A first sergeant at a military base on the outskirts of Tokyo was trying to motivate his soldiers to think clearly, plan purposefully and execute their orders with competence. As a visual aid, he hung up a sign in the day room that said: PLAN AHE. Of course, it was supposed to read PLAN AHEAD; for years that sign hung on the wall, serving as an example of one who hadn't.