The embodiment of true faith

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass February 25, 2021

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent always have part of the Abraham story as the first selection and a version of Jesus’ Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah as the Gospel for the day. Abraham is the prime example of true faith. Moses gave the law to the Jewish people. Elijah is the exemplary prophet among all the prophets. These three figures manifest the deepest roots of Jewish and Christian belief: faith, law and prophecy.

Jesus is the central figure of the Transfiguration. He is a true descendant of Abraham, not only according to human origin but also as a man of faith. Contemporary believers must never forget that Jesus’ teaching intends to proclaim the kind of faith in God manifested by Abraham. In Sunday’s readings, Abraham is told to sacrifice his only son. He experiences a dual conflict. God seems to demand human sacrifice. Isaac is an only son. Abraham’s trust in God was such, however, that he would violate the ban on human sacrifice and give up the very human desire to have descendants if that was God’s will. God wanted to test Abraham’s faith and Abraham was obedient.

As an observant Jew, Jesus practiced the law that was given by God to Moses. This law is summarized in the Ten Commandments and the dictates of early books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Once again, the central issue of the law is the matter of faith. The law is a concrete formulation of the kind of faith that motivated Abraham. The law, however, advances faith from a merely personal orientation to a communal belief held by a whole people.

Prophecy calls people back to obedience to the law when they have strayed from its dictates. Elijah, above all other prophets, was the one who called the people back to faithful obedience to the law. Under the influence of Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, the people wandered away from God toward foreign idols. In his efforts to remind the people of their ancestors’ faith and draw them back to their origins, Elijah confronted royalty to reestablish faith based in law.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was transfigured before the disciples. His clothes became dazzling white. White is often a sign of absolute purity. In this context, however, it can mean total faith in God. Since Moses, as the symbol of the law, and Elijah, as the representative of prophecy, appear with Jesus, he is seen as the ideal figure of total faith, true law and genuine prophecy. Jesus fulfills everything that has come before him. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that he has come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17). He is the true and only embodiment of true faith in God, observance of the law and promulgation of true worship. For this reason, the voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Our Lenten observance becomes an invitation to listen, believe, observe and imitate Jesus.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

Accept the invitation to act as God acts

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass
September 9, 2020

It is always shocking to read or hear the parable of the unjust servant. The lack of gratitude on the servant’s part toward the generosity of the master is appalling. The stern manner he uses toward one of his fellow servants amazes anyone with even a small sense of justice. Then, there are the terrible punishments of both the unjust servant and his fellow servant. On the surface this is a world of strict retribution. It is difficult to find any good news in this story.

However, if we go back to the introduction of the parable, we can find motivation for why Jesus told the story. Peter asked Jesus whether he should forgive his brother, who has given offense, seven times. Jesus responds with an answer that defies comprehension, “I say to you not seven times but seventy-seven times.” We could ask, “Well, what about time 78?” That misses the point; Jesus really means that we should always be open to forgiving one who offends us no matter how many times the offense has occurred.

There is something in this exchange between Peter and Jesus that easily can be missed. Embedded in Jesus’s response is an invitation for us to act as God acts. God continually forgives our faults and sins; no matter how many times we have offended or sinned. If we are willing to forgive as God forgives then we have accepted the invitation to act as God acts.

Forgiveness of offenses is one of the most difficult aspects of our Christian life. We hear people say, “I forgive that person, but I will never forget what he/she has done to me.” If we cannot forget, then we have not forgiven. When the master forgives the debt of the servant he not only accepts the promise of repayment he also absolves the debt itself. When God forgives our sins he also forgets that we have sinned. Our invitation to act as God acts is an encouragement to actually be like God.

There is no place for retribution in the life of a Christian who wants to be like God. It is for this reason that the servant’s treatment of his fellow servant is so offensive. The unjust servant accepts the mercy of the master but fails to bestow mercy on his equal. Embedded in the Lord’s Prayer we ask to be forgiven as we forgive those who offend us. As the Lord forgives we too must forgive to fully live out our Christian life.

The reading from Romans puts this matter in a slightly different way. Paul says, “if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” When Peter asks how many times he should forgive, Jesus responds by showing him how to be like God. Forgive and show mercy without end for this is God’s manner with respect to us.

Jesus brings salvation for all

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass
August 12, 2020

All three readings this week speak of the universality of salvation. Isaiah tells us that God’s house, “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Paul compares his own people to the Gentiles saying, “God delivered all [peoples] to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” Finally, Jesus tells the Canaanite woman who pleads for her daughter’s cure, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

To understand the exceptional nature of universal salvation it helps to examine the situation and context of the Canaanite woman. First, she is a Canaanite. She has no place in the scheme of salvation because she is not Jewish. Secondly, being a woman, she does not have the rights and privileges of a man. Third, she has not been able to effect a cure for her ailing daughter. She is truly an outcast.

Jesus’ first reaction to her request is resistance. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” You are a foreigner. Your troubles do not concern me. Jesus seems to indicate that non-Jews are excluded from his ministry. He makes this attitude more explicit when he compares all non-Jewish people to dogs, a common designation for Gentiles who did not belong to the chosen people. This is rather shocking for those who have been following the portrayal of Jesus given in the Gospels.

The woman, however, is not put off by his derogatory description of her. Her situation is so desperate that she points out that even the dogs eat the scraps from the table. She will take any insult or denigration if it means that her daughter will experience a cure. So, the woman is not only a foreigner and an outcast; she is also a mother with a sick child. This bond of love truly amazes Jesus, and he grants her request.

The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman gives another and profound insight into the very character of Jesus himself. It is thought that Jesus received his initial mission of redemption at the time of his fast and temptation in the desert. He says in this story that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. The encounter with this woman seems to force Jesus to realize that his mission is much broader than simply bringing redemption to Israel. The salvation he brings is for all people. Even though he starts his mission in Israel, it will spread to the whole world.

When Jesus cures the woman’s daughter he compliments the woman herself, “O woman, great is your faith.” This seems to be a central point of the story. No longer will people be saved simply because they belong to a certain nation. Rather, anyone who believes will experience the salvation offered through Jesus. Return to Isaiah’s words, “Observe what is right, do what is just: for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.”

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

Believers live beside unbelief and evil

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass July 15, 2020

The longer version of this week’s Gospel includes three parables about the kingdom of God. Most English translations use the term “kingdom” in these parables. Many Scripture scholars, however, tell us that it is more accurate to speak of the “reign” of God. The word “kingdom” too easily comes to be identified with a place. Jesus is not talking about a place. He is talking about a manner of life and existence. With this caution in mind we now can talk about the parable of the weeds and the wheat.

The farmer of the story sowed good seed, but an enemy came and sowed weeds in the field. His servants show dismay when both the good seed and the weeds begin to sprout. They want to uproot the weeds immediately. The farmer instructs them that such action would destroy both the good plants and the weeds. So, he advises them to let both grow together until harvest time. Then they will harvest first the weeds and then the wheat.

The simple parable has a profound lesson concerning the manner in which God operates or reigns in this world. God knows that there is much evil in the world. He also knows that his followers have to work out their salvation in the context of all this evil. Consequently, believers live alongside unbelief and evil.

It is in this situation that we find out that Jesus is talking about a way of living in our present world that allows for both good and evil to exist side by side with the eventual triumph of good. Even though Jesus uses the image of a field in the parable, the physical place is not important. What happens in the field tells us about God’s characteristic patience with evil until the final harvest. The good grain is harvested for food that nourishes, and the weeds are harvested only to be burned. The reign of God in this parable is exemplified by the fact that the good grain is saved despite growing among the weeds. The reign of God is about our salvation.

The parable uses the image of an astute farmer. Since the farmer does not want to harm the good plants, he patiently waits for harvest time to separate the good grain from the weeds. The judicious farmer can be taken as an image for God or for Jesus as the Son of Man. It illustrates how patiently God deals with us as we strive to enter the reign of God. God knows that it is difficult to lead good lives amid the horrible occurrences in our world. Like the good farmer who lovingly tends his plants, God consistently nourishes us through word and sacrament as we grow closer to him. The reign of God is about God’s care just as the farmer’s plan is about good agriculture.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

Writers help us learn how God works

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass
May 20, 2020

The Ascension of the Lord

This week’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles and Matthew’s Gospel recount the historical occurrence of Jesus ascending to the Father. He does this in the presence of his disciples who later recount the event to the believing church. There is, however, a much deeper spiritual meaning to the Ascension than the simple physical departure of Jesus from this earth. The second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians reflects on the enduring significance of Jesus’ ascent into heaven.

The writer of Ephesians wants his readers to understand three ideas about how God works. The writer points out that his readers, called by God, share an inheritance in God’s glory, and as believers manifest the surpassing greatness of God’s power. All of these works are revealed in an exemplary way in the life of Jesus. From the Lenten and the Easter Scripture readings we can understand how God called Jesus in hope, how God shared riches of glory with Jesus and how Jesus’ life was a manifestation of the greatness of God’s power.

We also see the results of God’s work as it is manifested in Jesus’ life. God raised Jesus from the dead. God seated him at his right hand in the heavens. Finally, God put all things under Jesus’ feet and established him as head over all things. God does all of this for the sake of the church. While the images in the passage are appropriate to a royal court, they clearly express the centrality of Jesus in God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the whole world. The last act of the plan begins with the paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and ascension.

Coming from the splendor and glory of the Resurrection, we could take a kind of ho-hum attitude towards this solemnity of the Ascension, but it is rich in its theological and spiritual import for life. Our celebration of the Ascension has many aspects. It is an historical event. It tells us about God’s work. The story in the Gospel tells us what happened and how it happened. More importantly it indicates the ultimate significance of Jesus for all of history and beyond.

Having examined the text from Ephesians to understand the Ascension as an essential mystery of our faith, we now turn to the Gospel and hear Jesus’ very last words in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus expresses the mission for every disciple with an accompanying promise: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

‘Weep with those who weep’

For The Green Bay Compass by Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ

April 22, 2020

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola counsels the retreatant, when the time comes for considering the Resurrection, to realize that the Risen Christ plays the role of consoler. The Gospel story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus illustrates Jesus comforting two disciples mourning his passion and death. They had not been able to believe the stories told by others who had seen Jesus alive.