Friday, March 6, 2015

Reflection: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

Friday of the Second Week of Lent – Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

Today Jesus is telling us another parable. This parable is about the landowner and his vineyard. The landowner planted the vineyard and then he built a wall to protect it from the animals. He also dug a winepress and built a tower. After he had all of this completed, he leased his property and crops to some of the local farmers. They were responsible for tending the vineyard and his home. Then the owner left and was gone for several months.

As the time for harvesting the grapes drew near, the landowner dispatched several of his servants to go and get his share of the crop from his tenants. However, when the servants arrived, the tenants took them, beat one servant, killed another and then stoned a 3rd servant. When the landowner received this news, he was outraged and saddened!

After a time, he decided to send another retinue of servants to deal with his tenants. However, this time he thought it wise to send twice as many servants. Yet, the results were the same: all of these servants also were killed!

When the owner received this news, he finally decided to send his own son. Surely they would respect his son! However, when the tenants saw the landowner’s son coming, they decided that this was their great opportunity. If they killed the owner’s son, then they could seize his inheritance. And that is what they did!

As Jesus was telling his listeners this parable, he knew that this scenario would be played out in his own life. He realized that the Pharisees were plotting against him and most likely, they were planning on killing him. This parable was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Were the Pharisees taken aback by Jesus’ questions? Were they surprised that Jesus confronted them as he did?

If we were in Jesus’ shoes, would we have the courage and trust to continue on his journey? This gospel makes it clear that Jesus knew that he would be killed, yet he stayed true to his call. He continued to preach and teach. Today may we draw the strength from Jesus to be true to our call---whatever that might be! Jesus will walk with us, guide us and strengthen us! May we walk with Jesus today and every day!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Reflection: Luke 16:19-31

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent – Luke 16:19-31

Today’s Gospel is the story of Lazarus and the rich man. This is another story we are very familiar with. Lazarus is a poor man whose body was covered with sores. Lazarus begged right outside the door of a rich man’s house. The rich man always dressed in fine clothing and ate only the finest food. And even though Lazarus was present outside the rich man’s house, day in and day out, the rich man ignored Lazarus.

These two men died within a few days of each other. When Lazarus died, he was immediately taken to heaven by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. Shortly after this, the rich man also died and was buried. The rich man, however, did not go the heaven. Rather he went to the netherworld, where he suffered great torment. By some means, the rich man was able to see Abraham in heaven and surprisingly he saw the poor man at Abraham’s side. The rich man was stunned! How could this be? Shouldn’t he be the one at Abraham’s side?

The rich man called out to Abraham and begged him to send Lazarus to him with some water. He was suffering great torment. However, Abraham reminded the rich man that he had received many gifts and graces while he was on earth while Lazarus suffered. Now however, their positions were reversed: Lazarus was receiving many graces and much comfort while the rich man was the one in torment. Lazarus was reaping the gifts and blessings that had come from living a good life, while the rich man was reaping the results of the selfish choices he had made in his life!

Today may be a good time to ask ourselves: what are we sowing in our daily lives? Is it love, care, concern, peace, joy and generosity? Or is it negativity, self-centeredness, greed and criticism? We all will reap what we sow! Today (and tomorrow) what will we choose to sow?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Reflection: Matthew 20:17-28

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent – Matthew 20:17-28

Today’s Gospel reading is pretty sobering. Jesus and the disciples are going up to Jerusalem and Jesus wants to prepare them for what lies ahead for him as well as for them. He warns his disciples that he will be handed over to the scribes and chief priests. Not only that, but Jesus also tells them that he will be condemned to death, mocked, scourged and crucified! Can you imagine the disciples’ response to Jesus’ words? Were they frightened for Jesus and perhaps also frightened for themselves? Then Jesus tells them that he will be raised up on the 3rd day! What are the disciples to make of that statement?

Then the focus of the Gospel shifts as the mother of sons of Zebedee comes up to Jesus. She has a favor she desires and Jesus asks her what she wants. The woman is bold both in her behavior and her request. The woman told Jesus that she wants her sons to sit with Jesus in his kingdom, one at his right hand and the other at his left.

The other apostles also were with Jesus during this encounter. How do you think the other apostles reacted to this mother’s request? After all, what made her sons so special? What about them? Several of them had been with Jesus longer than her sons had. Notice: initially Jesus does not directly answer her question. Rather, he speaks of the difficult path that was before him. Then he tells the woman that it is not his place to name the people who would be on his right and his left. It will be his Father who will make that decision.

When the other disciples heard of this request, they were angry and indignant at the way Zebedee’s wife had asked for on behalf of her sons. Jesus used this occasion to teach his disciples. He calls all of them together and told them not to lord their call and authority over anyone. Rather, their primary focus should be on serving each other and the people they would be ministering to. Jesus wanted them to have the right motivation for their ministry. It was not to be about power and acclaim. Their ministry was to preach His word and to serve the people.

Motivations can be tricky. We can fool ourselves into believing that we are doing something good for another, when the reality is we also might receive a payoff. It might be simply a word of thanks or receiving a favor in return, or we simply might feel righteous and good about how well we served another.

Hopefully, our service flows simply from our desire to care for and help another. True service is not about power or acclaim. If our service or help to another flows from our love and our desire to help them, God also is there! Today what will we choose?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Reflection: Matthew 23:1-12

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent – Matthew 23:1-12

Today Jesus is being very critical of the Pharisees and the scribes. First, Jesus tells his listeners that they should observe the teachings of the Pharisees. He has no problem with their teaching. The teachings are correct. However, Jesus does not want his disciples to follow the example of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees truly were great teachers of the law. However, there was one problem: many of the Pharisees did not practice what they preached. Yet, the Pharisees bound up the people with many laws. They wanted their disciples and students to practice all the laws; however, the Pharisees did not always practice what they preached.

Many Pharisees also loved sitting in the places of honor as well as being called “Rabbi.” Thus, when they went to the synagogue or to a banquet, they automatically took the best seats that were available. The Pharisees also relished the regard and respect that was given to them due to their religious position.

Jesus saw all the outward signs of being religious in the Pharisees; however, he questioned their motivation. Did they simply enjoy the awe, esteem and the perks that were given to them? Or were they sincerely and deeply spiritual? Were they close to God and did they walk their talk?

Jesus instructs his disciples that their role is to serve the people — not to be served. They are to follow the Jewish laws and customs the Pharisees teach. However, they should not follow the Pharisees’ example. Jesus desires that his disciples truly be humble in the best sense of the word.

We also are the beloved of God and as the beloved of God, we also need to live by God’s law of love. We are called to care for our neighbor and all people who are in need (even if we may not like them). Today is a good day for us to be aware of our personal motivations. Why do we do what we do? Is it so others will think well of us? Or do we simply care about people and desire to help them as best we can?

Service is a great gift to give others. I suspect that most of the time our service may consist of small daily tasks or actions. However, in this process, perhaps the true gift is noticing the other’s need, noticing the person and then reaching out to serve in a loving way.

Today may we have open eyes and open hearts — and reach out to the people around us and care for them! And perhaps today someone will reach out and care for us!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reflection: Luke 6:36-38

Monday of the Second Week of Lent – Luke 6:36-38

Today’s message from Jesus is not an easy message to receive. Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) to be merciful. Jesus instructs us to be merciful as His Father is merciful. What a challenge this may be. The call to be merciful is not an easy or desired call!

I assume we all are merciful in our own way. Perhaps we do good works. We may volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul, the Food Pantry, or simply help out a neighbor who is in need. Or we may donate to our church, work with the Scouts or teach Religious Education. There are many and varied ways that we can contribute to making the world a better place.

However, part of Jesus’ message today is a very personal one for us and yet it may be a difficult message to hear. Jesus also instructs us to be merciful. Yes, part of being merciful may be doing good works. However, Jesus primarily challenges us and instructs us to stop judging, criticizing and condemning others. And we are to forgive the individuals who have hurt us! Ouch!

It may be fairly easy for us to give of our time, treasure and talent. However, to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply is a huge challenge. We simply may not want to forgive. We even might want the other person to suffer for what they did to us. Yet, if we truly wish to follow Jesus, we have to forgive. There is no other option. Most likely, we will never forget, as the memory is stored in our minds and hearts. However, we do have a choice. We can choose to be merciful and forgive the other person---and in the process, we also may free ourselves!

Can you remember someone who has forgiven you for something that you did to hurt them? What a wondrous gift they gave you. The gift of forgiveness frees both parties. When the person who is hurt forgives the other, they can move forward in their lives freely. They no longer will be tethered to the hurt and anger they had been carrying. And the individual who is forgiven also is freed and graced!

I assume we all have been hurt by others and in turn, we also have hurt people in our lives. If someone forgives us for the pain we have caused them, what a great gift we have been given! Today, may we seriously ask ourselves: am I willing take the step to forgive (insert name)? The answer may not be an immediate yes, but we will have opened the door and taken the first step!

Today, may we pray for the grace we need to take a first step! And may we pray for each other that each of us will have the courage and strength and move towards forgiveness. If we do so, the other person will be freed and we also will be freed. What a great gift to give to the other person, ourselves and our world!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Reflection: Mark 9:2-10

Second Sunday of Lent - Mark 9:2-10

This Gospel reading is the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. It is quite a remarkable scene. It begins as Jesus takes James, John and Peter up a mountain. Did these men wonder why Jesus was only taking the 3 of them up the mountain? Did they wonder why Jesus chose them?

When they arrived on the mountain, they were gifted with a wondrous experience: Jesus was transfigured before them! His clothing was changed. His garments became a dazzling white. These disciples also received another gift: Moses and Elijah appeared. What a wondrous experience for these ordinary and simple men!

Moses and Elijah then conversed with Jesus for a time. James, John and Peter were stunned and awed. They also were terrified. They had never experienced anything like this. These disciples told Jesus that they wanted to put up three tents: one each for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.

Then in the next moment, they had another stunning experience: a voice from heaven spoke to them! This voice told them: “This is my beloved Son.” Then the voice added that they should listen to Jesus. In the next instant, Jesus and the three disciples once again were alone.

I assume that in this encounter, these disciples had a life-changing experience. They must have looked at Jesus with very different eyes. After all, God had told them that Jesus was his Son. It must have taken awhile to absorb this experience. At times, did they question their sanity? Did they truly hear the words that God had spoken to them? It must have been a blessing for them that they could process this experience with one another and with Jesus.

Ask yourself: how would you react if you had an experience like this? Would we have the faith to believe that God was right there with us? Or would we be skeptical and question our experience? Perhaps we might even think we were hallucinating. And yet, I would guess that most, if not all of us, would love to have such a close encounter with God or Jesus. What a gift and blessing this encounter would be!

Most likely today we will not have a vision or hear a voice from heaven speaking to us. Yet, perhaps today God is saying to each one of us: “You are my beloved child.” God loves us as deeply as God loves Jesus! Do we believe and trust that this is true?

Today, I invite you to sit down, be still and allow God’s word and love to fill your mind and heart. Hear God speaking to you: “You are my beloved child. Allow my presence and my love to fill you and surround you. I am always with you! Let me in! Trust me!”

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reflection: Matthew 5:43-48

First Week of Lent – Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus uses extremely strong language in today’s Gospel. He is talking with his disciples and he hits them right where they live. He instructs his disciples that they are to love their enemies. Jesus is being completely countercultural. The culture that Jesus lived in was extremely violent. They nailed criminals to the cross and imposed many other cruel punishments. True, in our culture we also punish criminals with the death penalty, life in prison, etc. However, we strive to do it in a somewhat humane way – such as it is.

Not only did Jesus tell his disciples that they should pray for the individuals who persecute them — be that physically or emotionally. Jesus goes on to say that it is easy to love the individuals who love them. Jesus then challenges his disciples to love everyone. We are not to be selective about who we love. If we don’t love each and every person, we are not much better than the criminals!

It is fairly easy to love most people. However, even the individuals we love, get on our nerves at times. Nor do we always agree. Yet if we care about them, we desire to stay in relationship with them. So we strive to work out the problems and difficulties. We want to stay in relationship.

Today Jesus is telling us that we are to love everyone — not just the people who love us. The reality is that we won’t like everyone every day of the week. Nor will others like us on some days. However, this condition doesn’t mean that this destroys our love and care for the other. The love that Jesus is speaking about has the ability to supercede the daily irritations, disagreements, petty arguments, etc. Love enables us to focus much better.

Yet, we still have the ability to love others: ALL others, even the people we may not like. Today Jesus reminds us that each and every person is lovable---even the one who gets on our very last nerve. However, we do have a choice: to love like Jesus or to allow our emotions to control us! What will we choose today?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Reflection: Matthew 5:20-26

First Week of Lent – Matthew 5:20-26

In today’s Gospel Jesus is talking about holding onto grudges, anger, hurt and perhaps even hate. I assume that most of us do not hate someone. However, I am sure that all of us have dealt with grudges, anger, hurt and jealousy at various times in our lives. These are emotions that we all have. They are “part and parcel” of being human. Do we always like these emotions? Most likely not! Yet, these emotions that we may consider negative are as much part of us as are the positive emotions, such as love, gratitude, appreciation, hope, understanding and faith!

As human beings, we experience both ends of the spectrum of emotions: positive and negative. Today Jesus is talking to his disciples about the choice we all have. We can choose to focus on the emotions that we know are positive and make us feel good: love, hope, generosity and faith! Or we can choose to focus on the emotions that disturb us and upset us: anger, jealousy, etc.

The reality is that our emotions are neither “bad” nor “good.” They simply are! However, we have to learn how to deal with the gamut of emotions. For those of you who are parents, how did you teach your children to deal with their emotions? Did you teach them to throw temper tantrums, hit others, etc.? I assume not! However, we do not always practice what we preach.

We all know what Jesus is asking us to do. It simply is not easy! At these times, it may be helpful to vent to a friend or to sit down and write a letter to God, expressing all that you are feeling in your journal. Most of all we need to pray for the grace, strength and wisdom we need at this time. What will we choose today? It is up to us! We have the power and God will give us the grace that we need! Do we trust this reality?