Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Tuesday of Holy Week – John 13:21-33; 36-38
The opening words of today’s Gospel are: “Jesus was deeply troubled.” Jesus is saddened and dismayed by the knowledge that one of his beloved and intimate friends soon would betray him and hand him over to the Romans. When Jesus tells his disciples that one of them would betray him, the disciples are aghast. They look at one another in shock. They couldn’t believe what Jesus was saying. They all loved Jesus. They not only were followers of Jesus, he also was their friend and mentor. None of them would betray him!
But they begin to look at one another, asking themselves: could it be Peter? Surely not! Perhaps Andrew? Thomas? Judas? All of them had left their families, livelihoods and friends to follow this Jesus. They were his friends not just his disciples! Why did Jesus believe that one of them would betray him? They had left their families and their lives to follow Jesus. They were not simply followers of Jesus. He had become their friend and mentor!
Have you ever been betrayed by a friend, family member, co-worker or neighbor? Betrayal is horrible! It is one of the most painful experiences in life, especially if the person who betrayed you was someone you loved and trusted, a person that you believed also cared about you.
Yet, Jesus was deadly serious. Imagine the emotions Jesus must have been experiencing, knowing that one of his loved ones would betray him. This knowledge must have broken Jesus’ heart! Yet he was determined to do what he needed to do. He knew his Father was with him. This gave Jesus strength!
At times in our lives, we also have been hurt, disappointed, perhaps betrayed by someone we loved. What a gift it is that we can turn to Jesus when we are broken by betrayal or deceit. No matter what we experience in life, Jesus has trod the path before us. He understands. He loves us and longs to walk with us!
Today may we intentionally walk this path with Jesus. It is the very least we can do for our Savior and our God!
Monday, March 30, 2015
Monday of Holy Week – John 12:1-11
Today, Mary of Bethany ministers to Jesus. The Gospel begins as Jesus arrives in Bethany. He has come to visit with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. They had been good friends for years. They gathered around the table to catch up with Jesus. Martha spent most of the day preparing a special meal for Jesus.
While they were gathered at the table, Mary approached Jesus with a container of expensive perfumed oil. She knelt at Jesus’ feet. Then she opened the container of oil and began to cleanse his feet and then she anointed his feet with exotic and expensive oil. This is not a custom that we have today. However, in Jesus’ time, when a guest arrived at someone’s home, their feet were dirty and dusty from traveling the dirt roads and streets. Sandals did not provide any protection from the dust and dirt. Thus, when a guest arrived, a servant would wash the feet of the guest. This washing was cleansing and refreshing and it also helped keep the house clean.
Then Mary begins to wash Jesus’ feet. Mary should not be washing Jesus’ feet! This was a task for the slaves and servants, not for a member of the family. Mary not only washed Jesus’ feet, she also had the audacity to dry his feet with her hair! What an intimate act! Many of the guests were shocked. What was Mary thinking? Her action was completely inappropriate. However, no one spoke a word.
After a few moments, Judas Iscariot finally asked why this expensive oil had not been sold and the money given to the poor. Judas sounded like a champion of the poor, however, he had hoped to sell the oil and then pocket the money himself. Judas was in charge of the money bag. Jesus knows that Judas is upset about the spending of the money (which he had planned to pocket). Judas was not concerned for the needs of the poor. He simply was concerned for himself.
Jesus defends Mary and her compassionate, loving action. Jesus knew that the coming days would be horrific for him. By washing his feet and anointing them, Mary had given him a great gift of love and care with this simple, loving action. Jesus confronts Judas and his hypocrisy. He emphatically tells Judas to leave Mary alone. She was to keep the oil for the day of Jesus’ burial.
Jesus knew Judas’ heart had changed. Yet, Jesus still loved Judas. And Jesus was deeply saddened that Judas was no longer committed to Jesus and to the people of God. Judas was committed only to himself. What a loss for Jesus and for Judas. Jesus had lost a loved one and a follower but Judas had betrayed himself and his best friend! And for what: a bag of coins?
Do we have a “Judas” in our lives: someone who had hurt or betrayed us? I assume most of us do. The question is: will we strive to follow in Jesus’ footsteps? Are we open to forgiving the person who hurt or betrayed us? And if we cannot answer yes, are we willing to desire to forgive the other to Jesus? Jesus will grace us with the ability to forgive, if we open our hearts to him. All we have to do is ask!
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Mark 14:1-15, 47
Today we hear Mark’s account of Jesus’ passion and death. On Good Friday, the Gospel we will hear is from John’s Gospel. The story is basically the same but each of the authors has a unique perspective of this horrific day. The Passion of Jesus is most likely etched in our hearts and minds!
Most of us will never have to experience what Jesus did. However, we each have had our own version of passion and death experiences. Our death experiences were not what our ultimate death experience will be. However, throughout our lives, there are times when we “die” a bit, and perhaps more than a bit. Perhaps you or a loved one is struggling with illness, divorce, loss of a job, financial problems or the death of a loved one. Or it might be a serious conflict in your family or in the workplace. If you are experiencing emotional pain, most likely loss is an integral part of your pain.
Take a moment and reflect on your life. Remember a time when you experienced a passion or a death? What was that like for you? When you reflect on that time do you re-experience the pain and loss again? What were the emotions that bombarded you? Who supported you? How long did it take for you to recover from that experience? Do you still experience the pain when you remember that time?
Hopefully, much of the pain and emotion of that time has subsided. With time, often there actually may be gifts that you have received from that horrendous experience. Ask yourself: what were the gifts or insights that you received from that time? Perhaps it was something you learned about yourself. Or it may have strengthened your bonds with your family, a friend or even a co-worker. We probably learn more from the painful and challenging situations in life than we do from the good events or situations. However, it can be an excruciating way of learning!
This week we walk with Jesus through the last days of his life. Jesus freely and lovingly gave his life for us. There truly is no greater love! As we journey through this Holy Week, may we ponder the many gifts that Jesus has given us and that he continues to bless us with. What do we give back to Jesus, not because we owe him but rather we give out of love for Jesus? There has never been a greater love!
Saturday, March 28, 2015
John 11:45-56 – Saturday of the 5th Week of Lent
As Holy Week unfolds, the tension and drama in the Gospels of Holy Week continues to mount. Today some of the Jews excitedly approach the Pharisees and tell them that Jesus had raised a man (Lazarus) from the dead. Rather than being amazed at this news, it appears that this news was the last straw for the Pharisees. They had had enough of Jesus. They needed to do something about this man, Jesus, who was creating havoc in their lives.
The chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. These religious officials were extremely concerned about Jesus and his growing influence with the people. They were angry but also fearful. The Sanhedrin realized that they were losing some of their power with the people. This could not go on. Jesus not only was a threat to their power and control, but they also were worried that the Romans might come and take their land and be in control of their nation.
The chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Temple. When they gathered, many of them spoke of their fear of Jesus. Daily, he was growing in popularity. More and more people were following him. The Sanhedrin realized that if they did not take immediate action, they would lose their power and influence with the people.
In the course of this discussion, Caiaphas, who was the high priest, voiced what many of them were thinking: Jesus had to die! There was no alternative: he was too much of a threat to their power. Caiaphas justified this course of action by saying that it was better for one man to die rather than have the nation torn apart. Thus the stage was set. The decision had been made. They began to plan how to kill Jesus.
Jesus was aware that the Pharisees were plotting against him and he stayed in the shadows of Jerusalem until he decided to go to Ephraim with his disciples. He stayed there until it was time for the Passover. Many of the people who traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover feast looked for Jesus. They had heard about him and they wanted to see him for themselves. They also hoped they would hear him preach. However, Jesus was nowhere to be seen.
Today’s Gospel sets the stage for Palm Sunday. We know what will happen in the next seven days. We have experienced Holy Week multiple times. Yet, even though we know how the drama unfolds, it still is gripping, compelling and painful. Yes, resurrection will come but the prelude to resurrection is horrific!
In the days ahead, we have a choice: to walk with Jesus through this week or to go on about our lives as if all is normal. Jesus gave his life for us! Will we take the time and walk with Jesus through this holiest of weeks? Or will we spend most of our time buying Easter candy, coloring Easter eggs, or traveling to visit family, and ignore the man who by his death gave us the promise of eternal life?
I invite you to enter into this holiest of weeks. Ponder the daily readings. Ponder the story. Ponder the love Jesus has for us. Walk with Jesus. Bring your own “passion” experience to Jesus! If we do this, who knows: we also may have a resurrection experience!
Jesus is waiting for us. He walks with us in our darkest hours. Will we walk with him?
Friday, March 27, 2015
John 10:31-42 – Friday of the 5th Week of Lent
Today’s Gospel opens as several of the Jews were picking up stones to cast at Jesus. Jesus does not run or hide. Rather, he turns and confronts them. He asks them which of his good works they were going to stone him for? After all, he simply was doing these good works for his Father. The Jews told Jesus that it was not because of his works they were going to stone him. It was for blasphemy! Although Jesus clearly was human, Jesus was making himself God! They were shocked and angry at such a ridiculous claim!
Jesus again tried to explain what he was saying but they refused to listen to him. The Jews had closed their minds and hearts to Jesus. And clearly they were not open to changing their minds. Jesus already had been tried and convicted by them!
Was this confrontation truly about who Jesus was? Or did the Jews realize that they were losing their power and influence with the people? It was evident that Jesus was loved by the people. People traveled great distances to see Jesus and hear him preach. Or perhaps they hoped that they or a loved one would be healed by Jesus. These people wanted to see and experience Jesus for themselves.
Each day the Jews’ fear of Jesus kept escalating. They recognized that Jesus’ popularity and power with the people continued to grow. They were becoming frightened of Jesus and his influence with the people. No matter how the Jewish officials tried to discount Jesus with the people, they would not listen to them. Rather, the number of people who gathered to listen to Jesus increased every day. After hearing Jesus preach and experiencing who he was, many of these individuals decided that they also, wanted to follow Jesus!
Clearly the Jews were losing their power and influence with the people. They were becoming increasingly angry with Jesus and the people. However, they also were frightened. They could feel their power over the people slipping away. Some of the Jews were so outraged by Jesus and his teaching that they picked up stones to throw at him! When Jesus realized how intense their anger and fear were, he immediately left the temple.
At times, do we become jealous or angry when someone appears to have more power or influence than we have? Does our fear ever drive us to do something that we typically would not do? If we are unaware of our emotions, these negative and destructive emotions may begin to rule our lives and cause us to act in a way we normally would not do. Is this what happened to the Pharisees? Many of the Pharisees were good people. However, Jesus was a significant threat to them. Jesus’ influence and power with the people grew stronger every day. And with each day, the Pharisees became more threatened by Jesus.
Take a moment and imagine yourself in Jesus’ place. If we realized that within a short time, we would be arrested, tortured and probably put to death, how would we react? I assume, all of us would be frightened and panicked. Most likely, our time, energy and thoughts would be dedicated to trying to figure out a way to avoid this terrible ordeal. Surprisingly, Jesus appears to be somewhat at peace with what his future likely holds! He recognizes and accepts what lies ahead of him!
Above all, Jesus trusts that he is not alone. His Father sent him and his Father is with him. Jesus places complete trust in his Father. Ultimately, Jesus also believes that good will come from his suffering. Yet Jesus was human as well as God! As a human being Jesus must have experienced a flood of emotions: fear, anger and turmoil. True, Jesus completely trusted God. However, since he was fully human, he also must have experienced great anxiety and fear!
I assume that each of us can identify with Jesus in some way. We also have had our own trials, tribulations and our own “passion.” And I assume that we, like Jesus, struggled to understand and accept the realities of our situation. Did you turn to God for help? Did you ask God to work a miracle for you and make everything right again? Or were you angry with God? Did you distance yourself from God? Or was it a combination of “all of the above?”
At these times, we may know that God is not doing this to me or to you. It simply is how life is! However, I also realize that during these difficult and painful times, my tendency is to distance myself from God, precisely when I need God the most. Take a moment and ask yourself: how do your major struggles or challenges affect your relationship with God? Do these times strengthen your bond with God? Or do these difficulties threaten to weaken your relationship with God?
We know that Jesus was fully human and fully God. We know from the Gospels that Jesus did experience the full range of emotions: joy, sorrow, sadness, fear, pain, etc. Yet Jesus also knew that there was a purpose in what God was asking of him. He also trusted that God was there with him at all times.
Perhaps the question for us is: do we trust God? Do we trust that God loves us and desires only good things for us? When difficult times come to us, do we believe that God is making this happen? Or do we believe that our struggles are simply part of our human condition?
The bottom line for all of us is the question: Do you (and I) trust God? Do we believe that God only wants good things for us? Do we truly trust that God is with us on each step of our journey?
God is the only one who can carry us through! Today may we pray for ourselves and one another that we will strive to always place our trust in the God who loves us more than we can ask or imagine!
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent – John 8:51-59
Jesus is dialoguing with the Jews. Jesus tells them that if they truly keep his word, they will never see death. Imagine how astounded everyone must have been at Jesus’ words. Never see death? What was Jesus thinking? Everyone on earth understood that at some point in the future, they would die. This was the natural course of life!
Naturally, the Jews thought Jesus was crazy. Did he truly believe that he would not die? Did he actually think that he was greater than Abraham or the prophets? All of the prophets, great though they were, died. Why did Jesus think he was different? Did Jesus believe that he was greater than the prophets?
When Jesus responds to the Jews, he does not respond to their criticism of him. Rather Jesus talks about his Father. He tells them that His Father is the one who will glorify him. Jesus also says that even though the Jews think they know God, they actually do not know God. Jesus, however, has a deep relationship with God. Then Jesus goes too far. He tells the Jews that his father Abraham had rejoiced to see his day. His listeners were astounded and disbelieving. Jesus truly was crazy!
The Jews responded by telling Jesus that he wasn’t even 50 years old. How could he possibly have seen Abraham? Jesus simply responded to them: Before Abraham came to be, I AM! And the Jews began to gather stones to throw at Jesus! Jesus simply and quietly walked out of the temple!
Put yourself in the Jews’ shoes. If anyone said to you what Jesus said to the Jews, would you believe them? Or would you think they were delusional and perhaps had gone off their rocker? Most likely, we would think they were crazy or fanatical. After all, to the Jews, Jesus simply was another itinerant preacher. Why should they think that Jesus was above the norm of preachers? After all, he sounded pretty crazy when he said that he existed before Abraham. Talk about rubbish! That was impossible!
Clearly, the Jews’ hearts were closed to Jesus. True, they didn’t believe him. However, they were also frightened of the power and influence he had with many of the people. Jesus was greatly loved and admired. Jesus was undermining the Jews’ credibility with the people. Jesus was becoming a significant threat to the power and influence of the Jewish officials!
Today might be a good day for us to examine our hearts. Do we have places in our hearts and minds that we have closed to Jesus? We may have closed minds or hearts to Jesus because in some way life is painful and a struggle and we blame Jesus for this reality.
What do we believe about Jesus? Have we distanced from him? Or do we continue to believe and trust Jesus? Or do we simply take him for granted? Today I invite you to stop and reflect on who Jesus is to you at this time in your life. Are you satisfied with the relationship you have with Jesus? If not, how would you like it to change? Then, will you take some steps to reestablish a close relationship with Jesus? Jesus is right beside us, waiting for us!
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord
Today is a wonderful and uplifting feastday! On this feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, we hear the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and announcing to her the wondrous and fantastic news that she would bear a child. Not only would she bear a child but this child would be conceived in a very unusual way: through God’s divine intervention! Truly, this child would be the Son of God!
In St. Luke’s Gospel account of the annunciation, Mary reacts in a way that any human being would. Initially she was troubled and very confused. She must have asked herself: was she hallucinating? Was this figure before her truly an angel? Was Mary so stunned by these happenings that she wanted to run away but was unable to?
Luke writes that “Mary was deeply troubled” and understandably so. Yet somehow, Mary was able to keep an open mind and an open heart. Though the angel’s appearance was unexpected as well as fantastic, Mary must have sensed the presence of the Holy One. Was it a deep sense of God being present to her through the angel that enabled Mary to remain open and to listen intently?
Mary’s relationship with God must have begun developing a young age. In this passage, it is clear that Mary knew God well and she placed her complete trust in God and she also placed her life in God’s hands. What a model Mary is for all of us!
Most likely, each of us also at times have received news that was unexpected, difficult or perhaps fantastic. Take a moment and remember one of those times. Did you initially experience God in this situation? If the news was good, you might say yes! If the news was painful and difficult, what was your experience of God in those circumstances? Were you upset or angry? Or did you remain open to God?
It is unlikely that God will come to us today by sending an angel to us. However, God will come to us and God will call us. Most likely, our call will not be as special as Mary’s was. (Thank goodness!) Yet at times, God does call us in strange and fantastic ways. Will we be able to have an open mind and heart as Mary did? I pray that we also will trust and place ourselves in God’s loving heart!
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Fifth Week of Lent – John 8:21-30
Today Jesus continues his interaction with the Pharisees by telling the Pharisees that he will be going away. Jesus must have stunned them when he tells them that they will die in their sin. Ask yourself: how would you react if someone told you that? Jesus follows that blunt statement by telling them that where he is going, they will not be able to go.
His listeners did not have any understanding of what Jesus meant. They were taking his words literally and thus they did not make any sense. Then Jesus continues by telling them that if they do not believe that he truly is “I AM,” they will die in their sinfulness. They must have been stunned by Jesus’ words. After all, they were the “holy ones.” They ran the Temple and ruled most of the people! Who did Jesus think he was?
When Jesus told them that he was “I AM,” did they have any understanding of what he was saying? Do we truly have any understanding of what Jesus was saying? Do we take time to ponder his words?
Do we truly and deeply believe that Jesus is the “I AM?” Or do we just nod our heads and say: “Of course I believe?” What does it mean to you that Jesus is the “I AM?” Does this title place Jesus on a pedestal and keep him at a distance? Or do we allow Jesus to the “I AM” in our lives? That is what Jesus longs for! What do we choose?
Monday, March 23, 2015
Fifth Week of Lent: John 8:1-11
Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ encounter with the woman who had been caught in adultery. He was teaching in the temple area when the Pharisees come to him, bringing a woman who had been caught in adultery. They placed the woman right in the middle of the crowd. Imagine how this woman felt. What are the emotions you would experience if someone brought you to where there was a crowd of people and then they told these people about all the wrongs you had done? I assume most of us would be humiliated, angry and perhaps afraid!
The Pharisees begin by quoting the law to Jesus (as if Jesus did not know the law). They tell him that the law of Moses said that any woman should be stoned to death for her adultery. (Note: the stoning did not apply to the man who also had committed adultery.) The only person to be stoned would be the woman.
The Pharisees want to hear what Jesus thinks should be her punishment. Of course, they were only testing Jesus. They hoped to find cause in his response that then would give cause to arrest him. This was the sole purpose of their encounter with Jesus. However, Jesus realized that the Pharisees simply were trying to trap him. He knew that if he deviated from the Law of Moses, they would charge him and most likely arrest him.
Jesus chooses an unusual course of action. He simply bends over and begins to write in the dirt. His action took the Pharisees by surprise. This was no answer! So they continue to ask Jesus the same question. Finally, Jesus responds by simply telling the Pharisees that whoever was without sin, should throw the first stone at the woman. And one by one, the Pharisees slipped away! Did they experience any shame about what they had done to this woman? Or were they simply furious that Jesus had bested them?
Then Jesus quietly asks the woman where everyone had gone. Had anyone condemned her? This woman must have been astounded that someone, a man, had stood up for her. She knew she had sinned, yet this man, Jesus, had protected her from the Pharisees. Then the woman responded to Jesus’ question simply by saying: No one had ever done anything like this for her in her lifetime!
What a life-changing moment this must have been for this woman! Did she now have the sense that she was worth something after all?
Do we trust Jesus to be as deeply compassionate and forgiving with us, as he was with this woman? Our sins may not be quite as serious as this woman’s was. Or perhaps they are! Regardless, do we trust that Jesus loves us and will forgive us, no matter how greatly we have sinned? If not, I invite us to focus on the compassion and understanding that Jesus exemplifies in the Gospel reading. Jesus has deep compassion and love for us also----no matter what we have done or how we have sinned!
Do we truly trust Jesus and his word? If not, may we pray for the grace to open our hearts to Jesus and receive his love and forgiveness! He is waiting for us!
Sunday, March 22, 2015
5th Week of Lent – John 12:20-33
As Holy Week begins to draw near, the Gospels begin to prepare us for the unfolding drama of Holy Week. In the each Gospel this week, there are hints of the drama that will unfold in the days ahead.
Today’s Gospel begins as some of the Greeks who were in Jerusalem for Passover went to Philip and told him that they would like to see Jesus. The Greeks had recently arrived. How had they heard about Jesus? Had word of Jesus and his teaching and miracles spread to Greece? Or had these Greeks simply heard stories about Jesus since they arrived in Jerusalem?
Philip and Andrew told Jesus that these Greeks wished to see him and also hear him speak. However, Jesus did not focus on the Greeks’ desire to meet him. He doesn’t respond to what Philip and Andrew just told him. Rather, Jesus began to prepare his disciples for the events that would unfold in the next few days. Jesus tells them that the hour has come. He also tells them that he would be glorified. Jesus then uses the image of a grain of wheat that has to fall into the ground and ultimately die. Only after dying, would the wheat be able to produce fruit! Did his disciples understand what Jesus was saying? Or was he just confusing them?
Jesus then tells his disciples that he is deeply troubled. Jesus realized that pain, sorrow and death were in his future. Can you imagine the emotion, pain and fear that Jesus must have been experiencing? True, Jesus was God. However, he also was fully human. Yes, he was committed to this path. Did he also experience fear, sorrow and loss? And how would Mary, his mother, deal with his impending death? He was all she had.
Jesus had committed himself to this journey and to his people. Jesus is choosing to do this to glorify God’s name. Then Jesus hears a voice speaking to him from heaven, affirming him in his decision to glorify God’s name. What a comfort it must have been when Jesus heard God’s voice from heaven reassuring him. What a wonderful gift to receive. This experience must have strengthened Jesus for the path that he would walk!
In our lives, we also have moments like Jesus, when we know we need to take a path that will be difficult and painful. Are we willing to surrender ourselves into God’s hands? Do we trust God to be with us, to grace? Do we believe that God also will strengthen and console us? Do we trust that we will not be alone on this journey?
Jesus was human! He experienced many of the unpleasant realities of life that we all have to deal with. Yet, he completely trusted his Father, his God, to support and help him on every step of his journey. Today may we ask Jesus to give us a share of Jesus’ trust and faith in God! And may we say yes to what life is asking of us at this time in our lives! Truly God is and will be with us!
Saturday, March 21, 2015
4th Week of Lent – John 7:40-53
Today’s Gospel begins in the middle of a dialogue that Jesus was having with the Pharisees. There also was a large crowd of people listening to their discussion. Some of the people truly believed that Jesus was the Prophet. Others believed that He was the Christ. However, there were other people who disputed this claim. After all, Jesus was from Galilee and the Scriptures had prophesied that the Christ would come from Bethlehem. They were deeply divided in their beliefs about Jesus.
Some of the people asked the guards to arrest Jesus but no one would do so. However, the guards did what all good employees do: they went back to their bosses, the Pharisees, for instruction about what they should do. When the guards arrived, the Pharisees and the chief priests were surprised the guards had not brought Jesus to them. They asked them why they had not arrested Jesus. The guards’ response must have taken the chief priests and Pharisees aback. The guards honestly and simply said: “We have never experienced anyone like this man. No one has ever spoken like he does.” Clearly the guards were awed and amazed at Jesus and his teaching.
It is not surprising that the Pharisees were angry with the guards. After all, guards were not supposed to think for themselves. They simply were to do as they had been instructed. The guards must have anticipated that the Pharisees would not be pleased that they did not follow their orders. Yet the guards did not believe that Jesus should be arrested and they were willing to defend their decision. They personally had experienced the authenticity of Jesus for themselves. In addition, Jesus had not broken any laws. He simply was a threat to the power of the Pharisees. In conscience, the guards could not and would not arrest Jesus.
In the midst of all this, Nicodemus, who also was a Pharisee, speaks up. He asks his fellow Pharisees if Jewish law allows someone to be condemned before listening to the individual’s defense. At the very least, the Pharisees[k1] should question any person before arresting them. As you might imagine, the Pharisees were angry and outraged at Nicodemus’ criticism and interference. They bluntly told him that it was not his place to criticize them. Nicodemus had no authority over them. In addition, Jesus was an outsider: he was from Galilee. Didn’t Nicodemus understand that nothing or anyone good could come from Galilee?
With each passing day, Jesus clearly was becoming more of a threat to the power and authority of the Pharisees. The people were listening to Jesus and some of them were beginning to question and doubt the Pharisees. The tension between Jesus and the Pharisees was escalating. Had the Pharisees begun to conspire with each other? Were they beginning to talk about possible ways of ridding themselves of this man Jesus?
Today perhaps we can ask ourselves: when do we find ourselves in the shoes of the Pharisees? When do we judge and act like the Pharisees? Are there times when we also are critical of people who are different, who may have values or behaviors that we do not approve?
This Gospel invites us to pause and listen to the voices in our heads and in our hearts. We might be surprised by what we hear or find there. If we monitor our thoughts and judgments, we may realize how quickly and instinctively we jump to judgment of another person. Yet if we do notice that we are judging another, then we have the opportunity to change our minds and our hearts. We have a choice to hold onto the judgment or to release it. What will we choose to do?
Friday, March 20, 2015
4th Week of Lent - John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
In the Gospels of the last 2 weeks of Lent, there is a growing sense of impending danger for Jesus. As this drama unfolds, the intensity continues to build. Today Jesus is traveling and preaching in Galilee. He had decided not to travel in Judea. He knew that the Jews there were plotting to kill him. However, as the time drew near, many of his disciples planned to travel up to Jerusalem for Passover. Eventually Jesus also decided that he would go to Jerusalem. However, he must have experienced some uncertainty about this decision as he decided to go in secret.
Take a moment and put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. Imagine what it would be like knowing that people hate or fear you so intensely, that they are plotting to kill you. Jesus truly was a good man. He was a man of deep love and compassion for all peoples. He had never hurt or scorned anyone. Yet, he challenged the Jewish officials and now, they were beginning to plot against him. Did these men truly disagree with Jesus’ teaching? Or were they simply afraid of his popularity and influence with the people?
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, immediately he was recognized. They began to ask one another: “Is this the man the authorities are plotting to kill?” They were surprised that given the possible danger to him that Jesus continued to preach and teach in the temple area. Naturally, not everyone believed in Jesus, especially some of the temple officials. They doubted because they knew where Jesus was from. He was from Cana, a very small town in Galilee. Yet they also had been taught that when the Christ did come, no one would know from whence he came. How could this man be the Christ if the prophecy was correct? And they continued to argue about this.
Finally Jesus had had it! He spoke loudly to the people and told them: “True, you know who I am and you know where I was born and grew up. Yet, I was sent here by another, someone you do not know. However, I know him well and he sent me to you.” Many of the people were confused by Jesus’ words. The officials were frightened by his power and his influence with the people. They wanted to convince someone to arrest Jesus. However, no one had the courage to lay a hand on Jesus!
Today might be a good day to ask ourselves: “Why do I believe Jesus became one of us?” Seriously, take a moment to explore your belief. And then ask yourself: how does my belief in Jesus, shape my understanding and relationship with him? Do I truly believe that Jesus came to this earth for me as well as every person on earth? Or is this unfolding drama too familiar to us and thus we might allow this familiarity to inhibit us from entering deeply into this mystery?
In the next two weeks, this drama will continue to unfold. Will we allow this drama to unfold in our personal lives? Will we walk and talk with Jesus? Or will we stay at a safe distance from Jesus and simply be a bystander? No one else can make this choice for us! In the days ahead, what will we choose?
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Feast of St. Joseph – Matthew 16:18-21
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Feast of St. Joseph. Often Joseph does not get much “press” in the Church. Mary and Jesus are the ones in the forefront of the Gospels. However, today’s feast is the celebration of a man who had a depth of faith and trust in God that most of us may never have.
In the Gospel reading for today’s feast, Joseph had just learned that Mary was pregnant. And Joseph clearly knew that he was not the father of this child. Take a moment and imagine the conversation Mary had with Joseph. How horrible it must have been for both of them! Mary realized that the tale of how she became pregnant was completely outlandish! She must have anticipated that she would be cast aside by Joseph. It would only be natural. Despite her deep faith and love in God, she must have been overwhelmed and frightened by this situation. She still was trying to absorb it all.
Joseph however, was not a “run of the mill” human being. He was a man who had walked with God all of his life. Joseph deeply trusted both God and he also trusted Mary. As fantastic as her story sounded, Joseph was a man of deep and lively faith. And Joseph had a fantastic story of his own to tell Mary. He also had been visited by an angel! This angel told him what was ahead for both he and Mary! Did Joseph wonder if he was losing his mind? He had never had a vision before!
First and foremost, Joseph was a man of faith and trust. Joseph had walked with God throughout his life and he truly believed that God would guide and grace him, even though this path was far beyond human understanding. God had been the one who had brought Joseph to this moment and Joseph trusted God to be with he and Mary on their journey. Very few people would have trusted and accepted such a fantastic situation!
Yet both Mary and Joseph journeyed on together, always trusting in the love and strength of their God!
We all have times when we struggle, when we are angry, confused, saddened. When these times come, may we call upon Mary and Joseph and ask them to give us a share of their love, faith and trust in our God who loves us so deeply. We may not understand what God is doing in our lives, but may we deeply believe that God is with us!
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent – John 5:17-30
Today Jesus continues his dialogue with the Jews about the healing he had done on the Sabbath (the healing of the man who had been ill for 38 years). As we know, Jesus simply had told the man to go and wash in the pool in the temple, and when the man did as Jesus said, he was healed. The man was amazed and awed. He wanted the whole world to know of the great gift that he had been given. He rejoiced and went to everyone in the temple, showing them how well he could walk. What a great and gracious gift Jesus gave to this man!
However, the Pharisees immediately began to criticize Jesus. After all, it was the Sabbath and Jewish law forbade any work on the Sabbath! These Jews considered Jesus’ healing of this man “work” and thus, in their eyes, Jesus had broken the law! The Pharisees did not hesitate to reprimand Jesus for the precious gift he had given to the man. For the Pharisees, law superseded compassion!
Jesus immediately responds to their criticism by telling them that He simply is doing what His Father had instructed Him to do. God is a God of compassion and love. To heal and free others of illness and pain is to be compassionate and caring---as God is compassionate and loving. When Jesus heals another person, he is honoring God!
Jesus also tells the Pharisees, that if they do not honor the Son, they also do not honor the Father. What did the Pharisees make of Jesus’ statement? Did they have any real sense of what Jesus was saying or what it meant? Did they think that Jesus was emotionally disturbed or perhaps a heretic? After all, who did Jesus think he was to claim that He was the Son of God?
It is clear that many of the Pharisees appear to have a very different relationship with God than Jesus did. For these Pharisees, God equaled “law.” And for them, the law reigned supreme. If someone broke the law, they had sinned! Thus, in their eyes, Jesus had sinned by healing on the Sabbath! The law for Jesus was compassion and love. For Jesus, love always was first and foremost!
What is the “law” that reigns in our life? Do we tend to be more the keeper of the “law” of the rule or the “law” of love? The reality is that there are appropriate times for both choices. The challenge is have an inner sense of what is appropriate for the situation and loving for the person. Jesus was a man of the law. However, love ruled His life! Will we choose to live as Jesus did?
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent – John 5:1-16
This Gospel opens with Jesus traveling up to Jerusalem. When he arrives in Jerusalem, Jesus entered Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate, which was one of several entrances into Jerusalem. Near this gate was a pool called Bethsaida. This was a large area that had five porticos (entrances). These five porticos were filled with the sick, the lame and people who were near death.
Lying in the Sheep Gate was a man who had been there for 38 years. Can you imagine yourself living in a public area for 38 years? Did the man not have any family? Or had his family rejected him or were they too poor to care for him? Can you imagine not being in the midst of your family? The situation must have been debilitating for this man, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Had he come to the Sheep Gate primarily to beg? Or did this poor man still have hope that one day, he actually might be healed?
When Jesus came into the temple, he saw this man lying on the floor. Jesus could tell from the man’s debilitated appearance that he had been ill for many, many years. Jesus quietly walked over to the man and asked him a simple but very powerful question: “Do you want to be well?” I wonder if the man’s inner response was: “Well, of course, I want to be well! Who wouldn’t?”
However, the man did not answer the question that Jesus had posed. Rather, he says to Jesus: “I have no one to help me into the water when it is stirred up.” He told Jesus that by the time he got to the pool, others had already gotten into the water and there was no room for him. Jesus listened intently to the man. Then Jesus quietly, yet powerfully tells the man to stand up, take up his mat and walk. Jesus does not do a dramatic healing. Rather he quietly and lovingly speaks to the man.
The man immediately stands up, picks up his mat and walks! It must have taken him a few moments to get his balance after not using his legs for such a long time! Yet what a life changing moment this was for this man! He had been on the sidelines of life for many years. Now he could be active and involved once again. Perhaps he might even be able to have a trade and to actually support his family. No longer would he have to beg and be pitied. And perhaps, he actually might be able to help other people who were ill, poor and unable to sustain themselves.
When Jesus spoke the words: “Rise, take up your mat and walk,” a whole new world opened up for this man! Those simple yet healing words changed the man and his life forever. What a wonderful gift to receive. Today may we be open and listening to Jesus’ healing words for us! May we be attentive and “listen with the ear of our hearts!”
Monday, March 16, 2015
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent – John 4:43-54
Today, Jesus leaves Samaria and travels home to Galilee. If you recall, Jesus himself said: “No prophet is accepted in his home town.” Yet when Jesus arrived in Cana of Galilee, he was welcomed with open arms. Had the hearts of the Galileans truly changed? If so, was it because they personally had experienced the power of Jesus’ teaching and his ability to heal? Or were they simply curious and wanted to hear this man for themselves?
However, when Jesus arrived in Cana, a royal officer of the court immediately approached him. His son was deathly ill and naturally, the officer was distraught and frightened. The officer approached Jesus and begged him to come and heal his child. The child was near death. There was no time to waste. The father needed Jesus to come with him immediately!
Jesus responds to the man in a very callous and indifferent manner. He tells the man that he, like many other people, has come to Jesus simply because they needed to have a “wonder” performed. If Jesus would do this, then would they believe in Jesus? However, the man persisted in begging Jesus to come with him. He again told Jesus that his child literally was on the verge of dying. And there was no one else he could turn to. Jesus was the only hope for his son.
This time, the man’s distress and panic got through to Jesus. Jesus understood that this father was deeply frightened at the thought of possibly losing his child. Jesus saw the man’s heart! However, Jesus still did not agree to go with the man! Jesus simply reassured the father that his child would live. He quietly told the officer to go home and see his child. Was the official disappointed or angry that Jesus did not go with him to see his son? Or did he trust Jesus and his promise?
Finally, the court official left and hurried home. When he arrived there, he learned that his child had been completely healed! His son was completely restored. Imagine the joy and gratitude the father must have experienced in that instant! From this moment on, the father, his family and all the members of his household believed in Jesus.
What is the healing that we wish to ask Jesus for? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we immediately received the healing we desire? How would our lives be different if we always received the healing, the wish, the gift or grace we ask Jesus for? In one way, this would be wonderful! However, would Jesus begin to see Jesus in a different light? Would Jesus become more like a “vending machine” to us? We come, place our prayer/request before Jesus, make an “offering” and then wait for my prayer to be answered, preferably exactly as I want it answered?
We all pray for what we desire! However, in my experience, it often seems that I receive very little of what I have asked for, at least in the way I wanted it to be answered. Does that mean that Jesus did not hear my prayer? Do I only believe in Jesus if He answers my prayers exactly as I specify? Perhaps the more fundamental question is: do we truly love, believe and trust Jesus? Do we trust that Jesus loves us and he is always with us? Do we truly believe that Jesus does gift and grace us?
Yes, we need to ask and pray to Jesus for what we need and desire. However, we also need to have a broad perspective. Instead of impatiently waiting for the answer to my specific prayer, I/we need to be open and listen deeply. Jesus will answer our prayer. However, our answer may have a different “take” or direction that we may not have anticipated. Thus we need to be open and trust Jesus to bless us and grace us, as we truly need! Jesus will not disappoint us, even if we have to wait for awhile! The question is: will we continue to have open, hopeful and trusting hearts?
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent – John 3:14-21
The main characters in this Sunday’s Gospel are Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus had heard many stories about Jesus and also about the message he was preaching. Nicodemus was determined to listen to Jesus preach. Jesus taught with an authority that Nicodemus had never experienced in his life. Also, there was a quality of strength and integrity in Jesus that other preachers and prophets had not had. Nicodemus was determined to hear Jesus preach and speak and hopefully, to also talk with him.
However, Nicodemus also was concerned about what his fellow members of the Sanhedrin might say about him, if they found out that he had been listening to and talking with Jesus. The Sanhedrin was the supreme Jewish council and it wielded an enormous amount of power. The Sanhedrin had many written as well as a good number of unwritten rules regarding the behavior of the members of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus had no doubt that if he was seen talking with Jesus, most likely he would fall into disfavor with the Sanhedrin. However, Nicodemus decided to take this chance.
Nicodemus came up with a simple plan: he would go and see Jesus after darkness had fallen. When Nicodemus found Jesus, he approached him and said to him: “You are like no other teacher who has been sent from God.” Jesus then began to teach Nicodemus. He told Nicodemus and all who were listening that in the future he would be “lifted up.” He also told them that anyone who believed in him would gain eternal life!
If someone well known or famous came to you and told you that s/he would be “lifted up,” what would you think? Would you wonder if they were a bit off their rocker? Or would you take them seriously? However, Jesus had an authenticity and authority about him that the Pharisees simply did not have. Jesus did not just preach, his message came straight from his heart. Yes, his teaching was powerful but it also touched the people’s hearts. Many people experienced Jesus’ authenticity and they believed in Jesus and in his words.
Jesus was (and is) the “light” that came into this world! And even though darkness ruled and eventually killed him, His light still shines brightly! Do we experience Jesus’ “light” in our lives? Do we look for His presence, his message, his care, his love? We all have a “Nicodemus” within us who yearns to personally experience Jesus and his message. We long to be in his presence and experience his light and love!
Today and every day, Jesus is waiting for us to come, desiring that we listen to him and simply be with him! Today will we be like Nicodemus? Today, will we also seek Jesus out? Today may we open our eyes, hearts and minds to the reality of Jesus’ presence! He is with us! We just have to have open minds and hearts and notice his presence with us!
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent – Luke 18:9-14
The parable that Jesus tells his disciples and listeners today is the familiar parable of the two men who went up to the temple to pray. As we know one man was a Pharisee and the other man was a tax collector. The Pharisee began to pray and he gave thanks that he was not like the rest of humanity. He especially was pleased that he was not like the tax collector who also had come to the temple to pray. The Pharisee truly believed that he was better than the tax collector. As a Pharisee, he fasted at least twice a week and he also tithed!
Standing a few feet away from the Pharisee was a tax collector who also had come to the temple to pray. However, the prayer of the tax collector was the complete opposite of the Pharisee’s prayer. The tax collector was deeply repentant for the many wrongs he had done in his life and in his work. This man would not even look up to heaven when he prayed. He humbly begged God to be merciful to him, sinner though he was. The tax collector truly was repentant. He yearned to turn his life around and to do what was right in the eyes of God.
What differing ways of approaching God! The Pharisee truly believed that he was above everyone else, especially the sinners, the poor or the lowly. The tax collector however, was deeply repentant for the many wrongs he had done and he yearned for God’s mercy. The Pharisee considered himself entitled to a reward for all his “goodness” while the tax collector hoped and prayed that God, who was merciful, would forgive him!
How do we approach God? Do we approach God in the manner of the Pharisee, perhaps actually believing that we have earned a reward? Or are we more like the tax collector, coming to God with a humble, contrite heart and hoping that God will be merciful to us and forgive us? Most likely we have both characters within us! At times, we may be more like the tax collector, almost demanding something from God because we believe we deserve it. And at other times, we come humbly to God, contrite, sad and repentant for what we have done, yet we come, trusting in God’s mercy, love and goodness.
Most likely, all of us have approached God in both ways at various times in our lives. At times, we have been the Pharisee. And in other situations, we have been the tax collector. In some circumstances, we truly may believe that we are better and more righteous than others and thus, we may feel entitled. In other circumstances, we may indentify with the tax collector who truly may not believe that he basically is a good man.
What we do know is that Jesus desires that we be humble in the best meaning of the word. It doesn’t mean that we are to demean ourselves or believe that we are not as good as others. The word “humility” derives from the word “humus,” which is the dirt of the earth. Individuals who are humble are modest and tend to have an unassuming nature. They know who they are and who they are not. First and foremost they realize that they are the beloved of God. What they do, the position they hold, or the power and money they have is insignificant.
Is being the “beloved of God” sufficient for us? What more could we ask for?
Friday, March 13, 2015
Friday of the Third Week of Lent – Luke 12:28-34
Today is a very familiar Gospel. It is the story of the scribe who comes to Jesus and asks him: What is the first and most important of all the commandments? Jesus doesn’t hesitate. He responds with the first commandment: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Talk about a powerful statement. Read that commandment once again. We hear these words so frequently that we may not truly hear them!
Now take a moment and quiet yourself. You might want to take a few slow breaths or just sit quietly for a moment or two in the presence of God.
- Then ask yourself: do I truly love God with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength? Don’t simply answer yes or no but take a moment or two so to sincerely ponder this question.
- Now ask yourself: what is the quality of my love for God? Is it a child’s love for God? Is God a parent to me or is God a friend and lover for me? Or is God simply a concept who has no real impact on my life? Do I want to get to know God more deeply?
God is always with us and God will always love us---no matter what we do or don’t do! God will never, ever leave us! However, do we have a personal and loving relationship with God? Or is God a distant and impersonal figure in our lives? More importantly, how do we want to relate to God?
God longs for us to love God deeply and personally. And even if or when we refuse to love God, God will continue to love us! God will love us until the end of time! We have a choice: to be in a personal love relationship with God or to keep our distance from God. What do we choose?
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent – Luke 11: 14-23
This Gospel opens with Jesus driving the demon out of a man who was mute. Quite naturally, the crowds were amazed at the healing power of Jesus. However, some of his critics believed that he was able to do this only through the power of Beelzebub, the “prince of demons.” What was it about Jesus that gave them this idea? Jesus healed the sick, comforted the mourning, taught about love for God and one another.
Were his critics afraid of him? We know from the Gospels that the Pharisees constantly were watching Jesus. Were they concerned that Jesus was gaining too much popularity with the people? Were they worried that they might lose their power with the people? Were they hoping that he would break Jewish law and thus, give them good cause to criticize him?
How sad it is that the Pharisees would not give Jesus a chance. From the very beginning they rejected Jesus and they also were frightened of him. Or did they truly believe that Jesus was in league with Beelzebub? Or were they jealous of his popularity with the people and simply trying to ruin him in their eyes? Regardless, no matter what Jesus did, it was wrong and sinful in the Pharisees’ eyes!
Take a moment and ask yourself: Who is a person in your life that you struggle with? Who is it you dismiss or perhaps reject at times? What is it they do or don’t do that triggers this reaction in you (and me)? I am sure we all have at least one person who irritates us. It may be someone who simply gets on our nerves and we are irritated when they are around us. Or it might be an individual who has hurt or criticized us or ignored us at some point.
No matter what the situation was, Jesus continually challenges us to be open and loving with others — ALL others! As we know, this is not an easy call. However, if we profess to be followers of Jesus, then we must follow in his footsteps, even when it is difficult or challenging. Today may we pray for one another. Let us support each other with prayer, asking Jesus to give each of us the grace we need when we see someone coming down the hall whom we would prefer not to encounter. Hopefully, if we strive to do this, the people who struggle with us may sense a difference in us and experience an authentic welcome rather than a “token hello.”
We all have heard the question: “What would Jesus do?” in this situation. Today if we get irritated or angry, may we pause for a moment and simply breathe in the presence of Jesus for a few seconds! If we do this, Jesus will help us respond with love! Do we believe it? Try it!
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent – Matthew: 5:17-19
The Gospel today is only 3 verses long. However, it is a very powerful passage. Jesus begins by telling his disciples that his purpose is not to abolish the law or to criticize what the prophets proclaimed and taught. Jesus’ intent is to fulfill the law. Jesus also emphasizes that keeping the commandments is essential.
However, in the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus frequently disobeyed Jewish law. They often criticized him for not following the law – at least as they believed it should be obeyed. And they did have grounds for their criticism of Jesus. He did not follow the law as the Pharisees thought it should be followed. The Pharisees lived by the letter of the law!
Jesus however, lived by a different law: the law of love! Jesus followed most of the Jewish laws and customs. However, when it came to people in need of love and compassion, Jesus lived by the law of God! Yes, all the commandments are important and necessary. For Jesus, the first two commandments are the foundation for the other eight commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Love should come before all else!
We also can become legalistic as the Pharisees were. We may observe another person doing something that we may judge as not correct. Yet, who are we to judge? We don’t know why the person is doing what he/she is doing. And bottom line, it is not our place to judge. God is the one to judge! We don’t like or appreciate when another judges us. Yet at times, we fall into judging, perhaps before we even know it.
The grace is: we can pull ourselves back from our judgment — if we desire to. If we practice doing this often enough, we may find that we don’t jump to judgment as automatically as we once did!
Today I invite you to be aware of your thoughts and especially your judgments. Pay close attention to your interactions with the people you may not like very much or someone who simply gets on your nerves. We may be more likely to find fault with them, than with someone we like or love!
We will never be perfect in keeping the commandments. After all, we are human and not God! However, each day, each hour, we can strive to love others more fully and without judgment! This is all God asks of
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent – Matthew: 18:21-35
Today we have another challenging Gospel. Peter comes to Jesus and bluntly asks him how many times he needs to forgive another, be that his brother, his sister, friend or co-worker. Peter asks if he should forgive the other person seven times? I wonder: did Peter have a family member, a spouse or a friend whom he had wounded multiple times? Or was Peter simply asking the question because he wanted to hear how Jesus would answer his question?
As often is the case, Jesus does not answer Peter’s question directly. Rather Jesus bluntly tells Peter that he should forgive the other person, not simply 7 times, but 77 times! Now that is a lot of forgiveness! It often is easier to forgive another if the hurt or insult is minor. However, when a person has been betrayed or slandered by another person, most of us also would find it difficult to forgive the individual. And this is understandable: our trust has been betrayed!
Was Peter surprised at Jesus’ answer? Was Peter thinking of a family member or friend that he needed to forgive? Or was Peter remembering someone he had hurt or wounded? Was Peter hoping that at some point, he would be forgiven?
Hopefully, over time, we will forgive the person who wounded us. And in this process, we also free ourselves of the heavy burden we have been carrying. Lack of forgiveness usually has more effect on us than on the individual we need to forgive. Resentment and anger poison us. If we are not able to forgive the other person, we may be the one who carries the heavier burden. True, it is not easy to let go of our anger and hurt. However, if we can place our anger, hurt and resentment into God’s hands, over time God will heal our resentment, hurt and anger. However, it may take a long time.
The grace is Jesus does not expect us to deal with these hurts and resentments alone. Jesus walks with us, encourages us and over time, gives us the grace to let go and hopefully to also forgive the one who hurt us. However, we have to be patient with this process. And, we need to keep coming back to Jesus and ask him to help us forgive. Jesus wants us to ask him to free us of this burden, this pain. Jesus is with us and He will answer our prayers!
Today may we place all our burdens, our anger and our pain in Jesus’ hands. This will lighten our load immensely and it also will free us! However, will we, do we, trust Jesus?
Monday, March 9, 2015
Monday of the Third Week of Lent – Luke 4:24-30
Once again, Jesus is teaching. However, today he is teaching in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. I wonder what this experience was like for Jesus? I have a feeling it was a difficult one since Jesus bluntly tells his listeners that typically no prophet is accepted in his home town. He must not have felt welcomed or accepted. Perhaps Jesus was too familiar to them for him to be a prophet or even a teacher. They may have said to one another: “who does he think he is to be preaching to us? We have known him since the day he was born!” Perhaps though, there was something deeper going on in the hearts of the people in Nazareth. Was it simply easier to dismiss Jesus rather than being open to listening to Him? Or were they afraid of what they might find if they looked deeply into their hearts?
We are almost half way through Lent. In these past weeks, have we taken time to look deeply into our hearts? Or have we been too busy to quiet down or perhaps even afraid to quiet down? For many of us Lent may not be a comfortable season of our Church year. And that is understandable! The season of Lent invites us and challenges us to quiet down and go deep into our minds and our hearts!
Lent calls us to examine our lives. Are we truly happy? Are we at peace? Or are we running? What are we running from? How would we describe our relationship with God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit? Is this relationship superficial or is it a deep and meaningful relationship? Lent is a time and a call to go deep within. Today may we deliberately take time to do just that. May we sit quietly with God or with Jesus and look into our hearts. What will we find there? Is Jesus there in our hearts? The reality is Jesus is there but the question may be: will we be open and fully present to Jesus? It is our choice!
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Sunday of the Third Week of Lent – John 2:13-25
Today’s Gospel gets our attention immediately. Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He immediately goes to the temple. When he arrived at the temple, the situation he found there infuriated Him. Yes, there were many people in the temple. However, most of there were not there to pray. There were an astounding number of money changers and also people selling animals for sacrifice!
Jesus absolutely “lost” it! He took a length of cord, made a whip and began driving all these people out of the temple! They were desecrating this beautiful and sacred temple. How dare they? The temple was built and dedicated to be a place for prayer and worship. It was not built to be a market place! Jesus was infuriated! Yet he also was saddened that the people would desecrate such a holy, beautiful and sacred place.
Today may be a day to ask ourselves: what and where are our sacred places? What are the places that are sacred to us? It might be a church, a forest, the mountains, the ocean or simply a swing in our backyard or special chair in our house. We all need sacred places in our lives. These sacred places enable us to experience and open ourselves to God’s presence in the beauty, the silence, the peace – be that in nature, the quiet space in your house or a church.
Sacred places and spaces help to ground us in God. And thus, we may experience God’s presence in that place more intensely and more tangibly. A sacred place as well as a sacred activity (such as simply sitting quietly in a chair) also may help us open ourselves more deeply to God’s presence, word and grace.
Today I invite you to deliberately sit quietly with God for 5, 10, or 30 minutes. We may receive many gifts and deep peace as we quietly and peacefully simply sit with God! God longs for us and God is waiting for us! Will we come?
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Saturday of the Second Week of Lent – Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Today the Pharisees continue their criticism of Jesus. They are upset and angry that he not only welcomes sinners but that he also has the audacity to actually sit down at table and eat with them. How dare he do this! And as always, Jesus is able to read the minds and the hearts of the Pharisees.
However, Jesus decides to respond to their unspoken criticism in a round-about way. As he often does, Jesus tells them a parable. Today’s parable is the familiar Prodigal Son parable. This is a Gospel passage we all are very familiar with. We know that the father in the story has 2 sons. The youngest son comes and asks his father for his inheritance. The father agreed to his request and he divided all that he had and gave his 2nd son his fair share. This son immediately took his inheritance and left. He had wanderlust and wanted to see the wonders of the world. However, in the process of his wanderings, he spent the whole of his inheritance.
On the other hand, the eldest son is extremely responsible. He is very obedient to his father and he manages the estate. He is dutiful as well as a good steward of all that is in his charge, including the servants and the temporalities. The eldest son is faithful to his father and to his duties.
The youngest son went off and squandered his inheritance on loose living. However, after the money ran out he actually had to tend swine for a period of time as he had no real skills. His life consisted of drudgery and hard and dirty work as he cared for another farmer’s swine.
Finally, the younger son came to his senses. He decided to return home. Note: it was his hunger and poverty that brought him to his senses. He had nothing to eat. He was so hungry that he thought about eating what the swine were eating. He knew that his father’s servants were well fed. And if he worked for his father, at least he would have food to eat and a roof over his head.
However, he also realized that he would have to ask his father for forgiveness. He also knew that he had received his share of his inheritance. His father owed him nothing. However, if he could work for his father, at least he would have food to eat and a place to live. So the youngest son begins his journey home.
Imagine that you are the youngest son who is returning home. What thoughts are going through your mind? Are you planning what you will say to your father? How high is your anxiety level? What is your greatest fear? And yet, what do you have to lose? Your life is in shambles and if needed, you will accept whatever is given to you, no matter how menial it might be. Your pride has to be left behind.
As we well know, the father had been looking for his son since the day his son had left him. Every day the father went out hoping that he would see his son walking up the road. And up until this day, every day the father had returned home sad, yearning for his son to come home. Day after day the father waited.
Finally the day arrives when the father sees someone coming down the road and realizes, it was his youngest son! Luke writes: the father was filled with compassion (and perhaps great joy and happiness). As soon as he saw his son, he ran to him and embraced him. Immediately, the prodigal son knew that he truly was forgiven and he realized how deeply his father loved him.
Today is a good day to place ourselves in the shoes of the prodigal son or the prodigal daughter. At times in our lives, we also have left the home of our God. We have wandered away and perhaps we also have squandered what little we had. How long did we keep our distance from God? Were we afraid that God would never forgive us? Perhaps we thought we did not deserve to be forgiven. And yet, God is always on the lookout for us, yearning for us, waiting for us to return home. God will never stop loving us!
Today take a few moments and thank God for the steadfast love, care and blessings that God has bestowed on you in your life. Bask for a few moments in this reality. There is no greater gift. God will never leave us! And if (and when) we do leave God for a period of time, God patiently will look for us and wait for us until we return home! Then the celebration for us begins!
Friday, March 6, 2015
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
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
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
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
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
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!”