Monthly Archives: March 2010

Love on a Friday

Mk 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

We  should expect to hear about love on a lenten friday. Believers, of course, recall the passion of Jesus on all the fridays of the year, but the lenten fridays are special days to prepare for the Friday called Good. That was a day of love.

On that day the great commandment Jesus preached was fulfilled in a striking way. Historians, scholars, artists approach the mystery of his passion and death from so many perspectives. The gospels and Christian tradition dwell on it in great detail. It is a fascinating conclusion to a fascinating life.

But the question Why did Jesus suffer such a death? can only be answered by  recognizing it as his response to the command of love. Jesus accepted the cross with love for his heavenly Father and love for us, who were there when he was crucified.

The cross was not something Jesus endured, he embraced  it with his whole heart, his whole mind and all his strength. At his cross, we stand before Love.

The Finger of God

Lk 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,

and when the demon had gone out,

the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

(thursday, 3rd week of lent)

Talk of devils and demons and the miracles of God, so common in the bible, sounds strange to people today, especially in the western world. We prefer seeing other forces at work when something remarkable happens, as it did to the man who couldn’t speak. Some natural cause was at work–maybe the power of suggestion; whatever it was, we’ll discover it. We find it hard to see “the finger of God” causing miracles today.

Miracles of healing were among the signs that established the identity of Jesus among his early hearers, but they were not the only signs.

‘Listen to what I have to say to you about Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonder and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know,” Peter says to the crowds in Jerusalem after Pentecost. But the apostle goes on from these signs of Jesus’ ministry to the culminating sign of his death and resurrection.

“You crucified and killed him by the hands of those outside the law, but God raised him up…”(Acts 2.22-23)

No human power can explain this mystery, surpassing all others. Bearing  all human sorrows– the sorrow of the mute, the deaf, the paralyzed, the possessed, the dead, the sinner far from God– Jesus gave himself into the hands of his heavenly Father on the altar of the cross. And he was raised up, to give his life-giving Spirit to the world.

Some deny this sign too. but it’s great sign that we celebrate this holy season.

The Least of the Commandments

Mt 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

In chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel,  Jesus speaks to his disciples from a mountain where, like Moses, he proclaims God’s revelation to the world. By grouping many of the teachings of Jesus in this setting, the evangelist clearly indicates that Jesus upholds Jewish tradition and does not abolish it.

Like the prophets before him who critiqued the tradition into which they were born by the great commandment of love, Jesus does the same. He does not destroy what God has done; he renews it by means of love.

And so, lent is our time for renewing life at hand, from its highest expressions to its least, in love.

Yes, lent calls us to think great thoughts and to embrace great visions of faith, and we try to do that. But it’s a season–our reading today reminds us– for remembering small things too. “A cup of cold water,” a prisoner, someone sick visited, someone naked clothed, someone hungry fed, “a word to the weary to rouse them.”

The law of God often comes down to small things, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are the best at that.

Mercy Unmeasured

Mt 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Peter’s question about forgiveness ( “How many times must I forgive my brother?”) isn’t a question he poses from personal curiosity. In this section of Matthew’s gospel Peter speaks for all believers and asks questions in their name.

So, as disciples, we ask too, “How many times must I forgive others?”  Our forgiveness must be measured by God’s forgiveness, Jesus says, which is beyond measure. The two servants in the parable he relates are both part of a money operation gone wrong, and nothing brings out the worst of people like money. There’s a big difference in the money owed, however. The first owes his master ten thousand talents, a huge sum; yet his master, in a totally unexpected display of mercy, forgives his entire debt.

After being forgiven so much, that servant sends off to debtors prison another servant who owes him a few denarii. Ten thousand talents would be worth about 10 million denariii, scholars say. A big difference!

Jesus does not rest his teaching on a parable, however. The unmeasurable forgiveness of God finds its greatest expression in his passion and death. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus cries out from the cross. His plea is not for one, or a few, but for the whole world. He shows us an amazing grace.

The mercy of God, beyond measure, is revealed in him, and we look to him as we measure our forgiveness of others.

His Own Received Him Not

Lk 4:24-30

Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth:
“Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel
in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

Monday, 3rd week of Lent

The gospel from Luke brings us back to Nazareth, where Jesus lived most of his life among “his own.” Yet when he began his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth, his own strongly reject him.  It’s hard to see how Jesus would not carry the hurt of that rejection with him;  how could he forget it?

According to Matthew’s gospel, the crowds that welcome him to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday call him “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”  But  few disciples from Nazareth follow him into Jerusalem; a couple of women from there will stand by his cross as he dies. From what we know of Nazareth and its subsequent history, Jesus did not find much acceptance there. “He came to his own and his own received him not.”

To prepare us to enter the great mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the lenten gospels  help us understand the one who took on himself our sorrows. They also help us see what our own participation in that mystery will be like. Can rejection by our own be one of them?

Questions About God

Some of the deepest questions we ask about God are often answered in the scripture readings we listen to at Mass. For example, we ask sometimes if God is punishing us in tragedies like earthquakes, or accidents or those occasional acts of violence that suddenly happen. That’s the question Jesus answers in today’s gospel (Luke 13,1-9) as his listeners wonder why 18 people were killed when a tower fell on them, or why were people allowed to die in some riot that the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, put down  by slaughtering everyone in sight.

Jesus tells them God’s not punishing the people who were involved in those tragedies. Tragedies are part of life; they’re sharp reminders that life on earth isn’t permanent or without risk. Jesus says you have to be ready for the moment that God calls you. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls;” it tolls for you and for me.

Another question we ask is quite different. Does God care about us at all? And here we can turn to the 1st reading from the Old Testament about Moses and his vision of God on Mount Horeb. (Exodus 3, 1-15) Moses at the time was a man on the run. He’d killed an Egyptian and had fled from Egypt to hide as a shepherd in the Sinai desert. His people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt.

As he ascends the mountain tending his sheep, he sees a burning bush and suddenly hears a voice. “Don’t come any nearer. Take the shoes off your feet; you’re on holy ground…I’m the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses was afraid, a normal reaction to God who is beyond anything we know.

But then God begins to speak words of love and concern.

“I know the affliction of my people in Egypt; I hear their cries of complaint against their slave drivers; I know well what they are suffering.
So I’ll rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

“I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” God says. “I have ties with the world before you were born and I will care for the world when you are long gone.”

The encounter that Moses has on the mountain is our encounter with God too.

We know what followed Moses vision on Mount Horeb.  He returns to Egypt and with God’s help brings his people out of Egypt. God’s presence isn’t always obvious as they journey through the desert for 40 years. But God is faithful and he brings them to “a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey.”

Does God care for us. Yes, he does.

As we go further into the lenten season, we come to another mountain that’s burning with fire too. We’ll see the sign of a Cross and a man hanging there. He knows our sorrows and shares them too. He’s God  come to us, to lead us and all the world from slavery to freedom, in a good land where sorrow and pain are no more, where we will be with our good God forever

3 Sunday of Lent.

3rd sun lent c

Some of the deepest questions we ask about God are often answered in the scripture readings we listen to at Mass. For example, we ask sometimes if God is punishing us in tragedies like earthquakes, or accidents or those occasional acts of violence that suddenly happen. That’s the question Jesus answers in today’s gospel as his listeners wonder why 18 people were killed when a tower fell on them, or why were people allowed to die in some riot that the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, put down by slaughtering everyone in sight.

Jesus tells them God’s not punishing the people who were involved in those tragedies. Tragedies are part of life; they’re sharp reminders that life on earth isn’t permanent or without risk. Jesus says you have to be ready for the moment that God calls you. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls;” it tolls for you and for me.

Another question we ask is quite different. Does God care about us at all? And here we can turn to the 1st reading from the Old Testament about Moses and his vision of God on Mount Horeb. Moses at the time was a man on the run. He’d killed an Egyptian and had fled from Egypt to hide as a shepherd in the Sinai desert. His people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt.

As he ascends the mountain tending his sheep, he sees a burning bush and suddenly hears a voice. “Don’t come any nearer. Take the shoes off your feet; you’re on holy ground…I’m the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
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