Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Blind Man on the Road and Zachaeus up a Tree

Luke 18,31-19,10

Longer readings from scripture sometime reveal connections we don’t see in the shorter reading we usually read at Mass.  This reading about Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem from the Gospel of Luke is a reading that summarizes his whole ministry. We’re reading it on our first night of the mission.

Following Mark and Matthew, Luke says that Jesus on his way to Jerusalem passed through Jericho and from there took the road up to the Holy City about 20 miles away. Entering Jericho he met a blind man asking him to cure his blindness. Jesus called him over and gave him back his sight, and the blind man followed him.

Then, Luke adds a story not mentioned by Mark and Matthew. The city’s chief tax-collector, Zachaeus, wants to see Jesus, but because he’s a short man, he has to climb a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of him. Calling him down, Jesus not only speaks with him but asks to stay in his house.

He’s criticized for doing that, but Jesus came to save what was lost, and so he saves the blind man who’s told to keep quiet and get out of the way and the chief tax-collector whom no one likes.

Their meeting ends as Zachaeus stands and says to Jesus, “ Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over. And Jesus said to him “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19 8-9.

The two stories are a summary of Jesus’ activity in Galilee where he cured and reconciled so many. Luke’s gospel has been called the Gospel of the Outcasts because Jesus reaches out to so many of them. He brings salvation. As the name implies, outcasts can be hard to take, but Jesus embraced them in his lifetime and the gospel suggests he embraces them still.

If you think you are an outcast, then you can join this group.

Jesus doesn’t take control of the lives of the blind man or the tax-collector either. He doesn’t ask for anything from the wealthy chief-tax collector except a day’s hospitality. He doesn’t tell him to quit his job and get another one. He usually told those he healed, like the bind man, to go back to their families and do what they did before. Only a few, like his twelve disciples, did he call to follow him.

He came to serve and not to be served. He called for his disciples and his church to serve and not to control. ‘The church opens herself to the world not in order to win people for an institution with its own claims to power, but to lead them to themselves of whom each person can say with Saint Augustine, ‘He is closer to me than I am to myself.’ (Confessions III, 6, II)   Benedict XVI, ( To German Lay Catholics, September 2010)” A serving, non-controlling church is like Jesus.

Jesus did tell everyone to prepare for the kingdom of God, to use the talents and graces given them, not to bury them.  Pray and faithfully do God’s will.  Signs will appear, look for them and follow them. Those who follow him were to take up their cross, but he would help them. One thing he called them all to do was to “Become like little children;” you can’t get into the kingdom of heaven unless you do that.

The NABRE Bible gives this overall description of the Gospel of Luke: “Throughout the gospel, Luke calls upon the Christian disciple to identify with the master Jesus who is caring and tender towards the poor and the lowly, the outcast, the sinner, and the afflicted, towards all those who recognize their dependence on God… No gospel writer is more concerned than Luke with the mercy and compassion of Jesus…No gospel writer is more concerned with the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus and the Christian disciple… with the importance of prayer… or with Jesus’ concern for women.”

The blind man is obviously poor and Jesus reaches out to him with tender care.   Zachaeus isn’t poor, but he’s an outcast.  In the next section of his gospel, Luke places  the parable of the talents. You wonder if Zachaeus may be one of those given ten talents, which he multiplies by generous charity to the poor. You also wonder if he might be on the way to becoming like a child, as Jesus taught.  Anyone climbing a tree like he did has something of a child in him.

I like this picture of Zachaeus by J. Tissot.  In Jericho last year I took a picture of the sycamore tree they feature now in the town square.  Imagine Zachaeus up on that tree.

Epiphany Cathedral: Parish Mission, Monday-Thursday

From January 28-February 2, 2012 I’ll be preaching a mission at Epiphany Cathedral, Venice, Florida. The theme is FOLLOWING JESUS CHRIST THROUGH THE GOSPELS.  Each evening at 7 PM from Monday to Thursday, I’ll reflect on an extended passage from the gospels. My goal is to better appreciate the scriptures as a source of faith and knowing Jesus Christ.

I’ll be putting up material from the mission each day that might help  somebody who can’t get to the mission or who may have missed something.

Here’s a Youtube Video for Monday’s evening service.

Here’s the schedule for Monday evening:

1st Evening: Following Jesus Christ: Jericho to Bethany

Opening hymn:   I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light – CCH 297

Announcements and opening prayer

Catechesis  (10 minutes): How do you grow in faith today? Some aids to faith.

Reflective hymn: The Summons – CCH 375

Presentation (35 minutes): Reading from Luke 18,35-19.11, 29-38

Sermon: The Friends of Jesus

Benediction, hymns: Tantum Ergo – CCH  88

short reflective prayer,

closing hymn: Go Make of All Disciples – CCH 374

(15 minutes)

We’re Called

We may think our relationship to God is a personal affair that doesn’t depend on anybody but ourselves, but that’s not so. Others help us on our way to God. Our gospel reading for this Sunday, for example, tells us that John the Baptist told some of his disciples to follow Jesus and Andrew brought his brother Simon to him. More than we know, others lead us to God.

Instead of a lonely journey, we go to God together. Another way of saying it is that we belong to one body, a church.  Much of our knowledge and faith in God comes from others. We’re not lonely believers.

Our first reading is about the young boy Samuel whom God has chosen for a special mission among the Israelites. His mother senses this and sends him to spend some time in the temple; she hopes the priests there will help him understand what his calling is.

The young boy hears God calling in the night but it’s a very indistinct call; he’s a young boy and he doesn’t know what to make of it. The old priest Eli doesn’t help much at first. He tells the young man there’ s no one calling, go back to sleep.

Finally, the old man recognizes that God is calling the young man. This isn’t the first time someone from an older generation doesn’t understand someone younger.  An early example of the “generation gap?” The story, we learn, is not just about a young boy finding what God wants him to do, but it’s also about someone from an older generation helping him find out.

 

After awhile, the old priest gives Samuel the right advice: “Go to sleep, and if you are called say ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

That’s wise advice. The old priest is telling him, first of all, believe God speaks to you. Then, listen humbly as a servant, without letting your own ideas intrude. Become a listener and hear what God wishes to say. Pray.

An elderly man from California calls us every few months to ask for copies of a little prayer we publish called “Be With Me Today, O Lord,” which he distributes to schools and churches in his area. It’s a simple prayer you can find over at Bread on the Waters, where a lot of prayers like this can be found.

The prayer says that God has something for us to do today and everyday; we have a mission in life and it asks God to point that mission out so that we can do it.

“I have a mission…

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

God has not created me for naught… Therefore I will trust him.

Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.

God does nothing in vain.

He knows what he is about.” (J.H. Newman)

We’ re links on a chain, a good image of how we fit into life’s larger picture. God hasn’t created us for nothing. We all have a mission in life, but we need people to help us know it.

Our Sunday readings might suggest one particular calling we need to think about and pray about and promote today–vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We need good priests and religious for our church and our world. God calls young men and young women. But they need others, like Eli, to support them in their call.

Next Saturday in our monastery in Jamaica, New York,  the Passionists are having a “Called by Name” weekend for young men who may be called to our community. I’m part of it. Know anyone who might have a call? Pray, and like Eli could you also encourage them to listen to God’s call?

 

 

Does God Get Your Vote?

 

Elections and politics are in the air today, so it might be good time to reflect how people of faith participate in them.  Our first reading from the Book of Samuel let’s us look at politics in ancient Israel. “Appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us,” the elders of Israel say to Samuel at Ramah. “We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles.”

The Prophet Samuel is a reluctant king maker, however. He’s wary about kings and recognizes the dark side of absolute political power.

“He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will tithe your crops and grape harvests to give to his officials and his servants. He will take your male and female slaves, as well as your best oxen and donkeys, and use them to do his work. He will also tithe your flocks. As for you, you will become his slaves.”

I suppose the advice we could take from this is: Don’t let people who govern have too much power. In a democratic society like ours that means being a well-informed and engaged citizen.  Know what’s going on and vote. It’s our duty as well as our right.

There’s another piece of advice we can also hear in this selection from the Book of Samuel.  God complains to the prophet that the peoples’ demand for a king is a rejection of God’s kingship. Some today might agree that politics is just for us humans; keep God out of it all.

 

But can we have a good and fair society without God?  Is it all about public opinion and what the most votes dictate? Or do we have to ask what God would say about the way our world is run?

The Baptism of Jesus

The heavens open when Jesus goes into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized. The Spirit descends on him and the Father announces his pleasure in him: “Listen to him,” we’re told, and share in his life.

The baptism of Jesus, a feast we celebrate with the Feast of the Epiphany,  affirms a new connection between earth and heaven. It speaks through the simple, fundament sign of water. Going into the Jordan, Jesus indicates that God blesses the waters of the earth– and consequently creation itself– with life. Our second reading today from Isaiah 55, 1-11 illustrates this mystery so well. First of all, Jesus quenches the thirst of our souls; he comes to quench the thirst of all:

“ All you who are thirsty,

come to the water!

You who have no money,

come, receive grain and eat;

come, without paying and without cost,

drink wine and milk!” Isaiah 55, 1

God’s gift of Jesus Christ not only satisfies our thirst as individuals, he comes to revive the institutions of our world.

“I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,

the benefits assured to David.

As I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander of nations,

so shall you summon a nation you knew not,

and nations that knew you not shall run to you,

because of the LORD, your God,

the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.” (Isaiah 55)

Jesus Christ also comes to purify the world and those who dwell in it:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,

call him while he is near.

Let the scoundrel forsake his way,

and the wicked man his thoughts;

let him turn to the LORD for mercy;

to our God, who is generous in forgiving.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

As high as the heavens are above the earth

so high are my ways above your ways

and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55

Finally, in his Son, God makes an everlasting covenant with our world:

“For just as from the heavens

the rain and snow come down

and do not return there

till they have watered the earth,

making it fertile and fruitful,

giving seed to the one who sows

and bread to the one who eats,

so shall my word be

that goes forth from my mouth;

my word shall not return to me void,

but shall do my will,

achieving the end for which I sent it.”

There’s an good article on the significance of water in the scriptures on the American Bible Society site.

Image of the Invisible God

There’s always a temptation to make God distant and abstract. After all, God dwells “in light inaccessible,” the scriptures say. God is beyond the eyes of our mind and body.

But God reveals himself in Jesus Christ, the “image of the invisible God.” The first followers of Jesus saw him with their own eyes and proclaimed that “the grace and kindness of our God has appeared” in him.

We’re reading from the 1st Letter of John, which was written as that first generation of  eyewitnesses to the gospel was passing on. The letter’s message to a new generation (and certainly to us too) is simple: believe in Jesus Christ. As eyewitnesses pass on and years go by, we’re tempted to forget or minimize his place in our world and in our lives.

John’s letter warns about the dangers of docetism and gnosticism, two heresies supporting that temptation. A note in the New American Bible describes what these strange sounding heresies are all about:

“The specific heresy described in this letter cannot be identified exactly, but it is a form of docetism or gnosticism; the former doctrine denied the humanity of Christ to insure that his divinity was untainted, and the latter viewed the appearance of Christ as a mere stepping-stone to higher knowledge of God.”

He came “through water and Blood,” John writes. He urges us not to forget the humanity of Jesus Christ, the humble way he became flesh and shared our experience as human beings. God comes to us that way too. He was baptized in the waters of the Jordan uniting all nations in journeying to God’s Kingdom. He died and shed his blood for us. Don’t forget the mystery of his death and resurrection.

“God gave us eternal life,

and this life is in his Son.”

The Word Made Flesh

Because the Word was made flesh, St. Athanasius writes:
“He had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence: she is to provide him with a body of his own, to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth, and says: She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of “what will be born in you” to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of “what will be born from you,” so that we might know by faith that her child originated within her and from her.
  By taking our nature and offering it in sacrifice, the Word was to destroy it completely and then invest it with his own nature, and so prompt the Apostle to say: This corruptible body must put on incorruption; this mortal body must put on immortality.
  This was not done in outward show only, as some have imagined. This is not so. Our Saviour truly became human, and from this has followed the salvation of humanity as a whole. Our salvation is in no way fictitious, nor does it apply only to the body. The salvation of the human being, that is, of soul and body, has really been achieved in the Word himself.
  What was born of Mary was therefore human by nature, in accordance with the inspired Scriptures, and the body of the Lord was a true body: It was a true body because it was the same as ours. Mary, you see, is our sister, for we are all born from Adam.
  The words of St John, the Word was made flesh, bear the same meaning, as we may see from a similar turn of phrase in St Paul: Christ was made a curse for our sake. Our  body has acquired something great through its communion and union with the Word. From being mortal it has been made immortal; though it was a living body it has become a spiritual one; though it was made from the earth it has passed through the gates of heaven.
  Even when the Word takes a body from Mary, the Trinity remains a Trinity, with neither increase nor decrease. It is for ever perfect. In the Trinity we acknowledge one Godhead, and thus one God, the Father of the Word, is proclaimed in the Church.