Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jonah

God sent Jonah to the “enormously big city” of Nineveh. Three days to go through it. No wonder poor Jonah headed off in the opposite direction, seeking smallness, safe and sound. But God doesn’t call us to smallness. “You kingdom come” we pray; let’s work for it.

In this holy time,

a time of grace, Lord,

awaken kingdom dreams in us,

save us from dreaming too small.

You came to Jonah a second time,

Come

send us into Nineveh

as your presence there.

For a homily.

Our Father

Lent is a time of grace, and what grace do we need more than the gift of prayer? Today’s reading offers the familiar prayer Jesus taught, the Our Father. What better prayer can we pray? We know it by rote. What better grace than that Jesus teach us its inexhaustible secrets ?

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

You give us, your children, the words to say,

tell us what they mean;

make them lead to you.

Bring us as we pray into that Presence within,

where words end

and where we rest in you.

Seeing the Least

 

We know Jesus Christ in the Gospels, but today’s reading tells us to find him where it’s hardest to see him–in “the least.” They would be the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner. The least are hard to see. Mother Teresa called them “Christ in disguise.” Like the blind in the gospels, we ask that we may see.

Lord Jesus Christ,

may I see you in my neighbor,

especially in those in need, who seem so unlike you.

with little charm or response,

sometimes ungrateful for interest or care.

May I love you in my neighbor, the neighbor hard to love

and find you in the least of them.

The Temptations of Jesus

As supreme ruler in China from 1949-1976  Mao Zedong began the practice of sending young recruits for the Communist party on what was called the  “Long March.”  They retraced the 8,000 miles that Mao and his army took in 1935 through some of the toughest parts of western China to evade their enemies and eventually become the fighting force that conquered China. The recruits were expected to learn from people like Mao and his soldiers who made that difficult journey what made you into a good Communist.

Lent is our “Long March.”  For 40 days, we retrace the 40 years the Israelites journeyed through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land and the great journey that Jesus Christ took to his death and resurrection.

This Sunday we begin that journey with Jesus in the desert after his baptism where he is tempted by the devil. Mark’s gospel describes it succinctly:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,

and he remained in the desert for forty days,

tempted by Satan.

He was among wild beasts,

and the angels ministered to him.”

The experience of Jesus in the desert mirrors his experience in his life. At his baptism, God calls him his “Beloved Son” and tells us to “listen to him.” He is the Messiah, sent by God to save his people. But in the desert he is tempted by Satan to be a Messiah of another kind.

In his recent reflection on Lent, Pope Benedict said that in the desert Satan “offers Jesus another messianic way, far from God’s plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is an alternative messianism of power, of success, not the messianism of gift and selfless love.”

Matthew and Luke’s gospels speak more than Mark’s gospel does about the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Jesus is hungry; “Turn these stones into bread,” Satan says. You’re above the ordinary laws of life.  From a mountain, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. “Here’s political power,” Satan says. From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, Satan says “Throw yourself down; you can have religious power.”

Mark’s gospel goes on from his account, saying simply:

“After John had been arrested,

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:

“This is the time of fulfillment.

The kingdom of God is at hand.

Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”

Instead of Satan’s suggestion, Jesus follows John the Baptist and the way of the prophets. He goes to Galilee, not Jerusalem, and proclaims the gospel of God.

Jesus’ ministry in Galilee has all the ambivalence of the journey of the Jews in the desert. He’s a sign of God’s presence. Like a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night he teaches in the synagogues and along the seashore in Galilee.  He gives manna to the hungry and strengthens the poor and heals the sick. He pitches his tent among them and makes his home with them.

But he finds murmuring and rejection there too. You can hear it in the constant questions and doubts that he faces. Demons cry out against him. Finally, going up to Jerusalem, Jesus faces death; he becomes the sacrifice that saves his people from their sins. As he did in the desert, Jesus accepts his role as the Servant of God in his life–he “ renounces himself and lives for others and places himself among sinners, to take upon himself the sins of the world. “ (Benedict XVI)

So what do we learn from Jesus on our long march of 40 days? Our great temptations will be like his. We like to control things, we like the world to be on our side; we like to control God. His great wish was “ your will be done, your kingdom come.” Our temptation is “my will, my kingdom come.”

Our world is a lot like his. We wish God were more visible, not hidden in signs or limited to believing eyes. We wish for a world more supportive of good values, not a desert where Satan’s voice is strong and wild beasts roam.

This Lent we make the Long March with Jesus Christ who is with us today and all days. He has pitched his tent with us. We’ll have manna to eat and rocks will give water for our thirst. A fire goes before us in darkness and a pillar of cloud marks our path in the day. Angels still minister to us.

Prayers teach us to pray

Prayers teach us how to pray. The collect for  this Thursday after Ash Wednesday is a simple prayer that says so much.  Listen to it:

Lord,

may everything we do

begin with your inspiration,

continue with your help

and reach perfection under your guidance.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.

Let’s recognize where we stand before God– empty-handed. And so we look for God to put something into our hand, to give the bread we need, inspire us. We start with nothing.

Then, we ask for help with what we are about now. We can’t continue without God.

Finally, God must guide us to complete what we are about in our lives. It’s not about what we want or plan,  but “your will be done.”

Yet, we pray with a sublime hope:

We ask this through Jesus Christ, who has shown us a God who loves us, who promises to make our prayer his own, who is our advocate, our Savior, our reward.

Reflecting on the Gospels

 

People came up yesterday after I gave my homily on the paralyzed man in church and said they liked to hear the scriptures, especially the gospels, explained in the light of archeology and the other historical sciences. I think this approach is a way of doing what older meditation methods called the “composition of place,” using one’s imagination and senses to enter the gospels and the scriptures.

Formerly, we would set a gospel scene as best we could, sometimes using the descriptions of mystics or artists who imagined the time and place as they would, often using the topography, the dress, the world they saw around them. Their depictions are still helpful, not so much because they accurately described things, but from the lessons they drew from their meditations.

The picture above from the 1500s or so of the beheading of John the Baptist is an example. Nothing like 1st century Palestine, but the little light in the distant sky tells us what the gospels say: God sees it all and will vindicate his prophet in the end.

Two engineers were listening to my talk yesterday. One said “There were two miracles in that story. Those fellows and the paralyzed man on the roof should have fallen through. No roof I know could have sustained that weight!”

And someone who knows insurance told me: “Peter wouldn’t have any worries if he had a good policy!”

I think we are on to something.

Believing for Others

The healing of the paralytic told in today’s gospel from Mark is a great story. Four friends bring him to the door of Peter’s house in Capernaum but the crowds are so dense that they can’t get in to see Jesus so they climb up on the roof, cut a hole in it and lower him down before Jesus. Was the paralyzed man conscious, or half conscious? We don’t know.

 

 

 

What ingenuity! What nerve! What determination on the part of his friends! Think of the logistics involved in it all. The pictures here show the ruins of Peter’s house now enclosed in a shrine and a picture from the shrine looking down into the house–possibly just where the man was lowered down.

We know Jesus forgave the man’s sins and then healed him completely, so he left the house carrying the mat that once bore him. The gospel wants us to recognize that Jesus the healer is Jesus who forgives sins. Those who heard his words of forgiveness that day were shocked by this action which they rightly judged was divine.

But I’m led back to the four friends who had a part in this miracle. Let’s not forget them. They believe and their belief makes them go to extraordinary lengths to  help another .  We believe for others as well as for ourselves. Faith reaches out; it doesn’t remain within.  Believing prompts us to do daring things.

Back to Peter’s house. Did Peter look up that day and say, “Who’s going to pay for that hole in the roof?” The story of the paralyzed man is a wonderful story.