Monthly Archives: March 2013

Good Friday

We solemnly celebrate the death and Resurrection of our Lord on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, using the simplest of signs.

On Holy Thursday Jesus knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. At table he gave them in bread and wine his own body and blood as signs of his love for them and for all humanity.

On Good Friday we take another symbol, the cross, a powerful sign of death, which first struck fear into the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, but then as they recalled the Lord’s journey from the garden to Calvary, as they saw the empty tomb, as they were taught by the Risen Jesus himself, they began to see that God can conquer even death itself.

On this day, we read the memories of John, the Lord’s disciple, who followed him from the Sea of Galilee, to Jerusalem, its temple and its feasts, to Calvary where he stood with the women and watched the Lord die. Like the others, he recoiled before it all, but then saw signs of victory even in the garden, in the judgment hall, before Pilate, and finally in the cross itself.

On this darkest of days, Christ’s victory is proclaimed in John’s Gospel.

“ Go into my opened side,

Opened by the spear,

Go within and there abide

For my love is here” (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter, September 5, 1740).

Betrayal

John 13, 21-38

The Gospels for Monday to Thursday in Holy Week take us away from the crowded temple area in Jerusalem where Jesus spoke to the crowds and his avowed enemies and bring us into homes where “his own” join him to eat a meal.

In Bethany six days before Passover he eats with those he loved: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. In Jerusalem on the night before he dies he eats with the twelve who followed him. During the meal in Bethany, Mary anoints his feet with precious oil in a beautiful outpouring of her love.

But the Gospels for Tuesday and Wednesday point not to love but betrayal. Friends that followed him abandon him. Judas betrays him for thirty pieces of silver and goes out into the night; Peter will deny him three times; the others flee. Jesus must face suffering and death alone. (Judas’ Betrayal, J.Tissot)

Are we unlike them? Does a troubled Jesus face us too, “his own,” to whom he gave new life in the waters of baptism and Bread at his table. Will we not betray or deny? Are we sure we will not go away? The Gospels are not just about long ago; they’re also about now.

The Passover Meal

During these days of Holy Week I’ve been thinking of the Passionist house of St. Martha in Bethany where I stayed about a week a few years ago. Looking eastward from the roof of the house on a clear day you can see down to the Judean desert miles away. The ancient road Galilean pilgrims took to Jerusalem for the feasts began there in Jericho and passed by this site. The Passionist house stands over parts of the ancient village of Bethany; 1st century ruins stretch out on its eastern side. From the roof you could see the traditional tomb of Lazarus if the modern Israeli security wall didn’t block your view.

It’s a place that stirs your imagination.

Most likely Jesus lived here with his friends during Jewish feasts when he came from Galilee. It was the obvious place for Galilean pilgrims to camp in those times when the city would be so crowded. The Mount of Olives just west of Bethany was sometimes called the “Mount of the Galileans.” Here Jesus would likely be among friends, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus. A safe place. From here he walked to Jerusalem, a few miles away, over the Mount of Olives to teach and pray in the temple. Likely, followers from Galilee would accompany him back and forth, and they were armed.

Would this explain why the temple leaders reached out to an insider like Judas as a way of capturing Jesus, who seemed so secure? Perhaps his disciples thought so too; they’re so complacently confident that nothing will happen to him. They’ll take care of that.

“Where do you want us to prepare the Passover supper for you?” his disciples ask (Matthew 26,27) Surely, Jesus could have chosen to eat the Passover there in Bethany, which Jewish law saw as part of Jerusalem in times of feasts when the city’s population multiplied. It would have been a meal among his own, like that he enjoyed after raising Lazarus from the dead.And it would have been safer.

Instead, he chose to eat the Passover close by the temple. The traditional site of the Last Supper places the site just south of the temple. They would have eaten it there, as the lambs were being slaughtered for sacrifice. It certainly wasn’t a place chosen for security.

Palm Sunday Procession

The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke report that Jesus began his entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. From here he went into the city of Jerusalem seated on a donkey and those who followed him threw olive branches before him, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

From the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany you can see the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives looming ahead; the road winds over the crest of the mount down the other side past the Garden of Gethsemani and into Jerusalem. We walked part of the road last week.

The area around  Bethany was probably sparsely populated at the time of Jesus and into the Christian era. During great feasts, the poorer pilgrims would stay in the area, probably pitching tents up in the olive groves, and walk to the city. Here are two pictures from the 1940‘s when the area was less populated, today it is Muslim.

After Constantine established the church in Jerusalem and built churches like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the 4th century, vast crowds came here on Palm Sunday to reenact the gospel. They probably began near here to go their way into the city to the empty tomb .

Fr. Roberto tells me the procession today for the Latin church goes through St. Stephen’s Gate and ends in the Church of St. Ann.

Our Palm Sunday celebration today in the Roman rite imitates the ancient practice of the Church of Jerusalem, as well as many other of its Holy Week rites as well. We follow our ancestors in faith in sign. Before our Palm Sunday procession we hear these words:

“Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with  lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life.”

Don’t forget, however, that the little procession we have in our churches today once stretched over some tough hills and went for a distance.

In the garden behind the Passionist house are some first century ruins of a few Jewish houses from the time of  Jesus. Outside one is  a mikvah for purifications. Not far away is the Franciscan church next to the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus. Who knows? Could they have lived here? It looks like its part of the ancient village of Bethany.

In back of the site is the famous security wall which runs through the Passionist property. More about that later.

Palm Sunday Procession

The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke report that Jesus began his entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. From here he went into the city of Jerusalem seated on a donkey and those who followed him threw olive branches before him, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

From the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany you can see the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives looming ahead; the road winds over the crest of the mount down the other side past the Garden of Gethsemani and into Jerusalem. We walked part of the road last week.

The area around  Bethany was probably sparsely populated at the time of Jesus and into the Christian era. During great feasts, the poorer pilgrims would stay in the area, probably pitching tents up in the olive groves, and walk to the city. Here are two pictures from the 1940‘s when the area was less populated, today it is Muslim.

After Constantine established the church in Jerusalem and built churches like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the 4th century, vast crowds came here on Palm Sunday to reenact the gospel. They probably began near here to go their way into the city to the empty tomb .

Fr. Roberto tells me the procession today for the Latin church goes through St. Stephen’s Gate and ends in the Church of St. Ann.

Our Palm Sunday celebration today in the Roman rite imitates the ancient practice of the Church of Jerusalem, as well as many other of its Holy Week rites as well. We follow our ancestors in faith in sign. Before our Palm Sunday procession we hear these words:

“Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with  lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life.”

Don’t forget, however, that the little procession we have in our churches today once stretched over some tough hills and went for a distance.

In the garden behind the Passionist house are some first century ruins of a few Jewish houses from the time of  Jesus. Outside one is  a mikvah for purifications. Not far away is the Franciscan church next to the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus. Who knows? Could they have lived here? It looks like its part of the ancient village of Bethany.

In back of the site is the famous security wall which runs through the Passionist property. More about that later.

The Story of Suzanna

We’re reading in our lenten liturgy today the story of Suzanna from the Book of Daniel and an account from the gospel of John of Jesus disputing with the leaders in the temple.

The story of Suzanna would make a great TV special. It deals with some of society’s big problems today. You can’t listen to it without thinking of our present efforts to stop violence against women and also our problems with sexual abuse. Last week those issues were considered at the United Nations.

Her story points out an important factor in the abuse of women that’s still with us today. It comes from an abuse of power. The two old men were Jewish judges with lots of power; they thought they could do anything they wanted. The abuse of power, combined with lust, is still behind so many of our sexual problems today. It’s found in the workplace, in politics, in the celebrity and sports world, and also unfortunately in the world of religion.

Suzannah refuses to give in to their advances and she finds a champion in Daniel who faces up to these powerful men.

I’d like to point out that the story of Suzanna is linked to the story of Jesus. He also faces an entrenched power in the temple, whose leaders reject him because they see him as a threat to their power. But he doesn’t deny who he is and so they decide to kill him.

Just as Daniel came to the aid of Suzannah, God, his Father, will raise Jesus from death and vindicate his claims.

Our readings remind us that it’s important to stand up for the truth and to fight against abuses of power wherever we find them. When we say we’re called to follow Christ in his passion, we mean we’re called to fight against injustice and stand up to it, like Suzannah and Daniel did.

The Tomb of Lazarus

I visited the tomb of Lazarus in November 2010 while in the Holy Land. It’s only a few hundred yards from the Passionist house, St Martha, in Bethany, where I was staying, but because of the Israeli security wall you now have to drive about 13 miles around the wall to get there.

Some sisters from the nearby Comboni convent drove me there on their way to go food shopping one day. As I approached the tomb a group of about 30 pilgrims from one of the slavic countries were entering the tomb, so I stayed outside till they left. During the 2nd World War over 40 million people were killed by Hitler and Stalin in what’s been called “The Bloodlands,” parts of Eastern Europe that were fought over so viciously. Were these people going down to the tomb from that part of the world, bringing memories of “The Bloodlands,” I wondered?

They started to sing in harmony their beautiful eastern chants and the haunting, glorious music came up from the dark rock cavern below. Lazarus was being celebrated again and his tomb rang with their joyful song.

“Lazarus, come out!”

And not only were they celebrating the raising of Lazarus but our hope of resurrection too.

The dark tomb was still ringing with their singing when I went in. Joyful song from a tomb. Lazarus represents us all. That’s the powerful message from our gospel today which prepares us for the life-giving death of Jesus.

 

 

People Who Go Back And Forth

Our gospel today (John 7, 1-2,10,25-30) recalls Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, a popular autumn feast drawing crowds of visitors to the city. News of his teaching and the wonders he worked in Galilee had already reached the center of Judaism. John describes the reaction of the Jewish leaders: “the Jews were trying to kill him.” Along with them, his coming also draws the attention of “the inhabitants of the city.”

Who are they?

“The inhabitants of the city” are not the leaders who later put him to death. They’re the ordinary public who watch the leaders, who know what’s happening in the city, who follow trends and pass gossip. They watch Jesus with curiosity as he enters the temple area and teaches.

“Do our leaders now believe he’s the Messiah?” “How can he be, because he’s from Galilee and no one will know where the Messiah is from?” They’re people who go back and forth, the undecided who wait to see who wins before taking sides. Like Pilate, they would rather wash their hands of blame, but they’re involved just the same.

Jesus does not absolve them from responsibility. In John’s gospel, though immediate blame for rejecting him and putting him to death falls on the Jewish leaders, the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” are also responsible for their blindness to the Word in their midst.

In the larger perspective, then, aren’t we all “inhabitants of Jerusalem” who bear responsibility for not recognizing Jesus and putting him to death? Our Christian tradition sees the sins of us all responsible for the Passion of Jesus.

The Paralyzed Man

Let’s compare the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda, whom we hear about in today’s gospel, with the official in our previous story from John’s gospel. The official came to Jesus in Cana in Galilee looking for a cure for his son. Obviously, he was important. He knew how to get things done and came to get Jesus to do something for him. He’s a resourceful man.

The paralytic at Bethesda, on the other hand, seems utterly resourceless. For 38 years he’s come to a healing pool– archeologists identify its location near the present church of St. Anne in Jerusalem– and he can’t find a way into the water when it’s stirring. Paralyzed, too slow, he can’t even get anybody to help him. He doesn’t approach Jesus; Jesus approaches him, asking: “Do you want to be well?”

Instead of lowering him into the water, Jesus cures the paralyzed man directly and tells him to take up the mat he was lying on and walk. The man has no idea who cured him until Jesus tells him later in the temple area. He’s slow in more ways than one.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in this world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” St. Paul tells the Corinthians.
Here’s one of the weak, the lowly, the nobodies God chooses, and he wont be the only one. But are we far from him?

Lord Jesus,
like the paralytic I wait for you,
not knowing when or how you will come.
But I wait, O Lord,
however long you may be.

The Father from Galilee

On the 4th week of Lent we turn to John’s gospel to follow Jesus into Jerusalem, where he does great wonders and confronts a hostile city. Most of the weekday gospels till Holy Week will be from John.

On Monday, we read the story of the father, a royal official, who arrives in Cana to plead with Jesus to save his dying son. (John 4, 43-54) Is this another version of the story of the centurion from the synoptic gospels? “Your son will live,” Jesus tells him. The father believes him and as he returns to Capernaum finds out from his servants that his son was cured at the same time Jesus said he would live. “He believed and his whole household.”

The power of Jesus is not limited by distance or time, this miracle makes clear, and so John sees it as “the second sign.” The power of Jesus is unbounded, like the power of God.

“Your son will live,” Jesus tells the father. Is the father seeking life for his son an image of the Father who will not let death claim his Son, but brings him to life. God is not heartless before the mystery of death. Can our Father in heaven be less loving than the father from Galilee pleading for the life of his son? God infinitely surpasses the powerful government official. The Father of Jesus, our Father, never wavers; he brings us life.