Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Risen Jesus in Our Midst

…and be not unbelieving, but believe.

Every year the Sunday after Easter provides us with the story of doubting Thomas.  We might wonder where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples, and we certainly have heard plenty about his lack of belief in the testimony of his fellow disciples regarding Jesus’ risen presence.  From our vantage point it is easy to criticize Thomas and find fault with his lack of belief in his friends’ words.

While we may not doubt the resurrection of Jesus, we are challenged each day to recognize and affirm the presence of Jesus in our neighbor.  Jesus has told us that whatever we do to others we do to him, and the Church teaches that each and every person on earth is an image of God.  Yet how many of us fail to acknowledge Jesus’ presence in the unborn, the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the prisoner, or anyone else on our planet? 

Such failure on our part is no different than Thomas’ failure to believe his friends and accept Jesus’ resurrection.  Look at our neighbor – see the nail marks, see the divine imprint placed upon him and her.  Do not be unbelieving, but believe – treat everyone with the dignity of a child of God, for so they are.  And in doing thus, come share the Master’s reward – the reign of God.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Re-Creation

On the first day of the week…

In the very beginning of the book of Genesis we read that before creation the earth was a formless mass and chaos ruled the universe.  The process of creation is an expression of the fact that God brings order out of chaos, brings form and beauty into the universe, and provides purpose and direction to a world desperately in need of both. The first step in God’s ordering of the universe at creation was to create light, the ability to see and sense the world about us. 

The death and resurrection of Jesus is set by the Gospel writers as the re-creation of a universe disordered by sin.  Before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time he heals a blind man who asked to see.  The man was given light, the first step in re-creation, so that he might see all that God would do through Jesus to re-create the world through his death and resurrection.

And so the resurrection completes the process of re-creation, taking place on the first day of the week, but on the eighth day from the healing.  In Jewish theology the 8th day was the day God began re-creating the world, and so we see it completed here in Jesus’ resurrection.  We have been re-created, made anew to see fully the marvels of God’s work so that we might arrive together at the reign of God.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday - Election

"We want Barabbas - not this one!"

"We have no king but Caesar!"

Today is election day, and there is only one office to be filled - the ruler of your heart.  And like any election there are multiple candidates looking to fill the post.  The Passion Narrative in the Gospel of John provides us with the drama of the very first election day and what each candidate brings to the table.

Barabbas was a revolutionary, a zealot who spent his days looking to overthrow the Roman government in Israel through violent means.  Very likely Barabbas killed a Roman soldier in an attempt to incite his fellow countrymen to rise up and overthrow Roman occupation.  His name means, "Son of the Father,: an ironic name given the fact that one of his opponents in this election has that very title and identity.

Caesar was the absentee candidate in this election; he himself is not present in the scene.  However, his campaign manager in Judea represents him at this event.  In fact, Caesar is the incumbent candidate, and he has a lot to offer - strength, security, peace.  Granted there are some nasty side effects - oppressive taxes, loss of religious identity, and lack of control over the ancient priesthood.  But Caesar also provides us with the means of getting rid of the other candidates for this office who are inconvenient to us.

Finally, we have Jesus, a poor carpenter from Galilee who becomes an itinerant preacher traveling the countryside proclaiming the reign of God, healing the sick, and encouraging people to care for the poor and outcast.  What is more, he claims the title "Son of God" which is the title of Caesar, and he further claims to be the Son of the Father, God! - a direct rebuke to our other candidate for office.  Earlier in the week Jesus captivated the crowd and he seemed destined for an easy victory, but this nasty business in the Temple area plummeted his numbers in the polls, and now he stands condemned to die.

So, whom do we choose?  In many ways our choices today are not all that different than they were at the original election day.  We find many people choosing their Messiah, or recasting the person of Jesus, according to their own preferences noted above.  Some desire a revolutionary political zealot, others desire the strong man leader who rules by fear.  Few today choose Jesus as he was and is.  Maybe this year will be different...

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Following the Crowd

This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.

Every preacher on every Palm Sunday celebration will every time mention how fickle the crowd of Jerusalem will behave this week, for today we will see the crowd in full throated support of Jesus while in just a few days that same crowd will be calling for Jesus’ death.  This crowd of preachers is as assuredly errant in this judgment as the crowds that gathered about Jesus on both Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

Quoted above is the statement from today’s Gospel that provides the understanding of the crowd regarding the person and ministry of Jesus.  But this is not who Jesus is – we saw that just last week in the Gospel text from John!  The crowd throughout the Gospels never ever understands who Jesus is – including this crowd today!  They seek a prophet and a Messiah of political orientations, not a Savior from their own sins and evil inclinations. 

Political prophets are easy to accept and discard, as we can mold them into our own image and likeness, and indeed many people in times past and in our own day seek to do the same to Jesus.  But every time we seek to do away with Jesus he rises and returns in our lives.  This week invites us to reject crowd thinking entirely and to see Jesus as he is – heading to Jerusalem, the Cross, the grave, and beyond in order to lead us to the reign of God.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

God Has Helped

Lazarus, come out!

The New Testament knows two figures named Lazarus, a name which means “God has helped.”  The first figure is from the parable in the Gospel of Luke wherein Lazarus is a poor man who dies of neglect and winds up in the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man who refused to feed him finds himself in eternal torment.  In the parable God has indeed helped, showing forth His preference for the poor and our eternal obligation to them.

In today’s Gospel we meet the second Lazarus, friend of Jesus and brother of Martha and Mary.  In this story Lazarus has died and Jesus comes to raise him from the dead.  God has indeed helped through the ministry of Jesus.  We might well ask the purpose of this miracle, since Lazarus would die again and the miracle would do little to convince Jesus’ opponents as the Gospel text attests.

This Gospel is the final of three scrutiny readings for catechumens.  In the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus provides life giving water (baptism) that brings us sight and illumination (man born blind), and brings newness of life to those who partake of it (Lazarus’ rising).  In this Lazarus God has indeed helped us to newness of life so that we might see the poor Lazarus of the parable, provide for his needs, and so arrive at the reign of God.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Separated at Birth

It is so that the glory of God might be made manifest through him.

Ordinarily the first reading and the Gospel text connect with one another with relative ease, but this week the readings seem disconnected.  What does the anointing of David as king have to do with the healing of the man born blind?  In both cases we have parents who do not see their sons as having any significance at all.  In fact, both David and the blind man are written off by their parents as of no value or as cursed by God.

In fact, the disciples of Jesus think this way too.  Jesus, however, does not.  Where human beings see insignificance and sin, Jesus sees potential.  The condition of David and the blind man have nothing to do with sin, but instead it is so that God can work through this person in powerful and unexpected ways.  No one thought much of David, but he became Israel’s greatest king.  No one thought much of this blind man, but Jesus did and this miracle of sight leads to growth and glory for the kingdom of God.

In being called by God, David and the blind man encounter hostility and resistance for their newfound relationship with God.  David will incur the wrath of Saul, while the blind man is expelled from the synagogue.  But his hostility does not diminish their faith and joy in walking with God – a walk that necessarily involves the cross, a sign they, and we, are near the reign of God.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

On the Margins

The woman left her water jar…

Imagine the life of this Samaritan woman.  She goes out to draw water at midday because none of the other women, who draw their water early in the morning, will have nothing to do with her.  Her life has been a scandal – five husbands and now living with another man to whom she is not married.  In her culture she will always be on the margins, an outcast, on the outside of her village.

It is here that Jesus finds her, and in this marginal place he restores her and makes her whole.  And by the end of the story we find her not an outcast but rather a missionary who has led this entire village to a relationship with Jesus the Messiah, Prophet, and Savior of the World.  And while the disciples of Jesus struggle to understand, this unnamed woman leaves behind her water jar to arrive at a profound understanding of Jesus and of herself.

This is what accompaniment means.  This is the fundamental mission of our faith – to find pathways of reconciliation for others in a world where such restoration is closed.  As in the days of Jesus our own day finds disciples not understanding, forgetting this is what Jesus did in their own lives – in all of our lives.  He finds us at the margins, accompanies us, and leads us to the reign of God.