5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles 14: 21- 27

Paul and Barnabas are here retracing their steps back to the first community in Antioch.  This was brave of them to do.  Remember last week, they were persecuted for preaching to the Gentiles.  They shook the dust off their feet.  Now they are going back.  A church is actually formed now.  Think of how the news has spread so quickly post-resurrection.  What does this mean in your life?  Have there been times when you were told to stop doing something but, because of your belief in it, soldiered on and saw it blossom?  Think of Milton Hershey, who continually made bad candy and went through all of his money before finally resulting in a product that we all love!  Not that he did it alone.  Like the disciples, he had a community of people to help him.  Who is that kind of support for you?

Notice “what God had done with them” vs. what they did themselves.  Everything is because of God.  This is what it is to follow the will of God:  to have a single purpose.  Dag Hammarskjöld, second Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “I don’t know Who – or what – put the question.  I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”  How does this speak to you?

2nd Reading: Revelation 21: 1-5

 “And the sea was no more” . . .  Wm. Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2:  The sea was a place of fear and evil. The end of the sea is the end of a force hostile to God and to humans. (198-199) In this passage we also see that God will make his dwelling-place with humans. The word for dwelling-place is skene, which means literally a tent, but also came to mean a tabernacle. This dwelling place contains the shechinah – the glory of God. It is God’s goodness and love shining forth into our lives. This goodness will wipe away all tears and create life anew – with no death or mourning or wailing or pain (p.202).  Has God ever “made all things new” in your life, bringing beginnings out of endings?

Compare this to Isaiah 25:  7 – 8 and Isaiah 43:  18 – 19.  This section of Revelation closes with the vision of a new heaven and earth that replaces the old creation, which has finally passed away.  The author is not interested in the implications of the image of a new creation which he has taken from Isaiah.  The real centerpiece of the new creation is the new Jerusalem.  The holy city will be the true dwelling place of God and also of the bride in the final section of the work.  The throne voice announces that the promises of divine presence are fulfilled in this city.  This city of divine presence and peace forms a striking contrast to the fallen Babylon.  In Isaiah, the Lord tells Israel not to remember the old things, since he is doing ‘a new thing”.  Revelation proclaims that that promise is finally fulfilled.  God is making all things new (Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 79-80).

The Gospel: John 13: 31-35

This gospel passage comes right after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and Judas’ leaves to plot his betrayal.   Judas thinks that things end in death when, in reality, the death ends in life.  Death simultaneously reveals Jesus’ glory and the full measure of his love for us:  Jesus is willing to suffer and die not only so that he might live, but so that all of us might share in that same glory and new life (Living Liturgy, p. 124)

 

From “Working with the Word,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:   How is Jesus’ commandment new? Even in the Old Testament the commandment to love was known.  First, the standard and model of love is Jesus himself: “As I have loved you . . .” Jesus himself, in his life, service, and self-giving death, models what it means to love one another. Second. This love means service – the washing of feet – the caring for another – and this kind of service-love is evangelization – a way of life that announces to all people that a new way of life characterized by love is possible.  All of this passage is also in the context of the Eucharistic Last Supper. Our Eucharistic meal is supposed to be the expression of our love for the God we find in Jesus and each other. That does not mean we always ‘like’ each other and even agree with each other.

In one of Father Bob’s homilies, he said that when he places Jesus in our hand, we are being placed in Jesus’ hand.  How does this speak to you in this context?

From Living Liturgy,2004, p. 125, and Celebration, May, 2004:  John’s gospel is often divided into two main parts: The Book of Signs and The Book of Glory. This week’s gospel is the beginning of the Book of Glory. It is ironic that here in the midst of betrayal, denial and approaching suffering and death, there is an announcement of Jesus’ glorification. Jesus’ moment of exaltation will be accomplished in being lifted up in shame and pain to death on the cross as well as in his being lifted up to life and glory and union with God forever. On the cross Jesus is the full revelation of God – the distinctive definition of love.   It is here that we see, once and for all, the glory and love of God made visible.

4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

1st Reading – Acts of the Apostles 13: 14, 43-52

Paul’s life and energy were focused by Jesus on the words that are quoted from Isaiah 49: 6: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles . . . an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” What impresses you the most in this reading?  How is the Lord a light for you?


The Jews had a custom of shaking the dust from their feet when returning from pagan lands.  It was a sign that they were purified from the contamination of foreign people and lands.  Paul’s and Barnabus’ similar actions against the Jews was a major affront.  In essence they were calling the Jews pagans!  There was no greater insult to a Jew of Paul’s time (Birmingham, W&W, p. 286).  Think about what YOU would boldly stand up against with YOUR LIFE.    

2nd Reading – Revelation 7: 9, 14b-17

William Barclay says this: “The shout of the triumphant faithful ascribes salvation to God . . . God is the great savior, the great deliverer of his people. And the deliverance which he gives is not the deliverance of escape but the deliverance of conquest.” It is not a deliverance which saves one from trouble but which brings one triumphantly through trouble. “It does not make life easy, but it makes life great.” It is not Christian hope that we be saved from all trouble and distress. It is Christian hope that we can in Christ endure any kind of trouble and distress and remain erect through all of them, coming out with a glorious and eternal life in the end. (The Revelation of John, vol.2, p. 27)

William Barclay also points out that for the Hebrew blood was not primarily about death; it was about life. It was the very life-force of a person or animal. So the blood of Christ stands for his very life-force – all that he did and said and was — both in life, death and resurrection. What does it then mean to you to ‘wash’ your robe white in the blood of this Lamb? We must actively immerse ourselves in the very life of Christ – it is our baptismal promise and life.  (The Revelation of John, vol.2, p. 31)

The Gospel — John 10: 27-30

“No one can take them out of my hand.” Hands are often used as strong symbols.  Hands are a sign of connectedness, reassurance, care, and hope; they represent our basic need for interrelationships: a loving caress, a gentle stroke, a healing massage, a handshake. Hands are used in all of our sacraments. Four sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Sacrament of the Sick, and Holy Orders) actually call for an imposition of hands that involves actual physical touch.  Three sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Marriage) use extended hands to ‘call down’ the Holy Spirit in blessing or consecration.    (Living Liturgy, 2004, 121,123)

Imagine the scene.  It is first-century Palestine.  Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance.  At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves.  Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first.  He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure, Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep.  The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else.  Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd…Jesus is the model Good Shepherd.  He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice.  There is ownership.  Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name.  He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good.  We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death…The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock.  The word pastor was derived from this image.  (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 378- 379) What do you think about Jesus as the Good Shepherd?  

3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

1ST READING – ACTS 5: 27-32, 40-41

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, consisting of 71 members which included elders, high priests, priestly leaders and scribes.  They could pass legal judgment in most cases, except capital cases which were reserved for the Romans.  They were very powerful.  And they refused to feel any responsibility for Jesus’ death.  They considered the apostles as renegades from Judaism, and so they exerted their control over them  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 279). Yet the apostles stood their ground.  They drew their line in the sand, and actually rejoiced that they could suffer for the cause.   These are the same apostles that were hiding out in the Gospel last week!  What brought them out of their fear?   

Mark Powell in Introducing the New Testament describes Acts as a “history of a particular institution or organization composed by that entity’s public relations department,” (p. 197).  Everything always seems to work out for the best.  Embarrassing incidents, failings, prayers unanswered and people not healed aren’t mentioned, although they must have happened.  At times we are like this when someone close to us dies too.  But maybe there is a lesson in this.  We take our faith so seriously, sometimes seeing the bad more than anything else.  What if we focused on the positive?  What if we reveled in the good of our church and our relationship with God? 

2ND READING – REVELATION 5: 11-14

Revelation is a book to excite the senses.  In a sense, to ‘interpret’ this book is to misinterpret it, for often the appeal is to the imagination; it a book to be experienced, not explained  (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p, 519).  The slain Lamb conjures images of the Jewish Passover, and Jesus represents the sacrificial lamb  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 280).  Notice how the elders are better listeners in this story than the first reading.  They actually fall down and worship…quite a contrast!  (The elders are 24, 12 for the tribes of Israel and 12 for the disciples.  It is really a way of saying ALL fell down to worship. 

Note how John includes every creature in worship.  Pope Francis in “Laudato Si” says, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another,” (#42) and “Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world,” (#77).  How might we worship God within the context of creation?

GOSPEL:  John 21:1-19

Night-time was the best for fishing.  From W.M. Thomson in The Land and the Book writes, “There are certain kinds of fishing always carried on at night.  It is a beautiful sight.  With blazing torch, the boat glides over the flashing sea, and the men stand gazing keenly into it until their prey is sighted, when, quick as lightening, they fling their net or fly their spear; and often you see the tired fishermen come sullenly into harbor in the morning, having toiled all night in vain.”   It also happens that the men in the boat rely on someone on shore to tell them where to cast.  From a distance, a person might see the fish in the clear water better than from straight above.  Jesus was acting as guide to his fishermen friends, just as people still do today  (Barclay, The Gospel of John Vol. 2, p. 281). 

It was Jewish law that to offer a greeting was a religious act, and for that one must be clothed.  That is why Peter first puts on his tunic before going to Jesus (p. 282).   Peter is such an example to us!  He jumps in with excitement to get to Jesus as soon as possible! 

This story is meant to ground the risen Christ.  He actually came…not as a vision or spirit but the real deal who pointed out fish, cooked and ate with his friends.

Why 153 fish?  One idea from St. Jerome is that there were 153 different kinds of fish, so the catch was all-encompassing.  The number symbolizes the fact that some day all people of all nations will be gathered together to Jesus Christ.  The net stands for the Church; and there is room in the Church for all people of all nations  (p. 284).   Like it says in Lumen Gentium from Vatican II:  The Church works and prays diligently with great hope that everyone in the whole world will ultimately join together as the People of God.

Why “more than these”?  It could be that Jesus swept his hands around the boat, nets, equipment and catch and meant more than this life Peter had.  Or perhaps Jesus meant more than the other disciples, fore-shadowing Peter’s place in the early church  (p. 285).   Either way, Jesus asks Peter 3 times of his love, giving him a chance at forgiveness and rehabilitation.  Of course, Jesus had forgiven him already, but maybe Peter still clung to guilt.    

Love costs. Peter’s love for Jesus brought him both a task and a cross. Love always involves responsibility and sacrifice.   It is the cost of discipleship; it is what ‘picking up our cross’ is all about. The cutting edge of love is not dying for the other but living for the other. It is caring for the other for their own sake, regardless of consequences.  (Celebration, April  2001 &2004)  How does this group compare with the Sanhedrin in the 1st reading?

2nd Sunday of Easter, Sunday of Divine Mercy, Cycle C

Reading #1:  Acts of the Apostles 5: 12-16

This Second Sunday of Easter has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  God’s mercy often comes to us through the quiet gift of another person who touches us with love, understanding, hope. — like a nurse who takes unusual care or a friend who really listens – who laughs with us and who likes us despite our ‘faults.’  Like Peter, we can all cast the shadow of God’s love and healing over another person . . .   How have you experienced such mercy?  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, April 2004)

Consider that word:  esteemed.  What images does it conjure in your mind?  “The people esteemed them.”  The dictionary has synonyms of respect, admire, value, regard, appreciate, prize, treasure, revere.  Who does this for you?  Who esteems you to be who you are and dare to put yourself out there?  Imagine if the people did not esteem them?

Solomon’s portico is also referred to as Solomon’s porch.  It is the outer courtyard of the temple.  Does the location have significance for you?

Reading #2:  Revelation 1: 9 – 13, 17-19

Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature. It means unveiling; it tries to reveal the truth through ‘safe’ but powerful images, symbols, colors, numbers, visions and cryptic language. This is potent symbolic literature – it is written to those who had suffered persecution and were looking forward to a better life in the future.  It was to assure them that goodness would never be overcome by evil.  It draws the whole Biblical story into its own – a story of a God who journeys with humans to guide, shape and reshape human history.  (Celebration, April, 2004)

The seven gold lampstands refers to the seven churches to which this ‘letter’ was written – what do you think of this image for a church?  Notice Jesus is standing in the midst of them, with his feet showing and dressed like the lampstands.  His first words are not to be afraid.  How does this speak to you?  Do you have dreams/visionary insights/imaginary thought that impact your life too?

The Gospel:  John 20:19-31

This gospel reading is a culminating event in John’s gospel — shining forth with insight,

symbol, and challenge.  The community that gave us John’s gospel was experiencing much persecution, both from the Roman Empire that declared them illegal to the Jewish synagogues that declared them unwelcome.  What meaning do you find in:

            the locked doors

            ‘the fear of the Jews’ (the authorities)

Shalom, “Peace be with you,” Jesus’ greeting

Jesus breathing on them (Genesis 2: 7; Ezekiel 37)

the power of forgiveness

the binding that comes from the lack of forgiveness

the wounds of Jesus

Thomas’ experience of doubt and faith (See John 11: 16)?

It seems particularly important to John’s community to have Jesus assure those “who have not seen and have believed.”   Can you relate to Thomas?  When have doubts ever led you to greater faith?

Easter reality: Jesus lives; fear not!  This is the cornerstone of our faith – joyfully proclaimed, but not easy to live.  Fear can be crippling: fear of failure, fear of hurting or being hurt, fear of loss, fear of not knowing love, fear of pain, fear that what I know may not be so . . . Yet, a cowering band of men and women, hiding out from the authorities, suddenly became a powerful and public force for good  . . . What made the difference? In the risen Christ they found the end to fear . . . (Celebration, April, 2004)

At the end of this gospel story, John writes that he has told this story so that “you may come to believe . . . and that through this belief you may have life.”

But the word John uses for belief is not a noun – but a verb! In fact, John never uses the noun faith or belief; he uses the verb 98 times! John is not concerned with an inward system of thoughts, but an active commitment to trust in Jesus and in his word. This is what it means to be a disciple. It is the very reason the Father sent Jesus and why Jesus came: “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15). Jesus’ whole life, ministry, death, and resurrection are oriented to this one outcome. This is why Jesus persisted in the face of conspiracy, rejection, abandonment – and it is why Jesus came that Easter morning to those who were locked in fear – and then again to Thomas. It is also why he continues to come to us offering us his peace.      (“Working with the Word”, Zimmerman, http://liturgy.slu.edu )  So that we might have life.

There are no auras, no blinding lights, no accompanying angels to identify Jesus. Only his wounds. Doesn’t our own faith-life have more wounds than auras, lights, angels? Like the disciples we have seen many wounds. Of course, our culture tries hard to hide wounds and wrinkles and scars. Yet, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we have to share with each other is our woundedness. Only those comfortable with wounds can enter into the wounded places of others. Like Jesus, we carry our wounds with us. One powerful witness to resurrection may be our willingness to embrace these wounds — not out of some maudlin, masochistic, woe-is-me pleasure. Rather, we need to be ‘wounded-healers’ for each other (Henri Nouwen). For “the blessing lies close to the wound” as an African saying proclaims. Here in the ‘sacred wounds’ of one another we may find the presence of the Living One who can and will breath new life into us all. That is how our faith saves us. (Celebration, April 2000)

Dusty Feet by Kris Rooney

On a day when Church made me feel sad and tired, I went into the sanctuary to pray. I noticed Jesus’ feet were dusty. Are you trying to tell me something, Jesus? “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet, (Matthew 10: 13 – 14). I left more troubled than when I got there, having more questions instead of the answers I wanted.

Have you noticed that Jesus loves to do that? Peak curiousity rather than clarity? It’s probably for our own good, but it can be maddening. At least when we’re still searching. We hem and haw with Jesus bemused and listening. Is what made me sad and tired supposed to lead me to shake the dust off my feet and go outside? I don’t think I’m alone that sometimes Church does this to me. There are more lapsed Catholics than practicing. But leaving does not make me feel peaceful. I don’t want to shake the dust off. I want to know how the dust got there.

Literally, the dust got there because this statue of Jesus is in a corner and easily ignored on Cleaning Day. But for me, the dust was a distraction. And distractions happen a lot when it comes to Church, big and small. There can be so much dust. What is under the dust is Jesus. I can either let the dust distract me, or I can keep my eyes on what is underneath. What is underneath is Jesus…with his many, many faces. These many faces make this house worthy, at least for me. I need Jesus, and all the people in Church that become Him for me.

The next day, I brought my dust cloth and wood polish. Jesus is shiny and new again, as a statue and in my soul. They are both going to get dusty again. Church can be a dusty place, but it’s not about that. It is the underneath, the heart of Jesus that beats in all of us. Doing something about the dust brings peace upon me. I share the story in case it brings peace upon you too, and to let you know how grateful I am to be in a church with fellow dusters.

And if you are stuck with dusty feet, meaning there is something about Church that is distracting for you – big or small – please reach out to me (kafe@stkateriparish.org or 518-346-6137 X239). I would love to hear your story and try to help find a dust cloth.

Christ has no body now but yours.

No hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world.

Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good.

Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.

~St. Teresa of Avila

Commentary on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

Luke  (22: 14 – 23: 56)

How does Jesus live God’s love and reconciliation to the end?  How is He obedient unto death?  Remember, the word obedient comes from a Latin word meaning to listen intently.)

Jesus did not suffer because suffering is good in itself. It is not the pain and death of Jesus that saves us.  It is the LOVE that led Him to suffer that saves us. IT WAS HIS PASSION. LOVE ENDURES ALL THINGS.

From Richard J. Reichert’s book, Jesus, The Carpenter’s Son:

Why do we take a cross, a sign of such horror and torture, and make it the universal symbol of Christianity? What is the meaning of Jesus’ suffering? The answer is wrapped in the mystery of God’s love. It is also Jesus’ supreme act of trust in God, his ‘Abba.’ His death seemed to mean the failure and end to all Jesus had tried to do during his life and ministry. Yet, he was not a victim. He was a martyr: a witness to God’s love that was stronger than death. Unlike all the humans who had gone before him, Jesus trusted in God’s love regardless of the pain and failure he experienced. Other lessons we can learn from the cross:

1. The cross shows us just how cruel and destructive evil actually is. Evil kills and tortures, trying to destroy all that is love and truth.

2.  The cross also shows us the power of love, of good, of God. No matter how powerful evil can seem, it is false. God and his love are greater than ANY evil or pain. God redeems (sets free) and saves (brings to health).

John Dwyer, a Scripture scholar and professor from St. Bernard’s: The Cross is a great act of love . . . God accepts, affirms, sustains, and supports us. He loves us and takes his place with us, in and through Jesus. He has chosen to be with us in our brokenness. He has come to stay: “There is no dark corner of human existence which will ever be able to separate us from him again.” Even though we are sinners, God claims us as his own. Now suffering and death are signs of his presence and power. Although we are weak, vulnerable, and insecure, God’s love calls us from what kills to what brings forth life. This is why we “Proclaim the death of the Lord” until he comes. Then in love and truth, we will see him face to face.

From Preaching Resources, April 2007:

The Lucan Jesus invites us to share his human suffering, so that we might weep as he did at the brokenness of what is meant to be whole.  We are asked to share his passion – to enter into his sorrows as if they were our own because they are our own. Jesus suffered and died, not to spare us the burden of a wounded world but that we might see the wounds as our own and embrace and attend them with love. Only in Luke’s gospel does Jesus cry out: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In the midst of darkness and pain he shows us that God’s love can still be there for us – nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Romans 8: 39)

From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

The passion narratives differ in form from the rest of the gospel materials. They are continuous narratives – not ‘pericopes’ – that is why we read the passion stories as whole units on Palm Sunday and during the Triduum. Each of the four evangelists have their own distinctive perspective on the passion. Mark emphasizes the isolation of Christ – betrayed, forsaken, denied – mocked and tortured – even bereft of a sense of his Father’s presence. Matthew brings out Christ’s royalty – a paradoxical royalty manifesting itself in humiliation. John’s gospel also has Jesus royal and in control – but with a glory that shines forth – visibly present. Luke seems to take a different look. He gives us the face of tragedy, pathos,  the story of a martyr who goes out to others in sympathy and forgiveness. These passion narratives are not meant to narrate what happened, but to interpret it as good news.

Insights on suffering from Cornelius Remple, Hospital chaplain:

1. Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but occurs in the process of life.

2. Suffering is not given to teach us something, but we do learn through it.

3. Suffering is not given to us to teach others something, but they, too, may learn through it.

4. Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened.

 5. Suffering is not given to punish us, but it is sometimes the consequence of poor judgment.

6. Suffering is not God’s way to achieve the Divine purpose, but through suffering God’s purposes are sometimes achieved.

7. Suffering is not always to be avoided at all costs, but it is sometimes chosen.

8. Suffering can either destroy us or add meaning to life.

9. The will of God has more to do with how we respond to life than how life deals with us.

From Bill Huebsch’s book, A New Look at Grace:

Now it is said that Peter denied Jesus –

but maybe he more denied himself.

Remember how in the story all the others run off, but he follows,

even if from quite a distance. He was obviously afraid

as he stood by that charcoal fire. He was afraid, but at least he was there.

It was at that fire that Peter is asked if he is not one who was with Jesus:

“You are one of them, aren’t you?” Now Jesus promises that the truth will set us free, but right then it was not so for Peter. It was only making Peter miserable. But in his fear, he did not deny that Jesus was Jesus. He did not deny who Jesus had been. Peter denied himself: “I am not one of them,” he said. He denied himself three times. When we deny ourselves, we do deny the truth. Jesus told us: “I am the truth.” I am the truth about who you are . . . what you need . . . who you love . . . what you’ve done . . . I am the truth about you. So to deny the truth is to deny Jesus. Having faith in Jesus means having faith in the truth – having faith in myself . . . and the power of God’s love for me. (p.30-33+)

5th Sunday of Lent, cycle C

1st Reading — Isaiah 43: 16-21

The author of 2nd Isaiah referred to the Babylonian captivity as similar to the exodus event.  The exiles were awaiting their release in an alien land.  Isaiah is reminding them of how God had saved them in history, and would surely do so again.  Thus, through their remembering, God would continue to be present to them, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 170).

Sin is a reflection of humanity’s desire to “be.” That is to replace God, rather than to “become.”  Overcoming this resistance to change and being restored to God’s work of creativity is another view of salvation.  When Jesus said, “I am the way,” (Or here, the Lord saying, “see, I am doing something new!”) He meant the way of change.  To be in Christ, that is to be changing, requires that we give up our fruitless attempts at finding security by trying to establish our being in the past, (RJ McCorry’s Dancing with Change, p. 22).          

2nd Reading —  Philippians 3: 8-14

Paul was concerned over the philosophies that were threatening to undermine the gospel.  Judaizers and Gnostics were coming at the gospel from 2 different threatening positions.  Judaizers were trying to impose their old legalisms on the new gentiles:  all must be circumcised, all must adhere to strict dietary regulations, etc.  Gnostics, on the other hand, believed that a person was perfectly “just” simply because of baptism; baptism was all that was necessary.  For Paul, justice is only realized through Jesus and our faith is his saving power.  Justice, like an unfinished race, was not yet perfected and is still in process  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 171).  How are you still in process?  How might the extremes in your life be smoothed out in Christ?

Notice that we are not called to perfection…we will never get there in this life.  We are called to continue our pursuit in Christ with great hope!  As in Thomas Merton’s prayer, “…the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.”

The Gospel — John 8: 1-11:

In the eyes of the Jewish law adultery was a serious crime.  Adultery was one of the 3 gravest sins, up there with idolatry and murder.  But the Pharisees and scribes are trying to entrap Jesus.  Instead of answering their question of what to do with the adulterous woman, Jesus writes in the ground.  Why does he doe this?  Wm. Barclay has 4 hypotheses:

  1. He may have wanted to gain time and bring it to God.
  2. He may have been trying to allow time for the Pharisees and scribes to realize the cruelty behind the action.
  3. He may have wanted to hide his face because he felt such shame in their request.  “It may well be that the leering, lustful look on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees, the bleak cruelty in their eyes, the prurient curiosity of the crowd, the shame of the woman, all combined to twist the very heart of Jesus in agony and pity, so that he hid his eyes, “ (Barclay, The Gospel of John Vol. 2, p.3).
  4. An Armenian manuscript translates this passage this way, “He himself, bowing his head, was writing with his finger on the earth to declare their sins; and they were seeing their several sins on the stones, (p.3).

God uses his authority to love men and women into goodness; to God no person ever becomes a thing.  We must use such authority as we have always to understand and always at least to try to mend the person who has made the mistake; as we will never even begin to do that unless we remember that every man and woman is a person, not a thing (p. 6).  How does this all pertain to you in your life?

The Conclusion of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

Chapter 3:  The Christian Family, Slaves and Masters

To put it simply, Paul is complicated.  If someone today were to read only these words from Paul, s/he would think he was sexist and slave-friendly.  If someone were to read these words in Paul’s day, they would think he was a good Greek and Jew, bordering on too-nice.  After all, women and slaves were property, so there was no reason to avoid bitterness towards them or to treat them just and fairly.  We also know Paul worked alongside women in ministry.  In Romans 16, he refers to Phoebe as sister and minister, and Prisca as co-worker to her husband Aquila.  And the letter to Philemon pleads for the slave Onesimus to be received again as a brother and no longer a slave.  So Paul’s actions do not seem to match this “household code”.  Perhaps these are conditioned words, or maybe not written by Paul at all.  Another question to ask him when we get to heaven!

Paul is speaking of a new ethic, one of mutual obligation and one of being in the Lord.  The whole direction of the Christian ethic is not to ask:  “What do others owe me?” but, “What do I owe to others?”  This is the life lived in Christ.  What settles any master and servant relationship is that both are servants of the one Master, Jesus Christ.  All work is done for God so that God’s world may go on and God’s men and women have the things they need for life and living, (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 162-165).

Chapter 4:  Conclusion

Who are all of these people? 

Tychicus:  Mentioned in Acts 20 and Ephesians 6, he seems to be a messenger of Paul’s and one that knows him personally enough to share news of him.

Onesimus:  He was the runaway slave of Philemon that helped Paul deliver letters while he was in prison.  They became close, Paul says brothers.

Aristarchus:  Doing ministry with Paul so that he is in prison too.  Mentioned in Acts 19, 20, 27.

Mark:  Whom “the Gospel of” is attributed.  Mark and Paul have an on-again, off-again relationship.  Mark had accompanied Paul on his 1st missionary journey but then quit when things got tough.  Barnabus wanted Mark to come again on the 2nd missionary journey but Paul said no (harming their relationship).  But they seem to have made amends.

Barnabus:  He was sent by the apostles to check on Saul-now-Paul and heard the conversion story.  He vouched for him to the other apostles.  He is a good guy to have in your corner!

Jesus/Justus:  We don’t know anything.

Epaphras:  He seems to be the leader of the church in Colossae, maybe the other adjoining towns too.

Luke:  Whom “the Gospel of” is attributed.  We learn here that he is a doctor.

Demas:  Not much is said here about him, but in Philemon 24 he is grouped as a co-worker and in 2 Timothy 4 he is said to have deserted Paul.  So perhaps this is an example of waning faith, or there was a falling out? 

Archippus:  We know little.  In Philemon 1:2, we learn he is a fellow soldier.

For any of these men mentioned, it may bring insight if you picture yourself in the story.  Of whom do you identify?  How does it play out?     

4:16 mentions a letter to the Laodiceans.  Where is this?  It may be lost, it might actually be the letter to Ephesians or Philemon, or it could be a letter that is not considered to be authentic by Jerome but is included in the Codex Fuldensis (a Latin New Testament dated in the 6th century), (p. 173).

Reflection Questions

  1. How do we season our speech with salt?
  2. What is it to be watchful in our prayer? 
  3. Consider vs. 5…who are outsiders to us and how do we make the most of opportunity with them?
  4. Why does Paul want us to remember his chains?
  5. How might this letter have an impact on your life?

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: Chapter 3: 1 – 17

Flesh and Spirit

N.T. Wright says, “Paul is using letters to teach his churches not just what to think, but how to think,”  (Paul, A Biography, p. 274).  And so we are being taught too!

Flesh:  Paul is referring to the Greek word sarx, not somaSoma simply means body, but sarx is the whole person.  Even more so, it is the whole person that is the little (or partial) self:  trapped, insecure, wounded, broken and attention-seeking.

Spirit:  The Greek word is pneuma, or God’s power in itself, and as he shares it with those who believe.  At the same time, spirit is our true self, knowing and trusting in God’s love.  As we empty and open ourselves to spirit, we become more whole, more connected to God and more of who God intends for us to be.

In baptism, we die to the little self (flesh, like circumcision) so we may rise to spirit and live in Christ (Christ-ening).  This is so evident in this section of Paul’s letter.

This makes it sound like flesh is bad and spirit is good, but there is more here.  Realistically, we can’t get out of our flesh.  Richard Rohr connects sarx with ego.  He says, “Sarx or ego is the self that tries to define itself autonomously, apart from spirit, apart from the Big Self in God. It’s the tiny self that you think you are, who takes yourself far too seriously, and who is always needy and wanting something else. It’s the self that is characterized by scarcity and fragility—and well it should be, because it’s finally an illusion and passing away. It changes month by month. It is exactly what will die when you die. Flesh is not bad, it is just inadequate to the final and full taskwhile posing as the real thing. Don’t hate your training wheels once you take them off your bicycle. You should thank them for getting you started on your cycling journey!”  (www.cac.org from 4/6/18).  He ends his reflection saying, “The problem is not that you have a body; the problem is that you think you are separate from others—and from God. And you are not!”  Our faith journey is a fluid movement from flesh to spirit.  But it is messy!

“The relationship of Jesus to the Spirit is central to Paul’s thought.  The Spirit is, for Paul, simply the power of the risen Jesus, as he establishes his lordship in and through Christians.  This lordship is itself a gift – in fact, it is THE gift.  The power of Jesus takes over and assumes control in such a way that the individual becomes the one through whom the lordship of Jesus Christ is extended throughout the world, “  (J. Dwyer, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 78). 

So what does this mean for us?  We become robots and just succumb to whatever God’s will is?  No, it is a partnership.  We must say yes to it.  We participate in the relationship. 

Margaret Silf talks about a way of participating in Inner Compass. “When I move inward toward the center of myself, I move closer to the person I most truly am before God,”.  It is there we grow our Godseed.  “Discovering the Godseed in our hearts, noticing the golden threads of meaning in our own life’s journey, and becoming increasingly aware of God’s continuing presence in our lives and in everything and everyone we encounter are just a few of the possibilities for opening ourselves up more and more to this unconditional love, even as we stand face-to-face with the nature and extent of our own fallenness and the fallenness of all creation,”.   

Chapter 3:  Mystical Death and Resurrection, Renunciation of Vice

Vs. 15:  Paul uses a vivid picture.  Literally what he says is, “Let the peace of God be the umpire in your heart.”  He uses a verb from the athletic arena; it is the word that is used of the umpire who settled things in any matter of dispute.  If the peace of Jesus Christ is the umpire in anyone’s heart, then, when feelings clash and we are pulled in two directions at the same time, the decision of Christ will keep us in the way of love, (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 159).  

Reflection Questions

  1. Why do you think love has the power to bond us in perfect unity?  How do we practically do this?
  2. Vs 16 tells us to admonish one another…a startling word in the midst of all the love language here.  Where do you think Paul is going with this?  (NLV “counsel”, CEV “instruct”)
  3. What will our lives look like if we are doing this?
  4. What impressions do we get from the catalog of things that need to be put to death (v5), eliminated (v8) and discontinued (v9)? Do we want to hang on to any of them? Or do some of them seem to want to hang on to us? Which? Why is that, do we think? What insight does this give us into ourselves?
  5. Remember that Paul is speaking to a smallish town to a people he doesn’t know, while he is in prison.  AND he used to be someone who persecuted what he is describing!  Consider Paul’s converted heart to your own.

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: Chapter 2

Gnosticism

The Gnostics (Greek gnosis, to know) believed that they possessed a special knowledge that put them a notch above the ordinary person.  This knowledge destined them for eternal life.  The basis for their philosophy is that matter and creation are bad and the spiritual is good.  The Gnostics believed that their souls were sparks of the divine, imprisoned in the flesh and seeking release.  Jesus did not have a real body; he just appeared to have one.  Therefore, they felt Jesus didn’t suffer (nor would they in death) and didn’t have a physical resurrection, (“Scripture from Scratch”, Jan 2001).

  • If God was spirit, then he was altogether good and could not possibly work with this evil matter.  Therefore God was not the creator of the world.  God put out a series of emanations that were each more and more distant (and more and more ignorant and hostile) until at the end was an emanation that created the world. 
  • If Jesus couldn’t have a flesh and blood body, then he was some kind of spiritual phantom.  They thought he left no footprints.  He couldn’t be the savior of humanity.  This is why Paul insists on the flesh and blood body of Jesus and a Jesus that saves in the body of his flesh. 
  • Since our bodies are evil, there are 2 approaches to that.  Some Gnostics practices rigid asceticism; others went willy-nilly with their bodies since it didn’t matter. 
  • The long series of emanations were like a ladder between humanity and God.  Man must fight his way up a long ladder to get to God.  This includes all kinds of secret knowledge and hidden passwords.  There are only a chosen few. 

There were likely false teachers of Colossae tinged with Gnostic heresy.  They were trying to turn Christianity into a philosophy; if they had been successful, the Christian faith could have been destroyed, (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 97-99).  But do you think there are still Gnostic notions out there?   

Chapter 2:  Warnings Against False Teachers

Vs. 1:  Paul has a great struggle within himself.  When you are far from those you love, are you able to relate to this struggle?  Especially in times of trouble?

Vs. 3:  What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?  Why does Paul use both to describe what is hidden as a treasure in Christ?   Note:  The word for hidden here is apokruphos, or hidden from the common gaze.  This was also a word the Gnostics used for their books full of secret knowledge necessary for salvation, books that ordinary people couldn’t access.  So by using this word, Paul is saying, “You Gnostics have your wisdom hidden from ordinary people; we too have our knowledge, but it is not hidden in unintelligible books; it is hidden in Christ and therefore open to everyone everywhere,” (p. 130-131).

This chapter is difficult because Paul is speaking about the “Colossians Heresy” that no one really knows is about.  What is this “empty, seductive philosophy”?  What does it have to do with “elemental powers of the world”?  It seems there might have been an understanding that Jesus isn’t enough and that more is somehow needed from other avenues.  That maybe circumcision of Gentiles was important as well as worshipping angels.  But Paul implores, not so.  Jesus is enough. Maybe we can relate…maybe we have had moments where we feel our faith is not enough and that we have to do this, this and this in order to receive salvation.

Paul is deeply concerned about anything which would seem to interfere with the unique mediation of Christ.  In later Judaism the interest in the angels was a part of the religious attitude which made God more and more remote.  In Christ, God came as close to humanity as is conceivable.  Paul wished neither the angels nor the cosmic powers to come between us and God, (J. McKenzie’s Light on the Epistles, p. 141).

Reflection Questions

  • What are some things you think might fall under “empty, seductive philosophy”?
  • What could be the differences between a circumcision by the hands of men, or a spiritual circumcision by Jesus?
  • What does vs. 12 relate baptism to?
  • What did Christ nail to the cross?  How does this make us alive with Christ?