Monthly Archives: March, 2016

2nd Sunday in Easter, cycle C

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

This book (by the same writer as Luke’s Gospel) is sort of a cultic biography. It is a rather idealized version of the early church – the first people who knew and lived the reality of the Risen Christ.  It acts like a norm by which we are to measure our attempts at being church.  What do you find important in this reading?

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)

In Near Eastern cultures of this time, a shadow was commonly thought of as an extension of the person. It was a time of ‘magical understanding’ rather than scientific. It was even thought that one might harm people by stabbing their shadow. Symbolically, it was often used in Hebrew scripture as a sign of protection – especially God’s protection as in Ps. 17:8: “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”  (Understanding God’s Word, April – June, 2007)

Consider that word:  esteemed.  What images does it conjure in your mind?  “The people esteemed them.”  The dictionary has synonyms of


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?

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 more 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

Can you relate to Thomas?  When have doubts ever led you to greater faith?

“To believe in the resurrection of Jesus means to undertake

the surprising risk of reckoning with Jesus Christ as a present reality.”                                                                                             (Meinrad Limbeck)

What does that statement mean to you?  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.”

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, )

How many of us are like Thomas? Our faith may be strong, but there are slivers of doubt that creep in now and then. It is an ancient problem and John gives us an honest scene to ponder. Here are the disciples of Jesus hiding behind locked doors — Afraid. They were not expecting the Risen Christ. Locked doors are not a welcoming gesture! But suddenly he is there – offering peace, forgiveness, new 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 or lights or 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)

2nd Half of Gospel for Good Friday – John 19: 1-42

Commentary from William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series

Why else did Pilate act as he did?  Last week, we talked about how he tried to put the responsibility on the Jews  and tried to escape being involved by releasing a prisoner.

  1. Pilate tries to compromise by ordering Jesus to be scourged. But we are either for Jesus or against  Jesus.  There is no compromise.
  1. He attempts to appeal. Maybe pity or emotion will change things.  “Shall I crucify your king?”  But this is Pilate’s personal decision that he cannot evade.  He admits defeat.  Pilate has not the courage to do the right thing.

Pilate asks , “What is truth?”.  Is it wistful?    Maybe he finally saw what he missed out on.    But to turn from his ways was too much work and he didn’t want to use the strength to change.    Perhaps there have been times in our life when we felt the same.

In order to compass the death of Jesus, the Jews denied every principle they had.  The ultimate was, “We have no king but Caesar.”  These are the people who said God alone was their king (I Samuel 12:12, Judges 8:23).  The Jews were prepared to abandon every principle they had in order to eliminate Jesus.  Notice how easily they turn their ways to hate vs. how hard it is for Pilate to turn to good.  Oftentimes it is easier to do wrong than right, isn’t it?

The Way to the Cross

Once a verdict of crucifixion was made, it was carried out immediately.  The cross was placed upon his shoulders and he would normally be walked down as many streets as possible.  An officer would walk in front with a placard that said the crime he committed.  Walking down the street would call attention to what would happen to the onlookers if they did the same.  It would also be an opportunity for anyone to come forward and bear witness in favor of the convicted.  If that happened, the procession would stop and he would be retried.

Every Jew wore 5 articles of apparel:  his shoes, his turban, his girdle, his tunic, and his outer robe.  Since there were 4 soldiers, they each got 1 and the tunic was left.  So they threw dice for it and gambled to see who would get it.  Jesus is a gambler too.  He took his own life and threw it for the world.  He won.  You wonder who made that tunic…was it Mary herself?

The Women

There were 4 women (perhaps balancing out the 4 soldiers?):  Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Jesus’ mother, Jesus’ aunt and Mary of Magdala.  We know nothing of the wife of Clopas.  Mother Mary shows the ultimate love here.  John does not name Jesus’ aunt, but Mark and Matthew name her Salome (James’ and John’s mother).  This is the woman who asked Jesus to give James and John a special place in his kingdom and Jesus rebukes her (Matthew 20:20).  Yet here she is in her humility.  And Mary of Magdala had had 7 devils cast out of her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2).  That’s all we know of her.  And that she is devoted.

There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the Cross, when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of his mother in the days ahead.  Jesus thought more of the sorrows of others than of his own.

The Triumphant Ending

“I thirst.”  It was important for John’s audience to know that Jesus is human.  Gnosticism was rising.  Gnostics separated spirit (good) and body (bad).  So they taught that Jesus never had a real body.  They said that when Jesus walked, he didn’t leave footprints.  It was like he had a phantom body.  They went so far to assume that Jesus never really suffered.  This romanticizes  God and makes God untouchable.  God is with us.    He had to become what we are in order to make us what he is.    He experienced thirst.

Why does John use hyssop for what holds the sponge for Jesus to drink?  Hyssop is a stalk of strong grass, only 2 feet long.  It is unlikely that it would do a good job of holding.  Hyssop is symbolic.  In Egypt, when the angel of death killed all the first born sons, a smear of lamb blood using a bunch of hyssop on the doorpost would cause the angel to pass over the Israelites’ homes.  Jesus is the great Passover lamb, saving the world.

“It is finished.”    This is one word in Greek: tetelestai.  Perhaps he did shout it as it says in the other gospels.  The victory is won.

The Last Gifts to Jesus

Joseph of Arimathaea  had a tomb for Jesus and Nicodemus had burial spices.  It is bittersweet.  Both of them were members of the Sanhedrin.  Were they absent the day they convicted Jesus?  Did they just remain silent?  How different things would have been if they had only spoken up.  But they were afraid.  They kept their discipleship secret.  What would it be like for us to keep our faith a secret?  But they are no longer keeping secret.  Jesus’ death strengthened them, made them bold.  The power of the Cross was already at work.

Commentary on 1st Half of Good Friday Gospel: John 18

1st Half of Gospel for Good Friday  John 18

The Jesus of John’s passion is much more challenging to us.  In this gospel Jesus is the one in charge; he chooses his destiny.  It almost seems like he is arranging his own death.  In John Jesus carries the cross himself-this is his destiny and he chooses to walk to it.  Even on the cross, Jesus is in charge, attending to unexpected details-he places his mother and his beloved disciple into each other’s care.  Finally, it is Jesus who announces “It is finished.”

Why is it “Good” Friday?  Jesus showed us that suffering and death is not all there is.  Good Friday is more than a step to resurrection; it is a day on which we celebrate Jesus’ obedience, his kingship, the everlasting establishment of his reign, his side being opened and himself being poured out so that we can be washed in his very blood and water.  The real scandal of the cross isn’t suffering and death; the real scandal of the cross is that God is victorious in Christ’s obedience.  Death has no power over God  (Living Liturgy, 2004, p. 104).

When confronted with Christ’s suffering, it challenges us to understand why there is suffering.  There is suffering because…there just is.  Suffering does not earn our way to heaven.  Suffering does allow us to be transformed right now.  “…God’s compassionate love enters the pain of the world to transform it from within, “ (Johnson, She Who Is, p. 270).  We can allow the suffering to help us become better people, and that can be its “reward”.  Jesus was trying to explain how it was necessary for him to die so that they may be saved. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (Nouwen, Here and Now, p. 47).  There is a greater good at stake.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Only a suffering God can help.”  He wrote those words when in a Nazi prison.  He was hanged not long afterward because he spoke out in favor of the Jewish people.  Bonhoeffer wrote, “…to be in this furious storm even to exhaustion, even to vexation, even to the call of martyrdom for the Word of Christ, so that there will be peace, so that there will be love, so that there will be salvation, and so that he is our peace and that God is a God of peace, “ (Kelly & Nelson, p. 214).  Bonhoeffer knew that suffering could lead to peace; no one wants suffering, but there can be meaning in it.

Jurgen Moltmann says, “While his Son is dying on the cross, God the Father suffers too, but not in the same way.  The Father suffers the loss of his Son, experiencing infinite grief.  There is total separation between them; they are lost to each other.  At the same time, however, they have never been so close.  They are united in a deep community of will, each willing to do this for love of the world.  As a result, the Holy Spirit who is love, the Spirit of their mutual love, flows out into the broken, sinful world, “ (Johnson, Quest…), p. 61).  God was with Jesus the whole time, and suffered with him.  What is your feeling or insight about Jesus’ suffering and death?  What “death” have I experienced in my life – death of a loved one, an abrupt and painful change, having to let go of someone or something I cherished?

Commentary from The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay (p. 220-231):

The Arrest in the Garden

All the Passover lambs were killed in the temple, and the blood of the lambs was poured on the altar as an offering to God (estimated 256,000!)  Imagine what the Temple courts would have looked like with all of that blood.  From the altar, a channel went down to the brook Kedron to drain the blood of the lambs.  When Jesus crossed, the brook would have still been red with the blood.  This must have made him think of his own sacrifice.  As they continued walking, they came to the Mount of Olives where the Garden of Gethsemane (meaning oil-press…consider the imagery!) was located.  It would have been a private garden of a wealthy landowner.  Jesus must have been given a key to it to visit it frequently.

The officers would be Temple police, and the text suggests there was quite a number of them, almost an army.  Imagine that many needed for an unarmed Galilean carpenter?!  Why do you think they sent so many?

See how brave Jesus is?  He doesn’t hide behind the trees but comes right out and asks who the soldiers are looking for.  They seem dumbfounded that it is him because he is so forthcoming.  He seems stronger than they are.  Peter is brave too, to cut the ear of the slave despite the army opposing him.

Jesus Before Annas

The High priest was the arch-collaborator of the Romans.  The family of Annas was immensely rich and one-by-one they had intrigued and bribed their way into office, while Annas remained the power behind it all.  Even the way in which Annas made his money was most probably disgraceful.  Because sacrifices made in the temple needed to be perfect, only those sold in the temple would be accepted as such (which of course was controlled by Annas and cost significantly more than those outside of it).  These are the same moneychangers Jesus kicked out of the temple.  Now we see why Annas wanted to see Jesus himself.  Jesus had hit him where it hurt-his pocket!

Maimonides, a great Jewish medieval scholar, says, “Our true law does not inflict the penalty of death upon a sinner by his own confession.”  Annas violated the principles of Jewish justice when he questioned Jesus.  It is precisely of this that Jesus was only reminding him.  But the writing was on the wall.  Jesus never had any hope for justice.

The Hero and the Coward

It is a mystery who the disciple is that goes into the courtyard with Jesus and knows the high priest somehow.  Note that he and Peter are the only diciples that stay; the rest run away.  Maybe Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathaea.  Maybe John himself, whose father most likely sold salt fish to the high priest and then he delivered it.  By not knowing for sure, it does allow us as readers to enter into the story.

It is interesting that a cock crowed because cocks weren’t allowed in Jerusalem (although who knows if that rule was followed).  How can you know when a cock will crow anyway?  But the Romans had a practice of changing the guards every 3 hours at night  (6pm-9pm, 9pm-12am, 12am-3am, 3am-6am).  There would be a trumpet call at the change (gallicinium in Latin or alektorophōnia in Greek), which both mean cockcrow.  Maybe this is what Jesus meant and Peter remembered.

Peter loved Jesus.  It was the real Peter that professed his loyalty in the upper room, drew his sword in the garden and followed Jesus into the courtyard.  It was not the real Peter who cracked beneath the tension and denied the Lord.  And that is just what Jesus could see.  Jesus sees our true self.  He loves us in spite of what we do because he loves us, not for what we are, but what we have it in us to be.

Jesus and Pilate

The Romans had allowed a good deal of self-government, but they did not have the right of the sword (death penalty).  “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people,” (Deuteronomy 17:7) is the word of Jesus that is fulfilled.  Jesus had to die a Roman death, because he had to be lifted up.  If the Jews had been able to kill him themselves, it would have been a stoning (Leviticus 24:16).

It is clear why Pilate acted as he did.  The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus.  He had screwed up once before and been reported to Caesar.  The Jews threatened to tell Caesar that he wouldn’t help them.  If he gets reported again, he may lose his job and power.  He is looking out for himself.  He crucified Jesus in order to keep his job.  But let’s look at his decision-making more closely:

  1. He tries to put the responsibility on the Jews:  No one can deal with Jesus for us; we must deal with him ourselves.
  2. He tries to escape being involved by releasing a prisoner:  There is no escape from a personal decision in regard to Jesus; we must ourselves decide if we accept or reject him…

We will take up the rest next week!

Scripture Commentary for 5th Sunday of Lent, cycle A

1st Reading – Ezekiel 37: 12-14

Ezekiel prophesized just before and during the Babylonian Exile. Both Jewish kingdoms had been devastated and many Jews had been taken to Babylon as slaves. It seemed to them that they were ‘dead’ as a people and as a country. Ezekiel speaks this message to encourage them in the midst of such desperation to still hope in a God who can bring life out of destruction and death. This reading comes from a longer section of Ezekiel called a “Vision of the Dry Bones.

Many of us can use this reading to be encouraged during difficult times. It can provide potent images for the times when our hearts begin to feel like a mausoleum stacked with failures, broken dreams, and friends we can only think of in the past tense. Besides his words, it is also impressive to consider the behavior of the prophet himself. To be able to say, “You alone are the Lord,” while standing in a field of death, is a marvelous testimony of faith. May we take his words to heart and trust that no matter how much darkness is around us – no matter how many dreams or loved ones have died – that our life and hope are in the God who can bring forth life always. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.23)

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 8-11

This reading has its problems because of the translation of sarx as flesh and pneuma as spirit.  Think of flesh instead as ‘our sinful nature’ that which leads to death.  Flesh is our ‘small, insecure self’ that does not trust in the goodness and love of God. Spirit is better understood as ‘our life-giving, God-empowered nature’ that leads to full life. This fits better in what Paul is trying to say.

Biblical hope is not a belief in the intrinsic immortality of the human person, as though some part of us, such as the soul or spirit, is in and by itself immortal. The whole person – body, spirit, soul – is subject to decay and death. But the Good News is this: Christ has broken this subjection. He has burst the bonds of decay and death by his resurrection. The crucified/risen Lord is with us to assure us that God’s love – not our own helpless selves – is more powerful than death. God’s love offers us a transformation that can go through death to an eternal life. When we live by and with this indwelling Spirit, we begin to taste in the here and now the beginning of a new life. It will be full and complete when we have passed through death into the marvelous presence of our loving God. The Spirit that we are talking about is the Spirit of Christ.     (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” )

The Gospel — John 11: 1-45

This is a long ‘short  story,’ allegory, with layers of meaning about how Jesus has the fullness of God’s power to bring life from all that brings death. It is told here to prepare us for Jesus’ death and resurrection – to prepare us to celebrate Easter with new understanding. It is told only in John’s Gospel. Where do you see yourself in the story?

Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss:  “Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”  Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer. Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’ by his grace and live to ‘go free’.

The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless. Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. Why?  No easy answer.

If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God?

What do you think of Thomas’ statement: “Let us go to die with him.” (verse 16)

It is in John 20: 24-29 we also see Thomas after the Resurrection.

From that story he gets the name, doubting Thomas.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:

John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”

Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did.  Lazarus died.  And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus.  We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time.  Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t.  And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.

Lazarus dies, and his family grieves.  Even Jesus weeps at the loss.  But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life!  And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him.

Death wins the battle, but love wins the war.  So we believe.  So we profess.

Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life” – but this resurrection is not about restoration of a corpse but rather a transformation of life. This eternal life does not abolish death but transcends it.  Our faith in Jesus is not fully developed until we can face physical death with a firm confidence that the present eternal life that we live with hope is not simply a pledge of resurrection on the last day but is rather a present and continuing participation in the life of the ever-living Jesus now, at this moment. Those who believe in Jesus never truly die. That is our hope, and our faith. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” )

What can we do as Christians?

Pray for the dead, both those ‘still living’ and those who ‘passed on.’ Recall that they are part of the communion of saints, present always in the assembly of the faithful. Give comfort to those who struggle with illness and disability. Live with hope.

There are more mysteries in this story…why did Jesus wait to go back to Judea?  Why did Mary sit at home at first?  What is it about Lazarus that Jesus chose him to raise?  Spend some time imagining with these thoughts.

Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering?  The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it.  When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection.    (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)

When Mercy Confronts Us

Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…


4th Sunday of Lent C

Mercy is more than a celebration. It is a challenge.  It asks us if we can fully give our yes to God’s offer of forgiveness, peace and wholeness.  Because God is everywhere, mercy confronts us everywhere and we sometimes fail to grasp exactly the gift God has given; sometimes mercy makes us choose even the painful in order to love.

The great parable of the Prodigal Son gives us three characters confronted by mercy and their response to it is not always clear cut.  Since we have all walked in the shoes of the father and the younger and older brother, we can gage how we confront mercy in our lives.

For the younger son, mercy is a gamble. He has rudely asked for his share of his inheritance and defiantly left home, intending it to be forever.  Now he has run out to…

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Forgiveness in the Old Testament

Our parish was supposed to have a gathering tonight on Stories of Forgiveness in the Old Testament, but it was cancelled.  We are going to discuss at our Scripture Group tomorrow at 2pm in the Rosa Road Community Room in case you are free.  This online article is the outline.  Here it is for at-home enrichment:

Forgiveness in the Old Testament

The Name of God

Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…


3rd Sunday of Lent C

There is nothing more boring than a homily focused on the history of how a single verse in the bible has been interpreted through the centuries.  I will now prove this point.

While tending the flock, Moses happens upon the remarkable sight of a bush that is burning, but not consumed by the fire.  From that bush comes a voice that speaks of God’s decision to free the Israelites, God’s chosen people, from their slavery in Egypt and take them to a new, fertile land all their own.  Astounded, Moses asks a question of the bush that might astound us for its relatively lack of importance, “If they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”

Shakespeare once said, “What is in a name?”  For the Jewish culture and those of the near east, the answer I pretty simple, “Everything.” …

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