Monthly Archives: April, 2019

Commentary on Good Friday: Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

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

Commentary from William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series:

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…
  3. 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.

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Examine Your Mercy

Fr. Bob’s homily for 5th Sunday of Lent…

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5th Sunday of Lent C

When they caught the woman “in the very act of committing adultery,” what made the Pharisees think they had the perfect plan to ensnare Jesus?  This is clearly not about the law.  If it had been, they could have enforced their brutal punishment on the spot when they first apprehended her. (By the way, the guy got away scot free.  Not shocking.)   No, this was a trap to get Jesus to deny the Law of Moses right in the Temple, at the heart of what it means to be Jewish.

You see, the Pharisees had been studying Jesus for a long time, following him and asking questions.  They believe they had found his weakness.  He was too merciful.  They knew he had claimed the authority to forgive sins.  They had heard him say to his disciples they should forgive others seventy times seven.  They…

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Lent with Paul, Session 6

Christ and the Cross

“For I received from the Lord, what I handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant, in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes,” 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26.

 “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He did not spare his own son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?  It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  . . .  No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, not life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 8: 31 – 39.

Paul resolves to “know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” (1 Cor. 2:2).  What does it mean to live the message of the cross every day?  What is the message? 

The cross is a great act of love…God accepts, affirms, sustains, and supports us –He loves us – by taking 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.  Now suffering and death are signs of his presence and power.  This is why we proclaim the death of the Lord  (John Dwyer’s “Theology of the Cross”).

Jesus did not suffer because suffering is good in itself.  It is not the physical pain and death of Jesus that saves us.  It is the love that filled him even when evil came up against him that assures us that God is always there to save us, to help us.  Jesus never gave up hope.  He placed all his trust in His Father. Jesus asks us to imitate him in this way.  That is exactly how Paul lived, and encourages us to do the same!

When we look at a cross:

  1. The cross shows us how awful, how cruel, how destructive evil is.

Evil can only hate and destroy. It is evil that made Jesus suffer.  We need to work to overcome any such sin in our lives.

  1. The cross is even more a sign of God’s power that gives us love, hope, and  goodness.  No matter how powerful evil can seem at times, God remains in charge.  God’s love is greater than any sin or evil.  God can save us and restore us to new life.  Death is not the final answer.
  2. Jesus makes the invisible God visible.  Jesus is the one who forever and completely shows us what God is like.  So on the cross, Jesus shows us how deeply and totally God loves us. God is one with those who suffer.  We can be sure of God’s presence when we are in need.
  3. We also need to see Jesus in anyone who is suffering or in need. We need to do all we can to help others – as if we were helping Jesus himself.

And so, the cross is also our promise to try to love as Jesus loved!

“Realize who you really are.  The Messiah died and was raised; you are in him; therefore, you have died and been raised – and you must learn to live accordingly,”(NT Wright, Paul, A Biography, p. 293)

2nd Reading: Philippians 2:  6 – 11

This is one of the earliest indications of an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ.  Jesus is in the “form of God”, “in human likeness” and “God greatly exalted him”.  Theologians debate whether Paul was truly speaking of preexistence, that Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man of Jesus on earth.  This would not be resolved until the councils of Nicea (325AD) and Chalcedon (451AD).  This passage is often called the “Christ Hymn” because of how poetic it is.  It was probably used as a creed or response in early worship, or maybe it was sung.  Maybe Paul wrote this piece himself or maybe he was quoting something the Philippians would have been familiar with  (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 349-351.

Reflect on some of the other phrases in the hymn…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  For the words to be closer to the original Greek, it would be translated as, “Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God, something to be snatched at.”  Jesus didn’t have to snatch his equality with God because it was his right, his being.  He didn’t hold it tightly either, keeping it for himself.  He offered it freely to ALL(Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 36).  This gift of beautiful life is a constant letting go.  We can’t hold on too tightly.  We are meant to give ourselves away, like Jesus did.  Not to be doormats, or be used by others…it is conscious choice.  We find the gift of who we are within ourselves and be that fully, opening ourselves with that intentionality.  We find that the gift comes back to us in abundance!  We “pour out as a libation”, but it only makes more room for God to fill us.

Lent with Paul, Session 5

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!

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.  Galatians 5:  19-26

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Romans 8:  6-9

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 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. This small self doesn’t really exist in God’s eyes as anything substantial or real. It’s nothing but a construct of your own mind. 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 for 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.  See the image.  The center is Spirit.  “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,”.    

“What you seek is what you are.  The search for God and the search for our True Self are finally the same search.”  R. Rohr

2nd Reading: Philippians 3:  8-14

The word ‘rubbish’ is skubala, which has 2 meanings.  It can mean that which is thrown to the dogs, but medically it can mean excrement or dung.  So then Paul is saying, “All my life I have been trying to get into right relationship with God.  I tried to find it by strict adherence to the Jewish Law; but I found the Law and all its ways of no more use than the refuse thrown on the garbage heap to help me to get into a right relationship with God.  So I gave up trying to create a goodness of my own; I came to God in humble faith, as Jesus told me to do, and I found that fellowship I had sought so long,” (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 62).

In knowing what we now know about flesh and spirit, perhaps this could be interpreted as moving from a life in the flesh to a life in the spirit, a life in Christ Jesus.

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.”

Three Characters

Fr. Bob’s 4th Sunday of Lent homily…

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4th Sunday of Lent C

What is it about the Prodigal Son that makes it so beloved?   Sure, we want to hear a story of forgiveness and mercy and know that we can always come home again.  But other stories share these same traits.  I think we are attracted to the distinct characters in this perfect parable. We feel we know the forgiving Father, the older brother and of course, the younger, prodigal son.  We identify with them, we root for them and defend our favorites.

I more admire the forgiving Father than identify with him.  I am not sure I would choose to be him for his is a difficult path.  We should all want his patience, mercy, generosity, and compassion even if in the back of our minds perhaps we think he might be a little naïve, or weak or even enabling. Yet, who would not want…

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