Monthly Archives: April, 2020

Commentary on the 4th Sunday of Easter, cycle A

1st Reading:  The Acts of the Apostles: 2: 14a, 36-41

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day. 

Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart”.  This is what repentance or conversion is all about. Peter’s message was urgent.  Repentance was not understood just as the turning-away from a laundry list of sins.  For Peter’s crowd it meant a radical reassessment of who Jesus really was-what his significance was  (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300).  Who is Jesus to you?  Right now?

Conversion is not a one-time event.  It is an ongoing process, a daily struggle.  Our responsibility as baptized Christians is to conform our lives to Christ, to seek his will for our lives, and to lay down our lives as Christ laid down his.  We must seek the strength to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are to claim our identity as forgiven and forgiving people, (p. 301).  What does this mean to you in our current situation? 

2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25

Beloved:  If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. 

Remember that Jesus’ wounds became his identification marks after resurrection. As ‘wounded healers’, we can let the Spirit of Jesus help us to bring life out of the good and the bad times of our lives. This letter is written to a people –many of whom were slaves — who were being persecuted for their faith under the Roman Emperor Domitian at the end of the first century. Their endurance in the face of suffering helped the church to survive even to this day. May we trust in this same Spirit when we face difficulties.   (Celebration, April 2005). How do you think we are ‘healed’ by the wounds of Christ? 

“Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover that by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart.  Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in the world.  Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship.  For them the word grace has proved a fount of mercy,”  (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 60).

The Gospel: John 10: 1-10

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Three important Hebrew Scripture readings serve as background for this passage:

Ezekiel 34+: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? . . . I am coming against these shepherds . . . I will save my sheep . . . I myself will look after and tend my sheep . . . The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal [but the sleek and strong I will destroy], shepherding them rightly.  

Jeremiah 23+:  “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter . . . I myself will gather the remnant of my flock . . . and bring them back to their meadow . . . so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none will be missing, says the Lord.  

Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” . . .

Some ideas and facts concerning shepherds:

In Palestine sheep were kept mostly for their wool – not for their meat only.  The sheep were often with the shepherd for many years; they were called by descriptive ‘pet’ names. A shepherd had to be a vigilant and fearless guide for his sheep. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol.II, p.56)

In this land of winding paths and rock cliffs with thin pastures surrounded by desert and wild animals, an alert and wise shepherd was indispensable to the survival of the sheep. At the end of the day, the shepherd would hold out his rod, close to the ground, having each sheep pass under it as the shepherd would examine it to see if it needed any care. Wounded ones would be ‘cleaned’ and anointed with oil; thirsty ones would be given water.  When all had been cared for, the shepherd would lie down and sleep across the entrance to the sheepfold. He was the safe ‘gate’ by which the sheep could come and go. In this way, the shepherd became the source of life and goodness [salvation].  The gate did not ‘confine’ the sheep, but provided a “spaciousness of security, peace, and protection.”

In the morning when it was time to take the sheep to pasture, the shepherds would call to their sheep by a special sound or whistle, laugh or strange type of noise or song. Each sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd. They followed that voice for it meant food, protection, warmth, healing and safety.  This sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed shepherd was the source of life and protection, strength and guidance for the sheep.  (Celebration, April 1999 & 2005, as well as John Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_cultural.html).

The image of being sheep can make us a bit uncomfortable – it can imply we are just part of a ‘flock’ – sort of stupid and dependent.  It seems to imply that we need to be ‘blindly’ obedient. But remember that obedience first means to listen. When we listen to our Shepherd Jesus, we find insight, truth, vision, understanding. He accompanies us through dark valleys and shows where to find life and real safety. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p.131)

In today’s world we encounter many gates. There are gated communities, gates of entry into theaters and sporting events, toll gates. Each gate represents both a dividing line and a means of entry. How does this speak to your spirituality? 

In John’s gospel, there is a series of solemn statements that identifies aspects of Jesus’ identity. These are called the “I am” statements, such as “I am . . . the bread of life (6:48); the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the resurrection and the life (11:25). In this week’s gospel, Jesus asserts, “I am the gate” (10:7, 9). This gate opens up to abundant life . . .  http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_working.html

Going through the gate instead of hopping the fence…reminds us that there is no easy way out of our difficult times.  We have to go THROUGH, and a pasture will await us there.  From Riding the Dragon (R. Wicks, p. 150, quoting The Alchemist by P. Coelho):  “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver.  “And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about moving forward.  The rest is up to Allah, including the danger.”

Commentary on 3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

(Photo of a road to Emmaus)

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 22-23

This really takes place after Pentecost in ‘Luke’s story’. This is an example of typical early Christian preaching. There are 4 parts to the early ‘kerygma’ or ‘creed’:

  1. Jesus was a man sent by God.
  2. Jesus was a man empowered by God to overcome evil.
  3. Jesus was a man who was betrayed, who suffered and died.
  4. Jesus was then raised and vindicated by God.

This ‘sermon’ is given here by Peter, now transformed by the Spirit of the Risen Christ.  Peter who slept in the garden and then denied Jesus in fear now proclaims the same Jesus with joy and power. Here is the power of Jesus’ Resurrection!  Peter challenges all of us to be so transformed.

The early Christians turned to their Scriptures, just as we do, to help them understand the happenings in their lives.  Here Peter uses Psalm 16, and so it was chosen to be the psalm for this Sunday (our closing prayer).   Notice how it is about Jesus – and about us.

It was impossible for Jesus to be held in captivity by death; this is what Peter declares to his listeners. Christ could not be held by death because in his cross he had overcome it. Death – theologically, at least – is our ultimate separation from God the source of life. Jesus was not held by death because of some abstract quality of divinity; it was his complete obedience to the will of God (trusting, listening obedience) that kept him more convinced always of God’s love than the evil and suffering around him. It was not some magic act due to his divine powers. It was this trust and obedience that overcame human alienation and separation from God (what is meant by sin and death). (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )  Do you experience this in your life?  Name what may be holding you down that is not life-giving…raise it up to Jesus and trust that He will be with you in deciding what to do about it. 

2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 17-21

The great Easter truth is not that we live newly after death . . .But that we are to be new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection;  not so much that we are to live forever, as that we are to live nobly now because we are to live forever. (Phillip Brooks)

In this passage we have to be careful not to take the language of ‘ransom’ and ‘blood’ too literally. The language is somewhat crude and cultic, but it is meant to speak of the liberation that we as Christians have as we come to understand the meaning and consequence of Jesus’ death. His blood speaks of Jesus’ total surrender and trust to his Father’s will and life. In this trust Jesus found the way through death to eternal life with his Father and our God. There is fear here on this side of the grave. But, like Jesus, let us surround our fears with trust in the God who loves us and has ultimate power over death. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

From Richard Rohr: “We can’t see love, but we can see what happens to someone who is loved – the power and gentleness of those who let themselves be loved by Jesus, endless life, welling up within . . . “

From Carl Sagan:  “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

The Gospel – Luke 24: 13 – 35

Each time we gather for Eucharist we experience this Emmaus story. It is a ‘pattern’ for Eucharist and for conversion. We share the story of Jesus.  We invite the stranger, invoke a blessing, and share a meal. In this breaking of the bread our eyes are opened; our hearts come alive with a new fire. Here on this side of the grave and eternity, we can know Jesus; we can experience his presence. Our hearts can burn with the insight and encounter that comes to us from our Lord, a reality we can trust. (Celebration, April, 2005)  How do we do this now in our current reality, being unable to receive physical Eucharist?  Some have shared with me that they still feel connected to Eucharist.  What is your experience?

These two disciples are leaving their faith community. They do not even place much credence in the ‘women’s testimony’ concerning the empty tomb. In fact, it seems that it is this very testimony that motivates them to leave. They are hitting the road, deep in confusion. Yet, Jesus joins them. This story is sort of a metaphor about how God deals with someone who has gone away; perhaps it is also an image of how we are to deal with each other in our unbelief.  It is a story of paradoxes – of faith and crisis, of distance and closeness, of seeing and blindness, of light and darkness. Sometimes it is only as we look back – when we ponder and reflect – that we realize that God’s presence and closeness was real. And so, present with him at the table, they finally recognize the gift of the presence that was there all along, walking away, talking away, wondering why, telling their woe, hearing his story once again. Maybe their sense of loss, their longing for hope, was hope. Maybe even their desire to believe was believing — even their longing to love was love. Maybe the God-we-find-in-Jesus can see all the way through to our broken hearts and clouded minds. It happened back then on the road – it can and will happen to us also on our road of life if we but welcome his presence.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged” http://litrugy.slu.edu )

Notice that at the moment of ‘open-eyed’ recognition of Jesus, he vanishes from their sight. Luke’s point is clear: from that time on, the disciples would meet Jesus, know him, be fed and taught by him at every Eucharistic encounter. And in a sense their ‘vision’ is so improved that they find it no problem to journey back to Jerusalem at night – full of joy and energy. (Celebration, April 2005)

From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 95- 97:

For communion with Jesus means becoming like him . . . And Communion creates community. Christ, living in them, brought them together in a new way. The Spirit of the risen Christ, which entered them through the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, not only helped them recognize Christ himself but also each other . . . the God living in us helps us recognize the God in our fellow humans . . . this new body is fashioned by the Spirit of love. It manifests itself in very concrete ways: in forgiveness, reconciliation, mutual support, outreach to people in need, 

solidarity with all who suffer . . .

There is a burning of our hearts when we know something is deeply true.  Can you recall those moments of burning in your heart?

Let us pray (Psalm 16  via The Message)… 

Keep me safe, O God,
    I’ve run for dear life to you.
I say to God, “Be my Lord!”
    Without you, nothing makes sense.

And these God-chosen lives all around—
    what splendid friends they make!

Don’t just go shopping for a god.
    Gods are not for sale.
I swear I’ll never treat god-names
    like brand-names.

My choice is you, God, first and only.
    And now I find I’m your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard.
    And then you made me your heir!

The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake
    is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I’ll stick with God;
    I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go.

I’m happy from the inside out,
    and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed.
You canceled my ticket to hell—
    that’s not my destination!

Now you’ve got my feet on the life path,
  all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
    I’m on the right way.  AMEN


 

Peace in the Hard and Uncomfortable by: Kris Rooney

How is everybody doing?  There are a lot of blog posts and resources out there right now, and I delete most of them.  So I get it if you don’t want to read this one either.  I don’t know where you’re at…well, I do a little because I’m making phone calls to some of you, along with other staff and Pastoral Council.  I have the C’s alphabetically.  Like many of you, my brain is too full to take in very much.  It seems to take more energy doing ordinary things (like, I have to cook dinner again?  I just did that yesterday!).  I have a book I wanted to finish for Lent, then I thought it would be my Easter project.  It is still sitting on my desk unread, glaring at me.  My brain is so full that one more thing might put me over the edge, and some days I do.  I just want to feel some sense of peace in this pandemic.  How do we do that?  How can we feel peace when there’s death, and fear, and empty shelves at the grocery store, and masks are the new fashion statement?

Well, I don’t know.  I have no answers for you, really.  I’m in this with you.  But I do know this.  Peace is one of those words Jesus said a lot, maybe the most in Scripture.  He came to the upper room to his disciples, after all the awfulness, and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he breathed on them.  So he knew we would need peace and ache for it, especially in the difficulty.

It’s not going to be all rainbows and sunshine.  Peace can be uncomfortable.  Peace can be hard.  Maybe we can’t even make our own peace; it might have to be found, or allowed in.  There is peace in the good.  When we recognize something as true, or beautiful – there’s a little peace there.  It might not be loud, or a first thought.  It could be an underlying current.  Small moments of peace in a day, like the rain hitting the window, or my dog Benny sighing in his sleep.  I wonder if it’s more like we have to let peace BE with us.  What would that look like?

James Finley said this in a podcast I heard recently:  If you learn to place your trust in God who’s sustaining you in your confusion [read lack of peace], breathe deeply and listen to it, like listen to your confusion.  In your confusion, deeply accept it as humility.  In your confusion, deeply accepted, unites you with the confusion of the whole human family in the presence of God.

So there you go.  We’re all in this together…and it’s hard, and it’s uncomfortable.  But Jesus is in the midst of us, breathing peace.  We just have to catch it, often in the little moments.  Maybe be a bit more gentle with ourselves. (like not finishing this glaring book, which let’s face it, is really my goal here).  Maybe take a few breaths ourselves.  And know way in our deep down that Jesus understood and lived all about the hard and uncomfortable, yet also lived out peace.  So this peace is there for us too.  Let’s try to look for it.

Commentary on 2nd Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy, Cycle A)

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 42-47

This is the first of 3 summaries that Luke has in Acts.  Ancient Greek writers used the word, Acts, to refer to the feats of great persons: the Acts of Hercules, the Acts of Hannibal, the Acts of Alexander, etc. This book (by the same writer as Luke’s Gospel) 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.

The Resurrection of Jesus was and is a community-evoking, community-forming event!  Before the experience of the Risen Lord, these people had little impact on the world. They lived small ordinary lives. But after the resurrection, they had become a community – persons who were interrelated, interdependent, and mutually supportive. Alone, they had been almost ineffective, but together they became “a formidable presence” for good – “alone they seemed powerless, but together, united in their presence of the risen, living Christ, they began to change the way human beings look at life, at death, at God, at one another. This reading shows us the four foundations on which such a community can be built: 1) The teaching of the apostles: faith formation – bringing the implications and applications of the Gospel into the ever changing present circumstances of real life.  2) The communal life: caring for and about each other; it was a community that began to be formed “from every nation under heaven.” Despite their diversity, they gathered in fellowship. 3) The breaking of the bread: being nourished by Jesus’ presence in ritual and in word. 4) Prayers: an individual and communal living-out of a love relationship with God. (Celebration, April 2005)  How are we still able to be community in the midst of our present reality?  How can this reading help us?

2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 3-9

The author of this letter may have been a disciple of Peter, the apostle, or even an associate of Paul’s. The theology is very similar to Paul’s Letter to the Romans.   It might have been written between 70 – 90 AD. It is written in very cultivated Greek, and it uses the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. There was intense, widespread persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). This emperor demanded that he be adored as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. Unlike Nero’s attack on the church in the middle 60’s, Domitian caused Christians to suffer as far away as Smyrna and Pergamum. These Christians also suffered much local hostility from their own neighbors who defamed them and regarded them as ‘evil-doers.’ (Celebration, Aril 1999 and 2002)

Our new life in Christ is seen in the midst of these troubles as a precious “inheritance” – “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” – bringing us through death to a “new birth to a living hope.” Ironically, we often ‘inherit’ things through a death – but even more significantly we inherit things usually within the context of a family: “those who are birthed anew through the experience of Jesus’ resurrection belong together as a family… both in the present and in the future.”  (Celebrations, April 1999, 2005)

As much as we would like it otherwise, ‘feeling good,’ ‘feeling fulfilled,’ can have little to do with true goodness and ethics. What really tests our goodness is not whether we tell the truth when it is easy or profitable, but whether we tell the truth when it is difficult, daring, even dangerous . . . Being faithful when it is easy and rewarded is one thing; being faithful when it is difficult and unappreciated is another. Faith in the Risen One is there for the good times — but it is even more vital for the times of fear, confusion, grief, and pain.  Faith is not the absence of pain or sorrow; it is bearing pain and sorrow in faith – trusting that these difficulties will not have the final word. God’s word of love will. Such faith does not take away wounds, but it can transform them.  (John Kavanaugh, “The Word Embodied” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

The Gospel – John 20: 19-31

What can we learn from Thomas?

1st, we see the importance of community – we can miss a lot if we separate ourselves from community. When sorrow overwhelms us, it is then that we need to see that we can “seek the heart and mind of Christ” in other believers.

2nd, Thomas was honest – and even bold. When he had doubts and questions he did not deny his doubts “by pretending that they didn’t exist.” He took them directly to Jesus. (Celebration, April 2005, and Quest, Spring 2005)

Jesus is different.  In his new identity, Jesus is no longer subject to the constraints of space and time.  But Jesus continues in his incarnation even after the resurrection, albeit in a different corporeal form.  The incarnation did not cease with the cross and the tomb; it continues even now in transcendental glory, (M. Birmingham’s Word & Worship Workbook, A, p. 286).  What does this mean for us?  How do we now live out Jesus’ incarnation?

The power to forgive one another will be given by the Holy Spirit.  Let that sink in a little. Does this change your understanding of forgiveness?  What is your experience of Holy Spirit?

Palm Sunday, cycle A

The Gospel at the Procession: Matthew 21: 1-11

In Jesus’ day the Jewish people had hoped that the Messiah would come with military power and might – and that with that power he would free them. But Jesus came and opened a new way. Just as he rode to Jerusalem on a donkey, an ass, a pack animal, rather than arriving with armies and angels, so he opened a new path for the reign of God, the Kingdom of God. He preached about God who cared for the least, who sought the lost and the poor and counted the hairs of one’s head. This God reached out to the Gentiles, the enemies of the Jews and spoke of loving one’s enemies as if it were possible. His idea of the reign of God and how a Messiah might act was incomprehensible to many of the people. This was not the way a messiah ought to act. This could not be God or God’s servant. (Celebration, April 13, 2002)

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible on Matthew II, p. 239: They shouted “Hosanna!” meaning “Save now!”. It was the cry for help which a people in distress addressed to their king or god. The phrase, “Hosanna in the highest!” must mean, “Let even the angels in the highest heights of heaven cry unto God, Save now!” It may be that the word ‘hosanna’ has lost some of its original meaning; and it had become to some extent only a cry of welcome and of acclamation, like “Hail!”; but essentially it is a people’s cry for deliverance and for help in the day of their trouble; it is an oppressed people’s cry to their savior and their king.

Later, p. 243: The ass may not be looked well upon in Western culture, but it is considered a noble animal in the east. Often a king came riding upon an ass, but when he did, it was the sign that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war; the ass was the mount of peace. Jesus claims to be the king of peace: not to destroy but to love, not to condemn but to help.

The Gospel: Matthew 26: 14 – 27: 66

What does the word Passion mean for you?

A dictionary says that it means strong emotion and agitation, such as ardent love, eager desire, even rage. It also means intense suffering. Jesus is the face of God: “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) What do we learn of God in his passion?

Thoughts from Prof. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) Theology of the Cross from his book: Einfuhrung in das Christentum (Introduction to Christianity):

In many devotional books we encounter the idea that Christian faith in the cross is belief in a God whose unforgiving justice demands a human sacrifice – the sacrifice of his own son. This somber and angry God contradicts the Good News of God’s love and makes it unbelievable. Many people picture things this way, but it is false. In the Bible, the cross is not part of a picture of violated rights; the cross is far more the expression of a life which is a ‘being for others.’

This is an appalling picture of God, as one who demanded the slaughter of his own son in order to assuage his anger. Such a concept of God has nothing to do with the New Testament. The New Testament does not say that human beings reconcile God; it says that God reconciles us.

The fact that we are saved ‘through his blood’ (Hebrew 9:12) does not mean that his death is an objective sacrifice . . . In world religions, the notion which dominates is that of the human being making restitution to God in order to win God‘s favor. But in the New Testament the picture is the exact opposite. It is not the human being who goes to God, to bring him a compensatory gift or sacrifice; rather, it is God who comes to human beings with a gift to give us. The cross is not the act of offering satisfaction to an angry God. Rather, it is the expression of the boundless love of God, who undergoes humiliation in order to save us.

Christian worship is not the act of giving something to God; rather, it is the act of allowing ourselves to receive God’s gift, and to let God do this for us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian who died at the hands of the Nazis on April 8, 1945.   In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he talks about cheap grace and costly grace:

Cheap grace is when we look to ourselves for what we have in life. The blessings we have are taken for granted. We can do what we want without retribution. Cheap grace places ourselves in the center. It is easy. There is no personal responsibility, unless it is to take credit for the good. But it is empty. No, grace was bought at a price in Christ Jesus (I Corinthians 6:19-20). There is more to life than living in cheap grace.

Jesus died on the cross to save us. He was without sin, yet he died for all of our sins so that we would know eternal life. That is costly grace. Living in that grace understands that. It is looking to God for what we have in life, knowing it is all from God. God is the center. It is being a disciple, wanting to do what is right because that is what Jesus did. It is wanting to please God, knowing God’s grace is a free gift but having the desire anyway. It is a fulfilled life. It is, “…water on parched ground, comfort in tribulation, freedom from the bondage of a self-chosen way, and forgiveness of all sins,” (Bonhoeffer, p. 52). Costly grace is living with the knowledge of what Jesus had to do to allow us the freedom of eternal life, and being grateful for it.

“Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, as so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world, “(Bonhoeffer, p. 60). There is a freedom in knowing you are living the way you were meant to live. That you are answering a call, or at least attempting to do so.

Jürgen Moltmann, another Geman theologian, witnessed the Allied fire-bombing of Hamburg and was held as a prisoner of war by the British. It was there that he developed his theology of the cross. From Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God (p. 61):

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 Hoy Spirit who is love, the Spirit of their mutual love, flows out into the broken, sinful world. Their Spirit justifies the godless, rescues the abandoned, befriends the lonely, fills the forsaken with love, brings the dead alive, and guarantees that no one will ever again die godforsaken because Christ is already there in the depths of abandonment.

Here are at least two other lessons we can learn from the cross:

  1. The cross shows us just how cruel, and destructive evil actually is. Evil hates; evil killed the kindest, gentlest, most loving person who ever lived. Evil tries to destroy all love, kindness, friendship, and truth.
  2. The cross also shows us the power of love, of good, of God. No matter how powerful Evil can seem to be, it is false. God and his love are greater than ANY EVIL OR PAIN. God can redeem (set free), save (bring to health). God can recreate and give life if we trust him and live in relationship with him (faith).

(Thoughts taken from Jesus, The Carpenter’s Son, by Richard J. Reichert)

Caution concerning Matthew’s Gospel (and John’s also):

It is always important to understand that by the end of the 1st century Christians were struggling to define themselves apart from their Jewish roots and to try to find their place in the larger Gentile world. In the process they began to realize they were not merely another Jewish sect. Antagonism grew on both sides. In Matthew’s passion story we see an effort to blame ‘the Jews’ – really meaning the authorities for the most part – and to exonerate the Gentiles. Be careful not to read into these statements more than what is there. Anti-Semitism is never right, nor is it what the inspired Word of God is trying to teach us. Power-hungry men, some Jewish and some Gentile, who wanted to play ‘god’ were responsible for Jesus’ suffering and death. In a true sense, responsibility lies where it belongs, with evil and sin.   (Living Liturgy, Year A, 89 & Monika Hellwig, Jesus: The Compassion of God,