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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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Bless the Mess BY: Kris Rooney

I saw this beautiful tree on a walk recently and thought:  What a tangled up mess that tree is.  It’s like it started growing with branches going every which way and now it’s stuck.  I can relate.

I think a lot of you can relate too.  Being stuck.  I’m talking about having a bundle of worries, and thinking about them a lot, and then being mad at yourself for thinking about them a lot, until now you’re a tangled mess.  Then the mess festers.  Suddenly this tree is like looking in a mirror.

Yet the tree is somehow beautiful it its complexity.  It makes me want to pause and look at how the branches could even go in the direction they do.  It makes a cool, creaky sound when the wind blows, because of the branches rubbing together.

So I’ve tried to develop a practice over Lent to help with my tangles.  Maybe somebody out there will find it helpful.

When I find myself in this cycle of blah, I ask for a blessing on it.  Right there in the middle of it.  I picture these hands coming over the mess and blessing it.  Just as it is.  Not fixing it.  Not making it pretty.  Just making it holy somehow.  How could this mess of a mood be made holy?  I don’t really know how grace works, but there it is.  The blessing makes the mess easier.  More comfortable to be with.  I can smile at it.  And there’s a sense of no longer being alone in it.  After sitting with the blessing over the mess, it’s a more airy space.  It suddenly feels more gentle, and I can lean into a right way of being again.  It’s like the love must be felt before I can move forward.  The funny thing is, the love was there the whole time.

So next time you are feeling overcome with uncertainty, worry, angst, ickiness…try picturing the hands of the Holy Spirit blessing all of it.  The worries may remain – like the tree – but you will be accompanied.  You will find an ease.  Simple love.  And maybe a way through.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord,”  Jeremiah 29:  11-14.

The Divine Name

Fr. Bob’s homily 3rd Sunday of Lent…

bobblogobucco

3rd Sunday of Lent C
Last time I was on the Journey Retreat I gave a shorter sermon than normal and I received shockingly, and disturbingly, few complaints so I thought I would try it again.
The Baptismal Rite for infants begins with an interesting question. What name do you give your child? It is not because the priest might have forgotten or that we do not have adequate paperwork. (The Church might not get everything right, but no one doubts we are good at paperwork.) It is because this is the beginning of a relationship between God and the child. And like any relationship it starts with a name. “Hi, my name is …”
But it meant more than that in the culture in which the Church began. We think of names as an identifier, something to differentiate one from another. You call me Bob so you do not…

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Lent with Paul, Session 4

Paul is Christ-centered.

Paul believes Christ has died for our sins.  Moreover, God raised Jesus from the dead.  Those who confess that Jesus is Lord and place their trust in him will be saved.  Jesus is the image of God; Jesus is the Son of God  (There is no Trinitarian theology yet.),  (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p, 248-249).  And so we see everything Paul lives, breathes, writes, proclaims and dies for…is Christ.  How can we make Christ our center?  What would that look like for us?

Paul’s view of Salvation

Paul reminds us that what has happened through Jesus is the launching of a new creation.  The messianic events of Jesus and the spirit are not simply another religious option, a new twist on an old theme.  If anything, the creator God has called TIME! on the old creation and has launched a new one in the middle of it.  No wonder the new reality is uncomfortable (NT Wright’s Paul, A Biography, p. 158).  And so God’s plan had always been to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Jesus, which meant, from the Jewish point of view, that Jesus was the ultimate Temple, the heaven-and-earth place.  This, already accomplished in his person, was now being implemented through his spirit.  Paul always believed that God’s new creation was coming, perhaps soon.  But the present corrupt and decaying world would one day be rescued and emerge into new life under the glorious rule of God’s people (p. 401-402).  In this way, salvation is NOW and TO COME!

Because of his own profound life experiences, Paul knew that he was not saved by the law or by his scrupulous, self-righteous fulfillment of the Law.  He found in Jesus Christ a God who accepted him and called him while he was yet a sinner – and empowered him to live an entirely new life – a life in Christ Jesus.  So Paul is again our example-living a saved life right into eternity.

Reconciliation

On the cross, God shares in our destiny and takes residence with us; and in doing this, God reconciles us with Godself.  Paul’s basic statement is that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Godself.  In and through Jesus, God shares in our human fate, our human destiny.  God becomes vulnerable and takes the brokenness of the world and our lives into God’s very self.  When God takes our brokenness, up to the point of death, into God’s self, it means not the end of God but the end of death, (John Dwyer’s “That We May Live in Joy and Die in Peace:  God’s Gift on the Cross of Christ).   What does reconciliation mean to you?  How do we live as reconcilers?

“Reconciliation” is the Greek legal term used of husband and wife (see I Cor. 7:11).  But Paul applies it to the process of salvation here.  God is the agent of reconciliation, and we are reconciled.  Christ is the means, which is extended to the world.  By being reconciled, we become a new creation, the holiness of God, (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 722-723).  From the Catechism #460, “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’:78 ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.’79 ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’80 ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods., 81” .  Do you hear a sense of oneness in these descriptions?  The Trinitarian relationship Father/Son/Spirit have with each other is one that we are invited to enter into.  We are called to join in the divine dance!

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21

For context:  When Paul was in Ephesus, he got word of problems in Corinth and so wrote 1 Corinthians.  After that, things got messy.  Paul had said he was going to take a trip to Macedonia and then visit the Corinthians on his way back to Ephesus.  He changed his mind and decided to visit Corinth on his way to Macedonia as well.  Perhaps he caught them unawares; in any event, it didn’t go well.  He had some kind of confrontation, something that later he would claim actually hurt the entire congregation (2 Cor 2:5).  Paul left in a huff and canceled his plans to visit them on the return trip, so he wrote a letter which is lost (although some theologians think it is actually segments of 2 Corinthians).  This letter repaired the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians and they repented, so Paul wrote them again, which is most likely most of what 2 Corinthians is (Powell, p. 294-298).

The word ambassador in Greek is presbeutes. It was a person that was directly commissioned by a king or ruler.  Paul is using it here to help us understand that we are commissioned to bring God’s terms of mercy and love to sinners so that they can be welcomed into the family of God. (Preaching Resources, March 2004)

“An ambassador from any country is always conscious of the fact that he has a tremendous responsibility because he is the representative by whom his country is going to be judged. And to us is given the privilege and responsibility of being the representatives of the Son of God in this world. We stand for him, people judge him by what they see in us, and they are perfectly entitled to do so because we are the ones through whom and in whom he is glorified. Do we, I wonder, always realize this?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Welsh Protestant Minister.

As new creations in Christ we are to offer to others the same love and forgiveness that has been offered to us. Selfishness and self-righteous attitudes do not lead to joy, to celebration. Such a lonely road leads to isolation and misery.  (From “Exploring the Sunday Readings”, March 2010)  But being a new creation is not an assured possession!  It is something that must constantly be worked at.  To renew that status is the work of the apostolic ministry – the “ministry of reconciliation,” as Paul calls it (liturgy.slu.edu, March 14, 2010).

Lent with Paul, Session 3

Jewish-Christian

This image is “Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Carvaggio.  People often picture this artwork when reading about Saul/Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ.  However, there is no horse mentioned in scripture, and it wasn’t a conversion from Judaism to Christianity.  Revelation may be a better word.  For everything Paul knew and understood as a learned, Jewish man became fulfilled in Jesus.  There was no “Christianity”.  There was “The Way”.  Paul had no goal of turning away from Judaism and starting a new religion.  Instead, he saw Jesus as God’s continuously unfolding plan for Israel’s salvation.  Jesus is the new covenant God is making with all people (U.S. News & World Report 4/5/99, “Reassessing an Apostle”, p. 54).

From NT Wright’s Paul, A Biography:

“For Paul, what mattered was that Israel’s God, the creator of the world, had done in Jesus the thing he had always promised, fulfilling the ancient narrative that went back to Abraham and David and breaking through ‘the Moses barrier,’ the long Jewish sense that Moses himself had warned of covenant failure and its consequences…At the heart of Paul’s message, teaching, and life was radical messianic eschatology

Eschatology:  God’s long-awaited new day has arrived.

Messianic:  Jesus is the true son of David, announced as such in his resurrection, bringing to completion the purposes announced to Abraham and extended in the Psalms to embrace the world.

Radical:  Nothing in Paul’s background had prepared him for this new state of affairs (p. .130).

But now the big question:  Did one need to become a Jew first to become Christian?  Jewish law required keeping the Sabbath, eating certain foods, being circumcised, etc.  What are the Gentiles to do?  This is what a lot of Paul’s letters deal with, and this caused great debate not only in these communities but also among the original disciples of Jesus.

Doctrine of Justification

Also by NT Wright:  “God will put the whole world right at the last.  He has accomplished the main work of that in Jesus and his death and resurrection.  And, through gospel and spirit, God is now putting people right, so that they can be both examples of what the gospel does and agents of further transformation in God’s world.  This is the heart of Paul’s doctrine of justification…It isn’t about a moralistic framework in which the only question that matters is whether we humans have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit (“righteousness”) and, if not, where we can find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf.  It is about the VOCATIONAL framework in which humans are called to reflect God’s image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God has, through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that, (p. 407-408).

Because of his own profound life experiences, Paul knew that he was not saved by the law or by his scrupulous, self-righteous fulfillment of the Law.  He found in Jesus Christ a God who accepted him and called him while he was yet a sinner – and empowered him to live an entirely new life – a life in Christ Jesus.  For Paul, faith is that response to this free gift offered to us by God.  Like all gifts it cannot be forced.  It is a matter of life for those who now live in Christ.  It reconciles us with God by accepting his love and trusting it with our lives.  And it empowers us to be reconciled to each other – and to be ambassadors of reconciliation for others.

2nd Reading – I Corinthians 10:  1-6, 10-12

Paul’s community in Corinth was under a great deal of pressure because of the temptations and lures of the culture’s religious and intellectual oddities.  People were succumbing to pagan influences.  The Corinthians, like their ancient counterparts, were beginning to take God’s gifts for granted.  Some believed that baptism and eucharist were all that was necessary for salvation.  Paul referred to the OT identifying story of exodus to set the record and beliefs straight.  Sacramental grace cannot substitute for the believer’s cooperative efforts at good living and loving service (Birmingham, W&W, 143).

Paul’s statement about the “rock that was following them” (v.4) refers to the Jewish tradition that the rock that Moses struck (Exodus 17:1-6) became mobile and traveled with them furnishing a steady supply of life-giving water. (This was a widely known legend.)  Paul, of course, sees this rock as Christ, our source of life-giving ‘water’ – grace.  Yet, Paul also reminds us that God’s graces and gifts are not automatic assurances of salvation.  Rather, God challenges and invites, but we need also to cooperate with God’s Spirit. It’s not magic(Celebration, March 2001).

God wants “spiritual fruit” not “religious nuts”!  Each of us is asked to be a good steward of our own gifts and abilities.  But it’s more than just doing works.  In our zeal to do good works we may go “nuts” and overdo it.  It’s not about how many committees, meetings and work parties we fit into our life.  God seeks spiritual fruit from us.  We are asked to discover the ‘buried treasure’ of God’s presence within us.  We may need to slow-down – notice the burning bushes in our lives. Let us take time to touch Holy Ground and hear the voice that speaks from deep within the ‘burning bushes’ of our lives.  This kind of prayer can cultivate and fertilize.  Then, we will not be blinded by harsh daylight, and fail to see the God-light all around us.  (Celebration, March 2004)

Listen to Him

Fr. Bob’ homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent…

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2nd Sunday of Lent C

Jesus, Moses and Elijah go up a mountain sounds like the beginning of a great joke but indeed is the story of the Transfiguration.  It is a moment of stunning glory, an affirmation of the highest order of Jesus’ mission.  It is meant to sustain the apostles in hope as they are about to make that fateful and dangerous journey to Jerusalem.  For us, it is a flash of Easter glory in the midst of our Lenten sojourn.  Heaven invaded earth on top of the mountain.

Imagine the shock it must have been for Peter, James and John when they finally woke up.  (They do seem to be a sleepy bunch throughout the Gospels.)  They see Jesus their friend with the two great leaders of their faith.  They crane their necks to hear what they are talking about. It is one topic summarized in…

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