Fr. Bob’s Holy Thursday homily…
Holy Thursday 2018
Some parishes have very precise rules for who can receive communion and who cannot. We never have. But that is about to change right now.
Our first reading is about the Passover as the Last Supper was a Passover meal. It concerns the great liberation of the Jewish slaves from the clutches of Pharaoh in Egypt. God had heard their cries and noted their suffering and God was ready to act in a definitive and awful way to let his people go. For it seems the Lord is intent in our being free. Of course, God who created us in freedom and for freedom knows that without it, there can be no love. No one can be forced to love someone else. It was precisely that gift that was central to Jewish self-understanding that all Jews celebrated and still…
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- Have you ever been rescued before? What did that feel like?
- At some point in your life, you will very likely be asked if you are saved and how you know that you are saved. How would you respond to that question?
Gospel Reading: John 19: 30 – 42
Catholics would say that we were saved by Christ on the cross. We cannot simply say that Jesus saved us on the cross and then live according to the same old sinful patterns in life. We must make every effort to change our lives and live according to Jesus’ example.
It is because of Jesus’ love for us to the very end that he ultimately gave his sacrifice redeeming value. It is because of Jesus’ love for us to the end that his death atoned and made satisfaction for our sins. It is the life he led and gave us that is salvific. We are called to live like Jesus and give our life in his service too. It is not Jesus’ death alone that is the means of rescue or redemption; rather, it is Jesus’ WHOLE LIFE, offered up selflessly and sacrificially in service for the good of others, even unto death.
Satisfaction is a tricky concept when it comes to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Why should he have to make satisfaction? When one thinks objectively about what satisfaction means, it would seem that satisfaction should be made by the one who commits the offense, not someone who is innocent. (We, in fact, make satisfaction when we are given a penance in the sacrament of reconciliation.)
St. Thomas Aquinas explains this by telling us that satisfaction comes about when the maker of satisfaction (Jesus) offers to the one offended (God) something that delights him more than his hatred of the offense. Jesus’ self-sacrificing love and obedience, the worthiness of his life (he was, after all, both God and a human being), the utter horror of his passion and the sorrow it caused him outweighed the malice of sin. The satisfaction that Jesus offered on the cross is greater than the offense committed by humanity.
God not only causes salvation, God is salvation. God is perfect fulfillment and happiness. True salvation means we are completely fulfilled and know true peace and salvation.
From Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God:
We have a God of “pathos”, a divine care for the world. Our God of pathos feels intensely: loves, cares, is glad, gets angry over injustice, urges, prods, forgives, is disappointed, gets frustrated, suffers righteous indignation, weeps, grieves, promises, pours out mercy, rejoices, consoles, wipes away tears and loves some more.
Dorothy Soelle on the divine power of the cross:
- It is selfless love. Jesus is a man for others, having only his love. This leads him to die powerless on the cross, with no armies, no magic tricks to save him.
- It is a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. In raising Jesus from the dead, God instills hope for all, for everything, even the dead.
- It is call to solidarity. We can know God’s love only when we become a part of it ourselves. We can know the God of compassion only in committed resistance to every form of unjust suffering inflicted on others.
- Have you ever thought about what makes our faith special? What are your beliefs about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection?
- What sacrifices have you made? Did the good outweigh the loss? What did love have to do with it?
- When you venerate the cross on Good Friday, what will you hold in your heart?
- If others could only watch how you spend your time, how you spend your money, what you love, who you love, do you think they would see that Jesus has risen from the dead?
- What is something you can do TODAY to be more like Jesus?
Instead of commentary on all the readings for this Palm Sunday, here is an opportunity to reflect on portions of the Gospel and 2nd reading as they pertain to Eucharist.
Let us pray from the Intercessions of Morning Prayer of Holy Thursday.…
As we contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ gift of himself to us, let us pray:
Save your people, Lord.
You are present in the mystery of your Cross embodied in the Eucharist. Bring all peoples into communion with your redeeming love.
Save your people, Lord.
You offer the world new life in the waters of baptism. Be present to those who are preparing for baptism.
Save your people, Lord.
You strengthen the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. Inspire with fervor those who are preparing for confirmation.
Save your people, Lord.
You anoint in your likeness new servants of the Gospel. Renew in love all those who are ordained to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopacy.
Save your people, Lord.
You unite in love those whom you have called to mirror your love for the Church in marriage. Fortify the bonds of love that bind all married couples.
Save your people, Lord.
You reconcile to God all those who have gone astray in sin. Cleanse and heal those who desire to return to you.
Save your people, Lord.
You strengthen all those who are called to adhere to your Cross in sickness. Comfort the sick and those who care for them.
Save your people, Lord.
You give yourself as food for the journey to all those who face the passage from death to life. Enlighten the dying.
Save your people, Lord.
O Lord, gather us in holiness around the table of the Cross, that together we may proclaim your saving love to all the world in word and in work, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians (2: 6-11)
The reading from the Gospel according to Mark (14: 12 – 26)
Reflection Questions from Moment By Moment: A Retreat in Everyday Life:
- What do I remember about my initial experiences of the eucharist? How have those experiences influenced the significance I give to the eucharist in my adult life?
- How does being part of a community of believers help me to make the continued act of faith which the eucharist requires?
- What have reverent moments of receiving the eucharist taught me about intimacy?
- Have I made the connections between eucharist and service which are shown by Jesus at the Last Supper? Do I experience the eucharist as strengthening me to serve as Jesus did?
- In what ways am I bread that is broken and shared with others on a daily basis?
“Throughout the week we can feel and express our gratitude. We can experience, in the midst of very hectic and messy times, a peace the world cannot give. All week – whether we are driving or walking from one place to another, or pouring a cup of coffee, or simply pausing to catch our breath – we can hear him say, ‘I have given you an example; do this in memory of me.’ He is broken and poured out, to completely give himself to our very human struggle that we might be whole and ourselves become bread for our world, “ (Retreat in the Real World, p. 243).
Let us pray…
May the cross be upon our foreheads
that we may ponder its meaning.
May the cross be upon our ears,
that we may listen attentively to God’s Word.
May the cross be upon our eyes,
that we may see God’s love in this world and in those around us.
May the cross be upon our nostrils
that the smells of this earth open us
to the mysteries of God’s goodness and other’s needs.
May the Cross be upon our lips,
that we may speak God’s love and mercy in our words.
May the cross be upon our shoulders,
that we may carry our cross and embrace the challenges of life
with the love and wisdom of Jesus.
May the cross be upon our hands,
that we may serve others as Jesus did. AMEN
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
5th Sunday of Lent B
I cannot remember if I ever mentioned it to you, but I was in the Holy Land in January. One place I have not talked about though is a lovely church about half way down the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem called Dominus Flevit, or “The Lord Wept.” It commemorates the spot of Jesus’ famous lament for the city. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings.” And the remarkable thing about that spot is that if you extend your arms like a hen would spread her wings to gather her young, from that perspective, your arms would encompass the entire walled city of Jerusalem.
And that is exactly what Jesus came to do. To gather us. To make us…
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1st Reading – Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Theologians have a lot to say about this passage of scripture because of the language around a new covenant. What was wrong with the old one? How is this fulfilled? What does this say about how God works in our lives? Are we puppets to God’s law? What does this say about church hierarchy?
“You shall be my people and I will be your God,” is similar to the marriage contract of that time period. It was found on papyri, “She is my wife and I am her husband this day and forever.” It is a solemn agreement. A sacred bond. But the Israelites broke that bond with God. So the Lord, through Jeremiah, is proposing a new covenant that will be written in our hearts rather than on stone tablets. Instead of external instruction this covenant will contain an interior principle of personal regeneration; hence charismatic leaders such as prophets and priests, who instruct the people in the obligations of the law of Yahweh, will not be necessary in the new covenant (McKensie’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 155-156).
For Yahweh’s law to lodge in the heart of the people is for the people to obey Yahweh not out of obligation at all but out of their glad free will. Jesus is our example. Jesus obeyed God not simply because he was obligated to, certainly not because he was forced to, but more profoundly because he wanted to, (Holladay’s Long Ago God Spoke, p. 33-38). So we are not puppets. Maybe there is no plan. God has planted goodness in us. It is up to us to live it.
But let’s be careful not to read Jeremiah’s prophecy as meaning Jesus is the new covenant, as that would displace Judaism. For Jeremiah, the new covenant is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In the end, Jeremiah is unclear about the future…Jeremiah ends up being killed by his own people. What IS clear is that God will always prevail when all other forms of rule are exhausted. Because of this, the future is open and awaits embrace, (Brueggermann’s Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 189-190).
2nd Reading – Hebrews 5: 7-9
Obey means to listen – to listen with one’s heart. This ‘letter’ is really a sermon rather than a letter. It was probably written near the end of the 1st century when some Christians were tired of waiting for Jesus’ return – especially in the face of many difficulties. This preacher seemed to be encouraging his listeners by saying: “Are you weary of it all? Look at Jesus. Drink deep of the blessedness of the Christ-event and then pull yourself together and get back to the challenge of trying to follow him. He wanted them to see their sufferings and struggles as the training ground for a renewed obedience to God. Such obedience (from the Latin ob + audire) would mean that the weary must learn to listen once again and to open themselves to hearing the words and challenges of God. As we also struggle to listen, to hear, and to follow Jesus, we also live as priestly people – offering ourselves as sacrifices — making (w)holy the world and those we encounter. Like Jesus, we must learn from our listening to mediate God’s presence for others. That is the ‘job’ of a priest to which we are called by baptism. (Celebration, April 2000 & 2003)
Again, remember this from Richard Rohr:
All religion must ‘deal with’ suffering and give it meaning and hope. All religion is about this question: what are we to do with our pain? In and with Jesus we can face the reality of pain, suffering, rejection – even death – and then let this reality transform us. This is the ‘Paschal Mystery’ of Jesus’ – the dying and rising that is a part of our lives. If we do not transform pain, we will transmit it.
This reading states that Christ became perfected through his suffering. The word, perfected, is a term that in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) was used to speak about the conferring of priestly power. Jesus became the eternal high priest through his sacrifice on the cross. He became the pledge of God’s love and the one who makes it eternally present for us. The Crucified One is the one who now sits exalted by God on his throne in heaven. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 233) The word used for perfect also meant, not moral perfection, but the reaching of a goal or destiny – becoming who and what one was called to be. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth)
The Gospel – John 12: 20-33
Our lives give glory to God also when we like Jesus are willing to give of our selves for the good of others. This is a kind of ‘dying to self’ that brings new life. (http://liturgy.slu.edu)
From Bishop Untener in his Little Black Book, 2006:
The image of a seed is a good one. The seed when it ‘dies’ is not annihilated, It simply ceases to exist as it did in order to become something else, something fuller, richer, more vibrant, brimming with life. This theme of death in Christianity is never to be morbid. It is never dying or suffering for its own sake. It is not about being discarded or worthless or lost. We are born to love, to be outgoing, self-giving. It is only our fear and self-centeredness that needs to die. When we let go, ‘die’ to that, we find life brimming with goodness. When we give up being self-centered, clutching things, we open up to everyone, to life. It is a question of becoming what we were made to be. The seed is made to blossom and grow and bear fruit. So are we.
From Ronald Rolheiser, “In Exile”:
There is a suffering and loneliness that is not only beneficial, but that is, in fact, the only route to empathy, to selflessness, to compassion – to real strength and goodness. Our successes may bring us pleasure and glory, but they rarely bring us true wisdom. Suffering and loneliness give us this depth, but they can also deepen us in anger and bitterness rather than in gratitude and compassion. God does not take pleasure in this. God takes pleasure only when the suffering and loneliness bring us and others some benefit, some insight and strength. We need God’s help to undergo these difficulties in the right way. God rejoices when we do things right, when we exercise our talents, growing and maturing as we help ourselves and others to a fuller life. Like a good parent, God enjoys watching us, his children, develop and stretch our hearts in ways that make us more caring, more generous, more truly alive. (http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B:
Jesus reveals to us what God is like. God sent Jesus to be one with the human race – to save humanity and to show the world definitively and forever just how much he loves them. Humans would never have believed God’s love had God not sent Jesus. And, Jesus was true to his mission. He stood with the poor and with sinners. He was courageous, challenging all who refuse to love and to serve.
Jesus’ torture and death was a crime. It was murder. He was an innocent man. Jesus himself renounced it as a sin, an evil. Jesus’ death was a result of sin, hatred, prejudice, animosities, jealousies, fear, pride, power. Yet, in his death he expressed the highest form of human love.
This is what was pleasing to God: Jesus’ inner disposition of faithfulness and love and his willingness to die for his people. This is what God willed: love so deep that he was willing to sacrifice his own life for it. In this way Jesus was able to reveal the love that God has for all of us – a love that is willing to go to any length, even humiliating lengths, — even to death, itself.
From Carrie Newcomer, singer and poet: Transformation is deeper than “the only way out is through”. At the growing edge…the only way through is in. That is where I begin to look at something I really don’t want to see, a place I do not want to go. It’s uncomfortable, and I have to sit in an uncomfortable place, process and uncover in what way this hard thing, the thing I did not want,has meaning for me. This is where I learn that this discomfort will not drown me, but transform me. And yes, eventually, a lightness arrives. It comes with a deep acceptance of my own humanness, a clearer view to what comes next. The paradox that sometimes to get where we need to go, we have to travel where we did not want to go.
1st Reading – 2 Chronicles 36: 14 – 23
Along with Ezra and Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles represent a type of ‘history’ of the people of Israel from their origins to the period of reconstruction AFTER the exile. The world had changed. The author exalts David even more than he is exalted in Kings 1 & 2; the exile was viewed more as the people’s failure to worship Yahweh. But in today’s reading, we hear God hating the sin but loves the sinner. God is always ready to forgive at the first sign of a repentant heart, (M. Birmingham’s W&W Wkbk for Yr B, p. 214).
“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness,” (J.C. Arnold’s Why Forgive?, p. 44).
2nd Reading – Ephesians 2: 4-10
The theology in this letter is in sharp contrast to the retributive-type justice we see in the first reading. How does this writer see God working in human history?
To many Greeks philosophical systems and self-improvement ideas were seen as ways to great human capabilities. To them the ‘saving act’ was knowledge. The Christian writer who composed this letter is trying to emphasize that ‘salvation’ is God’s transforming gift to sinners. The writer was trying to stress that God’s great love (revealed and given freely to us in Jesus) is not a reward for good works or great knowledge. Yet, a life of good deeds is the natural outcome, (Celebration, March 2003).
God is personal. God is not a by-itself, or an in-itself, or an in-and-of itself, but rather God exists in a communion of persons toward one another in self-giving Love, revealed in Word and Spirit in human life, in history, in the world. God is immutably toward us and for us in the self-giving Love that is constitutive of the divine life. All reality is personal. Everything that exists is from God, in God, for God, who is God precisely in the relations of interpersonal self-giving Love: Father, Son, Spirit, (M. Downey’s Altogether Gift, p. 62).
The Gospel – John 3: 14-21
John’s Gospel is one of darkness and light; this contrast is used throughout it. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (verse 2) looking for new life. We later find Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion anointing Jesus’ body with over a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. (John 19: 38-42)
In the Book of Numbers the Israelites while wandering in the desert complained about being hungry, thirsty, — then when serpents began to bite them, they were sure that God was punishing them. Moses prayed to God and God told Moses to make a fiery serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole. Anyone bitten by a snake could look upon the bronze serpent and be saved from death. In this gospel, Jesus compared himself to this serpent — the one lifted up who can save us from death. (Sunday by Sunday, March 2003)
The contradiction in the paschal mystery is that what we abhor — the cross — becomes the instrument of redemption. God saves Israelites from death. Yet, in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ we must embrace death for the only way to eternal life is by dying to ourselves. In this ‘dying’ we can then allow ourselves to be lifted up like Christ. Our good works — reaching out to others, working to improve the world around us, caring and acting kindly and justly– all of this is ‘being lifted up’ — being crucified so we might live. We sometimes choose to do difficult things – not because the suffering is good but because the end is good. (Living Liturgy, 2003)
Light and believing is important in this gospel. The light = Christ who enables us to see; seeing is believing — it is also activity. John’s gospel uses the verb believe 98 times — never is the noun used. Both believing and not believing is expressed in actions. Those who do not believe hate the light and do ‘wicked things’ and their ‘works are evil.’ To come into the light exposes evil deeds. The one who lives the truth is the one who does the truth. A Christian must live the choice for Jesus with one’s whole life. (Living Liturgy, 2003)
Sometimes wouldn’t we really rather be able to ‘save ourselves’? Wouldn’t we like to point to our successes, our virtues, our improvements, our earnestness — all our efforts and deeds? But salvation is not our doing and at least on ‘bad days’ we are grateful for that. Maybe like Nicodemus we come to Jesus in the dark and only when we trust God’s rich mercy and abundant grace can we finally come to not fear the light. We do not so much achieve our salvation as we entrust ourselves to it – by God’s love and favor we are saved. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In the end our faith must help us ‘deal with’ the suffering in life. It is the ‘test’ of every religion to try to answer this question: “what are we to do with our pain? In and with Jesus we can face the reality of pain, suffering, rejection – even death – and then let this reality transform us. This is the ‘Paschal Mystery’ of Jesus – the dying and rising that is a part of our lives. If we do not transform pain, we will transmit it. (from Richard Rohr)
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
3rd Sunday of Lent B
The Gospel ends in a strange way. Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” He gets us. He knows that we love the show, the easy way. You see Jesus has an interesting frustration. It is not that he is failing. People are flocking to him. But they are coming for the wrong reason. They are coming because of the great and powerful deeds known as signs in John’s gospel. And what is wrong with that? Isn’t that what athletes want? Isn’t that what performers want? Homilists? But it isn’t what Jesus wants.
That is what scholars have identified as sign faith. The people Jesus is attracting are caught up in the signs. We like to be around cool people doing cool things. Besides, if you are ailing, he will heal you, if you are hungry, he…
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1st Reading – Exodus 20: 1-17
Some Basics on the Ten Commandments
- They are found twice in the Bible: Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
- The Hebrew word for law is tôrâ, or Torah, which is more closely translated to meaning guidance, teaching or instruction. Perhaps the best human analogy we have is that of an effective parent with growing children: the parent is serious about child-rearing, but that seriousness includes humor, tact, love, and approachability – all with a view to shaping a small community of supple and ultimately joyous human beings. So it is with God (Holladay, Wm., Long Ago God Spoke, p. 44, 51).
- There are 2 types of laws: case law and apodictic law. Case law is causative, meaning if someone does this thing, then he receives this punishment. There are consequences for our actions. There may be exceptions depending on the situation. Apodictic law is without exception. These are statements of conduct that have no conditions or suggested penalties. They are strong, dramatic demands. The only expected answer is a firm “Amen” said in trust (Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, p. 185-186). The ten commandments are apodictic.
Each of these commandments is not some external, irrational demand from an alien god. Rather, each is an expression of the truth God has made in us. If we worship idols or our work, if we covet person or property, if we dishonor those who have given us life, and steal and kill, we destroy what we are. The duty that God imposes on us is not some arbitrary law, but the duty to be true to what we are – limited but loved creatures. Each of the commandments offers life. J Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”, http://liturgy.slu.edu
Fear was thought to be a valid and effective motivator. Perhaps if people had been more open and receptive to God’s love, these commandments could have been phrased more positively, such as:
“You may do nothing that allows you to lessen yourself;
do all you can daily to esteem your dignity.
You may do nothing that in any way causes harm to anyone
whether in spirit or in body –
you must daily work to build up others in every way.
You may not choose what takes you from the arms of God,
because God has chosen to love you and is therefore vulnerable to you.
After all that God has done for you, you have no reason to cause God pain.
This is all of life.”
Today’s Parish, “Discovering God, Day by Day,” 1994)
2nd Reading –1 Corinthians 1: 22-25
The main issue for Paul is the cross. Some however wanted to ignore the cross. For some the cross was a sign of weakness and failure . . . a sign of foolishness and scandal. But to Paul, the cross is life. He was willing to be a fool for Christ Jesus. Christ crucified is God’s gift of wisdom to the world. (M Birmingham, W and W, B and Celebration, March 2003)
Jesus’ life and death that culminated on Calvary was an ultimate sign of God’s unfailing love for us; we can trust this God. Jews saw such suffering as a punishment for sin; the Greeks saw it as madness. Their heroes and heroines triumphed over suffering and evil. But Paul preached a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God. How do we find this God? Is God still with us in the middle of poverty and hunger and sexism and war? Does God see or care about this suffering? Do we find God working, struggling, caring in the midst of our problems? Perhaps today more than ever the cross is an urgently needed sign. Jesus on the cross gives us hope that good can come from evil, suffering can lead to glory, and that death can lead to resurrection. Because of Jesus we can believe that God will strengthen us to take up our cross, as we fight oppression and help those in need. We can say a trusting yes to whatever God asks. It wasn’t easy for Jesus – it won’t be easy for us. But our God guarantees success – and abundant life. Journey to Joy ,23rd Publications, 1985
The Gospel – John 2: 13-25
This same scene is told in Mark 11:15-19; in Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48.
They all happen just before Jesus’ arrest and death. John tells the story at the start. John’s story is right after the Cana story (the wedding at which Jesus changes the water of purification into the wine of celebration) at the beginning of his ministry. By the time this gospel is written, the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed – and the Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah (Christians) had been expelled from the synagogues and separated from the other Jews. What evidence of this is in the reading?
This event might have been one of the most historical events that actually led to Jesus’ death. And, of course, we as Christians believe that Jesus’ death did not have the final answer. This apparent foolishness of Jesus was a part of God’s wisdom. In Jesus we were to realize a new way to God; a new ‘Temple’ was to be built – the Christian community itself was to come to be the very presence, the body of Christ in the world for the benefit of all people.
What is Jesus so angry about? At the time, it was necessary to change the various coins – it was necessary to have animals for temple worship. But it had been that the ‘vendors’ were allowed only in the courtyard of the temple – but now they were inside. Furthermore, the dishonest practices of outdoor market-places may have found their way into the temple: the thumb on the scale, the inflated prices, etc. Jesus knew that humans had been created for more than cheating and being cheated. We had been created to be filled with God’s presence. It was all upside down to find such activity at the very center of this sacred space. Then, in a short time he will be silent and passive at his own trial and suffering. Jesus comes to understand that he must empty himself so God would fill him with his presence – he must be one with us, too, — completely in life, in suffering and in death. Out of all of this, God will bring new life . . . (John Foley, “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Fr. Bob’s homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent…
1st Sunday of Lent B
Did you hear that Pope Francis wants to change the words to the Our Father? I first saw it on Facebook and I thought… well you know… fake news. Buy as I saw it from more reputable sources, I thought it was worth looking into. Of course, you cannot change the words of Jesus, so we are really talking about the translation of those words. And the line he has focused on is one that has troubled me for a long time. “And lead us not into temptation.” Have you ever thought, “I have enough going on in my life without YOU leading me into temptation?” And I think if God were to lead you into temptation, can you really get out of it? As the Pope says, a Father would not do that to his children. He prefers what the French Bishops have…
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1st Reading – Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18
It’s important to know this passage comes from the “Eholistic” source: an oral tradition written down in the Northern half of the Holy Land in the middle of the 8th century BCE. The authors of this particular source seem to have been prophets, disturbed by constant pagan pressures inflicted on their readers. Many of these non-Jewish people actually sacrificed their children to the fertility gods and goddesses they worshiped; if Yahweh were to actually demand the Israelites sacrifice their children, they would do so, no matter the cost. But the writer reinforces their belief in Yahweh as a God of life by reminding them they’re to “redeem” any child they’d sacrifice with an animal. In Abraham’s case, Isaac is redeemed with a ram. In narrating this story, the Eholistic author is more interested in Abraham’s dedication to Yahweh than in the psychological harm such a scenario can inflict on the participants. Abraham, as the first Jew, sets the example for all other Jews. He’s depicted as someone totally loyal to Yahweh. The constant intent to do whatever Yahweh wants is what sets him and his descendants apart from all others. Certainly makes them “holy,” deeply different from those around them, (Dignity USA weekly email for this week).
Notice how Abraham continues to listen to God, even when he hears such a difficult message. In fact because of his faith in a God who is a faithful friend he listens with hope and an expectation that in the end God will bring forth life. Due to this kind of listening, he was able to hear the words: “Do not lay your hands on the boy.” Only this kind of listening can lead to new life and a deeper appreciation of God’s love and power. (“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In reflecting on this passage, Rabbi Harold Kushner wondered if Isaac may have had developmental issues. He was born to elderly parents who had to arrange a marriage for him, so it’s a possibility. Maybe Abraham hearing God’s command could actually have been his own ambivalence about having to raise a special needs child, (The Book of Job, p. 23). Food for thought.
2nd Reading – Romans 8: 31-34
Here we are assured by Paul that God is not only with us – Emmanuel – but God is FOR us. What meaning do you find in this? How is this connected to the 1st reading about Abraham and Isaac?
When Saul was thrown from his legendary ‘high-horse’ and blinded, he awoke as Paul, to know, to love, to follow the One who called him. From that hour forward his life was an unwavering Adsum, Hebrew for “Here I am, Lord!” No other force sustained him, no other love motivated, so that he could say: “If God is for me, who can be against me?” These scriptures challenge us to say the same: “Here, I am, Lord!” (Celebrations, March 2003)
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, “Theology of the Cross”).
The Gospel – Mark 9: 2-10
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil . . .
Because the Holy Spirit over the bent
World with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
High mountains have often been sites for theophanies or ‘godly manifestations;’ clouds that overshadow were seen as signs of the divine presence. Martin Luther King, Jr. probably had this gospel in mind when he said the night before he was killed: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain . . . And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” After King’s death, his experience of the mountaintop inspired his followers to continue his work. Jesus’ disciples were also inspired by such experiences to continue Jesus’ work of spreading the Good News of God’s love – despite the hardships that might entail. We, too, need to look at Jesus, listen to him and be similarly transformed. (Celebrations, March 2003)
Both Moses and Elijah were prophets whose whole lives were transformed by God’s presence and power. Both experienced God on Mt. Sinai – Moses receiving the Law and Elijah receiving God’s power and presence in the silence after a storm. In Jewish thought, clouds were regularly connected with God’s presence: Exodus 16: 10; 19:9; 33:9; 1 Kings 8: 10; 2 Maccabees 2:8. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 210.)
God moments end, and we have to go back down the mountain. The good news is, we can take them with us. We can let those good, wonderful times transfigure us. They can light us up and help us to take on what comes ahead. We can be refreshed. We can know that God enters in and doesn’t go away. Jesus walks back down the mountain with his friends. They are ready to take on what is ahead together. God’s love never goes away, no matter where we are, and we are transformed by it.
As Christians, how do we come down the mountain? Do we keep ourselves “apart” and in tents, or are we challenged to do more? What “tents” separate people in our society today? (Questions posed by Barb Forte for our RCIA meeting this week.)