1st Reading: Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Just before this passage Luke tells us in Acts, that Stephen was stoned and that a severe persecution broke out upon the church in Jerusalem. Persecution did to the church what wind does to seed; it scattered it, and it did produce a greater harvest. As this church was scattered like a farmer’s seed, it carried with it the goodness of God’s Word and Love to be sown in every welcoming heart. Here we see Philip, a devout Jewish Christian, offering the Samaritans (previously seen as deviant, tainted, unclean enemies) this Good News of God’s love and truth. His words of love were matched by works of love, and so healing and joy abounded. Evil was overcome, and abundant life was begun. (Celebration, May 1999)
When true faith and authentic Christianity is lived, joy is generated. Luke is stressing that this out-reach was also authentically a part of the Jerusalem church. This calling of Peter and John to come to Samaria just confirms the right and goodness of this missionary movement. It is not correct to see this as an early separation of baptism and confirmation. Such a separation was not known in the early church. In fact, Luke even has the Holy Spirit come upon believers before baptism as in the case of Cornelius and his household (10:44-48). Also, in Acts 2:38 Luke clearly states that the Spirit is received by those who are baptized. (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
What is it to be “of one accord”? The unity and clarity of thought that is described in this reading is palatable. Remember this when we get to our next reading…
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3: 15-18
It wasn’t and isn’t easy to be Christian; not only do we have to overcome our own prejudices and blind-spots (with the help of Spirit) – but we can be threatened at times by persecution, or at least by misunderstanding and criticism. The community for which this letter was written was being increasingly threatened. On the local level they were despised as evildoers and challengers to sacredly-held codes and values (2:12). Believers were defamed (3:16) vilified (4:4), and insulted (4:14). Christians were seen as lacking in patriotism; when they refused to participate in the feasts of Roman gods and the cult of the emperor, they were seen as traitors. Yet, they were to give back good for any evil; they were to live Jesus’ law of love – ‘in season and out of season’. Their words of love needed to be lived even in the midst of hatred and confusion. The newly baptized are being warned that they have not been promised a ‘rose garden’. Like Jesus, when crosses come, they must pick them up with love and carry on. So must we. (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Hans Kung, a great theologian and scholar, who has been both applauded by many and silenced by his own church, despite his struggles gives testimony to the Spirit of Jesus that is alive in him. He says: “Why do I remain committed? I know what I can hold on to because I believe in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who is alive today, who is the Spirit of God himself, who is the Holy Spirit. This living Spirit enables me and countless others to be truly human; not only to live but also to die – because in everything, both positive and negative, in all happiness and unhappiness, we are sustained by God.” To have this awareness – to believe this Good News – is to have salvation: fullness of life. (Celebration, May, 2002)
This quote by Hans Kung points to the “of one accord” from our 1st reading and nods in this 2nd reading (“sanctify” from Latin, to make holy and “conscience clear”). These words illustrate a point that being closer to God and inviting Spirit to work in our lives involves intention and openness. Richard Rohr in The Naked Now says, “The mind wants a job and loves to process things. The key to stopping this game is, quite simply, peace, silence, or stillness…stop labeling, ranking, and categorizing people and things and just see them…when this happens to you, you are now a living paradox: at one and the same time utterly connected to everybody else in a compassionate and caring way, and absolutely free to be your own self.” Do you hear it?
Remember the word flesh, “sarx”, is the whole person as s/he lives wounded, broken and attention-seeking (little self that is insecure and trapped). Spirit, “Pneuma”, is the whole person when knowing and trusting God (the true, big self that responds to God’s love). We are living into our baptism as we live more in Spirit!
The Gospel: John 14: 15-21
Recall Deacon Ron’s homily on Spirit as our spiritual GPS. We must only believe and trust in Spirit to show us the way, or re-calculate when we stray!
From Living Liturgy, 2004, p. 128:
When does God dwell among us? The gospel says it is when we love, keep Jesus’ word, and believe. Rather than three different tasks, these are really three descriptions of the same action – giving of one’s self – a self-sacrifice that leads to life. And, what does God bring when God dwells among us? God brings us Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to enlighten us, to empower us, to put our troubled, fearful hearts at work and at peace. What does this mean to you?
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:
The word, “Advocate,” is sometimes translated “paraclete,” “counselor” or “comforter” – the Greek word basically means “advocate,” a legal term that is for the “one who stands by the side of a defendant.” From its use in the gospel it seems that it has three functions or activities.
1) It is the continued presence of Jesus on earth after his life/death/resurrection
2) It is a truth-telling Spirit (14:17; 16:13) assuring us that Jesus is not a shameful failure, but the beloved of God.
3) It reminds them of things that Jesus said (14:26) and reveals things Jesus was unable to convey (16: 12-14).
In other words, this Advocate represents divine presence and guidance. It is all we need!
Some thoughts from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium:
“Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!” (p. 3)
“Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (p. 4)
“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (p. 4 quoting, Pope Benedict XVI)
“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.” (p. 8)
1ST READING: ACTS 6: 1-7
Hellenists were congregations of Diaspora Jews (those who had lived outside the Holy Land) but returned to Jerusalem. They were more open to new ideas and less rigid in regard to ritual law than their fellow Jews. Because of this, they were despised and persecuted by the non-Christian Jews, and were eventually driven out of Jerusalem. It was providential because it ended up spreading the new faith (Church History, J. Dwyer. P. 25-27).
St. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons. This is one of the primary roles of deacons to bring alms to the widows. The apostles are beginning to organize themselves. The laying on of hands suggests the idea of being called into formal service. The apostles listened to the needs of the people and responded. How do our deacons do this today?
From Celebration, April 2005: Church is not a monarchy, but a community. Note verse 5: “The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen” . . . Some conclusions from this text about leadership in the church:
* leadership within the church arises from the community’s need
* leadership arises from ‘below’, not from ‘above’
2ND READING: 1 PETER 2: 4-9
It is likely that this reading is taken from an early homily, perhaps given as instruction for candidates for baptism (W&W, Birmingham, p.308). This reading calls us. How does it call you?
The early Christians did not ‘build’ a church until the 4th century; they met in homes and, at times, catacombs – What can we learn from their idea of church?
“chosen race” – “royal priesthood” – “holy (consecrated) nation” What does each mean for you? How does each move us from darkness into God’s light? Christians, the living stones, are joined by Christ himself who is the cornerstone – the foundation that supports the living stones. In the Old Testament no one was to approach the rock of Sinai, under penalty of death. Contrast that with Jesus, the cornerstone, who invites his people to come close to him. He has created something new and wonderful. He has gathered his living stones and formed them into a new people, a new religion (W&W, Birminham, p. 308).
From Celebration, April 2005:
At Vatican II, it was reaffirmed that “the Church is all the people of God.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #9) It overturned the pyramid model, stressing the privileges and responsibilities of all baptized believers. Hans Kung says that “Laypersons do not belong to the Church, nor do they have a role in the Church. Rather, through baptism, they are Church.” Vatican II states: “All are endowed with charisms for the upbuilding of the Church and all share in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetical, and royal. Among all the people of Christ, there is a true equality, a genuine freedom, a profound dignity, a global responsibility, a sense of vocation and a personal union with Christ and his mission” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #30-33,37)
THE GOSPEL: JOHN 14: 1-12
Remember, these words come before the crucifixion in John’s gospel.
Yet, they are truly a life-giving Easter message.
Jesus promises that he is going “to prepare a place for you.” William Barclay explains that this means that Jesus will act as our prodromoi which means a forerunner, a scout . . . it was also used at the time to refer to the small pilot boat sent ahead of great ships to lead them through a “dangerous or difficult harbor.” Jesus tells us that he will go ahead, find a path, and secure our passage from death to life. He just asks us to trust – to “have faith in this.” (Celebration, April 2005)
= THE WAY (the way beyond dead ends): the God we find in Jesus is a faithful God of new beginnings
= THE TRUTH: that which is real, that which will set us free (Jn 8:32)
=AND THE LIFE – that which nurtures, cares, labors, grows, creates, loves
From Mary Birmingham: Only through self-giving love can human beings become their most authentic selves. We were created to love. Jesus shows us what that means. If we live the love that Jesus lived, we will know God, who Is Love. . . the Christians of John’s community were beginning to feel the sting of religious prejudice. They were expelled from the synagogue. The synagogue has been heart and hearth to them. For Yahweh’s chosen people, it was the place of encounter with God. How would they now encounter God? Jesus encouraged them and us, ‘If you know me, you know God.’” ( Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p..311)
From Celebrations, April, 2002:
There is no secret word, no magic potion, no hidden wisdom. If there were, Jesus would surely have found it. We must learn to read the truth between the lies. Jesus is not the Solution; He is the Way. And the best he can give us is some direction along the way.
Fr. Bob’s homily 3rd Sunday of Easter…
3rd Sunday of Easter A
The story of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus is my story. It fits all I believe of Christ. It holds paramount meaning in my life. The Journey Retreat is based on the story of Emmaus. When we started the Albany Catholic Worker, we called it Emmaus House and as I read to my mother the Gospels for funerals as she lay dying, she passed away as I read about Emmaus. I thought, “Of course.” These verses from Luke have always brought me consolation, challenge and joy. I hope you have a favorite Christ story, a story you can have a special relationship with that could speak to you at a first communion, a wedding or a funeral. Emmaus is my story.
I love the story for its multiple images of Jesus upon which I can rely. This time I saw Jesus along…
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1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles: 2: 14a, 36-41
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?
Reflect on this Arthurian tale:
In one of his quests Percival enters the castle of the Fisher King who has been wounded in the groin in a hunting accident, representing a loss of his generative powers. His wound will not heal and as a result, his kingdom becomes a wasteland. There is drought, crops will not grow, pestilence and disease are everywhere, all of which is symbolic of a disease of the soul. The wasteland comes about when one acts not out of authenticity, but out of the power of one’s position. Joseph Campbell calls this wasteland the inauthentic life, a state of being which is barren of the truth of who you are. In ancient cultures, the vitality of the kingdom was dependant on the vitality of the king. Percival, who had always acted spontaneously out of his own nature, for the first time remembers that a knight is not supposed to speak to a king until spoken to first, and even though he is moved to do so, does not ask, “What ails you?” the words that would have healed the king. He is escorted from the castle and when he turns to look back, it is gone. He says, “Alas, what is God? Were He great, He would not have heaped undeserved disgrace on us both. I was in his service, expecting His grace. But I now renounce Him and His service. If He hates me, I shall bear that. Good friend, when your own time comes for battle, let a woman be your shield, (CM, 452). You are not supposed to get a second chance. Percival realizes his mistake and spends many years searching for the castle, during which time he falls in love. Now in this new kind of relationship to a woman, Percival again finds the castle, asks of the Fisher King, “What ails you?” and thus heals the king and restores the land. When Parzival asks ‘what ails you?’ he has experienced the other in himself. The reality is that compassion is in humanity, and is our prime expression.
What cuts to Percival’s heart? What results from his conversion? His own change of heart affects the whole kingdom. Note the parallels in this story to the scripture passage. Jesus is our heart of compassion within us.
2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25
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 the 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
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).
Sheep are naturally very vulnerable animals. If one gets lost, it will fall to the ground and ‘bleat’ loudly until the shepherd finds it. We can learn a lot from sheep!(The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p.77)
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 . . .
Pray about which image seems most meaningful to you.
(“Working with the Word” 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 can’t skip steps. 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.”
Father Bob’s Divine Mercy homily…
2nd Sunday of Easter A (Divine Mercy)
I have always been inspired by the story of that first community of disciples, how “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” They sold everything they had to live together, to give themselves for Christ and to each other. Of course, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Who could fail to see the attraction of those first believers? Yes, I have been inspired by their example, but also haunted. Can we achieve that sort of unity in the complexity of our world today? Short of you giving me everything you own and all of us moving into the rectory together, how can we shimmer like that fist community? How can we burn like a beacon to attract others to the life…
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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 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)
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?
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. How could this be God or God’s servant? (Celebration, 4/13/02)
In Matthew’s account, scriptural passages are added to emphasize that Jesus is fulfilling what has been written. References are made to Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9. Strangely, Matthew misinterprets the Zechariah text which speaks of one animal but in a repeated parallel form as if they are 2 separate animals (so Jesus is somehow riding both?). This is a case of being too literal in the interpretation (R. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 778).
From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible on Matthew II, p. 239 -241:
They shouted “Hosanna!” meaning “Save now!”. It was the cry for help which a people in distress addressed to their king or god. This is a dramatic entrance, and an action by Jesus that brings great meaning beyond words
One of the supreme disasters of Jewish history was the capture of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes about 175BC. Antiochus was determined to stamp out Judaism and to introduce the Greek way of life. He profaned the Temple, to the point of making its chambers into public brothels. But the Maccabees rose against him and rescued their native land. The Temple was restored and purified. See 2 Maccabees 10:7. Perhaps Jesus was entering into Jerusalem with the same intention of cleansing God’s house just like Judas Maccabaeus.
Jesus shows these traits by his entrance into Jerusalem:
- Courage: Despite everyone’s enthusiasm, Jesus knows he is a wanted man. Many might have shown more discretion than valor. This is a deliberate challenge to authority.
- Claim as God’s Messiah: Jesus is a new kind of king. He is suggesting a whole other way of life. It is all or nothing.
- Love: This is a kingship of the heart. A king riding in on an ass often meant that he was coming in peace (A horse was more a sign of war.). Jesus is the king of peace, wanting love not condemnation.
Some questions for reflection this Holy Week:
Who do I do with feelings of loss and emptiness?
How do I face uncertainty, confusion or anxiety?
What does being powerless in a situation lead me to do? How do I cope or respond?
What are symbols of hope that offer me reassurance at times of discouragement or grieving?
What or who is the source of my hope and strength?
What disappointments or hurts or failures are preventing me from moving on with my life?
How have I experienced God’s peace and promise of faithful presence through a friendship in my life?
What do I want to do to remain open to God’s continuing faithful love for me?
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
4th Sunday of Lent A
The man born blind claims that, “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.” He was the first person born with blindness to be cured. But since then, with remarkable advances in medicine, thousands of those born blind have been brought to sight. And their experience is fascinating. As one researcher put it, the moment the bandages are removed from their eyes is not like how it is portrayed in the movies. It is a moment of great confusion. Everything is blurry because the eyes do not know how to coordinate with one another. The vast array of colors means nothing to one without the experience of color. Even objects that have been held and whose shape is known are not understood by the newly sighted for to feel a shape is not to see a shape. …
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The Gospel — John 11: 1-45
The cast of characters…
Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss:
“Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”
Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer.
Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’
by his grace and live to ‘go free’.
The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless.
Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. ( the Greek word is a strong one, ebrimaomai, meaning frustrated, angry, sometimes used to describe a horse snorting) Why? No easy answer.
If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God? Where do you see yourself in the story?
Jesus waited. Scripture uses the word remained, which gives the waiting an intentionality. Lazarus was dead for 4, long days. All hope was lost. But everything is possible with God, right? As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans a couple weeks ago, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts…” (5:5). It was for the glory of God. God’s time is not our time. What wonderful things may lie in wait for you if you hope in the glory of the Lord?
Martha is worried about the stench in the cave when Jesus approaches (as, of course, Martha would!). And don’t we sometimes get stuck in the details of life instead of the bigger picture? Jesus waves her off and focuses on why he is there, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” Jesus is not afraid to come to our stinky, dark places and breathe new life into us! And actually, Jesus does not go into the cave but calls Lazarus out. Jesus calls us OUT of ourselves. And he calls others in to help Lazarus with the bandages. We need the support of our community to jump in and be there with us. Jesus is in the midst of it all. Do you see yourself in this? Our church?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:
John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”
Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did. Lazarus died. And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus. We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time. Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t. And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.
Lazarus dies, and his family grieves. Even Jesus weeps at the loss. But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life! And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him. Death wins the battle, but love wins the war. So we believe. So we profess.
Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering? The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it. When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)
Let us pray…
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of self-sufficiency wherein you do not admit your need for God and for one another.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of preoccupation with yourself and open your eyes to the needs of others.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of excessive busyness; take time to think, to listen, to be quiet and to pray.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of self-imposed obligations; untie yourself from the unimportant, the fleeting and the material so as to be free to experience the essential, the eternal and the spiritual.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb dug deep by apathy and ignorance and be newly awakened and sensitive to the plight of the poor, the oppressed.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of hopelessness and skepticism and be renewed in the knowledge that you are mine, I am yours and we are God’s.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of needless worry and undue anxiety. Know the love of a devoted God. Find courage and freedom here.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of sin and guilt and grief. Know the truth of forgiveness — received and given.
“Come out,” says Jesus,
from the tomb of death and share God’s eternal life and forever love. Amen.
The Gospel — John 9: 1-41
In John’s gospel ‘miracle stories’ are never simple and are never called miracles. They are SIGNS that reveal Jesus. What do you make of this sign or teaching? What do you make of the mud/saliva paste?
e.e.cummings wrote a poem on spring; he called it ‘mud-luscious.’
Jesus spits – he mixes this part of himself with the clay of the earth. (Spit, saliva, in Jesus’ day was thought to have healing properties; it actually does.) He then smears (the Greek word used means anointing) the man’s eyes with this paste and tells him to go and wash. Ordinary, even crude, elements become ways for Jesus to work. This is the essence of our sacraments.
From Celebrations, March 10, 2002:
We are to be like this mud-paste; Jesus mixes into our ‘earthiness’ the healing substance of himself. We are to be people molded by Christ’s truth, transformed by his words. As this ‘mud-paste’ we are to be helping to ‘heal’ the world by being in it: we are ointment not pipelines. We help others to see Jesus more by how we are and how we live then by what we pass along.
The word Siloam means ‘Sent’ – so does the word apostle. Sacraments are ‘signs’ – rituals – that send us forth; every Mass also ends with a sending forth . . . What does it mean to you to be sent?
The story is about the struggle to see –what does this mean? Have you ever struggled to see?
At first, the blind man only knew Jesus as a man, then as a prophet; at the end he calls him, Lord – a beautiful growth in faith . . .What did knowing Jesus as Lord ‘cost’ the man? What does it cost you?
From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
The original story in this gospel might have simply been about how a man was born blind and was healed by Jesus. This story was then later expanded due to the suffering and needs of the community for which John was writing. He was taking an experience of Jesus and applying it to the present situation. Isn’t that how the Spirit of the Risen Lord usually works? So John’s gospel has a trial and expulsion from the synagogue of Jewish converts to Christianity. This did not happen in Jesus’ day, but it did happen to those of John’s community. For this community to live through this very difficult time, Jesus must be seen and accepted as the true Light of the World that can help them overcome the darkness in which they were living. The washing in the pool of Siloam also suggests a further connection with baptism since the early Church often called baptism an ‘illumination” (photismos).
(Also, from Celebration, March 10, 2002)
From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
Why is this reading presented during Lent? Because it is pointing to the even greater healing that Easter offers us. We need to prepare for this. Jesus himself will suffer from the blindness of the world and will die because of the blindness of evil. Jesus will descend into the unseeing darkness of mortality, death, and by doing this he will show that love – God’s love –is stronger than death. By his death the world can be healed of its hatred, fear, insecurity; it can finally, once and for all, be assured of God’s love and power to bring good out of even the worst of evils. For, it is the crucified One who is the Risen One. We need to admit that we are like this blind man; we cannot see very well. Our eyes need to be opened. Due to Jesus, we can begin to glimpse and trust God’s answer to blindness, suffering, and sin.
Martin Luther King Jr. says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Her teacher Anne Sullivan signed the word ‘water’ as she pumped from the well. It was in that moment that Helen had comprehension that words stood for things. She says, “She (Sullivan) awakened in me a long forgotten memory…the realization of that word…the touch of the water called my soul to life…she brought me into the light again.”
Some thought from Henri Nouwen in Here and Now:
. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (p. 47)
“What really counts is our willingness to let the immense sufferings of our brothers and sisters free us from all arrogance and from all judgments and condemnations and give us a heart as gentle and humble as the heart of Jesus, “ (p. 78).