- 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?
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 )
The cross is a symbol of our salvation. Each time we look upon and venerate the cross; each time we cross ourselves in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, we profess our willingness to take Jesus seriously, to live the radical Gospel fully, and to die for our beliefs, our values and commitment to God, to Jesus and one another (Sanchez, PD, NCR for 8/29-9/11).
1st Reading – Numbers 21:4b-9
What logic is behind this reading and command? Why should a victim have to look at that which can kill them? The reason becomes a bit clearer if we look at the meaning of the snakebites which is the same thing as looking at the nature of sin, since the people had revolted against God and Moses. They were not even grateful any longer for the free bread that came to them from heaven. God sent the snakebites to punish them – not vindictively but as a ‘reality-check’ –considering how their sin and ingratitude had distanced them from God, the source of life – discovering later in their pain that they were suffering, lonely and God-forsaken. The only answer is to open the door again, and so they do that. They own up to their sin and ask for God’s help once again. Moses is told to make a serpent out of bronze, and so he does. This serpent has no sting; they can look on it without fear and without death. They can face their wrong-doing knowing that it has been taken up into the splendor of God’s on-going love which has brought them out of slavery to new life – a love that will continue to lead them if they but follow. (Fr. John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Philippians 2: 6-11
This early Christian hymn that Paul is using should help us to appreciate how freely God gives his love to us and how completely this love is revealed in Christ Jesus, our Lord – the only one that is worthy and safe to be called Lord.
This is the Paschal Mystery: that by emptying ourselves, we may rise to new life. Ronald Rolheiser in the Holy Longing says, “Like all things temporal, our understanding of God and the church too must constantly die and be raised to new life. Our intentions may be sincere and noble, but so too were Mary Magdala’s on Easter morning when she tried to ignore the new reality of Jesus so as to cling to what had previously been, “ (p. 162). What needs to be emptied in you to bring about new life?
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he talks a lot about this emptying as a way of detachment. In making personal decisions, we should pray to get to the point where we could go either way in deciding (emptying ourselves). That way, we are truly leaving it in God’s hands to make the decision, and thus doing God’s will. He says, “One strives earnestly not to desire that money or anything else, except when one is motivated solely by the service of God our Lord; in such a way that the desire to be able to serve God our Lord better is what moves one to take or reject any object whatsoever,” (#155).
The Gospel – John 3: 13-17
God: all life begins with God; it is God who sent Jesus.
Loved the world: Here is the motive for all of God’s activity – God is love!
Gave his only Son: God gave in two senses – first, in the Incarnation God’s Word, God’s Message became flesh in the world; second, this Son in whom God is perfectly present endured death, the ‘lifting up’ on the cross.
Believes: God asks us to respond to his love – believe in Jesus. This believing in John’s gospel is always an entering into a deep and abiding personal relationship with Jesus.
Not perish/eternal life: God’s plan is NOT for human destruction, condemnation, or punishment. God wishes us to trust his love so that this love can lead us to an eternal life where death is destroyed, wrong is righted, and peace/shalom is established forever. This is the Good News we exalt on today’s feast.
(“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)
In Elizabeth Johnson’s Consider Jesus, she compares 2 theologians’ views on the cross. Jurgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, was a prisoner of war during WWII and wrote The Crucified God. His view of salvation is that out of love, God freely chooses to be affected by what affects others, so that when people sin and suffer this influences the divine being. He saw the cross as an event between God and God. While Jesus suffers on the cross, both Father and Son are suffering, though in different ways. Each suffers the loss of the other, yet they have never been so deeply united in one love. In their common loving will to save the world, regardless of the cost, what is revealed is the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and Son. At Jesus’ death his Spirit, God’s Love, is let loose on the world. Only if all disaster is within God can God affect salvation. (Think of all the current disasters today and how God may reveal Godself in them.)
Compare Moltmann with Edward Schillebeeckx, a Belgian Roman Catholic who is a Dominican and contributed greatly to Vatican II. He says God wills life and not death, joy and not suffering, both for Jesus and for everyone else. The cross reveals the tension between God and sinful humanity. God, as pure positivity, enter into compassionate solidarity with Jesus on the cross, keeping faith with him, not abandoning him. God is present in the mode of absence. He keeps vigil until human freedom has played itself out and Jesus is destroyed. Then God overcomes the evil of death through the act of resurrection, conquering and undoing the negativity wrought by human sinfulness. We are saved not by the cross but despite it
Neither theologian is right or wrong…it is all just thinking aloud about knowing God. Jesus is the Compassion of God. Jesus is in solidarity with us, and we are all united with God in Jesus by being in compassionate solidarity with all those who suffer.
Let us pray:
Spirit of Fire,
You revealed yourself through the burning bush
And the fiery courage of Pentecost.
Fiery Spirit, Source of all creative power,
Kindle your Holy Spark within me,
Breathe into me your Sacred Passion,
Fill me with your Flame until I have become fire,
Offering warmth and light to the world. AMEN
In the spiritual life we keep our practices, spend time in prayer, seek God in all things, and yet at some point even all this is not enough – and we are asked to become fire. Becoming fire means letting our passion for life and beauty ignite us in the world. It means, as St. Ignatius of Loyola wisely said, that we are called to set the whole world on fire with our passion for God. (Paintner, water, wind, earth & fire, p. 60) Consider the readings today within the context of becoming fire.
1st Reading: Jeremiah 20: 7-0
In this passage we hear Jeremiah’s lament, his intensely personal outcry to God. His enemies for awhile seemed more powerful than ever; his failure was painful and seemed final. Yet, in the end, Jeremiah survived his dark night of the soul remaining faithful in God’s service. The word that is translated as ‘duped’ or ‘enticed’ is the word that is used to describe the enticement involved in the seduction of a young woman by a man. Jeremiah claims to be ‘seduced’ by God into servicing and proclaiming God’s Word. It is a bold lament, filled with disappointment, anguish and love. (Celebration, August 28, 2005)
How often do we get stuck in a situation and can’t see our way out? Sometimes we make decisions and dig our heels in despite new information, or despite the nagging that maybe we should be more open (A disagreement with a friend? A work decision? A long-time family rift?). It is in those moments that the fire of Spirit could burn within you, and be trans-formative.
2nd Reading– Romans 12: 1-2
Paul tells us to “Offer our bodies to God.” This is very different from the Greek culture/theology that saw the body as only a prison-house, something to be despised and even shame-filled. But Paul reminds us that Christians believe that our bodies, our very real selves, belong to God. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation assures us that God did not ‘stand apart’ from our bodies, but in our very flesh God came to show us his presence and love. Paul is telling them and us that it is the everyday ‘bodily’ activities of ordinary work in a shop or shipyard, factory or office that we are to offer to God as worship. In fact, the word used for worship is latreia, a noun form of the verb that means to labor or work for hire. It is not slavery, but the voluntary undertaking of work, a livelihood– that to which a person gives his life. So it is used in the Bible to mean the service or worship of God. In other words, Paul is saying that true worship is the offering of everyday life to God. This demands a transformation of body and mind; we must undergo a change. Our self-centered minds must become Christ-centered. We should not try to match our lives to all the fashions and interests of the world. We are not to be chameleons, but Christians. From the inside out, we must take on the mind and heart of Christ, being the Body of Christ in the world – the ‘job description’ for a Christian. Christian ethics is not so much a code, as it is a person…(William Barclay, Romans, 155-158) What does this kindle in you?
The Gospel: Matthew 16: 21-27
The ‘rock’ that last week Jesus was going to build his church upon has now become a stumbling stone – an obstacle in the way of Jesus’ (and the church’s) true mission. Suffering is not the goal, but it is often the cost of discipleship. This passage is in some ways like the story of the temptations in the desert. Peter is trying to entice Jesus with the vision of an earthly kingdom. Although Jesus rebukes Peter, in the correction is also an invitation to follow him. Like Peter we must learn that it is not enough to just speak the words of faith about Jesus; we must follow in his footsteps. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496)
We often feel that suffering means that something has gone wrong – that God is absent or punishing. In the light of Jesus and his cross, suffering can actually be a more intense experience of God’s presence. This is the dynamic that we call the paschal mystery – that to lose life, is sometimes to find the fullness of life. Thinking like humans, we too often focus only on the suffering and ‘death’ of an experience. Thinking like God is to focus on the fullness of life (its glory and blessings) that God wishes to offer us. The paschal mystery is not just a concept. It is a turning of our hearts and minds toward God trusting always that His life and love can work in us – even when we suffer, even when things go all wrong, even when we fail. We need to ‘get behind Jesus’ so we can follow him – to let go of our own preconceptions and worries letting God lead us to life – a life so full it overflows into eternal life. (Living Liturgy, 2002, 228-229)
To deny oneself is a phrase that has very Semitic origins. It is an idiom that means to ‘love less’ or to ‘give lower priority to’ oneself, meaning that we are to commit ourselves totally to God. It can be a dangerous phrase if taken out of context or given a negative meaning that implies that one is to subordinate oneself to others in a way that is not life-giving in a true and healthy sense. What Matthew is trying to say is that as children of God, we are to subordinate ourselves to God; it is in a way a celebration of this ownership by God. Christians are to be mutually subordinate to one another – not oppressed or oppressors. Embracing one’s cross means that we ‘put up with’ and accept whatever difficulties and shame come our way because we are trying to follow Jesus. Jesus’ death on a cross was a shameful death, yet he did not turn away from God’s way of love and truth. To follow Jesus may mean persecution or ridicule or hostility or other difficulties (like it did for Matthew’s community). These we must accept knowing with Paul that all is loss compared with “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . to know him and the power of his resurrection.” See Philippians 3:8b-11. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496) What meaning (and questions) do you find in all this?
John Pilch also cautions us to read this section knowing that it comes out of a culture “where speech is more evocative than explicit.” This is language intended to call us – to awaken us – to God’s love and God’s vision of what is honorable and important in life. But Jesus can also see the ‘handwriting on the wall.’ He is making an ever-growing number of powerful enemies. Yet, Jesus declares forcefully that this ominous future is also filled with God’s purpose and God’s truth. He challenges Peter and his followers to ‘get behind him’ and travel on — doing what God wills, not what might be convenient or easy. (The Cultural World of Jesus, 132, and “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Jesus saves – that is the message. Jesus saves US. That is the fire burning. That is what can lift us up and keep us on the path. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” The fire grows as we help one another on our paths. Do we allow our eyes to meet and spark a connection or we turn away? What inner work will help ignite the fire of love?
Let us pray:
Spirit of Refining Fire,
Help me to release what no longer serves me
To make room for your light to fill me.
Blessings of fire be upon me
May the light of God illuminate me
And may the flame of love burn brightly in me
May I discover each day anew my own hidden fire
And enter it fully. AMEN