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)
1st Reading – Samuel 3: 3b — 10, 19
Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets –A time of transition . . .This is a ‘classic’ story about discerning God’s call in our lives. What steps do you see in this story about discernment? Have you ever experienced God calling? How have you experienced any “twists and turns’ in this calling?
Some people who have experienced the twists and turns of God’s calls:
Moses Jeremiah Mary Paul Francis of Assisi St. Teresa of Calcutta Thomas Merton Martin Luther King all of us ?!
“Our lives have been shaped not just by one but by many calls from God, and God speaks not just with one voice but with many.” (Celebration, 2000)
From Mary Birmingham:
The Books of Samuel recall a time of transition. From the time of Joshua, Israel had been governed by a loose tribal confederacy. These books tell of the move to one central government that reached its pinnacle in the reigns of David and Solomon. The major figure during this time of political change was Samuel, a late-eleventh-century B.C. voice of the times. The books span the time from Samuel’s birth and childhood through the reign of David and his sons. David is remembered as Israel’s ‘golden age.’ Prior to David’s reign, Israel was suspicious of kings. These books reflect these suspicions. Many preferred the tribal system over the monarchy. The Books of Samuel reflect these tensions. The first king, Saul (who Samuel anointed), was a great disappointment. David came and was able to unify the tribes and to establish the city of Jerusalem as the capital: it was on the border between the north and the south and, thus, acceptable to both. The high point of these books is Yahweh’s promise to David that his reign would last forever. Israel would remember this promise as a sign of God’s protection during future difficult times. (Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 451-451)
Are you familiar with the Lord? How does God reveal Godself to you? And where? Notice God comes to Samuel right where he is-in bed! Of course, we don’t find out what God says to Samuel in this reading, but God reveals that he is going to punish Eli because his sons blasphemed (1 Samuel 3:11-14). It may have been left out of the lectionary because the point being made is God calls us to action, and does so where we are.
2nd Reading – I Corinthians 6: 13c-15a, 17-20:
Paul is speaking about what was common in Greek thinking at the time, that the body is separated from the soul. Because of the separation, if one sinned, that was the body’s fault and not the soul. So sin away! Paul is telling them (and us!) that our souls are enfleshed. We are body AND soul for the Lord. How does this affect our lives today? How do you use your whole self for God’s work?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2000: Paul is trying to help us realize that we are people of Incarnation. Our God took on human flesh, and we encounter God not only – maybe not even primarily – in the hour of prayer, but in the many other hours of encounter with one another. Where we gather, Jesus is. If God is revealed to us in flesh and blood, then what happens to us in the flesh is not insignificant. Our sexuality, our stewardship of our health, our respect and care for life – especially for those who are weak, ill or voiceless – all of this has great importance.
From Ronald Rolheiser’s blog entry, “In Praise of Skin”: In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it. Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified. That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.
The Gospel – John 1:35 – 42
We go right from Epiphany on Sunday, to the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, to Jesus in ministry now. Jesus grew up and into his calling in a week!
What’s in a name? Jesus is called the Lamb of God, Rabbi and Messiah in this pericope. Simon gets the new name of Cephas, or Peter. Think about the different names you are called, maybe nicknames, terms of endearment, maybe not-so-kind names in traffic! Names are how we are known to people. Names make us unique. Names can sometimes hurt. Sometimes we have pet names for people. When your name is remembered by an old friend, it makes you feel good (and not if it is forgotten). Jesus always knows your name (like Cheers!). You are unique, called and special in Jesus’ eyes always.
The title, Lamb of God, has many overtones and shades of meaning. It obviously was an important title for Jesus in John’s community. It contains a rather compact wealth of Christological information. Ray Brown and William Barclay point out the various meanings and images connected with this phrase.
- Passover Lamb: By whose blood the Israelite slaves were saved from death (Exodus 12). This was also celebrated by the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and evening in the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Suffering Servant Lamb: In whose suffering others would find healing and strength (Isaiah 53:7).
- Triumphant Lamb: Whose mission it was to overcome evil and reign over all peoples of the earth (Revelation 7:17, plus it is used 29 times throughout the book).
As Barclay says, this title sums up “the love, the sacrifice, the suffering, and the triumph of Christ.” (Celebration, 2000, and The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, by William Barclay, p. 80-82)
More thoughts from Barclay:
It is John the Baptist that calls Jesus the Lamb of God. Once again we see him pointing beyond himself. He must have known very well that to speak to his disciples about Jesus like that was to invite them to leave him and transfer his loyalty to this new and greater teacher; and yet he did it. There was no jealousy in John. He had come to attach men and women not to himself but to Christ. There is no harder task than to take the second place when once the first place was enjoyed. But as soon as Jesus emerged on the scene John never had any other thought than to send people to him.
Notice that Jesus TURNED to the disciples. It is God who takes the first step. And what does he ask? “What are you looking for?” What are YOU looking for? What’s your aim and goal? What are you trying to get out of life? Whether you are a young person or retired, this is a question for all of us.
Andrew seems to be the man of introductions, because that is all he ever does in Scripture. He does so here, in John 6:8-9 when he brings the by with the loaves and fishes to Jesus and in John 12:22 when he brings enquiring Greeks to Jesus. Like John the Baptist, it must have brought Andrew joy to bring people to Jesus. And he is often named as Peter’s brother, as if he was second fiddle to Peter. He seems to be a humble, loyal servant of God.
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, p. 457:
The readings for this Sunday remind us that “all of salvation history can be summarized as the process in which God is in constant search of human beings. God is the initiator. But the invitation must be accepted in faith and in freedom. It is an invitation to respond. We are told what that response involves: action. Today’s gospel is pregnant with action words – see, stay, hear, believe, come, watch. These verbs evoke the acts, which lead from one’s initial discovery of the Lord to the resolute commitment to follow him in order to be near him . . .
1ST READING: ACTS 2: 1-11
Luke is telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech. In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is the Spirit! (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336; Celebration, May2002)
Every essential step in Acts of how witness was borne to Christ from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth is guided by the Spirit, whose presence becomes obvious at great moments where the human agents would otherwise be hesitant or choose wrongly (R. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, p. 68). Isn’t this profoundly hopeful and encouraging?
2ND READING: 1 CORINTHIANS 12: 3-13
In Corinth, they seemed to feel that ‘spectacular’ gifts such as speaking in strange tongues were more impressive gifts. Those who did not display such wonder-filled gifts were seen as inferior. Paul is trying to help them set their priorities straight. He wants to ground them in the reality that it is Jesus, the crucified one, who is called Lord. The Spirit of this Jesus gives us gifts that are for the good of all. No one gift is to be prized over another – except perhaps love (1 Cor. 13). Through baptism, we are one body – the body of Christ. Through Eucharist we “drink of the one Spirit” — together we are to nourish and build up the entire body that is the very presence of Jesus in the world. (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336)
The term ‘body’ (soma, in Greek) means the whole person – the whole human being as he lives in relationship with and for others – the way we are REAL for each other. Paul is using the metaphor in 2 ways:
- As a body has different parts yet is one body, so are we.
- We, as church, are a living organism: Christ’s body in the world. We derive our life from Jesus; and, it is the way Jesus remains involved in our history, relating to us – to each other.
As we experience and LIVE Jesus’ presence in His Word and Eucharist, we are to BE that presence in the world. The Spirit is both the source of our unity AND our diversity. Our hope, our consolation, our strength and challenge is in the Spirit who is God-with-us. (from notes taken from John Dwyer’s talks on this subject)
Martin Luther’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers emphasizes that each Christian has a vocation, a calling, by virtue of their standing or office in the world. It is through faith, for Luther, that one accepts one’s divinely appointed standing and lives out that faith through the good works of daily life, whether as a cobbler, painter, spouse, or son. Each of these paths gives glory to God…For work to be a calling means it is recognized as both a gift and a response. It is more than a desire to do something for others; it is felt as an imperative that I must do this, regardless of how difficult. In that sense work is experienced as a calling that brings both joy and fulfillment. (Cahalan, K., Introducing the Practice of Ministry, p. 27).
THE GOSPEL: JOHN 20: 19-23
From The Vatican II Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, (translated by Bill Huebsch, chapter one):
‘This Spirit is a fountain of living water springing up to life eternal! . . .
Working through the ordinary lives of us all,
the Spirit gives the Church everything it needs . . .
Praying through the heart of the faithful and dwelling in us as in a temple,
The Spirit unifies us all in love . . .
Life in this church is sometimes messy because the Church includes everyone
with all their various talents and desires.
We would end up in a mess with all this if we did not have Christ to lead us. . .
Christ wants us to love each other, to endure sorrow with one another,
to share happiness, to forgive each other freely,
all in a family-like lifestyle.
Therefore, whoever leads us as the Church toward a community of love . . .
real love lived out in everyday life, that person speaks for Christ.’
This in-between-time is a time for a “significant pause” – a pause that refreshes!
The Spirit is always a gift freely given, but also ‘waited upon’ – constantly sought anew in prayer. This Spirit is the powerful, tangible presence of the Risen Christ who strengthens us to work for the good of all. The Spirit is not given to answer our every manipulative request. The Spirit is the gratuitous, unmerited gift of God’s love and action in our lives. In order to welcome this Spirit and be ready to respond, we are called to prayer and to self-sacrificing discipleship. (M Birmingham, W& W Workbook for Year A, p. 330)
1st Reading: Acts 1: 12-14
Jesus was “taken up to heaven”. . . What is ‘heaven’ to you?
The eleven, so important to Luke’s gospel, are named, as is Mary the mother of Jesus. This is an indication of the parallel between the Spirit’s overshadowing of Mary at the conception of Jesus, and the Spirit’s overshadowing her and the other disciples at the birth of the Church. There is great significance in the coming together of Jesus’ followers, not only as individuals but also as one body. (Foundations in Faith, p. 101) What experiences of gathering together with family and friends during times of confusion or anticipation have you had? Why was it important to be together…what was the result of your coming together?
Prayer is a part of all of our readings today. Since the twelve play such a key role as witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and the subsequent gospel proclamation, Luke sees it as essential that they be at full complement before the coming of the Spirit. Mary, Jesus’ mother is the living personification of faith, the “brothers” of Jesus and the women (who were probably at the crucifixion) are all gathered together to pray (R. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 357). Margaret Guenther says, “…there is no such thing as a private Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is a family affair: it is lived in the midst of relationships with God and those around us,” (The Practice of Prayer, p. 10). What does prayer do for you?
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 4: 13-16
In Kittel’s Theological Dictionary, it states: Greek, doxa (glory) – Hebrew, kabod, have these connotations: honor, splendor, divine radiance, something of great importance, that which reveals God’s very nature. It is God’s self-manifestation; it is what shows forth God’s impressiveness, importance, splendor! How is this connected to the “sufferings of Christ” and our sufferings? This reading is a warning about coming hardship and trials. As Christ was triumphant in the face of the horror of the cross, so we must trust that any of our trials and sufferings are transitory and are as nothing compared to the goodness and glory of God’s love for us. Any ‘dying’ that we must do is to be seen as an opportunity to share more fully in the paschal mystery of eternal life – a gift we have now and for ever more. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2004 & M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Wbk. For Yr. A, p. 329)
Rob Bell, in his podcast series on Alternative Wisdom:
- Pre-conventional Wisdom: unaware that there’s a way things are usually done, against the rules
- Conventional Wisdom: the rules, how things are done
- Post-conventional Wisdom: mindful bending or application of the rules, resisting or moving beyond rules because of reasons
You have to learn conventional wisdom before you can get to post-conventional. It’s the wisdom after wisdom. This is what Peter is talking about. Jesus showed us that he suffered because of evil in the world. If we want to be like Jesus, then we might have to as well. But it is all for good. Knowing that can bring us peace and glorifies God. It is a deep knowing that abides with us now. It is the other side of knowing…does that make sense? How can you incorporate that in your life?
The Gospel: John 17: 1-11
What does it mean that Jesus “revealed God’s name”? Kittel states: “It is a common belief of antiquity that the name is not just a label, but part of the personality of the one who bears it . . .the name carries will and power. The “name conjures up the person” carrying a real sense of presence and power. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged, 694)
Another time to ponder Ronald Rolheiser’s discussion of the Paschal Mystery in The Holy Longing, chapter 7:
The Paschal Mystery is a cycle for rebirth; this is what Jesus taught and lived.
There are two kinds of death:
Terminal death — a death that ends life and ends possibilities.
Paschal death – a death that while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life.
There are two kinds of life:
Resuscitated life – when one is restored to a former life and health.
Resurrected life – this is an entirely new way of life. Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life and one within which he would not have to die again.
Jesus gives us a pattern in which with his help we, too, can experience this Paschal Mystery – throughout our lives – in many little deaths and risings – until someday we enter into the ultimate experience of this mystery – which is really God’s love for us – calling us always to fully experience his eternal love and life.
- Good Friday . . . “the loss of life – real death”
- Easter Sunday . . . “the reception of new life”
- The Forty Days . . . “a time for readjustment to the new and for grieving the old”
- Ascension . . . “letting go of the old and letting it bless you, the refusal to cling”
- Pentecost . . .”the reception of new spirit for the new life that one is already living”
In more common language of our day this means:
- “Name your deaths”
- “Claim your births”
- “Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality”
- “Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you its blessing”
- “Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living”
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.
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.”
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.
1st Reading – Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
This is from Second Isaiah – written during the Babylonian Exile. This servant was to help free these exiled Jews; it was a most difficult assignment. But then, God expands the scope even more. This servant and his people were to be a light to the nations. God’s concerns are not limited to any one race, or ethic group. God’s power to save wishes to expand “to the ends of the earth.” Everything and everybody is to be brought to wholeness and freedom (that is what salvation means). Celebration, Jan. 2002
As Jesus was called to be this servant, this light, so are we called by our baptism to bring the light of God’s love and to ‘put on the Lord Jesus.’ How do you respond to this reading?
This may seem like a ‘big’ order when too often we feel more like a morning fog than the light of Christ. Yet, God chooses us. The more we choose God’s way of love over our usual selfishness and preoccupation, the more the radiance of God shines forth. Prayer connects us to this Source. Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan 2002
2nd Reading — 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
The next four Sundays we will read from Paul’s letter to the early Christian community in Corinth. This city was a wealthy busy seaport as it had two harbors, one open to Asia and one open to Italy. It was a veritable melting pot of people, cultures and religions. After it was conquered by Rome in 146 BC, it was re-founded as a Roman colony in 44 BC. It had a large Italian population and a sizable Jewish community. It was a place of many shrines to a variety of gods and goddesses. The Corinthian Christians would have been confronted on a daily basis by all of this variety, vivid images, and temptations. Paul was challenged to help them come to know the one God we find in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Celebration, January, 2002
Notice how many times Jesus’ name is said in this short introduction? Right at the beginning of this letter, Paul has Jesus at the forefront. It was a difficult letter dealing with a difficult situation…Paul goes right to the love of Christ to deal with it. Notice Paul calls it the church of God, not the church of Corinth. To Paul, wherever an individual congregation might be, it was a part of the one Church of God. Also notice how he describes a Christian: one that is sanctified in Christ, called to be holy and who calls upon Jesus name. Wm Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series
Who is Sosthenes? A friend of Paul’s and someone who was known in Corinth. It was a common name in those times. Sosthenes is mentioned again in Acts 18:17 but it is unclear if they are the same (In Acts, he is a leader of the synagogue, where here it is not known if he is Jewish or not.). The name means “saving strength”. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible and The Jerome Biblical Commentary
The Gospel – John 1: 29-34
John calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’ – it is a title with many meanings.
3 meanings in particular are –
Passover Lamb (Exodus 12: 6-13): The Passover Lamb recalls the time in Exodus when the Israelite slaves were told to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorpost and lintels of their homes so that death would not touch them. This Passover led to their freedom.
Suffering Servant Lamb (Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12): The fourth Suffering Servant song in Isaiah describes a servant who goes like an innocent, oppressed, condemned Lamb to the slaughter – yet from this death comes new life and goodness.
Victorious Lamb (Rev. 5:6; 7:17; 22:1): The glorious Lamb that we find in Revelation is the lamb that has passed through suffering and death and now becomes the source of life-giving water; all humans can be freed by his blood.
We believe that Jesus is this threefold lamb – this lamb who takes away our sin and insecurity giving us new life and peace – alive with God’s grace and set afire with his love for the sake of the world and in service of his word. Celebration, January, 2002
This is a different picture of Jesus’ baptism. We are hearing it through the eyes of John the Baptist, as he was there and witnessing to this miraculous event. You know yourself that you give more credibility to stories that are told as seen vs. stories that are hearsay. He speaks as though he was forewarned of this baptism. Then John the Baptist calls Jesus the Son of God. It is very clear Jesus is center stage. John the Baptist is playing second fiddle. Is Jesus center stage in your life?
During this time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday it is good to remember his hope and vision for a universal ‘salvation’ for all people. As he chose to live Jesus’ words in a world of difficulties, he, too, has become an example for all of us. Let us recall his words that were delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, August 28, 1963:
“I have a dream that one day . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood . . . I have a dream that one day . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers . . . I have a dream that one day every hill and mountain will be made low . . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope . . . this is our faith . . .With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to struggle together . . .”
On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the very essence of God – and how we experience this essence. And so, by this celebration we hope to come to experience this mystery more deeply within our real and everyday lives. This God of love, truth and life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be loved, experienced, and lived.
From Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God, “Trinity: The Living God of Love”:
Christians do not believe in three gods but in one. What is particular to this faith is the belief that this one God has graciously reached out to the world in love in the person of Jesus Christ in order to heal, redeem, and liberate…
It lifts up God’s gracious ways active in the world through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, and finds there the fundamental revelation about God’s own being as self-giving communion of love . . . This is about “an encounter with divine Mystery” . . . experiencing the saving God in a threefold way as beyond them, and with them, and within them . . .
‘Trinity theology’ too often has presented its findings as if they were a literal description of a self-contained Trinity of three divine persons knowing and loving each other. This, of course, is not the case, no such literal description is possible . . . we must think with humility. Our “God is not two men and a bird” even though artists have often depicted the Trinity this way. This art is a meditation not a photograph. (207-208)
God is love – God lives as this mystery of love. We humans are created in this image. “Knowing God is impossible unless we enter into a life of love and communion with others.” “The church’s identity and mission pivot on this point . . . Only a community of equal persons related in profound mutuality, pouring out praise of God and care for the world in need, only such a church corresponds to the triune God it purports to serve.” (223)
“The point is, with the three circling around in a mutual, dynamic movement of love, God is not a static being but a plenitude of self-giving love, a saving mystery that overflows into the world of sin and death to heal, redeem, and liberate. The whole point of this history of god with the world is to bring the world back into the life of God’s own communion, back into the divine dance of life (p. 214).
1st Reading – Proverbs 8: 22 – 31
The Book of Proverbs is sort of an ‘Owners manual for the Jewish mind, heart and hands. All the chapters tell the reader about a spirit of right living: a life of discipline, restraint, just judgment, and relational sensitivity. This passage is a poetic presentation of how Wisdom assisted in creation. The goodness of creation and of ourselves is affirmed so that we reverence and use well all of that creation. Larry Gillick, S.J., http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistr/053010.html
This passage in the Old Testament is considered typology…a foreshadow or hint of what may be understood further in the New Testament. Trinity is not a concept that was revealed well in OT, but this is a prefigurement: the idea that the Father had company in creation.
2nd Reading – Romans 5: 1-5
Paul insists that standing firm in the midst of trials yields to endurance and a firm hope. For Paul, the assurance that salvation was a free gift for all inclusively was based on his belief in God’s love shown to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was Paul’s firm belief in the triune nature of God that would later be the foundation upon which theologians based the doctrine of Trinity. For Paul it was the Christian anchor: hope and endurance come through faith in the Triune God’s transcendent power! (Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 554) How has hope and endurance helped you in the midst of trial?
The Gospel – John 16: 12-15
This passage continues the Farewell Discourse of the Last Supper that Jesus has with his disciples. Note how gentle Jesus is in not wanting to overwhelm them by only feeding them bits of information that they are able to understand (Think of how we teach our children!). “Spirit” in this piece of scripture in Greek is “paraclete”…one who stands by us. We have a God that stands forever with us. How does this speak to you?