Journal Archive 2013 CYCLE C

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Sunday, November 24, 2013
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
Feast of Christ The King
Luke 23:35-43

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

“(The Messiah) will raise a banner for the nations . . . . They will swoop down on Philistia’s the slopes to the west; together they’ will plunder the people to the east.” [Isaiah 11]

These words from Isaiah are a fair sample of what the people Jesus preached to expected to see in the Messiah. We have a saying, “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” On the contrary, if it doesn’t do anything ducky, it’s most likely not a duck. There’s little wonder that very few people who saw and listened to Jesus thought him the Messiah they’d been awaiting.

Before we start feeling too superior to those who missed what we consider obvious, we should ask ourselves, have we actually made such a different appraisal of Jesus? We’re very comfortable accepting Jesus as our Messiah for ritual and theological purposes but how about for practical purposes? Do we consider Jesus the leader of our lives, the one who sets the tone and direction of our daily interactions?

The issue isn’t what we believe about Jesus. The crucial issue isn’t whether or not we pray to Jesus. The issue isn’t whether we read about Jesus in the Bible or hang a cross on the wall of our office. The issue is whether we feed people who are hungry as Jesus did. Do we work to see that the sick – especially the sick with little ability to care for themselves – are healed? Do we think that loving and caring about those who oppose our ideas and priorities make sense? Do we believe that the world will change for the better – that it will become a loving and just community? Do we think that such a future is worth risking everything for and encouraging those we love to risk the same? These are issues that determine whether or not we accept Jesus as our leader. They reveal much more about Jesus’ role in our lives than crosses on walls or Bibles on bed stands.

Love God; Love Life
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 21:5-19

There’s a strain in Christian spirituality that urges us not to overly involve ourselves with things of this life. The core of this advice is to keep our eyes and hearts focused on God who, presumably, is above daily concerns. The corollary of such concentration on God is the idea that life is passing while eternity is forever. The wise person, therefore, pays more attention to his eternal destiny than to concerns for the transient here and now.

A close look at the teaching and life of Jesus offers a different understanding. Certainly, Jesus encouraged his followers to be cautious about involving themselves in life as it is. The reason, however, wasn’t that life is of little importance. Rather, he taught, God is in the midst of transforming life. Instead of withdrawing from life, he encouraged his follower to immerse themselves as deeply as possible in the divine process of change. Invest yourselves in life’s future – in god’s future, not in life’s status quo, he instructed them.

The biggest danger to our lives and relationships with our Creator isn’t that we’ll commit some huge sin or horrendous crime. There’s always that possibility, of course; but the bigger danger is that we’ll simply choose to be realistic and practical about life while defining those two words in terms of our presumptions rather than God’s vision. The greatest danger isn’t an evil heart, it’s a heart dead to hope. More harm is done by averting our eyes from others’ needs than by cursing them.

Jesus had little patience with a that’s-just-how-things-are approach to living. Nothing about him gives a hint of a go-along-to-get-along attitude. Jesus loved his enemies and accepted that what he wanted wasn’t always what would happen. But he knows where he was going and he never wavered from the path that led to that future. He never ignored our present reality or sought another one as an escape. He lived to transform this world.

Jesus: The God We Know
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
32th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 20:27-38

To me the most interesting element of this story of Sadducees trying to trap Jesus with a no-win question isn’t their ploy but Jesus’ understanding of God. He recalls how Moses had encountered God in the burning bush when the Creator gave him the task of leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. At that meeting God referred to himself as, I Am Who Am. Jesus goes on to say that “all are alive as far as God is concerned.” This was his way of making the point that God is beyond human understanding.

What we know of God are some good theories and best-guesses that we must always submit to the wisdom of the entire believing community including those who gave us the Scriptures. As Christians, Jesus’ life is our most practical and complete experience of God.

What difference does that make? It seems an occupational hazard of Christians to decide that we know God’s mind about nearly every issue. Once we think we’ve figured God out, we’re quick to tell everyone else how God intends them to think and behave. Since God very rarely whacks people on the head for taking his name in vain, we presumptuous God-knowers generally get away with it.

There are many, important things that we actually do know about how God relates to human beings from the life of Jesus who was one of us. He mirrored God’s generous love and forgiveness. He told his followers that by imitating his behavior in their relationships they would be imitating God’s behavior. In particular, they should love their enemies.

It’s worth noting that while we demand rigid adherence to our speculative interpretations of God’s thinking whom we’re incapable of imagining, we allow ourselves great flexibility in adhering to the specific instruction of Jesus about whom we know so much.

Humility in pontificating about God’s mind is always a good idea. Far better that we stick to what we know for sure from Jesus’ way of treating people.

Don’t Make Them Look Worse; Help Them Do Better
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
31th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 19:1-10

Jesus’ interaction with the tax collector, Zacchaeus, demonstrated something important about how he viewed life.

Tax collectors in Judea contracted with the Romans to pay them a set amount of money from their own pockets. Then the Romans assigned soldiers to back up the tax collectors as they took as much money and goods from the public as the situation allowed. The difference between what a taxman paid Rome and what he could squeeze from his countrymen constituted his profit. Not only did tax collectors work for the hated Roman occupiers, they used Roman muscle to extort their livelihoods and consorted with non-Jews thereby rendering themselves ritually unclean. To top it all off they handled Roman coins stamped with a divinized likeness of the emperor, which was tantamount to idol worship.

Doubtlessly everyone expected Jesus to at least ignore this reprobate if not give him a well-deserved tongue-lashing. Instead, Jesus’ decided to improve the situation even if he couldn’t make it perfect. Responding to something good that he saw in Zaccheaus, Jesus accepted his promise to be more just in the future and share at least some of his wealth with those in need. When Jesus responded with, Let’s have supper together to seal the deal, the crowd must have been astounded and more than a little disappointed.

As emotionally satisfying and self-promoting as it would have been, Jesus chose to encourage something good in Zacchaeus rather than wax indignant at his failures. Not only did Jesus choose practicality over theater, he revealed something crucial about how God deals with us.

Jesus and Zaccheaus: a useful story in these times of religious and political frustration, distrust and hostility!

Striving For Unity
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 18: 9-14

I’m somebody because he’s less. We all know people who get through the day by convincing themselves of that self-referenced fiction. In fact, we may have gotten through a few days by doing the same thing. To categorize is to control – both my object and myself. Jesus encouraged us to worry less about controlling and more about loving. On a good day we’re on board with his advice; on a bad day we think of him as nice but naïve and file his counsel away for some rosy day in the future.

Jesus wanted us to take seriously our unity as a human family in which everyone is loved equally and absolutely respected as a creature of the One Creator. For him, this wasn’t an aphorism to admire and file away; it was the foundation on which to build God’s future.

Though he never said the words, Jesus’ practical teaching was stop categorizing people into us and them, good and bad, worthy and unworthy. “God is our father,” “Love your enemy,” “Judge not lest you be judged,” “God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.” All these sayings teach that we all are in the quest for God’s Future together. No one is outside of the movement into God’s Future. Our challenge is to live the reality of that future as much as we possibly can and constantly strive to increase the faith that frees us to live it more completely.

Dividing people into good and bad, those whom we’ll love and those we won’t is diametrically opposed to the vision we espouse. We can’t claim God as our Father if we reject his other loved children who are our brothers and sisters.

Even as we fail to live up to the reality of human unity in God, we know the truth of that unity. We struggle with the insecurities that lead us to control by categorizing. We keep trying, we keep praying and we keep supporting one another. And we never give up.

Faith Never Gives Up
Thoughts on the Gospel -Joe
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 18: 1-8

Everyone knows that kids are relentless with their parents. They never give up when they want something. They may occasionally ask other adults for something but, with the exception of grandparents, they never badger them as they do mom and dad. They are simply fearless when it comes testing the strength of their folks’ patience. I think that kind of fearlessness was what Jesus had in mind when he told the Parable of the Dishonest Judge – who was actually more exhausted than dishonest.

Some understand this parable as encouraging people to relentlessly push God to give us more. On the contrary, this parable is to encourage people to relentlessly give more to life.

Jesus’ point wasn’t that people can wear God down until he acquiesces to their wishes. He was encouraging his hearers to have total trust in God’s love and faithfulness. His point wasn’t that we should keep asking over and over for things that we want. He wanted his disciples to live for the future God offers with complete confidence that it’s not only obtainable but inevitable. Pursue God’s promise without quarter; not by demanding more from God but by fearlessly exercising the freedom he’s already given.

It’s strange that we speak of God as all-wise and all-loving then turn around and pray as though God is clueless about our needs and indifferent about fulfilling them. That makes no sense. It’s as though we believed in a God who has to be cajoled into giving his worshippers gifts and necessities. Jesus’ life and teaching should move us all to seriously examine the kind of God we believe in. This parable of the exhausted judge presents an opportunity to ask that precise question. On what do we focus our relentlessness?

Unlike children busy or distracted parents, we’ve no need to wheedle good things from God. We need to instead to utilize the gifts God has already given us with inexhaustible determination.

Sharing The Gift Of Freedom
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 17:11-19

“I prayed a lot for that job. I really needed it. I don’t know why God didn’t help. It’s hard to have faith in prayer after this.” This comment is typical of many I’ve heard. We tend to think of God as the social worker, lawyer and physician extraordinaire. The tendency isn’t new. Jesus faced it. The man healed of leprosy who returned praising God wasn’t just thankful, he was convinced that Jesus’ message of the coming Reign of God was powerful and worth his attention. The other nine had their cure and that was all they were looking for.

My point isn’t that we should stop thinking of Jesus as the problem-solver-in-chief. Most of us already know that and do our best not to fall into such thinking. The point is that when we present our faith to others either explicitly in conversation or implicitly as they observe our attitudes and behaviors, it’s important that we demonstrate our freedom to live consistently in hope of God’s Future.

All Jesus’ healings and, ultimately, God’s raising of Jesus from death were revelations given us that God is stronger than evil and will overcome evil to accomplish the good future that he has intended for creation from the beginning. It’s our faith in this power that enables us to adopt an attitude of confident hope in the face of every difficulty and failure. It is our faith in this power that enables us to live with love and justice regardless of the cost.

As a Church we talk a lot about evangelizing our world. Despite the word’s associations with buttonholing and browbeating, evangelizing makes complete sense for a Christian. The idea isn’t to convince everyone to believe and pray as we do. It’s to effectively convey the hope and freedom from ultimate emptiness that we’ve been given. The goal is to free as many people as possible to live full lives. The words that we use to convey our hope are secondary to our actions and attitudes that demonstrate it.

The gospel is about hope and freedom. If we offer people these gifts, the words will take care of themselves. Evangelizing isn’t easy. Jesus had only one leper return to hear more. Still, it’s well worth doing. Jesus never stopped.

The God Beyond Our Assumptions
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 17:5-10

When people hear Jesus say that masters have servants to wait on them, not to be companions, they think that Jesus is reminding them who’s in charge. “Don’t look for an invitation to dinner just because you did your job.” Sounds like an egotistical boss on a power trip. It doesn’t sound like Jesus.

Repeatedly during his lifetime Jesus explained to the disciples that he was there to give them something, not to get something. He also told them that his relationship with them echoed the Father’s relationship with them. The disciples were too certain that they had this “God thing” down cold. After all, they were Jews, sons of the covenant. They knew God. They didn’t need anyone to tell them about God. They might mess up sometimes but they understood the game: follow the rules, say your prayers, keep God happy and God would give you good stuff and protect you from enemies.

In this smug theological milieu Jesus teaches that indeed a master does not eat with the servants [Lk. 17: 5-10] but a few chapters later, sitting down to his Last Supper he says, “How long I have wanted to eat this supper with you” [Lk. 22:15]. Then, in the middle of that meal he tells the disciples, “I am a servant to you” [Lk. 22:17]. This Jesus whom Luke presents as the revealing presence of God, the savior, refers to himself, and hence to the Father, as “servant” to humanity. Jesus did everything he could to break open the cage in which the disciples held God hostage. Do we still maintain that same cage – gilded with a bit of incense burning in front of it – expecting God to be in there docilely playing the role we’ve assigned him?

Mature Christian faith urges us to drop the image of a God who demands that we please him in return for rewards and join with God our Creator in his work of giving birth to a future humanity that surpasses our best dreams. The goal is a fulfilled humanity, the gift that our God has been offering from the beginning. As unfathomable as it may seem, our Creator wants to be our servant and lover, not our master.

For The Poor – Do Everything You Can
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 16: 19-31

I find Jesus’ story of Lazarus, the poor man who lived by the rich man’s door, disquieting. People in need surround us. There are so many poor people that doing something effective about their situation is overwhelming and looking away is the most comfortable response.

My attitude towards poor people is issue-laden: what helps them, what hurts; what’s best that they do for themselves; how do they fit into my responsibilities to my own family; is direct aid or systemic change a better avenue to help; what’s prudent to share when I’m uncertain about my own economic future; with so many poor people in the world when can I stop giving? Of course, it’s a safe bet that the rich man in Jesus’ story pondered the same questions?

Still, the inescapable fact is that I have a full closet, well-stocked refrigerator and an adequate bank account while the poor don’t. I simply can’t convince myself that that’s okay.

Everyone who’s raised a family – or been in a family – knows that the member who’s in need gets special attention. The reason isn’t that he or she is more loved. The reason is that for the family to remain a healthy community and thus a solid support for all its members everyone has to advance together as much as possible.

When Jesus referred to God as “Father” it was more than a loving honorific, it was a way of teaching that each of us has a family relationship to everyone else. It wasn’t a threat when Jesus taught us that we forget this family relationship at our peril. It was a warning. The gospel four Sundays ago reminded us of Jesus’ teaching that those putting mother, father, son or daughter ahead of him, i.e., ahead of the needs of God’s Future World, completely missed his message. That brings us back to the poor.

This gospel doesn’t reveal what specific action will bring the poor to their full human potential. It simply says that we have to respond to their – and hence our – seriously dangerous situation. Act to raise up the poor: that’s the point. Our own closets and refrigerators echo the message.

Faith Begins With Questioning Assumptions
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 16: 1-13

The parable of the unjust steward makes sense when we know that, in Jesus’ day, it was accepted practice for stewards to make their money by charging their employers’ stipulated price plus as much overage as the market would allow. The overage constituted their commission. The break that the steward gave his customers in the parable was a loss he took to insure their good will when he was out of a job and in need of their help.

We can understand the parable as simply counseling prudence. The context of the narrative, however, is Jesus’ teaching about God’s coming Kingdom and his encouragement to live in harmony with it. That’s the point.

The world is changing, Jesus kept telling people. God is doing something wonderful but also something dangerous for those determined to keep doing business in the same old way. The gospel message isn’t just a nice piece of information; it’s a call, even a warning, to make sure that we are on the right side of the future and placing our bets on the Creator’s vision rather than the vision of those maintaining the status quo.

Bells ought to go off when someone says that this or that policy is in the best interest of business or the country, our finances or even our kids’ futures. What future is being advanced? Is it business as usual or is it the future God is offering? That’s a difficult question. It’s difficult because merely asking it makes demands of us – costly, even dangerous demands. It’s difficult because it’s often hard to know the direction in which God’s future lies or the specific path to follow towards it. It’s a question that those who’ve preceded us know we will never ask unless we stay close to the life and example of Jesus and the support of others who share his faith.

Fairness Isn’t Enough
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke15:1-32

When my brothers and sister and I were growing up being fair was an important notion. It was how we divided cake and chores. It was how we sought advantage from our parents and how we complained about them. When we were small, our mother constantly urged us to be fair with one another. As we grew older, however, her admonition “Be fair” changed to “Be as loving as you can.” It wasn’t an easy transition.

Sometimes loving instead of being fair meant that I got the smallest piece and did the biggest jobs sometimes it meant that I got the biggest piece and the smallest job (I don’t remember that happening too often, though). Gradually it dawned on us kids that though fairness was sometimes a useful rule of thumb, there were much more important considerations. First of all, we had to do what was the best for the family because everyone depended on it. We also had to take care of the one least able to take care of him or her self because we had to move forward together.

No mature adult, certainly no Christian, views fairness as an ultimate virtue. Our Creator, who certainly has a right to all our love and service doesn’t look for fairness. Jesus’ life and especially his death demonstrated that. Jesus constantly urged us to move beyond fairness. In our personal and political relationships fairness is never good enough. We can’t be satisfied with it.
Love, not fairness, is the touchstone of our faith.

If It’s Worth Living, Live It All The Way -Joe
Thoughts on the Gospel
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 14:25-33

When I was about eight I decided that I wanted to join Little League. I was sure that I was destined to be a great baseball player. My dad offered to help me practice and played catch with me in the backyard every day after work. I got through the tryouts and was placed on a team. Soon, though, I found other things more interesting than practicing. Other boys on my team who were focused practiced constantly. They became the first string. I got into a game only if we had a big lead. Dad again offered to practice with me but I wanted to do other things. I spent more and more time on the bench and mom spent less and less time washing stains out of my uniform. So ended my first year in baseball. The following Spring I again tried out for a team. I didn’t survive the first cut. My dad’s only comment: “Now, why do you think that happened?”

As children most of us learn that casual commitment rarely results in success. Woody Allen’s cleverness not withstanding showing up isn’t 80% percent of life. We know that to maintain strong relationships, a successful career, happy children and good health we have to make choices and commit ourselves seriously to what we value.

It’s always been interesting to me that we all know this fact of life but many of us don’t apply it to our faith. Maybe that’s because there’s no immediate gain or loss for living a deeply faithful life. No one can actually prove that sitting out every game on the bench isn’t just as good as practicing constantly and sweating each play. Christian faith is a long-term game. One can give one’s whole life to the coming of God’s future and die without tasting the rewards. Ask Jesus.

Commitment is essential to faith. We aren’t going to become proficient at living faith unless we spend real time reflecting on what God is doing in our world and watching carefully for each day’s opportunities to align ourselves with his work.

We speak of practicing faith. That means that we live faith in every situation. It also means that we develop our ability to respond faithfully to situations before the need actually arises. It’s how we avoid hearing God ask: Now why do you think that happened?

Moving Beyond Good Manners
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 14: 1, 7-14

In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells a group of fellow dinner guests that they would do well to sit among the ordinary invitees rather than presuming to sit, unbidden, at the head table. He then proceeds to tell the same guests to open their own homes to the poor and powerless rather than entertaining only their family and rich acquaintances.

We often interpret Jesus’ words to mean that we should be humble. The reason for such virtue is generally vague. Sometimes the idea seems to be that self-promotion irritates God or that humility oils the gears of communal living. Jesus had something more important in mind.

Luke preceded his story of Jesus at dinner with a series of teachings about God’s coming Kingdom and the importance of aligning oneself with that impending future. Jesus wasn’t trying to iron out wrinkles in the social fabric. He wasn’t a first century Emily Post promoting etiquette or Stephen Covey promising personal success. He was God’s prophet announcing the promise and possibility of a new human future. Everything he said and did including his prohibitions against placing one’s self and one’s interests before others’ and one’s friends before the poor and powerless conveyed that message.

Jesus taught love our neighbors and enemies not to make us nicer people but to unite us with God’s transformation of the world. Active love and respect for others was the heart of his message. It was and still is the absolutely necessary key to the future God wills for us.

In all our struggles and disagreements, in our efforts to change the way that the world works, in our determination to see justice triumph it is our respect and love of those with whom we deal that determines whether or not we are working in God’s Spirit. And that, when all is said and done, makes all the difference.

Salvation: Not A Test; An Opportunity
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke13:22-30

Frequently people chart the progress of their education, from grade one to doctoral completion by the number of exams successfully completed. The goal for many students is to satisfy one authority after another until, finally, those authorities certify them educated. Though Jesus never held an analogous view of salvation, many Christians have and still do.

One big difference between our situation and Jesus’ is that when we ask for the requirements of salvation, we’re seeking the beliefs and behaviors required for entrance into heaven upon our death. That wasn’t the question Jesus’ spent his life addressing. He was interested in the faith and behaviors that would bring about the realization of God’s promise for all of us here and now.

How are we going to bring about real peace? How can we end the suffering of poverty in our world? How can we bring about universal respect for the dignity of men and women? How can we end violence and the threat of violence? How can we optimize the natural health of our planet? These and many other issues determine the imaginable future that God promises. Our destiny beyond death is part of that future, but not an imaginable part. We must respond first to the future we can imagine. That is the future to which Jesus gave most of his attention.

Being true to our Creator is aligning ourselves with the work he is engaged in for humanity here and now.

When we ask ourselves what is necessary for salvation, we ask ourselves what is necessary to bring God’s promise – God’s justice – to earth. When we study this question, we realize the strengths and qualities we need to develop. When we answer these questions honestly and wisely, we are answering all that we can to place ourselves in harmony with God for eternity.

Love Is The Heart Of Prophesy
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
20th Sunday in Ordinary Tim
Luke 12: 49-53

You’re a troublemaker. That was a dangerous accusation when we were kids. Someone had run out of patience with us and a reckoning was near. It’s a judgment just as perilous to an adult. Nearly everyone has encountered someone who finds their identity in upsetting others. The distress they cause reassures them of their importance and power. It’s distasteful behavior, to say the least.

Being a troublemaker is an occupational hazard for a preacher. It’s a cheap form of self-affirmation masquerading as loyalty to God’s truth. Still, it’s not always easy to detect.

The life of a just person will be troublesome for the unjust. Whether accompanied by words or silently but plainly visible, the life of a just man or woman is a challenge to those living first for their own security. The tension created by justice lived in the face of self-centeredness is known as prophesy: a revelation of our Creator’s will, a change of direction called for by God’s Future.

How do we distinguish between an authentic prophet whose words give rise to a healthy tension within us and a troublemaker promoting his self-image at our expense?

A prophet has an obvious love for her people, in particular for those who disagree with and reject her. A prophet also has a sense of inner peace that shines through even when she speaks words of conflict. It is obvious that her sense of self is not founded on her power over others. And she will give evidence of this by the respect she consistently affords all, especially those who resist her message.

Many people want to tell us how to behave. Many would be prophets claim a superior moral sense. All of us know that we don’ t have all life’s answers. We also have to admit that our weaknesses render simply liking or disliking a moral judgment a very unreliable criterion for its truth.

Jesus taught a demanding morality. This frequently resulted in consternation among his hearers. In the end, the experience of God’s love that people found reflected in him gave Jesus his authority. Without such love there is no prophesying. There is only bullying.

A Promising, Dangerous Faith
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12: 32-48

Your destiny is not struggle and misery ending in blackness. Trust your future. Trust love so much that you love even your enemies. Be peace for your world. Be fearless in the face of every threat. Live your deepest dream with hope and courage. This message from Jesus’ lips to the poor, powerless farmers and fisherman of Galilee must have sounded at once thrilling and absurd. Enduring hardscrabble lives and massive taxes as a breadbasket to the Roman Empire hope and dreams were dangerous words to them. Seeking justice got you killed.

It’s strange how we who live in the most powerful nation in the world’s history with more control over our environment and lives than anyone before us still find Jesus’ words a threat; such a threat, in fact, that we’ve eviscerated them, draining them of their thrill. Most of Christianity, our Church included, has relegated God’s Kingdom to an existence after death whose realm we can’t imagine and whose likelihood we can’t evaluate.

There is a reason that so many of our contemporaries find religion irrelevant to their lives. To a great extent, we’ve made it irrelevant. We’ve made it irrelevant to make it safe. The problem is that removing the danger has also removed the promise and the thrill.

Our times are looking for a different world, not a guaranteed retirement plan from life. The question for everyone claiming to follow Jesus: Who’s up for living the life we all hope for – right here; right now?

That was Jesus’ question two thousand years ago. It still is.

Doing God’s Work God’s Way
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12:13-21

Why doesn’t God make things right? People have asked me that question countless times. Their criticism, implied or explicit, is that God isn’t fulfilling his job description. The past three thousand years haven’t silenced Job’s complaint, “Why do the wicked survive, grow old, become mighty in power? [Job 21:7]

In Luke’s gospel an aggrieved heir sought Jesus’ support in his search for satisfaction. When Jesus responded, “Who made me judge over you,” I’m absolutely certain the man walked off grumbling, “Then what good are you?” Seeking a judge or policeman, the man couldn’t see that Jesus was offering a whole new world. Or maybe the man understood very well and turned away because the gift offered was too big, too threatening.

An important clue that we don’t understand the offer God revealed in Jesus’ life is our tendency to pray that God will make others change their ways or that God will make some unsatisfactory situation conform to our liking. Rarely do we pray that God will help us change or help us promote justice. We want God to play on our side or at least umpire a fair game. God wants us to change the game.
The first question in developing a Christian spirituality is what is God doing here? The second question is, am I doing what God is doing? The caution in the first question is the danger of assuming that God is following my agenda. The danger in the second is assuming that we can accomplish God’s goals by using our means rather than God’s. Recall that God offers faith and unity to people respecting their freedom to accept or not. Christians, on the other hand, have gone to war to force belief and unity on people.

It’s worth our time to pray over the fact that Jesus followed up his refusal to judge between two heirs with the admonition not to place material possessions above the peace and loving relationships that characterize the World of God’s Future.

God’s Spirit Moves All Forward
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 11:1-13

Why would anyone want the Holy Spirit? The quickest answer to that question is that most people don’t – at least not explicitly. A professor told us in graduate school that the Holy Spirit was the forgotten member of the Trinity. Few people want the Holy Spirit because few people give any thought to what the Holy Spirit might offer.

There are people who do think about the Spirit a lot in terms of a calming agent in daily life or an exhilarating agent in their prayer life. For them the Trinity’s third person provides closeness to God and wisdom about spiritual matters.

There’s much more that we can say about God’s Spirit, though, and the best way to discover it is to look at the life of Jesus. What do we know about his Spirit? Jesus was a person so dedicated to his vision that it filled his every teaching. He wasn’t cowed by the common people’s lethargy or leadership’s hostility. He got up again and again after failure. He stood up to threats and pain and, ultimately, execution. He stood faithful to the truth he knew. That was Jesus’ Spirit.

Matthew’s gospel ends the parables of the helpful friend and the generous father by saying that God will meet the needs of those who ask just as a friend and father would. Luke changes the point making God’s gift more specific. For him, the generous God will give the Holy Spirit. Matthew’s idea is that God will stand with those facing hardship as they live the Christian way in an unsympathetic world. The message is that the same Spirit that guided and supported Jesus will guide and support them. That’s just what they needed to hear. That’s what we need to hear as well.

Work And Prayer: The Crucial Balance
Thoughts on the Gospels – by Joe
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 10:38-42

My mother had a prayer in her kitchen that went: “Be with me Lord for though I have Martha’s hands I have Mary’s heart.” Before we had a real understanding of the divine value of the layperson’s daily work, many considered prayer the only human activity that mattered in the long run. People commonly thought of life’s ordinary demands as obstacles to contemplating God’s greatness and contemplation was the path to union with God. Mary, of the Martha and Mary story, became the patron saint of those who wanted to pray but were kept from it by demands such as raising a family or milling grain. They could only hope that God would understand and be generous with them despite of their messy, earth-centered lives.

In the decades after Vatican II a growing number of lay people and clergy came to appreciate daily work performed with love and justice as The Spirit’s action in people that was constructing God’s future. It was an eye-opening time for the bulk of the Church. Millions of us came to a new understanding of why we were here. We understood that we weren’t passive participants in life waiting to be sanctified by someone else.

Yet people also took a second look at the story of Martha and Mary. The task of creating a just and loving world is immense. It’s endlessly demanding and constantly frustrated by interests intent on protecting power by maintaining the status quo. The cross that confronted Jesus hasn’t miraculously vanished in the past 2000 years.

How does a person dedicated to the world God is creating keep hope in the face of the immensity of the task? How do we keep joy in the face of so many failures? How do we relax when the work is never done and so many people endure harsh suffering for lack of justice? How do we keep from getting so caught up in the task that we lose sight of the promise?

When the Messiah in sitting in the living room, it’s not time to cook and scrub. There are millions hungry mouths to be fed and millions of problems to be solved. There are cures to be found and tyrannies to be ended. There are homes to be built and fields to be tended. We can’t postpone the work of God’s creation. But we also must grasp our opportunities to re-experience God’s love for us and re-hear the promise of his future. It’s a matter of focus. It’s a matter of balance. It’s a matter of survival.

Moving Beyond The Rules
Thoughts on the Gospels by Joe
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 10:25-37

The Ten Commandments aren’t difficult. They’re straightforward and obvious. Except for the initial three referring to God, they don’t differ from the rules most people try to live by whether they’re religious or not. Maybe that’s why Catholics and other Christians argue and complain about rules so much: discussing them isn’t too threatening. Jesus’ expectations, on the other hand, his descriptions of how things must be for those who want to be part of God’s future are unsettling.

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel [Mt 5,6 &7] summarizes what Jesus was looking for.  It demands thought and some background knowledge but it gives us a rich sense of what it means to cooperate in God’s future. 

Imagine a world where Christians openly forgave their enemies; where they didn’t belittle those who opposed them or hold grudges when they were wronged. Imagine a world where we didn’t pursue or cling to things that we didn’t actually need so that others could have the basic necessities of a dignified life. Imagine a world where our first goal in voting wasn’t our own welfare and the welfare of those close to us but for the common good. Imagine the world where the more than two billion Christians viewed their own welfare as inseparable from the welfare of the all people. Imagine that world. That’s what Jesus lived for. That’s what Jesus said is not only possible for us but is our world’s ultimate destiny.

This isn’t a matter of political or social theory. This is the gospel. Those who believe that Jesus is God’s Word, understand that this is the future the Creator is constructing.

For a Christian The Sermon on the Mount is the touchstone of human relationships and human hope. It isn’t an instruction manual for every problem but it is the vision that orients every solution. It contains much more than, “Blessed are the meek.” It’s a must read source of prayer for a serious Christian.

Faith Can’t Be Safe
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 10:1-12,17-20

Passing rattlesnakes from one person to another has never been a part of Catholic worship. We’ve tried many different liturgical rites but not that one. Most Catholics simply see the custom as a needless and dangerous risk. But it is the needlessness of the risk that rules it out, not risk itself. Christian faith is full of risk.

Matthew’s gospel summarizes much of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. To a casual reader it begins innocuously enough: Blessed are the meek and the peacemakers, those who mourn and the clean of heart. It sounds harmless, like a lecture encouraging children to be nice while relatives are visiting. Then come the first jarring notes: Blessed are you (i.e., you’re in harmony with God) when you’re persecuted, when you’re insulted, when you’re spoken ill of and slandered. It goes on to get more demanding and more dangerous. The 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is interesting reading. It’s an effective antidote for the image of a sweet, clueless Jesus who just wanted everyone to play nice.

The most serious criticism of Catholicism today isn’t that its liturgy is incomprehensible or its thinking on sexuality is useless to people. The most serious criticism is that it’s been domesticated. It has lost its vision and daring. It no longer confronts the most dangerous forces in the world. With few exceptions success has tamed it’s voice into a nagging complaint at the edges of life rather than a strong voice calling out from the center.

This isn’t simply a problem with leadership; it is a problem of our entire community. There are Catholic lay people who demand justice from power, sometimes at real risk to themselves, but the percentage of us who do so is small. We’re not known in the larger world as a community of special courage against injustice. Yet that’s precisely what the gospel asks us to be. Risking everything for those who are hungry, are disrespected and ignored, for those who are exploited, that’s the heart of Jesus’ story and the message we must model. It’s our contribution to the World of God’s Future. It’s the gift God has given us.

The Gospel Is The Teller And The Story
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 9:51-62

Does the world have a story? Christians say yes, the world has a story. The story tells of a Creator who loves the world and is leading the world to fulfillment. Christians understand themselves to be part of the story because they cooperate in the Creator’s actions. They believe, as well, that it is their responsibility to tell this story everywhere so that all can have hope in their destiny and join in the Creator’s work.

However true and wonderful we may think our story, there is a problem with it. Many fear stories that claim to give meaning to the entire human experience. They look at history and note how often people, even nations, identify themselves with their stories and attempt to force them on others even going to war when others reject their narrative. They observe how politics, business, social custom and ego all unite in such stories. Only in theory, not in actuality, can they separate the storyteller from the story. Seeing their power and knowing their history they fear their danger.

Jesus required that his followers make the story he told the center of their lives. Nothing else was to be more important because nothing else held the Creator’s promise and the future it revealed. We cherish a story that forms the center of our lives: one that, at the same time, others find at best suspicious and at worst life threatening.

When people look askance at our story and hesitate over the hope we offer, we do well to remember that they have good reason. They’ve been burned and they’ve seen others burned by stories that are too big and promise too much. They’ve suffered at the hands of true believers pushing themselves and their interests under the guise of universal truth. They have seen it and they still see it.

If, as Luke encourages, we’ve made Jesus’ promise the center of our lives and we’d like to see others have the same gift, it helps to remember that the heart of his story isn’t an idea, it’s love: the Creator’s love for us. Words can lie. Actions can lie. Love can’t lie. If we love, we give what we’ve been given. The explanation can come later.

Suffering’s Role
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 9:18-24

For centuries after he had been executed and raised from death many of Jesus’ followers hoped to suffer persecution as he had. They believed that dying as Jesus had died would unite them intimately to him and his Father. They took Luke’s Gospel literally when it quoted Jesus saying that following him meant carrying one’s own cross as he had.

To this day some persist in believing that suffering is what Jesus was all about. They believe that God wants our suffering as well. How strange to find such thinking in a faith that views God as the loving Creator of life and his human presence on earth his assurance that we would “have life and have it more abundantly.” [Jn10:10]

Who would come to the church to prepare for marriage If they found a pastor who told them that the point of getting married was to suffer with each other and with their children so that, one day, they could enter heaven. (It would make finding an available parish hall a lot easier though!)

Without a doubt there’s suffering in the Christian Way. There’s suffering in marriage and parenting, civil society and every human bond. The suffering is not the point, however. Suffering is accepted when love, joy and the future make it unavoidable.

It’s life and the future of life that moves people into a commitment to one another and to their community. It’s life and the future of life that moves people to embrace Christian faith.

The hardships that adherents to faith endure, the hardships that anyone endures in the effort to make life better touch and strengthen us. We honor them as an inspiration.

The point of enduring suffering, however, is the future of life, the delight and excitement and love of life. That’s what it was for Jesus. That is what it is for us. Everything in our faith is oriented to making the commitment to life – to every life – deeper and stronger and more joyous.

Wanted: Faith In A Way Of Life
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 7:36-8:3

Steps to becoming a swimmer: # 1, believe you can swim. That sentence was on the dressing room wall of the pool where I taught. It was a helpful reminder. We worked hard to help our young charges trust the water and themselves.

Jesus told the woman who had washed his feet and dried them with her hair that her sins were forgiven. He didn’t say that her sorrow for past sins or her willingness to do public penance or even her kindness to him had saved her. What saved her was her faith. But faith in what?

He wasn’t concerned with whether she believed in his divinity, at least in the terms that we’re used to. That understanding didn’t exist yet. He wasn’t referring to creeds or doctrines. There were none. What had saved her was her faith in him, in his message, in the revelation that was his whole life.

Imagine for a moment an inventor or entrepreneur who had spent her whole life working on a particular project. A person decides, at significant risk, to make a significant investment in her work and gives her a large check. That’s the type of faith act that Jesus was interested in. He was looking for people to invest themselves in the passion that guided his life: the fulfillment of God’s promise to the world.

The crucial act of faith is the one that says I believe that the Creator is committed to the fulfillment of all people. I dedicate my entire life to that project as well. When we’ve said that, we’ve said everything. We’ve committed ourselves to life. We’ve made ourselves one with life’s Creator. We’ve accepted whatever danger that commitment might entail. We are saved.

The Gospel: Don’t Give In
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 7:11-17

“What am I going to do?” Those are some of the saddest words anyone can speak. They convey powerlessness, confusion, abandonment and hopelessness. I think that we’ve all spoken that thought at one time or another; we certainly know the feeling.

The story of Jesus’ raising the abandoned mother’s son from death is a story of God’s absolute reliability. Widows and orphans typified the helpless and abandoned in ancient societies. There was no social structure to protect them from neglect or exploitation. The mother’s despair wasn’t only at the loss of her son, which would have been enough. It was the realization that she was now alone and defenseless before the world. That was the situation in which Jesus intervened.

There’s a bumper sticker in town that says, What am I doing in this hand basket, anyway? It always makes me smile because it succinctly captures what so many of us feel. Almost any gathering will have conversations centering on the dismal state of our politics, religion, families, economy, education, society or the world in general. People don’t usually end such discussions in despair but more likely with a what-can-you-do attitude acquiescing to the idea that we’ll just have to muddle through as best we can.

That we’ll-muddle-through attitude is a problem: understandable, but a problem still. It would be a big enough issue if we only thought that we would have to make do in life but we easily slip into accepting that others will have to make do as well. At that point things head south fast.

Somewhere in us all there’s a voice that rebels against submitting to evil. We may try to silence it, to demand realism from it, to counsel patience of it. But it gnaws at us. Christian faith gives that voice a forum. The gift of life is not evil. Evil is not an element of God’s gift. Evil is not inevitable and we do not accept it and, in our Creator’s power and Spirit, we will end it. That is the message of Jesus’ raising the widow’s son. Muddling through is not our destiny.

In Life’s Banquet Christians Are Cooks
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
Luke 9: 11-17

As many high school students do I frequently waited till the last minute to get serious about studying for exams. When it became obvious to me that I was in trouble, I would frequently place my hope in divine intervention and begin to pray with intensity. It was during one such week of panic that a wise and holy priest told my class, “Gentlemen, at the risk of stunting your burgeoning spirituality I want to assure you that it will do your exam performance more good to spend hours in study hall with the books than hours in chapel with the Lord. Work, not a miracle, is the key to your success.”

I remember that advice when I’m in a setting where public prayer is on the agenda. It borders on dishonesty to ask God to solve a problem that we could have avoided in the first place. It can actually be a denial of God’s loving care to ignore the power that he’s placed in us to meet our own needs.

The problem with asking for divine intervention when human commitment and sweat could meet the need is that we thwart the power and thus future that God is trying to give us. Like children asking parents to do their homework, we turn our backs on our own abilities leaving them in the shadows unappreciated. Faith in the power God places within us is crucial to realizing the future God offers us.

It is not humility nor is it praise to ask of God something God has given us the power to accomplish ourselves. How often we pray for peace when we would do better to pray to become more forgiving, more sensitive to others needs, aspirations and weaknesses, more generous with our possessions and power.

It’s challenging, even uncomfortable to look carefully at our prayers. Yet they present a valuable opportunity to examine our beliefs and ask if they make sense. Jesus said something important when, instead of intervening, he urged the disciples, “Give the people some food yourselves.”

Listen For God With Many Ears
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
Feast of The Holy Trinity
John 16:12-15

I’ve had countless conversations that began, “So what do Catholics believe about . . .?” When things weren’t rushed and I didn’t think I’d sound like a smart aleck, I’d reply, “Well, you’re Catholic; what do you think about . . . ?” Usually the response was, “Come on; you know what I mean. What do the Pope and bishops say?”

I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault but a lot of us have the idea that theology is an esoteric pursuit. Maybe a large professional clergy and a great number of male and female religious, maybe our history of excluding folks who don’t accept the Church’s official dogma, maybe something entirely different has caused that situation. Maybe our emphasis on community has the untended consequence of making us keep our thoughts to ourselves for fear of seeming weird and out of step. Whatever the cause, something makes many of us reticent about discussing out beliefs about and our relationship with God.

Discussions about God are always discussions about ourselves: what our lives mean, how we fit into things, what our possibilities are, what’s important and unimportant, the meaning of success and failure. Discussions about God are discussions about how we want to treat one another and ourselves. Discussions about God define us individually and communally.

I think we lose out on something valuable when we keep our thoughts about our relationship with God to ourselves. No one has all the answers about God and us. Everyone is searching. There are more and less helpful answers but even knowing which is which is difficult.

What’s certainly helpful is knowing that we’re not searching alone. Others will listen and respect our differing points of view and help us make sense of our thoughts. We benefit from one another’s thinking. Listening to others often opens doors previously unnoticed.

The gospel this weekend promises that God’s Spirit is at work in us all. It seems a waste to kneel or work or have a drink next to someone whom God is guiding on the search for insight and not at least ask how it’s going.

The Spirit Gives Freedom As Well As Responsibility
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
The Feast of Pentecost
John 14:15-16, 23-26

Not long ago I was in a conversation with several long-time Catholic friends. The topic, as is not unusual these days, was authority: what is it, who has it, who doesn’t and how it should be used. The mood was intense.

Someone put a coda on the discussion saying, “I’m sick and tired of people living in big houses wearing little red hats telling me how I should relate to God. They know nothing about our lives and they aren’t interested in learning about them. They don’t ask for our experience and they don’t listen when we try to tell them our experience. Yet they have the nerve to tell us how we stand with God. I relate to God in the way that makes sense to me and I’ve lost all interest in what they or anyone else has to say about it.” There were nods of agreement all around.

I’ve listened to similar sentiments over the years and know that large numbers of Catholics are sympathetic to the views they express. The feeble dialogue between authority and the larger community has created a crisis of credibility and relevance. The I’m no longer concerned with what leadership says approach to authority in our Church has grown common among folks who otherwise care deeply about The Faith.

Authority has historically played such a central role in the Catholic Church that its waning has resulted not merely in a turning away from the powers-that-be but, for many, from the community itself. If I’m at odds with the power structure, I’m at odds with the Church is the assumption of many if not most Catholics. It’s a painful and unnecessary assumption.

The gospel for Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Church’s birth, quotes Jesus promising to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples: not just to The Twelve, not just to the apostles but to the disciples, all the followers of Jesus. The Spirit that guided Jesus came not just to the teachers or the symbolic “pillars” of the Church but to all Jesus’ followers.

To jump ship from the “Bark of Peter,” as barnacled and weed encumbered as it may be, over differences with leadership is to cede a power over one’s conscience to authority that even the bishops, on their best days at least, wouldn’t claim.

Christians always search for God’s within the community. But that’s a far cry from accepting the idea that without a bishop’s imprimatur we’ve nothing to say about God in our lives. As frustrating as She must find it, The Holy Spirit is at work within us all. Hang in there; don’t panic.

Faith: Its Freedom and Its Consequences
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
7th Sunday of Easter
John 17:20-26

Jesus once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” For us who are trying to follow Jesus’ way, that statement holds a crucial piece of information. Jesus had a specific goal. He wasn’t interested in garnering public accolades. He was trying to change his world and he oriented everything towards that end. He did all he could to instill the same intense focus in his disciples.

In reaction to present and past religious and political systems that have attempted to deny us freedom of conscience and intellectual adulthood it’s common to hear folks adamantly assert that everyone has a right to his or her opinion. Everyone’s opinion is valid for that person, they say, and it merits acceptance by others.

I don’t know anyone who accepts that logic when it’s applied to their brake mechanic’s opinions. The only validity in that case is the one that results in the owner’s car stopping when she pushes the pedal. If such stopping doesn’t occur, there’s going to be a rather pointed confrontation about the offending opinion’s stupidity not to mention the stupidity of the mechanic holding it.

That folks can hold all religious opinions valid seems rooted in the radically privatized understanding of religion that’s popular among us. It’s a common opinion that as long as one is comfortable with one’s own opinion about Jesus, that’s all that matters. Jesus did not share that view.

Jesus believed that his teaching and lifestyle affected everyone. In his mind what folks believed had real consequences. Some beliefs moved the world closer to God’s promise; others hindered such progress. Hence his statement; If you think that simply praising me makes you part of the solution, you are mistaken. It doesn’t.

Our respect for one another must be absolute and reverence for each other’s religious beliefs is crucial to that respect. Such respect, however, doesn’t imply apathy to the search for truth as best we can discover it. We can’t allow an understandable fear of religious intolerance to result in privatized faith. That decision empties Jesus’ life of all meaning.

Searching For Jesus? Look For His Spirit
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
6th Sunday of Easter
John 14:23-29

In this week’s gospel Jesus says that those who have come to love him will keep his word. His comment may sound backwards, but it isn’t. As a rule, we pay closer attention to folks we find attractive.

Christians have been telling one another, and anyone else who would listen, to love Jesus for over two millennia. It begs the question, what does it mean to love someone we’ve never met? There are several ways to answer the question.

Loving Jesus can mean that knowing how deeply he valued and cared for everyone and what a forgiving person he was, we find him very attractive. We can imagine him so intensely that we begin to have an emotional response to the character of Jesus. In Christian circles this knowing and responding to the story, or gospel, of Jesus is seen as a gift of God’s Spirit. Given that understanding, we’ve actually come to love the person of Jesus in the presence of his Spirit.

There is another way of thinking about our relationship with Jesus. His Spirit, the presence of God that guided him throughout his life guides everyone today who continues to live his way. When someone touches us with forgiveness, caring, acceptance, generosity and true respect, we are touched by God’s Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit. When we find ourselves responding with love to a community or person who treats us as Jesus treated people and is therefore guided by the Spirit of Jesus, we can well say that we love Jesus.

Everyday life is filled with the Spirit of Jesus. When we are touched by it and encouraged by it, respond to it and then carry it to others we not only love Jesus, we become Jesus. We extend Jesus’ life through time and space. Paul taught that and the gospels taught that. No need to look for trumpets and angels; simply loving Jesus we become Jesus and we move the world a bit closer to its real future.

God Is There For The World – Always
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
5th Sunday of Easter
John 13:31-33, 34-35

It strains the imagination to think that anyone acquainted with the process would ever think of crucifixion as glorifying. It was an execution designed to terrorize a population into submission. It was prolonged, public, excruciating, suffocation. When Rome crucified someone, they wanted everyone to get and remember a stark message: don’t defy the Empire. When the gospel narrator portrayed Jesus speaking of his coming death in heroic terms, he was speaking not of the execution itself but of the astounding commitment to his people that he was about to demonstrate by not running from his immanent death. And beneath that demonstration was the deeper point summed up in Jesus’ statement, “When you see me, you see the Father.”

That a Creator would have such love for a creature makes no sense. It’s inexplicable. It stretches the imagination to the breaking point. But that’s the revelation. That’s what Jesus’ life was all about. That’s Christianity’s core message.

We get the idea at times that we’re to convince folks that God is a trinity of three persons or that the Mass really makes Jesus present in communion or that the Bible is God’s word. As important as those ideas are, they’re wrapping paper for the faith.

What people need to know is that the source of the universe knows and loves them and will never abandon them. We have been told that. It is our job to tell the world; not with bluster or cajoling, not with velvet words or clever ads but by being there for them. Being there in the good times and when things are tough, when folks aren’t appreciative and, especially, when everyone else grabs their stuff and lights out for the hills. That’s when folks will know that we have something true to say, when they see that we ourselves are true – to them.

“Nearing his final revelation of God’s love Jesus told his followers, To be part of God’s future world, you must be there for people in the world as it is. You can’t run away. You have to stand with them. Then they’ll understand.”

An Open Armed: An Opened Armed People
Thoughts on the Gospels – Joe
4th Sunday of Easter
John 10:27-30

It makes no sense for us, as members of a faith community, to ask others to do what we don’t model ourselves. As the tough army sergeant in movies used to say, “I never ask my men to do what I don’t do.” It’s a matter of credibility: God’s and ours.

When our Church (that’s us) asks folks to behave this or that way, we’re claiming to speak God’s mind not just a useful philosophical insight that we’ve discovered.

God wouldn’t suggest that we do something that’s impossible. But that’s exactly the impression we give folks when we ask them to do what we don’t do ourselves.

It’s the core assertion of our faith is that God accepts everyone, forgives everyone and is faithful to everyone. We offer that message to everyone who will listen. We say that realizing this truth about our Creator gives humans a security beyond anything else that life offers.

If we say that God is accepting and faithful to all people no matter what their weaknesses and failures while we accept and are faithful to only those we find personally compatible, we don’t merely make ourselves less believable, we make God less believable.

When we become Christian we embrace the responsibility to welcome everyone. We take on that responsibility because we claim that God welcomes all people.

Be what you believe. That’s the challenge to everyone who would live the Christian life.

No one will steal God’s beloved creatures from God’s hands. That was Jesus’ claim about his Father’s dependability. That has to be our promise as well. Whether I find you enjoyable or obnoxious, sympathetic or offensive, nothing will make me turn my back on you.

What we claim of God we model for our world. It’s what we do; it’s who we are.

It’s About The Future Not The Past
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
3rd Sunday of Easter
John 21:1-19

The gospel this week tells of Jesus feeding people. It’s not a new story. Jesus often fed people. It was a way of demonstrating God’s nourishing love. The message was that God isn’t somewhere outside of things watching. God’s with folks giving them life. It would have been difficult for anyone hearing John’s gospel to this point to miss the idea. Why make it again?

John has Jesus feeding people once again because this time it’s not just anyone that he’s making breakfast for; it’s the apostles: the ones who had run away when he was arrested, except for Peter, of course, who, when things got dicey, had told everyone he hadn’t the slightest idea who Jesus was. That’s who Jesus was baking fish for.

It’s worth noting that the apostles didn’t go looking for Jesus figuring that he said that God would raise him from death so they ought to be there to welcome his return. Given the option, they had chosen to go back to work fishing. Jesus had to search them out.

When the apostles noticed him with the fish on the fire, they must have expected a tongue lashing. They didn’t get it. They just got breakfast – and a question: Are you still in this with me? Peter, having done so well speaking for the group before, said, Sure; you bet. I wonder if Jesus grinned; we’ll never know. Anyway, handing them a plate of fish, Jesus said, Okay, let’s get to it; there’s a lot to be done. If we could soak in that idea!

With God it’s not about punishment or threats or lectures. It’s about love and the commitment God’s made to us. It’s about a world to be made whole. It’s about the gift and the work.

Forgive: #1 On Our To Do list
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
2nd Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

With good reason John’s Gospel joins Jesus’ giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples with his blunt reminder of their responsibility to forgive sins. Forgiving is an essential and demanding activity of every Christian.

We forgive with no guarantee that the forgiven won’t offend again. We forgive and let go of the anger that we hold toward the offender. Yet anger is often our defense against the humiliation we experience at the disregard shown us. Revenge, even the passive type that denies another our care and respect, is an attempt to prove to ourselves that we can’t be trifled with, ignored or mistreated without consequence. Forgiving is an act of self-confidence, often great self-confidence.

The Spirit assures us that God knows, loves and is faithful to us. That knowledge forges an unshakable sense of our value in us. Deeper than any self-worth rooted in accomplishments or others’ recognition, this gift of knowing God’s commitment to us is undiminished by failure or rejection. The certainty of God’s faithfulness frees us to forgive. And forgiveness of human failure makes God’s future possible.

We mess up. Sometimes we mess up with full knowledge and responsibility, sometimes out of ignorance. Sometimes we mess up out of sheer stupidity; it’s not that we intend to or that we don’t know better, it’s just – well, we mess up. Forgiving isn’t only for technical sins: intentional bad actions. Forgiving is for all our mess ups.

If we’re to keep moving towards the future God has in mind, if we’re to advance in the face of our messes and everyone else’s; we have to know that we are forgiven – by our Creator and by one another. Without that the future we hope for is a fantasy.

Forgiving is our Church’s primary responsibility – not the clergy’s, the whole Church’s: yours and mine. We can’t live lives of forgiving without the sense of being unconditionally loved ourselves; it’s too hard.

The first step in opening our hearts to our messy world is opening our hearts to our accepting God.

Easter’s Message Is Now
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
Easter Sunday
Luke24:1-12

The term Son of Man appears frequently in Hebrew Scriptures. It refers to a human being with all his or her imperfections and troubles. When God address a character as son of man in an ancient Hebrew setting, it’s to make the point that God is very aware of how weak, confused and generally overwhelmed by life that person often is.

When Christian Scriptures refer to Jesus as Son of Man they are in effect calling him everyman. They’re also making the point that, in Jesus, God has entered into the concrete reality of human life with all its weakness and trouble.

It’s in this context that John pictures the two people who announce Jesus’ resurrection referring to him as the Son of Man. John’s point is that Jesus has dealt with the same weaknesses and faced the same evils that we all face. Just as, despite our best efforts, we’re often overcome by injustice and rejection, Jesus was overcome. In the face of all that, the messengers tell us, God has rescued Jesus from death and failure.

Just as Jesus’ life demonstrated what a fully human life looked like, his resurrection revealed God’s faithfulness to humans who live with trust in God’s oneness with us. The messenger is Jesus; the message is about us.

Easter is concerned with much more than life after death. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s promise to preserve, utilize and bring every human effort for good to fruition. On Easter Christians celebrate the faith that none of our work for God’s justice is ever lost. No matter how dire things look, God underwrites our investment in life and assures its ultimate success.

We know all too well what it means to be Sons (and daughters) of Man. It’s God’s promise that we will also know the triumph of the Risen Jesus.

The Love Is Unique, Not The Suffering
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
Palm Sunday
Luke23:33-46

In high school a religion teacher assigned us a book that described scourging, crowning with thorns, carrying a cross and crucifixion in minute detail. The idea was to help us realize what Jesus endured for people. Without a doubt, the pain Jesus endured in his execution was great.

I was much older when it dawned on me that millions of people endure as much and, in many cases, vastly more suffering than Jesus endured. Holy Week isn’t really about whips and thorns and nails. If Jesus had lived a life of faithfulness to us but died of old age surrounded by loved ones, the astounding reality of who he was and what his life meant would have been no less.

The heart of God’s act in becoming human was to demonstrate God’s union with us and God’s commitment to our future. That the Creator of the universe knows and is concerned with us is itself astounding. That, beyond knowing us, the Creator loves us without qualification and is absolutely committed to our future is beyond our ability to fathom. That the Creator chose to demonstrate that love by sharing our humanity and caring for us despite the painful rejection that such care would bring is life-changing for all who grasp it.

We must be cautious about focusing too exclusively on Jesus’ tragic death. It’s beyond imagining that our Creator would suffer death at our hands. Attempting to make sense of it has led many to explain Jesus’ execution as restitution God demanded from us for our failures. That distorts God’s relationship with us and turns the loving gift of creation into a dodgy business deal humanity could never afford.

Sacrifice is an act of uniting. Jesus’ entire life was a sacrifice because it revealed God’s union with human history and the human dream. Jesus’ suffering was absurdly tragic. All suffering is, especially that which we impose on one another. That God couldn’t join in our existence without being caught up in such pain shines a harsh light the distance we have to travel before we arrive at the future God offers.

Holy Week is about God’s faithfulness.

Our Worth Is A Gift Not A Payment
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
5th Sunday in Lent
John 8:1-11

When I was a child I wanted to pitch in Little League. I would stand in the backyard and throw at a target for hours on end. When my dad came home from work, he would catch for me. The problem was that I thought that an eight year old should be able to pitch like Bob Feller and I couldn’t. When the ball sailed over my dad’s head or out of reach to his right or left, I grew angry with myself. The maturity I needed (more mental than physical) to be a good eight year old pitcher just wasn’t there. Try as he might, my father couldn’t convince me that it was neither a blot against my character nor my value as a human being that my fastball ended up in the shrubs.

It took many years before it sunk in that life wasn’t a test to prove oneself worthy of existence. God’s reasons for creating us are radically mysterious. The best that we can say is that God acts out of love. Having said that, we have to acknowledge that it’s a love that we couldn’t muster on our best day.

Adultery is no laughing matter. It can destroy marriages, families, lives and harm communities. That’s why ancient law, especially law rooted in nomadic culture, was quick and decisive about the issue. It was a big deal. Yet Jesus looked at the woman about to be executed for this behavior, loved what he saw and rescued her. The issue wasn’t that adultery was a minor crime nor was it that the woman, not the man, was to be executed. That reads our issues back into the situation. The point of the story is that God’s relationship with us isn’t about obedience, reward or punishment. It’s about the gift and promise of human joy. God never gives up on that promise to us – never places the human future second to some other consideration.

Human value doesn’t come from throwing a 103 mph fastball, obeying all the Ten Commandments, having the highest MCAT score, the best behaved kids or the biggest dossier of public service in town. Human value comes from the simple fact that the Creator has decided that each of us is worth creating and sticking by. That’s an astounding and unfathomable compliment.

We strive to view ourselves and everyone else from the perspective of that divine judgment. Only when we can do this this will we share the most basic aspect of how Jesus viewed life.

Forgiveness: Love’s Core
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
4th Sunday in Lent
Luke15:1-3, 11-32

When we think of forgiving people, we often imagine those closest to us: spouses, children, parents, intimate friends. That’s understandable since we depend so much on them and their actions affect us so deeply. We want to maintain our relationship with them.

It’s also a good idea to think of folks with whom we’ve only casual contact: grocery store clerks, cable reps, our children’s teacher, Cousin Seth, other drivers. Faith reminds us that we bring God’s forgiveness to the world. We all signed up to do this. It’s not just a priest’s job.

Forgiveness is more about relationships than rules; more about belonging than behavior. We have countless reasons to put people outside our fences. We easily find ways to say that God rejects them too. Jesus refused to let people blame their rejection on God. He let everyone into the community – because, regardless of our judgments, that’s what God does.

We can’t claim to bring God’s love to the world and refuse to let people into our hearts.

Who are we talking about? When we find ourselves thinking, to hell with him or who cares about her; I’ll be civil to him when he’s civil to me or who needs her, she makes no difference; that’s the one.

Forgiving isn’t simple. How do I welcome Johnny into my home when Johnny steals the silverware? Still, faith is the absolute: we invite everyone who will come into our community. We have to find the way to make forgiveness work. We have to forgive because loving is the Christian non-negotiable.

And we wondered what our Lenten Sacrifice would be!

Behavior Matters
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
3rd Sunday in Lent
Luke13:1-9

A perennial source of anxiety in university life is the freshman first semester. From the minute new students step foot on campus someone is cajoling them to dig into their books. “Don’t think that because your parents aren’t here you can leave your books on the floor until December and still grasp a decent grade from the maw of academic disaster. You can’t. A 4.0 in high school last year gets you nothing here.” There follows a string of anecdotal failures designed to imbed fear in 18 year old hearts.

The thing about this tactic is that it’s rooted in fact. While it doesn’t do the university’s reputation any good to have lots of freshmen flunk out, the professors get paid either way and orientation mentors are compensated no matter how well their young charges do, folks give their advice altruistically. That’s how it was with Jesus. Jesus consistently preached God’s freely-given love. Over and over he spoke of God’s concern for the sinner as well as the saint. Still; sin carried a real and steep price. It was paid in blood, in civil disorder, in human alienation and, ultimately, in the extended delay of God’s promised future.

In the ancient world’s static view of reality where life was as life was, unless God intervened from beyond, change or its absence was a direct result of divine pleasure or displeasure.

Without a sense of history’s course and humans’ ability to directly influence its path, the only way of explaining the negative effects of self-centeredness was to view it as a personal affront to God meriting retribution. Jesus, not withstanding his constant assurance of God’s forgiveness for sinners, also preached sin’s dire punishments.

We live with a much different understanding of history. For us, despite its obvious triumphs and tragedies, history moves forward. We assume progress even though it comes in fits and starts. And we assume as well that our behavior influences it. It may have been simpler for the ancients to imagine but it is no less true for us: for good and ill, behavior effects destiny. Our decisions and actions make a real, permanent difference. Just as they do for college freshmen.

Beyond Today’s Joy And Sorrow
Thoughts on the Gospel -Joe
2nd Sunday in Lent
Luke9:28-36

Tuesday it’s pazckis (aka, punchkies) and parties. Dancing, jazz and samba. Wake up Wednesday morning groggy and stuffed; it’s Ash Wednesday. Three tiny meals, no meat, smudged dirt on our heads; it’s Lent. Seven weeks of rigor to get ready for Easter, the highpoint of the Christian year: the day of our Creator’s faithfulness, the day of The Promise.

There are a lot of contradictions in a Christian life. Sorrow lies next to Joy. Misery walks with hope. Failure jostles success. It’s hard to keep one’s balance. Critics call Christianity wildly, even naively, optimistic in one breath and an endless source of weakness and guilt in the next.

The gospel this week tells of Jesus exhibiting marks of divinity in the presence of his disciples and conversing with long-dead Moses and Elijah, pivotal characters in the march of Jewish history. Yet, this amazing event is preceded and followed by Jesus confronting those same disciples with predictions of his approaching arrest and execution. There’s a dissonance in all this that is both distressing and profoundly true.

In the 50s and 60s Thelonious Monk, a great jazz pianist, would play two adjacent keys at once bringing out a sound hidden between them that was both strange and right. It’s often occurred to me that this is what we try to do in Christianity when we place joy and suffering adjacent to one another. In the Holy Spirit’s evolving act of guiding creation to fullness, they’re the realities that we experience as happiness and sorrow, ecstasy and misery but they also contain something beyond each of them. There’s something so good there that, as St. Paul wrote, it’s beyond our ability to imagine.

Every day of our lives we bounce back and forth between the prediction of suffering and the preview of joy, the pain of failure and the excitement of success. We live the same reality that Jesus lived. But for those with ears to hear, there’s a note between those keys that is beautiful, a note that haunts us, a note that, as St. Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth, the eye hasn’t seen and our imaginations haven’t touched. That’s the world for which we live.

We may have only two keys to play but between them the music of God’s future sings to us.

Doing Evil Is Doing Evil
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
1st Sunday in Lent
Luke4:1-13

Should I embezzle money from my employer to buy myself a Corvette? Most folks would reject this idea without a second thought. Should I embezzle money from my employer to pay for the operation my child needs? Though most of us would reject this idea as well, our reaction would be slower and we’d feel a tension missing in the first case.

People have known for a long time that the really difficult moral judgments aren’t whether or not to do something bad simply for our own pleasure. The hard choices center on doing something bad in order to accomplish something good.

This gospel says that Jesus faced the temptation of using force and political manipulation to bring about the world of God’s promise. He considered it and decided against it. The gospels hint at such temptations in other places such as when Peter told Jesus not to risk arrest and execution by preaching in Jerusalem. Jesus, none too gently, warned him against getting in the way of his work. Later on Peter wanted to take up arms to protect Jesus and his mission. Again Jesus let him know he was hurting, not helping, the cause. These ideas, put in Peter’s mouth, were certainly ones that Jesus wrestled with.

There are always good, sensible sounding reasons for doing evil to accomplish something good. But to acquiesce to them is to become part of the underlying problem. If we can do something evil to advance our good agenda why shouldn’t others do something evil to accomplish what they see as good? There is no reason. And we end up with the same the messes in the world that we’ve always faced with folks doing whatever they deem necessary for results they find laudable. I’ve never met anyone who decided to hurt others, whether it involved a million people or two, saying, “I’m going doing this because I’m mean and bad and like to hurt folks.”

This gospel warns against the seductiveness of telling ourselves that we can do evil for a righteous cause. It’s a crucial caution about a rationalization that has hindered the World of God’s Promise more than any heresy or persecution.

The Gift We Have To Offer
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke5:1-11

This amazing fish tale in John’s Gospel is about the fishermen, not the fish.

The communal context for telling this story over and over for 2000 years is the ongoing difficulty Jesus’ followers have believing in our influence. The world is huge. It has deeply entrenched values which do not include loving one’s enemy, caring for the needy as much as for oneself, refusing to do violence to others no matter how great the good at stake. We find it difficult to be so confident of Jesus’ just and loving world that we will expend every effort and take every risk to accomplish it.

Sometimes the amazing fish catch is said to mean that God will help Christians convince everyone to believe things about Jesus. Believing things about Jesus makes little difference. Only acting like Jesus makes a difference. We are called to move people to act like Jesus. That won’t result from our making powerful arguments for Christian doctrines. It will result from our living like Jesus and by our actions making God’s loving justice real in others’ lives.

But the challenge of convincing our world to live like Jesus isn’t the only prospect that overwhelms us at times. It is just as difficult to believe that we can live as Jesus lived. That’s the context of Jesus’ reassurance to the disciples. Jesus commented that it’s more difficult for a camel to pass through a needles eye than someone rich to be part of God’s Reign. Nonetheless, he continued, “What is impossible for people God can make happen.”

It’s crucial that we never doubt, let alone give up on our ability to live the way of Jesus. No matter how often we fail, we admit our failings and begin again. That’s part of being Christian. Jesus was confident that we could bring his love and justice to our world. We can.

Building A Spirituality Together
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke4:21-30

Over the years the married folks in our parish prepared more than a thousand young couples to begin life together. We shared our experiences and what we thought we’d leaned from them about communication, finance and children in the years we’d spent with our spouses.

Organizing these gatherings, I noticed that there was one subject that few of us were willing to discuss. It wasn’t money or sex but spirituality. This was so even though all of us were long-time active, committed members of St. Mary’s.

Maybe our difficulty centered on the fact that we knew that our beliefs about God and Jesus mattered much less than our day-to-day practical dedication to God’s gift of life and our willingness to love as Jesus loved. Catholic spirituality is ultimately concerned with concrete actions not abstract truths. It’s about how we treat people.

Since none of us are perfect, discussing our faith is always humbling. We are talking about our vision of the world and our role in it that we never quite get right.

The thing is: we need to hear one another’s struggles as much as we need to hear of the successes. What we need to share of each other’s spirituality is not wise theories or profound spiritual growth. We need to know the constancy, the efforts day after day to love as God loves in the face of weakness and insecurity. We need to hear this because we need to be reminded that others are committed to the same struggle that we pursue. We need to know that others aren’t giving up on Jesus’ dream. We need to know that we’re not alone.

Others remind us that we’re members of a community that moves forward together, a community sharing a hope for an individual salvation inseparable from hope for the world’s.

It’s fundamental to Catholic faith that no one finds or follows God alone. We share one spiritual story and it’s important to share it.

Faith That Does All It Can
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke1:1-4; 4:1`4-21

Jesus sounds so confident in this gospel. He is God’s Messiah, the one who will initiate the loving human community God has always wanted for the world. He is going to end injustice, bring about peace and make human suffering a thing of the past. What a wonderful vision. What a life to look forward to. What a gift to make of one’s self! Then things begin to fall apart.

Gone is the confident Jesus of the early days when, nearing the end of his career, he cries in frustration and grief over Jerusalem, the center of his people and his faith, for refusing to listen to his message (Lk 19:41). How different from confidence of his early days is the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where begs his disciples to pray with him as he asks God to find a way for him to avoid his inevitable execution (Lk 22: 39).

Last week I listened to President Obama’s inaugural address and I saw the movie Lincoln. A central theme in both was the realization that change comes as people change. Usually that is slowly. We have to accept our responsibility to make things better even though we can’t make things perfect. It is a realization at once troubling, humbling and liberating.

Those of us who read these thoughts do our best to cooperate with God’s loving service to the world as best we can understand it. Sometimes we see results. Often we don’t. It’s difficult to keep going when we can’t point to sure progress nor glimpse the goals for which we long. It helps if we realize that even Jesus discovered that others would have to carry on his work – even if the full realization of this came only after his resurrection.

The life of faith is to do what we can, to take joy in the work and to thank God for the opportunity. It’s an act of faith.

A Creator Who Caters
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 2:1-11

What a party. Days of eating, drinking, singing and dancing then Jesus provides more, and better, wine! After writing a poetic, deeply theological introduction about Jesus’ divinity, John begins the story of Jesus’ life with a party. His point: Jesus lived to bring human joy – even when it seemed impossible. Especially when it seemed impossible! God will accomplish human happiness in a way that common sense says won’t happen. John seems to say, I know you’re going to find this story improbably, even fantastic. Open your minds; even more, open your hearts. Trust God to surprise you.

It isn’t doubt or even hostility that most hobbles Christianity; it’s lack of imagination. Too many of us simply can’t imagine a world different from what we’ve known. Our experiences of how things have been set the parameters of how we believe things can be. If we ask ourselves what we put more stock in, Jesus’ promise of God’s Reign or our assumptions about human nature, most of us choose our assumptions about human nature. What’s more, even though we profess that God has a different vision, we label our assumptions realism. That’s certainly understandable; it’s also certainly not faith.

So John begins his narrative of Jesus by recounting his impossible rescue of someone’s party.

God’s loving presence is more immediate and more intimate than we imagine. God can and will accomplish things through us that we deem impossible. Only our assumptions stand in God’s way.

When we’re reflecting on the strength of our faith, the best place to begin isn’t with the our acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity or Jesus’ Real Presence in Communion or Papal infallibility: it’s with our assumptions about what’s possible for humans to accomplish in God’s Spirit and what size bet we’re willing to make on Jesus’ promise.

God Amidst The Sin
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
The Baptism of the Lord
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Here’s a question: why did Jesus, the presence of God in our lives, ask to participate in baptism, a ritual cleansing from sin? Without claiming access into his private thoughts, we can answer that Jesus began his public life immersed in the universal human struggle with evil and ended his life immersed in the universal human struggle with death. Between these bookends of his life it was his faith that kept evil from defining him. It was faith that freed him to heal and forgive, love and rejoice in God’s promise to us all.

When life turns dark and tragic we ask, where is God? Jesus was God’s answer: I am with you – always; no matter how hopeless, how absurd, how painful the situation, I am at your side.

Often, however, we aren’t asking where God is located; we’re asking why God allows chaos to reign in life. Biology observes that without death there is no evolution, psychology observes that without pain there is no growth or learning, geography observes that without destruction, the earth is static and dead. But these answers offer whats not whys. When my child is hurt, my relationships broken, my dreams shattered, my security evaporated, these facts tell me nothing.

In response God offers us no why. Instead God offers God’s self in the person of Jesus. Between his baptism and his death Jesus faced evil as every human does and in the end he bowed to the inevitable absurdity of death. In Jesus God revealed that God’s self-love is inseparable from God’s love for us. I can’t explain evil to you, God said in Jesus, I can only demonstrate that it will never be my last word to you.

When Jesus asked John for baptism, he wasn’t play acting. The issue wasn’t his personal guilt for this or that immoral action; it was his involvement in the tragedy of human weakness that plagues us all. Jesus needed Baptism because he was immersed in and struggled with evil as we all do. It wasn’t just a figure of speech when Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth that Jesus became sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21].

Building The World We’re Given
Thoughts on the Gospels - Joe
Feast of the Epiphany
Matthew 2:1-12

Scripture depicts the Reign of God as the crux of Jesus’ life. It’s an already-but-not-yet reality. In Jesus, the first Christians saw God loving them and promising to fulfill every human potential. Still disease oppressed them as well as plagues and starvation, poverty and violence. Their lives regularly lacked the feel of God’s love. Clearly, all was not yet right.

This experience of already-but-not-yet has an effect on Christian life. We live in the tension between peace and urgency. It plays itself out in every area of faith.

We constantly hear about the gift of peace: Peace on Earth, Peace be with you, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Yet we know a world full of suffering and unrealized human hopes. We see this; we feel this constantly. We pray every day that everyone, ourselves included, will live more justly.

It’s common belief that faith will provide a deep calm sense of calm, even tranquility. Some folks go so far as to say that worldly problems shouldn’t trouble those with deep Christian convictions.

Jesus’ central teaching, however, was that God will fulfill his gift to humanity in the new world when he overcomes injustice, ends poverty and brings power to the powerless. He will accomplish this new world through the lives of those guided and empowered by the very same Spirit that enlivened Jesus. The Spirit will accomplish God’s Reign through us. Though this is human destiny, it’s a destiny not yet fulfilled. Now people suffer; many unimaginably.

There’s no way that Christians can live content until God’s world is a reality and human suffering is ended. The happiness, the survival of real lives depends on the efforts of people who are guided by Jesus’ Spirit. Christians simply can’t live tranquilly while others suffer from the absence of God’s Reign.

This is the inescapable tension of Christian life: we know the peace of God’s love and promise but we can’t escape the urgent ache of the world’s suffering millions. For now, that’s the irresolvable reality.

Jesus: The Biography Of God
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
Feast of the Holy Family
Luke 2:41-52

It’s easy to overlook Jesus’ words, “I have to be about my Father’s business.” We expect this kind of pious comment. Nonetheless, the statement makes an important point: Jesus wasn’t about himself; he was about God, his father. His every teaching explained and every action demonstrated that God, the Creator of the universe, knows and loves us.

Early Christians grew up believing that the Messiah would transform the world: he would overcome, not succumb, to inhumanity. In their attempts to explain how humans could have destroyed the Messiah, the Creator’s Presence, Christians sought a mechanism of salvation that necessitated Jesus’ dying.

One explanation for the world’s history of chaos was that God withheld his blessings because of human sin. Actions contrary to God’s will had thrown the world out of balance. Only when the world was rebalanced, freed from sin’s consequences, could it receive God’s favor – could it become God’s Kingdom. If the Messiah’s execution paid the total price for human sin, it would reestablish balance and make the world worthy of God’s blessing. Jesus’ incomprehensible crucifixion itself accomplished our salvation. This explanation won common acceptance; it also, however, presented serious problems.

Making Jesus’ death the crux of our salvation separated his work from the work of Creation. Everything else good in life is the result of God creating and humans realizing the potential of his creation. From babies to bocce balls, God creates and people build on his gifts. Not so with Jesus’ crucifixion.

For Jesus to “be about his Father’s business” means that he also was about creation. As God’s Loving Presence, his life demonstrated that the Source of all goodness was not alienated from humanity. His entire life, up to and including his acceptance of death, revealed that the Creator was dedicated to the world. For those who knew him, Jesus’ life became the freeing and sustaining foundation for living. Jesus was God’s “you can do this because I am with you.” Jesus’ salvation wasn’t separate from our creation. It was the definitive statement that God’s promise was imbedded in life from its beginning.

Christ Today
Thoughts on the Gospels -by Joe
4th Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:39-45

By the generation after Jesus’ death his followers were reflecting on what it meant that Mary, a person like they, had given birth to this man who was the presence and action of God in their lives. They surrounded Mary’s story with marvelous events and viewed her as the recipient of God’s particular care. They saw it as wondrous that an ordinary person could bring God to the world.

In the second book of his gospel, The Acts of the Apostles, Luke made the case, as Paul had decades earlier, that the community of faith is now God’s agent, the Christ, bringing salvation to its world.

It’s difficult to know the full reason that this understanding of the community faded from popular imagination but forty generations later few of us are comfortable with the idea. The Second Vatican Council worked mightily to rekindle the realization.

That God works through ordinary events and ordinary people is fundamental to the Christian vision. Still, we often find the thought strange. We’ve magnified the majesty of God so much that something balks at the suggestion that he would sully himself with earthy soil and sweat. That’s strange given the humanity of Jesus and the fact that God brings every human life into the world through the down-to-earth reality of sex.

To the extent that we lay people embrace the idea that God works through us we will transform our spirituality. For centuries we’ve accepted the ordained bring God to the world. Without objection we’ve listened to the assertion that they are the primary agents of Jesus’ revelation and salvation. It’s crucial that we restore the understanding that every person who lives the way of Christ in his or her family, job, community and corner of the world carries on the work of Jesus.

The role of Christ-in-our-world is not something that someone bestows on or withholds from us. It’s a role that Jesus’ Spirit gives us when we accept Jesus’ revelation. Together with our community we ritualize that role in our baptism and every Eucharist. It’s who we are.

Mary is a powerful memory in our community. Her words in the Magnificat [Lk 1:46-55] were, “The Lord has done great things in me.” That’s true of us all.

Getting Serious About God’s Future
Thoughts on the Gospels -Joe
3rd Sunday of Advent
Luke 3:10-18

I’ve met Christians who rarely give the reign of God a thought and others who express little practical concern about when or how it might come to pass. I’ve never met a Christian, however, who didn’t claim to hope, at least in general, that the Reign of God would some day be an earthly reality. Of course, that could simply be because to oppose what, by definition, is God’s will sounds like a really bad idea.

Unless we never take our fill of life at the expense of others, we have to admit that there are times and ways in which we act in opposition to God’s intention for our world. To the extent that we benefit from others’ weakness, we will find our benefits being taken away when God’s Spirit reorders the world.

Some maintain that the world can become economically and personally just while the rich and powerful possess all the advantages of wealth and control that they’ve customarily enjoyed. They accuse anyone who contradicts their vision of promoting a win/lose world with a zero sum understanding of our situation. They portray themselves as pursuing a win/win world in which the well-off maintain, even increase their prerogatives so that they can improve the lives of all. This line of thinking is jaw-droppingly self-serving as well as historically unfounded.

This leaves us with an unsettling question. In our desire to see the Reign of God become reality in the lives of the poor and powerless, are we willing to give up some of our power and security? In the current political parlance: are we willing to see our control re-distributed? To what extent are we willing to use our intelligence and abilities to benefit those currently denied their God-given share in life’s beauty?

Scripture often speaks of the suffering that the unjust will endure with the arrival of God’s Reign. It’s not an issue of punishment. It’s a matter of losing prerogatives that they never had a right to in the first place. Where we fit into that discussion is an uncomfortable question but one that makes sense for us all to ask.

Dare to Repent
Thoughts on the Gospels – Joe
2nd Sunday in Advent
Luke 3:1-6

There were seven children in my family. As was true for most of the people I knew, money was tight and my mother was always telling us to share. Food, toys, clothes, even beds – everything had to be shared. I remember thinking it was a great imposition that forced my parents’ ideas of fairness on me. I saw no benefit to me from all this sharing.

Then I had the good luck to be chosen the fifteenth boy on our fifteen boy seventh grade basketball team. Sharing became a different matter. Our coach constantly shouted, “Pass the ball; don’t hog it.” “Look,” he’d say, “if you keep the ball to yourself, we’re going to lose. While you’re having a great time dribbling around, other people with open shots can’t take because you’ve got the ball. Share the ball; pass it around!” Not even I could miss the point. Sharing made sense after all.

When someone tries to convince us that we should change this or that behavior, we often hear them simply trying to impose their ideas of good behavior on us. That can be what we hear when the Church repeats John the Baptist’s call to repent. The message sounds like Shape up and act like you’re supposed to because God is coming to clean house. That is not the point.

Repent, when it occurs in the gospels, encourages us to live with courageous love and justice. It tells us that we’re capable of accomplishing great things with God. To live self-centered lives, taking for ourselves what’s needed by others because we fear for our security denies us and the world we inhabit the gift that God offers.

Repent reminds us that God is making something wonderful possible. Repent encourages us to take advantage of the opportunity to work with God. Repent proclaims that we can live for the world we long for not the one we think we have to settle for. Repent dares us to risk ourselves for a world of hope rather hide in a comfortable world that betrays God’s love and our future.

Repent, in the gospels, assumes that we want to change things. It’s an encouragement, not a threat.

Don’t Make Them Wait
Thoughts on the Gospels – Joe
1st Sunday in Advent
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

“Are you waiting for a personal invitation?” Those were my dad’s words when we ignored my mom’s call to supper. If we wanted to eat, we didn’t wait for him to say it twice.

As a kid I had a tendency to move when I was good and ready. This was especially true when it was to do something that someone else wanted rather than something I wanted. I never understood why others got upset about that. There always seemed plenty of time to me. My usual response to others’ urgings was, “What’s your rush.” It took me years to realize that I needed to care for others’ needs.

Those who think that God is nastier than most humans tell us not to put off the good we can do because God is impatient and vindictive and will get us. On the other hand, folks who look for real-world reasons for virtue realize that when there’s something good we can do or something bad we can cease doing, real people are depending on us to get our act together. Morality is about people’s needs. How we act or don’t act affects others.

There’s a self-serving element to making God’s imagined anger the ultimate reason to avoid self-centeredness. That supposed consequence of our choice remains out there in another realm that can be ignored – at least for the time being. As the young St. Augustine supposedly prayed about his lack of chastity, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”

Maturity – and honesty – leads us to realize that the problem with doing evil or neglecting to do good is that we are betraying someone.

The season of Advent is a reminder that we can’t afford to ignore other people who depend on us. And that, in one way or another, is everyone: especially the poor and powerless.

We can’t make those who depend on us call us repeatedly. They may not be able to.

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