Meditations on the 2nd Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent 2-25-18

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm: 116:10, 15-19; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10

Many primitive cultures have practiced human sacrifice, including the ancient tribes in the Middle East. Archeologists tell us that the area outside of Jerusalem, the valley of Gahenna, was once a place where human sacrifice was practiced.  It was a place that provoked great fear. These very early people instinctively knew that to sacrifice a human life was the greatest and most supreme sacrifice that could be made. More grapes and wheat could be grown. More lambs and goats could be bred. But humans came only from the mysterious event of birth.

I am always a little sickened by the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. It seems to go against every thing we hold as right and decent as well as everything we believe about a loving God. Even the ending, when the ram appears and is used as the sacrifice, leaves me uneasy about the story. Nevertheless, since we are told that God is good, and since Isaac was a child who was brought to life by a miracle, we should know that Abraham was right to trust God.

Sacrifice was a significant ritual for the Jewish people. Historians tell us that the blood from the lambs ran in red rivers down the streets of Jerusalem from the temple during Passover. We usually think of gifts as benefiting the person they are given to. At Passover, animals were sacrificed so that the givers could receive something valuable; as a community they recalled being protected from the plagues God put on the Egyptians, and thereby were freed from slavery and lead into the Promised Land. Animal sacrifice ended when the Temple was destroyed, only some 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, but a ritualized image of sacrifice remains in our own Mass.

The Lectionary uses all this to set the tone, to prepare us to think deeply about the crucifixion, which occurred at Passover. It is framed in the immensity of the thought of a loving and all-powerful God willingly sacrificing his son to a frenzied mob motivated by little more than silver coins and the desire for power. That mob continues to haunt us; too much of human interaction is still mob mentality, where superficial information and ignorance leave people open to faulty conclusions and horrific actions.

It is not hard to understand why Pontius Pilot handed over Jesus to the mob to be crucified – giving them what they wanted was the only way to avoid a full-blown riot. The worst part of the Good Friday reading of the Passion is when the congregation is expected to read the words the crowd spoke: “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” At that point, I always say a prayer that I will never be part of a mob chanting like that.

I recently heard from a woman who had lost both her husband and her only daughter within 2 months. Naturally, she was in shock. Among other things, I suggested that she lean on the Blessed Mother, because she too, as a widow, had lost her precious child in the most terrible of circumstances.   It was an image that helped this grieving woman.

Likewise, the Lectionary gives us the story of Abraham and Isaac to help us understand the idea of God losing his precious and sinless son to mob who had no respect for his life. At the same time, our Gospel reading reassures us that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God. Jesus is transfigured, and his clothes become an unearthly dazzling white; he talks with Elijah and Moses. God says Jesus is “my beloved Son.” Afterwards, Jesus warns his disciples not to tell anyone about this except when the “Son of Man had risen from the dead,” which confuses the disciples even more.

So what are we to take away from this muddle of sacrifice and death, alongside transfiguration? The Abraham story assures us that God’s promises can be trusted, even when the situation is dire. Indeed, the children of Abraham did become as many as the stars in the sky, through his son Isaac.   The transfiguration story is also to build trust for the apostles, because very shortly their faith will be badly shaken. Jesus is the son of God and will rise from the dead. The apostles could trust in this message from God, as can we, for the risen Christ is the primary foundation of Christianity. If the 2nd Sunday of Lent were to have a name, it would be “trust”. This Lent, let us set aside our fears of the future, and trust that Creator, Son and Holy Sprit will be with us as we travel together through these 40 days leading to Easter Morning, and beyond.

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Homily February 18, 2018- the 1st Sunday of Lent

1lent1Over the years we have learned that living in the middle east, the culture was tribal and family centered. A person’s home town was like an anchor or stake that centered or protected a person in a world where a single or unattached person was seen to be in danger. We see today in the gospel and from the last few weeks, that Jesus has left Nazareth. He has encountered John the Baptist(and been baptized, but not in Mark’s gospel) and now we see Mark say the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. In Mark, there is kind of urgency for Jesus to get to the desert. It is as if in those forty days, Jesus was communing and preparing with a different1lent3 family. Spiritually he was preparing his ministry, being attended by the angels and in his new family meeting Satan and what that entailed. Perhaps, his first encounter with Satan away from the protection of his earthly family. But with his time of preparation done and John having been arrested, Jesus went to Galilee and began to preach: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

As we ponder that today, I would like to say we all have busy schedules and not a whole lot of time for lent. But most of you have smart phone and tablets or computers and email. I would suggest for lent that you can get the daily Mass readings for lent in an email every day simply by signing up at the catholic bishops site on-line. It is free and you can read it where ever you read your email. In this way you can receive a thought each day as Easter approaches. The link is below.1lent6

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021818.cfm

Homily February 9, 2018-the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

6 sun 4As you might know, the middle east is very tribal and thus very family and community 6sun3centered. In Jesus’ time, it also meant extended families. So in a village or town, there might be a large extended family. To declare someone unclean, was a banishment from community and led to a life of solitude and loneliness. The skin diseases mention, have come to be translated as leprosy. But in actuality it is not referring to the disease we call leprosy or Hansen’s disease. But the point of today’s gospel is that the leper actually went against the laws of Leviticus and approached Jesus. He approached and asked for healing. Jesus had pity on him and reached out and 6th suntouched him and mindful of the law, told him to go and see the priests. Jesus’ touch was a healing of body and spirit. It was a welcome to return to his community, his family and friends. This, I think, makes clear that we are are not meant to be alone and pushed aside and be alone. As Christians we choose to be in a community and be welcomed into a social and spiritual life. The joy of the good news should have us reaching out to others.

Homily, February 4, 2018-the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

5sun1In the gospel, we see Jesus leave the Synagogue and go to Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever and Jesus heals her and helps her up. She then waits on Jesus and his disciples. After sundown when the sabbath ends, the sick from the town start to come to Jesus to be healed. The following morning, Jesus arose early and set out alone in 5sun2the desert. Later when his disciples caught up, he said it was time to move on. He said he had not come to heal, but to teach the word of God. So he continued on. Jesus, more than any of us was aware of a mission, of a reason he was 5 sun3here. Unlike ourselves, he avoided distractions and continued his journey. His life, his service, his love left much for his disciples and followers who followed and came after him to do and imitate. His journey was to give his message to the whole world and so it has been for his followers. But the world today is not perfect, nor has it been in any century. The twentieth century, the last one, was filled with war and ugliness that people could impose on their peers. Violence, and war seems to be a part of what people are. But why? People are kind and loving with their own, why not beyond the family and the boundaries of town and country. Jesus taught who was our neighbor, and ultimately our neighbor is the one who can express love and care for others. Everything we do for a neighbor, a brother or sister, we do for a loving, unifying reason. More 5 sun4

than anything, we are called to reach out to the Jobs of this world. Even in our time there are those filled with despair and the drudgery of daily life. They need our support and help. We should reach out and offer a hand, a word, some solace. After all, we all have a bad time a some point or another. None of us can do it alone without God’s help and those around us.

Do We Hear God’s Voice?

4th Sunday in Ordinary time

Deut 18:15-20; Psalm: 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

Our 1st reading today starts with a reminder of when Moses brought down the 10 commandments from the mountain (Exodus 20: 10).  There was thunder and lightening.  The earth trembled, the clouds were thick, and there was a sound like trumpets blasting.  It was scary; the people were afraid.  They believed that they could die from getting too close to God.  They never again wanted to hear the voice of God.

We believe God loves us, “and we long to see his face.” But have you ever wondered why God does not speak to us directly?  Have you ever said, “I wish God would just tell me the answer to my problems”? We complain that God does not communicate with us clearly, making it hard to know the right thing to do.

In Moses day, there was an answer to the problem – people were called to be “prophets”. A prophet does not foretell the future; a prophet just relates a message clearly and accurately from God to a person or a group of people.  Of course, that was no guarantee that anyone would do what the prophet said.  The Old Testament is filled with the stories of people who found God’s message too difficult, or found the advice of other people more appealing, which always lead to humiliations and hardships.

Our Psalm mentions one of the occasions when this happened. While traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land, God gave Moses and the Israelites manna and quail to eat.  But when they camped at a place which had no water, the people quarreled and rebelled against Moses’ leadership.  They still failed to trust when Moses told them that God would provide for them, even after they had eaten the manna and seen God’s strength lead them out of slavery in Egypt!  They rebelled against both God’s message and the prophet who brought the message.  That is why the place was named Massah (quarrel) and Meribah (rebel).  Once again, their fear had stopped them from hearing God.  The Psalm is a prayer that we might to be able to hear God without a messenger.

Finally, our reading from Mark follows immediately after Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing to follow him. It is the first time Jesus teaches in a local synagogue and does a healing miracle.  They know Jesus only as the son of Joseph, a carpenter.  The amazement of the people is somewhat skeptical.  How is Jesus able to speak and teach with more understanding and knowledge than even the scribes, who are educated, who read and write with ease?  Why is Jesus so sure of himself and teaches as one with vast experience and understanding? He is like a prophet who confidently announces words which come from God, and heals, too!

The unclean spirit in the man recognizes Jesus’ authority. The spirit cries out, literally shrieks in fear of Jesus, as Moses’ people had feared God.  The spirit is unable to disobey and leaves the man. The people debate among themselves, trying to understand what they have witnessed.  But they cannot deny what they have seen, and the news spreads rapidly.  The fame of Jesus builds as the people recognize, even if they do not name the source of it, his authority and his power.

If only Mark had recorded the teaching! We do not know what he said, only the stunning impact he created on the people.  It is hard not to wish we had been there to experience what amazed the people so. We also wish we had the clarity of Jesus’ teaching and his presence among us.

But we do! We have 4 Gospels, 4 different and fascinating records of the life, teaching, and miracles of Jesus.  We also have all the letters by Paul and others that have been saved. We have some 2000 years of church history and Tradition.  Many wise and faithful Christians have left their legacies, their lives, their writings, their studies for us.  It is an incredible and vast collection to help us grow in the faith.  We no longer have to wonder who Jesus was.  Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit; we have the Spirit indwelling in our hearts to guide us.

But what if we fail to read or study the teaching of Jesus? We are like people who read only the first paragraph of each chapter of a book and think they are ready to attend a book club discussion. We would be like students who don’t read the assigned text book, expecting a couple of important bulletin points to be emailed to them by the professor.  Hearing just short passages on Sunday robs us of the crucial settings and background of why, for example, Jesus told a particular parable.  Jesus often refers to Moses and Abraham – how can we understand those references unless we know those characters and their stories.

Have you ever been pressed to explain or defend baptism or the Eucharist, and had difficulty? Do we take the Traditions of the church seriously? Do we learn all we can about why we pray as we do, why we have the sacraments and the depth of their meaning? No wonder we are so hesitant to tell other people about our faith and what it means to us.  For our message to be attractive to others, it must include our knowledgeable and personal experience with God as Father, Brother, and Friend.

Perhaps we think God is silent because we are silent about God. Perhaps we have stopped listening to God and focused on all the “thunder and lightening” of our culture instead.  Perhaps we still fear God, because we do not yet know God.  Oh, that today we would hear God’s voice!