What is Glory??

5th Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019

Read: Acts 14:21-27, Ps 145: 8-13, Rev. 21:1-5a; John 13: 31-33a, 34-35

Let’s look at the Gospel, then the 1st reading from Acts, and finish with Revelations.

First, the setting of this Gospel: we are at the last supper, shortly before Jesus is arrested. Jesus has washed the apostles’ feet, and Jesus has dipped his bread into the dipping oil along with Judas, identifying Judas as the one who will betray him.  Then Judas left the room, which is the first sentence of our reading today.  What does Jesus say now?

Our Missal offers this translation of the Greek: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.”  Now it would entirely inappropriate to laugh at this, but I feel that little tickle in my toes that makes me want to throw up my hands and say, “WHAT??”

But I know John is working hard to tell us something important. Let’s see if we can’t make some sense of it. First, what does “glorify” mean, Mr. Webster?

Glorify: “to give glory, honor or high praise, or to worship.” If something is glorious, it has great beauty, splendor, is magnificent or wonderful, like a glorious sunset. To have glory is to be highly praiseworthy.

Next, let’s read the translation in the “Living Bible”. It is a less precise translation of the Greek, but very helpful with things like this.  Jesus said, “My time has come; the glory of God will soon surround me – and God shall receive great praise because of all that happens to me. And God shall give me his own glory, and this so very soon.”

So we end up with this: Now is the time! God is going to give Jesus praise and honor; God’s own greatness will be wrapped around Jesus like a blanket, because of what Jesus will do on the cross.  God will also receive high praise and worship because of what Jesus does. Then Jesus, very shortly, will become highly praiseworthy himself.

John wants us to understand the importance and the consequences of Jesus being willing to be crucified. Jesus is innocent, without sin.  We are not so innocent.  He is willing to bear our sins on the cross.  I don’t necesssarily mean sins like murder and robbery.  But the sins of jealousy, of pride, of desiring more power than we can handle, the thoughts and desires that leave black holes in our souls, the more subtle sins of us all.  And the consequences are not just that an innocent man “pays back” our sins, but that we are forgiven, and life triumphs over death and light overcomes darkness.  The way to eternal life is opened, because we are now made pure again, now able to live in the light of God’s purity.

But there is one last thing Jesus has to say to us: the part we have in this. We are not just bystanders watching a play.  No Christian can just be a spectator.  He says, “If you want to remain part of me, want to be identified with my glory and praiseworthiness, here is what you have to do: Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  That is not easy; it is difficult, but easier than crucifixion!  Jesus was and is here with us to show us how to love. Love will be our badge, our uniform, love will be the sign that all can see and recognize, when we love our neighbors in this special & intense way.  Is it true, do we wear our love, so that people know?

Now let’s jump ahead a few years to the travels of Paul and Barnabas. These two men traveled long distances, primarily on foot, and they frequently were in danger, suffered from need and poverty, ridicule, and gave up their lives at home.  They proclaimed the good news to city after city, building up churches, training elders and leaders.  They strengthened the spirits of those new disciples, urging them to be strong in their faith, preparing people to undergo ridicule, slander and suspicion, and modeling it all.

Finally we hear from St. John in the Book of Revelation.  John was captured in a persecution campaign by the Roman Emperor Domitian and sentenced to Patmos, now known as Patino, 55 miles southwest of Ephesus. Patmos was a small, rocky and barren island where many criminals of Rome were sent to serve out their prison terms in harsh conditions. There were mines on the island that the criminals were forced to work in them. John was sent to the island because the early Christians were considered a strange cult group who were viewed as trouble makers within the Empire.  John had taught the Good News of Jesus and refused to worship the Roman gods. After John had arrived, he began to have visions, recorded in the Book of Revelation.

John wrote to his followers, “I…share with you in Jesus the persecution (the really bad times) and the kingdom( the really good times) and the patient endurance (it takes to get from one to the other).”   John fully understands how really difficult life is.  No doubt his visions enabled him to endure the hard conditions, and his writings encouraged other Christians who were being persecuted.  He talks of the future, the eternal life, with a new heaven and a new earth, where God’s dwelling is with the human race.  God will always be with them as their God, and death, mourning, wailing, and pain will end.  And God says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

So we started with an explanation of the importance and consequences of the crucifixion. The end result is to make us able to be God’s people, face to face.

Our task is to embrace that enormous love and live it, to give it to everyone. We are given role models, people like Paul and Barnabas and John to demonstrate in very large ways what they did with that love.  And finally we are given a glimpse of what is to come.  That provides reassurance that our faith is not in vain, our efforts to love are not worthless.  Our face is the face of Christianity to other people, and we must wear our love in a way that people will recognize it and say, “I want what you have!”

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Stones in the Road

May 16, 2019 Nationa Church General Assembly –  Closing Mass

Acts 13:13-25, Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25, 27, John 13: 16-20

Our readings start tonight with St. Paul.  We first met Saul, as he was called then, at the stoning of Steven.  Saul was there, graciously watching over the coats of those who were stoning Steven, and he watched as Steven died.  Saul was a proud Roman Citizen and an accomplished Pharisee.  Saul knew what was being done and approved of it. He believed he was doing the right thing, preventing the spread of Christianity at all costs – even murder.  He saw his sin as justified.

If Saul had been a stone that day, we wouldn’t have stopped to pick him up. We certainly wouldn’t think of him as a gemstone; but more like a ragged lump of broken concrete.  A lifetime in the tumbler, we think, would not improve him.  But everyone has their Steven- the person they should have helped, but didn’t, the cause they should have supported, but didn’t.  Did that make Saul any less valuable to God?  No.  Did God turn away from him?  No. God is a God of 2nd chances, regardless of how it appears to us at the time.

From there, Saul headed out on the road to Damascus, not to throw stones, but to arrange for the arrest and death of other followers of Jesus.  It was an unusual and dramatic journey.  In Acts chapter 9, you can read the whole story of the appearance of Jesus to Saul.  Note that Saul’s change was not instant, but there were a lot of Christian believers who helped and a learning curve was involved.  It took time for people to believe his conversion and for him to be accepted by the apostles.

Now we see Saul again. There have been some changes since we last saw him. He is a changed man; so changed that his name is now Paul. He is traveling with Barnabas, one of the first Christians to take Paul under his wing. They had been in Antioch in Syria, went next to Paphos in Cyprus, next headed north to Perga in Asia Minor, to go on to the other Antioch, in Pisidia.  They had been teaching the Good News of Jesus, telling of his resurrection, baptizing, laying on hands, establishing faith communities, and encouraging those who were persecuted or ridiculed for their faith.

Paul was going to the Synagogues, praying that his fellow Jews might understand Jesus as the promised Messiah, the One Sent by God. He hoped the Holy Spirit would come to them with wisdom and open their hearts, as his heart had been opened. So he speaks in the traditional teaching style, recounting the history of the Israelites, from when God chose them to the Exodus from Egypt, brought them to the Promised Land, and gave them King David, who had the heart to fulfill every wish of God. Now we see Paul as a jewel of a witness and evangelist, a reflection of the glory of God.  Not too shabby for a broken concrete; that was all we saw him as before.  Perhaps our rating system isn’t always the same as God’s.

Then we have a Psalm about King David. If you remember, his father Jesse did not even bother to bring David in from the fields when the Prophet Samuel (1 Sam: 15) came to anoint a new king to replace King Saul (where have we heard that name before?).  David was too young, too simple, not able to be the crown jewel of a nation, his father thought. He was just a boy who sang psalms and who smelled of sheep.  Pope Francis would have approved! Scholars guess it might have been 20 years later before Saul was killed in battle and David became king. Again, there was a long learning curve, a slow process of David’s development, and David had a history of mistakes along the way. Oh yes, and David had his Bathsheba, when in a moment of human desire he abandoned his freedom, stole her liberty, and selfishly hijacked his God-given gift of authority.  We all do, in one form or another.  We all fail; we embarrass ourselves and those who love us.  Sometimes, even a King like David must prostrate them self in front of God and beg for forgiveness and face the consequences.

Neither Paul nor David ever became perfect, they both made mistakes, sinned, grieved and asked forgiveness. They struggled and became discouraged, faced betrayal and were let down by others they trusted.  In the end, they had to depend on God; they had to face life with all the twists and turns and disappointments.  The Blessed Virgin may have been born without sin, the most pure of women, but she still stood in front of the cross and had to watch her tortured son die in agony.  My father was a jeweler He often said, “There are no gems that are not cut to reveal their beauty.”  There are no smooth stones that have not been hammered or smashed against other rocks to snap off their ragged edges.  Even Jesus tells us that “there is no messenger who outranks the one who sent him.”  Just because we are Christians doesn’t make us perfect or superior or glorious.  The perfection and the glory is God’s.

Does this make us inadequate or without value? No, very much No!  We each have great gifts to bring, blessings to bestow on others, the joys of gratitude to share.  We have the gift of self to give, again and again, to friends and family and strangers and neighbors and to God.  We can bless others with simple acts, with gentle words, with forgiveness and generosity.  We can move from just coming to church, to bringing others to church so they might meet the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.  We can read the story of the Good Samaritan or we can go out into the word and be the Samaritan that ministers to the innocent victims of our society.  That is how we bless and share and give the gift that we are.  No Christian can just be a spectator.

Jesus said, “(The person) who accepts anyone I send – accepts me…and in accepting me accepts (God) who sent me.” The person standing in front of you at any given time is the one Jesus sends.  Someone wrote once that any one who walks into a church is seeking God, although they might not know it.   All the stones in you find in the path of life represent the blessings of the past and of the future.  They represent your cries for help and your prayers of thanksgiving.  They remind you of your choices made and yet to be made.  May Almighty God give you joy and be with you every step of your journey.+

 

 

7 Sundays

3rd Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30:2,-6, 11-13; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21 1:1-19

At the opening of today’s Gospel, Peter and 7 of the other apostles are still reeling from the shock of the crucifixion and are still not entirely sure just exactly what happened afterwards. When we lose someone very dear to us, we may also fear that we have no hope for the future. That is how they felt: hopeless, without a future, empty inside, lost.  So it doesn’t surprise us that the 8 men, like a bunch of mother-less boys, don’t know what to do.  They do what they always did before – they went fishing, maybe for something to eat, maybe make a little money, mostly, just for something to do, something they were used to, that brought back good memories, and something that didn’t demand their confused brains to work very hard.

But night turns into morning, and no fish had been sighted; nothing. A voice calls out an Aramaic word which means something like lads, or guys, a name for young men.  And the voice tells them to fish on the other of the boat.

Now isn’t that just like real life. We can be so close to success, to making sense of our lives, to achieving an important goal, and we never think of making a small adjustment that might bring success. I was an employment counselor for 13 years, and oversaw job training programs.  I saw people make foolish decisions, do things they knew would ruin their chance for finishing the training, when they were close to the end.   We all tend to have a habit of fishing out of just one side of the boat, to keep things from changing.  We continue to flounder because we keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work anymore.

We need the voice of Jesus in our lives to lead us to good alternatives. I can’t tell you how many times Jesus has offered me solutions to really hard situations – ideas I never would have considered, but ideas that were absolutely brilliant and successful yet at the same time simple.  John recognized Jesus by what he did – Jesus changed one small detail which made everything different.  That is how Jesus tends to move in our lives, not with fireworks, but a gentle nudge.

Jesus is on the beach with another charcoal fire. Do you remember the first charcoal fire we read about in John’s Gospel?  The first fire warmed Peter in Caiaphas’s courtyard when, as predicted, Peter denies Jesus three times. Today John tells us about this second charcoal fire, where Jesus invites Peter to seek forgiveness for his 3 denials by declaring his love three times. Each time Jesus asks Peter to act out that love by service: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” He then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Social justice ministry is important, but sometimes that ministry takes us where we might not want to go, we might work with people we don’t understand or even like, we will seeing suffering that is hard to witness and calls us to give more of ourselves than we had planned on. Serving Jesus means loving our enemies, like the Roman oppressors, like the narrow-minded Pharisees.  You know people today that you could call your enemies.  What Jesus asks is easy to say and very hard to do (or we would do it).

I am once again astounded by the way Jesus handles this reconciliation. I know of no one that would be so gentle, yet at the same time so firm.  A man I know has the most active prayer life I have ever encountered.  He tells me he has never experienced such gentleness as the gentleness of Jesus.  But, on the other hand, he when he tries to describe the power and strength of Jesus, he is at a loss for words, and just shakes his head, amazed.  I think that is the Jesus that this passage describes.  Jesus addresses Peter with 4 simple words “Do you love me?”  Peter offers his whole heart with his reply, “You know that I love you.”

Those words bring Peter to tears – and complete and lasting change. This is literally a point of life change for Peter.  He could have ended up taking his own life out of remorse, as Judas did.  Judas could have come to face Jesus and lived, but he didn’t.  Judas believed the lie that his sin was too great.  Surely his betrayal was a sin, but the real sin was to turn his back on Jesus and refuse to believe that Jesus has the power to forgive our sin. Do we have what it takes to forgive those who have hurt us?  Do we have what it takes to face our failings and ask for forgiveness? Do we understand that our sins, our failures, our moments of greed and self-absorption can lead us to a point of life change? The very worse mistakes in our lives can bring us blessings untold when we take them to Jesus.

Our 1st reading from Acts therefore has a totally transformed Peter, saying to the very same High Priest he was so very fearful of not long before, “We must obey God rather than man” and so bolding finding joy in suffering threats and dishonor for being true to Jesus.  He not only returns to be an apostle, a follower of Jesus, but moves ahead, and moves to the “other side of the boat” – leadership.  One side of the boat there was a gentle call; moving to the other side of the boat, there was the power to create a multitude of fish where there were none before.  So Peter moves on to publicly witnesses to the Risen Christ, a true fisher of mankind.

After Easter, we can return to the world we were used to, seeming unchanged.  Maybe that’s why we have 7 Sundays of Easter Season.  It gives us time to face a living, resurrected Jesus, and a world where life does triumph over death.  It gives us time to hear a call from the beach, to witness the miracle of Jesus’ power.  It gives us time to move to the other side of the boat and recognize Jesus for who he is. It gives us time to draw near to Jesus at the charcoal fire, sinners as we are, and be given the gifts of reconciliation and forgiveness.  There we can proclaim a new level of love and desire to take the love given to us to all the people who are lost sheep in this world.  My friends, the sheep are waiting!

Love Triumphs Over Loss

5th Sunday of Lent 4-7-19

Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21, Psalm 126:1-6, Philippians 3: 8-14, John 8:1-11

There are two pivotal stories of the Jewish people. The first is the Exodus from Egypt, the people being led from slavery to the Promised Land.  They are literally led by God and fed by God on the journey. But most importantly, they must go thru some big changes; God must de-program them from slave mentality, they must leave their fear of Egypt behind, with all the physical and emotion abuse they had suffered.

Their sons had been slaughtered by the Egyptians, their daughters made concubines of the pharaohs, they were used to eating what the Egyptians gave them to eat, and worshiping the idols they were told to worship. They were accustomed to doing what they were told and to cower before their masters. The journey took 40 years not because of the distance, but because of the enormity of the task of freeing them from looking back at their old life, and preparing them for a new life ahead.

The second pivotal story of the Jewish people is the captivity in Babylon for 40 years, and their ultimate release to return to their homeland.  The brutality of the war with Babylon, the total destruction of their temple, their homes, their cities, and their culture – all this left them deeply wounded psychologically.  Again, they must begin all over, and rebuild their buildings, their infrastructure, their very way of life, and their worship of their God that they hardly remembered.

God took the initiative here.  So God tells them, “don’t look back.”  Don’t waste your time rehashing your troubles and clinging to what had seemingly become “the new normal” of captivity.  He calls them to wake up, he says look and see what I’m doing, something new, it springs forth, can’t you see?!  Even the animals can see it, but I do it for the people I formed, “That they might announce my praise.”

This story continues in our psalm, with the people’s response. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord.  We need help as large as and powerful as of a mass of rushing water, like a torrent in the time of flood. We are weeping at the destruction of our land and of our hopes, but we will rebuild, and we will rejoice in what we accomplish with your help.”

We know the pivotal story of the Christian people. Paul writes of his losses in the decision to follow Christ. He lost everything he had.  He lost his place and status as a learned Pharisee.  He lost his home, and became a traveler.  He certainly lost friends, he was physically attacked, he lost his wealth, and had to work as a common tent maker to buy food.  Yet he always looks forward to what God is doing. Paul had discovered himself on the receiving end of a divine love that enabled him to live by the law of love.  He says all the things he lost were “so much rubbish” in the light of his faith, in knowing Christ, and the “power of his resurrection.”   Paul says that he lets go of and forgets what lies behind, but strains forward to what lies ahead, and continues pursuit of the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling to eternal life.

The strength of the faith of the Jews as they rebuilt their lives, the strength of Paul as he pursued God, sound to me like that sound rushing water makes in flood time. There is a power behind them, they see the new things that God is doing, a force which stronger than any opposition and better than anything they had lost.

Then we have Jesus and the woman. The woman was as battered and beaten down as the Jews had been in Egypt.  Most likely she was a woman who had been widowed and had no family to support her.  Prostitution was then and is now the last resort for women who are not loved, who have lost hope, and have lost any sense of value of themselves.  Since this situation is clearly a set up by the Pharisees, there is no doubt in my mind that this poor woman was just hoping to have enough payment for her services to buy one meal that day.  Clearly, she was just being used and shamed one more time by people who regarded themselves as superiors.

I remember when my last church was a brand new church, searching for worship space. They were renting a single basement room, it used to be a Sunday school room in a church that was dying, financially on it’s last legs, had spent all its reserves, was in an area where gun shots were heard and the copper gutters had been stolen off the church building. A beautiful old church nearby had been purchased by another independent Catholic group, and some discussions had started about moving there.

It was mentioned that a group of local prostitutes would sit on the church steps in the early evening, getting ready to go “to work.”  Everyone at the meeting acted like they had not heard that piece of information, like it had nothing to do with them.  Afterwards, I approached the speaker, and commented that there was a great opportunity to help those women.  The speaker, sighed, and said quietly, “You’re the only who mentioned that.” Now and then, such women are still considered expendable.

But God was initiating something new that day for the woman in front of Jesus. The Pharisees had no authority to inflict capital punishment on this woman.   That authority belonged to Rome.  She was being used like a trap against Jesus, but she might become the laughing stock of Jerusalem by nightfall and, as a result, die of starvation anyway.  He saved her with a single sentence, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

With those words, he reminds the Pharisees that they, like the woman, had no power in this situation, and thereby shames them with their own sins – the lies they have told and their pretense of authority they did not have, authority they had prostituted to Rome in a desperate attempt to salvage their social status.  Once again, as you read the story, you hear that torrent of water, water of truth, life-giving water, and power…the power to rebuild, to change, for her to become whole again and shine with God’s light.

I hope you don’t drive down the road looking in the rearview mirror, but rather “staining to see what lies ahead.   During Lent weep over the past, but in the celebration of Easter we return rejoicing.  Both long ago and today, Jesus forgives the sinner without denying the sin. Listen, Believe, See something new, And Rejoice.

Flipping Greatness Upside Down

29th Sunday of Ordinary time, 10-21-2018

Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22; Hebrews 4:14-16;  Mark 10:35-45

We left Jesus last week saying, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Then, for the third time, Jesus predicts his coming death. He says, “…the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests…and will (be) condemned to death…they will mock him and scourge Him and spit on Him and kill Him.  And on the third day He will rise again.”

If you remember, the first time (8:31) Jesus said this, Peter scolded Jesus for saying such a thing. Jesus compared him to Satan, and accused Peter of tempting him as Satan did in the desert.  The second time (9:31), everyone was afraid to ask any questions.  Now (10: 32), James and John oddly choose to ask Jesus for a favor immediately after Jesus proclaims his coming death the 3rd time.  It’s more like a demand that Jesus do “whatever they ask”.  Have John and James not paid attention to his teaching about the first being last, and the last first?

So what do they want? What immediately comes to mind is power, prestige, to be “great”.  The 1st Nicene Council was in 325, after Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire.  The historical records include who sat on the right and the left of the Emperor Constantine.   They were highly contested places to sit,  won by strong arm political maneuvering – and you can be assured the man who sat on the right of the Emperor was the one who promoted the winning theology which resulted in the first Canon Laws of the Church. Were James and John doing some serious political moves to be leaders when the time came for Jesus to defeat Rome and take over the government?  Seems like a timely passage to be reading just before a hotly contested election, doesn’t it?

Jesus warns them that they don’t understand the enormity of their request. Yet they agree to drink the cup of suffering, and to be submerged in the baptism of death.  And of course, word leaks out about their demands, and anger and jealousy erupt among the rest of the apostles, so much so that Jesus must sit them down and straighten them out.

Jesus does not deny that there is rank in the Kingdom of God.  But it is not a result of shrewd political maneuvers.  Jesus reminds the apostles of their Roman Conquerors, and how they chose leaders.  It was a corrupt system, and the Jews were subject to men who were anxious to “lord it over” them.  The apostles are close to trying to do the same thing.   It is always interesting, and usually depressing, when there is a shift of political power. Once people gain power, they tend to try to suppress other people. Power is a breeding ground for unrestrained ambition and jealousy.

Or perhaps I am terribly wrong about James and John. I was reading an article by Eleonore Stump, Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. She said her son-in-law read this Gospel and immediately understood it to mean something other than what we usually think. He said, that after Jesus had announced his coming death three times, James and John understood he meant it. Perhaps they were ready to be on the right and left of Jesus when he was crucified, which might account for the odd time they approached him. But God had already chosen those at the right and left of Jesus – two unknown, nameless, lowly criminals were on his right and his left. One of them did, in fact, follow Jesus to eternal life.  Perhaps the other apostles misinterpreted the request made by James and John, seeing it all through a lens of their own ambition, as people traditionally do when reading this.

Jesus offers another way to live, another way to become great, turning the entire measure of greatness around and flipping the scale of greatness upside down. “Whoever”, he says, “desire to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever desires to be first shall be slave of all”.  Servant!  Slave!  Is he telling us to become great by being the lowest of the social order?  Inwardly, we wince.  “No one could do that”, we think.  Jesus hears our doubt.  He responds, “For even (I) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give (my) life as a ransom for the many.” It is so counter to our culture it takes our breath away, and we feel a dark urge to not take it too seriously.

Our reading from Hebrew offers us reassurance that Jesus is in fact serious and does understand our weaknesses, as he too was subjected to temptation. So we may run to Jesus with confidence, for only in his perfect power, we will receive mercy and grace, and find the true greatness of service to each other.

Hear, see…..and do!

25th Sunday Ordinary Time September 23, 2018

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, Ps 54:3-8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

Last Sunday we “saw” our readings in the very center of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is beginning to reveal himself for who he really is.  The readers, like the disciples, are beginning to see the true face of Jesus – his actions, his teaching, his miracles come together  to prove him to be the Messiah.   While the Gospel might at first look appear to be simple, we are finding the arrangement of the events and teachings are carefully woven together.  This Gospel can be compared to a complex tapestry.  If we look at the reverse side first, we see the colors, but the pattern seems random and disorganized.  Only when we turn the tapestry over to the front, we see the artistry and the picture that those many threads were woven together to create.

So, again as last week, our lectionary has omitted some important and relevant events. Shortly after Jesus’ teaching about his upcoming crucifixion, death and resurrection, he takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to witness the transfiguration.  Jesus’ appearance changes, they hear the voice of God, and see Elijah and Moses.  What Jesus has said is now experienced by the 3 apostles.  It strengthens Jesus for his upcoming death, and better prepares the apostles for the trauma of his death and the shock of his resurrection.  Again, Mark wrote his Gospel as if it was it was a picture being woven– the readers, along with the apostles, are given threads that must be assembled, with the resurrection and Pentecost completing the picture.

They come down the mountain from the transfiguration. The disciples who stayed behind have tried to heal a boy who has had terrible seizures since birth.  They are unable to heal him, and the Jewish scribes are verbally attacking them.  Jesus intervenes and heals the child, then takes the disciples aside privately.  No doubt the disciples are embarrassed and saddened at their failure, and ask Jesus what went wrong.  He replies that “This kind (of illness) can come out by nothing except prayer.”  No matter how well trained, how gifted, how experienced, or how well intentioned we are, our ability to overcome struggles, temptations, and evil all rely on God’s strength, not our own.  Prayer connects us to God, and allows God to heal through us in ways that are impossible otherwise.  This incident, directly following the transfiguration, should have made crystal clear to the apostles the difference between human beings and The One True God.  It should do the same for us.

Our reading begins with the disciples alone with Jesus, walking through Galilee toward Jerusalem.  For the 2nd time, he says, “The Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.”  The statement, a repeat of what we heard last week, is delivered in the third person.  Jesus does not say “I” but by the title of “The Son of Man”, stressing his divinity, and making clear this is a true prophecy of a divine event.  This is not a magic show contrived by a man.  This teaching draws in all that the disciples have watched, heard, and participated in over the last few weeks.  Like us, they struggle with the intense needs of the people around them, their own desires to control what happens in the future, the (somewhat selfish) pride they feel from being in the center of attention as they travel with Jesus, and the fear they experience as the Temple leaders threaten them and the very life of Jesus.  If Jesus will be killed, what will happen to them?  Jesus has told them to “Take up their cross”, and follow in his foot steps. They were afraid to ask, probably because they were afraid to know.

Their response is very human. Their fears become anger, and in their anger they try to grasp power.  It’s an attempt to deny that they are not in control of the situation.  I strongly expect their emotions were obvious, for on arrival in Capernaum, Jesus asks, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”  Embarrassed by his question, they realize their big posturing and proud words were really just cover for their feelings of fear and inadequacy. It’s something that frightened people do, regardless of age. It’s why politicians and salesmen tell you that you are in harm’s way and that something terrible will happen if you don’t buy their product or vote for them.  Fear is a very old way to control people who have not listened to wise teaching and/or searched out facts.  So now Jesus has their attention, and he teaches the facts that will remove their fear.

How can we say this in modern language? If you want to be a leader, your concern must not be centered on yourself. Your attention must be on the people around you.  Instead of striving for wealth and possessions, you must use wealth to see that others have what they need.  You must use your influence and position to ensure others are treated with compassion.  Grasping power and status will not calm your fears. Instead, ease the fears of others with truth and transparency and wisdom.  Reach out to the “children” of the world – people with physical and emotional problems which limit their chance to gain employment, safe and decent housing, and access adequate education and training.  Mentor those people who do not have support from their families, those who have lived with fear and bullying, abuse and neglect, those isolated in prisons and institutions.  Treat those who are considered the “least” in our society as the most valuable, uncover the value of those people which awaits underneath the pain of their past.  In doing this, you will find not only your own value, but you will find God.

How to do this? We don’t need to just talk about it, but actually do it.  Let’s start by getting more information from St. Timothy on their many existing outreach programs.  Many programs need time more than they need money.  It is what Jesus asked us to do.  It will be rewarding to work with other Christians who share our goals.  It will bring us closer to God.  Why not?

Astonishment

23rd Sunday Ordinary time, September 9, 2018

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm  146; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 24-31

When kids go back to school, they tell their friends and classmates about their summer vacation. When adults return to work after a summer vacation, they tell their co-workers about where they went and what they did.  It may sound a little odd at first, but our Gospel reading today tells about Jesus’ “summer vacation”.

Jesus started his ministry by teaching the people at the local synagogue, and he healed a sick man there. The people were amazed!  Soon everyone was talking about Jesus, and all the people in the city gathered around the house where he was staying.  So many people came to see him and hear him that he had to go out in the countryside to have enough room.

All this was good. But some of the religious leaders from Jerusalem became jealous because Jesus had become famous.  They wanted to be in charge, they wanted to be in power.  So they started charging Jesus and his followers with sins – they didn’t want Jesus to heal the sick on the Sabbath, they even said that Jesus was evil, a terrible lie.  But Jesus kept on teaching and healing and even raised a little girl who had died back to life.  He was so busy that he and the apostles had no time even to eat!  People followed him, and when he walked from one village to another, a new crowd was waiting for him. People recognized him, where ever he went   He was working non-Stop!

Then Pharisees came to criticize him again for not washing his hands according to tradition. Jesus told them that what we eat or some dirt on our hands isn’t evil, but the evil we do comes from within us.  It comes from what we think about and our failure to love God with all our hearts. The Pharisees were really angry with him, wanting to end his teaching & healing permanently.

Now, we’re all glad to go on vacation because we work hard, we’re busy, we need time for rest, to get away and do new things. If you think your life is hard, and that no one understands, you need to talk with Jesus.  Sit down and tell Jesus that you work too hard, the demands are too great, and people around you are cruel.  He’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

So Jesus told his apostles, “Come away to a lonely place, and rest a while.”  Jesus and the apostles got away from the crowds and the threats of the Pharisees.  They got out of town, out of the country of Israel, away from Galilee, to the region of Tyre and Sidon (sy’don).  It was very different there – the culture was different.  And would you believe it?  Immediately, a woman with a sick child had heard of Jesus, and came and fell down on the dirt in front of Jesus and begged him to heal her child, and she kept asking him, over and over.

So, here’s what you need to know to understand what he said to her: She was Greek, meaning she is not Jewish, as Jesus was.  The Jews referred to themselves as “The Children of God”.  Jesus is not calling her or her child a dog.  He is saying that any Father (God) would feed his children before he would give that food to dogs, even cute little puppies.  Remember the interaction he’d just had with the Pharisees.  They were religious; they spent their days studying the Scriptures.  Yet they had not only tried to block his teaching, they had refused to listen, and they were even plotting against him, calling him “evil”.  But she answers with deep humility; all she wants is a little crumb of healing for her girl.  She does not want riches or power or social status or fame, but only enough for her daughter to be well.  What a contrast between this mother, who has thrown herself at Jesus’ feet, desperately begging for a crumb, and the Pharisees who threaten Jesus in their jealousy of his God-given power by which he helps people.  Jesus praises her, and assures her the child had been cured.

The rest of Jesus’ summer vacation must have been the quiet and restful time he and the apostles had been wanting, for we hear no more of Jesus until he has returned to Galilee.  It’s a walk that could have taken months.  And now, like you, he is back to work. He is surrounded by crowds again. A man is brought to him who was deaf and whose speech couldn’t be understood.   We have that word, “Ephphatha” (ef-fa-tha’), an Aramaic command to open, which gives the scene real authenticity.  And immediately, says the Gospel, he could hear and speak plainly.  Jesus says to tell no one; the crowd is already so large.  Perhaps Jesus even thinks back to those quiet times he had on vacation. But the word spreads quickly.  “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, He has done all things well; he makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,” they say, coincidentally matching the description of the Messiah in Isaiah 35.

When was the last time you were astonished beyond measure? When was the last time you heard something that left you breathless and so delighted that you were at a loss for words?  Do you even remember?  But there are those days when a heartfelt prayer is answered, when you laugh and cry at the same time; and those moments always seem to come from The One who does all things well.

Perhaps this day of Homecoming should not only be a day of returning to Church, and all the opportunities for worship and service, but also a day to return to astonishment, the type of astonishment that comes from a deep and certain confirmation that Goodness is alive and well and available to us in this world.

Perhaps it is time to get away from the anger and hatred of the Pharisees, and go to love and desire to help others, like the Mother. It is time to seek healing from God, like the deaf man.  Change always takes courage, but the littlest crumbs from God’s table are enough to cure the soul. It is always the season for a change of heart.  The time to open our ears to hear God and speak out clearly about God’s love is always right now.