Jan 20, 2017

A look to Sunday . . .

"Come after me . . ."

Work in the time of Jesus was pretty much passed down from generation to generation through one’s father.  Once you had a specific occupation, that of your father, there was no expectation that you would advance to a higher level.  The very desire that you would want to created suspicion. It was believed that only a limited amount of resources were available and once you had what you had, that was enough. If you advanced and became wealthy, it was assumed you did so through dishonest means by taking a portion meant for others.   

So, it is likely the Father of Andrew and Peter was also a fisherman.  The others of James and John were in their boat with their father who likewise shared in the same fishing trade. Peter and Andrew had their own boat so that would have been considered a measure of success. We could presume these four were known around the Sea of Galilee and so to the larger population they were not particular strangers. They had reached some level of comfort and were not particularly desperate men.  They had probably settled into their fishing trade, became skilled at it, and that's the way it will be. 

Then suddenly, a voice cries out to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  It is Jesus gathering an action plan for the future and he invites these four to be among the first to help him implement a new vision and direction.  They hear his voice and immediately drop what they are doing.  We read the words “at once” and “immediately they left their boat.” 

Why so quickly or is this some sort of literary exaggeration used by Matthew in writing his Gospel? I would suspect, based on other more scholarly authors, that their response was indeed immediate.  While they were successful in their trade, this may not have been the first time they heard of Jesus.  By this time, likely, his public ministry of preaching and healing was already known. When a man of Jesus’ reputation and charisma called to them, they may have wondered what he wanted of them at that immediate moment so they did not hesitate. Indeed what Jesus ultimately wanted of them was their loyalty. 

Yet, Jesus’ own words: “Come after ME” are unique.  He wasn’t inviting them to a political party (such things did not exist) or a particular group of rebels or into a specific class of society. Nor was he offering them a new position or job.  His request to follow HIM was a call to conversion and ultimate missionary discipleship. Surely, a new way of life that might offer them the opportunity to use their fishing skills for a far more significant purpose: "I will make you fishers of men."

This is where we Catholic/Christians can do the same.  Our Catholic faith invites us to bring the world a new light, as Isaiah refers this Sunday in the first reading.  We must look beyond politics for example, a tough message maybe for some especially in this wild political year.  If we as Christians cannot look beyond politics then there is something seriously wrong in our understanding of who we are and who Jesus calls us to be.  

That look beyond politics is to bring the world the Gospel values of reconciliation, healing, compassion, inclusiveness, the self-sacrifice, the selfless love of God who calls us to holiness after the example of Christ.  "Come after me” might have been another way of Jesus saying, “Be like me.”

So, as we approach this Sunday, it might be good for us to consider our own personal discipleship.  What does it mean for me to follow Jesus?  Can I look beyond the divisiveness of such things as political rhetoric and look to what the Gospel teaches about the dignity of the human person, the special option for the poor, the good news of God’s love and mercy for all?

More will come . . .  

Jan 18, 2017

The Law of mercy

Mk: 1-6

Jesus entered the synagogue.
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
He said to the man with the withered hand,
"Come up here before us."
Then he said to the Pharisees,
"Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?"
But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Our Gospel this Wednesday is a many layered event in the public life of Jesus.  You have two audiences watching Jesus: the legalistic and judgmental Pharisees and the crowd gathered at the synagogue. Then, we are confronted with two laws - that of the sabbath day on which healing is apparently considered a violation of the sabbath precept against unnecessary work.  And you have the law of mercy to which Jesus refers: "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" 

It's clear that Jesus cared less what the gathered Pharisees may think about him. In fact he felt "grieved at their hardness of heart;"  he was disappointed and saddened by their obstinacy.  He knew well their conspiratorial intention were to catch him in some violation of the law and thereby declare him a danger to the common good; a challenge to their own control over the population. While the Pharisees see themselves as the final say, the watchdogs of the population whose intent is to subjugate the crowds under the heavy pressure of a strict conformity to their interpretation of the Mosaic law.

But, our Lord, as always, emphasizes a greater law based in God's mercy.  To do good on the sabbath, to save life is Jesus' intention and that of the law itself.  While the sabbath, Sunday for us of course, is meant to be a day of rest, an act of mercy and compassion which brings a greater good to another is a way of honoring the dignity of another person and the profound love that God shows to all of us.  

That being said, caution thrown to the wind, Jesus heals the man as an act of mercy and compassion.  As the Pharisees go off to plot Jesus ultimate demise, so they hope, our Lord becomes ever more a light shining in darkness, the one who fleshes out the mercy of God extended to all of us.  We honor God on Sunday by doing good for others; by showing compassion and mercy, a helping hand, a selfless act of charity. In that way the Eucharist we have celebrated with our faith community is lived out as we become an extension of the body of Christ to others.  

Can you bring this to the next Sunday in your life?  

Jan 14, 2017

Ordinary time, 2nd Sunday: "Behold . . . follow Him"

"Behold, the Lamb of God"

Isaiah 49:5-6
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

The Word for Sunday:

It seems we may often read the Gospels in a way that puts us outside the conversation and events so we act far more as spectators rather than participants.  We stand at a distance and watch the events unfold.  We sit quietly and listen to the words of Jesus or other figures in the Gospels, at Mass for example.  It’s as if we walk upon the event, stand in the crowd, observe what happens, then go on our way. While we may hear a fine homily that connects the lesson of the scriptures to our lives, it strikes me I sometimes wonder if we really get it. 

However, the Gospel this weekend provides more than passive participation.  Imagine that John the Baptist stands before you on stage in a darkened theater.  The light shines on John for a moment yet in the back you see a shadowy figure who stands quietly. Suddenly, the Baptist turns to the audience in front of and below him.  As he steps forward he begins to speak directly to the audience of which you are a part so that he might engage our full attention. He raises his right arm and points to that figure behind him as the light then shifts and you see it is Jesus.

Then facing the audience John declares: “You see him?  This is your Lord and Savior; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the one of whom I said, a man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me . . . the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit . . .  he is the Son of God. Now, follow him.”

We may be struck by John’s direct approach but he certainly gets our attention.  We must respond and can’t ignore the words of this charismatic figure who now fades into the background and who points to Christ the “man who ranks ahead of me.” The rank is not one of economic or earthly power that might place Jesus among the upper crust; the mighty, powerful and the movers and shakers of society.

Instead our Lord comes in peace.  He comes to forgive and extend mercy; to include rather than to exclude and to heal the brokenhearted. To so identify with us that he embraces our human experience and eventually even dies for us, only to be raised three days later – for us.  The fiery preaching of John the Baptist was done to prepare us and to wake us up that we might be ready to see this figure not in shadows and darkness but in clear and shining light with no doubt as to his mission and identity. 

So, this Sunday is a kind of transition from the clarion call of Advent to “make ready the way for the Lord” to see God’s prophetic promises fulfilled in the birth of Jesus among the lowly and peaceful figures of the Christmas season to now see the adult Jesus ready for mission and anointed with the Spirit, the Son of God come among us.

The first reading from Isaiah speaks of a figure who is called to be “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” In our Christian perspective we see Jesus as that light and his mission which reaches out to Jew and Gentile alike; a mission that is inclusive and invites.  Ultimately, it is a call from God through his Son which demands a response. We cannot ignore the great figures who heard the call of God, embraced it in faith, and walked with confidence in his guidance: Isaiah, Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist rank as shining lights from our Advent and Christmas time.

Now, as John points to Jesus he speaks to us collectively.  In other worlds, the mission of Christ has become our mission as well as his followers.  We should be reminded this week that we follow Christ, the Lamb of God as John calls him, as a people of faith; as a diverse collection of humanity whose call to see Christ as that light sent from God might have come to us in all sorts of ways such as family, culture, personally, the witness of others.  That we who believe in Christ are called to be a continual light to the nations and to carry on the mission Jesus began and continues in and through his Church.

It seems primarily then that God intends us to carry out his mission through human leaders and human events.  There are many other moral leaders and founders of various world religions such as Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, of the variety of Christian leaders who began other Protestant traditions or even the notorious King Henry VIII in his less than stellar efforts to shift authority from the Pope to himself.

While most of these leaders were seen more as teachers and prophets, none claimed to be the light of the world, the way, the truth and the life, to work wonders to forgive sin or to predict their own resurrection from the dead.  Jesus alone made such claims and his followers have continued to insist they are true.  History has confirmed the belief of countless Christians that Jesus Christ is indeed who he claimed to be. 

That leaves us with the mission entrusted to us from our baptism. We may call it today evangelization. Our second reading from the Christians in Corinth has Paul remind them of their mission and in that way of ours as well: “to you, who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours . . .”

The mission we carry calls us first to be a holy people. To be a people who not only show up but more to be a people who embrace conversion in Christ Jesus.  It is that act of God’s grace that will make us holy as in right relationship with God who strive to live lives of virtue, not sinfulness.  Then our light can truly shine because it is the light of Christ not ourselves that others can see.  In other words, let’s be a community which attracts rather than excludes or repels.

Our celebration of the Holy Eucharist invites us to see who we are as a collective community, all called by God to holiness and fed with the Lamb of God himself.  

So, as John stands center stage and looks down to you with arm extended to the one he calls the “Lamb of God” who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit” and who therefore is the “Son of God” do I get it?  Can I let go and embrace the mission Christ has offered to us?  Can I strive to be holy and walk in the way of his light? 

Pour on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
and in your kindness
make those you have nourished
by this one heavenly Bread
one in mind and heart. 
Through Christ our Lord

(Prayer after Communion)

Jan 11, 2017

A winter for the books!

Here in Oregon and in many parts of this country we've had quite an endless winter.  Between the cold and relentless snowfall, closing of schools and dangerous driving on the highways, it has really been one for the books!  The Cascade mountains and east have been worse than the Valley area in Portland and south but nonetheless, it's all relative.  

How about we all pray for a break in the winter weather everywhere.  So many people are having a rough time with heat, cold, those on the streets to find shelter and warmth.  Looks like the school days will have to add a few later in June so who knows what the rest of winter will be like.  

So, let's help each other get through this.  We still have many blessings and things to be grateful for.  

Peace to all