3.20.2016 Palm Sunday (Year C)

Well friends, here we are. Palm Sunday is already upon us. These readings launch us into the most solemn of all weeks, Holy Week. There’s so much to uncover, it can’t possibly be done all at once. But we’ll zero in on some keys that will help unlock the beautiful and great mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection – the events that are the very foundation of our faith. We have one extra reading this week to open mass, the procession:

The procession: Luke 19:28-40
This is read at the entrance to the church.

BACKGROUND:
In this passage, Jesus enters Jerusalem. He comes to the city where he will be wrongly accused, put to death, and fulfill the mission for which He was sent. Let’s rewind 10 chapters to Luke 9:51-52. This is where we see Jesus begin “the home stretch” toward Jerusalem: “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (RSV). When a prophet was asked to do something significant, the phrase used was “to set his face.” For example, Jeremiah said of Jerusalem, “I have set my face against this city, for evil and not for good” (Jer 21:10). Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem, set to the cross.

The colt Jesus demands from the village has meaning, too. A colt without blemish and that had not been ridden was fit for sacred use. Zechariah prophesied the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a colt. “Behold; your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, humble, and riding on a donkey” (1 Kgs 1:33-44). The people all knew what they saw when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. With palms in hand, they were experiencing a prophetic fulfillment – it was a momentous event, and it was happening right before their eyes. Thus the words of praise they all exclaim. “Glory in the highest!”

Lyrics from a popular Lenten song come to mind, “Jerusalem My Destiny.” We must all “set our faces” or “fix our eyes” on this week.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills/Jerusalem, my Destiny! Though I cannot see the end for me, I cannot turn away./ We have set our hearts for the way; this journey is our destiny. Let no one walk alone. The journey makes us one.

Listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSep3JfI85I

1st Reading: IS 50:4-7

Isaiah writes 4 “Servant Songs” and all appear in part 2, the book of consolation. These songs describe the service, suffering, and exaltation of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. This “Servant” is a royal figure, representing Israel in its ideal form; He is the high priest, atoning for the sins of the world. Isaiah predicts that this Servant of the Lord would deliver the world from the prison of sin. We are in the 3rd Servant Song today.

He writes, “That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them… I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.” And at the end, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” Listen closely to your reader. How are we sometimes like the Suffering Servant described here? How do we fall short? What can we do to conform ourselves to be more like this ideal Servant of the Lord?

Responsorial:  Psalm 22
My God, my God, Why have you abandoned me?

Psalm 22 is powerful – I encourage you to read it in its entirety from your bible. Jesus quotes it from the cross. As a Jew, Jesus knew the psalms by heart. As God, and in a divine way, Jesus inspired them to be written. He was intimately connected to these words …of dogs that surrounding him, those who’ve pierced his hands and feet, and on and on.

But the psalm shifts with verse 3, “But you O Lord, be not far from me. O my help, hasten to aid me. I will proclaim your name to my brethren, all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him, revere him all you descendants of Israel!” What begins with torture and humiliation ends with praise and glory. This serves as a model for us about we can regard and endure suffering: From pain to praise.

2nd Reading: Philippians 2:6-11

We remain in Philippians, the letter Paul wrote from jail. The verses right before this reading speak to the importance of selflessness. Paul says, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” The next verses are today’s reading.

This phrase “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” This has always given me a furrowed brow. What does this mean? Let’s dig in. We know Jesus is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies. You may have heard it said that “Mary is the new Eve.” Well along those lines, Jesus is the new Adam. This is worth some contemplation. How is Jesus the answer to Adam?

Adam fell short. He did not fulfill the purpose God intended, which was full friendship with God. Adam (and Eve, too) disobeyed God’s command. In doing so, Adam regarded equality with God as something he could “grasp” or attain. Adam thought equality, or at least some form of it, could be had.  The serpent tricked Adam and Eve into thinking they could be more like God if they ate of the fruit of which tree? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  As Adam and Eve literally “grasped” for the fruit, they figuratively “grasped” for a level of knowledge that was not to be theirs. Jesus however, does not display the same behavior. Instead of grasping for more, he humbly obeys God’s command. He rights the wrong. Even though it means he will die a terrible death, Jesus displays supreme selflessness. Jesus emptied himself. He lays down his life for us. And then what happens? God turns the situation upside down by greatly exalting him. He bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Gospel:
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 22:14-23:56

At a Lenten bible study, we’re walking through a book called The People of the Passion. We’ve noticed how “backwards” some things seem in the passion narrative. For example, Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. We associate a kiss with love, or the “kiss of peace” at mass. It’s interesting that Judas would betray the son of God, sending him forth toward the crucifixion itself, with a kiss. It was more like a kiss good-bye. The other theme we discussed concerned Jesus’ responses during the trials. Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus replies, “You have said so.” We sat around the table discussing what a strange and indirect answer that was. Why is that all he said? One woman said, “I think his responses were unclear in order to stir the hearts of those who were questioning him. To try to get them to see what they already knew in their hearts, and act on that truth.” I thought that was brilliant.

I watched a post from Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever” series that highlights the “Upside Down” theme. Matthew Kelly suggests Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. He wants to turn our marriages upside down. He wants to turn our finances upside down. He wants to turn our communities, our relationships, our parenting upside down. He wants to turn your career, your business, your parish upside down. He wants to turn your health and well being upside down. He wants to turn your ideas, opinions, your conversations upside down. “If you let him,” says Kelly, “you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been in your life.” Maybe your brow is furrowed too.

Below, I’ve listed 12 elements of  Jesus’ life, most referred to in The Passion account, that seem upside down. Allow them to penetrate your heart. Maybe 1 or 2 will be a bridge to your own life to see what God wants to turn upside down in you that will in turn, glorify Him. Time and again, I’d find a perspective in the passion that I’d never considered, that seemed so upside down. This struck me. It led me to think…what signs are we missing that God is so obviously telling us?  What if we could let God turn us upside down? What might happen to us, to our families, to our faith? Amazing things, I presume.

1. Born in a Stable
Jesus, the king of kings, Lord of Lords, was born in a stable. A lowly, dirty, stable amongst animals, hay, and a trough served as his manger. No one had room for Jesus in their inn. Are we one of the inns in Bethlehem, or do we let God in no matter what we have at that time to offer Him?

2.Rides on a Donkey
Jesus rides humbly on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Earthly kings in the region would be set atop beautiful stallions or tall horses. They’d come with an entourage and be clad in royal gowns wearing extravagant jewels. How are we doing with humility? Do we feel the need to make a grand entrance wherever we go? Or can we walk into rooms, situations, and relationships with humility and check our ego at the door?  Are we “real” with people?

3.Jesus was Abandoned
Despite the fact that Jesus asked his disciples to stay faithful, he knows a betrayer sits with him at the last supper. Judas will Abandon Jesus. He will not call Jesus “Lord” – he will call him “Rabbi.” This shows he’s lost his faith that Jesus is the true Messiah. Are we able to confess that Jesus is Lord with our mouths and in our actions? Or do we occasionally abandon Him?

4.Misinterpretation (Swords)
Jesus’ disciples often “don’t get him.” Jesus tells them he will soon be sold for 30 pieces of silver, and they say to him, “Lord, Look! There are 2 swords here!” In other words, “Lord look! We will fight this battle with you, we will defend you!” Jesus replies in frustration, “It is enough.” He’s frustrated by their lack of understanding. The disciples don’t understand that the battle is a spiritual one, not a physical one. How often do we misunderstand Jesus? Probably frequently. But Jesus doesn’t give up on them – not ever. And we must always return to Him with hearts at the ready. “Lord, help me hear what you want me to hear. Help me see what you want me to see.”

5.Stay awake! (Fall alseep)

Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake in the garden. They can’t. They try, but they turn his request upside down and fall asleep. They don’t get the fullness of what’s happening. We too are weak. We make promises to God we can’t keep. We fall asleep, though we’ve promised to stay awake. Are you asleep in part of your faith life now? How is Jesus trying to wake you up?

6.The garden of death vs. the garden of Eden
Here we are, at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, in a garden at night. What a juxtaposition from the Garden of Eden, where God began human life with Adam and Eve. Where all was good, all was light, all was perfect. Jesus sits in the garden now at night. He awaits trial. He will die for the sins of Adam and Eve and everyone who followed. He’ll die for the sins we have committed. He’ll die for the sins of all who are to come but have not yet been born. The garden of Eden was turned upside down by sin. Jesus prays in a garden – a garden of His people – that desperately needs growth, light, renewal and life. The weeds are plentiful, the flowers slim. Jesus will transform this garden through His death. He will turn it right side up again.

7.Tell us why you’re not guilty! (Silence)
When questioned at the trials, Jesus often opens not his mouth (“like a lamb led to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth”).  When God seems silent to us, could it be because we have some digging of our own to do? I don’t suggest that’s always true, nor that God isn’t present in that digging, but perhaps some of the time the answer lies within our very selves. How might we respond differently when God seems silent?

8.Mockery of Kingship
Though Jesus truly is the King of Heaven and Earth, he is mocked and dressed in rags. A crown of thorns is affixed to his head, and a reed (signifying a scepter) in his right hand. This is upside down. How do we respond when others mock Jesus?

9.Pilate is on trial, not Jesus
One chapter in our book is called “Pilate is put on trial by Jesus,” a title that caught my attention. Wait, I thought Jesus was on trial? But in the narrative, it rightfully suggests that Pilate, who stands before Jesus, the very God who created Pilate in his mother’s womb, is the one on trial. Will Pilate pass judgment on God’s son? Will he condemn him to death? Yes he will. In doing so, he’ll turn justice upside down. Pilate is a complex character from many perspectives. He tells the crowd repeatedly that he finds no guilt in Jesus, but he still hands him over. He washes his hands (literally) of this incident, but clearly he is pleasing a riot prone crowd. His priorities are upside down. Pilate’s actions scream: “He’s not guilty, but go ahead and crucify him.”

10.Freeing Barabbas, condemning Jesus
The Greek translation of “Barabbas” is “son of Abba” or “son of the father.” Isn’t that fascinating? So in the 2nd trial, those in power are choosing whether or not to free Barabbas, “son of the father,” or Jesus, Son of THE Father. How wrongly they chose.

11.”Good” Friday
The very name of the day He died is, at least in a sense, upside down: “Good Friday.” But we know the eternal good that came from that Friday, because without the events of this day, we would still be upside down.

12.The man who knew no sin, put to a shameful death
This is the biggest “Upside Down” of them all. Jesus, the sinless one, the one who never once did any wrong at all, is put to death on a cross, as a slave, beaten and bloodied for the world to see. And yet this event has been known by the Father all along, since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve turned the world God had created upside down.  Jesus came so that we might be right side up again.

When we reflect on His teachings, so many seem “upside down”: Blessed are the poor in spirit, they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are you who hunger, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep, someday you shall laugh.” Such simple words, and yet so challenging. He goes on. Embrace your cross, it will save you. Love your neighbor, even if they hate you. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  Jesus ate among sinners and was a servant to us; He washed our feet. There is seemingly no end to Jesus’ call to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He wants us to let him turn our lives upside down. Easter’s coming…a time for re-birth. Let’s let Him.

May you have a prayerful, quiet, Holy Week. May it be different than any other week of your year. May you delve deeply into the scripture of the Triduum. May you experience an upside down moment as we transition from the 40 day season of Lent into the glory of the 50 day season of Easter. And may God abundantly bless your Holy Week.

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3.13.16 5th Sunday of Lent (C)

Welcome! Find this Sunday’s readings here.

1st Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

We are back in Isaiah this week. Quick setup – Isaiah is 1 of the 4 major prophets. Often dubbed “the 5th gospel,” he covers a ton of ground, does not write chronologically, and can be difficult to follow. Scholarly work on Isaiah to date could fill an entire library. The book of Isaiah is broken into 2 major parts:
1) The Book of Judgment (ch 1-39) – central theme: Israel’s unfaithfulness to God
2) The Book of Consolation (ch 40-66) – central theme: Despite this, God has not and will not abandon you.

BACKGROUND
Israel was conquered by the Babylonian army around 586 BC. Back into “slavery” (exile) they went, for 70 years. This timeframe fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy. He tried to tell them to turn back to God, but they didn’t, so here they are. Here is a painting of the exile with the temple in the background.

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Isaiah 41 sets such a beautiful tone of consolation, and it’s so straight forward. God says:

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham my friend—You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and summoned from its far-off places … You are my servant; I chose you, I have not rejected you—Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Is 41: 8-10). Consoling indeed.

READING:
The reading walks us beautifully through the events of the people’s past, many of which we explored last week. God saved Israel from Egypt (“he opens a way in the sea”), he trapped the Egyptian army in that sea (“lead out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army”), etc. But God tells them not to remember this, and that instead they should look forward to what God is doing for them now – He is doing something new. Isaiah delivers a poignant line at the end when he refers to Israel as “the people whom I formed for myself.”  Truly we are formed for God, and this comes into play in the second reading from Paul.

Isaiah’s words are meant to reassure Israel, give them a peaceful heart.  They were doubtful that God still loves them. And can’t we identify with that? When we are“exiled” into a painful time in our lives – mental, physical, spiritual, or relational – it may seem God doesn’t walk with us. When it is time to carry a heavy cross, turn to these words for consolation from Isaiah 41 and 43.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM 126
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”
This is a reminder of God’s great gifts to the Israelites. This psalm was written after the people had returned from exile – after the 70 years were complete – to their home in Jerusalem. (This is similar to last week’s theme, when the people were freed from their 40 year punishment in the desert, and they were finally freed.) The term “captives of Zion” equates to “Israelites”: “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with rejoicing.”

2nd Reading: Philippians 3:8-14

BACKGROUND:
Philippians is often referred to “the letter of joy.” Paul wrote this joyful piece from jail, which makes it all the more powerful and intriguing, given the suffering he endured. Thematically, we see Paul’s authenticity here; he shares his joys and fears, sufferings and hopes for the future of the Church.

READING:
At this point in the letter, Paul turns to the task for every Christian including himself: accomplishing the final goal of Heaven. He desired to leave everything behind and follow Jesus to the end. “For his sake, I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” He depends on “faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death.” Let’s pause here.

Paul says that to know his resurrection, we must share in his suffering – be “conformed to his death.” That is a profound point to ponder. Although we don’t like suffering and we rather wish it didn’t exist, it is through the act of suffering that we are able to more fully share in Christ’s life, love, and resurrection.  I once heard it put rather well by a priest: If we are born in God’s image and likeness, we are called to “look like” him as best we can. We prefer to look like the beautiful face of the resurrected Jesus, the face of love, kindness and free of pain. Most artists depict this face. But to only recognize that face of Jesus would be to look past what He did for us. Jesus’ face was also badly beaten and bloodied. Sometimes we are called to look like this face of Jesus – His suffering face. God is not asking us to like the suffering. But he does call us to bear all suffering with grace, confident that He is carrying the cross with us. If over the course of our lives we have embraced the opportunities to look like both the resurrected and suffering faces of Jesus, we have indeed received a great gift. When we suffer – in large or small ways – we are more fully united with Him. We resemble his image and likeness, which is how He created us, even more. In that way we have answered the call to discipleship well.  When we see that suffering brings us closer to Christ, an amazing transformation takes place. We are able to – with God’s help – actually find joy in our suffering. Just like Paul.

Paul ends by sharing how hard it is to attain maturity in being Christ-like. He acknowledges that he has yet to reach his full potential, “It is not that … I have attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.”   This is why I love Paul. Great saint that he is, he never allows himself to think that he “has arrived.” That he is done trying. Rather, he wants so badly to allow Christ to literally “take possession” of his thoughts and actions. He reveals that he falls frequently, he often just can’t be perfect. Nevertheless, he strains forward to what lies ahead: “I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling.”  If we could also see ourselves as Paul sees himself, be more forgiving of ourselves, and reach to God for help, how transformed our lives might be. May we never tire of getting up again when we fall.

 Gospel Reading: John 8:1-11
The Woman Caught in Adultery

A key thread through today’s readings is “the reassurance of God.” In the 1st reading we saw Israel feel abandoned by God. Isaiah’s words console them. In the 2nd reading Paul is literally abandoned (in jail), but is reassured by his relationship with Christ. More mature than the Israelites, Paul knows that he must dig deep for courage and finish the race strong. In the gospel, a woman faces certain death and permanent abandonment. But Jesus remains at her side and reassures her. He reflects the words of Isaiah 41 in a very literal way.

PART 1: THE CROWD AND THE WOMAN
Jesus is in the thick of his public ministry at this point in John’s gospel.  As he continues to perform miracles, he causes quite a stir wherever he goes. Here, the Jews are trying to trap Jesus. They bring him a woman who has committed adultery. They expose and humiliate her in front of everyone. The punishment for adultery, according to Mosaic law was death by stoning (Leviticus 20).  This was a gruesome way to die. Some methods included tying the criminal’s hands behind the back and throwing him/her off a cliff onto a pile of large, jagged rocks. Then a large rock might be dropped and/or people would throw grapefruit sized “stones” at the person’s face. This woman did not want to be issued this sentence.

The crowd questioned Jesus specifically “to test him.” Pope Benedict frames it: “Those questioning Jesus were aware of his mercy and his love for sinners and were curious to see how he would manage in such a case which, according to Mosaic law, was crystal clear.” If he says yes she should be stoned, then where is His merciful love? If he says she shouldn’t be stoned, he breaks the Mosaic law, which forbids adultery. We might say Jesus is between a rock and a hard place.

Then Jesus does a curious thing. He is silent, he does not immediately respond. Perhaps this was to allow the woman to acknowledge the wrong she had committed, and also to allow the people to undergo a personal examination of conscience. He writes with his finger on the ground. Though we have no way of knowing what he wrote, we do know that God has written with his finger in many places in the bible. He created the heavens with his finger (Psalm 8), He wrote the law with his finger (on the 10 commandments), he casts out demons with his finger (Luke 11). Some scholars suggest that he may have written the names of those present in the ground, or perhaps, their sins.  Wouldn’t that shock you? “Hey wait a minute, that’s my sin! How does he know that? Erase it!” Whatever is actually written, this action opens their eyes to their sins. Jesus tells them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The people walk away, beginning with the elders (who are the wiser among them). They know that they too could be in the center of that circle for the wrong they have done.  And couldn’t we all.

PART 2: JESUS AND THE WOMAN
Jesus asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replies no. Then Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” By extending His mercy, he has saved her from a brutal, terrible death. How amazing that must have felt. God saves us from a brutal, terrible existence – eternal separation from the Father – every time we repent and receive His mercy. He asks us to “Go, and sin no more.” Though we will fall again in the future, the point is to try harder. To be conscious of what causes us to fall. Over time, we truly will improve. “Go and sin no more” is echoed in the act of contrition:

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.

St. Bede ties up commentary on this reading nicely: “Christ, who twice bends down to write on the ground, teaches us to bend down low in humility to examine ourselves both before and after addressing the faults of our neighbor.”

This is a thought-provoking reading, no doubt.It raises as many questions as answers. I keep going back to a challenging line in this year’s workbook for lectors: “Neither he [Jesus] nor anyone else can condemn her. Our sins, those freely chosen acts of selfishness we make, condemn us, not God or man.”

See you next week – Palm Sunday! Follow Banquet of the Word throughout Holy Week for in-depth commentary on the Passion and the Triduum.

3.06.16: 4th Sunday of Lent (C)

Welcome! Ten years ago, had I sat in the pew and heard the 1st reading from Joshua, I would not have understood its greater significance at all. Maybe you can identify with that.  The hope is that when we spend time unpacking the readings each week, you will have a feeling of satisfaction in your heart because you know more of the story. More about what God has done and what He is doing. We will unpack a great story today. Let’s go.

Today’s readings are here.

Today’s fun fact:
The book of Numbers is like a zoom lens. It takes us down into the desert during the time after Moses has led the people out of Egypt, and before they cross over into the promised land. It’s important to touch on it here in order to understand the 1st reading. We get an intimate look at the people’s relationship with God (which is quite rocky) as they travel through the desert. Summary of Numbers: It’s one thing to take the Israelites out of Egypt, but it is wholly another to take “the Egypt” out of the Israelites.

BACKGROUND

Part I: The People Complain
After Moses is called from the burning bush, he leads Israel out of Egypt. Once in the desert, God commands that they obey him from then on. He rescued them from slavery, and now it’s their turn to hold up their end of the covenant. Can they do it? Not at all. Instead, Moses ends up with 600,000 soldiers complaining incessantly about lack of food and water, not trusting that God would provide. To teach them obedience, God gave them manna, but just enough for that day. If they tried to squirrel it away (which they did), it would rot (and it did). The disobedience continues. When God sends 12 men to check out the Promised Land, the men return complaining. “Thanks for the Promised Land God, but the people in it are too many and too strong for us. We’d rather go back to Egypt.” That’s right, they actually wished that not only could they go back to being slaves in Egypt, but further, they wished that God had just killed them there! As you can imagine, this greatly offended God.

Part II: God’s Response to the People
Moses intercedes for Israel, even though they are a difficult people to defend.  God responds favorably to Moses’s prayer. He forgives them but does not withhold punishment. “I will forgive them. But none of these people will live to enter that land. They have seen the miracles I performed in Egypt, but they have tried my patience over and over again and have refused to obey me” (Num 14: 21-23). The only ones who make it to the Promised Land are Joshua and Caleb. They remained faithful.

When a child throws a baseball through a neighbor’s window and apologizes, the neighbor may say “I forgive you,” but the child still needs to fix the broken window to restore it to its unbroken state. His mother may not let him play with the ball for a few days as punishment. When it comes to sin, the same is true for Israel (and us). God forgave them for their enormous lack of faith and trust, but they must live out their punishment. God says,“You will die here in this wilderness.  You will suffer the consequences of your sin for 40 years, one year for each of the 40 days  you spent exploring the land [remember “40” is a purifying number in the bible]” (Num 14:33-34). When God punishes, He does so for the sake of restoring. The restoration though, may not come in the time of the generation that committed the sin, but further down the line. God’s time is not ours.

The scene above challenges us to consider times in our own lives when we have forgotten the miracles God has done for us. When we have not trusted God to provide for our every need. It’s true, Israel’s behavior is shocking to us now. But are we any better behaved now? In what ways are we like the Israelites?

Joshua 5:9A, 10-12

The book of Joshua
Whereas Numbers is a bit sad and gloomy due to Israel’s poor behavior, Joshua, and this reading in particular, brings joy. Remember that Joshua did make it to the promised land, and now he leads Israel. When the people cross the Jordan in chapter 3, this is truly like a 2nd Exodus – a 2nd crossing through a “Red Sea”, only now it’s the Jordan river. This is no easy feat in the spring when the banks have swelled over with water (“It was harvest time, and the river was at flood” Jos 3:14).

Today’s Reading: Let’s Party!
We’re finally at today’s reading! In the first line God says, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” What does that mean? It means that after 40 years of their ancestors roaming the desert because of disobedience, the debt is paid. They are free. They’ve made it to the promised land. This is great news! This is cause for great rejoicing! They should throw a party! And so they do, they celebrate the Passover. This is fitting, because to do so is to recall the miracle of God saving them from the Egyptians. Our Eucharistic celebrations at mass are the fulfillment of the Passover feast. We celebrate a miracle too – our liberation from sin through the death of Christ on the cross. Instead of the manna God rained down in the desert, we are fed with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. A beautiful celebration – or “party” – indeed.

Responsorial Psalm: 34
“Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.”

A psalm of David, we can read this in light of the first reading: Taste and see the goodness (manna, saving power, forgiveness) of the Lord.

2nd Corinthians 5: 17-21

In this section of the letter, Paul is addressing the ministry of reconciliation, or coming back to God. In other words, listen for the link to the first reading, which is also about coming back to God’s favor (when Israel was released from 40 years in the desert).

When Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” He means “If anyone is baptized…” The sacrament of baptism is packed with power and grace. It is truly a type of Exodus experience for all who receive this gift. It transfers us from sin and slavery (Egypt), across the proverbial ”Red Sea/river Jordan” (requiring trust and obedience), into the blessing of forgiveness and salvation (freedom). I might add a phrase before one of Paul’s sentences: When Jesus went to the cross, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and in trusting to us (the church) the message of reconciliation.”

Baptism is not a “one and done” event. We can call on our baptismal grace at any time, and the graces that came with our baptism are always available to us.

Gospel: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

The story of the prodigal son is so familiar to us, and there are many perspectives one can take. Priests probably look forward to this preaching opportunity because it only comes around once every three years on a Sunday, so get ready. 🙂

There are interesting OT/NT parallels. This story is arguably a fulfillment of our first reading. Instead of Israel disobeying God the Father (in the OT), we have a disobedient son disobeying his earthy father (NT). The son – in a shocking decision,  asks his father for his inheritance before the father actually dies. He squanders his inheritance and does the work of a slave.  He returns to the father saying “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” As soon as the father catches a glimpse of the son returning, he has the fatted calf killed and a party thrown in his honor. For his son was once lost (in sin and despair), but has been found (forgiven, reconciled). The father represents God the father.  God left us a tool to use whenever we want to return to him. Every time we go to confession, as soon as God catches a glimpse of us coming down the road, we are welcomed back with open arms.

This parable struck a chord with me after we discussed (in a bible study) with great curiosity, what might have happened to Judas if he had only repented.  If he had more faith in Jesus as the Messiah, he might not have hung himself. If he had waited for Jesus to fulfill His mission, if he had waited until the first Easter Sunday, he too could have come back to the father, been welcomed back into the fold.

Who are you in this reading? Are you the son or daughter who has left something or someone and not returned?  Are you the child who has stayed close to the father but is jealous? We are reminded here that if we are that child, we shouldn’t be jealous, for everything God the Father has, is also ours to enjoy (grace upon amazing grace). Or are you the father, always ready to open arms toward someone who needs forgiveness, holding back nothing and preparing the feast? Should you be one of these characters, but something is keeping you it?

May we all embody the words of the father when someone seeks to return to us, or to the Church: “Bring quickly the best robe, put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

2.28.2016 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Welcome back! Today’s readings can be found here.
Where in the 1.page.bible.timeline are we this week? Click to see shaded areas in purple.

Today’s Fact:
Mt. Horeb is later renamed Mt. Sinai – Sinai translates literally to “bush” in Hebrew. After Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, he returns to this mountain and receives the 10 commandments from God.

1st Reading: Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15

BACKGROUND
Let’s return to our analogy of the bible as a roadmap. Last week God made a covenant with Abram (around 2000 BC). It was the beginning of of “1 Holy Tribe.” This week God calls Moses (around 1300 BC). It is the beginning of “1 Holy Nation.” Like Abram, Moses is “a biggie” when it comes to OT figures. He’s definitely earned a paragraph…

Moses endured the 10 plagues with the Israelites and tried to convince the Pharoah to free them. He was present at the Passover, led the Israelites through the Red Sea, distributed the manna in the desert, received the 10 Commandments from God, observed the incident of the golden calf, and oversaw the construction of the tabernacle.  Hands down, Moses is one of the  most prominent figures in the OT.  He prefigures Jesus in many ways. They both save their people from slavery – Moses literally (from Egypt), and Jesus spiritually (from sin).   Moses was obedient to God, even when it was hard. In this way he serves as a model for us today.

THE READING
First, we find out Moses is a shepherd, a biblical image familiar to us.  King David started out as a shepherd, and of course Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Moses is in the desert, in the wilderness. In the reading, God identifies himself, calls Moses through fire (assigning him to save His people), and Moses asks God what his name is.

Fire in Scripture
Last week God signed a contract with Abram using fire. We recently saw the seraphim cleanse Isaiah’s lips of sin using coal from a burning fire. And of course we have Pentecost. Just as God comes to Moses as fire in the OT, the Holy Spirit comes in the form of fire in the NT. “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues” (Acts 2: 3-4).  Banners and even priestly vestments at Confirmation masses reflect the image and color of fire to communicate this sacramental reality.

So what does the fire mean? God’s fire, unlike earthly fire, doesn’t necessarily consume. It’s more like a means of divine communication. It purifies; it cleanses us without hurting us the way earthly fire does. It communicates intensity – for example, Jesus’s sacred heart burns with intense love for us.  And in the NT, it takes on a sacramental reality. I searched for the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on google. I realized that in a beautiful way, it closely resembles the burning bush: The bush = crown of thorns, the flame above Jesus’s heart = an intense love for us. Similarly, Jesus’s love for us keeps burning on the cross, though others try to snuff it out. The crucifixion bears an interesting resemblance to the burning bush … the presence of God on top of wood, but not being consumed. Jesus’s burning love also purifies; cleansing us – freeing us – from sin.

The Conversation between God and Moses
Moses receives a job assignment from God. He’ll be in charge of guiding the Israelites out of Egypt. When Moses asks, “who should I tell them sent me?” God answers, “I AM who am. Tell them ‘I AM’ sent me to you.” This is a powerful scriptural moment. God gives himself a name – a name that evokes the very act of “being” itself. He is, was, and will always be. Another beautiful thought to take to our next quiet moments of prayer and contemplation. Just in case Moses wasn’t clear on this, God tells him, “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered by all generations.”  It calls to mind the last verse of the Christmas song, “Mary did you Know?” “The sleeping child you’re holding, is the great ‘I AM.’”

Responsorial Psalm: 103
“The Lord is Kind and Merciful”

This is today’s response to the first reading. We can see in the verses that the soul speaks to itself in prayer. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his holy name.” We might say instead of “all my being,” “with all that I AM,” bless his holy name.

1st Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12

 As we’ve discussed before, the Church in Corinth was a mess. Basically, they are trying to keep 1 foot in the old lifestyle of pagan worship (easy, familiar), but they also want to go to mass and be good Christians (difficult, new). Paul’s telling them you can’t have it both ways, you are being a bunch of hypocrites if you think you can.

Paul uses the Exodus and a bunch of exilic language to teach them (under the cloud, passed through the sea, spiritual drink, spiritual rock, etc). He reminds them their ancestors received many blessings from God throughout the Exodus, but it did not guarantee future blessings. Many of the people who traveled with Moses during the Exodus still failed, in the end, to live upright lives: “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.” Those in Corinth, and all of us for that matter, must learn from them. He explains the situation well:

“These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

So, good job for doing the right stuff, but if you’ve got a side life with pagan tendencies, you might end up like your ancestors. You might not make it to the destination. So wake up. See the examples that came before us. Learn from the experience of others.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

This is an obscure and unfamiliar gospel, so buckle in. We are going to dig in and unpack it. Jesus tells 3 sad stories. Two are about current events of his time, one is a parable about a fig tree.

READING: Part One
In the first part of the reading we’re essentially “turning on the nightly news,” if there was one. Jesus mentions 2 current events of which the crowd was familiar: 1) “Breaking News!” Pilate took the blood of some Galileans who were killed and then mingled it with the blood of their sacrifices.” 2) “This just in… 18 killed by falling Siloam tower.”   Jesus then asks rhetorically, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners? Do you think those who were killed by the tower were more guilty than their neighbors? By no means!”

So what’s his point? He makes two: Those who suffer have not necessarily sinned, and those who sin will eventually reap the fruit they have sown. So when we suffer (from disease, death of a child or loved one), it is not necessarily because we have sinned. But at the same time, when we knowingly separate ourselves from God (i.e.sin), there are consequences, and we will be held responsible.

READING: Part Two
When you see a fig tree in the bible, it stands for Israel, God’s chosen people. Jesus tells a parable. A farmer plants a fig tree in his orchard, but it isn’t bearing fruit (Israel isn’t doing its job). He tells the gardener to cut it down. The gardener says, “leave it for a year, I will cultivate the ground. If it doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down.” Here, God is both the farmer who is impatient with his stiffed-necked people AND the gardener who is merciful. Ultimately, if the people don’t repent – and God is a God of many chances (kind, merciful, slow to anger)- they will face His judgment.  Their blood may be “mingled with sacrifices.” A tower might fall on them. (In fact, when the temple does fall in AD 70, many are killed by its falling stones).

What do we take from these readings?
1) Like Moses, we must approach God with humility (take off our sandals) and know that He is God. God will put the right words in our mouths when He asks us to speak.
2) The Lord is kind , merciful, , slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
3) We must beware of  the double life. Learn from the examples of our ancestors.
4) Be a fruitful tree. We must plant ourselves in fertile soil. Anchor our roots therein. Reach with our “limbs and leaves” and grow. When we use our gifts, when we serve Him, when we serve others in love, when we forgive, when we carry our cross for Him and with Him no matter its weight, we are bearing fruit.

What kind of tree are you? How tall? How deep are the roots? Imagine yourself as this tree. Consider what your tree needs in order to grow.

2.21.2014 2nd Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Welcome Back! Click here for the readings.

Today’s tip:
Use the 1.page.bible.timeline to track the major stops on the bible’s “roadmap.” On the left, are boxes that go up like stairs…1 Holy Couple, 1 Holy Family, 1 Holy Tribe, etc. Today’s reading comes from the 1 Holy Tribe box– the covenant between God and Abram (later, Abraham).

                                                         1st Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
BACKGROUND
If the bible is a “roadmap” and the destination “Heaven,” it helps to know the major stops along the way. We might say creation is the starting point. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God’s original plan of perfect love between God and man was thwarted. The problem of sin was born. The solution to that problem, we’ll see, is Jesus. Between creation and the arrival of Jesus in the manger, a lot of important things happened.

Today is a really important Old Testament stop. Today marks the “birth” of the nation of Israel, also known as God’s chosen people. This group has many names in the OT: “Israel,” “Israelites,” “Jews,” “Hebrews,” “Daughter Zion,” “Children of Abraham,” and more. Whatever you call them, this group is the main character for the rest of the OT.

READING: THE COVENANT WITH ABRAM
When God first called Abram it went something like this: “Abram, I want you to pack up everything you own, trust in my plan for your life, and go to the land of Ur.” That’s one tall order. God went on: “If you trust me I will bless you with 1) descendants, 2) a land flowing with milk and honey (the promised land), 3) a kingdom, and 4) through these descendants, all nations will be blessed (a worldwide blessing).”

Today we see the part where Abram learns about the 1st blessing – descendants. Abram is asked to count the stars. God says they will be as numerous as the descendants he will have (even though he and Sarah are childless). As the reading goes on, we see God actually make the covenant – a serious, unbreakable, lifelong vow with Abram and all who will follow. Abram asks for a sign from God about God’s promises. God says, “OK Abram. I will give you a sign. Go get a variety of animals, split them in two and put them opposite each other  to form an aisle.” Abram obliges. After dark, God – in the form of a smoking fire pit and a flaming torch – goes down the aisle. The act of going down the aisle is how God seals the contract – it’s like his signature. From that time on, God keeps His Word.

There are some interesting links here. 1) A deep sleep fell upon Abram, just as one fell upon Adam, just as one will fall  Peter, James, and John in today’s gospel, and just as one will fall upon the disciples in the Garden. When disciples “fall asleep”, God does important work. Out of Adam’s side came woman, out of Abram’s “side” comes a new nation, out of the disciples comes a new church. 2) The God-Abram covenant calls to mind the marriage covenant, when a man and a woman also walk down an aisle. They vow to love and cherish one another for life, and seal a covenant. When you attend a wedding, you sit on one side or “half” of the aisle. When the covenant is sealed, the people on the left side of the church comprise half of the new family (broadly speaking). Those on the right comprise the other half of the newly formed family.

REFLECT
At our baptism, we “sign” a covenant with God. In marriage, we sign a covenant with another person and with God. How are you doing in your covenant relationships?

Responsorial Psalm 27:
“The Lord is my Light and my Salvation”

The psalm is always a response to the first reading. God sealed the covenant with Abram in the form of light (smoking fire and flaming torch).  The refrain speaks of the Lord as light itself, a theme that returns in the gospel.

                                                         2nd Reading: Philippians 3: 17-4:1
BACKGROUND
Phillipi was a Roman province. It was an important city for retired military (think Boca Vista). Having dedicated their lives to Caesar, the inhabitants valued their Roman citizenship.  Citizenship in Phillipi translates to citizenship in Rome. Paul wants to show them a similar link – that citizenship in Christ’s church translates to citizenship in Heaven. He challenges them to look beyond and see themselves as citizens of heaven in addition to being citizens of Rome.

READING
In light of the above, we see Paul’s clever word choice – it has a militaristic twist. It’s a pep talk soldiers might hear before going into battle – a call for unity and support of one another. “Join with others in being imitators…”; “many conduct themselves…as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach, their glory is in their ‘shame.’”

REFLECT
To “make God your stomach” is to seek out physical nourishment that fills us up temporarily, (food, a new car, riches, technology), versus spiritual nourishment that fills our souls and lasts. If ordered correctly – God first and then the things we enjoy (new car, riches, technology), our earthly desires absolutely have an appropriate place. But God wants to be first. How well-balanced is your physical vs. spiritual nourishment?

GOSPEL – Luke 9:28b-36

BACKGROUND
In today’s gospel, we’re standing at one of the main NT stops: The Transfiguration. Before these verses, Jesus had just foretold his death to the disciples. They were probably distraught to hear Jesus talk of his death, so perhaps the transfiguration served as spiritual nourishment (as noted in the 2nd reading). Maybe Jesus wanted to reassure them that He is God’s son by demonstrating this reality before their very eyes.

At the top of the mountain while Jesus was praying, Peter, James and John see his clothes “become dazzling white.” When Jesus prays – when he communicates with The Father – He emits a blinding, pure light. Recall that in Exodus, Moses also came down the mountain after communicating with God and was glowing white. His was a reflective light. Here Jesus IS the light, it comes from within.

The reading goes on to say that Peter and his companions – like Abram and Adam before them – had been overcome by sleep. A divine light woke them up to see Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Let’s stop here and do some basic math:

Moses (the law) + Elijah (the prophets)=Old Testament.
Jesus = New Testament.
Moses + Elijah + Jesus = The fullness of the scriptures.

On the mountain, these men embody the fullness of the scriptures. That is an awesome reality to ponder for a moment. Here we have the Old Testament “talking” to Jesus, the New Testament. What are they talking about? The subject is the Exodus (“Exodus” means “a journey from slavery to freedom”). In the OT, Moses’s Exodus was physical. He led the people out of Egyptian slavery into a land of freedom. The NT Exodus Jesus will soon lead is spiritual. He will lead us out of a spiritual slavery (sin) into spiritual freedom (salvation). Atop the mountain, Jesus is answering the Old Testament – answering it by fulfilling it.

Lastly, God says to them from a cloud, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.” In sum Peter, James and John get a glimpse: Jesus is the answer. Jesus is the New Covenant. He fulfills the old one. And we must listen to Him.

REFLECT
This week, reflect on the words from God the Father, and consider how you might spend time listening to Him in silence. Take a long walk without headphones. Drive without the radio on. Sit in adoration without route prayers or booklets. Sometime this week, just “be” – and see what He says.

May God bless your week! Come back next week to dig into Moses and the Burning Bush and the peculiar role of the fig tree in the gospel.

2.14.2016 1st Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Welcome Back!
In every set of readings lies a treasure map to a broader message we are being called to ponder that week. That’s what this blog is all about – trying to connect those dots so we can train our ears and hearts to hear Him with greater clarity. To ask “How Lord, are you speaking to me this week through these readings?” Some Sundays the dots are easier to see than others. Today the thread of Deuteronomy is throughout.

Click here for the Sunday readings click here
Where in the bible are we? See areas in purple here 1.page.bible.timeline

Today’s fun fact:
St Valentine was a champion of love, yes, but he had a special heart for the sacrament of marriage. In the 3rd century, Claudius, a Roman emperor, severely restricted marriage between young people. He felt it made the husbands poor soldiers, and thus he’d have a weaker army. In addition, polygamy was more acceptable during that time. St. Valentine felt both attitudes were less than ideal, so he encouraged marriage between 1 man and 1 woman in the Christian church. He performed these marriages secretly for many years before he was caught, imprisoned, tortured and killed for his actions. St. Valentine, pray for us!

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10

BACKGROUND
“Deuteronomy” comes from the Latin “Deutero-nomium” or “Second Law.” Put simply, the book  is a commentary on the 10 Commandments – an “instruction manual” on how to live by God’s law. So if Deuteronomy is the second law, what was the first?
Back in Dt chapters 5-8, God gave the stone tablets to Moses atop Mt. Sinai. This is the 1st law. When I read these 4 chapters – I was overwhelmed by their beauty – God so eloquently and lovingly lays out His promises for His chosen nation. Nevertheless, while Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (hang on to that number for today’s gospel), the people became impatient and stiff-necked. Giving in to temptation, they built a golden calf to worship.*sigh* Moses probably felt like I do when I leave my kids in the room and tell them not to bicker while I’m gone. (I’m sure you can guess what they do.) So God’s people disobeyed – they broke the 1st law before they even had time to digest it. It was a very bad idea to worship a statue of a cow instead of God. This is called the golden calf incident. It was so offensive to God that scholars often refer to it as “The Second Fall.”

This broke Moses’s heart. He threw down the first set of stone tablets at the bottom of the mountain and they shattered. God said He would destroy this stubborn people. But Moses wanted to help the people, so he fasted. He laid prostrate before God. For 40 days and nights without food or water. All in an effort to save the Isrealites. This is a priestly action. Moses serves as an intermediary between the people and God. He takes the sin of his people upon himself and offers it to the Lord. Jesus, our High Priest, does the same thing for us on the Cross. Ordained priests all over the world do this every day, fasting and praying for their parishioners – and serving as an intermediary between the people and God both at the altar (preparing the Eucharist) and in the confessional (reconciling us to God).

BACK TO THE READING
Chapters 11-26 of Deut is a commentary on all 10 commandments. In Deut 26, we’re on #10: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s goods.” In short, Moses tells the people how to focus on gratitude. They are to “properly give the first fruits of the land to the Lord” via a priest. Moses tells them what to say when they tithe, (“You shall declare before the Lord your God…”). They are supposed to tell the story of God saving His people from the Egyptians in the Exodus – “The Story” of the Old Testament.

We too are called to give to the Lord from our first fruits, from the top. This can be in the form of dollars, talents, or time, but it should be the best we have. Two women in the gospels demonstrate this. In Mark, a widow giving her only 2 coins to Jesus (literally, her whole life). In John, Mary gives the equivalent of one year’s salary (in the form of precious nard or oil) to bless Christ’s head before Calvary. These women have put this reading into action in a really big way.

Response Psalm 91: “Be With Me Lord, When I am in Trouble”

The author of this psalm is unknown. Quite clearly, it is a call to the Lord for assistance. In times of trouble, we are to call to Him, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” There are words of comfort as well: “No evil shall befall you, nor affliction come near your tent, for to his angels he has given command about you.”  Psalm 91 includes the popular line from “On Eagle’s Wings” which is quoted later today by Jesus in the gospel, “Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

2nd Reading: Romans 10: 8-13

BACKGROUND
Rome, of course, was the imperial capital of the Roman Empire and the most populated city in the Mediterranean world. Paul wrote to the people of Rome around 57 AD, mainly to introduce himself in anticipation of his planned visit. He normally visited a city and wrote his apostolic letters after setting up the Church in that city (to correct them, to unify them, answer questions, etc.), but not the case in Rome. He wrote a letter before his first visit there, hoping to enlist their support in carrying out his apostolic mission. He also wanted to ease tensions that were straining the Church. (Unity is a common goal for all of Paul’s letters.)

READING
In today’s reading, Paul’s topic is the “Restoration of Israel.” From my study bible introduction to the book of Romans: “Though many in Israel have rejected the gospel, in this letter Paul insists God has not abandoned his covenant people but is planning to save ‘all Israel’ in Christ. This is consistent with the patterns of how God dealt with Israel in the scriptures.” Does that last part sound familiar? People reject God’s law…God’s chosen tries to restore them (here, that’s Moses in Reading 1 and Paul in Reading 2). Moses tried to restore the people after the golden calf incident, even though they had rejected God’s law. Paul is doing the same thing – trying to restore the people of Rome, to bring them back to God through His Church. As noted previously, Paul is a master at getting through to his audience. What does he do? He quotes Deuteronomy: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” – a direct quote from Dt 30:14, just a few chapters after the 1st reading.

GOSPEL – Luke 4:1-13

BACKGROUND
Today, we’re with Jesus in the temptation of the wilderness. This happens right after the baptism of the Lord (“Jesus returned from the Jordan”). What does our baptism do? It pledges us to Christ. What happens as soon as we belong to Christ? Satan wants to mess with us. So in this reading, Jesus goes to battle for us in the desert before he goes to battle for us against Satan a final time – and is victorious – when He rises from the dead.  So this is like Jesus’s “warm up” battle. But it has a purpose, too. He has some fulfilling of the Old Testament to do before He saves the world from sin. Biblically, “40” signifies waiting, testing, and purification… During the Flood, it rained 40 days and nights. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights and then interceded for Israel for 40 days and nights. Israel’s spies looked on Canaan for 40 days, and of course Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years.

Jesus goes out to the wilderness for 40 days – the wilderness was a scary, dark, barren place. While he’s there, satan tempts him. But because He’s God, He flips the situation on its head. The Israelites struggled so badly in the face of temptation throughout the entire Old Testament. They were punished for that – usually with “a 40” (see paragraph above).  In the desert we see Jesus – who is 100% human and 100% divine – go through some very human temptations. Importantly, these are the same temptations Israel struggled with in their Old Testament wildernesses: hunger, thirst, power, protection, comfort.

But here’s where it gets cool.

Instead of watching another episode of God’s law be rejected (yet again), Jesus puts it all to an end. He is The Answer. Previously, the Israelites showed unfaithfulness every time they were tempted. Here, Jesus shows us how to reject temptation and be faithful. He has the strength the Israelites did not have. He has the strength we often don’t. Jesus, in this one event of temptation in the desert, fulfills – answers – all the previous temptations in the Old Testament in one fell swoop.

But how does He do it? What does Jesus do when he’s tempted by the devil? If you said, “Well he quotes Deuteronomy, of course!” Then you’d be right.

Deut 8:3 “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Deut 6:13 “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
Deut 6:16  “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Matthew 5:17

Come back next week to explore the link between the covenant with Abraham and the Transfiguration. May God bless your week!

2.10.2016 Ash Wednesday

To see Ash Wednesday Readings click here

Today we begin one of the most meaningful seasons of the Church year: Lent. This time of penance – marked by bare churches, ashen foreheads, and the call to fast, serve, and pray – points us directly to the Cross and the journey Jesus makes for us.

Fun fact: Purple is the liturgical color for Lent (and Advent too). It signifies both royalty and suffering.  Purple was a rare and costly dye, so it was reserved for kings.

1st Reading: JOEL 2:12-18

We hear this reading every Ash Wednesday. Why does the Church choose to read from Joel every year? The reason is, we see in this reading the 3 pillars of Lent: Fasting, Almsgiving, and Prayer. It makes sense to us when we hear it today, but Joel was not getting ready for the distribution of ashes when he wrote this … what was the original purpose of his prophecy? A few basics:

Joel was a minor prophet (4 chapters). Scholars are unsure exactly when he prophesied, but the main theme is consistent with other prophetic books: God is calling the people to repent. Leading up to this passage, Joel uses some beautiful literary devices to show the people what’s happening around them. He tells Israel that destruction and death are coming if they do not repent (a sort of “de-creation” vs. the “creation” God brought forth in Genesis) via swarms of locusts (which symbolize the attacking Assyrian army) and severe loss of agriculture (food). If they abandon sinful ways and repent, they could be spared. In order to repent, though, the people need to rally, they need to act. So Joel gives them a pep talk: “Blow the trumpet in Zion! Call the assembly, proclaim a fast, assemble the elders! Perhaps He will again relent.” At the end of the reading, we see it is due to the people’s fasting that God reconsidered: “the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.”

An interesting thought exercise: I once heard at a talk, “If you really want the Lord to know you’re serious about your prayer request, fast.” Now, that does not mean God doesn’t hear our fervent prayers if we don’t fast or that He won’t answer them – not at all.  God doesn’t work like that. I think of it simply as a way to enter more deeply into prayer. The fasting is more for us than God. It is a means to an end. By going without, by suffering for another person in some small way, we employ a tool in our “prayer toolbox” that brings us closer to His Sacred Heart.

Responsorial Psalm: 51
“Be merciful O Lord for we have sinned.”

This psalm was written by a repentant King David after he had Uriah the Hittite killed. (David committed adultery with Uriah’s beautiful wife, Bathsheba, and then had him killed in battle) He felt deep, deep sorrow for his actions (see 2 Sam 11). Many psalms of David are about this sin of David’s. David returns to the Lord and seeks forgiveness, serving God with great fervor until his death. In this way, David is a good example to us on how to seek forgiveness from God no matter the sin, pick ourselves up again and live righteously.
We also see themes from Isaiah’s Sunday reading on cleansing of the lips (“and of my sin cleanse me”). David pleads, “create a clean heart in me O God.” Again we see the juxtaposition of a clean heart of flesh vs. a heart of stone hardened by sin. Jesus left us a means to receive this clean heart whenever we want – in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He can make a clean heart in us, and we can start anew. St. Faustina: “Jesus said to me, ‘There is no misery that could be a match for my mercy.'” A beautiful reality to ponder.

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Church in Corinth, he is going through a bit of a rough spot, to put it mildly. The people Paul left in charge in Corinth, as well as the people in the city, are doubting his very apostleship and authority. That is no easy spot. And yet what a master rhetorician he proves to be. Key points:

– Paul reminds his fellow co-ministers (priests) that they are “ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” He wants them to set a good example.
– Whereas in the first reading from Joel we saw “de-creation,” here Paul calls the people to be “re-created” and reconciled to God.
– There are four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah. In them, God calls His chosen people Israel to be His servant-nation. What an honor, to be God’s chosen nation! But in order to be this, Israel needs to be…well, servant-like. Yes, they will enjoy abundant blessings, but they must also suffer. Here, Paul purposely quotes Isaiah’s 4th Servant Song, which would be very familiar to his audience. He reminds them that despite the challenges brought about by God’s call to suffer, He never abandons them. “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you” (from Isaiah 49:8).
We are reminded that suffering does not mean we have been abandoned, but rather, it is part of being a disciple of Christ. Though it may be hard to see as we are in it, He is with us through every storm. We must pray for the eyes of faith to see Him.

Gospel: Matthew 6-1-6; 16-18 (The Sermon on the Mount)

Moses and Jesus have a lot in common. They both led the people out of slavery (in Egypt/of sin), they both dealt with stiff-necked people (Israelites/us), and they both delivered the law on Mt. Sinai (Moses in the form of the 1o commandments on a stony slab, Jesus in the form of His Word, and from His Sacred Heart of flesh, thus fulfilling or completing the law Moses gave). The Sermon on the Mount has 3 parts: Jesus gives the Beatitudes (Part 1) expands on them (Part 2), and offers warnings/woes (Part 3). Today’s reading is from Part 2, concerning fasting as prayer.

Jesus delivers a message on how to live as an upright people. He tells them/us to value humility over pride, a quiet, interior relationship with Him over loudly sounding our trumpets, and an outward appearance of joy and stability when we are fasting. These are goals we can constantly work to achieve. We many never “get there,” but with a spirit of faith we must try, and we’ll surely grow in His love along the way.

We are called for the next 40 days, to be like Christ in His passion. To strip ourselves of worldly desires. To retreat to the wilderness and enter into a deeper kind of prayer. To make our lives more bland for a time. In doing these things, we position ourselves to see the triumphant joy of Easter with increased clarity – a day when Jesus stomps on death itself and throws open the doors of Heaven for us.

The readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent are packed with meaning and connections. You won’t want to miss the next post!