Thursday, August 11, 2011

Take Courage, it is I; Do not be Afraid!

For All Caregivers Everywhere
Matthew 14:22-33


Jesus saves Peter from drowning (Matthew 14:30-31)
Lord, what words of consolation can You give
To those of us who must helplessly look on,
As mind and body of loved ones crumble;
wash away before our eyes?
We know no comfort;
No comfort can we give them.
Our boat is a long distance from land,
Battered by waves of tears, anxiety, sinking in despair,
Our hearts torn and tattered like sails in the storm.
Yet in the midst of this terror,
It is then You come, unexpectedly,
Appearing like a ghost,
Looking like the very ones who are vanishing from our sight.
For where do we see You, Lord?
Not in a heavenly vision,
But there! in the same faces of those who no longer know us!
It is then that we hear You speak to us,
Seemingly out of mouths that can no longer form words,
Saying gently, yet ever so clearly,
"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Sinners, Saints, and the Mercy of God

The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30)

 

"Parable of the Enemy Sowing Tares." Unknown, 1894.
 24He put another parable before them, saying, (A) "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' 28He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29But he said,(B) 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers,(C) Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Footnotes:
  1. Matthew 13:25 Probably darnel, a wheat-like weed
  2. Matthew 13:27 Greek bondservants; also verse 28
Cross references:
  1. Matthew 13:24 : Matthew 13:37-42; Mark 4:26-29
  2. Matthew 13:29 : 1 Cor 4:5
  3. Matthew 13:30 : Matthew 3:12
Even the name by which this story has come to be known could color the way we understand this particular parable of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven.  But the focus of the story doesn't have to be the weeds which have grown up among the wheat in the field.  The appearance of the weeds certainly upsets the servants of the master of the house, who offer to immediately go out into the field and pull them all up as a service to their master.  But we notice that the master himself is not upset, nor does he even seem surprised.  He also apparently knows the source of the weed seed, and in his wisdom, is content to let the weeds grow up among the wheat until harvest time.

We note that the enemy mentioned had come and sowed weeds among the wheat while the master's servants were sleeping. We also note that the master does not chide his servants for sleeping.  It was not as though they had been "sleeping on the job". By contrast, perhaps the master's own lack of surprise, and in fact, what would seem to be his full knowledge of how the weeds came to be there, would indicate that he himself had witnessed exactly what had taken place; that the master in this parable is none other than "He who watches over Israel" and the One who "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4). Could this mean that the master then knowingly allowed the weeds to be sown amidst his wheat? Perhaps the master of the house has a plan of which no one else knows.

What do the wheat and the weeds then represent in this parable about the Kingdom of Heaven? Are we to understand them simply as sinners and saints, who at the time of the harvest will either be punished or rewarded for their deeds? Yet, if the weeds definitively represent sinners and the wheat saints, then doesn't that seem to say that sinners cannot repent and become saints, and saints cannot before the end of their lives turn into unrepentant sinners, ultimately rejecting the Lord? Such an interpretation would seem to simultaneously favor two Calvinist doctrines:  first, of predetermination; that is, that God only desires the salvation of the elect, and then, of "once saved always saved." But rightly knowing that we are each endowed by our God with free will, we clearly see the error in these doctrines.  Each soul is free to ultimately either choose or reject salvation.  Sanctification is also a process worked over time by grace with our cooperation, not an immediately complete, once-and-for-all event performed by God alone and apart from our will.

Clearly, the master of the house knows that in trying to pull up the weeds from among the wheat, some of the wheat might be pulled up as well before it has matured. If heaven were to rain down judgment upon the sinner while he yet lives, such judgment could also take the life of his neighbor the just man. Perhaps, then, there is much more to the wisdom of the master than meets the eye. Letting both the weeds and the wheat grow up together until harvest time is a decision that he alone has made, and which no one else seems to understand or appreciate. Perhaps, then, only the master knows, understands and can see that it will only be at harvest time-- at the time of judgment-- when it will be ultimately known which plants bear grains of wheat and which are truly weeds; which are saints and which are sinners; whether a soul has finally persevered or has at the moment of death despaired and rejected God, in spite of his continual call to repentance and offer of mercy. The parable then seems to serve as a reminder to us that the Lord God is the only just judge.

The focus and purpose of this parable then, would seem to be, not to remind us once again of the four last things-- death, judgment, heaven and hell-- but rather to reveal to us in a new way the great merciful heart of our Heavenly Father. While others would judge our eternal destinies still in the midst of our lives, the Father is infinitely patient with us.  Further, if we are sinners, he gives us the gift of saints to live among us, to serve as living examples of what we can be if we would only turn to Him. If we are humble and obedient, we might be living holy lives, perhaps with apparent sinners living among us, for whom we should constantly pray as well as remember that we are only what we are ultimately by the grace of God.

Finally, how are we to understand what happens at the time of harvest, where the weeds are bound into bundles to be burned, with the wheat gathered into the master's barn? When something is burned, all of the moisture, all of the life and potential life, is removed from it, and ultimately, it is reduced to dust, and therefore worthless. It is also no longer recognizable as what it was before it was burned.  When one burns a plant after it is harvested, the ultimate intention is to kill its seeds, so that it might not further spread or reproduce. But as for the wheat, which the master will gather into his barn, the grain will either be ground into flour or it will be sown in the ground again.

This parable of the weeds-- that might yet be wheat-- seems to echo the beautiful words of Isaiah 55, of God's free offer of mercy, calling the sinner to repentance, so that he might yet know the wonderful compassion of the Lord-- and live.

9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
         So are My ways higher than your ways
         And My thoughts than your thoughts.

10“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
         And do not return there without watering the earth
         And making it bear and sprout,
         And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

11So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
         It will not return to Me empty,
         Without accomplishing what I desire,
         And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

12“For you will go out with joy
         And be led forth with peace;
         The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
         And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

13“Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up,
         And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up,
         And it will be a memorial to the LORD,
         For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

When God Calls: Part III

The Call of the Rich Young Man
Luke 18:18-23

Heinrich Hofmann, "Christ and the Rich Young Ruler"
The reader of this Gospel passage cannot be certain what in particular led the rich young man—a ruler—to inquire of Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Perhaps he was among those who had been listening to Jesus’ parables and teachings—about praying and not losing heart; about not considering oneself righteous; and about the need to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child. As for us, the initial call from God to this ruler was made in the quiet of the man’s own heart.

As a rich young man, as one who did not need to toil for a living, he was already keenly aware that everything he had came to him by inheritance. It is possible that his father had died, leaving the young man everything owned by his father. If so, he knew first-hand that all he possessed would be given to his descendents when he himself died. So in spite of everything he had that came to him by his father, the rich young man was painfully aware that all his possessions could not spare him from death, just as it could not spare his father from it. He clearly wants something that not even his father and all his possessions could give him: to live forever.

It would seem that this rich young man is also righteous according to the Law, as he tells Jesus that he has kept all the commandments from his earliest days. But he also seems to sense that Jesus’ own righteousness is above his own. He calls Jesus “good,” with Jesus then responding that, “only God is good.”

But when Jesus tells this rich young man, “there is still one thing you lack,” and that is, that he should sell everything he has, give it to the poor, and then come and follow Him, the man became sad. This was not what he had expected to hear or had hoped for. He was looking to do something in addition to what he had already been doing, not to change his life—and certainly not to give up everything. The man heard Jesus’ call, but refused it.

Perhaps this young man had found it possible to keep all of the commandments because he had never lacked anything in his life. He was rich and powerful. He did not have to take any other man’s wife (adultery), life (murder), or possessions (steal), or bear false witness in order to get what he wanted or needed. He also had always given honor to the father and the mother who had provided for his every need. If he were now to give up everything, then he would be faced with his own needs, weaknesses, and passions. But that is why Jesus did not merely say, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor.” He also told the man that once he had done that, “then follow Me.” It was not the giving to the poor that would lead the man eternal life, but rather it would be the following of Jesus—which would mean a complete reliance on Jesus for everything.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

When God Calls: Part II

The Call of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Daughter of Abraham
Luke 1:26-56

Giovanni Lanfranco, "The Annunciation" (c 1620)
The call of God to Mary has much in common with the call of Abraham.  In exchange for consent to God’s will, God also promises Mary many things in return.  Here also, God calls for Mary's consent to something that is beyond human understanding and reason. The promise of a child to Mary also stood in stark contradiction to her life and her circumstances. As a true daughter of Abraham, Mary is also called to great faith.

But while there are great similarities to note, there are also marked differences.  Abraham did not come to know God until he was 75 years old.  From her childhood, Mary's life was one that was dedicated to prayer and service to God in the Temple.  Abraham was old and his wife was barren. Mary was a young virgin, and the child that God promised her through the words of the Angel Gabriel had not been sought or hoped for.  But the greatest difference between Mary and Abraham lies in how Mary responded to her call. 

In the case of Abraham, his initial response to God was one of silent and unhesitating obedience to leave his home for one unknown.  It was only later, as time passed, that he began to question God, asking Him where was the child that He promised, and how can you make a great nation of me when the only heir I have is one of my servants?  He also acted on his own initiative and lack of faith, in particular when he deceived the Egyptians about the identity of Sarah as his wife, and when he consented at her urging, to beget a child, Ishmael, by her handmaid, Hagar, rather than patiently waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promise for a true heir from his wife's womb.

Mary, on the other hand, was a woman of unwavering faith.  In fact, her faith seemed to increase as God called her to greater and greater trust in the face of greater and greater uncertainty and suffering.  Mary’s initial response to the greeting of the Angel (“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”) was one of astonishment and even fear, for surely Mary knew immediately with the Angel’s declaration that “the Lord was with [her],” that this was a call from God out of the quiet, hidden life she had always known, to something public and extraordinary.  But when the Angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid,” she obeys.  When the Angel tells her that she is to bear a child, and that this child will be great and holy, she believes.  Her question, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” was an admission of her inability to understand as a mere creature, this great and seemingly impossible thing that God would do.  But unlike Abraham, who believed upon the reassuring word of the Lord that his descendants would be in number like the stars, but later gave in to doubt when he consented to beget a child by Hagar, Mary’s response of “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word” was spoken once and for all.  It was the profession of a perpetual vow to obey and follow the call of God, making no protest, but always responding in silent obedience, “keeping all these things in her heart.” 

For Mary, the call to be the mother of the Messiah meant a complete change in her life, and in her identity.  As a woman pregnant and not yet wedded, she was subject to shame and scandal, even stoning, first in the eyes of Joseph, her betrothed, and also surely in the eyes of the community.  From the moment the Word was made flesh in her womb, and forever thereafter, Jesus’ very existence, His very identity, directly affected Mary—and not only Mary.  Through Mary, beginning in her visitation to her kinswoman Elizabeth, that same existence and identity of the child in her womb already began to change and sanctify the world.  For Elizabeth, Mary was no longer her kinswoman, but became, “the mother of my Lord,” and by merely being present as that mother, sanctified and filled the child in Elizabeth’s womb with the Holy Spirit.  And as Elizabeth further declares, Mary was blessed above all women, as “she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

Friday, June 24, 2011

When God Calls: Part I

Václav (Wencelaus) Hollar, "God Calls Abraham"
The Call of Abraham (Genesis 12)

The overarching theme of the book of Genesis is one of the Lord as Creator; of the One with Whom all things are possible (cf. Matthew 19:26), as the One Who makes all things out of nothing. He fashions us, humankind, after His own image and likeness, and gradually over time, in spite of our refusal to His invitation to life with Him, the Lord begins through His call to Abram--whom the Lord would rename "Abraham"-- to fashion us into a nation, a people, and ultimately on earth into the Body of Christ, destined in eternity to be nothing less than His bride!

Just as the Lord called Adam and Eve into being, the call of Abraham is nothing less than a call to life and to covenant with the Lord. The Lord asks much of Abraham: to obey His command to leave the land and the people he has known all of his life. But the Lord promises in return infinitely more than what He asks. The Lord promises Abraham, who is 75 years old, something beyond human reason: his wife, Sarah, is also old and is barren, yet the Lord promises Abraham an heir, and to make of him through that son “a great nation.”

Abraham was called to leave his land and his people—and to set off for an unknown land. While he did not go alone, taking his wife, his nephew Lot, his servants, and all of his possessions, at his age, Abraham would hardly be able to defend himself and those with him if anyone should attack them on the way. Did he at his age have the strength even to make a journey of an unknown length, and then to resettle wherever his journey eventually took him?

Nevertheless, Abraham’s response to the Lord's command was one of immediate obedience, without question. There is no specific statement on what motivated Abraham, but it is clear that he, like Noah before him, took God at His word. When Abraham set out on the journey, he knew God only through His voice, in the hearing of a command. Later, God appeared to Abraham, to specifically tell him that it was the land of the Canaanites that God would give to him and to his descendants. Abraham's response was in kind: to build an altar; to offer sacrifice and worship to the God who had revealed Himself to Abraham. Again later, Abraham builds another altar, this time initiating the relationship, in calling upon the name of the Lord. As part of his journey ever closer to the land which God has promised, Abraham also draws closer to the Lord, eventually putting aside his doubts and fears and attaining an ever greater faith and trust in the Lord as his provider.

Václav (Wencelaus) Hollar, "God Promises Abraham"
The call of the Lord completely changed Abraham's life and his destiny-- because Abraham said "yes," acknowledging the Lord as God. Before receiving the Lord's command to leave his land and his people, Abraham likely lived a very predictable life, one to which he had likely resigned himself. His wife was barren, and we can well imagine that Abraham mourned this, but on some level had accepted it, perhaps living a life of “quiet desperation.” But now, on his journey with God, Abraham lived a life full of uncertainty and anxiety--- but also, for the first time, one of great expectation and hope!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Open Wide the Doors to Christ!


Gustave Dore, "The Burial of Jesus"
A Reflection on The Burial of Jesus
and the Guard at the Tomb: Matthew 27:57-66

It was evening. Soon, it would be the Sabbath. As would Your priest, who in silent, reverent awe places the Holy Eucharist in repose, your disciple Joseph of Arimethea wrapped Your body in clean linen and laid it in a newly-hewn tomb. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” remained, even after Joseph secured the tomb’s entrance and departed. The women remained, sitting there, facing the tomb, as though paying homage and adoration to the Body of their Lord, which they had beheld with their own eyes as broken for them. Soon it would be the Sabbath, the day of repose, but they remained—because there, in repose, was the Lord of the Sabbath!

Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, and this was to have been his tomb. One can imagine that only a rich man could have afforded such a luxury. First, there would have been the cost of the land, and then payment of the wages for the many hours of hard labor needed to dig out such a tomb. To the many poor, surely such a purchase would have seemed a waste, as did the costly perfumed oil poured out upon You in Bethany. They could never fathom paying in advance for a tomb hewn out of rock, because everything they earned day by day by the sweat of their brows went into just scraping out a living—with the intent of putting off for as long as possible the inevitable need for their burial.

Joseph was a rich man, but he was also Your devoted disciple. You taught that it is hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. But Joseph was living proof, as You also taught: that, for God, all things are possible. As one who had heard and received You as his Messiah, did Joseph, as he laid Your body in his tomb, indeed understand that You had died in his place? And after placing Your body in the tomb, did he then leave to return home, not just to prepare for the Sabbath, but also to await in hope for Your promised resurrection?

Lord, as at the burial of Your body by Joseph, You continue to trust the care of Your Body to us in the Most Holy Eucharist—but are we, like Joseph, truly your devoted disciples in our regard for this gift of Yourself? What did it cost Joseph to claim Your body from Pilate? Money? Loss of reputation? Even future suspicion and persecution? Are we willing to bear all the costs of claiming to the world that the Eucharist is indeed Your Body? Or do we, like the unbelieving chief priests and Pharisees, in effect call You “impostor;” insisting that the Sacred Host is not truly Your Body, but “only a symbol?”

In placing a guard around the tomb and securing it as best they could, did Pilate and the chief priests and Pharisees believe that doing so could actually prevent what they most feared: Your resurrection? Have we also so hardened our own hearts until they are like stones, and have we placed a guard and seal over them to try to secure them against Your triumphant entry? May we instead believe what we see, and instead heed the words of the angel of the Lord spoken at Your empty tomb, recapitulated time and again in our own time by Blessed John Paul II: “Do not be afraid!” May we, in removing the fear, remove the guard and the seal, and let you roll away the stone, and do as Your Vicar bade us: may we “open wide the doors” to You, so that You may enter triumphantly into our hearts, our lives, our world!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Death of Jesus

James Tissot, "The Death of Jesus"
A Reflection on Luke 23:44-49

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, " Father, into your hands I commend my spirit; " and when he had said this he breathed his last. The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, "This man was innocent beyond doubt ." When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.

The sun, the Son! The “Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel,” (Lk 2:32) eclipsed by death at the height of the day, in the prime of life, at the height of His ministry! Just a few days earlier, He had been proclaimed King by the people, riding triumphantly into Jerusalem as they glorified God!
The veil of the temple is torn wide open: God is no longer hidden from man. The Father Himself tore the veil in His haste in running out to meet us (Lk 15:20); He is pleased to give us the kingdom! (Lk 12:32) The Son’s eclipse reveals the Father, to Jew and Gentile alike.  The people whom Jesus excused because they did not know what they were doing (Lk 23:34) are suddenly filled with great remorse at His death. (Lk 23:48) Even the eyes of a Centurion—a pagan, who had surely carried out and witnessed countless crucifixions (the expression, “I’ve done this so many times, I could do it with my eyes closed,” comes to mind)—are opened!
Dearest Lord Jesus, you poured out Yourself completely in loving obedience to the Father. You even gave the Father the moment of your death; it was the only thing You had left to offer Him, making it the last act of submission of Your human will, the final prayer of utter trust and dependence, of unspeakable love You could offer, while You still had the powers of speech that the body He gave you possessed. I cannot fathom how, Lord, after hours of agony on the cross and at the point of death, You had the strength to fill Your lungs with enough air to be able to cry out, let alone utter a sound! How ashamed I am that I often let the least amount of bodily fatigue or stress keep me from just a moment of prayer! It is especially in these moments of affliction that I, too, should be crying out to Him in faith with complete trust!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

At The Foot of The Cross

Crucifixion, by Alfajarin Master (1480)
As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.

from "What We Behold On the Cross"
St. Augustine of Hippo (c. 354-430)


Had Jesus not come to die, but instead to restore the earthly kingdom of David in glorious triumph, who would not have wondered and worshiped! But as King of kings, He had no need to take what was already His. What the King did not have was me: banished forever because I would not serve! So what did He do? He Himself relinquished His own kingdom, and came to live with me, in this valley of tears, where Satan rules. Taking up the cross, He told Satan, “You cannot have her! She is mine! Take me instead!” How could the evil one refuse such an offer, believing that he would then truly be the King’s usurper!

And now I see the terrible price of my redemption! Nothing less than His body and blood! The evil one and those who serve him have inflicted a form of execution upon the King so horrific, that it could only have come out of hell itself! It tears me apart to see you like this, dear Lord, but still, I must look at You! And as I behold Your wounds, Your very heart pierced through, Your broken, lifeless body still fixed to the instrument of Your death, I find that I, too, no longer wish to live.

What have I done! Forgive me, Lord! I didn’t know that You loved me. I didn’t know what love was—until now. Why is it, Lord, that only now do I love You; that only now I am Yours? Yet now I see, my precious Lord: it is precisely by the death You endured that You have won me for Yourself! And even in Your glorious victory over death, may I never forget the cost; may the scars You ever bear ever be for me tokens of this Love that will not let me go!

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
Relentless as the nether world is devotion;
Its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
Nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,
He would be roundly mocked. (Sg 8:6-7)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Preparations for the Passover

A Reflection on Mark 14:12-16

It was on “the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb…” I imagined the Lord and His disciples together in the temple observing the ritual slaughter, and then tried to imagine what thoughts, emotions, and prayers flowed through Jesus in that moment, as He saw the lamb’s blood flow out into the cup, then passed from one priest to the next, and was finally sprinkled onto the altar. Jesus, Lamb of God, did Your thoughts race ahead to the moment of Your own death; the one and only atoning death which this ancient ritual foretold? Would any of these same priests play a part in putting You to death? There You stood, all alone in Your knowing and understanding, just as soon You would be all alone upon Your own altar of sacrifice; and then, too, no one but You would know and understand. Did you then hear and understand Your disciples’ question, “Where do you want us to go to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” as “Where do you want us to go to prepare for your death?”

Also unknown to Your disciples, You Yourself had already prepared everything ahead of time—not just for them, but for us; for all of us, and for all time. “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a water jar. Follow him.” Who is this man with the water jar? We only meet him and follow him. Is it the Baptist? But he does not pour out the water; we do not wash. But just the sight of him and the water jar speaks of, reminds us of, our need for purification before we enter the Master’s house. It was then that I heard the words the priest speaks at the beginning of each Mass: “To prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins.”

Yes, Lord, You have already prepared everything-- everything except the meal. You have already spoken to the Master of this house, made arrangements with him for us to be allowed to enter it with You, to eat the Passover with You. If it were not for Your relationship with the Master, we would not be able to enter.

The room is large and furnished. It is a guest room. It is Your guest room. Lord, this room then is my heart, where you are the Guest. In this room, where do I let you sit? What place do I give you? Is it one of the highest honor?

How often do I—do I really and truly—thank You for what you have done; that You have prepared a place at the table for me, with You, in your Father’s house? How I take it for granted, not giving thought to what it cost you, to obtain this place for me—with You!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

His Kingdom is Not of This World

Pietro Lorenzetti, "Entry of Christ into Jerusalem," c 1320
Among the many questions masterfully addressed by Pope Benedict XVI in Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, his recently-released second volume in a series reflecting on the person, life, and mission of Jesus of Nazareth, is whether Jesus was a Zealot, a political revolutionary who sought to overthrow the Roman government and free His people from their oppressive occupation.

Immediately following His Messianic entrance into Jerusalem upon a donkey while His followers acclaim and proclaim Him as the One who "comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 21:10; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38), Jesus' first deed is His "cleansing of the Temple" (Mark 11:15–19, 11:27–33, Matthew 21:12–17, 21:23–27, Luke 19:45–48, 20:1–8 and John 2:13–16), an act certain biblical scholars have typically viewed as one of "violent revolt", and which they conclude demonstrates, in the preceding Messianic context, that Jesus was a Zealot-- and that it was in His claim as "King of the Jews" for which He was ultimately crucified by the Romans (14).

But as Pope Benedict argues, "Jesus' whole ministry and His message-- from the temptations in the desert, his baptism in the Jordan, the Sermon on the Mount, right up to the parable of the Last Judgment (Mt 25) and his response to Peter's confession-- point in a radically different direction" (15). In fact, Jesus' ride into Jerusalem upon a donkey (a symbol of the poor and of poverty) renders Him as "the new king of peace" and expresses "an entirely different image of kingship" (15-16) than what was expected by those who looked to Jesus as the one who would restore the Davidic kingdom to Israel by conquest.

In response to Pontius Pilate's question, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus replies, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:33, 36). It is in these words that Jesus in fact proposes to Pilate, and to us, "an entirely different image of kingship," and it is paradoxically in Jesus' passion and crucifixion that He is crowned and enthroned as the king He attests He was born to be (cf John 18:37).

But how is it possible, not only to understand, but to embrace this paradox offered to us by Jesus, and thus this "entirely different image of kingship," especially through the eyes of this culture in which we live, where, first of all, the concept of kingship or any other form of autocratic rule is both foreign and undesirable to us? Yet perhaps our own culture in fact can offer us the answer, by way of analogy.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, at the height of the Vietnam War protests, a popular sentiment rose up: that rather than sending countless soldiers to fight, to kill and be killed, in this war or any war, wouldn't true justice be served if instead the leaders of each nation, those possessing and exercising the power to declare war, met for hand to hand combat, letting the result of that battle alone determine the victor?

Isn't this exactly what Jesus did for us as King when He ascended His throne, the Cross, through which he won for us the final victory over Satan, sin and death in His resurrection? Isn't He then the only one who ever gave us all that we cry out for-- a justice born out of mercy-- in offering and giving Himself for us, and in teaching and empowering us to do the same for one another in His Name?

How is it then that we who know what true justice is, we who live in a world where people are right now rising up against rulers who deny them this true justice for which they long, can yet ignore, even reject Jesus and His claim over us as our King, instead yielding to the temptations offered by "all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence" (Matthew 4:8)?  The Lord's kingdom is not of this world.  Thanks be to God! His kingdom is greater than any power, than any kingdom on earth, because its world, its dwelling place, is in fact in our very hearts (cf 1 John 4:4), the hearts that He made after His own image and likeness (cf Genesis 1:26-27)-- if only we would let Him reign there! For in His reign there is true and lasting peace, and freedom from all tyranny-- the true glory and magnificence which He created us to enjoy forever, and which no passing worldly kingdom can offer, even for a moment!

Friday, March 25, 2011

And The Word Became Flesh, as a Ransom for Many


Annunciation by Paolo de Matteis, 1712
As we contemplate the Church's celebration today of the Feast of the Annunciation, our first thoughts might be that the timing of this celebration seems incongruent, even inappropriate, in the midst of the season of Lent. But to feast in the midst of our fasting, to be filled with joy while mourning, is to be reminded that the Holy One of God desired above all to dwell in the midst of sinful humankind, and that the Divine nature of Christ which Peter, James and John beheld on the Mount in His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36) was visible to their eyes because it was clothed in flesh, perfectly and purposefully united to a human nature. As Jesus explained to the three apostles after His transfiguration, the Son of Man could not rise again unless He first suffered and died.

Always in the midst of our suffering, God offers us hope. In the looming eclipse of the Cross, in its pending darkness, defeat and despair, He gives us the full radiant light of the sun in His transfigured countenance. At the Fall of humankind, in the midst of the inevitable curses our pride rained down upon us, God promises full redemption: nothing short of a crushing victory over sin and death (cf Genesis 3:15). Through the Law, the very thing that only served to remind us of our slavery to sin, and which no flesh could keep, He bestows pardon and grace through the One who came as "the Word made flesh" (cf John 1:14); as the only One who could fulfill the Law.

As the whole of Scripture shows us, when God makes a promise, that promise is fulfilled even before it is spoken. The joy which the Annunciation and Mary’s “yes” (Luke 1:26-38) brought to earth began first in heaven, with the Son’s “yes” to the Father, to enter into human history so as to accomplish His Will as the Lamb of God. Mary was spotlessly conceived and full of grace through the Son’s emptying of Himself; in His taking the form of a slave though He was Himself God (cf Phil 2:6-8). And when Jesus finally poured out His life for us on the Cross, there was no greater sorrow than that inflicted by the sword which pierced Mary’s sinless soul (cf Luke 2:35). She knew that the Savior of the world had come to die for us all, but she also knew that He was offering Himself first of all for her sake!

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

--The concluding prayer of The Angelus


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Making the Hidden Visible: The Role of the Laity in the New Evangelization - Part III

Pietro Perugino. The Delivery of the Keys. 1482.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light"  (Mk. 4:21-22).

 From LUMEN GENTIUM
(Light of the Nations)
DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964



Christ's gift of the Church and the priesthood: power over sin and the power of conversion 

36. Christ, becoming obedient even unto death and because of this exalted by the Father (Cf. Phil. 2:8-9), entered into the glory of His kingdom. To Him all things are made subject until He subjects Himself and all created things to the Father that God may be all in all (Cf 1 Cor. 15:27). Now Christ has communicated this royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves. (Cf. Rom. 6:12) Further, He has shared this power so that serving Christ in their fellow men they might by humility and patience lead their brethren to that King for whom to serve is to reign.

Christ's gift of the laity: the power to deliver all things--creation itself--from its "slavery to corruption."

Carolsfeld, "The New Jerusalem Descending From Heaven"
But the Lord wishes to spread His kingdom also by means of the laity, namely, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. In this kingdom creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God. (Cf Rom. 8:21) Clearly then a great promise and a great trust is committed to the disciples: "All things are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:23).


What the laity must do to accomplish its mission:

The faithful, therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, as well as its role in the harmonious praise of God. They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace. The laity have the principal role in the overall fulfillment of this duty. Therefore, by their competence in secular training and by their activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them vigorously contribute their effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word. May the goods of this world be more equitably distributed among all men, and may they in their own way be conducive to universal progress in human and Christian freedom. In this manner, through the members of the Church, will Christ progressively illumine the whole of human society with His saving light.

da Vinci, John the Baptist Preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee
The power and influence of the laity's witness: like John the Baptist, preparing the world to receive the Word

Moreover, let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy the customs and conditions of the world, if they are an inducement to sin, so that they all may be conformed to the norms of justice and may favor the practice of virtue rather than hinder it. By so doing they will imbue culture and human activity with genuine moral values; they will better prepare the field of the world for the seed of the Word of God; and at the same time they will open wider the doors of the Church by which the message of peace may enter the world.


Learning to Discern: The laity must look to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God's dominion. In our own time, however, it is most urgent that this distinction and also this harmony should shine forth more clearly than ever in the lives of the faithful, so that the mission of the Church may correspond more fully to the special conditions of the world today. For it must be admitted that the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is rightly concerned with the interests of this world. But that ominous doctrine which attempts to build a society with no regard whatever for religion, and which attacks and destroys the religious liberty of its citizens, is rightly to be rejected.

Making the Hidden Visible: The Role of the Laity in the New Evangelization - Part II

John Herbert, "The Youth of Our Lord"

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket 

or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden 

except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except 
to come to light" 
(Mk. 4:21-22).


 From LUMEN GENTIUM
(Light of the Nations)
DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH 
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964

In connection with the prophetic function [of the laity] is that state of life which is sanctified by a special sacrament obviously of great importance, namely, married and family life. For where Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth.

Consequently, even when preoccupied with temporal cares, the laity can and must perform a work of great value for the evangelization of the world. For even if some of them have to fulfill their religious duties on their own, when there are no sacred ministers or in times of persecution; and even if many of them devote all their energies to apostolic work; still it remains for each one of them to cooperate in the external spread and the dynamic growth of the Kingdom of Christ in the world. Therefore, let the laity devotedly strive to acquire a more profound grasp of revealed truth, and let them insistently beg of God the gift of wisdom.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Making the Hidden Visible: The Role of the Laity in the New Evangelization - Part I

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed,
 and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except to come to light" (Mk. 4:21-22).


From LUMEN GENTIUM  (Light of the Nations)
DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH  
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964

 35. Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of His Father both by the testimony of His life and the power of His words, continually fulfills His prophetic office until the complete manifestation of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith (sensu fidei) and an attractiveness in speech (Cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rev. 19:10) so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life.

 They conduct themselves as children of the promise, and thus strong in faith and in hope they make the most of the present, (Cf. Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5) and with patience await the glory that is to come (Cf. Rom. 8:25). Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling "against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12).

Just as the sacraments of the New Law, by which the life and the apostolate of the faithful are nourished, prefigure a new heaven and a new earth (Cf. Rev. 21:1), so too the laity go forth as powerful proclaimers of a faith in things to be hoped for (Cf. Heb. 11:1), when they courageously join to their profession of faith a life springing from faith. This evangelization, that is, this announcing of Christ by a living testimony as well as by the spoken word, takes on a specific quality and a special force in that it is carried out in the ordinary surroundings of the world.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Saving Work of Christ Culminates in His Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church opens up the Scriptures to us. 
Read Scripture and the Catechism together daily!
N. Lionda, "Great High Priest," Late 20th C

IN FAITH, APPROACH GOD THROUGH CHRIST; 
AND DO SO IN FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER BELIEVERS

Brothers and sisters:
Since through the Blood of Jesus
we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary
by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil,
that is, his flesh,
and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,”
let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed in pure water.
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope,
for he who made the promise is trustworthy.
We must consider how to rouse one another
to love and good works.
We should not stay away from our assembly,
as is the custom of some, but encourage one another,
and this all the more as you see the day drawing near
(Heb 10:19-25).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church
on How and Why We Are Justified Before God

1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life (Cf. Council of Trent (1547): Denzinger-Schonmetzer, Handbook of Creeds and Definitions 1529).

1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life (Cf. Jn 1:12-18; 17:3; Rom 8:14-17; 2 Pet 1:3-4).
 
1997 Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.

2003 Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit" (Cf. Lumen Gentium 12). Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church (Cf. 1 Cor 12).
  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When We Find God, We Find Ourselves

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken (Psalm 62:1-2).

Caravaggio, "The Conversion of St. Paul"
Today the Church commemorates and celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul. Before meeting the risen and glorified Christ on his way to Damascus, before the Lord completely changed him and thus his name, Saul of Tarsus was an over-zealous Pharisee, who like some of his predecessors and peers, saw the new Christian faith as a threat to the true faith of Israel.  In that spirit of zeal, he had decided to go to Damascus to find and to arrest as many of the followers of Jesus as he could.  

But Saul's zeal was in fact not founded in his love for and faith in the Lord, but rather was inspired by his own pride. Like some of his peers, he had chosen to ignore the wisdom of his teacher, the very celebrated Jewish doctor Gamaliel, regarding how the Jewish leadership should regard Jesus and His followers.

In Acts 5:12-39, we read that the Apostles had been preaching in the Temple and healing the sick, drawing great crowds. Out of jealousy, the high priest and the Sanhedrin had them arrested and thrown into prison, but they miraculously escaped. When the same members of the Jewish high council heard that the Apostles were somehow back in the Temple once again, "they became furious and wanted to execute them. But a Pharisee whose name was Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the council and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time."

"Then he said to the council, 'Men of Israel, pay close attention to what you are about to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and nothing came of it. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census, and incited people to follow him in revolt. He too was killed, and all who followed him were scattered. So in this case I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking originates with people, it will come to nothing, but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God.'"

For the moment, Gamaliel had convinced the Jewish authorities to release the Apostles after having them flogged.  But like some of his peers, Saul did not heed his teacher's advice, and in his pride, was not willing to stand back and let God show them whether Jesus and His teachings were "from God."

But in His great compassion, the Lord comes to meet us wherever we are. In His appearance to Saul, it was as though Christ had come a second time, and this time just for him.  In a flash of blinding light that threw him to the ground, and in a voice whose authority he could only immediately and helplessly acknowledge and obey, we see what was perhaps the greatest living witness to the true identity of Christ, with the story best expressed in Paul's own words:

“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus (Acts 22:6-11).

Through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we find that the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul comes not so coincidentally in the midst of our meditating on Jesus' ministry of physical and spiritual healing, as read in the Gospel of Mark at Mass. In his conversion, Paul exemplifies and serves as a witness to this same power of Christ to heal those who are sick and in need of deliverance from evil.

Saul's conversion happened while he yet had great sin-- the desire to harm others-- in his heart. In his own pride, in following his own will instead of God's, in supposing that he was protecting the faith of Israel by eliminating the followers of Christ, he was nevertheless acting out his deepest yearning for God and for the coming of His kingdom on earth.

The yearning for God is universal. We see it in the drug addict, in the prostitute, in the thief.  All these, like all of us, are mistakenly seeking, in things and in other people, joy, peace, and immortality. But little do we know that in the midst of our sins, in the very ends we pursue while harming ourselves and others, all the while God is there, waiting to give us, in Himself, the desires of our hearts.  It is only when we let God be God over us that He, in turn, gives us ourselves and our true identity, receiving from Him everything we need, including, in our encounter with the person of Jesus, the Way to complete freedom and wholeness.  What followed Paul's vision of the Lord is available to all, just for the asking:

"A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.’” (Acts 22:12-15)

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Son, the Scribes, and the Strong Man

James J. Tissot, "Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees"
 The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” 

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. 

Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mk 3:22-30).

Jesus has just worked a miracle but the scribes refuse to recognize it "for they had said 'He has an unclean spirit'" (v. 30). They do not want to admit that God is the author of the miracle. In this attribute lies the special gravity of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit -- attributing to the prince of evil, to Satan, the good works performed by God himself ... That is why our Lord says that he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven: not because God cannot forgive all sins, but because that person, in his blindness towards God, rejects Jesus Christ, his teaching and his miracles, and despises the graces of the Holy Spirit as if they were designed to trap him (cf. St. Pius V Catechism, II, 5, 19; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 14, a. 3). CF. note on Mt 12:31-32.
--from The Navarre Bible: St. Mark

The Catechism of the Catholic Church opens up the Scriptures to us. 
Read Scripture and the Catechism together daily!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on "The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God"

543 Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations (Cf. Mt 8:11 10:5-7; 28:19). To enter it, one must first accept Jesus' word: 

The word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear it with faith and are numbered among the little flock of Christ have truly received the kingdom. Then, by its own power, the seed sprouts and grows until the harvest (Lumen Gentium 5; cf. Mk 4:14, 26-29; Lk 12:32).

546 Jesus' invitation to enter his kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching (Cf. Mk 4:33-34).
 
On "The Signs of the Kingdom of God"

547 Jesus accompanies his words with many "mighty works and wonders and signs", which manifest that the kingdom is present in him and attest that he was the promised Messiah (Acts 2:22; cf. Lk 7:18-23).
 
548 The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him (Cf. Jn 5:36; 10:25, 38).  To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask (Cf. Mk 5:25-34; 10:52; etc). So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father's works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God (Cf. Jn 10:31-38). But his miracles can also be occasions for "offense" (Mt 11:6); they are not intended to satisfy people's curiosity or desire for magic. Despite his evident miracles some people reject Jesus; he is even accused of acting by the power of demons (Cf. Jn 11:47-48; Mk 3:22).
 
549 By freeing some individuals from the earthly evils of hunger, injustice, illness and death (Cf. Jn 6:5-15; Lk 19:8; Mt 11:5), Jesus performed messianic signs. Nevertheless he did not come to abolish all evils here below (Cf. Lk 12 13-14; Jn 18:36), but to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God's sons and causes all forms of human bondage (Cf. Jn 8:34-36).

550 The coming of God's kingdom means the defeat of Satan's: "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:26, 28). Jesus' exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus' great victory over "the ruler of this world" (Jn 12:31; cf. Lk 8:26-39). The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ's cross.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jesus Taken Out of Context

"The people of Capernaum bringing Jesus many to heal"
Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:20-21).

In just these two verses, there is much information we can glean about the public ministry of Jesus and the wide-reaching and powerful effect He had upon everyone everywhere He went.  And as news traveled about Him, we see that He also powerfully affected even those communities He did not visit. It is with His newly-appointed Apostles accompanying Him that Jesus returns home, that is, to Capernaum.  We know that Jesus does not return alone, as we read that "they were not able to eat" because of the crowd of people that had gathered there.  We can also infer from the text that Jesus' family in Nazareth had received information from afar about the recent events in the life of Jesus-- those same events as told in Mark's Gospel thus far-- and that what they heard had apparently upset them to such an extent that they had decided to go to Capernaum to see for themselves what Jesus was doing.

On the other hand, as today's Gospel reading consists of these two verses alone, because they are considered in isolation from the texts which precede and follow, their full meaning is not easily understood. But with the understanding that the Church deliberately presents this reading as such for our reflection, perhaps it is no coincidence that the very consternation it elicits in us in this form reflects what is apparently in the hearts and minds of the people about whom this text was written. We thereby experience something of what the named persons experienced. Perhaps this is exactly what the Holy Spirit intended we experience today, towards our better understanding and appreciating Scripture as the Living Word, to be read "within the living tradition of the whole Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 113 2).

Adding to the lack of clarity in the meaning of this text is the great variation among the many translations and versions of the Bible regarding both the identities and the intentions of Jesus' relations. Some versions even replace "family" with "friends," but such a rendering does not seem consistent with the texts that follow, which specifically report that Jesus' "mother and brothers" had come and were outside, looking for Him (Mk. 3:32). Translations also differ on the reason for the appearance of Jesus' family in Capernaum, saying that they were coming to "restrain," "take charge of," "seize," or "take custody of" Jesus, because they had apparently heard from their community that Jesus was behaving as one who had lost His mind. The inference is therefore that Jesus, like one possessed (according to the Pharisees), was surely a threat to His family's reputation and honor, or even to Himself and to others.

But as with these two verses, this assessment of Jesus' sanity was a statement made out of context; that is to say, was removed from the facts and based upon rumor likely spread by those who wished Him harm. It certainly had not come from the mouths of any of the many people whom Jesus had healed or delivered from evil. Likewise, the reaction of panic to these rumors that Jesus was not in his right mind came from people who, while related to Him, had not witnessed any of the events for themselves. Unlike the Apostles, Jesus' family had not been "with Him" (Mk 13:14). And unlike the Apostles, it would seem that they-- however innocent, misinformed and well-meaning-- are intent upon seeking out Jesus to bring Him back home; not to share in His work, but to unwittingly prevent Him from accomplishing what the Father had appointed Him to do.

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 
He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God,  
to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation 
nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.  
And the Word became flesh 
and made his dwelling among us, 
and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, 
full of grace and truth (John 1:10-14).