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Gospel Reflection for April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday

14 Apr

Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and found that Jesus was missing. She could not find him and was crying.

Jesus asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?Mary supposed the man to be the gardener and responded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Mary turned to Jesus and answered, “Rabbouni!”

 John 20.15-16
via flickr user Elvert Barnes

via flickr user Elvert Barnes


Mary Magdalene is the first of all of Jesus’ followers to have a personal experience of the risen Jesus. When Jesus speaks Mary’s name, she recognizes the gardener is her beloved teacher. Like the sheep who knows the shepherd’s voice, Mary hears her name and recognizes Jesus. She hears, turns, and believes.

When has Jesus called you by name?

We Are Only Human: An Odd Comfort

9 Apr

There are three scenes in this Sunday’s Gospel that give me an odd sort of comfort. The first scene takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus has gone to pray. We are not told this explicitly, but I get the sense that Jesus just needed to get away from it all at this moment, to be alone, to pray to God before facing what he was about to face. Jesus is honest with his disciplines, explaining to them that his “soul is sorrowful even to death.” Addressing God as Father, a term that was unusual for Jews to use during Jesus’ time, which indicates Jesus’ intimate relationship with God, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus first asks to be spared, but then in the next breath reaffirms his trust in God, indicating his willingness to follow God’s will and not his own.

via flickr user Solle

via flickr user Solle

This is a Jesus that I can relate to; this is a Jesus I know is there. At the times in my life when I have felt deep sorrow, the sort of sorrow that feels as if it will swallow you whole, I have felt the irresistible urge to be in contact with the ground. Prostrate on the floor, I have cried and prayed, prayed and cried, imagining that Jesus, too, once knelt on the ground in Gethsemane, in touch with the dust out of which human beings are formed and into which they will return. Of course, this does not take away the sorrow, but it helps somehow to know that Jesus felt something similar. It helps somehow to know that even for Jesus is was not always easy to follow God’s will. This Jesus gives me permission to ask God if things might be another way, all the while encouraging me to trust in God.

The second scene is a familiar one involving Peter, who is milling about in the courtyard outside the high priests’ chamber, waiting, we can suppose, for the results of Jesus’ trial with the Sanhedrin. Despite his testimony earlier in the evening that he would never deny Jesus, Peter vehemently argues that he does not know Jesus to not just one, but three different groups of people who ask him if he was been with Jesus the Nazarene. (Interestingly, the first two people to whom Peter makes his denial are a servant woman and a girl, who, because of their social and gender status, likely would not have been in a position to do him harm had he affirmed his relationship with Jesus.)

Unfortunately, this is a disciple that I can relate to all too well. Luckily, I live in a time and a place where I do not have to deny having a relationship with Jesus if I am ever asked about it point blank. And yet I wonder how often my actions speak louder than any words ever could a denial of my identity as a Christian. How often do I fail to extend charity to those who need it most? How hard it is for me to include in my busy schedule time to work for justice and peace in my community? There is an odd sort of comfort in knowing that Peter, someone who actually knew and gave his life to follow Jesus, was not always up to following the call. And Peter’s response when the cock crows offers me a clue as to what I need to do when I realize the ways in which I have not lived as a disciple lives: take time to mourn.

The third scene takes place on the cross. As people are gambling for his garments and taunting him to save himself, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Scripture scholars have spent much ink debating about this cry of Jesus on the cross. From my perspective, it is an authentic cry of anguish. Yes, we know that the end of the story is resurrection, but in that moment, Jesus felt abandoned, alone, angry. And in expressing those emotions, in yelling out to God, Jesus gives us permission to do the same. We are allowed to be angry with God, to yell at God when we do not understand. It is okay because God is God, and God can take it. And again, while this does not take away our anguish, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus can commiserate with us because he experienced these very same human emotions. This Jesus is not one who shies away from the hard emotions in life. This is a Jesus who walks with us through the valleys of death.

These three scenes could be seen as dark and depressing. Maybe they are dark and depressing for someone who has never felt deep sorrow, deep anguish, deep doubt, or deep fear. But I have felt all these things, and knowing that Jesus felt them and that some of his closest followers felt them makes me feel less alone on my journey of faith. And perhaps most importantly, these three scenes remind me that it is okay to be human because that is what we are. I do not have to be perfect, and I am not expected to happily and unquestioningly follow God’s will. The journey of faith does not only encompass mountain top moments but also valleys of despair and doubt. And Jesus is not only with us looking out at the amazing vistas; he is with us most especially when we cannot see our way forward.

Gospel Reflection for April 13, 2014, Palm/Passion Sunday

7 Apr

About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud tone, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”  This means, “My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27.46


The events of the passion test and manifest Jesus’ love for God, for the world, for his friends, and for the community that still gathers in his name.  Jesus endures not only the pain and shame of crucifixion but one friend’s betrayal, another’s denial, and God’s seeming abandonment.

When have you found Jesus with you in times of betrayal or suffering or seeming abandonment?

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Gospel Reflection for April 6, 5th Sunday of Lent

31 Mar

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though they will die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha responded, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the messiah, the son of God: he who is to come into the world.”

John 11.25-27


Lazarus died before Jesus arrived to see him. When Martha and Mary meet Jesus, they each say, “Lord if you had been here, my brother never would have died.”  The repetition tells us this statement is important. Martha and Mary raise a question in the life of the early Christian community in which many expected Jesus to return in glory within their lifetimes.

Jesus’ delay in the story provides the reason for his dialog with Martha, who speaks the faith of the community that experienced this delay in history. Her brother’s death tests and transforms Martha’s faith.

Before what graves have you stood and asked as Martha and Mary do, “Why didn’t you save the one we love?”

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Gospel Reflection for March 30, 2014, 4th Sunday of Lent

24 Mar
Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. The Pharisees questioned the man as to who could perform this miracle. The man said he did not know, but the person capable of such things must come from God. This outraged the Pharisees. Jesus heard about this and went to the man born blind.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man answered, “Tell me who he is, so I can believe in him.”
Jesus responded, “You have already seen him. He is speaking to you now.”
“I believe, Jesus,” said the man.


John 9.35-38

Sunday’s gospel begins as a miracle but continues as a faith drama, a series of scenes in which a man born blind explains to neighbors and teachers how he got his sight and who this person is who gave him his sight. As the man tells his story, he sees with increasing clarity who Jesus is.

How have your eyes been opened? How did you receive your sight?

 

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Gospel Reflection for March 16, 2014, 2nd Sunday of Lent

10 Mar
via flickr user Horia Varlan

via flickr user Horia Varlan

Jesus was transfigured in front of his disciples.
Out of the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests.  Listen to him.”

Matthew 17.5

 His transfiguration takes place just after Jesus tells his disciples for the first time he will suffer, die, and rise on the third day.  This awakening to Jesus’ suffering moves the disciples from ordinary to sacred time.

In his transfiguration the disciples see Jesus as both divine and vulnerable, belonging to both heaven and earth, residing in both ordinary and extraordinary worlds.  His transfiguration terrifies his followers, but Jesus touches them gently and tells them not to fear.

This vision disturbs their lives.  The solid ground on which they stand shifts.  They move from ordinary space to sacred space, from mundane to mystery.

When has an awakening transformed your past and future?

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Gospel Reflection for March 9, 1st Sunday of Lent

4 Mar

Jesus said, “Scripture says, ‘Not by bread alone do people live but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4.4

Jesus lives by God’s word not by bread alone.  He refuses to put God to the test.  He worships God alone, the first commandment.  His testimony calls us to welcome and chew on God’s word this Lent and resist popular images of success.

What images of success have you tested and found false in your life?

Gospel Reflection for March 2nd, 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

25 Feb

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.  People who try either hate one and love the other or pay attention to one and despise the other.  You cannot give yourself to God and money.”

 Matthew 6:24

Sunday’s gospel begins with a generic saying: No one can serve two masters.  What makes the saying memorable is its one-two punch—one can’t serve two.  Also the statement is absolute—no one can serve two.  The no sets our mind scrambling for an exception, testing its truth.  In the end, the gospel names its own specific conflict.  You can’t give yourself to God and money.

What conflicts do you experience between God and money?

 

via flickr user jeffweese

via flickr user jeffweese

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Perfect God, Good Enough Humanity

20 Feb

Am-I-good-enough-

I went trick-or-treating for the first time when I was just over one year old, dressed as a clown and carrying my orange plastic pumpkin in which my parents had placed a few pieces of candy before I left the house. At my first stop, when presented with the tray of candy from which to choose, my lip trembled as I reached into my bucket, took out one of my pieces of candy, and placed it on the neighbors’ tray. As this story was told over and over again throughout my childhood as emblematic of my personality, I learned that being the perfect daughter meant always giving of myself.

In first grade, math class often involved sitting on the floor in front of our teacher as she asked us questions. Embarrassed that I did not always know the solution, I developed a strategy to mask my ignorance: if I did not know the answer to a question, I pretended to yawn so that the hand I would normally use to signal that I wanted to be called on could be otherwise engaged in covering my gaping mouth. Somehow I had internalized the message that to be a perfect student meant always being right, and I spent the twenty-three years of my schooling career, from grade school through two rounds of graduate school, always working hard to achieve the ever-elusive perfect GPA.

In high school, tired of never quite looking right in my school uniform, I snuck it to a tailor to have it fitted and hemmed over a school break, worrying each day until I got it back that my parents would somehow find out. I got contact lenses, started spending an inordinate amount of time on my hair and make-up each morning, and went on my first diet, which consisted of consuming only a plain bagel and carton of skim milk for lunch each day.  I knew what models looked like, and I knew there was a hallway at school where boys were said to judge the girls who walked by on their looks, and I began to live into the idea that being a perfect girl meant expending much effort on living up to a narrow and unrealistic image of female beauty. Over my young adult years, this beauty perfection project often took the form of restriction dieting followed by major binges, a pattern that has recently led me to seek counseling to heal from this eating disorder.

After I finished my dissertation, we hosted an open-house to celebrate. I spent the two days before the party cleaning the whole house and cooking enough food to feed the fifty or so people who would attend, all the while trying to entertain my two sons with the theme I had picked out for the week, complete with its own cooking, artistic, scientific, play, active, and literary activities to enforce their learning. By the time guests arrived, I was too exhausted to do much besides sit on the couch and accept people’s congratulations. But I tried to take solace in the fact that in addition to being an accomplished academic, people would see me as a perfect housewife and mother, able to do it all effortlessly.

Given this history of mine, it is hard for me to read Jesus’ conclusion to this week’s Gospel that we are to “be perfect,” just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Striving for perfection has not served me well. It has often meant ignoring my own needs, while always prioritizing the needs of others; holding myself to impossible standards and then feeling bad about myself when I do not meet them; and caring more about others’ perceptions of me than taking the time to get to know myself. Even more importantly, striving for perfection often has kept me from mutual and authentic human relationships and from growing in my relationship with God, since true relationships are only possible when a person brings their whole, real, and vulnerable self to the table.

I do not begrudge God God’s perfection, and I appreciate that God is perfect in love, since this is how I know that God can love and accept me and everyone else on this planet just as we are. I do not mind striving to make love of God, neighbor, and self the cornerstone of my existence, but I also know that God is God, we are human beings, and perfection in this life simply is not possible for us in the way it is for God. Human beings are vulnerable, imperfect creatures and while we can trust in God’s perfection, perhaps the best and most humane things we can ask of ourselves is to be “good enough.”

Gospel Reflection for February 23, 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

18 Feb

Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Matthew 5:44

Jesus rejects conventional wisdom and accepted cultural values.  He offers a prophetic alternative to payback; he wants us to make neighbors even of enemies.  He pushes the law beyond simply keeping the rules and being obedient.  He calls us to communion with our neighbors and active commitment to the wellbeing of all—to those who need coats and loans, to the violent from whom we must help others keep safe.

When have you succeeded in making of a neighbor of a seeming enemy?

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