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On Miracles

18 Sep
via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. –Matthew 14:13-21

In my experience teaching the Gospel stories, there are three main knee-jerk reactions to Jesus’ miracles:

1) Some disregard the stories immediately using human logic and let the slippery slope of faith take over. “There’s no way Jesus could have turned five loaves and two fish into an abundant meal for five thousand people. It just didn’t happen. So what in the Bible can we trust? I bet none of it is true.”

2) Some believe the stories immediately using faith and let apply that faith to the whole Bible. “Jesus is God, fully divine, and these awesome miracle stories get at that. What is in the Bible happened as it is written and is true. God is requiring us to live in wonder and trust through faith.”

3) And others try explain the miracle in a way that uses logic but doesn’t require dismissing the story completely. “It was radical of Jesus to ask the crowd to sit and rest and be served. Originally, the crowd was individually selfish, but the miracle here is that Jesus got them to share. When everyone gave what they had, there was more than enough.”

Where do you fall when you read the miracle stories? Do you believe in miracles? How does that affect your faith lens in your daily life? How do you react when someone who believes the opposite expresses that?

What if we tried, just for a moment, to not jump into the reactionary space we are used to when reading the miracle stories? What if we suspended our instincts and sat down in the middle of the miracle stories and looked around? It’s hard to do. These stories get straight at something that divides us. We don’t want to be considered silly or faithless. Instead of jumping to a conclusion about happening truth, though, let’s ask, “What do we have to learn about the nature of God and Jesus from these miracle stories?”

One thing that strikes me about the miracle narratives is how Jesus uses very ordinary material to do extraordinary things. He turns water into wine. He stills the storm. He uses his own spit to heal the blind man. In the story above, bread and fish are the material used. Nothing could be more ordinary. It seems to me, then, that things like food and water and our imperfect bodies matter to Jesus. He pays attention to them. They are essential ingredients in his ministry. Through the remarkable, we learn that God has dominion over the mundane, the ordinary, the elemental. God has our very ordinary daily lives in God’s sight. It begs me to stay awake and pay attention to what comes out of my tap, what I’m chewing on and this body that I was given. There is truth in these stories, enmeshed in the ordinary and extraordinary, for us to ruminate on about God’s activity in our world. There are more subtle and profound truths there for me to find, and they can be missed if we hurry to explain and make sense instead of sitting in the muck of the middle and letting God whisper to us.

Gospel Reflection for September 21, 2014, 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

15 Sep

“These workers last hired have worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

 Matthew 20.12

When the 11th-hour workers get a full day’s wage, the owner of the vineyard reorients the parable.  It is no longer about the wages workers deserve but about the owner’s generosity and a Christian social order.  The vineyard owner has a unique pay scale that shows a preferential option for the last, the poorest of the workers.  The social order of the vineyard is like a circle, in which no one has a place of privilege.

How is the owner like God?

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Fierce Love

12 Sep
via flickr user Neal

via flickr user Neal

I have a child growing in my womb who will take on the last name of my husband, which is Ruth. When we first met, he joking tried to woo me by telling me that all of his names were Biblical: Daniel Paul Ruth. I love the book of Ruth and have been looking at it with fresh eyes lately.

But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years,  both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back home. Orpah left. But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—  there will I be buried…  So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

The book of Ruth started circulating around the time of Ezra when there was some ethnic cleansing going on. The story served as a warning of sorts, a gentle corrective and reminder that limiting family and focusing on purity does not seem to end well for humanity. Fast forward to the genealogy of Jesus, where the four women who are listed are all considered outsiders. This speaks volumes about God’s idea of family.

Ruth shows Naomi her fierce love. It’s a stubborn love, a love that won’t be let off the hook easily. I try to channel Ruth’s fierce love in my own family, a love that won’t let go. A few years ago, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked if I could drop her off at the hospital for her surgery. As I pulled into the parking ramp, I realized her request was literal.

“Just drop me off here,” she said.

“No, mom. Are you kidding? I’m coming to sit with you. You are not going through this alone.”

She pushed, not wanting to inconvenience me. Like Naomi. From my vantage, her permission to leave was ridiculous. I wasn’t going anywhere. In the end, she thanked me for sitting with her, but I didn’t need her gratitude. That’s just what family does. When my sister had her third child, when my brother had a bout of depression, when another brother gets married in a few months — when times of great joy or great sorrow arise, we have an opportunity to rush in and offer a fierce love like Ruth’s. We can offer a gift of presence and accompaniment. That fierce love may be highlighted in big moments, but it can be nurtured and grown in the ordinary nature of day to day family life.

Who is the most fierce lover in your family? Most of us have an extended relation who is the source of some of the best stories that are shared every time the family comes together, the stories that tell how of your family got to be where it is today. We tell those stories because they help us understand who we are and where we are going. So it is with God’s family, and the biblical story.

 

 

Gospel Reflection for September 14, 2014, Exaltation of the Holy Cross

8 Sep

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 3.14

 Sunday’s gospel refers to Jesus’ crucifixion as a “lifting up.”  Being lifted up condenses within a single verb the whole paschal mystery—Jesus’ crucifixion and death, his resurrection and return to God.  Ironically, the lifting up to put Jesus to death has the opposite effect; it lifts him and us to new life—to life with God.

Jesus saves us by showing us how to love one another.  We can listen to one another’s stories, share one another’s hurts, and lift one another’s spirits. Christians believe new life is possible.  Easter happens many times a day in our listening, laughing, forgiving, sharing together.  The risen Jesus lives and saves us in our love for one another.

How do you continue the love of God and God’s Son for the world?

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Gospel Reflection for September 7, 2014, 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

3 Sep
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”

Matthew 18.18

 
The whole of chapter 18 in Matthew speaks to Church, the ekkeisia.  The word in Greek means assembly or gathering, the members of the Christian community.  Jesus in this chapter addresses all of us and advises us to “talk it through” when one disciple wrongs another.  The process requires speaking directly and honestly and listening attentively.  What we don’t deal with keeps on festering.  The binding and loosing Jesus empowers us to do is not for punishing but for healing.  This is work we can all do.
 
What wrongs or conflicts does Jesus’ words urge you to act upon?

 
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Gospel Reflection for August 31, 2014, 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

28 Aug

“Those who want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16.24

Jesus recommends denying oneself and taking up our crosses in Sunday’s gospel.  This saying packs Jesus’ whole life into a single sentence.  Jesus does not follow God’s will only in carrying the cross.  He comes among us to heal and reveal God’s nearness and love.  He lives his mission throughout his life, even unto death.

How do we imitate Jesus’ self-giving in our lives?  Slowly, over a lifetime, I’d say.  I resist a call to martyrdom. Most of us today see no need to invent suffering.  We give our energies daily to work and family commitments.  Young parents exhaust themselves with round the clock care for a new child.  Older spouses care for one another through doctors’ appointments, blood draws, and treatments in sickness.  Daily we give ourselves in loving one another.

In what ways has giving of your life helped you find you life?

 

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Gospel Reflection for August 17, 2014, 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

12 Aug

“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Matthew 15.26

 

Perhaps it is the rudeness of Jesus’ words that impels Matthew to edit Mark’s earlier version of this story.  Matthew provides a reason for Jesus’ refusal to help this Gentile woman, whose daughter is tormented by a demon.  Jesus’ mission is solely “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew also makes the woman clearly a believer.  She addresses Jesus as messiah, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” Her faith is the reason Jesus frees her daughter and includes her in his mission.  Matthew makes specific that the table from which the woman seeks crumbs is the messiah or master’s table.

In Mark the woman sasses back when Jesus refuses to free her daughter of an unclean spirit and refers to her as a Gentile dog.  The woman says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  It is for saying that Jesus frees her daughter.

She counters the prejudice against her with the truth of her experience.  Unlike Jews for whom dogs were unclean, this Gentile woman has dogs as well as children at her table.  Her comeback makes space for all.

What boundaries or prejudices have you encountered and broken down?

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Gospel Reflection for August 10, 2014, 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

6 Aug

“Lord, if this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14.28

Two spiritual heroes walk with doubt and despair in Sunday’s scripture readings.  Both the apostle Peter and the prophet Elijah live and lead in unsettled times and experience questions we are asking today.  Where is God in this mess?  Where is Jesus in this cross wind?

When Peter sees Jesus walking on the sea near his boat, he puts Jesus to a test.  “If this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus says, “Come.”  Stepping into the water and the future requires faith for Peter and all who follow.  Boldly Peter steps out of the boat, outside the comfortable circle of friends and disciples.  Immediately strong head winds and great waves frighten Peter and he falters, crying out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus reaches out his hand.

Where are you in over your head?  What are you crying out about? 

Gospel Reflection for August 3, 2014, 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

31 Jul
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Matthew 13.44


As a teaching method, Jesus repeatedly explores the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to real life stories and concrete images.  A parable links the daily and familiar with the mystery of God that is beyond all knowing.  This means our experience cracks open the door to they mystery of God.  It means we encounter God is our daily life.

To make Jesus known, to evangelize, Pope Francis challenges us to create a new language of parables in his exhortation Joy of the Gospel, “Be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word and different forms of beauty that are valued in different cultural settings (#167).

To what in your experience might you compare the kingdom of heaven?

 

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Gospel Reflection for July 27, 2014, 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

23 Jul
The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full, they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good in buckets.  What is bad they throw away.

Matthew 13.47-48


Matthew never knows when to quit.  Rather than end his chapter full of parables with the promise of a hundredfold yield or with the farmer and merchant who find their treasure, Matthew includes in chapter 13 the story of a net full of fish that need sorting.  Perhaps the Christians for whom he wrote are sorting themselves out.  Some choose to open their hearts as good ground to receive Jesus’ word.  Perhaps some cannot see in Jesus a treasure worth their lives and wholehearted commitment.

Jesus’ parables don’t boss us.  Instead parables challenge us to work on what they reveal about ourselves.  They call us to throw out the useless in our lives and embrace all that gives life.

What treasure do you seek?  What does it reveal about you?

 

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