Tag Archives: Jesus

Gospel Reflection for March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday

24 Mar

Sunday Readings: Mark 11.1-10; Isaiah 50.4-7; Philippians 2.6-11; Mark 14.1-15.47

“When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve…. While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is pour out for many.  I will never drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God'”.

(Mark 14.17, 22-25)

 Jesus refers to sharing the cup as a covenant, a new agreement about our relationship with God.  Ancient Israel ratified its covenant in blood, signifying that the people pledged with their lives to keep the terms of the covenant, the ten commandments.  The community that tells Jesus’ story understands his gestures at the last supper as a new covenant that expresses his willingness to love them unto death.

What do you promise with your life?

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The Common Good

20 Mar

Our church’s theme for Lent is The Good Life. We are looking at parables in Matthew, full of people searching for The Good Life, and Jesus often flipping expectations on their head: the last will be first, surely the rich will struggle entering the kingdom, I dwell among the least of these. We too, like the people in Matthew’s Gospel, are all searching for The Good Life, and often mistake values in this world with what God values in the next.

 

A video series on the Good Life is accompanying worship, and with the camera rolling, I got asked what I think the Good Life is. I talked about balance: striving for balance between my introverted self and my extraverted self, between my mind, body and spirit, between my personal/private life and professional/public life. I talked about being mindful, living fully in the present moment and fully engaging in the stage of life I am currently in, not wishing away moments or pining for the past.

 

“Okay, thanks so much,” the videographer said. “That was great.”

 

Hours later, I was still thinking about what he captured me saying on video. I came to realize what was bothering me was what I didn’t say. My answer was self-centered. My idea of The Good Life, at least the part caught on tape, was all about me. It was individual, personal self-improvement. So were most people’s answers, actually. An eighth grader, for example, succinctly stated the American Dream as The Good Life: “I want to graduate college, get a good job, have my own house, and raise kids to be successful.” A man in his seventies talked about striving in his life to achieve his goals. Maybe it is the default of humans, or our society’s obsession with self reliance and independence, but the instinct to go personal when building The Good Life is undeniable. 

It could be argued that personal work is a good place to start, but I don’t believe it is the place to end. I believe, deep down, that my own joy and well-being is tied up in the joy and well-being of all people. I do believe that I am only doing as well as the least of these. If given another shot, I would have focused my answer about The Good Life on The Common Good.

 

Darwin tells us that natural selection operates on the individual level. I pass my genes on to my son, and it is easy to fall into the trap of caring so much about my immediate family that I do not look further to the health of my community. With a three-month-old baby, I do feel this way at times. There is a strong element of survival, that turning inward to protect my child has an undeniable biological element to it. I love my child so fiercely that it can be consuming. At the end of the day, I think, “Well, I kept this human being alive today. That’s probably enough.” We take care of our own, and we define our own narrowly.

 

However, Darwin also saw that civilization works on the tribal level. Groups of people who work together and value the common good outlive groups of people who work as isolated individuals. One person might not be able to successfully hunt a predator, but a group of people working together can. Community matters for our own good. 

I agree with Lord Jonathan Sacks when he says:

Community is the antidote to individualism on the one hand and over-reliance on the state on the other.

He goes on to say that church is still one place in society where we believe in and act out The Common Good:

Frequent worshippers are also significantly more active citizens. They are more likely to belong to community organisations, neighbourhood and civic groups and professional associations. They get involved, turn up and lead. The margin of difference between them and the more secular is large. When we celebrate or mourn we do so as a community. Even when we confess, we do so together. We find God in community. We develop virtue, strength of character, and a commitment to the common good in community. Community is local. It is society with a human face. It is not government. It is not the people we pay to look after the welfare of others. It is the work we do ourselves, together.

Worshipping together, with a group who would otherwise be strangers, builds community. Church is still a place where people can come together and create community that will act together for The Common Good. Worshipping together turns out outward, reminding us of The Common Good as a main component of The Good Life.

Gospel Reflection for March 22, 2015, 5th Sunday of Lent

16 Mar

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 5.7-9; John 12.22-33

“The hour has come in which the Son of Man will be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it will be bear much fruit.”

(John 12.23-24)

In John’s gospel the hour of Jesus’ death is the moment when God will glorify Jesus’ name. A dynamic process begins, a passing over, a planting that will bear fruit a hundred fold. In being lifted up — first on the cross and ultimately from the tomb — Jesus will draw all people to himself.

At the heart of Christian faith is Jesus’ life-giving resurrection from his self-giving death. In death Jesus entrusts his life to God, the same life-giving Creator that hides the promise of new life in seeds. Jesus’ imminent death will no more be an end than Lazarus’s death was or than the planting of a seed is.

What is the hour in which you are living right now?

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Gospel Reflection for March 8, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Lent

3 Mar

Sunday Readings: Exodus 20.1-17; 1 Corinthians 1.22-25; John 2.13-25

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

(John 2.16)

Jesus’ cleansing the temple calls us to clean our houses this Lent — to examine our hearts. Our fast-paced, productive lives can erode our relationships with God, make us feel like cogs in the wheels of commerce rather than friends of God, who live and love in friendship with the Giver of Life. Coffee and conversation can help us reengage with those we love. Walks in the emerging spring can reawaken our connectedness to all that is, our place in the holy whole that is our Earth home. They can stir us to get practical about caring for creation where we live. Lent calls us to assess what we consume and what consumes us. It calls us to revive our faith in resurrection as a continuing process in our lives.

What housecleaning do you need to do in our life? How can we help clean up our biosphere so life on Earth becomes sustainable? What is one thing you can do?

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Gospel Reflection for March 1, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Lent

24 Feb

Sunday Readings: Genesis 22.1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8.31-34; Mark 9.2-10

“Suddenly looking around, Peter, James, and John no longer saw anyone with them — only Jesus.”

(Mark 9.8)

The Orthodox Church sees in the transfiguration what the whole of Christian life is about — transformation into Christ. Prayer leads to transforming communion with God. This mystical experience to the prophetic; communion leads to action.

Both Jesus and his disciples need the profound, prayerful heartening of the transfiguration moment to sustain them on the journey to Jerusalem and beyond. Life at the foot of the mountain will test the vision.

What vision for your Christian future are you testing at the foot of the mountain?

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What Else?

20 Feb
via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

via Flickr user Mufidah Kassalias

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.” The man asked, “What in particular?” Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.” The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?”

“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.” That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go.

–Matthew 19:16-22

I identify with the young man in this story, so much so that I have to chuckle. I am a doer, an achiever, one who wants to earn God’s love and promises on my own accord. In school and more recently as an employee, I acted like this young man, saying to my teachers and supervisors, “Ok, done. Did that. Checklist complete. What’s next? What else can I do?” Read: How can I show you even more how competent, efficient and productive I am and thus gain your respect and approval?

I even acted like the young man in Matthew 19 during Lent. I got good at giving things up as a young girl. When I was twelve I gave up soda and candy and eating between meals. It was easy. So then decided to give things up and do more good. For example, one Lent I sent a nice note to someone different every day in addition to giving up everything I thought to be a vice. Look at me go, God.

The young man in Matthew goes so far as to treat the Ten Commandments like a checklist. Check, check, check. Got it. Now what? What else can I do? What is next? I, like this young man, was looking to Jesus for the same rewards I got from my teachers and bosses. Jesus, like he so often does in his ministry, elevates the conversation. He let’s me and the young man know that we are not even playing the right game. Following Jesus requires a lighter load.

The season of Lent is a time that invites us to downshift our lives. We take a deep breath, look around, and take stock of what we are holding tightly and what we can’t bear to let go. Jesus gives us a hint that it’s probably the wrong stuff, and it’s the stuff that is limiting us from following him. For years, I couldn’t bear to let go of my accomplishments. I clung to my competence and my ability to do do do more and do it well. And when I was finished, I’d go back to see what else there was for me to do. I don’t need to let go of chocolate and add more to my Good Samaritan to-do list. This Lent, I am praying about playing the wrong game. It’s not about doing more. What I cling to is doing more. For me, it is about embracing the being part of human being. Following Jesus means letting go of the spiritual checklist to be more free to love.

Gospel Reflection for February 15, 2015, 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

9 Feb

Sunday Readings: Leviticus 13.1-2, 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10.31-11.1; Mark 1.40-45

A leper cam to Jesus begging him  and kneeling. The leper said to Jesus, “If you choose you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

(Mark 1.40-45)

Like the leper’s voice, the voices of the poor and powerless call for inclusion in society. In Israel’s earliest traditions, it is slaves crying out against their masters that God hears and sends Moses to free them. It is the voices of those left out who call us to widen our tents and add chairs at our tables. In asking for justice and equality, people express their dignity as human beings made in God’s image and likeness. They give voice to God’s purpose for us all — wholeness, a community of love on Earth that mirrors the divine community of love that is God.

With whom might you build a bridge from isolation to participation in economic life, parish life, or family life?

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Drawing in the Dirt

6 Feb

 

Photo via Flickr user Garry Wilmore

Photo via Flickr user Garry Wilmore

The other day I was tasked with teaching the story of Jesus and the Adulteress to seventh graders (John 8:1-11). In the heart of the story, Jesus does what he does so well throughout his ministry: He reframes the situation, and in so doing, he elevates the conversation. The Pharisees are trying to catch him yet again, and instead of engaging in their line of questioning, he addresses the heart of the matter. The woman, according to the law, deserves to be stoned to death. But Jesus doesn’t engage in an argument about the law. In elevating the conversation to one about sin, the woman is able to walk away. We talked about this for a bit. I asked where the adulterer is, and why the punishment is so unequal for the two consenting parties.

Then I admitted that with these stories of Jesus that we know so well, I sometimes like to stray from the center of the tale and imagine my way into the periphery to see if there are any other details that teach us about Jesus. I re-read them:

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

The quote by Jesus is the heart of the story, the part is repeated again and again as Jesus’ lesson. On either end of it, though, bookended, we hear that Jesus wrote in the dirt. I love this detail. I meditate on this detail. Perhaps it is inconsequential. Sure. I like, however, picturing Jesus writing in the dirt. The image for me, conjures up a child in the corner of a sandbox drawing in sand, a student intently doodling on a piece of paper, a T-ball player picking dandelions in right field instead of watching for a fly ball. The image makes Jesus seem human to me.

What was he writing? We don’t know what it said in part, I assume, because words in dirt are temporary. As the story teaches, words and particulars, lessons and law aren’t always the point. And the not knowing what he wrote continues to invite us into the story to wonder. He was not dictating things to get etched in stone, but chose dirt that day instead. It has for me, the feel of him holding on loosely, confidently, and embracing the temporary like the man who writes poetry with water on stone. He was okay with his words, his drawing, his doodles, washing away without being captured.

Am I projecting too much into the story? Maybe. But imagining in front of the seventh graders, I saw some smiles and some minds start daydreaming. They were wondering, too, about Jesus and his personality. Was he the type of guy who liked to doodle? To draw in the sand? To pick dandelions? Maybe. Even the wondering reminded us that Jesus was fully human, with a personality all his own, and for just a moment, that brought this man who saved a woman’s life, this Jesus, a little closer. It invited him to be more fully present in the room with us.

Gospel Reflection for February 8, 2015, 5th Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Feb

Sunday Readings: Job 7.1-4, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 9.16-19, 22-23; Mark 1.29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Now Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

(Mark 1.29-31)

Jesus heals many people in Capernaum and moves on to preach and heal in other villages of Galilee. Jesus also heals Peter’s mother-in-law, who becomes his first woman disciple. Mark tells her story in a single verse (1.31). Jesus takes her hand and lifts her up. The Greek word for lifts up is the same verb Mark uses to describe Jesus’ resurrection. The woman responds to Jesus’ healing. She begins to serve the new community gathered in her house. The New American Bible translates the word serve(diakonie in Greek) as begins to wait on. Peter’s mother-in-law has one of the two credentials that distinguish the women from Galilee who stand at the cross after the men flee. They followed and served Jesus. Peter’s mother-in-law could have been among them with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.

Who models a discipleship of service that you try to follow in your life?

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Gospel Reflection for February 1, 2015, 4th Sunday Ordinary Time

26 Jan

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 18.15-20; 1 Corinthians 7.32-35; Mark 1.21-28

Just then there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”

(Mark 1.23-24)

All of us have the work of discerning the spirits that drive us. What possesses us? Maybe ambition, an advanced degree, a higher-paying job. Alcohol or chocolate or drugs can possess us, becoming a comfort in our stress more perfect and pliant than any human friend. The unclean spirits are right to ask Jesus if he has come to destroy them. The answer is yes. Jesus claims us for wholeness.

What clamors for attention in yourself? What erodes your energy? What enlivens you?

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