Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

Stations of the Cross

3 Apr
via flickr user MIKECNY

via flickr user MIKECNY

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about central pillars of Catholic practice during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This week I consider Stations of the Cross, which, while not a pillar of Lenten practice, is a popular devotional practice among many Catholics. Admittedly, growing up, I was not a big fan of the Stations of the Cross. On a practical level, it seemed long and boring. As I got older, I also objected to the focus on the suffering and death of Jesus. It seemed a bit too macabre for my taste; I preferred to hear about the angry Jesus who overturned tables in the temple, the compassionate Jesus who healed and helped those on the margins of the society, and the resurrected Jesus who appeared to his followers to shore up their strength and commission them to spread his message.

So in the spirit of renewal this Lent, I am trying to think about the Stations of the Cross in a different way. What is a station for? A station is place where you wait, like a train station. So Stations of the Cross are places where we wait, where we take time to reflect on the path of Jesus as he went to the cross. Like other practices of Lent, praying the Stations of the Cross causes us to use our time differently—to slow down and to reflect on distinct moments of Jesus’ journey to the cross—and to think about ourselves and our place in the world differently. What does it mean for my life that Jesus endured suffering, in order that he might die and be resurrected? What does it mean for my life that living as he did resulted in Jesus being crucified on a cross like a common criminal? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are necessary ones as we strive to learn from the mystery of Jesus Christ. In our considering of them, we may find that, like Lazarus in this week’s Gospel, knowing Jesus results in the burial clothes that tie our bodies and shield our eyes as we live in the death of this world are removed so that we can live a new life with Christ.

Stations of the Cross also can be called the Way of the Cross. It is one of the ways that we can fulfill the injunction by Jesus in the Gospels to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him (Mark 8:34, Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23). Walking and praying the Stations of the Cross gives us a chance to go on a pilgrimage without leaving home, as we follow in the steps of Jesus. And while it is not helpful to focus only on the suffering and death of Jesus, neither is it good to completely gloss over the crucifixion and the events that led to it. We all know that there is a dark side in the world (and in ourselves, if we are honest); odd as it may sound, attending to Jesus’ passion can give us hope as we face the darkness in our lives and in our world. It also teaches us lessons about courage, patience, and trusting in a God who promises to deliver us from all evil.

To participate in the Stations of the Cross, individuals or groups remember fourteen scenes from the passion of Christ, that is, the suffering of Christ that ended in his death on the cross. Frequently, these scenes are depicted artistically—carved in stone, painted on wood—and arranged at intervals around a church building. Those praying the stations walk in the steps of Jesus, stopping at each scene to remember what happened to Christ and to say a prayer. There are also various online resources for individuals to use if they want to reflect on the Stations at home; click here for one I really like.

There are three things to remember if you are going to pray the Stations on your own. First, it is important to include a time of meditation at each Station, a time during which you reflect on what happened to Christ. Second, it is important to try to see ourselves mirrored in Christ and to consider how each Station may have application in our own lives. Ask yourself, what might this Station have to teach me today? What is it saying to me? What is it helping me to see or do differently? And finally, there are no set prayers that must be said at each Station. You can use prayers that you are familiar with (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be), prayers someone else has written for reflection on the Stations, or prayers you come up with yourself. This gives you the freedom to interact with the Stations, to make them part of your own prayer practice.

How To Claim Jesus Today

2 Apr

John 18: 1-27 tells the story of Judas betraying Jesus followed by Peter denying Jesus. Three time over, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples denies that he knows Jesus. It was an intense scene that was escalating – Jesus was being questioned by the high priest and started being beaten by the police. To claim to know Jesus was to welcome trouble. Peter decided to avoid conflict by distancing himself from Jesus, the one in the center of the storm. “Nope, I don’t know him.”

I looked at this passage with a group of high school students. The young people identified with Peter.

“It’s way cooler to be an atheist than to believe in Jesus at my school,” one young man admitted. “A lot of the kids who say they are atheist don’t really know what that means. They just don’t want people to think they are religious and go to church.”

Another added, “Yeah, the vocal Christians at our school are homophobic, and that just isn’t cool. I don’t want to be grouped with those kids. It’s easier to pretend to not believe in Jesus at all.” (“Nope, I don’t know him.”)

Our context was public high schools in Minneapolis, but they also saw themes reflected on the national stage.

On March 20, Fred Phelps died. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955. The church is most famous for picketing more than 53,000 events with signs that say things like, “God Hates Fags.” Phelps rose to national notoriety in 1998, when Westboro members picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was tortured and murdered because he was gay. He claimed natural and human-made disasters are God’s punishment for the acceptance of gay people and thought homosexuals should be put to death. His recent death brought his legacy back into the media. People responses were polarizing: silence, anger, sadness and joy.

On March 24th, World Vision announced it would begin to hire people in same-sex marriages. The announcement caused a backlash among conservative donors. On March 26th, World Vision reversed its decision. Richard Stearns asked donors who had pulled their funding to “forgive our poor judgment in the original decision. We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.” The initial decision and the decision to reverse the policy was polarizing. Who is right? Who loses? What would Jesus say? The name calling, divisions and anger from all sides on social media were deafening.

In a recent post, Jon Huckins writes, “I’m not against healthy dialog, disagreement or even conflict. I’m actually quite for it. The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom.”

Today, Christianity is getting press for publicly fighting about gay marriage maybe more than any other thing. The high schoolers feel it. I feel it. And we were all a little sympathetic to Peter, who just wanted to side step the controversy through denying his love for Jesus altogether. What I heard from the students is a desire to exist in a world beyond black and white, beyond right and wrong, bigger than this one issue. They wanted to be able to claim their faith without being put in a constricting box. They want to change the discourse and ask a whole new set of questions that reflect the ministry of Jesus. Where some of their friends have given up, they are hanging on, but often in secret. Our work continues to be creating space for people to read the gospel together and form subversive community that are committed to the truth. To be brave, claim Jesus, and address the areas of brokenness in our world. To seek to know Jesus and be able to say, “Yep, I know him.” For Peter and for us, it’s hard work, it’s a little scary, but it’s also good.

 

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?

Divine Spit

19 Feb

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” –Mark 8:22-26

I love this little passage. I come back to it all the time. It’s visual and tactile, it’s relational, and it seems to be a moment to pay attention to in the sometimes overwhelming call to “Follow Jesus.” Earlier in the gospel Mark, Jesus heals people by showing his very “God on earth” power. He snaps his fingers, says it will be so, and it happens. For example, he rebukes the unclean spirit at the temple in 1:23-28 and he tells the paralyzed man he is forgiven in 2:5. These healings that only require Jesus’ words draw a crowd, indeed. But instead of love and faith, people react to him with fear and awe.

via flickr user timparkinson

via flickr user timparkinson

By Ch 8, Jesus has shifted his approach. His tactics have changed immensely. With this blind man, Jesus touches him- he takes him by the hand and leads him away from the crowds. This is not about the spectacle or showing off. This is about the man being able to see. Instead of just words, and even more intimate than a touch, Jesus uses his own spit to heal the man. This always makes me think of a loving mother using her own spit to wipe some spaghetti sauce of the chin of her child. It’s very intimate.

But Jesus’ divine spit doesn’t work the first time. And the man is brave enough to admit it to Jesus. Can you imagine this man, being taken by the hand of the one who is whispered about as the Messiah, and saying to him that he didn’t fully restore his sight? Seeing people look like trees is not enough. What works? Jesus looking at the man intently. It takes relationship. Time. Intention. It takes Jesus fully seeing the man for the man to be able to fully see.

This is a gem of a passage. It is so accessible to me that if I were to read it every morning, I know I would become a better person. In a society that values independence and anonymity, intimacy feels counter-cultural. Friends take the time to see each other clearly. We grow to love each other deeply. Jesus shows us that we have to put some skin in the game if we want to come out transformed. We can form life-long relationships with people human-made boundaries are separating us from. Maybe most importantly, if Jesus didn’t get it right the first time, it’s okay for us to keep working every day to look intently and really see people clearly.

Part of the work of the gospel, I think, in our paid and unpaid life, to follow Jesus by taking unexpected and vulnerable friends by the hand away from the crowds, looking at them intently, and seeking mutual healing. By searching for the humanity of another, may we more clearly see the world and find our own humanity as well.

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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