September 20, 2017

Is It Fair or Is It Gospel?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:42 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, September 24, 2017: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20:1-16a

To all,

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book, and you didn’t like the ending? It might not have been happy enough, or it may have seemed too phony, or we just disagreed about what should have happened. I wonder if that is how some people felt when they heard Jesus tell His parables. The one we hear in our Gospel reading for Sunday is a good example.

In the parable, a landowner goes out several times during the day to hire workers in his vineyard. He tells the foreman to pay the ones who came in last, first. They receive a full day’s wage, even though they worked for a short time! So when the first workers came, they thought (reasonably so, I think) that they would get more. But they didn’t! Now we know in ancient Israel there were no such things as unions or labor relations boards. And we also know that, in the parable, the landowner is right that he didn’t cheat the workers out of anything: they got the wage they agreed to. But still, it doesn’t seem fair, and I can sympathize with those workers who went into the vineyard first.

But what these workers say to the landowner gives me pause: “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” “You have made them equal to us” is what catches my attention. They could have just as well said, “You didn’t make us greater than they.”

Remember last week we reflected on keeping score when it came to forgiveness. We see another variation of keeping score here. The response of the first workers in the vineyard, and my own response, brings to mind a sermon preached by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The Drum Major Instinct.” In that sermon, Dr. King preached about the all-too-human desire to be the one on top; the one out in front of everyone else. And he even related it to the presence of racism and the destructive tendencies of the arms race (The sermon was preached in February, 1968).

To follow the “drum major instinct” goes against the Gospel message we hear today. To be the best persons we can be is an admirable goal, but not to seek dominance over another. When I reflect on this and other similar lessons in the Gospels, I am reminded of something very simple. When it comes to eternal life, I hope to get to heaven. I don’t believe there will be bigger or smaller mansions, denoting some kind of hierarchy, or levels of merit. What God has done and continues to do for us is nothing I have earned!

So, maybe, if I can let go of envy about heaven, I can let go of envy here on earth. My value does not come from being superior to someone, or coming earlier to Christ. It comes from the love of God. I think the attitude to which the Gospel calls us is found in our second reading from Philippians (the italics are mine): “Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” As counter to our instincts as it may be, to live in Christ is what leads me to fullness of life, not according to my ways or thoughts (as we hear from Isaiah in our first reading). And may I never put any obstacle in the way of another coming to know God’s love in Jesus Christ. And if he or she comes to a fuller understanding, or gets to heaven before I do, may God bless her or him!

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

 

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September 6, 2017

Love and Community

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:24 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, September 10, 2017: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

To all,

I’m sure that many of us have seen the devastation that was wreaked by Hurricane Harvey on Houston and other places in Texas and Louisiana. We’ve seen homes and businesses destroyed by the flood waters that almost defy description. We’ve also seen and heard stories about heroic efforts that were made to bring people to safety. And now, when at least most of the water has receded, I have heard more and more comments about how wonderful it was for people to pull together, regardless of whatever divisions that may have existed before the hurricane came. And many people, once again, are wondering why the cooperation and generosity that exists during a crisis cannot be sustained over the long haul.

I find myself wondering that, too. Because our faith calls for that kind of cooperation. Our faith calls us to community. Our faith calls us to love. In our second reading from Romans, St. Paul says it well: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” It is love that is to guide every way in which we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the whole of creation.

I think this can be said to be the underlying principle of Christianity and most other systems of belief. Love is the lens through which we see what Jesus does and the “receiver” through which we hear what Jesus says. In our Gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus speaks about community. He offers instructions on what to do when a brother or sister sins. First, the individual who notices it or is directly affected by it is to bring it up to the person one-on-one. If that doesn’t work, then others are brought in as witnesses. And if that doesn’t work, the whole church, or congregation, is told. Scripture scholars tell us that this is only one of two times that the term “church” is used in the Gospels. Then Jesus goes further, and says that if the above process doesn’t work, then the person who refuses to repent is to be ostracized.

This then leads to Jesus granting the power of binding and loosing to the disciples. A couple of weeks ago, we heard Him give that power to Peter. But now it is given to the rest of the disciples. So, it can be seen that the binding and loosing is related to excommunicating someone. Are there times when we wish someone was kicked out of the parish? Wouldn’t we like to have the power to bind and loose, and to have our decisions about others ratified in heaven? But we need to remember the basic commandment to love. However we confront others has to be done in love. I’m not necessarily talking about “Kumbaya” moments as much as refraining from condemnation and foregoing looking for some kind of revenge, even as we speak the truth. This is why I favor the interpretation (it is not my own) that looks at Jesus’ words as telling something basic about human beings: When we hold onto anger or resentment, we do not bind the other person, but we do bind ourselves.

For me, being in a community helps broaden my perspective and helps keep me in right relationships. Jesus tells us that when any of us agree on for what to pray, it will be granted to us. Jesus’ words tell me that it is not only about what I want, but what is good for the whole. Is it possible for a whole group to pray for the wrong thing? I suppose it is, but I don’t think it’s likely if we keep going back to that pesky commandment to love. Jesus also says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” I think that’s even true if a group of KKK members got together to pray. Jesus would be there, even though, from my point of view, they weren’t listening to Him. Jesus is always there for us, even when we don’t listen.

Are we willing to let His love for us bring us into community with others? Are we willing to let His love lead us to love and care for all of creation? Are we willing to let His love lead us to support each other, even at those times we may have to confront someone? Can we come together, even when there isn’t a crisis? Could it be said that we come together in a crisis because we face a common challenge? Do we not always face a common challenge: to live true to the people God made us to be; true to ourselves? Is it not a common challenge to eradicate poverty and injustice and the degradation of the environment? Is it not a common challenge to love?

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

 

August 22, 2017

Who Do You Say He Is?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:15 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, August 27, 2017: Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

To all,

In Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear an exchange between Jesus and His disciples when they are alone together. This exchange is also recorded in Mark and Luke, but there are some differences in Matthew’s account.

One difference that grabbed my attention right away is how Jesus asks His disciples about what the people are saying about Him. In Matthew, Jesus refers to Himself as “the Son of Man.” In Mark and Luke, He simply asks what the people are saying about Him. When He asks the disciples about what they say, He says, “But who do you say that I am?” Is there something to note in the different way Jesus asks the question? I didn’t see anything in the commentaries that I read, other to than to affirm that Jesus did refer to Himself as the “Son of Man.” But I can imagine the difference having to do with a more personal relationship with the disciples. I can imagine Jesus saying, “But you guys; you who’ve been with me everywhere I’ve been, and heard everything I said, and seen everything I’ve done; you who know me better than anyone else, except maybe my mother, who do you say that I am?”

As in Mark and Luke, Peter is the one who replies. But here again, there is a difference. In Matthew, Peter confesses that not only is Jesus the Christ, but “the Son of the living God.” After this, Jesus affirms Peter as the “rock” on which He will build the church. He speaks about giving Peter the keys to the kingdom and gives him authority to bind and to loose. Then after this, He tells the disciples “to tell no one he was the Christ.”

For me, the times in the Gospels when Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah has to do with being aware of what the people generally expected the Messiah to do: get rid of the foreign occupiers and the corrupt leaders and restore Israel to the glory days of David and Solomon. In fact, the disciples didn’t fully understand what Jesus was about (we’ll see that in next weeks’ Gospel reading) until after His death and resurrection. I also wonder if Jesus had an idea that people thought of the Messiah as one who was there to magically remove all their problems.

And that is why Jesus’ question of the disciples is important for us to ask ourselves? Who do we say Jesus is? What I’m trying to get at is, do we have a relationship with Jesus, or do we have a relationship with what we hope He can do for us? It’s hard to separate the two, but if I can simply be about loving Him and following Him, and not so concerned about what He’s going to do for me (hasn’t He given Himself up for me already?) then I think I’m getting closer to holiness. We can’t get there on our own. We need God’s grace.

And if I can come closer to Jesus, I may see a difference in how I answer the question, “Who do I say you are?” I then value another person, and by extension all of creation, not in terms of what he or she can do for me, but by the fact that he or she is beloved by God. And the implications of that can be far-reaching, if we let them. Can I hold onto prejudices and stereotypes if I’m willing to love as Jesus loves? Can I turn a blind eye to injustice and exploitation and discrimination? Am I willing to let His love cast out my fear?

Who do we say He is?

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

June 22, 2017

Love Casts Out Fear

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:28 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, June 25, 2017: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

To all,

When I was looking over the Gospel reading for Sunday, several phrases from various places came readily to mind: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself;” “Relieve me of the bondage of self;” “We have met the enemy, and he is us;” and “Perfect love drives out fear.”

I think part of the reason those phrases came to mind is that in our fairly short Gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples three times not to be afraid. He tells His disciples not to be afraid to proclaim the Good News: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light.” And if the disciples are fearful about the persecutions that will probably come, He says: “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Do you remember that young girl who was attacked in the Middle East (Was it by ISIS?) because she dared to be educated? They attacked her body, but they did not damage her soul!

When Jesus speaks about “the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna,” I thought He was talking about the devil. But the Scripture commentaries tells us that Jesus is telling His disciples to be concerned about God’s judgment (See Matthew 18:8-9). What came to me is how efficiently we can be destructive when it comes to both soul and body. Most of us know people who suffer from some form of addiction. We may know others who are stuck in some kind of spiritual rut. And we know all too well how capable human beings can be in using violence and manipulation against others. Very often our own worst enemy is us.

Where does this destructive behavior come from? I’m not going to presume I have a definitive answer, but since we hear in the Scriptures so often the encouragement not to be afraid, perhaps fear is a major factor. Many people fall into addiction trying to numb themselves or run away from some great pain in their lives. Sometimes we can find ourselves suspicious of people who are different because we fear what changes they may bring, or we fear losing something (dominance, perhaps?). And sometimes this fear turns into bigotry and discrimination and violence, which destroys the body of the victim and the soul of the perpetrator. As long as people fear that others having more means having less for themselves, there will be destruction of body and soul.

We can be fearful in our relationship with God, too. We can be afraid of actually abandoning ourselves totally to Him. We can be afraid that completely turning our lives over to God will mean losing ourselves, or that our surrender may change our lives to an extent with which we are uncomfortable. So, perhaps unconsciously, we hold back in our willingness to surrender to God’s love and will, and try to put some fine print in our relationship with Him. And I wonder if that does not hurt our soul.

So maybe the greatest things to fear are “fear itself” and “the bondage of self.” When we live out of fear and selfishness some sort of destruction follows. What’s the answer? Living in God’s love. After Jesus says, “…rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna;” He also says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” As we hear in our second reading from Romans: “But the gift is not like the transgression [the sin of Adam]. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for many.” The more we let God’s love in, the more that love “drives out fear,” and the less we get caught up in ourselves. And instead of contributing to destruction, we are contributing to life!

May we let God in and let go of fear, and proclaim God’s love “on the housetops!”

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

June 7, 2017

The Mystery of Relationship

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:07 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, June 18, 2017: Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Corinthians 13;11-13; John 3:16-18

To all,

On Sunday we celebrate not only Father’s Day but Trinity Sunday, in which we are reminded of the doctrine of the Trinity, that we believe God to be Three Persons in One God. It is a doctrine which is not so easy to understand, and so when we try to grapple with it, our default response is to say, “It’s a mystery.”

As I was reflecting on this, I thought to myself, “Why does that surprise us?” For me, the doctrine of the Trinity does not so much speak of theological concepts and philosophical definitions of the word “person,” as it speaks of love and relationships. The idea of Three Persons in One God denotes a Supreme Being of perfect relationship. And God, out of love, created the universe and revealed the Divine Self in the Son of God becoming one of us in Jesus Christ.

Have I lost you, yet? I’m about to get lost myself. But if we see God as a God of relationships, then it shouldn’t surprise us that we cannot fully understand or know God. Look at our own human relationships. There are people whom we love dearly. We know them well, and there might even be times when we say we know them better than they do themselves. But we cannot know them absolutely 100%, because they are ultimately distinct from us. But we love them, and we are in relationship with them. God chooses to be in relationship with us, and indeed, God does know us better than we know ourselves. And still, God loves us! In our first reading from Exodus, Moses asks God to accompany the people, even though they (and we) are “stiff-necked.” And God does!

The challenge of this day for me is the connection between love and relationship. Can I really love someone in the abstract, or do I need to be in some kind of relationship with him or her or them in order to love them? The reality of the Trinity seems to call for the latter. But then what does that mean when Jesus calls us to love our enemies, or love the “least of these,” or love the ones who cannot repay our love? Can we be in relationship with them?

Can we let ourselves be that vulnerable? I think we do when it comes to family or good friends. And again, the challenge may be to increasingly broaden the circle of relationships we have, even to those who are so different from us, in order to follow the commandment to love. One thing that might be helpful to remember is that God has been willing to be that vulnerable with us. How can I say that? God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. How can God be vulnerable? Is it not a willingness to be vulnerable when the Son of God becomes one of us in order to save us? Our Gospel reading says it well: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Is it not a willingness to be vulnerable when we are given free will and are thus free to turn our backs on God and ignore the Holy Spirit?

Are we willing to be vulnerable with God? Are we willing to surrender to God’s love and will? Are we willing to be in relationship with others? It can seem impossible, but we know there are people who do; the ones who can see the good in everyone, or who can make friends with just about anyone. I think (maybe hope is the better word) that this is true for even the quiet and shy ones among us.

This day invites us to enter into the mystery of love and relationships, trusting that God, who is love, will show us the way.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Phil, CP

May 17, 2017

Closer to Jesus

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:57 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, May 21, 2017: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

To all,

It seems to me that there are plenty of times in the Scriptures that I am cautioned against getting too caught up in myself. An example is a verse from last Sunday’s reading from Acts: “even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” Today’s reading from Acts has a warning, too, though not as obvious: “With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.” How I would love for everyone with “one accord” to pay attention to what I say! But daydreaming about the attention of the crowds is not the vocation to which I am called.

What the Scriptures do speak about Sunday is the connection between our relationship with Jesus and how we are to live our lives. At the end of our Gospel reading from John, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Part of this passage seems to imply that God’s love for us is conditioned on whether we love God or not. I have come to believe that God’s love is conditioned at all by what we do. But what we do does indicate how far we are willing to go to love God.

When Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me;” He is stating a basic truth. There really is no other way to express our love for Jesus than to observe His commandments. We show our love for Jesus in how we love each other. Jesus also says, “and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” The more we observe Jesus’ commandment to love, which comes through as forgiveness and mercy and compassion, and reaching out to the “least of these,” the more we open ourselves to Jesus dwelling deeper in our hearts and being more the center of our lives. And Jesus reveals more of Himself to us. We understand more about how much Jesus loves us, and how much He loves the world. And the closer we come to Jesus, the more we are attuned to obey His commandments, and then the more Jesus reveals Himself to us, and so on. It is a “virtuous,” not a “vicious,” cycle.

And so, as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, and observe His commandments more and more out of love rather than obligation, we find ourselves empowered to do things we never thought we could do. In our first reading from Acts, Philip goes down to Samaria to proclaim the Good News. I think this is remarkable. We know how startling it was for Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), or to note the background of the leper who thanked Him (Luke 17:11-19), or to speak to the woman at the well (John 4:4-42). Philip must have gone out of his “comfort zone” to preach to Samaritans. The closer we get to Jesus, the more Jesus reveals Himself in people in whom we do not expect to find Him. In our second reading, St. Peter exhorts us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence…” We are to witness to our hope, without arrogance, but with a respect for the other person, and even a willingness to listen to their story.

The closer I have come to Jesus, the more Jesus has revealed the truth about myself, both the good and the not-so-good. Those who knew me growing up would not have imagined me a preacher back in my youth. Neither would I. But God is full of surprises. And so Jesus has revealed a lot about how He doesn’t work the way the world does. But most importantly of all, Jesus has revealed how far He is willing to go out of love for us! There are no limits to His love or mercy!

May we enter into that virtuous cycle of observing Jesus’ commandments and growing closer to Him.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

May 4, 2017

Abundant Life!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:07 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, May 7, 2017: Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10

To all,

At the end of our Gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep….Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

What does it mean to have life “more abundantly?” Right now, for me it might be if the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. But, more seriously, for us Christians, the short answer might be, “Life in Christ.” But that, too, might need some clarification. What does it mean to have life in Christ? Our Scripture readings give us an indication. To have life in Christ is to be in a relationship with the One who loves us beyond our understanding; to love the One, in the words of our Gospel reading, who, like a shepherd, calls each of us “by name.” We are to love the One, in the words of our second reading, by whose wounds we “have been healed.”

In Jesus we have an abundance of love! In Jesus we have an abundance of grace! But that abundance of love and grace is not meant to just fill us up, but to be shared, in abundance, with the rest of the world! This is where, I think, the notion of abundance in Christ is in contradiction with the notion of abundance that is commonly understood.

We often think of abundance in terms of material wealth and possessions. We look at the lifestyles of the rich and famous and see what seems to be the very definition of having life more abundantly. Very often we can find ourselves striving very hard for this kind of life. It’s very appealing. But our faith, and even perhaps our experience, tells us something different.

When I was reflecting on this, I asked myself the question I asked above: “What does it mean to have life more abundantly?” What I came up with, was living life true to myself, which in turn means letting go of all that gets in the way of being the person God made me to be. It means abandoning myself to the love God has for me, trusting that Jesus is indeed a Good Shepherd, and being willing to have what has been given to me: love and grace and mercy and my very self, given to others. It means following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It also entails living in community, in relationship. For me, living abundantly does not involve living in isolation. My abundance is tied to all of us (including all of creation) having enough to live and thrive and flourish.

Does this mean that I never get caught up in having stuff? Can’t say that. Does it mean that I am free from suffering and pain? Can’t say that, either. But if I can just give myself more and more over to God, I don’t imprison myself, but I let God free me! And even in pain and grief, I can experience His love for me, and know abundance.

Believe me, I am not speaking as one who has reached abundant life. I can still be hindered by fear or trying to control my own conversion. And so I see fear and apathy and greed and prejudice as the “thieves and robbers” that take us away from abundant life, more so than those we perceive as enemies. In the Third Step Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, it says, “Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.” It is the “bondage of self” that keeps us from living life abundantly!

The hope of Easter enables us to trust in Jesus, our Shepherd. The promise of the Resurrection gives us hope in the promise of abundant life now. May God heal us from whatever we put in the way of living life abundantly, and set us free!

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In the Crucified and Risen Lord,

Phil, CP

April 27, 2017

Along the Journey

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:40 pm by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, April 30, 2017: Acts 2:14, 22-33; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

To all,

In Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke, we hear the account of the encounter between the Risen Jesus and two disciples on their way out of Jerusalem. In many ways, this account is similar to the one we heard last week about Jesus and Thomas. Last week we imagined Thomas stricken with grief after the death of Jesus. This week, Luke tells us explicitly that Cleopas and his companion look “downcast.” As Thomas heard from the other apostles that Jesus is risen, the two disciples have heard of a report that some women were told by an angel that Jesus had risen.

As Thomas’ grief and hurt seemed to have kept him from believing this Good News, so too Cleopas and his friend seem unable to believe what they have heard, or least don’t know what to make of it. Thomas recognized Jesus by touching His wounds. The two disciples recognize Jesus in the “breaking of bread.”

There are many things that this Gospel story tells us, but the one thing that has come to me is that this account reminds us once again that Jesus is indeed with us on the journey. There may be times when we are like Cleopas and his friend, and we can’t see that He is with us. There may be times when events and people wear us down and we are downcast, and we can’t feel His presence and His love.

But if we listen to our faith; if we listen to our experience; if we listen to our hearts, we know that Jesus is with us. We know, as Thomas did, because of the wounds Jesus suffered for us. We know, as Cleopas and his friend did, because of His words in the Scriptures. We know because of what we celebrate at the Eucharist, when we break bread together and share His Body and Blood poured out for us.

If we know that Jesus is with us, we also know our call to help others know of His love and presence. We open ourselves to God’s will, willing to have God use us to bring hope and love to others. We see Peter and the apostles do this in our first reading from Acts, which takes place after they have received the Holy Spirit. Peter, the one who was so overtaken by fear that he denied that he knew Jesus, is now proclaiming the Good News to all who were “staying in Jerusalem.” Cleopas and his friend turn back to Jerusalem to share their experience of the Resurrection with the other disciples.

When we share our experiences, I don’t think we just share our Easter experiences. I think we need to share our total journey, from our experiences of Good Friday, and our experiences of being in-between like Holy Saturday, and then also our experience of Easter.

Jesus accompanies us on our journey, and calls us to be companions for others along the way.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In the Crucified and Risen Christ,

Phil, CP

March 29, 2017

Emerging from the Tomb

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:39 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, April 2, 2017: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

To all,

Sunday’s Gospel reading reveals to me a very human Jesus. In some ways this is surprising to me, because when I read John’s Gospel I see a Jesus who is very much in control. For instance, in John’s Gospel there is little reference to anguish on Jesus’ part, unlike the agony in the Garden that we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Similarly, we don’t see Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry His Cross.

In the beginning of our Gospel reading, we do see Jesus very much aware of what He’s doing. Jesus gets word that His beloved friend Lazarus is very ill. He does not rush to see Lazarus. Rather, after a dialogue with the apostles who don’t quite understand what is going on, Jesus says, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”

Before Jesus even gets there, Lazarus’ sister Martha comes to Him and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Later on, the other sister Mary says exactly the same thing. When Jesus comes to Lazarus’ tomb, He weeps. And I wonder whether not only His own grief, but the grief of Mary and Martha and their lament, had an effect on Him. Have we ever had the experience of seriously disappointing someone, when they felt we let them down? Could Jesus have felt that way? It seems odd to attribute these kind of feelings to Jesus, especially in light of what He talked about with His disciples beforehand, but this is what comes to my imagination as I read this passage.

After Jesus weeps, He seems to come back to what He was planning to do, and tells the people there to take away the stone which sealed the tomb. Reluctantly they do so, and after Jesus prays to the Father, He cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and to everyone’s amazement, Lazarus emerges alive from the tomb, and Jesus has to tell the startled bystanders to untie Lazarus from the burial bands with which he was wrapped.

Can we hear Jesus call out to us, “Come out!”? Can we hear Him calling us to Himself, freeing us from being buried under the weight of shame or fear or despair or resentment or grief? Can we let Him untie the bonds of envy and greed and apathy that keep us from Him? Can we let ourselves believe that Jesus can do all this for us? Like Lazarus, like Mary, like Martha, we are beloved by Jesus, who died on the Cross for us! The same tenderness Jesus shows the three siblings, Jesus shows us. It is the same tenderness we hear through the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading: “O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live…”

And if we can hear Jesus calling us and lifting us out of the tombs in which we find ourselves, can we also hear Him calling us to help untie the bonds that keep others from being free – the bonds of violence and injustice and prejudice?

Jesus is calling us to life! May we take the risk and come out of our tombs.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

 

March 24, 2017

Light and Darkness

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:40 am by pdamiancp

Scripture Readings for Sunday, March 26, 2017: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

To all,

In our second reading for Sunday from Ephesians, St. Paul uses some wording that to me is interesting: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” This, to me, is a bit different than being or living in darkness or light, and it led me to think about how what we say or do can contribute to darkness or light. This thought directed my reflection on our Gospel reading from John, in which Jesus heals a man born blind.

The man born blind, through no fault of his own, becomes the center of controversy. This is true even when Jesus and the apostles see the man for the first time, begging in the street. When the apostles see the man, they ask Jesus whose sin was responsible for the man being born blind. They asked this because it was widely held in Jesus’ day (and is still held by many today) that things like blindness or suffering were seen as signs of God’s punishment or disfavor. And Jesus has to tell His disciples that the man’s condition was not a result of sin, but “so that the works of God may be made visible through him.” When the man’s neighbors realize that the man can now see, they disagree about whether it is really he or not. And then, when he is brought before the Pharisees, they can’t believe that something was done to give this man sight that they have to confirm that he was indeed born blind, and they interrogate the man’s parents to make sure he was born blind!

Since what Jesus did was on a Sabbath, the Pharisees rejected the idea that this miracle was of God. All the while they are interrogating him, the man simply tells the truth: “If he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” When the Pharisees interrogate him a second time, he is coming to believe in Jesus: “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” But the Pharisees refuse to believe, and say to the man, “You were born totally in sin (remember the assumption about his blindness), and you are trying to teach us?’ After the Pharisees throw the man out, Jesus catches up to him, and reveals Himself as the Son of Man, and the man responds. “I do believe, Lord.”

How the Pharisees react to what Jesus did, and how they treat the man who now can see brings me back to darkness and light. The Pharisees were blind to the light that was in Jesus and in the man. They assumed that the man was born into sin. After all, he was born blind. And so I wonder if refusing to see the light in someone else somehow contributes to the darkness. We see people rail against undocumented aliens or Muslims or some other group. I look at the history of the early Church, or the experience of Catholics in the early years of the United States, and I see that at times the early Christians were blamed for all the problems of the Roman Empire (Who did Nero blame for the burning of Rome?), and so there were periods of persecutions of Christians. I see that Catholics were long thought incapable of being good Americans because they were connected to the Church in Rome. I bring these things up because we need to be careful about declaring that others are without light. We have been seen in the same way, and are seen that way by some today. I don’t deny that there are evil people in the world, but even they are loved by God, and that is a light even their evil behavior cannot extinguish.

Our call, then, may not be so much to point out the darkness in others, but to bring as much of the light of Christ into the world as we can. If we can see the light in others, we may not find it so easy to persist in our judgments and condemnations, or be comfortable with discrimination and prejudice.

May the light of Christ grow in us, and may we be more able to see as God does, and recognize the light in others.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ,

Phil, CP

 

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