Who is Barabbas? (or Why is “Good Friday” good?)

“…will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?”  They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”  Now Barabbas was a robber.   -John 18:40

It’s hard to understand, unless we take some time to ponder it, what is “good” about “Good Friday.”  After all, it is the day that Jesus, the son of God, not only died, but was actually put to death at the request of the very people who were God’s “chosen” ones.

How can this be “good’?

In order to understand, of course, we must know a bit about our history.  Not the history of the world, per se, but the history of our salvation.  For that, we need to go all the way back to the book of Genesis, and a long-ago promise made between God and Abraham.  Here, Abraham is pleading with God to give him a son, an heir.  And God promises not only will he have a son in his old age, he will have so many descendants they will “number the stars.” (Gen 15:5)  But in order for Abraham to know that God was serious about this promise, God said to Abraham, “Bring me a heifer three years old…” (Gen 15:9)

Say what?

Yes!  This is why knowing our salvation history is so important.  Because in the days of the Old Testament, bringing animals to sacrifice is a sure sign that a covenant is being formed.  And in today’s terms we sometimes refer to a covenant as a “contract.”  But it’s really so much more than that!  In America today, if you break a contract, you may get taken to court and have to make a monetary payment of what you owe or possibly spend time in jail.  But in biblical times, animals were sacrificed as a covenantal promise that if one of you should break your end of the deal, you would bring a curse upon yourself and your family,  perhaps to the same end as the animals you are sacrificing:  death!  Further, a covenant was often made between one person who had much to offer, and one person who had less but needed what the other one had.  Very often the person who risked bringing the curse upon themselves was the person with less, because that person would be taking out a loan but promising to repay the person who had given them the loan.  Part of the covenant then, was for both parties then  to walk between the bloody carcasses of the sacrificed animals to indicate they were offering their life–or at least their livelihood– in exchange for whatever they needed from the other person, should they not repay it.

But something strange happens in the covenant between God and Abraham.  Tradition would dictate that in any exchange with God, God is “holding the cards” so to speak.  So  clearly, Abraham should walk through the animal carcasses to swear his faithfulness to God or risk being cursed or put to death.  Instead though, we are told that “a deep sleep fell on Abram” (Gen 15:12), and “when the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” (Gen 15: 17)  This fire pot and flame, in biblical terms, is none other than God himself agreeing to be cursed– even to the point of death– if he should not fulfill his promise to Abraham.  And what does Abraham need to do in return?  Stay faithful to God.  And this covenant is binding not just between God and Abraham, but between all generations after them.  Sounds simple enough, right?

But as it turns out it is the regular old sons and daughters of Abraham, the father of our Christian faith, that fail to keep the promise of faithfulness. Yet, we can see that God keeps his promise!  In the first chapter of Matthew, we are given these long ramblings of generation after generation who are the descendants of…you guessed it, Abraham. (Yes! This is where all the “begats” finally start to mean something.)  Matthew takes us through generations that “number the stars” from Abraham all the way down to the Messiah, who is, of course, Jesus.  Jesus, the son of Mary, the foster son of Joseph… and the only begotten Son of God.

If this were a movie, the music would be swelling right about now, because with the birth of Jesus, we are going to see God deliver on his covenant oath and establish a new one.  Here God himself enters into the ancestral line (pointing clear back to Abraham, the father of our faith) in order to make good on his covenantal promise.

Which means someone is about to pay.

Not because God didn’t keep his promise to Abraham, but because the sons and daughters of Abraham didn’t stay faithful to God!

So God will send us his Son to pay the price. And his Son will die.

But first, in today’s reading, the crowd is given one last chance to let God out of this covenantal oath and instead pony up for all their own years of faithlessness and broken promises.  Again, though, we must understand some biblical traditions.  That is, that it was customary that every year on the feast of Passover, a prisoner was released.  Yep. One completely guilty person, released and set free.  This is what is happening when Pilate offers the people one last chance to let the Son of God go free, but instead they choose, not Jesus,  “but Barabbas!” to be released. (John 18:40)

And this is where the music should stop, and the cameras zooms tightly on your face.

Or mine.

Because there it is in my footnotes:  Barab’ bas.  Aramaic meaning “son of the father.”

You see, God ponies up on his covenantal promise (a promise he didn’t even need to make with us) not because he didn’t keep his promise, but because we didn’t.  He pays our due in that moment in time, with the death of Jesus, the Son of the Father, instead of the rightful death of Barabbas, the son of the father.  Barabbas, the “robber” who stole the spot of the Blameless One, is set free.

Who is Barab’ bas?

Barabbas is you.

Barabbas is me.

Because Jesus took the place for our unfaithfulness and sins.

And we are free.

Free from this covenant that we never upheld anyway.

Free of all the old ways of doing things.  The old ways of worship.  The old ways of sacrifice.  The old ways of judgment.

And God himself, in Jesus, invokes a New Covenant.  With moral laws that haven’t changed, but the ways we honor them have.

We honor them now “Loving God above all things and loving my neighbor as myself.”

We honor them with repentance.

We honor them with forgiving others as we have been forgiven.

And we honor them with Holy Communion.  Eucharist.  Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving because we never had to pay the price for the generations of promises broken.

Thanksgiving because we never even had to take the oath to pay.

Thanksgiving because God loves us so much that he gave his very self for us, just so we might love him in return.

Do you see it?

It’s all right there in front of us.

And it is very good.

Reflect:   Read the Passion of our Lord today (John 18:1 – 19:42) and place yourself in the story as Barabbas.  Give thanks to God for sending his only Son to take your place!

Pray:  Heavenly Father, we can never, ever thank you enough for the sacrifices you’ve made for us.  But we thank you for never giving up on us!  We thank you for loving us even when we fail to love you in return.  Help us to be more like you!  Send us your Spirit of Love to empower us to share your love with all your creation.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

How Will You Lay Down Your Garments?

Jesus…laid aside his garments…and began to wash the disciples feet.  – John 13:3-5

Today marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum, or the three days that mark the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord.  These mark the end of the Lenten season and are the summit of the Liturgical Year.  In the eyes of the Church, these three days are the climax of the year that mark a  “new age of Resurrection” and launches us into the 50 Day Season of Easter that then climaxes with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Sounds like a big deal, right?

Yet, in America, (at least in all the places I’ve lived), the world doesn’t seem to take much notice.  Especially in stark contrast to Christmas where store shelves start getting stocked for the season (largely secular décor, of course, but nonetheless they are getting ready) in early October.  And many people decorate inside and out to prepare for the celebration of the coming of our Lord (or for the coming of Santa, but again, at least the secular, too, is getting ready for something).  But what about Easter?  Maybe an aisle or two dedicated to cute bunny or egg décor, and an overload of candy-stocked aisles, but those are quickly whisked away once Easter Sunday has ended.  While most stores are closed on Christmas, many remain open on Easter.  Yet, this is the single-event in history from which we have established our calendar (A.D. and B.C., which are also quickly becoming out of vogue), and it is through the Christian Tradition that even our secular holidays originated (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day).

So, it struck me today, as I read the Scriptures of our Lord preparing to wash the feet of his disciples, the line that reads, “Jesus…laid aside his garments…” that I needed to “lay aside” something, too.  Jesus’ action and  these garments, are symbolic of his human life.  In other words, Jesus “laid aside” his life  to serve those closest to him, and only when finished serving the others does he “take” his life up again.

And I wondered what will I do differently to mark this day? 

Of course, one thing will be to attend the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  But how else might I “lay aside” some of the other aspects of my every day life today and in the days to come?

One of my friends who does much of her business on Facebook posted beautifully today that, “For Holy Week, I will refrain from business posts through Sunday, when we celebrate a big ole spectacular Easter morning!!!”

She is certainly “laying down her garments” to mark this sacred event.

Then another thought came to me. An image shared by a pastor who serves at a nearby convent.  This convent is cloistered, so the sisters inside it have little to no communication with the outside world.  (I asked him once, “Is it like ‘The Sound of Music?’ and he smiled and said, “Pretty close,” if that helps you imagine it, too.)  Anyway, this pastor is one of the few people who has the privilege of seeing the routine day-to-day life of these nuns.  Yet, he said that each day, when the bells ring indicating it is time for prayer, no matter what they are doing (washing the floor, raking leaves, etc.) they drop everything about their ordinary lives and run to prayer.

They drop everything and run to spend undivided time with Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but to me, when it comes to “laying down the garments” of my ordinary life, stopping in the middle of what I’m doing throughout my day today and giving my undivided time to Jesus seems like a pretty good start.

Whether I do that by abstaining from parts of my work life like my friend, or by dropping everything and running to prayer hardly matters.

What matters is that these next three days  look different, and my ordinary life gets “laid aside”…

Ding! Dong! Ding!

Reflect:  How can you “lay down” your garments and spend undivided time with Jesus over these sacred three days?  What “garments” in your life are getting in the way of spending time with Jesus? Or spending time serving those you love?  Looking ahead to next year, what is one thing you could do differently about your home to “elevate” the significance of the Lenten season and these sacred days?

Pray:  Lord, thank you laying aside your life every moment of every day to serve even my smallest needs and desires.  Help me to remember that the least I can do is take some time in the days ahead to spend solely with you.  Help me to hear what you want me most to hear.  Help me to see what you want me to see.  Help me to love those who are hardest to love.  Transform me so that when I do “take up” my life after spending time with you, I have become more like you.  Amen.

 

 

 

The Heart of the Eleven

And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?”   – Matthew 26:21-22

Swimming.  Cross-country running.  Track. Tennis.  Volleyball.  Softball.  These are the team activities the members of my family have participated in over the years.  We are not natural athletes, most of us.  We have to work really hard if we want to do more than cheer from the sidelines.  And most of the time, to be honest, the majority of our kids haven’t been interested in working that hard.  But we still strongly encourage them to join a sport. Why?  Because, when coached well, (or at least when kept in proper perspective by us as parents) it teaches them that there is more to life than “me.”  It teaches them that when the team wins, they win, even if  they did poorly, or didn’t play.  And when the team suffers, they suffer, even if it was their best performance.

This is an important lesson for each of us.  And it’s one we don’t just learn once, but one we must continue to challenge ourselves to remember in each of the “teams” we join later in life.  The “team” of co-workers at work, the “team” of our fellow parishioners, the “team” of our family, the “team” of our fellow citizens, the “team” of humanity (the world).

But it’s easy to get side-tracked.  It’s easy to get so focused on building our retirement portfolios that we forget to carve out a portion of it to help our fellow citizens.  It’s easy to get so focused on building a name for ourselves in our business that we forget to raise others up when they’ve done well, too.  It’s easy to get so focused on what we want, that we forget to give thanks for all we’ve been given.

We see this again and again in the lives of the twelve disciples…James and John ask to be the two chosen to sit on either side of Jesus in his glory. (Mark 10:35-37).  Peter  may have been trying to gain favor over the disciples with Jesus when he proclaims, “Master, then not only my feet, but my head and hands as well!”  (John 13:1-6)

We come by it honestly to think of ourselves, it seems.

However, by the grace of God, we can discipline ourselves to grow beyond that.  To be able to put others first, or to cheer others on, even when we ourselves aren’t doing so well.  This, it seems to me, was the mature self-discipline that eleven of the twelve disciples show us today.  For when Jesus foretells that one of the twelve will betray him, they all grow “deeply distressed.”  Why?  Because if Jesus is going to be betrayed, then they are already hurting for him!  Asking “Surely, it isn’t I?” doesn’t seem to be a question with hidden motives of self-interest, because as of yet,  there is no foretelling of what fate will befall the betrayer, there is only mention that Jesus will be hurt by a betrayal.  And for the eleven, when one hurts, they all hurt.

We get to see what self-interest looks like, however, when Jesus goes on to say that as for  his betrayer it would be “better for that man if he had never been born.”  In saying this, he cleverly draws out his betrayer by mentioning the  single subject of the most import to him:  himself.  And it is only then we see Judas alone ask, “Surely, it is not I?”

Now, please understand I’m not saying team sports are the answer to self-sacrifice.  There are certainly lots of stories about how, when coached poorly, or when parents are unrealistic about their kids’ abilities, requiring their kids to be a part of team sports can create a self-focused, self-absorbed individual, or cause more damage to their self-esteem than good.  I’m saying that it’s important to use whatever opportunities we have in this life to help our kids (and remind ourselves) that God desires us to have hearts like those of the eleven.  Hearts that empathize and sympathize and break for others when they suffer.  Hearts that celebrate others’ joys even in the midst of our own sorrows.  Hearts that “lay down their life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

This is the heart of Jesus, and the heart of his disciples.

Reflect:  What are the “teams” in my life right now?  What is one way I can help raise others up on each of these “teams” rather than focus on my own successes or failures?  How can I encourage others to have a “Jesus heart” into the teams and groups I’m involved in?

Pray:  Lord, we thank you for opportunity to remember there is so much more to the world then our own sufferings, our own failures and successes, and our own interests.  Please help me see those around me who could use some encouragement today, and help me to provide the encouragement they need.  Thank you for always being the source of encouragement for us.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Near Occasion of Sin

After [Judas] took the morsel, Satan entered him.  -John 13:27

There is a beautiful (free!) video series about the Holy Spirit and all his works hosted by Fr. Dave Pivonka called, “The Wild Goose is Loose.”  In one of the segments, Fr. Dave is standing just outside the St. Louis Arch and explains how while the Arch is a symbolic gateway to the West;  for Christians, the sacraments are like a gateway for the grace of God to enter our souls and bless our lives.  It’s a beautiful thought and a powerful image of the desire for God to enter into our lives and carry out his work through us.  As one priest recently said, “God only needs us to open the doors of our hearts–even just a small crack– and he will squeeze his way in!”

Today, we read what I see as another “gateway” in John’s account of the betrayal of Judas.  The gateway of sin. In this passage John tells us that Jesus announces to the twelve that one of them will betray him.  After John asks him which of them it will be, Jesus says, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  Then Jesus dips the bread and hands it to Judas.  I love John’s account of this incident, because it’s more like my experiences with sin in my own life.  The way I see it here Judas has two choices–either take the bread, or DON’T take the bread.  Now, clearly I have the benefit of 2000+ years of history to help me know the ramifications that come from taking the bread. So this is why I can’t help but think, “Oh, Judas, why would you take the bread?” Still, he does.  Even though Jesus has just said that the one who he hands it to will betray him, Judas takes the bread.  And it is only after he does this, John tells us, that Satan enters into Judas.

I’d like to think I don’t know what’s going on here.  I’d like to pretend that I would NEVER take the bread under those circumstances and that I would fall at the feet of Jesus begging his forgiveness.  But, like I said, I have the benefit of history on my side, and so I know better.

But do I?  Allow me a simple, but very real, true story.  We have a local bakery here that is amazing.  It bakes the yummiest, most sweet and delicious desserts and pastries you’ve likely ever encountered.  It’s won prizes for it’s heavenly-tasting foods and when you walk into the store it has plates and plates and plates of generously sized samples sitting out for you to try, all free of charge.  You can just go in and sample your day away if you’d like.  They have Danish Kringles in flavors you’ve only dreamed about, breads and flavored butters, and some days even whole slices of angel food cake…to eat as a SAMPLE!  It’s amazing. But only if you like sweets.  And I don’t just like sweets.  I {head-over-heels, heart-eyed-emoji, over-the-moon} LOVE these sweets!  I always tell people I could never tell you what I don’t like at our local bakery, I can only tell you what I like least.  There is no bad pastry in the place!

But.

It is not a place I can even drive near when I’m trying to cut out carbs and sugar.  Or my car will go in and park, my legs will walk me in and  I will  sample the day away.  And before I know it my sweet tooth will be craving all the days it’s missed of sweets and then some.  Because at my local bakery, when I take even one piece, I cannot control how many more I will take.  

And this is where I can relate to Judas.

And I see that just as the sacraments are a beautiful gateway to God’s grace, my poor choices are sometimes a gateway into actions and ramifications that quickly go beyond my control.  God is not the only one looking to squeeze his way into the cracked-open doors of my life.  Satan is waiting, too.

And for some of us this sounds perfectly normal.  But for many, Satan seems so unreal.  Much of the world has done a great job of making “the devil” sound like a fantasy creature.  Someone who can be dismissed–along with the “boogie man” and the “monster under your bed” –after we reach a certain age of reason,   And it’s easy to see why.   Because how is he depicted so often?  With his red horns, a spiked tail and a pitchfork?!  Of course that’s silly and childish!  But that’s not who he is!  Of course not. The devil is no more that, than God is an old man on a cloud with a beard and a lightning bolt smiting people down.  These are symbols of two very real, spiritual beings that, while both invisible, are both more powerful than us.  And while we can stand confident in knowing that God is more powerful than the devil, we must realize that we are not!

So what can we do?

Well, of course we can pray for the strength to close the door on our bad choices and sin.  But we also  need to avoid the behaviors and things that put cracks in the foundation of our faith and build barriers that block that endless flow of God’s grace in our lives.  We sometimes call these things the “near occasion of sin.”   While the bakery is not in and of itself a sinful place, in terms of healthy eating,  for me, it is a “near occasions of sin.”  Because it is an entry-way into a slippery slope of poor food choices that can unravel days and even weeks of hard work.  It’s best to be avoided–or at least severely limited–in my life.  Because when I frequent the bakery I can begin to lose sight of my healthy goals,  and I can even fall into a kind of despair about never being able to eat healthy again.

And once I open the door to despair, like Judas, I find myself disappearing into darkness. A darkness that I cannot overcome on my own.

But we don’t all have to suffer the fate of Judas.  We can follow Peter.  Peter who also betrays our Lord (not once, but three times!),but never gives up hope.  Peter grasps that he is not all-knowing and that he can be forgiven when he has made bad choices.  Even bad choices that harm those he loves very deeply.

There is always forgiveness.  There is always God’s mercy.

Today, identify and avoid one “near occasion of sin” in your life, and let your heart be flooded with the power of God’s grace.

Reflect:  “Do you reject Satan and all his works?  And all his empty promises?”  These are the opening questions to a Renewal of Baptismal Promises recited during the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.  Spend time thinking about your answers to this today as well as why the Church asks this.  While we don’t need to give the devil a lot of our thoughts and time, it is helpful from time to time to remind ourselves there is a force more powerful than us that is working contrary to God in our lives, and look for those “cracked-open doors” that we may need to shut in order to see God more clearly.

Pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you for your endless gift of grace!  Wash me in your mercy and forgiveness, so that I may be free to see clearly the places where my actions are contrary to your will.  Help me to avoid even the near occasion of sin in my life so that I may walk more closely with you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hold Every Thing Loosely

And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.  – John 12:10-11

Sometimes the hardest thing for me to change is my own mind.  My behaviors are hard to change at times, too, but it seems like if my mind is really made up about something, the behavioral changes follow more easily.

In today’s Gospel, the chief priests, are plotting to kill Lazarus because, well…because he was alive.  He had been dead for four days when Jesus raised him from the dead.  Lazarus’ very existence, then, was a testament to the miraculous power of Jesus, and therefore a threat to the high priests who just could not accept that Jesus was God.

As we walk this final journey into Holy Week, I find these readings about the plots to kill Jesus and the people that testify to his character very foreboding.  I do a lot of volunteer work at our church.  This means that sometimes I am in danger of being like the high priests and clinging so much to what I want to do (programs I want to run, ways I want to see things done, people I will and will not work with) that I lose sight of what God may be asking of me in each moment.  Sometimes– just as Jesus did when he first heard Lazarus was sick–we need to let things die. Even the things that are very dear to us–as Lazarus was to Jesus.

Our old ways of doing things (because that’s how we’ve always done them and that’s how we like it), our favorite events and celebrations (even though nobody new has come to them in years), and even the people we love to work with  (because they are fun and think just like us!)  always need to be held loosely.  This is the Paschal Mystery:  to die and to rise anew.  If we are not willing to hold things loosely enough that when the time is right, we let them die, then we have rejected a very large part of our faith!

This is a challenge and a struggle, yes, but the alternative as the Gospels seem to spell out again and again, should certainly give us pause.  If we do not hold things loosely, we risk clinging to them so tightly that we, like the high priests, fail to recognize God when he’s right in front of us!

We can stand firm in our faith that God is always for us, yes, but we do not know how his plans for our best interests are meant to unfold.  Therefore, we must hold loosely to all “things” in order to make room for him to stir our hearts, and give ourselves permission to change our minds when we’ve clung too close to something other than God himself.

The same is true for the people we surround ourselves with, too.  If we are not careful, we can push to the margins all those who think differently than us and therefore we run the risk of clinging too tightly to our own way of thinking.  As biblical scholar, Sister Dianne Bergant, recently stated, “Who are the outsiders in your life?  Be careful, they might be more righteous than you.”

Today’s Gospel message seems clear:  if we want to live our lives as a testament to Jesus, then we need to let things die when their “time has come.”  This means we must continue to examine all “things” which we hold dear:  not just old programs, old routines, and old habits, but also our old ways of thinking and those in our lives whom we are holding at arms length.  Jesus is more than willing to breathe new life into the things we think and say and do, and when we make room for him to do this, we point more people towards him, not us, which is exactly who we want to promote!  However, if we cling tightly to our old ways for the sake of our own status, our own glory or our own self-righteousness, then we are not only sure to be blind to God’s presence, but we also–perhaps even unknowingly–run the risk of plotting against him.

Reflect:  What are some “things” in my life that I have been struggling to “keep alive”?  What would happen if I loosened my grip on these things and made room for God to work within them?  Am I afraid they might “die”?  If so, why am I so afraid of letting them go?  Have I considered that perhaps these things really are meant to “live”…and that only God can make that happen?  Would I be willing to loosen my grip if I knew that were his plan?

Pray:   Heavenly Father, you gave us all you had in your Son Jesus, even to the point of death on the Cross!  Help me to give no less of the things in my life back to you.  Help me to trust in the New Life you desire for me and for all your creation.  Open my eyes to see your promise of New Life  in the signs of spring all around me:  the budding trees and flowers, the returning birds, the melting snow.  Take me by the hand and walk with me, so that I can loosen my grip on my old habits and ways of thinking, and make room to follow you more closely. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susanna’s Message

…but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.   Daniel 13:57

The sex scandal in the Catholic Church has captured headlines for many years.  When news of it first broke in 2002 (as depicted in the movie Spotlight), it caused great shock and awe in both Catholic congregations and across the globe.  Even today, details of the horrific crimes of abuse and cover-up are still being revealed as dioceses across the country are bringing to light the names of those priests and clergy members who were responsible in any way for causing pain and harm to its many victims. And as dioceses around the world continue to find scandal and cover-ups of their own.

This is the Church.  The one place where we should be able to go as a “safe space” for all.

But how can we when there is so much evidence to the contrary?

Today’s story in Daniel exists  in the Catholic biblical canon, but may also be found in the Apocrypha of many Protestant bibles.  In this story, we find, Susanna, a pure and pious spouse of a church patriarch, Joakim, being threatened by two corrupt elders who insist that Susanna succumb to their lustful desires or they will accuse her (falsely) of adultery with a young man and she will be sentenced to death.  She seemingly only has two options:  do as they wish and sleep with the two men, or die.

Enter Daniel.

Daniel sees through the two elders to the underlying truth.  He sees that their stories don’t add up, and he demands the two elders be separated to give their testimony.  And when they do, they each describe its events differently, which proves their guilt and Susanna’s innocence, and they are then put to death and Susanna escapes abuse and is free.

I can’t help but see some parallels in the story of the religious elders of ancient Israel and the hierarchy of the Church today.  Then, like now, corruption existed in religious settings.  Then, like now, it wasn’t in everybody and everywhere, but it was in some…and even one victim is one too many.

But there is hope.

Then, like now, more and more often details of the scandal are being brought to the light.  Then, like now, victims advocate groups and counselors rise to help those who have suffered.  Then, like now, people’s eyes were opened.  And while it stinks to feel as though we have to scrutinize the leaders of our churches (or our corporation or our country, etc. ), it’s a good reminder to me that the reason for that is because there is only one True Authority, one Truth we can trust in this world, or any world…and that is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Though Susanna walked the earth many years before Jesus, like Jesus her heart was aligned with God, the Father.  This daughter of Judah, remains faithful to God in the midst of this little -known scandal,  just as many years later a little babe who is born in the “hill country” of Judah, called Bethlehem, remains faithful to God the Father to the point of death on a Cross.  Then He rises into New Life, breathing that Life into the very Church of today.

My footnotes tell me Susanna is a “type” of the Church.  (In biblical talk, a “type” is a foreshadowing of sorts–someone or some thing that parallels someone or some other thing that happens later in history). Like Susanna, we the Church, should not tolerate wickedness, neither outside her “walls,” nor within them.  Like Susanna, we the Church can overcome scandal.  We owe it to the thousands of victims who have suffered at the hands of it, and we owe it to Jesus who died because of it.  We need not fear it.  And we need not despair over it.  We need simply let the Light shine upon it, until the last stone is overturned.

Until then, we put our hope in the day when we, like Susanna’s husband and parents, can say with every confidence “praise God…because nothing shameful was found in her.”

Reflect:  Have I lost faith in God because of the wrongdoings of men?  What can I do to be like Daniel, and help victims of abuse (either in or outside the Church) in my area?  How can I deepen my faith in Jesus, so that when uncertain times fall upon me, I can still trust in his goodness and love?

Pray:  Lord, today we pray for all those who have suffered abuse at the hands of those they trusted, or through random violent attacks.  Help us to love one another, to understand one another and to have compassion and provide counsel for all those who suffer, but especially for those who suffer from abuse by church and religious leaders whom they trusted.  We will not tolerate that wickedness.  Empower us to continue shining your Light until the last stone is overturned.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

Who Is Your Moses?

The Lord told Moses, “Quick!  Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.”  Exodus 32:7 (NLT)

“You need to talk to your son.”

“Ask your daughter what she did today.”

Over the years remarks like these were occasionally the first words I’d have for my husband after his long day at work and my equally long day of housework and mothering.  I doubt my husband was energized be these words, but sometimes, no matter how loud or often I’d say certain things to our kids, they just needed to hear it from someone else.  Someone who loved them as much as I did, but who would have a different approach to whatever the situation was, and therefore a different ear to listen to their plight as well.

Today’s Old Testament reading can be troubling unless read through the lens of what is true about God eons ago, today and forever:  God is Love.  God loves us.  God can ONLY love us.  He is not capable of anything less.

However, this is also true:  sometimes love hurts.

In today’s Old Testament passage we read how the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, have once again fallen into behaviors of idol worship and have lost faith and trust in God.  God, seeing this, tells Moses to go down and talk to them.  Now, there’s lots more there, too, about God telling Moses to leave him alone with the people and allow his “wrath to consume” them and Moses begging God to “repent of this evil against your people.”  Though this may be frightening, the exchange can be beautiful if we keep two things in mind:  God is Love and love hurts.

Our sins–that is any choices we make that turn us away from God–hurt him.    The people of Israel made choices that hurt God.  And though the emotions and attitude of God are written in a way that personifies him, in the Old Testament God is not a “person” in the sense that we understand the word. But God is often personified, (that is, described in human terms to make the mystery of God more understandable to us), and he is personal, meaning he desires a personal relationship with each one of us, just as he desired to have with the people of Israel so long ago.    This is why, like the people of Israel, when we choose to turn away from a relationship with God, it is personal to him, and it hurts him.  (And though we may not realize it at the time, it hurts us, too.)

But God never gives up on us!

Instead, through the proper lens, we can see that God uses someone to intercede for him.  And in today’s reading that someone is Moses.  Though God is perfectly capable of doing whatever he wants in that moment, he chooses Moses to return to the people and plead with them to change their ways and put their trust back in God.

I can’t help but smile at the words the ancient writer of Exodus (whom many scholars believe to be Moses himself) used for God’s command to Moses in calling the people of Israel “your people,”  when in previous chapters he’d called them “my people.”   Because it assures me that just as I  (usually when it was something I was less than thrilled about or hurt by) have occasionally called my own children “your son/daughter” to my husband,  I can say with absolute certainty that I did not love my children any less at those times.  And we can be assured that when we’ve turned away from God he doesn’t love us any less either.  In fact,  we can take comfort in knowing that he loves us so much he will send a “Moses” into our lives in an effort to bring us back to him. We need only keep our eyes and hearts open to look for them, and turn back to God when they appear to us. Because, just as love hurts when it’s been broken, love that is restored heals.

God is Love.

God loves you.

If you cannot see or feel God’s love for  you, ask him to send you a Moses!

Reflect:  Who are the people in my life that help me see God more clearly?  That help me think God cares about me?  That have encouraged me to seek out God?   If you can’t think of anyone, then ask for God to send you someone to help you see his love more clearly.  Whether  you have been blessed with one “Moses” or many in your life, give thanks to God for each of them today. Just as the people needed Moses, Moses needed the prayers of the people, too.

Pray:  Lord, thank you for the people you have placed in my life that have tried to lead me closer to you!  I may not always appreciate their words and actions, and I may sometimes be reluctant to make the changes I need to in order to restore my relationship with you, but I thank you for never giving up on me! And I ask you to help me keep my eyes and heart open for the next Moses you send. Amen.

 

Ocean Swimming

…but there was now a river through which I could not wade; for the water had risen so high it had become a river that could not be crossed except by swimming.                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 47:5

One of the first songs that guided and consoled me when I began the timid steps of following Jesus, was Matt Maher’s “Come to the Water.”  I sang/prayed it for days   pondering its message and taking comfort in its words and melody.  Then, after several days of this, I remember walking into our basement storage room and before I even turned on the light I could smell it: the damp, dank smell that comes with a pool of lifeless water.  I anxiously threw on the light and was relieved to see, not the flooded storage room I feared, but simply a large puddle due to a drain pipe that had accidentally been kicked away from the drain.  Whew!  Simple clean-up and a simple fix. Having restored my heart to its natural rhythm, I thought of the song and remember turning my eyes to heaven and saying, “Thank you, Lord, but this was not the water I’ve been praying for!”  And then I laughed out loud.  And I started to realize that maybe God has a sense of humor, too.

Today’s readings provide us with fantastic images of the kind of water we long for:  the Living Water that is Jesus. Images of water pouring out of the temple and into the Dead Sea in the Old Testament and a pool of healing water for the ill and crippled in the New Testament are the two bookends that point toward the Living Water that is Jesus.

The reading from Ezekiel was especially powerful for me today.  An angel brings Ezekiel to the temple of the Lord and shows him this water that starts spilling out of it as a trickle and ends in a flowing river too deep to cross without swimming. And I’m overwhelmed with images of my own life, and God’s work in me.

I sit with the images awhile and return to a prayer I’d nearly forgotten.  It’s a prayer that maybe feels unnatural to some because it’s less of prayer as we think of it and more of an encounter with Jesus.  In this prayer I picture myself lying in a pool of water that to me looks a lot like a babbling brook or a creek that would run through someone’s back yard.  I’m lying on my back and the water surrounds every part of me including about four inches over my face.  Knowing that the water is a symbol of Jesus, I relax in the water and the water is Him.  I rest in Him.  I float in Him.  He cools me if I’m warm and warms me if I’m cool.  I breathe Him in.  He cleanses me inside and out. He heals my wounded heart. He soothes my raw and sensitive spots.  He restores  my soul.  He replenishes my spirit.  We share no words (though you could), because this encounter–this heart-to-heart, face-to-face, breath-to-breath experience –is so much deeper than words if you let it.

Then after several minutes of this, I open my eyes.

And it’s hard to explain the changes I experience after these encounters because they’re subtle, but very real.  My body feels reenergized, my mind is clearer, my outlook is  brighter and the world appears somehow softer (more fragile, maybe even?)  and I am more aware that I have a purpose in it.  A mission to make changes where I can, when I can, as often as I can, as long as I can.

This is the Living Water that is so deep and so wide, that I realize I can never cross it, except by letting go of everything.  And in Him I find an ocean of everything I need..healing and love and comfort and mercy and grace.

And after reflecting on all of this, , I smile a grateful smile and turn my eyes to heaven, and say the only thing I can think to say… Thank you!  THIS is Water I was praying for.

Reflect:  How do I see Jesus as the Living Water in my life? Am I fighting Him by treading water?  Drowning in Him and afraid to let go? Thirsting for Him but not sure where to turn?  Immersed in Him, but relying on an oxygen tank? Whatever your understanding, spend a few minutes and sit with the thoughts of water and Jesus and see what comes to mind for you.  Ask Jesus to show you what He wants you to know or see. 

Pray:  Lord, thank for being Living Water for us!  Thank you for the times you replenish us and the times we thirst for you.  Help us to remember that your oceans of love and mercy are readily available to each of us, and that just as the ocean meets the beach, you are happy to meet us where we are, whether we are watching from the shore, or swimming in your depths.  You beckon us, but never force us in your love.  Amen.

There’s New Wine in Me Yet

Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.  – John 4:46

I love the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana.  It resonates with me on many levels.  it’s a beautiful exchange between mother and son, where Mary, the Blessed One, looks to the Chosen One, her son and Savior, to help the wedding hosts who have –quite embarrassingly–run out of wine.  So Jesus intervenes, turns water into wine and effectively saves the day.  This is Jesus’ first miraculous act in public ministry, and yet only John records it.  Why?

I’m not sure.  What I do know from experience is that weddings are private events.  They are celebrated with only those closest to us either by blood or by friendship.  It seems reasonable that since John is the “beloved disciple” –and the one to whom Jesus later charges with the care of his Mother at the time of his death– that more than the other disciples, he would have likely also been close to the friends or relatives of Jesus’ mother, (who many scripture scholars speculate this wedding couple to be), and therefore would have been one of the few, or perhaps the only disciple of Jesus, to have witnessed this miracle.

Regardless, I’m particularly grateful for it, because the above quoted line from scripture harkened back to that miracle for me today.  And in this mid-point of Lent, it reminded me that as I feel the weight of the Lenten season upon me now, Jesus is not done with me yet!  Like the turning of water into wine, a transformation has to occur.  And though we can read about the many public miracles of healing Jesus performs during his ministry, like the water into wine, the miraculous transformations he performs in each of us are private, deeply intimate, and personal to us.  They are transformations we need, in order to become the holy people God wants us to be.  And while the outcome is really nothing short of miraculous, the process for us is usually less of an instant “water into wine” transformational event, and more like grapes fermenting into wine through a slow and difficult process.

But the outcome– the “new life” that we become as a result of it– is still nothing short of miraculous.

I’m reminded today that just as Jesus returned to Cana in today’s reading, he is eager to return to you and I in this Lenten season and do more transformational work.  The question is, are we willing to let him?  Just as she did in Cana, we can certainly ask for our Blessed Mother to intercede on our behalf to help us!

Here’s a bonus link for you today that dovetails nicely, I think, with today’s message.   I’m grateful to have stumbled across this song last week and have been prayerfully singing it ever since:  New Wine by Hillsong

Reflect:  What are some ways you’ve seen yourself change in the past several months?  Are you more joyful, more positive?  Or are you growing discouraged, tired, and distraught?  Whether you answer yes to the first question or the latter, take a moment today to see one positive change in your life over the last few months and really thank God for it!  Give him total credit for making that happen in your life and then reflect a little on how, like the vessels at the wedding feast at Cana,  God may have chosen to use you to make that happen, or like John, he may have chosen you–and perhaps ONLY you–to witness it!

Pray:  Lord Jesus, thank you for always wanting to make me a better person!  While I sometimes find the process difficult, and I don’t always participate willingly into your plan, I trust you to lead me only to what is good for me.  I surrender my will to yours and ask you to create in me all you desire me to be, so that I can become more like you.  Amen.