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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jesus and the Samaritans

"When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days."

Most of us want to be considered ordinary Joe's and Jane's. We put our pants on one leg at a time, sleep several hours at night, and eat regularly just like everyone else in the world. There are, however, some who prefer to be seen as extraordinary. They want to be exalted because of their insight, money or power, and Jesus had to confront this attitude in the leaders of the Jews. 

Strict Jews, especially those in leadership positions, would have skirted Samaria, but ordinary Jews, wanting not to travel further than they needed to, would have passed through Samaria in order to get home more quickly. Because Samaritans had failed to protect what became known as the Southern Kingdom and had built their own temple, the rabbis considered them and their land unclean. Furthermore, because Samaritans only reverenced the Pentateuch and did not consider the rest of the Hebrew bible as canonical, the leaders of the Jews in the Southern Kingdom rejected them, and even prayed they would not know eternal life.

All of the above helps us understand the context of Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. Thirsty, like any other traveler, Jesus asks her for a drink, but the woman sounding a bit sarcastic, challenges him. Why, she inquires, would he ask her, a woman and a Samaritan for a drink since most Jews would not speak with a woman in public and would avoid Samaritans? At the same time, we sense some excitement in the woman's response, especially when she leaves Jesus and her water jar to go to the nearest town to tell everyone about the prophet who might indeed be the Messiah. Wondering about the woman's experience, many Samaritans go to the well to meet Jesus and ask him to stay with them. When Jesus accepts their invitation and stays with them two days, he becomes unclean, once again agitating the leaders of his own community.

Lent is a time when, like the Samaritans, we pray for the grace to go beyond our comfort zone to seek other wells in order to remember and rediscover the waters of Jesus which promise us we will never be thirsty again.

Today, give someone different a drink in the name of the Samaritan woman.

Who or what most often refreshes your faith?



Friday, March 21, 2014

God's Remnant

"Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance?" Mi 7:18

God seems always to be looking for ways to show us mercy, to forgive our transgressions and lure us back from our sordid ways. When God finds a remnant, a few believers, who despite suffering the loss of family, friends, land and hope, remain faithful to the law and the prophets, God looks at everyone differently. When, for example, the Jewish community was dragged into exile, their ability to live the law was compromised, and some, trying to survive, turned away from God's path. But because others, a remnant, continued to worship, study the Torah and live faith filled lives, God forgives the entire nation.

Abraham is the first person in the Bible who helps us understand God's mercy. Anxious that God is about to destroy the entire city of Sodom for their sins, Abraham asks God to spare the city, especially its just citizens, if he can find fifty God fearing people, and God relents. Emboldened by God's kindness, and very conscious that his nephew Lot lives in Sodom, Abraham keeps pushing. Would God spare Sodom for forty five good people, for forty, for twenty, for ten?  Yes, God says, if I can find ten righteous people in Sodom, I will not destroy the city. Finally, God leaves and Abraham returns to his own city content that Sodom, and his nephew Lot's family, will be spared.

Are we as generous as God? Are we looking for the good people in our society or are we obsessed with people's faults and sins? Are we judgmental of others to protect ourselves or do we seek to know about others good actions in order not to judge them? As Lent continues, these are good questions and can lead us to live God's mercy towards others in the same way God has loved us.

Today, look for the good in members of your own family or community and praise them.

Have you experienced God's generous mercy more than once?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jealousy

"When Joseph's brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him." Gen 37:4

The destructive power of jealousy should never be underestimated. Jealousy can undermine friendships, splinter families, and deeply hurt those who expect more from us than petty bickering. The bible condemns jealousy as a poison that kills communities when it warns us not to covet what belongs to others. “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” (Ex 20:17) In other words, we must work to celebrate the gifts others have, especially when the give glory to the God who is the giver of all good gifts.

The story of Joseph and his brothers offers us a picture of jealousy that is vile and ugly. Hated by his brothers because their father loves him so deeply, Joseph becomes an easy target when his father sends him to his brothers at Shechem where they are grazing their sheep. Seeing him coming, Joseph's brothers first determine to kill him, but then, when an opportunity to sell him as a slave presents itself, they strike a deal with some Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver and think they are rid of him forever. Little did they know that they would meet him again many years later when famine came to their land, and they had to go to Egypt to buy food. Joseph's willingness to welcome and reconcile with his brothers rather than punish them for their past jealousy, heartens us even today. Jealousy can be overcome if only we ask God for the strength to forgive and begin again.

Today, make an examination of conscience about your jealousies.

Have you known heroic people like Joseph who put aside their hurt for the good of family and community?



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lazarus

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day." Lk 16:19

Purple is not only the liturgical color of Lent, it is also the color of royalty. The evangelist tell us that though the rich man, like the priests, dresses in purple and fine linen, he has no name. Is Jesus using code language to challenge his antagonists? We do not know, but it is even more interesting that the poor man, who the rich man never even notices, has a name, an identity and becomes the key figure in the parable.

When social standing, wealth and power lead to blindness of spirit, they become impediments to knowing and loving God, and must be avoided or rejected. That the rich man has no name suggests that his wealth has not given him an identity worth remembering. Only those, rich and poor alike, who see with the eyes of God and respond in justice to the poor deserve to be remembered, named and imitated. Lazarus, though poor, has a name and his story challenges us to believe that every person, no matter how poor, has a dignity and importance in the reign of God. This is a great obstacle to many.

Lazarus reminds people of every generation, social class, race and culture that it is not our accomplishments or wealth that lead us to God, but our humility and love of all creation which save us. Jesus expresses this bluntly. "It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom." (Mt 19 23-24) When wealth blinds us to God's will and others' need, we are from the reign of God. Only a change of heart can help us.

Today, pray for anyone you may have dismissed because of their weakness, race or poverty.

How do you understand Jesus when he says that it is terribly hard for rich people to get into heaven?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

St Joseph, Husband

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24a

There are many ways to wake up. Sometimes, it is simple. Our bodies tell us to pay attention. We have a headache that will not go away or we discover a skin growth that looks strange. Our bodies are telling us to pay attention and take action. At other times, especially when we take time to relax and reflect, an idea that has been percolating in our minds and hearts, takes shape. We read about AIDS in Africa or the plight of refugee children in Syria, and we start searching the Internet for places and organizations that are addressing these vital concerns. Waking up to the challenge of acting on the Gospel is important for our own salvation and the good of others.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, troubled by his young wife's pregnancy, wakes up. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. In this way, Mary will have other chances to marry and build a family. But then Joseph has a dream and when he wakes up, he knows that God wants him to marry Mary despite his misgivings. That he listens and acts upon the message he receives is critical for Joseph's salvation and ours.

When Joseph allows the "dream word" to take root in him, he abandons his own instincts about Mary and welcomes her into his life. Not only did this act protect Mary, it legitimized Jesus in the eyes of the Jewish community and makes Joseph a model for everyone in the church. When we are open to God's voice, no matter how it comes to us, we make God's desire for the world possible.

Waking up to the immensity of God's love for us, while sometimes very challenging, is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it empower us  personally to live more freely and gratefully, it urges us to tell others the Good News of God's desire to love them more deeply an totally.

Today when you wake up, pause and let God speak a liberating word to you.

Have there been moments in your life that changed the course of your faith?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Getting our Hands Dirty

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen." Mt 23: 1-3

Every time Jesus becomes direct with his antagonists, especially the Pharisees and scribes,  he makes me uncomfortable. A priest now for almost 45 years, it is my obligation to preach God's word without gloss, to announce the Good News simply and plainly, but this is never easy.

When any of us, committed to Jesus' message to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, and clothe the naked, fails to do anything in this regard, we run the risk of being labelled Pharisees. Furthermore, it is not enough to give an occasional or even a large donation to a charity that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked or visits the sick. We must get our hands dirty.

Years ago I heard the story of a mother who told her troubled son that they only way he would get out of his own way and heal would be to do something for others. She encouraged him to work in a soup kitchen, or a community closet in order to get close to those in terrible need, and her advice worked. Initially angry and resentful of his mother,  her son began to work in a soup kitchen every week and it changed his life. Experiencing the gratitude of those who no longer could help themselves, the young man began to realize how "rich" he was. Soon after beginning his volunteer work, he returned to school, graduated with honors, and now has a career teaching others while continuing to feed the hungry.

Today, don't just encourage others to be compassionate, do something concrete for someone in need.

What has been your experience of direct service to and with the poor?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Praying with God

“Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you...We have sinned, been wicked and done evil;...But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!"

The book of Daniel reminds how we ought to pray. When we begin by acknowledging God's greatness, admit our sin and rely on God's mercy, we are praying in a form that is both natural and honest. Throughout the bible, God hears prayers like this and responds.

From Proverbs 3:6, "In all your ways, submit to him, and he will make your paths straight," to the Book of Revelation, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created," to the Our Father, we find examples of prayer that allow us to enter the presence of God honestly, openly and without fear.

Jesus is clear when his disciples ask him how to pray. Say "Our Father,...hallowed be the name, ....forgive us our trespasses," and believe that God will hear you. Because God yearns to to respond to us, to be near us, to guide us and challenge us, we need not be afraid, but there is little wiggle room in Jesus' prayer. When we have the humility to kneel in awe and wonder and to submit ourselves to God's will, only good can happen. When, on the other hand, we hedge and try to direct our own lives, we stumble over our pride and arrogance, and make it impossible for God to help us. 

Proverbs, the Prophets and Jesus are clear. When we praise God's goodness and trust in God's mercy, our prayer will rise like incense before the all loving God.

Today, make no excuses for your sins and trust God to heal you.

How do you pray?