Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Elder Son

"Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf." Lk 15 29-30
The healing of broken relationships in families, parishes and religious communities is one of the most important tasks each of us faces. Every society and every church knows the devastating effects of separations that hurt not only those directly involved, but everyone touched by those who are at odds.

In Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs, the fourth and fifth steps which encourage addicts to search their hearts and admit their wrongs to God, themselves and another person are essential for sobriety and a renewed life. When these steps are not taken, everyone suffers, sometimes to death, and while making amends (Step 8) is not always successful, it is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to begin a new life each day.

The gospel today is very demanding in this regard. Because the elder son harbors a grudge against his brother and father, he cannot see with God's eyes. Only when he can accept his father's joy at his brother's return will he be able to let go of everything that keeps him from God. The same is true for all of us.

Today, acknowledge your faults.

How do you seek reconciliation in your life?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Authentic Humility

"O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income." But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." Lk 18: 11-13

It is abundantly clear that Jesus demands humility as a foundational value for his disciples. All of life and faith is a gift, not something we earn but something given to us freely by God out of love. Whenever we take credit for any thing we do without first thanking God for the gift of faith denies our dependence on God for all that is good within and among us.

The days of Lent find most of us trying to fast, pray and act mercifully towards those most in need, all of which is good and laudable, but unless we remember that our prayer, fasting and kindness to the needy are acts of gratitude for all that we have been given, we miss the point of the Gospel.

The reason the tax collector is held up by Jesus for admiration and imitation is because he acknowledges his sin as a tax collector for the Roman occupiers of Palestine. Not only did tax collectors do the work of the Romans, they sometimes cheated their own country men and women in order to make a living. Admitting his weakness and sin, the tax collexctor does not excuse his behavior, but asks God for mercy. We must do the same.

Today, pray in gratitude for God's mercy.

What aspect of a Gospel lifestyle is most difficult for you?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Loving those with us on the Journey

"Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two .... He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts." Mk 6:7-8

Over the centuries much has been written about why Jesus sends his disciples two by two. Some commentators remind us that in the ancient world when anyone testified in court there had to be two corroborating witnesses in order to avoid having someone accuse another of a crime to hurt the other. Only when two people concur about a misdeed could their testimony be trusted. From this perspective the disciples were more believable when two witnessed to what happened to them when Jesus entered their lives.

Even more important according to other commentators was the quality of the relationship of the disciples had with one another. Their love for one another in Christ would be a great sign of the "truth" of Jesus message and life. That the disciples asked nothing of those to whom they were sent, nor carried anything to demonstrate their wealth or power was also important.

Knowing how difficult it can be to love one another consistently, and to live with little material wealth, the first hearers of the disciples had to be impressed. When people are willing to move beyond self absorption and share everything in common, they speak of a world beyond what we see and a promise of salvation that it is a gift to us not because of what we own or know, but because of God's gracious love.

Today, love another disciple not for what it gives you, but because of the Gospel.

What draws you to a deeper belief in Christ?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fighting for the Sake of Fighting

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house." Lk 11:17

Though  I rarely comment on politics in this blog, the text today certainly seems to apply to our nation and church these days. Like most Americans, I am befuddled by the the ongoing primary battles in both the Republican and Democratic parties. The candidates seem unable or unwilling to speak with one another in a civil way and I find myself dismayed and angry. What happens to us as a people when we fail to look at issues and concerns from the other side of wherever we stand, and more important, what happens when we only think about protecting our own assets?

Jesus faced this in his life and warned his sisters and brothers in the Jewish community against being so divided that they collapse. Surely, he would say the same to us in the church in the United States today. How is it possible not to work for a deeper unity when so many believers have walked away from the regular practice of their faith? Are we not listening to one another? Are we so rigid that we can't find a way to move beyond the "theologies" that divide us at our core? Are we only speaking about issues but failing to hear the person behind the issue?

If the church of the 21st century hopes to have a voice in civic affairs, then it must get its house in order. Unless we provide a united front and find a way to speak with one voice about critical issues like hunger, housing, health care and immigration reform, we will be a clanging symbol that everyone ignores.

Today, be silent. Say nothing for a while and see what happens when you listen.

What do you think most divides us as a country and a church?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Treasuring Today

"Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” Dn 4:9

Busy about so many things, we often forget to pause during the day to thank God for his mercy and kindness. Indeed, even though our eyes have seen so much good and we have lived in the midst of such a marvelous natural world, we often take it for granted.

A few years ago, for more than a month I was nauseous. Even the smell of food made me uncomfortable, and I remember asking God to help me not to obsess about how I felt, but to enjoy the delights of each day as it unfolded. However, like the Jews in the desert, I was more concerned with my own health and happiness than announcing God's fidelity in freeing me from bondage, and changing was very difficult. Letting go completely and asking God to let me proclaim Good News no matter how I felt was the only prayer that felt authentic.

The book of Deuteronomy teaches the same lesson. No matter how we feel, "in sickness and in health," we must be Good News and teach our children about God's fidelity and protection in every circumstance of life so that every generation might praise God daily with prayers of thanksgiving.

Today, think of something you take for granted and dwell on it with gratitude.

What daily gift do you treasure the most?

Monday, February 29, 2016

God's Memory

“Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, To whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea." Dn 3:26

Daniel, unsure of his own power or political capital, asks God for mercy, not on his own account, but because of Abraham's fidelity and Isaac's vulnerability. Sure that God's memory is such that he will smile when remembering the openness of his faithful servants, Daniel depends on God's love for his beloved to set him free.

Praying for mercy, release and hope through the intercession of the Saints is an ordinary path Christians often take, and it is a good path. Saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta offer us a powerful witness. For years she walked in darkness, confusion and doubt, but persevered. Knowing that it was not her task to be successful at prayer, meditation or ministry, but faithful to the unseen and unknown God, she continued to do what her vows demanded. She traveled the world on behalf of the Gospel and encouraged her sisters from the depths of her own fear and worry to listen to the scriptures, serve those in need and trust God.

Today, pick a saint who is attractive to you and ask her or him to help you be faithful.

What are the most difficult aspects of faith for you?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Stretching Our Hearts

"Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." Lk 4:27

It is sometimes difficult to acknowledge that Jesus was not beyond agitating his adversaries. Although it was typical for Rabbi's to challenge one another at the time of Jesus, we are not always prepared for this kind of debate. Nevertheless, when Jesus confronts his listeners with evidence of their refusal to listen deeply to the Torah, it unsettles them and us.

The story of Naaman would have been very familiar to the Pharisees and Saducees, but they surely would not have expected Jesus to use it against them and to ratify his own authority. That Naaman, the Syrian and outsider, was cured by plunging seven times into the Jordan river was evidence that anyone who accepted the authority of God and the Law, not just Jews, could be cured. Jesus insists that he is a prophet like Elisha who is unafraid to offer healing to anyone who listens to his word. There are no limits to God's love and the Lord never fails to remind us of this.

Jesus continues to invite all people to embrace faith and to live its freedom, and it is the task of the church to proclaim this truth and evangelize the whole world. More important, when Christians listen to and live the Gospel selectively, they risk the same condemnation heaped upon the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day. It is not for us to say who can be saved. Rather, we must announce Good News, like Elisha and Jesus, to anyone willing to listen.

Today, ask the Lord to stretch your hearts to see all people as he sees them.

What do you think we sometimes want narrow borders within which to think and live?