Saturday, March 13, 2021

Anointing Others with Hope and Power

"Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed David in the presence of his brothers." 16 Sam 13

Anointing people for service and leadership is an ancient ritual that religious traditions use to designate men and women as spokespersons for the entire community. In ancient Israel, priests, prophets and kings were all anointed, so too were some of the objects used for worship. In the book of Numbers we learn of Moses’ obligation to anoint the altar, the Ark of the Covenant, the lamp stand and all the temple furnishings.  In this way, people and objects, having been dedicated to the Lord in a special way, are initiated into a ministry not for their own good but for the salvation of all.

Near his death, Jesus challenges his first disciples and all of us to follow him as a servant with a new "anointing" by washing the feet of others.  Jesus does not want his disciples to be known by their power over others, but by their service of those most in need, thus proclaiming a new freedom and hope for all who are held captive by their faults, sins, gender, state in life, class, poverty, ethnicity and culture.  In other words, leading through service breaks down all the barriers that separate us from one another.

Today, remember your own anointing at Baptism and Confirmation.

Who are the people who wash the feet the neediest in our day?

Friday, March 12, 2021

Love not Sacrifice

"For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Hos 6:6

Mercy is a constant theme for Jesus. Always concerned that the poor, who often thought of themselves as unworthy of God's love, would to be afraid of God or fear they were being punished for their sins, Jesus, echoing the prophet Hosea, reminds them that his Father's love was not a gift for the successful but for the faithful. No longer should anyone think their worth was determined by their status in the community. God wants to be close to all people and when the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up by condemning his disciples for working on the Sabbath, he pushes back hard.

Jesus reminds the leaders of the Jewish community and us that mercy towards the lowly is the path we must take if we wish to know God's desire for us. In the 11th chapter of the prophet Hosea we read:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them. (1-4)

If God bends down to feed us, must we not do the same to those who are hungry for mercy?

Today, offer a hand of mercy to someone who expects rejection.

How do you understand God's mercy?

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Gospel Basics

 "The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Mk 12 29-30

The scriptures are always trying to get us back to basics, to reclaim the foundational values of Jesus expressed in the New Testament. To do this well and with integrity we need to have spiritual practices that remind us each day about who we are and what we are to do in the world as Christians. It is one thing to say we love God and neighbor, but it is another thing all together to practice loving God and others through prayer and service.

Prayer is important because it is an exercise in which we acknowledge our total dependence on  God. Aware that living a faith filled life is a gift, we pause each day to honor the God who has given us faith and who sustains on our faith journey. Whether we recite a prayer we learned in childhood or ask in our own words for help to live the Gospel fully as disciples, we need to pray regularly. Just as a husband admits how important his wife is to his identity and well being, prayer helps us acknowledge that without God we are incomplete.

Today, express your love for God by quietly sitting in God's presence making yourself available for God's work.

What do you think are the most important spiritual practices in the life of a Christian?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Divided Kingdom

 “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 9, 2021

Our relationship with the Jewish Community

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." Mt 5:17

We need to be careful reading this text. Sometimes we are tempted to disregard Judaism, asserting that if Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, we no longer have to study or obey it.  Jesus is not rejecting the Old Law and his Jewish heritage. After all, he insists that “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Mt 5:18) Rather, Jesus is announcing that he is the hesed of God, the fullness of God’s conditional love for all; God’s loving kindness and mercy. And more to the point of this reflection, Jesus does not want us to be trapped in our understanding of him either.

The old is good, we say, sometimes about our understanding of the Lord, our church, our catholic teaching. While all of this might be true, we have also to ready ourselves for new insights, new interpretations and a new richness that comes like a gift to those who open themselves to the unconditional love of God. Every interpretation, every insight has one purpose, to put God at the center of our consciousness. As Jesus continually reminds us, his purpose on earth is to reveal his Father’s love for all. If that means he must die, so be it.  Death is a small price to pay for the salvation of the world.  While we don’t want to glorify suffering for suffering’s sake, sometimes suffering is the direct result of telling the truth.

If you have the opportunity, have a conversation with a Jew.

How do you understand the relationship between the Old and New Testaments?

Monday, March 8, 2021

God's Patience

 "Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full." Mt 18:26

God's patience is ours for the asking. Almost unbelievable to those of us with little patience, God is waiting for us to ask for help, and today's scripture is a powerful example of this. A debtor, and aren't we all debtors, asks his master to be patient with him. Moved with pity, perhaps because of his awareness that he too is a debtor, the master forgives his servant completely, asking for no payment whatsoever, but the servant does not understand the depth of his master's compassion. Rather than follow the example of his master, when the servant  who has been forgiven is asked to forgive another servant in debt to him, he refuses and puts him in prison. When the master of both servants hears of this he is outraged and punishes the unforgiving servant severely.

This entire story, we must remember, emerges from Peter's question about how deep and often he must forgive a brother who sins against him. When Peter suggests that seven times might be adequate, which after all was much more generous than the teaching of the Rabbis, the Lord pushes him beyond his own limited sense of God's mercy and tells him that forgiveness should never be withheld, even from our enemies.

This is a hard saying, especially when we have been badly hurt by a friend, a parent, a spouse or a lover. To think that we must act towards those who hurt us like God acts towards us seems impossible, but it is clearly the message of Jesus.

Today, forgive someone even if they fail to ask forgiveness.

What holds you back from forgiving others?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Broadening our Horizons

 "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 Sadducees, 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?