Hometown Welcome!

Hometown-Nazareth-Sign-e1428950184677 Mark moves us back to Nazareth in today’s Gospel reading. And it’s far from a pleasant visit.

It would not be unusual should a hometown boy return and be asked by the locals to speak in the synagogue. That being the case, the reaction of the people surprises us, though at least initially it should not. After all, what would one expect of a carpenter or general construction worker?

They are taken aback by the power of this man’s words. And they define it as “wisdom” curiously, suggesting that they realize that Jesus speaks with some power. Moreover, they recognize that his words are not his own creation but result from wisdom “given” him. The question then becomes who–God or satan?

Apparently the people decide it is the latter. They insult him greatly by referring to him as “Mary’s son” rather than the proper appellation, Joseph’s. Various explanations ensue, but in the end, most agree; it was meant and received as a direct insult.

It was probably worse than that. People in the profession of carpenter, stonemason, and such were often required to travel in order to seek employment and make a viable living. This allowed that their families were left unattended and more importantly unprotected. Such workers can be “shamed” by their very occupations.

Thus Jesus goes about his usual business of teaching and healing. He finds the response to his actions lukewarm at best and dismissive at worst. He counters by insulting them first. He quotes a well-known phrase: “no prophet is ever welcome in his own country.”

It is apparent that he cannot heal under these conditions, and only a few healings occur, rather than the “mighty” deeds done elsewhere.

Herein lies a problem.

Jesus remarks at the lack of faith in his hometown and equates that with his powerlessness to do “mighty” deeds. Forever more, people who pray long and hard for help that never comes,  conclude that their faith is insufficient to invoke God’s mercy and assistance.

And this is surely not the point of the periscope, nor do we find it in the commentaries. It seems more directed toward the growing theme in Mark that Jesus is not understood, least of all by his own disciples. We the readers are the only ones “in on” the true nature of Jesus. Others misunderstand him, and thus fail to gain all that he has to offer. He can only “lay hands” on them, and offer some paltry healings.

Of course not understanding Jesus is the point and it leads inexorably to the cross.

Similarly I think, when our faith is tepid, trotted out once a week for public display in churches throughout the land, we are getting only the laying on of hands sort of infusion from our faith, instead of the full cleansing breath of renewal that faith truly offers us.

If we would work “mighty deeds” on behalf of our fellow humans, our faith must be real and solid, touchable, close as a caressing breeze in the garden. If God is in all, sustainer of all, the energy that infuses the universe at every moment, than only by immersing ourselves fully in that light of love can we too project the power given to us in every moment. We must seize it, and use it.

No doubt a good many of us will also be rejected by our hometowns–who is she but the daughter of that woman who worked in the factory? Who is he but that son of a mechanic? How can they saying these things? Who are they?

More importantly, the real point of the question is not who is the prophet, but why did God not favor me with the task? Why that neighbor and not me? I am surely better, brighter, a superior speaker. Yet, they speak with authority and nobody listens to me. Let me remind everyone that they came from nothing!

Can we not see ourselves and our families in all this?

What might we do if we believed in ourselves the way God does?

What might we do if we stopped believing in what they say about us?

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As we approach the end of the liturgical year, scripture leads us to the “end times”, those descriptions of life on earth in those times just before the return of the Lord. They are portrayed as fearful times indeed, both in Daniel and in Mark’s Gospel.

Plenty of folks pore over these texts in some attempt to glean predictions and time. There have been historically, and are today, and will be tomorrow those who think they have “cracked the code” and can predict with some certainty when that Day shall occur.

Surely they are encouraged in that, given that the scripture writers, at least some of them, also placed words of prediction in the mouths of their speakers. In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus seems to reassure his listens that “this generation shall not pass away” before the end times arrive. Paul is another who seemed most sure that Jesus would return to them before all of them had gone to sleep.

Of course, it should give us pause when the likes of Paul and even Jesus himself were either confused on this issue, or misunderstood. That there have been plenty of Apocalyptic preachers down through the ages who have all been wrong should tell us something. Plenty of such men and women today have spent decades promising that Jesus would return “any minute now” and interpreting the events of the day as those “wars and rumors of war”  that scripture defines as evidence that the world was about to end.

Since Jesus did admit, that in the end he had no idea of the exact day, perhaps we should stop worrying about it too.

The ending of the liturgical year, and its reference to these “end times” should cause us to reflect on our passing year. Although we tend to push this reflection time to Lent, perhaps it is better placed here. The year is ending, life in many forms is going to its wintry rest. Although the next weeks will traditionally be busy for most of us, we are preparing for the great slow down that usually happens as we tuck into the winter and it’s inevitable pull toward hearth and home.

Most of us, upon reflection, can point to a good deal in the past year that we are weary of and glad to be finished with. We have, no matter what our lives, lived through tiresome moments, days and weeks. Whether you were weary of the election cycle, or personal events such as moving, or renovating, or welcoming or saying goodbye to love ones,  or friends, a new job, a job lost, or perhaps the confounding state of the world with its wars and droughts, its financial insecurity, or literally millions of other things that vex us and try our patience, we are glad they are past to the extent that they are.

It is a good time to reflect on how we handled these events. We were forgiving? Were we loving in our approach to differences of opinion? Were we compassionate? Patient? Did we pray enough? Did we let go and let God enough? Did we smile enough? Laugh enough? Care enough? Were our priorities misplaced? Did we try hard enough, too hard or just right? Were were unafraid, terrified, certain, confused? Where was God in all of these life experiences? Did we ignore God, take God for granted, implore his help and decry his apparent abandonment of us?

As you can see, there are myriads of questions, and only you can answer them.

Each of us needs make these assessments so that we are better prepared to face the unknowns of next year.

In that we are helped, for in a couple of weeks we will begin the celebration of the birth of our Lord. We will be reminded of his tender love and mercy and that He is with us always. We are comforted as we go into the mystery of a new year that we are not alone. He holds tight to us and guides us if we so allow. He provides us with comfort and assurance that this to shall pass.

The birth of a baby will signify all this and more to a weary people, who has forgotten once more that they need not go it alone.

We would do so much better to examine these end times scriptures in this way, than in the silly and unproductive way of which day, and what events are true portents of His coming.

He will come. He has come. You have just forgotten in your busy-ness.

Amen.

 

A Tale of Two Women

I confess that I am puzzled by the inclusion of 1Kings 17: 10-16 along with Mk 12: 38-44. They seem to be very different stories with very different lessons.

As you recall, in Kings, Elijah stops a woman gathering sticks and asks for a drink of water. She stops her work and begins to comply when he asks for bread as well.

She tells him she has only a bit of flour and a small portion of oil left, just enough for one more meal for her son and herself. After this, she expects to die from starvation.

Elijah tells her to bring him the cake anyway and then feed herself and her son, for the Lord will not let the flour be gone nor the oil. Indeed, neither went empty for an entire year.

In Mark, we have the famous story of the widow who enters the temple and gives her last two coins to the treasury while the rich give great amounts. Jesus reminds that she has given of all she had while they give only of their excess.

Both deal with the end of things. The end of the flour and oil, and the end of one’s entire savings. Both women would appear destitute. And indeed we do learn somewhat different lessons.

From the widow in Kings we learn that when we are near the end of our ability to soldier on, relief will come. We some how or from some one, receive the strength to go on. Just at the moment when we feel we cannot endure one second more, we find that we can. All of us have had occasion to marvel at someone who manages to keep going when things seem hopeless.

During the last few years we have witnessed countless people who have lost jobs, fallen behind on their mortgages and literally live hand to mouth each and every day. How often do they lament that they have no idea how they can pay this bill or find enough to purchase food next week? Yet they do, and they manage albeit in great difficulty. Until one day, one day, the new job comes or the bank finally agrees to a refinance. The dark days are over.

The widow in Kings reminds us that we must never give up hope and our faith that better days will come, that we can endure this present pain, that God continues to love and uphold us and we will, with God’s help, find a way.

In Mark, we have a woman who is voiceless in her society. She is the prey of the rich scribes and Pharisees for she has been taught that her first obligation is not to her own well-being, but to the Temple. She may well have given up the money for food that day. She shows us in her simple piety what true giving is all about.

The rich are proud of their foundations and their philanthropy. Many of us are proud of our service on Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen. Similarly we might be proud of the commitments we make to our churches, contributing to the fund that builds the new kitchen, or the new landscaping. We too, feel good when we drop our dollar in the kettles outside the stores at Christmas time.

But we are throwing our excess into the Temple kettle. We are almost never giving away that which will cause us great suffering or loss.

And the lesson is not that we should. An argument could be made that the widow in Mark is to be lamented that she would risk her very life in service to the Temple. Her first duty was to at least live so that she might guide others to a greater understanding of charity and love for her fellow beings. Similarly we should not give to the point where we become an unnecessary burden on society ourselves.

What we should learn from this teaching is that we should not think ourselves esteemed for our small acts. They should be not things to crow about but things that we do as often as we are able. If we cannot give greatly in funds, and even if we can, we should be looking for ways to serve those least among us with our time, and our compassion.

The widow in Mark should shame us as to our own lack of thinking when we casually make our offerings. She should shame us into remembering that our offerings are not just monetary but may come in many forms. We are resourceful, as the widow in Kings reminds us. God will help us if we call upon Him. We will find a way.

Amen.

 

What Do You Want Me to Do?

 

Is your first reaction to this story, why isn’t the lesson: what can I do for you Lord? I mean, isn’t it presumptuous of Bartimaeus, who clearly recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, to boldly put forth his request? When Jesus so magnanimously says, “what do you want me to do?” shouldn’t our blind man, shrink in embarrassment and fall to his knees, begging forgiveness of his sins and asking how may I serve you?

Bartimaeus doesn’t do that clearly. I’m told by more learned scholars that the request for “mercy” in the Mediterranean value system is a request that one who OWES pay his debt. This casts Jesus in the role of the one who owes. It is suggested that this is explained in Bartimaeus’ recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and that he is  from the great line of Solomon and David, and thus as such a great one, Jesus should bestow favor upon one who has bestowed such an accolade upon Him.

In any case, when the healing is completed instantaneously, Bartimaeus becomes Jesus’ client, and follows him immediately and throughout the remainder of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.

Our first inclination is to approach the Lord with fear, a fear that we find utterly justified given his greatness and our sinfulness. And indeed there are many a preacher and pastor who has and does focus on fear. Fear is potent and an excellent controller of behavior. Every one of us recalls fearing the parental admonition that if we fail to do as ordered, some dire consequence will befall us. Want your dessert after dinner? Well you had better have picked up your room as you were told to!

But is Jesus or God to be feared? Does one actually fear a person who is good? No, we fear one who is inconsistent, unfair, and mean. We fear the parent who is unreliable, who reacts inappropriately either with too much punishment, or none, or punishment that is not tied to anything at all but a whim. God is not like this. God is good, and those who are good can be trusted to be fair. They can be trusted to do justice.

Bartimaeus sees Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God, goodness personified. He TRUSTS Jesus to do what is right, to be fair, consistent, and reliable. Bartimaeus has nothing but his faith. But that is all any of us have. Our wealth, our intellect, our homes and cars and things are nothing to Jesus. Our faith is what saves us and what gains Bartimaeus his sight.

It is that and nothing more. If we have true faith, then we may boldly ask as he did.

Now that doesn’t mean that all we ask for is or will be granted. That is truly not the point here. We are given that which we need. God always gives us exactly what we need to continue. What is not given us is either not needed or is within our own abilities.

Jesus’ very simple quiet, “what do you want me to do” is an acknowledgment of just how proper and right Bartimaeus’ request was. Jesus calls us to lay our needs upon him, not as some wonderful genie who magically grants our requests, but as people of faith who know whom to turn to in our difficult and chaotic lives.

Jesus is the cool drink to a parched soul. He refreshes us to continue the journey.

Let us never be afraid to ask, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Amen

 

 

What Must I Do?

I’ve always considered this story in Mark (10:17-30) about the rich young man one of the most electrifying of the bible. I’m sure it was in reading this passage that many a priest and religious vocation was born.

It is shocking–go and sell all you have and give it to the poor.

Who among us can do this?

And is this really what Jesus is asking us to do?

While it is surely a favorite story for “progressive” Christians, those who rail at the concentration of extreme wealth in the hands of the few in our society, I rather think that the lesson is not the literal reading one naturally assumes.

Rather, I think we must look to wiser heads, who perhaps understood this, and placed this reading within the framework of the reading in Wisdom and that of Hebrews.

In Wisdom (7:7-11) we learn that wisdom is the thing to be sought after. Not riches such as gold and silver or gems, not thrones, seats of power, not even health or beauty. Wisdom brings the true riches. And what is this wisdom?

In Hebrews we learn:

Indeed the word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.

Note that God is able to “discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. . . .[but] everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him.” This informs what Jesus is talking about in his discussion with the rich young man. Jesus isn’t making some grand statement that wealth is evil. He is seeing into the heart of the this seemingly pious young man, and discerning what is wounded within him that needs healing.

Jesus rightly concludes that the young man is consumed by his love for his possessions. This is what holds him from true wisdom which is the gift of God. Jesus points out what the young man must do, and this unfortunately he cannot. He is too tied to his things.

Jesus notes what is only obvious. Riches tend to consume us. We worry about getting more, keeping what we have, and what we should do with it. We worry about where to hide it, who might want to take it, and whether it’s enough. And of course, riches lead to issues of greed, jealousy, vainglory, pride, the seduction of power, and all manner of other bad characteristics which keep us from realizing truth.

It is for this reason that the story is cast in the manner it is. It is all too easy to discern the dangers of wealth. Yet, we should not conclude that it is not the wealth, but what we do with it that matters. All manner of millionaires have made this argument at least to themselves. Throwing thousands, if not tens of thousands at charity is no way to make one’s peace with the story. It is not the failure of the rich young man to give to the poor that is in question here, but rather his addiction to his wealth. If you give up a small pittance of your total wealth to charity all the while continuing to lie and cheat and covet all that wealth provides, you have not met the test that Jesus lays down.

And it is the not attention to wealth that is in question, but what it leads to. When our time is spent on such things as these, be it money, or fame, or retaining our beauty and youth, our attentions are misdirected and we are still wholly within ourselves. You might think that those who are spending every waking moment watching what they eat, cultivating pesticide free food, exercising and engaging in activities that are soul-satisfying is the answer. But this too blinds us to all but ourselves. And we all know plenty of stories of people who took the best of care of themselves yet succumbed to a disease and early death.

Wisdom tells us that we are a community of humans endowed with the spirit of God, each and every one valuable and precious. It is our wisdom that informs us that concentration of this fact and doing whatever we can to uphold and enrich this community of humanity is the life we are meant for. It is the life to which Jesus calls us.

It is the life of true riches.

Amen.

What Did Jesus Mean?

Well, you can imagine the fun I had today at Mass. Given the conservative bent of my parish, I was treated to a thinly veiled reminder of what “true marriage” amounts to rather than that “thing” which is nothing more than the whims of the day, to be replaced no doubt by something else tomorrow.

Following that I got the old “marriage is forever” and the appropriate readings of today which “prove” that. We ended with a reminder that nothing could be finer than a trip through natural family planning which is a-okay with God, while contraception leads to abortion and promiscuity.

Let me straighten out this mess if I can.

First it might be useful to understand the history going on here. (Mk 10: 2-16)

In Jewish law, in the time of Jesus, marriages were not entered into voluntarily by men and wome. They were arranged by a set of parents who put forth their child and as did the family of the other child. The resultant “marriage”  was a union of whole families, not the two actual children. These chosen “spouses” were considered to be God’s choice through the parents. Since these families ere now bound together, no PERSON had the right to separate the internal union.

But the people were unable to abide by this law, so through Moses, God allowed divorce. However it was only the man who had the right, and he had the right to divorce his wife for ANY reason whatsoever. This worked, as you might expect great hardship upon women who might be turned out for simply not being good-looking, or not  being a good cook, and very often for not being sufficiently fertile.

Jesus first rectifies the inequality of divorce by saying that men have no more right to summarily dismiss a spouse, and further than either spouse who initiates divorce and marries again is committing adultery. This was contrary to the social world of the time, where no woman could, by definition, shame another woman.   Jesus equalizes this and moreover, makes brings shame upon the man who “commits adultery” which  thereby brings shame to his entire male family.

Since this shaming would lead to feuding and often bloodshed, divorce must be avoided at all costs. They were simply too devastating to the families and the small communities involved.

Jesus did not speak to the issue of marriage when it breaks down or where divorce is desired by both parties.  Today,  people make their own choices, often at young ages and without due thought. Marriages don’t involve the larger families either in today’s world, where families are often spread out over many states and sometimes countries.

When we read these passages, who should be sure to remember that they are joined to the act of creation (in Genesis) whereby God made it clear that he wanted his creation to experience an openness and closeness that required a similarity of being. Adam could not relate in that intimate way with the creatures that God created for him to name and care for. A creature of similarity (woman) was created that Adam might share that sense of open-hearted intimacy that he could not enjoy with any of the other creatures.

Similarly, Jesus reminds us that Moses allowance of divorce was the result of a hardness of heart that the people evidenced. Jesus thus calls us to relationships that bring about that openness of heart envisioned by God’s creation.  Jesus speaks to the misuse of power rather than to the denial of divorce in our time.

In addition, I would argue that Genesis should not be read as some definition of marriage as between a man and a woman only but rather that it acknowledges that human relationships of mutual openness are what are desired by God.

It is especially painful as I stated last Sunday to see folks who avoid communion out of a belief that they are unworthy based on current Catholic teachings on these subjects. I am left with the wonderful words of John Kavanaugh S.J. who stated:

We Catholics have our liturgies, our communions, our Eucharists. Some of us attending are divorced and remarried and place it all before God, not knowing really whether we have put asunder what God had once joined in us. Some have annulments, a human judgment offered only after long analysis and painful remembrance. Some of us weep in the back, not approaching the altar of union. Some trust God and abstain. Some trust God and partake.

Few, thank God, judge. For no matter what our rightful relationship to our church, its laws and traditions, we all pray in an assembly of believers who are sinners; and, most assuredly, we all stand before our good and great God as children.

Amen

**I am deeply indebted to the remarks of Joyce Ann Zimmerman, John Kavanaugh S.J., and John J. Pilch in The Sunday Liturgy of St. Louis University. My remarks reflect my understanding of their thoughts and reflections.

How To Screw Up the Meaning

 

 

Today’s readings are pretty darn straight forward. In Numbers (11:25-29) Moses is informed that a couple of elders are prophesying in his name although they were not in the tent with the other elders who were commissioned by God.

In Mark,  (9: 38-43) Jesus is similarly informed that someone is casting out demons in his name.

In both cases, the expectation is that this unauthorized behavior should be stopped immediately. In neither case is this done. Instead, both tell their followers that if they are doing the right thing, let them continue.

This should teach us that everyone doesn’t have to be “like us” to do good in the world. We should honor the good period. This should give us renewed hope and dedication to trying, where ever we can, points of agreement with those we are at odds with, and cooperating on at least those issues where we find  that agreement.

And indeed, our priest this morning made the first point. God teaches us that “not only Catholics” but Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and even non-believers can do good things. Gosh I never would have guessed!

He then went on to run off the tracks. “Please don’t get the wrong idea here. Jesus was no relativist. He wasn’t saying all faiths are equal like so many say today.”

He then went off on a tangent based on the rest of Mark’s gospel reading:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Then, he (the priest) explained that such sin as depicted here must be serious sin. He decided it must have to do with  alcohol and drug abuse, pornography, adultery, and things such as this. He then went on to explain that we must be always on guard against such “personal” sin, and protect our eternal souls against these persistent pernicious sins.

Alas, the priest forgot entirely the other reading: James.

James clearly speaks to the wealthy of his time:

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.

Since Jesus in his remarks in Mark makes no statement of what things should cause us to “pluck out our eye”, then perhaps there is a reason that James discourse is part of the liturgy to be read with Mark’s gospel.

James makes no bones about it. The rich, who live in splendor while withholding wages from those who work them are the ones who will be devoured in the fires that Jesus refers to as Gehenna.

This is not a new concept, and it is one that Jesus repeatedly referred to. His “preferential option” for the poor, God’s preferential option, causes that to be the great sin we must guard against. Jesus warns–don’t cause these “little ones” to sin (children were the least in the world and are synonymous with the poor). One causes them to sin by setting as an example a life of wealth and privilege all the while ignoring the plight of those less fortunate. It is teaching this capitalistic winner-take-all, survival of the fittest, to the victor belong the spoils, kind of mentality that places one in dire circumstances at judgment day.

These readings are about cooperation, love, caring, compassion, brotherhood and sisterhood. They are uplifting and guiding. They are not some self-centered directive to beware of serious sin for our own good, although our own good may well be in the balance. They help us to look outward rather than inward.

Amen.

 

 

Of Miracles in the Sand

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.” [Mk 1: 12-15]

Desert land, long and endless drifts of brown on brown on brown
Driven by the mind inside,  Spirit of endless drifts of brown on brown on brown
Echoed in the drone of endless drifts of day upon day upon day
Repeated in the panoply of realities of brown on brown on brown.
 
And I remain, deserted, desert endless whiling away the forty seconds
Seconds, minutes, hours, days until revelation of revelation
Tempted by realities wished, hated, tempted, rejected
Wild beasts of realities echoing in the drone of drifts of brown on brown on brown
 
Angels minister to souls awash in sand, dry and bone weary
Sipping crystal droplets of dew inside the endless mind echoes
Laying with the lion and lamb, shot through with laser-point realities past
Minister to ME!
 
Arrest ME! John is long gone, a platter’s offering
Where is my Galilee? Minister to ME!
Fullfill ME! Preach the succulent vowels of loving
Caress my brow, vision me the Kingdom
 
Desert land, lean and mean, sand falling from my ears
Repent! Of deeds done, undone, not done, not thought, thought, said, not said, not spoken
Whirling spools of sandmares sucking me upward, outwards, inside out
Realities picked apart, discarded, embraced, choose, choose the ONE
 
Believe, grasp it with your fingertips,  just lay in the pool, let the belief wash away
Sand scum clings, wash it away, wash it away
Brown on brown on brown settling on the bottom, new patterns of dunes
Mind free, Gospel calling, Jesus loves, unburdened moment to moment
 
At the knee of the Master
“Oh Master, Oh Master”
Enigmatic muscles contract into the faintest of smile, rising up
Renewed, revived, remade, unmade, created grain by grain, into this new thing
Oh Blessed Blessed Desert sand.
 

 

Amen

Healing, Loyalty, Forgiveness

I have a confession to make.

There are many times that I look at the Sunday readings, and I am at somewhat of a loss. What is there new to say?

And frankly, this story of Jesus and the paralytic falls into that category for me. More discussion on the age-old discussion–easier to forgive sins or heal?

So I went to the a site that I visit frequently, often just to read the thoughts of others. And I found the most wonderful reflection on this beautiful text (Mk 2: 1-12).

And I was sure that I could never write anything new or fresh given how wonderfully John Pilch had written on this extraordinary passage.

And then I went in search of an appropriate picture, and I found this one, and suddenly it was if some synchronicity had struck. It all came together in this wonderful realization that this was the perfect passage to lead us into Lent.

For we do begin that journey in a few short days. And this passage is really all about that journey.

As Mr. Pilch pointed out, first Jesus responded to the loyalty (which we call faith) in the friends of the stricken man and in their combined persistence to seek healing in the face the scribes who sat about skeptical of this man.

In return for that loyalty to him, Jesus heals–not the physical infirmity, but the soul infirmity. He forgives.

Finally, he cures. The paralysis is removed. And then, he sends the man back to his community.

We are poised to begin our journey with Christ. The road ahead is unclear but it calls us deeply, and strongly. We respond, not with some prescient knowledge of the future, but in faith, or loyalty to this Jesus whom we have known for a long or a short time. We have come to trust him, and know that he will not lead us astray.

Still, we do not KNOW. After all, it is faith we espouse. When we are loyal to friends, we are such not because we are sure of every request made by our friend, but because we trust them to never ask of us anything impossible or wrong.

We know we need healing. We have sinned, both by deliberate action and thought, but unknowingly, and often with the best of intentions. We are human, and it is not possible to avoid error in our thinking or acting, no matter how careful we are. And so we instinctively know that we are in need of Jesus’ fair hand upon our brow, comforting and soothing away our pain and sadness at our failures.

In some sense we are cured as well. Not perhaps of physical disease or illness, but of those distractions of life that pull on us constantly to turn away from ourselves and our spiritual being in pursuit of the mundane. Surely there is much that must be attended, mortgages need paying, food needs preparing, homes need cleaning. But we of course are prone to much more that is unnecessary. Too much television, Internet, frivolous wasting of time in arguing about events and things that will be there tomorrow.

Jesus helps us to see that we need this time desperately, because it is this time that prepares us to take on all the burdens of life for the rest of the year. Not just take them on, but in a way that does our faith proud, that sets us apart as a people who “do it differently” without hurting and cheating and indifference. Especially the indifference.

Jesus calls us to stop and remember that every step we take, every action has consequences to a global community. The things we buy and consume were made by others, in often far off places. Their lives may be very different from ours, and often much more limited and pain filled.

The paralytic is ordered to return to his community. We are to return to ours as well. We have been healed, we have been found faithful, we have been cured. We are called to live that life, within those parameters.

The journey is about to begin.

Amen.

Entering Into Ourselves

This sixth week in Ordinary Time brings us to leprosy, miracles and encounters with sin.

We today have little exposure to the disease known as Hansen’s Disease or leprosy. Indeed, there is some reason to believe that the ancients had less contact than we would be led to believe by the stories.

Given the limited medical knowledge of the Hebrews, leprosy was attached to any physical blemish, any disfigurement. Thus it was a mark upon the body, or upon anything for that matter, that was indelible, not going away.

 In Leviticus, Moses is advised by God how to deal with lepers, how they are to be excluded, kept apart and the leper must identify himself as such to all who come near.

As we know, in those times, physical illness or disease was associated with sin. This whole concept is played out in Job, where his friends are convinced that Job must indeed be sinful in order to be given such suffering.

We can look upon the reading in Leviticus and we can quickly see that analogies can be drawn to our lives today. We of course no longer avoid and look upon as sinful, those who suffer physical disease of any sort. At least we proclaim that we do not. It is of course still a question as to whether we look away and avoid those who have AIDS, or those who are homeless and alcoholic or drug addicted. Perhaps, I spoke too soon.

And we of course also avoid drawing a parallel between disease and sin. We understand disease as an ailment of the body, having nothing to do with the heart or the relative goodness or lack of it, of the victim. Or do we?

Jesus’ answer is unequivocal  as he heals without a single question, the leper who begs his help. There is not examination of his thoughts, beliefs or life before Jesus undertakes the cure. He simply reaches out and effects the cure.

And what of that? By touching the leper, he has committed the act of making himself “unclean” as well. He has become as the leper, and in doing so he demonstrates that there is no sin and no shame in the condition. He separates physical disfigurement from the habits of the soul.

And in doing so, Jesus forces us to look at ourselves, for we must now face the real fact that sin is not always apparent. It is not something visible we can see, it can and is hidden. And that means that we too may be harboring secret sin; sin we have not looked for, let alone confronted and dealt with.

The fallacy that sin is something easy to locate and define, confronts us, and we are humbled.

We are further humbled by Jesus’ willingness to take that public abhorrence upon himself and show it for what it is.

We, as lepers ourselves, unknowingly separate ourselves from God. Yet we too have only to reach out and ask for healing, for that transforming touch that will restore us to health in our souls. As the leper did, so can we do. But first we must accept our dis-ease, and seek renewal.

In a few weeks, we will begin that annual time of seeking to uncover our infirmities and to seek forgiveness and restoration. It is not too soon to begin the journey.

Amen.

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