Wednesday, May 1, 2019

(Optional) Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker

(Acts 5:17-26; John 3:16-21)

American writer Marilynne Robinson has won fame for her novel Gilead.  As evidenced in the book, she can articulate profound thoughts.  In a separate essay entitled “Humanism” Ms. Robinson queries the seven dimensions to being that string theory physicists have added to the usual four.  She says that the concept, established in mathematics, changes how humans consider reality.  Like the Galilean revelation that the earth is not at the center of the universe, string theory makes even Einstein’s notion of relativity obsolete.  It might be said that today’s gospel anticipates string theory.

The passage has been called “the gospel in miniature” as it goes to the heart of the Christian message.  It speaks of “eternal life,” whose root meaning is outside of time.  The concept of eternity presents a new dimension of reality.  It cannot be experienced in its fullness, at least, under present circumstances.  It is peace, joy, and – most of all – love in all their wonder.  God, the Father, wills eternal life – the life He lives with the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit -- for the world.  He has sent His Son, who is called Jesus the Christ, to deliver it.

Today we remember St. Joseph the Worker.  The feast day was established to support the faith of ordinary people.  Anyone who works should celebrate today.  But they should not be content to give thanks for a job or even for the role of being co-creator (perhaps, better, junior apprentice) with God.  No, we give thanks to God as well for the gift of eternal life.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:32-37; John 3:7b-15)

Jesus explains to Nicodemus the movement of the Spirit in today’s gospel.  He says that it moves the reborn person to act in new ways.  She no longer lives for herself but for others.  She loves without expecting anything in return.  She also takes delight in seeing others growing free, loving, and wise.  The Spirit has assured her of God’s infinite love.  This kind of person makes up the community of disciples described in the reading from Acts.  Each member supports one another.  The result is that everyone has all that is necessary to live in peace.

Communal experiences of mutual love are frequently tried and sometimes they last for years.  Usually they end as members are drawn away by different personal needs.  However, monasteries have been able to preserve communal harmony for centuries.  They often draw high-minded people who respond well to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. 

We may not live in communities as mutually supportive as that of the Christians in Jerusalem after the resurrection. Nor are we likely to join a monastery.  Nevertheless, we are being moved by the Holy Spirit to live less individualistically, more communally.  We feel the urge to share time and material possessions with those in need.  We also are prompted to move beyond our fears and desires to assist others.  In these ways we show ourselves to be born from above with heaven as likewise our destiny.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Acts 4:23-31; John 3:1-8)

The Internet has enabled hundreds of millions of people to stay in touch.  People see the faces of loved ones through Skype and follow their thoughts on Facebook.  Fifty years ago no one dreamed of such immediacy.  However, those who have developed a deep spirituality may have always been more closer to the Lord.

In today’s first reading Peter and John have returned from their confrontation with Jewish leadership.  They pray to God who is intimately present to them because of the Holy Spirit.  They do not ask for protection but for boldness to proclaim Jesus.  The Spirit confirms that God hears their prayers by causing the ground to shake.

The same Spirit enabled Catherine of Siena to feel intimately Christ’s love for her.  She described her relationship with him as a marriage.  She and Christ were bride and bridegroom.  As a wife considers her husband’s body her own, Catherine worked tirelessly for Christ’s body, the Church.  In times of political intrigue and ravishing plague, Catherine strove to keep that body from falling apart.  Her success has resulted in her being named the patron saint of both Italy and all Europe.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Friday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 4:1-12; John 21:1-14)

In every mass this week – actually from Monday to Sunday – the gospel tells of an appearance of the risen Jesus.  Although the accounts bear marks of editorial expansion, they assure readers of the resurrection as a fact of history.  The resurrection is a trans-historical event.  This means that it has never been duplicated in history.  But reliable witnesses testify that Jesus appeared to them in the flesh.  Their stories, especially when considered in total, explain the empty tomb.  Thus the stories go beyond circumstantial evidence for the resurrection.

Today’s gospel appearance takes place on the Sea of Tiberius.  It may seem strange that Jesus’ disciples would return to their former occupations after seeing Jesus.  After all, he equipped them with the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.  Yet many people who have had profound religious experiences begin to question their beliefs.  Sometimes they become almost indifferent to what happened to them.  Jesus, true to his promise, does not abandon his disciples in their questioning.  Rather, he appears to them again and reissues the mandate to go forth and preach forgiveness.  This is expressed symbolically in today’s passage when he says, “’Cast your net over the right side…’”

Many people dismiss the gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances.  They see them as fishing stories; that is, exaggerations of wonderful experiences.  These skeptics challenge us believers to explain the possibility of the stories’ ever taking place.  We should respond to the challenge in at least two ways.  First, we need to study the gospel accounts with the help of faithful commentators so that we may provide explanation of their reasonableness.  Second, we want to testify to their veracity by living truly changed and holy lives.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:11-26; Luke 24:35-48)

 “What’s in a name?” Juliet asks, “that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”  She will learn that a name contains more than commonly imagined.  Names identify people both as individuals and as members of an association.  Invoking a name in a situation can bring the power of the person or association to bear on it.  In today’s first reading Peter tells the Jews that the paralytic was healed by faith in the name of Jesus. 

Peter and John have just healed the man begging near the Temple gate. Now Peter launches into one of the sermons in Acts that is considered paradigmatic of Christian preaching.  In other words, all Christian preachers should not only imitate its conviction but also its claims.  Peter has no reservations that Jesus’ death and resurrection are the source of new life.  People have only to repent of their sins and call upon his name to inherit eternal life.

More and more people today are searching for their identities in their DNA. They want to know who they are by associating themselves with particular real estates.  Of course, it is interesting but it is hardly conclusive and holds little prospect for the future.  We are far better off to associate ourselves with the name of our Redeemer.  In Jesus we are adopted daughters and sons of God.  He bestows on us the destiny of eternal life.  Like the paralytic in his name we are made whole.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Wednesday of the First Week of Easter

(Acts 3:1-10; Lucas 24:13-35)

Today’s gospel is different from other accounts of Christ appearances after his resurrection.  Its length and its motion distinguish it from his appearances near his tomb, in the locked room, and even by the seashore.  Perhaps it is because of these differences that it has become the favorite appearance account among Christians.

In many ways the narrative resembles the Christian experience of the Eucharist.  It takes place on the first day of the week.  Jesus is present but cannot be seen by the travelers.  The Old Testament is explained in homiletic fashion.  Most of all, it ends with a blessing of bread and recognition of Christ’s physical presence.

Once in a while during Sunday mass we feel like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  “Our hearts burn(ing) within us” perhaps because the homily is especially insightful or a hymn resonates with our lives.  Or maybe it is the presence of other people who have been nurtured by faith to a particular greatness.  In any case, we find in this gospel passage valuable instruction.  It teaches us how to experience the risen Lord every time we gather for Mass.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tuesday of Easter Week

(Acts 2:36-41; John 20:11-18)

When I am with children whose names I do not know, I will call them “son” or “sweetheart.”  On a couple occasions boys have responded, “I’m not your son.  Why do you call me that?”  I am not sure whether they are confused, defiant, or just playing with me.  In any case Jesus in today’s gospel is ready to make his disciples sons of his Father. 

Jesus meets Mary at the tomb.  He may want to console her, but he definitely will give her a mission.  But first he tells her not to cling to him because he is about to ascend to heaven.  There his humanity will be glorified so that he might impart the Holy Spirit on whomever he pleases.  The Spirit makes those who receive it daughters and sons of the Father.  As Jesus indicates in the passage, his disciples then become his brothers and sisters. Mary is to let the other disciples know of this wondrous eventuality.

Do all humans have God as their “Father”?  Certainly John the Evangelist does not think so.  For him that distinction is reserved for those who have been “born from above” (John 3:3).  For this reason we should hold a special affection for other Christians, especially those who partake of the same Eucharist.  Nevertheless, we are to love everyone.  John also says that “God so loved the world…”  Because we are God’s daughters and sons, we must love the world’s inhabitants as well.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Monday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:24.22-23; Matthew 28:8-15)

One of the inmates at the federal prison came to the chapel every Sunday for mass.  He sat their quietly not calling attention to himself or giving his attention to anything but the Lord.  He apparently had lived a somewhat loose life.  His marriage ended, and then he had trouble with the law.  But he learned his lesson.  Repenting of his sins, he received a share of the Holy Spirit’s grace.  Now he was to be released.  He would live outside of prison with the same discipline that he was showing inside. 

The most dramatic blessing of Easter is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It not only will bring the dead to life but renews the lives of the living.  The first reading today makes this clear.  Peter testifies that Jesus once raised from the dead pours forth the Holy Spirit upon his followers.  Indeed by means of this Spirit Peter is preaching fearlessly to the people of Jerusalem.

We also qualify as followers of Jesus.  He pours his Spirit upon us as well.  We too can go out and proclaim Jesus risen from the dead.  Because we may find cool reception to our words, we will probably show that Jesus has risen by gracious care for others. In any case, people will know that we have the Spirit because of our love for others.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42)

In some places on Good Friday preachers give a long sermon on the Seven Last Words of Jesus.  Actually these are not single words but seven statements taken from the four gospels.  If the preachers’ remarks are perceptive, they show how the statements conform to each evangelist’s vision of Jesus.  In the Passion according to John, which we just read, Jesus’ last words portray him as the royal Son of God.

In John Jesus does not so much suffer on the cross as reign from it.  He indirectly told Pilate that he is a king; now he gathers all people to himself on Calvary as a king his subjects (John 12:32).  Close to him, as if it were his royal court, stand his mother and best loved disciple.  Also, a sign proclaiming him king in three languages is tacked to the cross.  No one mocks Jesus on the cross; rather, all listen to his royal decrees.

The first words Jesus utters present his mother to his disciple and his disciple to his mother.  The purpose of this exchange goes beyond a dutiful son providing for an aged parent.  Jesus is establishing his church with the two people who have shown the greatest faith in him.  Then Jesus says, “I thirst.”  The narrator has pointed out that he speaks these words to fulfill the Scripture.  References may be found to Jesus’ thirst in both Psalms 22 and 69.  More importantly, however, Jesus is showing kingly control over all that happens.  He thirsts because his Father ordained it.  Finally, Jesus pronounces his last words, “It is finished.”  He dies when he is ready and his work is done. No one or nothing has power over him. Jesus shows himself here as king not only of the Jews or of the world but of time and all creation as well. 

John’s consistent perspective of Jesus as king serves us well.  Some days things seem to fall apart.  We may be suffering great pain or feeling under pressure to do something very wrong.  We can look at Jesus reigning from the cross to find support.  Like him we know that worldly powers do not have control over us.  Because we stand with him, we have power to resist evil.  We know as well that we are destined to reign with him in glory.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

(Exodus 12:1-8.11-14; I Corinthians 15:23-26; John 13:1-15)

At a Jewish Passover meal the youngest at table asks, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?”  We might pose a similar question for our Eucharist this evening. How is this mass different from other masses?  A fitting answer would be that in this mass we emphasize the act of remembering. 

The word remember literally means to put component parts or members back together.  When we remember we recreate what existed in the past to make it present to us now.  This evening we remember three events found in the Scripture readings.  First, we recall God’s liberating the Israelites from their exile in Egypt.  Second, we reestablish Jesus’ initiation of the Eucharist on the night before he died.  Finally, we bring to mind Jesus’ astonishing demonstration of service as he washes his disciples’ feet.

Dogs can remember in a sense, and we regularly pay a compliment to computers by speaking of their memory.  We must distinguish human remembering from the trivial memories attributed to animals and machines.  When we remember, we assign to a past event a meaning that shapes our lives.  In remembering the liberation of the Israelites we think of our deliverance from sin.  The Father has sent the Son to die and rise so that our chain of selfishness may be broken.  Remembrance of the first Eucharist allows us to imagine the celestial banquet in which we hope to participate.  We believe that our following Jesus will bring us to full union with him and all the saints in eternity.  Our final instance of remembering shows us Jesus’ way.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, we render loving service to one another. Now we can look forward to glory.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)

Unfortunately our gospel translation omits a word that is in the original Greek manuscripts.  The passage should begin with the word Then.  “Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot…”  This time notation indicates a critical moment in the lives of both Jesus and Judas. 

Jesus has just been anointed by an unknown woman with expensive ointment.  His disciples complain about the waste of money that might have been given to the poor.  But Jesus tells them that there are times when significant outlays of money are justified.  Such a time is burial of the dead for which the woman anointed Jesus.  At the same moment then Judas goes seeking money from the chief priests.  For thirty pieces of silver he will deliver Jesus into their hands.  Actually it is a small amount – the equivalent of paying a hitman approximately $50 for committing murder.  For some other reason Judas must want Jesus out of the way.  Unlike Jesus he does not know the value of things.

A recent statement by Pope emeritus Benedict indicates the value of something that is frequently overlooked today.  The statement was issued to show how the sexual revolution and the deterioration of moral theology gave rise to sexual abuse of children.  In the statement Benedict emphasizes the value of faith.  He says that our Christian faith must be protected.  In the context of sexual abuse this means that the rights of an accused priest must not be exaggerated to the extent that faith in Christ and his Church is jeopardized.  In a larger context it means that we proclaim the priority of faith when contemporaries treat it as superstition or personal preference.  Faith in Jesus gives human life a solid meaning.  It assures the presence of love among persons and nations.  It gives everyone – from the poorest beggar to the wealthiest king – hope for eternal life.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tuesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 49:1-6; John 13:21-33.36-38)

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday of Holy Week one of the four Servant Songs of Isaiah is read during the liturgy.  These passages point to a personage whose suffering saves Israel from its sins.  The servant acts like the firefighters of 9-11 who gave their lives rescuing trapped victims in the burning Trade Center. In today’s reading the Servant himself outlines the accomplishment of his efforts.  He says that not only have they brought Israel back to the Lord but are seen as a model for all nations.

The Suffering Servant is never named in Isaiah.  Some have thought him to be Moses or the prophet Jeremiah. Most Old Testament scholars today identify the servant as the collective people of Israel who have suffered atrocities like the Holocaust.  Nevertheless, Christians from the beginning have heard the Servant Songs as prophetic testimony to Jesus.  Although limiting his mission to Israel, Jesus’ suffering and death have redeemed the sins of the world.

The Servant Songs help us to link Christians with Jews and all peoples. God brought about human salvation through the people of Israel.  They gave birth and context to His Son whose life and teachings model human perfection.  Even more impressively, his gift of self in the brutal crucifixion manifested God’s love for the world.  Most critically, his resurrection unleashed the Holy Spirit to renew the world in that love.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-11)

In Luke’s gospel Mary sits as Jesus’ feet when he comes to her and Martha’s home.  She listens to him teach.  In today’s passage from John’s gospel Mary is again at Jesus’ feet in her home.  But her role has changed.  She now anoints Jesus for burial.  Martha in both gospel scenes busies herself with service, and Mary in both chooses “the better part.”

Mary has the prophetic insight of realizing that Jesus will be dead soon.  Because she also knows that he is the royal Messiah or “anointed one,” she gives him a lavish anointing.  The narrator says that the fragrance from the oil filled the whole house.  The image might be expanded to say that the fragrance filled the universe.  The death Jesus is about to undergo will redeem humanity for all its sins.

We too might anoint Jesus in a sense.  We can spare some time daily this week to meditate on the meaning for ourselves of Jesus death and resurrection.  Through these events we know the Son of God.  By these events we are freed from the guilt of our malicious acts.  Because of these events we like Jesus are destined to glory.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday of the Fifth Week in Lent

(Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42)
A television drama many years ago featured two angels – a good one and a bad one.  In the drama they were known as Mr. White and Mr. Black.  The people of the place where the two angels came could not distinguish who was the good angel.  So they concocted a test to tell which of the angels was the good one by having them sit down and stare at each other.  The angel who first turned away his face would be considered the inferior, and thus bad, angel.  The staring match went on for hours with neither angels flinching.  Then a small child slipped away from her mother and was going to enter into the electric gaze of the two angels.  Mr. Black suddenly got up to save the child from destruction.  Mr. White was declared to be the good angel until someone objected.  “Wasn’t really Mr. Black the good angel,” the person reasoned, “for saving the child from electrocution?”  Of course, he was, and Mr. Black became the hero whom the people followed. 

In today’s gospel Jesus similarly asks to be judged not by the people’s prejudices but by his works.  Has he not healed the sick and judged justly?  Isn’t he worthy of being called “the Son of God”?  Of course, he is.

And so are we worthy when we regularly assist the needy and help the poor.  We cannot consider ourselves sons or daughters as Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.  We are born into a sinful condition and sometimes falter in our good efforts.  Nevertheless, through the sacraments especially of Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance we are only made like Jesus.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59)

Much of the Gospel of John makes most sense when read as representing the struggle between Christians and Jews in the latter part of first century Palestine.  Christians by then have been ejected from Jewish synagogues because they have accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus, of course, takes their role in the gospel, and “the Jews” represent their persecutors. 

In today’s passage Jesus expresses the Christian belief in eternal life for those who believe in him.  This belief has been given substantial basis in his resurrection.  But the Jews do not accept the fact and claim that Jesus – really Christians – is possessed.  Their argument is that Jesus is surely no greater than Abraham who died.  But Christians see the prophecy which God made to Abraham in today’s first reading fulfilled in Jesus.  They find the success of Christianity in spreading throughout the known world as evidence that Abraham has come to be “the father of a host of nations.”   The heated debate grows hotter as Jesus hints at his divinity by saying of himself, “I AM,” which is code for God.  It is unlikely that he ever made this claim, but Christians have come to know him in this way after the resurrection.  For Jews anyone who claims to be God is committing blasphemy and merits death by stoning.

Although once in a while we see Christians, not Jews, wanting to take up the old debate, it is dead and should be left alone.  Christians and Jews have much in common and should dialogue for mutual edification.  But there are others who resent Christianity today.  Radical Muslims have persecuted Christians as infidels.  Some Western secularists also find Christianity a threat to rational investigation.  They believe the Catholic Church must be taken down because of its influence on vast numbers of people.   There is much to lament in the history of the Church but much, much more to appreciate and praise.  At our best we defend the Church in truth.  This means that we admit egregious errors have been made in the name of Christ.  We also note the many saints and ordinary Christians who have made the world a better place.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Daniel 3:14-20.91-92.95; John 8:31-42)

The ironic lament, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” helps to understand today’s gospel.  Jesus is shown defending himself against Jews “who believed in him.”  Although it is not certain, the evangelist is probably reading back into the life of Jesus a debate that took place in the early Church.  By “those who believed in him,” John has in mind Jewish Christians with an inadequate understanding of their faith.  They do not recognize that Jesus frees people from the burden of the Law.

St. Paul provides a complete explanation of this idea in his Letter to the Romans.  He writes that only by faith in Christ as God’s only true messenger can one live righteously.  Trying to observe the parts of the Law which describe a righteous life by oneself is impossible.  It would be like digging a canal with a teaspoon.  Faith in Jesus implies loving God and neighbors with more than words.

Many today have a tenuous hold on faith. Like those who are said to believe in Jesus in the gospel, they do not understand what faith implies.  This kind of Christian largely follows secular norms with little attention to worship and doctrine.  We need to remind them of what faith in Jesus entails.  Inviting them to Mass or our small, faith-based communities may provide them some insight into authentic Christianity.  Faith calls us not to abandon such people but to endeavor to show them the light of Christ.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30)

Many Catholic children, even those in parochial schools, do not attend mass on Sunday.  If you would ask them why, they say that they sometimes have a soccer game or go out of town.  Their parents, of course, are not attending either.  They may find themselves one day like the Jews in today’s gospel unable to understand Jesus.  They may think that he suffered a needless death that was tantamount to suicide.

We are probably mistaken if we think of the dialogue in the gospel as an actual conversation. More likely it is the evangelist’s rebuttal of the Jewish denial of Jesus as the Messiah.  He uses ideas and phrases from Jesus but directs himself to Jewish critics of Christianity a generation or two later.  These Jews, the evangelist is saying, cannot appreciate what Jesus said and much less did.  They think in worldly ways that Jesus was an imposter who claimed to be God.  They cannot accept that he spoke and acted as God’s real representative. They also think that they did away with Jesus on the cross.  But the evangelist knows that the crucifixion was the supreme sacrament of divine love.  Because he did His will, the Father has raised Jesus from death to glory.

Jesus’ sacrifice is memorialized in the mass, especially on Sunday.  It is not just a lesson in recall but a re-enactment of the sacrifice for our advantage.  Somehow we must draw both children and their parents to this sacrament.  Only in this way will they transcend worldly ways to participate in Christ’s glory.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Monday of the Fifth Week in Lent

Law and order advocates believe that stricter laws, tougher judges, and more prisons are the best ways to remedy crime.  They would praise the sagacity of Daniel in the first reading today.  He ferrets out two culprits willing to see an innocent woman stoned to cover up their lust.  However, hardliners are not likely to approve of Jesus’ more daring way to bring about justice.

In the Gospel of John Jesus repeatedly announces that he has not come to judge the world.  His judgment would not be defective, but neither would it would produce good people.  It would only condemn everyone.  But God loves the world and does not want anyone condemned.  He sends Jesus to save the world by offering himself at the appointed time.  Jesus will turn human hearts to goodness by graciously allowing himself to be crucified.  Those who believe that Jesus’ sacrifice demonstrates God’s love will have eternal life.  Those who deride such sacrifice are doomed to darkness.

We have entered into what used to be called Passiontide when all images were covered in Catholic churches.  Our minds and hearts are to focus on Jesus supreme sacrifice.  Once again, he gives himself willingly to be tortured, reviled, and killed so that we might be justified.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Friday of the Fourth Week in Lent

(Wisdom 2:1a.12-22; John 7:1-2,10.25-30)

There exist manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel which name Barabbas “Jesus Barabbas.”  This would be the full name of the notorious bandit whose release the people demand in all four passion narratives.  Barabbas is obviously a patronym since bar in Hebrew means son of.  Then he would be Jesus, the son of Abbas. But, of course, Abbas means father in Hebrew.  So Barabbas may be in a sense Jesus, son of the Father.  But this is very similar to the way Christians recognize Jesus Christ.  He is the Son of God the Father.  In today’s gospel Jesus notes a similar confusion about his identity.

The Jews think that they know who Jesus is.  They say that he is from Galilee and is the son of Joseph and Mary.  Although that is true in a sense, it does not indicate Jesus’ deepest origins.  As he yells in the temple area, he is from the one who sent him whom the Jews do not know.  Of course, he is referring to God, his Father in heaven.

What is important is that we do not become confused about who Jesus is.  As John, the evangelist, continually emphasizes, he is the Son of God.  He came from God to save us from our sinful desires.  In acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God, we imply that he is our lawgiver and our protector.  He also came to be our best friend.  With good reason then we are wise to follow him.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Exodus 32:7-14; John 5:31-47)

Astute readers of the gospel will note that there is no trial of Jesus in John’s Passion narrative.  They will ask why Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin in the Passion narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke but not in the fourth gospel’s.  Of course, they have a point.  But it is not that there is no trial of Jesus before Jews in the Gospel of John.  Rather he is continually on trial.  Today's gospel passage presents an example. 

The Jews are harassing Jesus because he has healed a paralytic on the Sabbath.  They want to know by what authority did he do so.  Jesus responds by bringing forth witnesses.  His first witness is John the Baptist who said that he saw the Spirit come down to rest on Jesus.  The second testimony that Jesus presents is his mighty works.  He has turned water into wine and cured the royal official’s son as well as the paralytic.  These deeds likewise testify that Jesus is from God.  The third witness is none less than God the Father who prepared the way for Jesus.  As today’s first reading relates, the Father spared the people in Sinai where they had begun to worship an idol.  Jesus is implying that God was merciful that day so that the people’s descendants might see Jesus in whom their numbers will multiply exponentially. 

We live in a time when fewer and fewer of the people in our midst believe that Jesus is God.  They find him a great man but not necessarily any more divine than the Buddha or Socrates.  We must present ourselves as witnesses to Jesus’ divinity along with those whom Jesus names in today’s gospel.  We do so by talking about him with those whom we meet.  We improve on our verbal testimony by following his teaching of love for all.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 49:8-15; John 5:17-30)

The title, “& Son,” in a business listing reassures clients.  The owner obviously has a family which roots him in the community and suggests trustworthiness.  If the son comes to do the job, the client perhaps thinks “like father, like son” and expects the true value for what she pays.  A similar father-son relationship forms the heart of today’s gospel.

The Jews have criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.  He, in turn, tells them that he is permitted to heal on the Sabbath because God, his Father, heals on the Sabbath.  This claim, of course, infuriates the Jews.  They find the idea of Jesus being God blasphemous.  But Jesus is not deterred.  He goes on to say that like his Father he also raises the dead to new life.  In fact, he claims that to be raised from the dead one has to believe the doctrine that he is teaching.

Jesus’ promise of resurrection from the dead should astound us.  It is not merely the ongoing life of the soul when we die.  Rather it is the retrieval of our bodies and their unification with our souls at the end of time.  We cannot help but ask how this can happen.   Certainly all adults have seen in their lifetimes things that they never before had dreamed.  God, who also is beyond our imagining, has infinite power and can do much more marvelous things.  Ours is to imitate God’s goodness, not His power.  Doing so, we show belief in Jesus’ doctrine and can hope to be called from death to life.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Lent

(Ezekiel 47:1-9.12; John 5:1-16)

For eons humans have searched for the fountain of youth.  They sought that spring of water that reverses bodily deterioration to keep its bathers forever young. Americans recall how Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish governor of Puerto Rico, traveled to Florida hoping to find such a place.  Both readings today testify how the fountain of eternal youth has long been discovered in the religious tradition.

Ezekiel speaks of the Temple waters as providing for both sustenance and healings.  Life-giving water flows from its bowels to irrigate the barren countryside.  The land in turn yields not only fruits to enjoy but medicinal foliage that cure.  The gospel passage, taken from John’s gospel, shows how Jesus surpasses the capacity of Temple waters to heal.  His blessing of the paralytic waiting by those waters enables the man to walk.

Of course, the difference between the legendary fountain of youth and the springs of living water in Scripture deals with our conception of wholeness.  Humans will look in vain for ways to overcome the inevitability of death.  Christians have found the way to transcend death in Jesus Christ.  Now that Lent has begun its final chapters we want to cling ever more closely to him.