Lent – 2nd Sunday (Year B)

This Sunday’s Mass readings present us with what appear to be opposite types of messages or moods – our first reading from Genesis about the offering of Isaac by Abraham as a sacrifice to God, and the Gospel of Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We might distinguish between them as ‘dark and unsettling’ to ‘light and uplifting’.

Certainly the account of Abraham taking his only son up Mt. Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice at the direction of God upsets and disturbs our modern sensibilities. We might find ourselves even thinking that this is an exercise in cruelty, questioning God’s motives in this particular call to Abraham – yet it is actually a lesson in God’s Providence, Mercy and care; it is one in a series of small steps in which God reveals Himself, and His will, steps that will eventually reconcile all humanity to Himself, through His Son, Jesus. But God knows how human nature cannot handle abrupt and sudden change – He has to gradually make His will known over time and in many circumstances, thoughout all of salvation history. That’s why we have to look at this story in its context.

This episode in Abraham’s life is before there is a Jewish nation, before there is the Law of Moses, before we have any kind of a sense of Judeo-Christian morality. This story takes place in the land of Canaan, a land where the population worshipped a number of pagan gods and idols. Among these was a god named Molech, and most notoriously, part of worship of this pagan god, was human sacrifice, particularly the sacrifice of children. This was seen as normal in the culture and time. Abraham would have seen this, whether he agreed with it, liked it or not, as a ‘normal’ part of the culture in which he lived.

Yet God, moves into this setting, speaking to Abraham, and asking Abraham nothing less and nothing more than the pagan Canaanites believed is pleasing to their idols. For Abraham, God asking him for the sacrifice of his son Isaac makes perfect sense, and so as a show of complete faith in this God who has begun to reveal Himself to Abraham, he complies.

And we know how the story continues; that at the moment Abraham is prepared to strike, God stops him, so that no harm comes to Isaac. God even provides a ram as a substitute for Abraham, again in a culture where sacrifice of living things makes some sense. Yet in this action, God has shown that human sacrifice is not what He wants, and this is a step in revealing the difference between the God of Abraham, and the pagan gods; He is a God who is involved, who speaks, who reveals Himself, and who is merciful and loving. The pagan gods never stopped anyone from sacrificing their child to them; yet the God of Abraham does just that. When a human is set to follow worldly wisdom, Divinity shows them otherwise.

Contrast that with our Gospel; we see Jesus, transfigured on Mt. Tabor with his closest friends present; He reveals His Divinity, appearing in glory with Moses and Elijah; Jesus appearing as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, completing God’s plan. He provides a preview of what His disciples can expect, to be drawn into His Divinity – He shows what awaits those who seek, follow and serve Him. Yet this episode concludes with Him talking about rising from the dead; He will have to suffer and die to take upon Himself the sin of all humankind – to atone for our separation from God; God will offer His only Son, and the Son will willingly offer Himself for all humanity. Yet in this part of the drama, when the Son is being offered up, during His Passion , there will be no human who will stop the harm being visited upon Jesus.

We see the contrast; God who enters into Abraham’s cultural reality to lead him to a better understanding of His will, and is judged by us to be cruel and heartless even though He prevents Isaac from being harmed. Yet when God’s Son Jesus is the One being offered up, humanity does not return the favour, and we give ourselves a pass. Even though it is for our broken relationship with God and each other that Jesus offers Himself willingly.

It is a drama which is played out day, after day, after day in our own time, and in our own lives. God offers the gift of His Glory through His Son Jesus to each and every one of us; and every time we neglect our brothers and sisters, every time we ignore the needs of the poor in our midst, every time we respond to others with anger, malice, cruelty or contempt, we visit harm on the Body of Jesus.

This in a culture that, according to modern media and the internet, is apparently more concerned with the colour of a dress than with the abduction of hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East and Africa; a culture that is more interested in the theft of an Oscar gala dress than in the killing ,maiming and displacement of thousands of Christians in Iraq and Syria. What right does a culture like that have to presume to judge the One True God, who desires only to reconcile all people to Himself, in harmony and unity as we were meant to be?

God speaks to each of us all the time, particularly in His Sacred Word. These readings are God’s invitation to each of us, especially during this season of Lent, to reflect on our own lives, to see where we have harmed the Body of Christ in our own way, and to seek ways to build up that Body and strengthen our own relationship with God and with each other.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Palm Sunday (Year A)

I was reflecting recently on a situation where someone had fallen behind in making payments involving something that they were in serious need of. The response from the supplier was to threaten to take away what was needed, and they excused themselves with the comment, ‘this isn’t anything personal. It’s just business.’

As we mark the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn time of year in our Church calendar, we are confronted with what appear to be completely polar opposites in reaction to the presence of Jesus. At the beginning of Mass we read from St. Matthew about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, in the midst of the adoring crowds. We follow that up with the same writer’s account of Jesus’ Passion and Death; it shows how fickle people are – a complete and total reversal in public opinion (with a vengeance) in only a matter of days. The people are quite happy when they think the Messiah has come to bring about His Kingdom; but when they learn that much is expected of them in opening their hearts and participating in the building of that same Kingdom, that public adoration quickly degenerates into rejection and animosity.

While we often consider the tremendous sacrifice and meekness of Jesus, accepting both the good and the bad extremes in less than a week, ultimate surrendering all to the Father in atonement for the fallen human race, I think we frequently neglect to see how the actions of people in the gospels are reflected in our own day and in our own lives as followers of Jesus. Perhaps we deliberately avoid reflecting in that way because we don’t like what we might see in our own lives and actions, if we are brutally honest with ourselves.

For example, we may look at the treatment of Jesus by the Roman soldiers during his Passion, and say, ‘how could they be so unkind and cruel?’ or ‘how could they have been so detached while they inflicted such pain on his most holy body?’

But if we put ourselves into their place and time, for the Roman soldiers, this wasn’t ‘something personal’ – it was ‘just business’; it was a matter of routine – this is how foreign enemies of the Empire were dealt with; ‘no big deal’ if you will. They were desensitized to the suffering of those who were obstacles to what their orders were. They didn’t have to be concerned with how their prisoners ‘felt’ or ‘ thought’ because it really didn’t concern them.

This is one example, where we are invited to reflect on the parallel between the treatment of Christ in first century Palestine, and the treatment of His Body in our own time; there are numerous examples throughout the world, where Christ’s Body, the Church, is subjected to cruelty and oppression by secular authorities as a matter of ‘routine business’.

But just as important, we need to reflect on our own lives to see where we too have inflicted harm on the body of Christ – the Church – our brothers and sisters – as a matter of thoughtless or deliberate words, whether through neglect or direct action. It does us no good to simply read the Passion and reflect on it as a historical event, saying ‘poor Lord , how you suffered,’ if we are not willing to honestly contemplate where this event continues to be played out in our own world and in our own lives; if we aren’t willing to see how and where Jesus suffers each and every day, in great ways and small, in those we directly and indirectly encounter.

This most sacred time of year, Holy Week, is an opportunity for each of us to more deeply enter into reflection on the mystery of salvation history and recognize that God did not enter into our humanity solely to reconcile ‘me’ only to Himself. God entered into our humanity in the person of Jesus to reconcile all people to Himself, and in that action, we as members of Christ’s Body are invited and expected to be directly involved in drawing others to God, rather than ignoring them or driving them away.

The gentleness, meekness and surrender to God’s will that Jesus illustrates for each of us, should be the hallmark of our own lives and relationships each and every day; to reach out in love and to help build God’s Kingdom should be our ‘routine’.

Our willingness to follow Jesus’ example of complete self-giving should be , for us, our ‘business’; indeed it should be ‘something personal.’

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent – fifth Sunday (Year A)

We profess each time we gather for Mass, during the Creed, ‘I believe!’

I believe in God, the Creator of all things

I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, who suffered, died , was buried – and rose again; that He is seated at the right hand of God and shall judge the living, and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting…

We publicly state we believe, and yet;

And yet, how often do we trust God? How often do we profess our faith, and yet find ourselves questioning and doubting often at the times we call on our faith the most?

How often have we asked someone to do something, and then went afterwards to check to see if they actually did what we asked of them? Often times, parents succumb to this when they ask a child to do a particular chore (like cleaning their room!), but just as often this can creep into our work lives, our social lives – around our homes or our schools.

Whether because of an experience that resulted in disappointment for us, or something that wasn’t quite up to our expectations, we can allow that experience to colour our trust of others.

This becomes especially true in our spiritual lives, when we speak the words of trust and faith; but when we ask God for something and it doesn’t turn out exactly as we hoped, expected, or even specified, we feel cheated or disappointed, as if God turned a deaf ear to us. This attitude borders on presumption, as if we have the ‘master plan’ and know how and when God should respond to our requests or demands; as if God is somehow a cosmic vending machine whose sole purpose is to satisfy our personal preferences.

Martha speaks words of trust when she goes out to meet Him at Bethany; “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

These are words almost of reproach –she might just as well have said, ‘why weren’t you here sooner when we called for you?’

However, Martha softens that up by immediately adding, “but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him”.

She says she trusts Jesus because of his closeness to God; but then she adds another, even deeper statement of faith when Jesus challenges her belief in him, stating that He is the resurrection and the life;

‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world’.

Those are pretty strong words of conviction, of faith and public trust.

But look at what happens as soon as Jesus moves to raise Lazarus from the dead; He tells them remove the stone from the tomb, and immediately Martha forgets all her words of trust and conviction and tries to stop Jesus;

“Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

It’s almost as if she is saying, ‘Lord you don’t know what you’re doing!’

It seems Martha is not ready for Jesus to act; she is not prepared for what may come about; and she is definitely not ready to be disappointed after placing her trust in Jesus.

And yet Jesus displays His compassion, His authority, and His power when he commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. He is moved out of compassion for His friends to perform this great sign; He shows His authority, as the Messiah in this miracle; He shows His power, as the author of life, bringing life back to the lifeless.

And despite this great act, the people are again divided. Some believe in Jesus, while others still refuse. Those who believe do so because they have been present and have witnessed to the movement and power of God in their midst. Those who refuse do so, because they are more concerned with how this will affect their lives, position and power, than whether or not God is present to them.

As Christians we are called to witness to the presence of the living God in our world; we are called to act in the name of Jesus, bringing compassion and life wherever we happen to be; and we are called to trust that what God has promised us through Jesus, He will indeed deliver.

Rather than specifying terms and conditions we need to trust that God will answer prayer in ways that are in our best interests – not as individuals, or people of privilege or position – but as a people specifically called as His own, to be reunited with Him for all eternity. At those times when we find it most difficult, most trying, most discouraging; those are especially the times when we have to echo the words of Martha, “Yes Lord, I believe,” – and really, really mean them.

And then, we have to let the Lord do what He knows is best for us.

Giotto's raising of Lazarus

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent – 4th Sunday (Year A)

It is one of our greatest weaknesses as humans that we tend to harbour grudges and store memories of the bad, rather than the good….when we encounter someone who has changed their life, and come closer to God – our world tends not to accept them – we might respond with – “I’m not buying into their message of conversion – I remember when they did this or that, or behaved in this way or that”….we judge them, and then hold onto those past memories because, like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, if we accept that these people have changed and have grown, then we have to accept the message that we are called to change and grow; and for many of us, that message is one we would rather not hear because it demands a response.

In the cultural thought at the time of today’s Gospel, it was common to see a physical ailment or tragedy as a sign of God’s lack of favour or God’s displeasure – a curse; not only the Pharisees, but many would have seen someone being blind from birth as having some judgment from God visited on them. And yet, Jesus is quite clear that God is not judging this man or his parents, by ‘making him blind’ – instead, God visits this man in his disability to demonstrate His love and mercy, and to show the authority of Jesus; nowhere in the Old Testament is it recorded that anyone blind from birth was given their sight; this is truly a powerful and visible miracle that Jesus has worked ; and the man is brought to the authorities to show them this sign from God and to invite them to come to know Jesus. Just like last week’s Gospel with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus visits the outcast and sends them to the community as His messengers – but what a complete contrast in responses we see; the people of the Samaritan village accepted Jesus’ invitation from the woman at the well despite her past, and without a visible sign; compare that with the response of the authorities in this passage; the blind man, also an outcast delivers Jesus message, this time with a visible sign- but this group of Pharisees, locked in on their idea that this man is a sinner and therefore incapable of delivering God’s message, refuse to hear Christ’s invitation – the blind man’s past history prevents the Pharisees from seeing his potential.

Have you ever wanted to share something you have experienced or learned, with someone else, and they weren’t interested in hearing about it or discounted it? Then imagine how the blind man felt – he could see for the first time, and is sharing this with the authorities – and rather than rejoicing with him in his healing and God’s blessing and mercy, they try to condemn Jesus for performing a miracle on the Sabbath.

They don’t want to accept this healing, this opening up to the light of Christ, because if they accept that, then a response is demanded of them.

They either have to accept Jesus and allow His teaching to change their lives and transform their thinking, or they have to reject Him despite this demonstration of His authority and power. They have to accept that God can use the outcast and the broken to deliver His message, or they have to reject that God is all powerful and can use whomever He chooses to be His instrument in the world. They have to accept that God’s will is not theirs, or they have to reject the notion that God is all-loving and merciful.

Not only do they end up rejecting Jesus, but when the blind man proclaims Jesus as Lord, he is cast out from the synagogue. This would have put him completely outside his community – he would no longer be able to participate in the social routines of his town and family. This very incident prefigures what will happen to the members of the early Church in Jerusalem about fifty years later; for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, they too will be cast out from the Temple and no longer be allowed to participate ‘as usual’ in their society or culture. It foreshadows what happens quite often today, when messengers of the Gospel are shouted down, discounted, ridiculed and rejected by our society.

But despite this rejection, we have yet another sign of Jesus’ compassion and caring and faithfulness to His promises; that even when we are cast aside, He does not abandon us.

When Jesus hears the man is cast out, Jesus looks for him and finds him, and reveals Himself further to him; not only curing the blind man of his physical blindness; but overcoming his spiritual blindness; giving his soul insight into who Jesus really is;

Rather than simply curing the blind man and leaving him to fend for himself, Jesus seeks him out when the world has rejected this messenger. What further evidence would we need of Christ’s love for those who accept His light, His teaching, and carry it into the world?

And, it is not only to the lost and lonely that God extends His mercy and His love; it is also through the unexpected, the broken, the stained that God issues His invitation to us to come back to Him.

For each of us, it means making a decision when someone offers a message of conversion, an invitation to turn or return to God – perhaps someone who invites us to participate in a prayer group or an apostolate – an outreach to the suffering;… maybe someone who needs our forgiveness…and rather than looking at the person who is asking us, and weighing our response on our past encounters with them; we can look beyond the person to see how God is using them to draw us closer to Himself…in essence “seeing” how they are messengers of Christ to us.

Just like the blind man, Jesus seeks each of us out and finds us where we are all the time; when we feel rejected by the world for delivering His message; when we want to hold onto our past grudges or hurts; when we feel judged or victimized; He seeks us out and draws us to Himself; offering healing to our own spiritual blindness; to our biases; to our past regrets – a perfect time and opportunity to experience this, is by participating in thesacrament of confession….allowing Christ to find us in the sacrament; a chance to cleanse ourselves of those preconceptions and hurts and to take that step in growth and change and open the eyes of our spirit to become messengers of God’s forgiveness and love to the world, knowing that Jesus will always be there with us no matter how the world responds to us.

healing blind

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent – 3rd Sunday (Year A)

At one time or another, we have all had to deliver messages, and we have all received messages at some point in our lives. Our desire to even deliver a message depends on how we expect the news will be received. Bad news- we don’t want to deliver; Good news, we don’t mind delivering at all.

Often the content of the message determines how we treat the one who delivers it.  Often times, they are treated as if they are responsible for the information they bring. We might blame the one who brings bad news to us, or we shut out what they have to say if it challenges us to step out of our ‘comfort zone’ or be open to a different perspective.   We may even have a preconceived notion of the messenger themselves, and because of our bias, we might ignore anything they have to say, good or bad.  This is particularly true in our faith lives; when our lifestyles or attitudes are challenged by the Gospel.  Sometimes we don’t want to hear the message, so we discount or dismiss the messenger.  And sometimes we don’t want to deliver that same message to others.

We’ve heard the story from St. John’s Gospel of ‘the Samaritan woman at the well’ so often, that perhaps we don’t realize just what a shocking story this was to people of Jesus time and to Christians of the early Church; it presented a real challenge then, and it presents a real challenge to us today.  To better understand just how startling this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is, we need to look at it in the proper context.

The Samaritans were a group which had split from mainline Judaism several centuries before the time of Jesus, after the Babylonian exile.  Some believe the split occurred because some of those Jews who were able to remain in Palestine during the exile had intermarried with foreign tribes, outside of the Jewish nation. Whatever the cause, by the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans did not simply ‘look down on’ each other, but they actively ‘hated’ each other. For example, we know to eat pork for Jews is a serious violation of their dietary laws. There was an old Jewish proverb that held that eating Samaritan bread, for a Jew, was worse than eating pig.

On the other side, a group of Samaritans, around the time that Jesus would have been a teenager, sneaked into the Temple in Jerusalem, scattering human bones around it – desecrating the TempleJudasim’s holiest place; to purify the Temple after would have been no small matter. All of the Jews, including Jesus and his disciples, would have known about this story.

We know that this meeting of Jesus and the woman occurs at noon, the hottest part of the day – not a time of day for heavy labour, and yet this woman is alone at this well drawing water ( different scholars have offered opinions concerning this woman’s character – that she may have been a prostitute, or unmarried living in an improper relationship), but regardless of why, we have this woman who is portrayed as being an outsider in her own community – one who is not associated with by others.

Simply the fact that he, a teacher, was sitting talking to a strange woman in a public place, would have certainly been viewed by His disciples as improper behaviour.

So in essence, from the view of the culture of the day, this particular person had three strikes against her…she was a woman, she was a Samaritan woman, and she was a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation.

Yet none of this is important to Jesus in His conversation with her.  It doesn’t seem to be important in his allowing her to make Him known to the rest of those living in the Samaritan city. Perhaps it was because of her openness to hear what He had to say.

She enters into conversation with Him.  And during the course of their conversation, as she really listens to what Jesus has to say, she goes from calling him ‘Sir’ to ‘a Prophet’ to wondering out loud if He is ‘the Messiah’.  She enters into relationship with Him as He reveals Himself to be the source of everlasting life, that well spring of eternal ‘living water’.  And she learns from Jesus, that this living water, that He is the source of, is available to anyone who listens to His words and believes in Him and enters into that relationship.

This is really good news.

It’s important to note too, that Jesus didn’t send her with orders to announce Him to the city.  She wanted to share this relationship and knowledge of Jesus with others; she wanted to be the messenger of this Good News.   She probably was not expecting a very warm reception, but she went anyway; She went on her own, not because she had to, but because she wanted to, and that is the mark of a true disciple.

We don’t know how hard she had to work to convince her community to come and meet Jesus; after all, if they wouldn’t even associate with her at a well in the heat of the day, why would they listen to her talking about a stranger – and yet , they did.  The only part of their conversation recorded for us, is this woman saying ‘come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done – he cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ But she must have been extremely convincing for her words to overcome their dislike of her, to come and see Jesus for themselves.  They were open to what she had to say; and after seeing Him and hearing Him for themselves, they call Him the Saviour of the World.  Not even His own people recognize Jesus as the Saviour of the World. And He stays with the Samaritans for two days after that, enjoying their hospitality and teaching them.

This Gospel passage is a solid reminder that Jesus’ has come for the whole world, not just the chosen people, not just a select few – but the whole world; those groups and cultures that do not know Him; those who live on the fringes of society; those who have been marginalized and are looked down upon by members of their own communities; for all of us in our own broken-ness.

And it is in that very broken-ness that He invites us all into a deeper relationship – not when we are healed and whole, but while we are still broken…and even in that broken-ness we are invited to bring His message to others.

It’s also a reminder that God includes whomever He chooses in His plan of  bringing the message of His love and salvation to the world, and we don’t get ‘a vote’ on who that is.

He makes Himself known to His messengers, and He makes Himself known to others through these same messengers.  Just like today, the people of the Samaritan city didn’t get to pick who God used to speak to them; Jesus did that, and if they had refused to listen to that messenger, or rejected what she said, they would have missed the opportunity of meeting directly with Jesus Himself.

The news that God loves each and every one of us and continues to invite each and every one of us into a deeper relationship with Him is Good News.  That He would enter into our humanity, taking our sins on Himself, sacrificing Himself for us is also Good News.  That He invites and allows each of us to participate in spreading this message and His love… that’s Good News too ; imagine – the Creator of All wants each and every human being ever born to be with Him for all eternity – what better news could there be?

And yet, we must ask ourselves; if I enjoy delivering good news to people, am I afraid to be the messenger of this, the greatest news of all, to the world? Am I afraid to bring a message so wonderful to others, through my words or actions because they might reject it? Are the people I encounter in my world going to ignore this message because of how they view me?

As we continue our Lenten Journey, we can pray and ask God to constantly help us; to hear him in our own moments of broken-ness; to hear Him speaking to us even in the most unlikely people or circumstances; and to remember that His invitation to help spread His Kingdom – to be His messengers -is open not only to us, but to everyone else we encounter in our parish, our homes, and our communities.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

Lent – 2nd Sunday (Year A)

It’s difficult given media reports and current world events, not to be afraid.  With the current situation in the Ukraine; the ongoing bloodshed and civil war in Syria; ongoing threats of terrorism and strife – these play on our minds.  Yet we try to downplay or ignore those things that frighten us, as if that will simply make them go away.

And what has that got to do with today’s Gospel story – the Transfiguration of Jesus?  Certainly fear is not the first thing we think of when we consider the images that the Transfiguration brings to mind.

But in St. Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, fear receives special treatment and special mention; in fact, in this particular gospel account, it reveals an all-too-human response to the challenge of discipleship; but it reveals the solution to that human response.

This incident is recounted in all three of the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke.  But only in St. Matthew’s does the response of fear from the three Apostles, Peter, James and John – follow  the pronouncement from God who Jesus is, and what God expects of those to whom this truth about Jesus is revealed..

We might expect a response of fear and bewilderment at any point in this episode as it plays itself out.

Peter, James and John are chosen often from amongst the twelve apostles by Jesus to be close to him at certain points in his ministry, in his prayer and in his teachings.  Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that perhaps these three are Jesus’ ‘best friends’ from among all his followers.

They have traveled with him, witnessed his preaching, seen him perform great miracles – the feeding of the five thousand; walking on water; numerous healings.  They have lived, eaten, and worked with him.  They know him, on a human level, perhaps better than most others. This is the Jesus that they have climbed Mt.Tabor with.

While they are sitting, they see him suddenly turn as bright as the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white;

-this doesn’t frighten them

Then they see Moses and Elijah – the implication is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets – the Messiah, and Moses and Elijah are giving witness to this.

– but Moses and Elijah have been dead for hundreds of years,

…and this doesn’t frighten them either…

In fact, Peter wants to build shelter for the Jesus, Moses and Elijah, so filled with awe that he doesn’t know what else to say, but again, he’s not frightened.

A bright cloud overshadows everyone, and still they aren’t frightened; they’re okay with all of this.

But then a voice speaks from the cloud – the voice of God:

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased: listen to him!”

Now, they’re afraid.

The Gospel relates, ‘When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.’

The positioning of this phrase “they were overcome by fear” is unique to St. Matthew’s Gospel,

This is not the first time that God the Father has indicated his relationship with Jesus; in fact, the first part of this proclamation is the same as it was when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River – ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

-there’s nothing frightening here.

The difference this time, is the command that goes with this announcement from God;

“Listen to him!”

This is when the disciples are frightened.  None of the other apparitions or implications or events on Mt.Tabor shake them until they hear this command.

“Listen to him.”

Perhaps the cost of discipleship is finally starting to sink in with Peter, James and John.  Prior to this episode, Jesus has spelled out the meaning of true discipleship: in St. Matthew’s Gospel, immediately preceding the Transfiguration, Jesus tells his listeners, ‘anyone who would be my disciple must take up their cross daily and follow me; anyone who holds onto their life will lose it; but anyone who loses their life for my sake will save it.”

The implication of the command ‘Listen to Him’, can indeed be a frightening one.  For these three apostles, it meant that nothing in their lives would ever be the same again.  They could not go back to their lives, to ‘business as usual’ after this experience, and they had seen the great lawgiver Moses, and the great prophet Elijah bearing witness to Jesus as the Messiah.  More than this, they heard the voice of God quite plainly stating who Jesus is – God’s beloved Son; to ‘listen to him’ meant that they could no longer follow their own ambitions and desires and wants.  They couldn’t simply bask in the ‘glow’ of the glorified Christ, thinking of themselves as holding privileged positions; they had to take to heart the teachings of Jesus and do as he asked.

This same implication can often cause us to be afraid in our own faith journeys.  We want to rest on Mt.Tabor with Jesus, witnessing to his glory, spending time alone with him.  It is good to be there.

But when God touches us in the depths of our hearts, and reveals to us who Jesus really and truly is, we too are given that same command; “Listen to Him”

And as with the disciples, it means for us too, that ‘business’ will no longer be the same.

The command means we have to consider that maybe all that we have assumed may have to change as well; maybe our plans for the future aren’t really what we’re called to; maybe the relationships we’ve been in aren’t in keeping with what Jesus asks of us; maybe our selections of entertainment or recreation or comforts aren’t in keeping with what it means to ‘listen to him’.

And the minute we are confronted with that in our own conscience, that perhaps we might have to change or give something up or treat people differently than we have been, that can cause us to become fearful.  We don’t like to change – we resist it, as if somehow acknowledging we need to change something, means admitting that we’re somehow defective or wrong.

In reality, acknowledging we need to change something means growth;  it means embracing that desire to grow closer to God; to come closer to what Jesus showed the disciples on Mt. Tabor; the future that awaits those who imitate the Master; who grow closer to Christ; who join Him in His glory as adopted daughters and sons of God.

Yes, change can be unsettling, disturbing, even frightening.  But just as the disciples witnessed in the midst of their fear when their senses were overwhelmed with the brightness and the visions and the voice; it says, ‘Jesus touched them and said, ‘Get up and do not be afraid’. And they saw only Jesus there.’

If we truly wish to join in Christ’s glory, we also need to join in his suffering of the cross, dying to ourselves and living as he taught. But just as he said to the disciples, he says to us; ‘do not be afraid’

And just like the disciples, if we trust in him, if we ‘listen to him’, then when we look up in the midst of our journey, in spite of challenges and struggles, we will see “only Jesus there.”

Pantokrator_of_Sinai

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent – 1st Sunday (Year A)

note; please forgive the absence of the notes from the 1st Sunday of Lent on the actual 1st Sunday – I was in a place where the internet was not accessible (which is not always a bad thing) and so I am posting it today…

We often play down the possibility that we may stray from where God calls us, or where the teachings of Christ lead us, by failing or refusing to acknowledge that we are tempted to stray.

Our current culture and society stress the importance of being ‘independent’ and ‘free-thinking’, and so as a consequence, we become the final arbiters of what is or is not ‘right’; what does or does not lead to ‘Truth’ – God being the ultimate Truth.

We can cite physical or material ‘wants’ as ‘needs’; we can rationalize our actions easily by determining what is ‘best’ for us (meaning ourselves alone); we can conclude that we alone have the final say on what is or is not right.

The easiest way to fall into this ‘trap’, particularly for those who profess to be Christians, is to deny that we are engaged in a spiritual war in this lifetime; a war in which the very fate of our souls, and those we influence, is determined.  To deny this ‘struggle’ is to deny that there is a possibility of going in the wrong direction, of succumbing to ‘temptation’.  If we convince ourselves that we are the final authority in what is right and wrong, we have already surrendered to temptation. We may even convince ourselves that there is no such thing as temptation, because right and wrong are very subjective terms.  I might here offer a recent quote attributed to Pope Francis which may bluntly explain what is wrong with this view; “If you believe you have never been tempted, you are either a little angel come down from heaven, or you’re an idiot” (I won’t vouch for the authenticity of this quote, but you get my point).

In today’s gospel, we see Jesus engaged in that very battle of temptation – the ultimate personification of Good in Jesus facing the personification of Evil in the devil; this episode in St. Matthew’s account occurs after Jesus has been fasting in the desert.  He’s no doubt very hungry, tired, and alone.

The three temptations as offered, though, speak to a very common progression in our own lives as we battle temptations – the first is to tempt Jesus to address bodily wants (we can argue whether the bread was needed or wanted here, but the point is that Jesus in deliberately choosing to fast as part of his ‘retreat’ saw the bread more as a ‘want’ than a ‘need’).  Jesus quotes Sacred Scripture in responding that the need for God supersedes any momentary ‘wants’ or ‘comforts’.  In fact, satisfying that ‘want’ in the moment may lead us away from God, if we are serious about our pilgrim journey.

The next temptation is to suggest that we can manipulate God to build ourselves up; ‘if you are the Son of God throw yourself off this cliff, for God will send His angels to bear you up…’  God gives us a rational mind in real, physical world – we don’t need to somehow expect God to provide supernatural proof of how important we are to Him, and we certainly shouldn’t be calling on Him to provide ‘parlour tricks’ to satisfy our own egos how important we are to Him.  He loved us into existence. If that isn’t sufficient proof of His love for us, then we need to seriously examine ourselves.

Finally the devil offers power and fame in exchange for Jesus bowing down to him.  Here, we see the devil tempting Jesus with his own sin – the sin of pride.  How prevalent this ‘root sin’ is in our own day and in our own lives; ‘I don’t need anyone else to tell me when I am doing something wrong,’ or ‘I don’t need some old-fashioned rule in my modern life because they are so outdated’; we move and act as if we alone are the wisest of all creatures since the beginning; as if centuries of saints and scholars, theologians and teachers couldn’t hold a candle to our own wit and wisdom (which all too often is formed by questionable or outright false information purveyed through the internet).

The message in this Gospel is that temptation is very real; it happened to Christ Himself – and it is hardly surprising that it should happen to those who would follow Him.  The difference is that we are called to resist it, just as Jesus did; not by pretending that it doesn’t exist, but by confronting it wherever we see it in our lives, and calling it what it is.  Rather than presuming that we have all the answers, perhaps it is with a sense of humility that we acknowledge that we don’t know ‘everything’. Perhaps we need to be humble enough to seek the actual information we need to know how to properly make informed decisions.

Perhaps, after all, we need to rely on God to deliver us from temptation.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!