Gospel for Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Gospel for November 1st, 2015: “The Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes)”

Matthew 5: 1-12a

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Reflection:

I remember learning the Beatitudes as an elementary student in religious education. Their poetic simplicity has a lasting effect. Furthermore, their cause and effect construction provides instruction for living that is at once logical and comprehensive. What I missed as a child that is so moving to me now is Christ was teaching us to imitate Him and in the process, His love.

Consider the description that is built by substituting Christ for “Blessed:”

Christ was and is poor in spirit. He mourns for sinners. He is meek. He hungers and thirsts for righteousness. He is merciful and clean of heart. He is a peacemaker who loves and forgives His enemies. Christ was and is persecuted, insulted, and the victim of lies against Him.

In living the beatitudes we are imitating He who taught and lived them perfectly.

However, imitation of Christ, He who is without sin, can be daunting and challenging if one sees it only as a means to an end.  How can I live without sin for even one day, much less the rest of my life? Such perfection cannot possibly be attainable, so why try?

I think this is a symptom of modern perfectionist thinking that is so contrary to the simplicity required to imitate Christ. I think the idea is to be like Christ for the moment we are in. That moment will not require all these qualities of us at once. It may require us at one moment to suffer with hunger (for food or other worldly needs or desires) and at another to show mercy to just one person in need. In each moment comes the happiness of not just imitating what Christ would do, but of being with Christ in that moment. If we remember He is with us in each moment, we shall rejoice and be glad in this life in the next. If we mess up in that moment, another moment is right behind the current one with an opportunity to mourn our sin as Christ does and ask for forgiveness and mercy. And then another moment follows to be with Christ again. If that endless line of potentially happy moments isn’t a cause for hope, I don’t know what is.

Gospel for Sunday, October 25th, 2015

Gospel for October 25, 2015: “The Blind Bartimaeus”

Mark 10: 46-52

They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Reflection:

I am heartily encouraged by reading this beautifully concise gospel story of a miracle healing. While I am not physically blind myself, I often feel spiritually blind. I feel that I cannot see God’s will for my life. Currently, I am in a time of change where I have all these new possibilities in front of me, and I do not know which path God wants me to take, if any. I sense that my spiritual blindness is caused by a need to control my destiny, and yet I cannot shake the grip of my own selfishness and pride. While I try to be patient in the revelation of God’s plan for me, I am vulnerable to apprehension and doubt as I stand at this crossroads unable to see my way forward and am mightily tempted to choose the path myself.

I have discovered reading Bartimaeus’s story metaphorically gives me a sense of how to respond to this spiritual affliction with an “active patience.” First, Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus with humility, “…have pity on me” (47). With prayer, I can do this. Then “he kept calling out” despite human distraction (48). I can persist with my pleas for pity as he does. In his persistence, Jesus hears him and answers.

I love the encouragement from the disciples in response to Jesus’s request to call Bartimaeus. They say, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you” (49). Notice they don’t say be courageous, but rather take courage.  In other words, courage is a spiritual gift to be received from the Holy Spirit, not a human resource to be summoned out of sheer personal will. And yet there is action, “get up.” I can move toward Him with more intentional worship and prayer, rather than allowing myself to become paralyzed by fear of indecision.

In His mercy Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you me to do for you?” (51). With these simple steps, I have such unconditional loving compassion awaiting me from my Lord. And so I will answer as Bartimaeus did: “Master, I want to see” (51). That’s all I want, to know God’s plan for me so that I may follow and no longer be controlled by my own selfish desires. I want to see God’s path for me.

And then the miracle happens. Jesus replies, “Go your way; your faith has saved you” (52). I find such peace at the notion that my salvation only requires faith, just as did Bartimaeus’s. And the outcome is what I hope for: “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way” (52). The path is to follow the Good Shepherd. I only need to see Him and follow to stay on the right pathway.

Gospel for Sunday, October 18th

Gospel for October 18th, 2015: “Ambition of James and John”

Mark 10: 35-45

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Reflection:

Allow me the concession of making an assumption for which I have no scholarly basis: I think by the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel the apostles have been with Jesus for many months, perhaps a couple of years at this point. I bring this up because I believe the ambition of James and John is a sin of pride that is of greater risk to the long-term believer than to new convert. I don’t think a recent convert would ask the Lord for “whatever” he would ask of him (35). He would likely feel too much humility at the awareness of past sins, which would be on his conscience, to ask so much of the Lord. However, a faithful follower who has, through God’s grace, rejected sin on many occasions since his conversion might start to develop a sense of invulnerability. He may very well give credit to Jesus for this state of grace.  Yet in this state, even though his eyes are still looking to his savior, he might start to look ahead to heaven and forget his mission on earth is not finished until God calls for him. This unique version of ambition or pride is still dangerous because one loses sight of the daily need to serve the Lord, with all the discomfort and suffering that may bring. It is the risk of complacency.

In James and John’s case, I imagine their ambition may have been quite innocent. They may very well have been asking Jesus for places at His “right” and “left” only because they wished to remain forever close to His loving presence (37). Certainly, anyone who walks closely with Him over time, as they did, could not desire anything else. However, it is also possible they were attracted to a place of authority or power that they saw in worldly terms would be granted by their Lord. In either case, Jesus reorients their discipleship, their baptism and their communion in Him, to a life of service to God. This is what He modeled in his human life in the most dramatic way.  He foreshadows in this lesson on servant hood His ultimate service to humanity, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” And so I think it wise, as James and John had to do, to frequently reorient our own relationship with Jesus by following his model of serving others. On a daily basis, we can ask Jesus, how we may serve Him? What is His mission for us today? In that servant’s mentality burns the hope of a place in Heaven, not a position of power or authority, but eternal life in harmony with the love of our Lord.

Gospel for Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Gospel for October 11th, 2015: “The Rich Man”

Mark 10: 17-30

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus look at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.” Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.

Reflection:

For me, this passage is heart-breaking. From personal experience, I know the rich man’s response to Jesus’s invitation all too well:  “…his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (22). So many times I have stopped short of breaking my attachment to the world at Jesus’s call. Even to this day I am embarrassed to admit I have never been able to let go of the 10% tithe from my income to the church. Like the rich man, I am yet to be free of the weight of my possessions, taking on bloated obligations of mortgages and high speed internet service, fearfully clinging to them out a perverse sense of self-preservation, still unable to let go of the concern that I might be lost without them.

But it seems everywhere in the gospels when Jesus gives a hard command, He also gives hope in His words and in His abundant love. The apostles ask him, “Then who can be saved?” (26). In Jesus’s reply, I am reminded I am not alone, that I can turn to him for help in my slow shedding of the world’s grasp. He says, “For human beings it is impossible [to be saved], but not for God” (27).

I recently heard it said—I cannot recall the source to give credit—that Judas did not damn himself to Hell by betraying Jesus. Instead, his irreversible fall from grace occurred when he did not turn back to God to ask forgiveness. That was the moment his faith and hope were broken. And so it may be for the rich man if he walks away permanently. I want to say to him, don’t go away sad! Stay and ask forgiveness! Let God help you break the bonds of attachment! And so for a long time I thought it was for me as well. But no more. No longer do I give up hope so easily. Instead, I put my faith in God’s grace and mercy. I stay in His presence, despite the burden of my attachment to the world, allowing God to strengthen my free will in His own time. The day will come when I will surrender completely to God’s will. Until then, I live in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.