To test Jesus, a “scholar of the law’’ asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus threw the question back to him by asking him, “What is written in the law? How do you interpret it?” The scholar answered by quoting two famous passages from the Hebrew Scripture. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind. (Deuteronomy 6:5), and your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18b)
This shrewd lawyer understood quite well the meaning of these two commandments. He knew that just about everybody could agree with the first commandment: love God. There’s nothing that’s contentious about it. Everybody could say that they love God. The extent of that love could vary but the basic command to love God would be easy for most people to accept. It was like motherhood and apple pie.
However, the second commandment was much more challenging for everybody. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The scholar was looking for a fight with this liberal rabbi from Nazareth, and so, he asked Jesus to define a neighbor for him. Luke comments that the scholar asked this to “justify himself.” Jesus decided to engage him. He spun the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus made some major accusations in the parable. The people who walked by the dying man represented various types of people in the scholar’s circle of colleagues, a priest, and Levite, a member of the priestly tribe. These were people who officially said they loved God.
They served in the temple ritual. They put their “love of God” above their love of neighbor. They were on their way to Jerusalem to perform their priestly duties. If they touched this bloody, dying man they would be rendered ritually unclean and would not be permitted to perform their religious duties. So, they left him to die.
Then, the religious outcast came by, the Samaritan. The Jew who was dying on the side of the road was saved by a heretic and cultural enemy who overlooked his religious and cultural prejudice.
The moral of the parable was absolutely clear, but Jesus asked the scholar, “Which of the three was neighbor to the robber’s victim?” “The one who treated him with mercy,” came the answer. For the scholar and for anyone who could hear, the parable answered his question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Be a Good Samaritan!
I ask you to revisit this passage during your personal prayer time this week. Allow the parable to speak to our contemporary situation. Open your eyes to the cancer of “them and us,” that we Americans are suffering today. Like good Jews and good Samaritans, we can’t talk to each other. We’re committed to our hatred for each other. We refuse to look for common ground for creative and healing dialogue. Instead, we wage war with one another. Our objective is to conquer and dominate the other.
I’ll conclude with a teaching from the apostle John. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4:20a)
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
This passage is so very important to help us understand what it means for us to be Christians, followers of Christ. Jesus taught us that “the harvest is abundant.” God has done a great deal of work on each one of us. God planted the seed, nurtured it and cared for it until it matured and was ready to be harvested. The Psalm puts it this way: “I thank you Lord, with all my heart…You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works.” (Psalm 139:1, 13-14)
God willed us into being and guided us to maturity, but Jesus acknowledged a glitch. He noted that the harvest, the fruit of God’s labor, stands waiting to be gathered and brought into the kingdom of God. Through God’s labor everyone has been prepared for the kingdom, but we need something more. We need to be invited. That’s where the seventy-two disciples in today’s gospel come in. This is where we come into the story, too.
“So, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Some commentators say that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two so that one would pray while the other preached. Personally, I think we all have to pray, and we all have to preach.
We have to be people of prayer. Jesus often spent the night in prayer before he began a new segment of his mission. Prayer is that si
lent time when we invite the Spirit to speak to our hearts. This is essential to give us insight into the message of Jesus and the courage we’ll need to witness to it. Not pulling any punches, Jesus was clear that the work of harvesting could be difficult and maybe scary. “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”
He also asks that we be simple and honest with our message. Remember, this is a heart to heart ministry. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” We must be single-minded, determined and sincere. The kingdom of God holds the gift we all long for. “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’”
In John’s Gospel, during the last supper, Jesus spoke intimately with his disciples. He said to them, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus was opening the door of the kingdom for them. His gift of peace wasn’t freedom from struggle or danger, however. It was the peace that would remain secure and powerful in their hearts no matter what challenges life would bring them. This is what the laborer is asked to offer, the peace of the kingdom of God.
Today, the gospel is inviting each of us to work to bring in the harvest. God has already planted the seed throughout the world. Let’s pray to the Spirit for the gift of peace so that we can we can begin the ministry we’ve been called to. From deep within our hearts let’s proclaim the kingdom of God. Let’s be brave. Let’s say, “Peace be to this household.”
Don’t turn back! That’s the message in the scriptures this week-end. We begin our reflection by looking at a dramatic scene from the first book of Kings.
Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, is about to pass on his prophetic spirit to his disciple, Elisha, who is plowing a field with twelve yoke of oxen. Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders thereby passing on his prophetic power. Elisha accepts the mantle and asks permission to kiss his mother and father goodby. Elijah encourages him to do so. Then, Elisha performs a prophetic act. He slaughters the oxen, cooks their flesh, and offers the food to his workers. By this action, Elisha is offering his entire past as a loving sacrifice to God. He’s completely free now to begin a new life as Elijah’s successor. For Elisha, there’s no turning back.
In the passage from Luke’s gospel we witness a number of people responding to the call of Jesus. One tells Jesus that he’ll follow him anywhere. Jesus gives him some reality therapy by alerting him to the fact that he’s an itinerate preacher. “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus calls another person to follow him but receives the reply, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus’ answer to him could not be more direct. “Let the dead bury their dead, but you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Finally, a person tells Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family.” The intensity of Jesus’ response is somewhat shocking. “No one who sets a hand
to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was extraordinary. For three years he taught in synagogues, in people’s homes, along the seashore and on mountain tops. He spent many nights in prayer. Power flowed out of him when he healed people, but he kept healing anyway. His family worried about him making enemies of the religious leaders by frequently, and publicly, breaking the sabbath laws and religious customs. They were right to worry, but they couldn’t stop him.
People often ask me when and how I received “the call.” So many people think that the call to priesthood is extraordinary. My answer to them is always the same. “My ‘call’ wasn’t any more extraordinary than yours.”
Being called by Jesus to follow him takes many extraordinary forms. “Follow me.” Commit all you have to your marriage. “Follow me.” Be a loving, dedicated father. “Follow me.” Be the best mother you can be. “Follow me.” Teach the truth! “Follow me.” Do the best job you can when you fix that leaking pipe. “Follow me.” Be loving, just and compassionate when you enforce the law. “Follow me.” Whatever you do in this life, do it with your whole heart and soul. Don’t be put off by the sacrifices you’ll have to make. Embrace them. We’re Christians. We’ve been chosen and have accepted the call to follow Christ.
We’ll end this reflection with a teaching on Christian life St. Paul directed to the community in Colossae. “Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these, put on love.”
In the bible, numbers very often have a symbolic or mystical meaning. John’s Book of Revelation, for example, makes extensive use of numerology. His numbers are not to be taken literally; they have a deeper meaning. Today, let’s reflect on Luke’s use of numbers in his account of the feeding of the 5,000.
The event takes place after a long day of healing and teaching about the kingdom of God. Evening is coming, and the 12 suggest that the crowd be dismissed so that everyone can go to the towns around this “deserted place” to buy food for themselves. This “deserted place” is reminiscent of the desert of Tsin where God rained down manna upon the people of Israel during their exodus journey. That was the old order, the old time. Jesus challenges them to stay put and to give the people something to eat themselves. The 12 answer that they only have 5 loaves and 2 fish. They are about to experience the new order, the new time, the kingdom of God.
This gathering is marked by the number 12, the symbol of entirety and cosmic order. In the old order people, a group of tribes, were struggling in a “deserted place” and needed God to care for them. The people of the kingdom, however, are a community and have all they need. They have 5 loaves and 2 fish.
5 is symbolic of transformation and illumination. 2 symbolizes harmony. In this meal the people will be fed with an intimate knowledge of God which brings the harmony that only divine healing can bestow. This illumination and harmony spreads to groups of 50 and then to the entire group of 5,000.
But the kingdom of God is not exclusive. Its gates are open to everyone. The entire world is invited to eat in the kingdom of God. 12 baskets are left over after this first meal in the kingdom of God. Food of the kingdom of God awaits, and everyone is invited to this meal.
On this day, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we hear the words of invitation, powerful and clear that invite everyone to this meal in the kingdom of God, “Take and eat. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in memory of me”
Lord Jesus, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to the Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
(Prayer from the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ from the Sacramentary)
Following the Feast of Pentecost, the Church officially moves into Ordinary Time. The liturgical calendar is divided into “seasons:” Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, LentEaster, Pentecost and the Sundays following, Ordinary Time.
During the thirty weeks of Ordinary Time, the Church focuses our attention on the teachings of Jesus. We listen to many parables. We witness many miracles and healings that Jesus performed. We contemplate their meaning and try to adapt something we’ve gleaned from them to our everyday lives.
To start off this portion of the liturgical year, the Church accents three important elements of our faith by naming the Sundays: Trinity Sunday, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost our “understanding” of God is complete. The Father sent the Son to redeem us. The Son, in turn, sent the Holy Spirit to teach us, guide us and enlighten us. We contemplate God as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier One God, three Persons: The Holy Trinity.
In the Feast of the Body of Blood of Christ, we celebrate Jesus’ abiding presence among us in the Eucharist that we so often celebrate.
Then we celebrate the tremendous love of the Heart of Christ revealed to us though his life, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection. This is commemorated in the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
But today, we focus on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. In the second reading, from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, we’re given an important teaching: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Paul is telling us that we have been drawn into the life of the Trinity because the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love into us. And so, we dare to call God, “our Father.”
This first reflection in Ordinary Time is profound but so basic to who we are as Christians. We believe that we’re children of God because we share God’s very life by sharing in God’s love. We deepen and perfect that love when we love as Jesus loved – when we love as totally as we can, when we lay down our lives for one another every day, when we live, not for ourselves, but for others.
Let’s conclude our reflection by recalling the teaching of John, the Evangelist. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16b)
We have two accounts of the Pentecost event to enrich our reflection today. Let’s look at the gospel account first.
John’s account is subtle; it’s contained within his resurrection account. The passage begins on the day of the resurrection. Shortly before sunrise Mary of Magdala discovered that Jesus’ body was no longer in the garden tomb. She went back to tell the disciples. Peter and John ran back to the tomb with her to find it just as she had reported. After inspecting the tomb they returned to the group leaving Mary at the tomb.
Weeping, she looked, once again, into the tomb. There were two angels dressed in white sitting on the slab where Jesus’ body had been laid. “Why are you weeping?” they asked. Numb with grief, their appearance made little impression on her. Her answer was simple and direct. “They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” She didn’t even wait for a response. She stood up only to find a man standing near her. He asked the same question as the angels. “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Presuming that he was the gardener she pleaded with him, “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” Then, in the matter of a second, the darkness surrounding her gave way to the light of the sun. The man spoke her name, “Mary.” Jesus was alive!
Meanwhile Peter and John had returned to the other disciples who were in hiding behind locked doors. The fact that Jesus’ body had been taken away only increased their fear of imminent arrest. Their muffled conversation was suddenly replaced by gasps. People moved to the periphery of the room. Jesus was standing in the middle of the room. His rich, full voice extended the Sabbath greeting to them, “Shalom aleichem.” He showed them the wounds in his hands and his feet. It was Jesus. Truly. It was Jesus. He was alive! Some cried. Some laughed. Some put their hands over their mouths in amazement. He greeted them a second time. “Shalom aleichem.” Then, he commissioned them. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
It’s at this moment, the very evening of the resurrection, that John inserted the Pentecost event. It was a simple action. “He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This was the moment of a second creation. Everyone in the room recalled the words of their ancient scripture. “God shaped man from the soil of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being.” Jesus went from one to another breathing
on them, blowing into them the breath of life – new life – divine life. He then anointed them for a mission. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” He was sending them out to unbind humankind from the shackles of sin. He was giving them the power to open the gates of heaven.
Luke’s account was much more dramatic, and much more public. It took place fifty days after the resurrection – after the Passover of the Lord. It was on the day of the Jewish feast of Shavuot, commemorating the day God gave Moses the law – the day the twelve tribes became a nation with law and statutes.
The disciples were in hiding when they heard the deafening noise of a driving wind. It was so loud that it was heard in the street below them. Then a fire bolt exploded in the middle of the room sending tongues of fire to rest on the head of each man and woman. The flame purified them of their fear and hesitation. The people outside not only heard them proclaiming “the mighty acts of God,” but heard the proclamation in their own language, and the proclamation pierced their hearts. Three thousand people came to believe in Jesus that day!
On the day of Pentecost God breathed new life into the frightened disciples of Jesus. That day, the fire Jesus promised to cast over the earth entered the hearts of the disciples only to pour out of them in words of proclamation.
Today, let’s ask the Spirit to purify our hearts with holy fire that touched the early disciples. Let’s breathe in the Christ life that the Spirit brings. Let’s not be afraid any longer to see the world in a new way. Let’s not be afraid to witnesses to his teachings and his ministry and his living presence among us.
We’re celebrating the last Sunday of Easter, the seventh Sunday. We’ve been on a spiritual high as we reviewed and contemplated the Resurrection of Jesus.
On Easter Sunday we were with Mary Magdalene when she discovered that the body of Jesus was gone. We watched Peter as he bent down to look into the empty tomb. We witnessed John gazing into the tomb with the new eyes of faith.
The following Sunday after we heard Thomas say that he would never believe that Jesus was alive unless he touched his wounds. We watched his face when Jesus showed him his hands and his side. We came to realize that Thomas doubted because he had detached himself from the faith community, the body of Christ.
The third Sunday we felt the cool morning breeze along the Sea of Galilee. We saw Peter, Nathaniel, Thomas and a few others catching 153 very large fish. We saw Jesus feeding them with bread and fish, and then freeing Peter from the shackles of his three betrayals. We heard Peter called. We heard ourselves called. “Follow me.”
The fourth Sunday of Easter Jesus looked into our eyes. Love radiated from him as he embraced us and comforted us. He whispered to us his promise of future glory. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
On the fifth Sunday we listened to Jesus as we’ve never listened before. He imparted to us the secret of eternal life. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He made a promise to us the following week. He told us that the Father would send us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. He promised that the Spirit would be our guarantee that throughout the centuries Jesus would remain with us. He would continue to teach us. He promised that we would experience peace – not the world’s idea of peace – true peace – peace of mind and heart – the peace that rests on us as we lay our heads against our Father’s breast.
The week of weeks is over. Now we wait for the new breath of the Spirit.
Today’s gospel passage is a prelude to the feast of Pentecost – the celebration of the birth, life and mission of the Church. In today’s gospel passage we’re at the last supper listening to Jesus prepare his apostles and disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He sets a context for the Spirit’s coming – love. “Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Last week we heard the command Jesus spoke to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” His call to a life of sacrificial love is the disciple’s manifesto. He teaches us that as we empty ourselves in love for one another, as we free ourselves of ego and self-centeredness, new life begins to grow in us. “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
The Holy Spirit begins his work in a heart that loves as Jesus loved, sacrificially. The Spirit feeds that love by illuminating our minds and reminding us of all Jesus told us.
Take a moment to think of some of the things Jesus told us.
“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for youselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach or moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.”
“How happy are the poor in spirit. How happy are the meek. How happy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Happy the merciful and the clean of heart. Happy are the peacemakers.”
“You are the light of the world.” “You are the salt of the earth.”
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
When we draw these teachings into our hearts we invite God to make his dwelling in us. Then we begin to know his peace. It won’t be the peace we struggle to achieve in the world. God’s peace dwells in our hearts even in war and our personal struggles. Nothing can trouble our hearts. Nothing can disturb our peace because God has replaced our fear with his love.
When we succumb to the Spirit our hearts become the holy city spoken of in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation. We become the Spirit’s temple. We need no sun or moon because the glory of God is shining within us – the light of the Lamb who was slain.
In preparation for the coming feast of Pentecost I encourage you to pray daily to the Holy Spirit. Invite him into your heart. Ask for a deeper knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. Ask for peace of heart and mind. Ask for all you need to be a true disciple of Jesus. Consecrate yourself to him. Don’t be afraid.
We’re reading from John’s account of the Last Supper, the beginning of the Book of Glory. Jesus and his disciples were at table the night before the Jewish Passover when Jesus shocked them by getting up from the table and washing their feet as if he were the house slave. He told them, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that what I have done for you, you should also do.” Judas left the company shortly after this teaching. His feet had been washed but he hadn’t been cleansed. As he left the dinner walking into the night, the cross cast a shadow across the room. He would return soon, and with a kiss betray his Lord.
“Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” He looked around at the disciples and said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” With these words Jesus accepted the cross. It would be the sign of his glory for all time. It would give witness to the
new commandment he was about to give to everyone who wished to be his disciple. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus was asking us to love as he loved. He was asking us to love sacrificially. As he was about to empty himself on the cross, he asked us to empty ourselves for one another. He washed our feet. For love of us he poured out his life’s blood on the cross. Whenever we gather for the sacred meal, the Eucharistic banquet, we hear his call, “Do this in memory of me.”
“When we eat this bread
and drink this cup
we proclaim the death of the Lord
until he comes.”
Lord Jesus, with these words I consecrate my life to you.
May I be your disciple in spirit and in truth.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus declared: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.” We’re very used to hearing this teaching. Its familiarity, I’m afraid, can weaken our understanding of Jesus’ message.
There are three parts to this statement. The first is: “My sheep hear my voice.” Jesus is teaching us that when we hear his voice we enter into a new relationship with him. He isn’t speaking of our ability to hear sounds coming from his mouth; he’s speaking about our ability to hear his message, to digest it, to meld it into our every fiber.
The second part of the teaching is: “I know them.” He’s teaching something very profound. He’s saying that he knows who we are. He sees the beauty of our hearts and minds. He knows our struggles. He knows our sins. He knows our potential and how we use the gifts we have. His knowledge of us is loving and non-judgmental because we’re in harmony with him, because we’re in communion with him. We hear his voice. We listen to him.
“They follow me.” What does this mean? Does it mean that we say yes to doctrines that define him? Do we believe that he’s a man? Do we believe that he’s the Son of God? What do we mean when we say we follow him?
A scribe once told Jesus, “Teacher, I will follow you where ever you go.” Jesus said this to him.
“Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.” Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
Following Jesus is demanding. Following him may mean that we won’t have a place to live. It may mean that we must abandon our family. Remember when Jesus was preaching and someone told him that his mother and brothers were outside and wanted to speak with him? His answer continues to challenge us. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.”
Over the centuries we Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, have created a great deal of wiggle room around his invitation to “Follow me.” We’ve pretty much cleansed his invitation of any of its radical implications.
I looked back into the bulletin files to see what I wrote about this same Sunday three years ago. I said pretty much the same thing but brought in an incident that took place a few months before, February 12, 2019. Twenty-one Coptic Christians were beheaded on a beach in Libya by members of the Islamic State. I’ll end today’s reflection with same question I ended with three years ago. What does it mean to be a Christian?