ACTS 2:14A, 36-41 | 1 PETER 2:20B-25 | JOHN 10:1-10
We’ve spent three Sundays reflecting on accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. All three of them took place on a Sunday, connecting them to Christian gathering day, the day we gather for the breaking of the bread. In each appearance Jesus continued to minister. At the tomb he called Mary Magdalene’s name rescuing her from the darkness that held her spirit hostage. Then he showed himself to the disciples who were in hiding in the upper room. Giving them hope when he breathed his Spirit into them giving them the power to forgive sin. He broke Thomas’ disbelief as he invited him to touch the marks of his crucifixion. Finally, he enlightened the two disciples fleeing to Emmaus to the meaning of the scriptures, and opened their eyes to his presence as he broke the bread with them.
This week Jesus reveals himself to us through a descriptive image: “I am the gate for the sheep.” To understand what he’s revealing about himself we have to understand shepherding in the Middle East at his time.
Sheep were raised primarily for their wool not for slaughter. So, shepherds were committed to their care and safety for their entire lives, ten to twelve years. The shepherd named all his sheep, and his sheep would respond to the call of their name. They relied on the shepherd to lead them to grazing pastures and water. He carried a sling shot and a club for protection against wild animals and robbers. The shepherd was with his sheep day and night. He never let them roam unattended. At night he would gather the sheep into communal pens, and to protect the sheep, he would sleep in the entrance to the pen. He would literally become “the gate for the sheep.” A wolf or wild animal would have to walk over the shepherd to get to the sheep.
By defining himself as the “gate” Jesus pledges his undying commitment to us. He’ll walk with us, strengthening, supporting and
protecting us during dark times. He’ll lead us to green pastures where he’ll spread a banquet for us at which he himself is the bread broken and shared. He’ll lead us to those restful, living waters that quench our thirst for eternal life
ANOTHER REFLECTION ON THE DISCIPLES AT EMMAUS
“Supper at Emmaus”
Surely they have seen him somewhere before, this stranger that they picked up on the road to Emmaus. The three of them discussed the recent crucifixion of Jesus, and now he may still be alive after his tomb was found empty. Yet in their hearts, they were not quite sure that Jesus was the son of God and divine. Still, they were unknowing disciples and followed Christ. They had loved him. Now they were walking with this stranger, and all three were talking about the crucifixion. He was explaining scripture to them as they had never before heard it or understood it. “Stay with us!” they pleaded as they reached Emmaus, and he was about to travel on. “The night Is coming.” They said. “We do not know you, but we want you to eat with us. We loved this Jesus, and now there is nothing beyond us but darkness, but when Jesus was alive there was the promise of heaven.”
Margaret Gilbert is a parishioner and published poet. You see her in church regularly. She serves as the cross bearer at the Sunday 4 PM Mass. Thank you, Margaret, for sharing your reflection.
ACTS 2:14, 22-33 | 1 PETER 1:17-21 | LUKE 24:13-35
In his study of the origins of the Eucharist in the Gospel of Luke entitled “Dining in the Kingdom of God,” Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere, SSS, asked a rhetorical question regarding the disciples at Emmaus: “Why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus?” His answer shook me up. “Because they didn’t recognize him in the first place.” I had always presumed that after the resurrection Jesus had a new body that was different from ours; that’s why nobody recognized him. But then, just think about it, when he appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room he had to show them the wounds of his crucifixion to prove to them who he was. At the tomb, Mary turned her gaze from the empty tomb and saw a man standing near her. She thought he was the gardener. It was only when he spoke her name that Mary recognized him. These two disciples fleeing from Jerusalem were carrying their own wounds. The voice of their master had been forever silenced. Their faith in Jesus the Messiah had been shattered. Any hope they had of a new kingdom had evaporated. They were downcast and were rehashing the events of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion when he walked up to them. He didn’t call their name as he did with Mary at the tomb. He didn’t show his wounds as he did to Thomas and the group in the Upper Room to prove who he was. This account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance is quite different from the others. Jesus asked these disciples to share with him what they had been debating, which they did. His response to their account was somewhat off-putting. “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe what the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then he did what he always did with them; he taught them. He shed a new light on everything they already knew. They knew the scriptures. They knew the five books of Moses. They knew all the Messianic prophecies by heart. Every Jewish boy learned them in Hebrew School. But as they walked along with him teaching them everything was beginning to make sense. The sun was setting by the time they came to Emmaus. They were still hungry for his words. They couldn’t let him go on. They invited him to stay with them. A strange thing happened when they sat down to eat. Jesus assumed the role of the host. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” Then it happened. “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him but he vanished from their sight.” What Jesus did with them that night was what he had done innumerable times with them. He taught them, and then broke the bread of fellowship with them but they never realized that he would one day be breaking himself for them. Today was the first time that they really listened to him. It was the first time they let his words revive their hearts. They allowed his words to bring light into their darkness. Their hearts were broken until they heard him speak; now they burned with the fire of new life. On the road to Emmaus they came to understand the breaking of the bread. He was present to them that day, when they, as true disciples, sat at his feet listening to him. He would continue to be with them, when as true disciples, they broke themselves for each other as he had done for them
ACTS 2:42-47, | 1 PETER 1:3-9 | JOHN 20:19-31
ast Sunday we stood before the empty tomb with Mary of Magdala in the pre -dawn darkness. We saw Peter and John arrive. We noted the confusion on Peter’s face. We saw John in awe, his eyes filling with tears.
This Sunday we’re in a locked room with many men and women, all of them disciples.
They’re speaking in hushed, fearful tones. A few of the women stifle a yelp when they see it, but no one speaks. The silence of death still has its grip on the room.
Then they hear it, one word, one beautiful word. Shalom. A gentle, embracing, rocking-back-and-forth Shalom. Still no one speaks. He lets the word move through the room as he quietly extends his hands. They see the wounds as he stretches out a loving gesture of welcome. Their eyes follow his hand as he pulls back his tunic revealing the wound on his side. The wound that bled water and blood. He’s the crucified Jesus. They recognize him! Jesus, wounded. Jesus, alive. Jesus, come to raise them from the dead. They begin to breathe again. Many of them cry. Some shout his name. Again, he says Shalom.
He moves from one to the other breathing into each of them the breath of his own life, his Spirit. He anoints them with such power that they can forgive sins. When he departs as mysteriously as he appeared, the room rocks with the blare of their voices.
As he approaches the door, Thomas hears the commotion inside. He knocks loudly the secret knock they had agreed upon. As they pull open the door, he hears everyone speaking at the same time. “We’ve seen the Lord!” But Thomas’ spirit is too beaten down, too lifeless to share the celebration. He can’t hear. He’s deaf to the good news. Until the following Sunday.
This time no one is missing when he comes. Everyone hears him speak the word, shalom. He reveals his side and stretches out his hands to Thomas. “Thomas, touch my wounds.” The moment he touches the wounds the Spirit flows through him – he sees. He hears. He recognizes the voice of his Lord and his God!
This is our story, the story of our gathering. The story of our fear and disbelief. The story of our healing. The story of our anointing. We must never stop telling the story. We’ve been anointed to share the good news.
ACTS 10:34A, 37-43 | COLOSSIANS 3:1-4 | JOHN 20:1-9
It was that unique time before dawn, that very still, very quiet darkness. Sometimes, it’s eerie. Sometimes, it’s awesome. Mary was part of the darkness. Her mind was filled with the images, the cross, the blood, the suffering. Something was so wrong. The stone covering the tomb entrance had been pushed aside. The tomb was open. It was empty. She ran back to the group, frantic. “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they put him.” John and Peter followed her back to the tomb. They all ran. Peter trailed behind.
Why did they follow her back to his tomb? Jesus had been plotted against and killed. They were his followers. They knew there were plots against them. They were hiding in a tomb of their own, but there was something compelling in Mary’s frightened declaration. They left their tomb, and followed Mary to his.
John and Simon Peter ran together for a bit, but John was so much younger. He quickly moved ahead. He was already peering into the tomb when Simon Peter arrived. Out of deference he didn’t enter.
Simon Peter squatted down and entered. Like adetective, he studied what little was in there. The tiny room was just big enough to fit in. The bedlike shelf where the body had laid was clear except for the shroud and two linen bands that had bound Jesus’ hands and feet. They were folded up at one end of the shelf. The cloth that had covered his head was rolled up at the opposite end. There were no signs of pilfering here, no signs of desecration. Whatever happened here was methodical and peaceful. He put his hand to his mouth and wondered.
John came in behind him. Something happened to him the second he entered. He felt he had entered a sacred chamber. Tears welled up in his eyes. Something happened here, something beyond logic. The old man and the young man were silent.
They left the tomb and returned to the city in silence. Mary remained behind weeping as she stood before the empty tomb.
This is the story we tell, today. We have to wait another seven days before we hear the other things that happened that day – that Easter Sunday. Why are we made to wait?
We need time to discern who we are. Are we Mary, overwhelmed by the darkness that never seems to go away? Are we Simon Peter, still not sure about it all? Are we John seeing heaven for the first time?
We need time to realize that the dawn has come. We need time to believe in the impossible. We need time to see a new heaven and a new earth.
MATTHEW 21:1-11 | PHILLIPIANS 2:6-11 | MATTHEW 26:14-27:66
It’s Palm Sunday.
Jesus has been secretly planning his entrance into Jerusalem. Right now, he wanted to stay under the radar of the religious leaders. He made secret arrangements to procure a donkey and her colt. He was planning a prophetic act. He was going to dramatize the messianic prophecy of Zechariah. “Behold, your king comes to you, meek, and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
It was Passover time. Jerusalem would be bursting with pilgrims. Some estimations put the number to as many as two million. His prophetic entrance into the Holy City would serve as a public announcement; Jesus was the Messiah. The crowds picked up on it immediately. Some people spread their cloaks on the road while others strewed branches along the road just as their ancestors did when Judas Maccabeus entered Jerusalem in triumph after his defeat of Antiochus Epiphanes.
The crowds preceding and following Jesus shouted messianic acclamations: “Hosanna (save us) to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The residents of Jerusalem were shocked to see the multitude. Asking who this was coming into the city on a donkey, they we told, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth!”
Jesus went straight into the temple and performed a second prophetic act; he drove out the money changers and the people selling animals for ritual sacrifice. Quoting the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah he shouted at them, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!” The area Jesus cleansed was the court of the Gentiles, the only place reserved for non-Jews. His prophetic act called all people to God’s house, Jew and Gentile alike.
It was official, and without any doubt; Jesus was revealing himself as the Messiah. His announcement was what the religious leadership wanted to hear. It gave them grounds to pursue his execution. But they were alarmed at his popularity.
We’ll follow Jesus throughout this week. We’ll see him making secret arrangements to celebrate Passover. We’ll see him wash the feet of the apostles. We’ll pray with him in the garden, witness his arrest and stand at the foot of his cross. We’ll go to the tomb and wait for the sun to rise.
EZEKIEL 37:12-14 | ROMAN 8:8-11 | JOHN 11:1-45
Jesus, weeping, speaks three powerful commands today. “Take away the stone!” “Lazarus, come out!” Untie him and let him go!” Let’s consider why Jesus is weeping.
There was a family he loved very much. They were much more than disciples; they were his adopted family. They didn’t live very far from Jerusalem, so Jesus often stayed with them when he was teaching in the temple or attending the Jewish festivals.
He began to be upset and weepy as soon as he got the message that Lazarus was ill. When he told his disciples that the illness wouldn’t end in death, he already knew that Lazarus had died. There was more to it, though, something more profound. Jesus was weeping because Lazarus was soul dead.
Take note of Ezekiel’s prophecy. “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” He extended this prophecy to an image of a field covered with sun-bleached bones. Israel was soul dead. People were walking around; but inside they were dead. The spirit of God, God’s breath of life, wasn’t in them. Paul warns us of that same death in his letter today. “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the Spirit. If only the Spirit dwells in you.”
We all need to have God’s breath of life in us. If we don’t, we’ll be like the people of Israel, sunbleached bones scattered across a field, or like Lazarus, entombed, imprisoned, breath-less.
Each of us is being invited this fifth Sunday of Lent to hear, to really listen to, the Lord’s words. “Take away the stone!” “Lazarus, come out!” “Untie him and let him go!” What do each of those phrases mean to you personally?
If you heard Jesus shouting a command to take away the stone, what would he be referring to? If Jesus called your name and cried “Come out,” what would he mean? If Jesus cried out to untie you – to let you go, what would happen to you?
Try asking yourself these questions as a meditation today. Begin by praying these phrases from Psalm 130, take your time as you read them. Trust the Spirit to guide you through the meditation. Don’t be afraid to feel whatever the Spirit evokes in you. This is an active prayer. Let the Spirit put flesh on your bones.
Lord, out of the depths I cry to you,
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ear be attentive to my voice in supplication.
I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in his word.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord.
For with the Lord is kindness and
with him is plenteous redemption;
and he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
1SAMUEL 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A | EPHESIANS 5:8-14 | JOHN 9:1-41
What a wonderful and powerful message Paul gives us today. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light.” Let’s keep this tucked in our minds as we reflect on the story of the man born blind.
John’s account of the cure of the blind man is a story about faith, the ability to see the truth, and a meditation on the cost of discipleship. This man was literally born blind, but, like all of us, he was born spiritually blind, too. What spiritual sight he may have had probably came from his parents who raised him in their Jewish tradition. For his parents it was difficult enough to raise a blind child. But they carried an even heavier burden. It was the popular belief that a child’s chronic illness was a punishment for sins committed by the parents.
In addition, when Jesus cured this man, it was a tense time. The threat had come out from the religious authorities that those who followed Jesus could be excommunicated from the synagogue. This was frightening in two ways. It meant the they would be excluded from Jewish life and, this is very important to note, they would forfeit the Jewish indult that freed them from the yearly civic act of worshiping the Roman Emperor, an indult gained after much suffering. Refusal to perform this act was considered treason by Rome.
As the account attests, when this man gained his sight and believed in Jesus he forfeited his ties to his Jewish community. Even his parents abandoned him for fear of repercussions from the authorities.
In this account John is warning us that faith in Jesus does not come without cost. To follow him means to be different, even countercultural. True, committed faith in Jesus, can exclude us from family, friends and even nation. John may be teaching us that suffering is part of discipleship. Imagine what it costs to be a Christian in China, Russia, India, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Unites Arab Emirates, Syria, North Korea, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria……
“You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light.”
Lord, I believe in you.
Give me the strength and courage
to let your light of truth shine in me and through me.”
EXODUS 17:3-7 | ROMANS 5:1-2,5-8 | JOHN 4:5-42
It started with a drink of water. It was the hottest time of the day. The area around the well was abandoned except for Jesus who was sitting near the well, and a Samaritan woman who had just arrived to fill her water jugs. She was the town pariah. She suffered under a strict patriarchal system. She was married five times and was presently living with a man. She never came to the well in the cool hours of the morning when the other women, chatting and sharing bits of gossip, gathered to get their supply of water for the day because she would be shunned and become part of the gossip. When she saw a Jewish man sitting at the well she expected trouble.
Samaritans and Jews were historical enemies the most hostile kind because they were related. They were both Israelites. They split in the 8 th century B.C. because of political and religious disagreements surrounding the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. The people of Judah rejected the assistance of the Samaritans, so they built their own temple which was absolute heresy in the eyes of the Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon.
Jesus asked her for a drink of water because he didn’t have a bucket to draw water from the deep well. It was spontaneous; her answer reeked with anger. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” The dialogue that followed may seem strange to us, but a tremendous healing was in process.
He asked her for water and then offered her living water, “water that becomes a spring that wells up to eternal life.” She said, “You people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” He then addressed her as “woman,” a revered title that Jesus used to address his own mother, and told her that the day was coming, and was indeed very near, when people would not need a place to worship because they would “worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” He
then told her “everything she ever did.” The dialogue ended with Jesus revealing himself as the Christ the Messiah she, the Samaritans, and the Jewish people, had been longing for.
One sentence at a time Jesus knocked down the walls of hurt and prejudice that held this woman prisoner. His kindness healed the wounds of her personal past. He put God into a new perspective for her. Her heart and mind soared to the Father in Spirit and truth. He gave her living water. It became a life-giving spring within her.
Her story has the most wonderful ending. “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.’ Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.’” This tarnished, suffering woman became the first apostle to the Gentiles. Her testimony converted the hostile, Samaritan town of Sychar. The people, in turn, gave witness to Jesus and brought hope and change to many lives.
The Samaritan woman’s story gives testimony to us, too. God knows everything each of us has ever done. That doesn’t stop God from loving us. If anything, it draws God closer. If we just believe that God sees everything and loves us even more for it the freer we can be to “worship in Spirit and truth”, to acknowledge God’s Spirit in us, to see beyond the deception of the world. The world is longing for God’s peace. If we can witness to God’s love in our own lives, the greater will our power be to open the world to the Kingdom of God.
So today, the gospel asks us to say yes to the Spirit. Say yes to the healing and transforming love of God.
GENESIS 12:1-4A | 2 TIMOTHY 1:8B-10 | MATTHEW 17:1-9
The first Sunday of Lent always invites us to take an inner journey – to confront our inner demons – to hear Jesus’ call in our hearts, “Follow me.” The second Sunday of Lent presents us with a powerful icon, an image, a doorway to the divine. Let’s first pray through the scene Matthew paints in his icon, The Transfiguration.”
Jesus chose three disciples, Peter, James and John, to leave the group and to accompany him to the top of a high mountain. He had just predicted his passion and death to his disciples. Upon hearing it, Peter immediately chided him for thinking such thoughts. Jesus, with fire in his voice, turned on Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as man.” He reinforced the prediction and added another prediction, Peter’s death. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The brothers, James and John, were dubbed the sons of thunder by Jesus. These three disciples were passionate and hot-headed but deeply committed to discipleship. James would be the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom. Peter would be crucified. John, the youngest of the group, came to be known as Jesus’ beloved disciple.
These three rough, gritty fishermen were chosen to see Jesus as Lord. They had the fire in their hearts necessary to glimpse the divine glory – the past, present and future of God’s manifestation to the human family. They were the first to be anointed as Christbearers by the Father. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They heard the voice; they saw the light. They collapsed in fear and awe.
Then came the affirming touch. “Rise, do not be afraid.” The event ended with another prediction. “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
These same three disciples are represented in another of Matthew’s icons, the Agony in the Garden. While the Transfiguration icon portrays the disciples prostrate, shading their eyes from the light of the Glorified Christ, the Agony icon presents the disciples asleep, hiding their eyes from the vision of the Suffering Christ.
How we long to see the Glory! How we fear the Agony! Matthew’s icons remind us of our call. “Follow me.” They remind us of our anointing. “Listen to him.” These icons will speak uniquely to each of us. No matter the images evoke in our souls, we’re challenged to say in chorus, “Father…not as I will, but as you will.”
GENESIS 12:1-4A | 2 TIMOTHY 1:8B-10 | MATTHEW 17:1-9
God’s Word to us this first Sunday of our Lenten journey is very interesting. It begins with a passage from the book of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience. A reflection from Paul’s letter to the Romans regarding their sin follows. Finally, Mathew gives us an account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. How do these fit together and what do they teach us?
The story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor for humankind’s struggle for connection with God. Eve is the spirit in each one of us that’s constantly reaching out to connect with God, symbolized, in the story, by the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam, his name means earth or soil, is that earthly part of us that needs redemption or inner liberation.
In the second scripture passage Paul shares a reflection with the Christian community in Rome. He presents Adam as a symbol of the human family’s struggle with sin defining Adam’s sin as disobedience or disharmony with the will of God. He then shines the light on Jesus as THE example of total obedience to God’s will. Disobedience is what brings sin and death into the world. Being in harmony with God’s will redeems one from sin and restores a life connected to God.
Now we come to Matthew’s account of the temptation of Jesus. The barren, hostile desert is the stage for the great test. A symbolic number is woven into the scene. The Jewish people were molded by many trials, struggles and even sins during their forty-year sojourn in the Sinai Desert. Those years were a time
when the Spirit challenged their faith, strengthened them, purified them and formed them into a nation. Throughout their time of testing they were guided by the Spirit of God, the burning pillar of cloud.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is driven by that same Spirit into the desert where, for forty days, he confronts his inner demons. The voice of temptation is relentless. Over and over again the challenge comes: if you’re the son of God…prove it! Change these stones into bread! If you’re the Son of God…Prove it! Throw yourself off the roof of the temple; God won’t let you die. If you’re the Son of God… Prove it! Vanquish every earthly power. Let me crown you King of the entire world. If you’re the Son of God…Act like it!
Jesus conquers the temptation to power and fame. He hands himself over in complete obedience to the father’s will. Just before his death he will tell his disciples that “the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
We begin Lent with a call to follow Jesus, and like him, to face our inner demons. The Spirit will lead us just has he led the Jewish people, and Jesus, too, if we submit. Lent is the time when we Christians question the depth of our faith and the fervor of our commitment to the will of the Father. The Spirit is driving us into the desert for forty days. Let’s pray for each other during this time. As Paul instructs us: “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)