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?
We continue reading accounts of the resurrection as we move through the Sundays of Easter. This Sunday brings us to the third account in John’s Gospel. It takes place along the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).
Once again, this account begins in the darkness of the night. The apostles were gathered near the Sea of Galilee. Peter announced that he was going to fish. The rest of the apostles joined him, bringing their torches. They rowed out about a hundred yards and began casting their nets. They spent the entire night fishing but caught nothing.
As dawn began to break, a voice called out to them from the shore asking if they caught any fish. They answered, no. The man then instructed them to throw their nets over the right side of the boat. They listened to his suggestion. Often enough, while casting their nets, fisherman would have someone on the shore looking over the clear water to spot the movement of a school of fish. It’s very difficult for a fisherman to look into the water for fish while casting his net, hence, the need for a spotter.
To their joyful surprise they hauled in a catch. Later when they brought the net to shore they counted one hundred and fifty-three large fish! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who
looked into the tomb and “saw and believed,” shouted out that he recognized the man. It was Jesus! Peter, impetuous as ever, jumped into the water and swam to shore. There was a strange scene awaiting him.
Jesus had built a charcoal fire and was cooking a fish. Along with the fish he had bread waiting for them. No one said anything. They knew that it was Jesus speaking to them, but they were in shock. “Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.”
This description of Jesus feeding his apostles is a Eucharistic image. The language is very similar to Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup…’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24) As we search for the deeper meaning of this account it’s important to keep a connection between what takes place during this “breakfast” and the Eucharist.
Let’s look over John’s entire account. It began with Peter symbolically attempting his ministry to be “fishers of men.” However, he began his work in the darkness of the night and so his attempt was fruitless. With the coming of the early morn
ing light he heeded the call of Jesus to cast his net on the right side of the boat. The catch was incredible, one hundred and fiftythree large fish! The reference to the number of fish is symbolic. John often used numerological references, here 1+5+3 = 9. Nine is a numerological symbol of the divine. John was telling us that this catch, taking place in the early morning light, wasn’t the work of man it was God’s work.
John continued delving into the meaning of the event. At this early morning gathering of the children of light, more wonderful things took place. Peter, commissioned to be the rock and foundation, needed healing and forgiveness before he could assume his ministry. Three times he denied any knowledge of Jesus. So, three times Jesus asked him: “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered, “You know I love you.” Jesus’ answers forgive him, heal him, and anoint him for his ministry. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep! Follow me!”
This Sunday’s resurrection account once again, leads us to reflect on the Eucharist we’re celebrating. In this sacred gathering of the children of the light the risen Lord reveals himself. He feeds us and offers himself to us as the bread of life. When he feeds us, he heals us and forgives our sins. He anoints us so that we can assume the ministry he began.
The Sundays of Easter are a very special time. Each resurrection account is an invitation for us to open our hearts to the risen Lord. These are weeks of healing and anointing. These are the weeks we look into the empty tomb, when we see more clearly, when we believe more profoundly. These are the weeks when we’re invited, like Peter, to become fishers of men.
Happy Easter – again! Six more weeks of Easter to go! A week of weeks. We’ll conclude our Easter celebration on June 5 th when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But until then, we’ll continue focusing our attention on the resurrection of Jesus. This week we’re given the famous story of doubting Thomas for our reflection.
The account begins on the day of the resurrection. Very few of the disciples were brave enough to be with Jesus when he died, only Jesus’ mother, Mary and her sister, another Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary of Magdala, Salome and the beloved disciple, John. At his death, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus carried the body of Jesus and buried him in a tomb. After the burial, the Eleven, Jesus’ mother, and a group of disciples went into hiding in a space they had rented in Jerusalem. But they didn’t feel safe there. They were gripped with fear. They were sure the Jewish authorities would be looking to arrest them, too, at some point.
Suddenly, Jesus was with them. The doors were locked. No one saw him come in. But Jesus was standing there, right in their midst. He greeted them with the holy greeting, “Shalom,” peace. They stood in silence as he showed them his hands and his side. It was Jesus. His wounds were raw but he was alive! The room broke out in jubilation.
Then Jesus began an odd ritual. He came up to each person and breathed on them. Each one felt his warm, moist breath. He was bringing them back to the first moment of creation. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while the Spirit of God breathed over the waters.” Their lives had become a dark wasteland of chaos and fear. He whispered in their ears, “Receive the Holy Spirit” planting the seed of divine light into them. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained.”
As suddenly as he appeared, he vanished. Shortly after the event, Thomas knocked on the door. Waiting for someone to open, he was surprised to hear loud, excited talking inside. The moment the door opened everyone at
once began to tell him that Jesus had appeared to them.
Even though Thomas knew them all and trusted them, he couldn’t believe their crazy story. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week passed by. Another Sunday arrived. Everyone was gathered in the room. Thomas, too, was there. Again, they had the door securely locked, but somehow Jesus stood in their midst. Again, he extended the holy greeting, “Shalom,” peace. He walked right up to Thomas and addressed his disbelief. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believing.”
Then Jesus turned and looked into the distance. He was looking at you. He was looking at me. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Our reflection today need only focus on that one sentence. A number of questions should cross our minds and challenge our faith when we think about it.
We’ve listened to the accounts of the resurrection and we believe that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago. But that isn’t enough. It’s true that we haven’t seen Jesus the way the early disciples saw him that day. We haven’t touched his wounds. But Jesus’ statement about believing reaches wider and deeper than that.
In today’s account Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples who had gathered in fear. It rested within them for a while but burst forth on the day of Pentecost. That day, their belief exploded into witness, powerful witness. Their belief was like a light that burst into the hearts of those who listened to them.
We’re the ones who believe though we haven’t seen. Now, the question for our reflection today is very important. Have we freed the power of the Spirit that was planted within us when we first believed? It’s not enough to believe – we have to succumb to the Spirit so that the Spirit can give witness to the resurrection – so that those still in the dark can open their hearts to the light of the risen Lord.
It was very early Sunday morning. It was that still moment just as the light begins to dissolve the darkness. Mary Magdalene stood at the tomb of Jesus, confused and shocked. The tomb had been opened. The bruised body of Jesus was no longer there.
No matter how brilliant the rising sun might have been, Mary saw only darkness. She had witnessed the religious leaders challenging and attacking Jesus during his preaching journeys. Two days ago, her heart wrenched, she stood at the foot of his cross. Anger burned in her heart. His death wasn’t enough. Now they’ve taken his body, desecrated it. She ran back to the city to tell the group.
Simon Peter and John ran back with her to the tomb. Peter noted the burial cloths neatly folded. The tomb wasn’t plundered. No one stole the body. But what could have happened?
John stooped down to look into the tomb. A flash of understanding came to him. What Jesus taught, what he did, suddenly seemed to make sense. He walked back to the city with Peter in silence. Mary remained at the tomb, the morning sun burning her tear-filled eyes.
Every year I wish I could read the end of this account on Easter morning. It has a much happier ending. This portion of the account leaves Mary weeping, Peter confused, and John sorting out his new understanding of Jesus.
But perhaps, this portion of the account is meant to be an invitation for us to look into the empty tomb. What do we see? Is it daylight or darkness? What questions about the resurrection haunt our minds? What insights into the resurrection still need more light. If Jesus isn’t in the tomb, where is he?
Easter isn’t just a historical commemoration. It’s a reminder of the risen Lord’s presence today. Through our prayer, reflection, and our communal and sacramental lives can we meet him and hear him speak our names.
Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, you touch our lives by the healing power of your love. Watch over us now, and unveil for us the glory of the resurrection. May the life we receive through the Eucharist we celebrate continue to grow in our hearts. Amen.
Palm Sunday begins the Christian High Holy Days, seven days of prayer, reflection and remembering. Holy Week is a spiritual pilgrimage by which we experience the events we remember. We’re not to be distracted from the events of this week, so we cover the statues in the church to help us focus on Jesus. I encourage you to gather with the community this year to experience these, as our Jewish brothers and sisters would describe them, Days of Awe.
The drama begins. Two Gospel passages are read today. At the very beginning of Mass, we remember Jesus’ spectacular entrance into the city of Jerusalem. We gather outside the church in the vestibule, carry the same palm branches the people carried that day, and walk in procession into the church, symbolically, Jerusalem.
But a shadow quickly comes over this short celebration. We listen to the first scripture reading, the prayer of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked by beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord is my help, therefore I shall not be disgraced.”
For a moment, light pours over Isaiah’s prayer as we read the second scripture from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!”
Then, we read the Passion. We eat with Jesus at his last supper, join him in the garden of olives, witness his arrest and trial, and walk with him to the cross. Palm Sunday sets us on the path we’ll walk with Jesus for the next six days.
Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the savior of the world.
We’re reflecting on a famous scene in the gospel of John today. Jesus had spent the night in the garden of olives. In the morning he crossed the Kidron Valley, entered the city and walked into the area outside the temple. As soon as people caught sight of him they gathered around him. So, he sat down and began to teach them. Some Pharisees and scribes interrupted the scene by bringing a woman to him who had been “caught in the very act of committing adultery.” They led her into the middle of the group. A trial began, but it wasn’t the woman who was on trial, it was Jesus.
There was no question about the woman’s guilt. The Pharisees had already judged her. Now they were going to use her to entrap Jesus. “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?”
To their surprise and frustration, Jesus didn’t give them an answer. Still in his seated teaching position, Jesus bent over a bit and began writing on the ground. Everybody must have been looking at each other. The Pharisees and the scribes were silent for a moment but then began to hassle him for an answer.
Their question was a theoretical one. It was true that several passages in the Law, Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 for instance, prescribed the punishment of stoning for adultery. Jesus didn’t contradict these laws and didn’t agree or disagree with them. This would have been exactly what the Pharisees and scribes expected him to do. In Jesus’ day, only Rome could dictate who would suffer capital punishment. Recall that the Jewish authorities had to ask Pilate to crucify Jesus. They didn’t have the authority to carry out an execution.
Still in a seated position Jesus spoke but didn’t answer their question. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” Then he returned his attention to writing on the ground.
Jesus’ answer avoided an interaction with the religious leaders. In fact, it brought their smug self-
righteousness into public focus. How could they possibly continue with their scheme to catch him saying something contrary to the Law? He had thrown the question back to them. They had no answer for him. They remained silent and then walked away.
It’s important for us to note that Jesus sat throughout this encounter. In other words, everything that took place was a teaching. Remember the crowd still surrounded him. They heard what he said. They saw what he did.
When the Pharisees and scribes left, Jesus spoke to the woman while the crowd listened. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” He used the term of high respect when he addressed her, “woman.” Jesus addressed his mother as “woman.” His question was a gentle acknowledgment to everyone that no one was without sin, and that only God could judge the human heart. Then he told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” Jesus acknowledged her sin. He didn’t brush over it. Hopefully, she would learn from this event and not repeat this sin.
Ironically, the Pharisees were publicly embarrassed for using the woman as a tool to attack Jesus. He turned the tables on them. His statement, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone,” publicly exposed their sin against the woman.
Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees is a challenge meant for each and every one of us. We need to digest this teaching. We need to take it to heart and to practice it in our daily lives. The Church, as an institution, also needs to take this teaching to heart, to use it as a foundation for its moral teaching. The whole world sat up and listened when, early in his papacy, Pope Francis commented, “Who am I to judge.” These weren’t prophetic words; they simply echoed this teaching of Jesus. This phrase should be a spiritual foundation for Christian and non-Christian, for saint and sinner. If we took it to heart and acted upon it, it just might change the world.
God doesn’t think the way we do. That’s Jesus’ message in the parable we’re listening to today. The story is well known, perhaps the bestknown of Jesus’ parables. We’ve labeled it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but we could also call it the Parable of the Loving Father, or the Parable of the Unforgiving Brother.
The parable is set at the home of a wealthy farming family. This property would have been handed down from one generation to the next. The youngest of two sons did something that would have been scandalous at that time in that culture. The younger son asked his father, the patriarch of the family, for his portion of his inheritance, 50% of the family’s wealth. His request was horrendously insulting to the father and financially devastating for the family remaining on the farm.
Jesus continued by describing what the young man did with his wealth. He left Israel and settled among the Gentiles. There he took on a lifestyle of carefree spending and dissolute living. The day came, however, when his wealth was gone and his “friends” with it. To add to his misery, a terrible famine hit the land and he was forced to hire himself out to a pig farmer, something unimaginably humiliating for a Jew. Humiliated and hungry, he made the decision to return to his father and offer himself as a slave to the family.
Jesus noted in his story that “while he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him.” He was painting a picture of a father who, heavy-hearted, had his sight constantly focused on the horizon hoping to see his son returning home. When that moment finally came “he ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” His son was alive! He was home again!
This is the point in the story when Jesus’ audience would have begun to cringe. The father rejected his son’s offer to return to the family as a slave. So, the young man received no punishment for almost destroying himself and his family. What the father did next must have raised grumbles of protest from Jesus’ audience. The father ordered that his son should be dressed in the finest robes. He should be given sandals – the symbol of a free man. (Slaves didn’t wear shoes.) His
final move would definitely have raised boos; the father put a ring on his son’s finger. He re-instated him into the family with the same rights as his older brother! He again had the right to inherit half the family’s wealth!
Jesus then gave voice to the grumbling he heard in his audience. The elder brother, coming in from the fields, heard music and partying. He learned that his brother had returned and that his father was throwing a huge party for him. He became angry, refused to enter the house, and confronted his father. “Look, all these years I served you, and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.” His first reaction revealed his jealousy and resentment. He then questioned his father’s sense of justice. “But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”
Jesus then wrapped up the parable by exposing the father’s heart and his unconditional love for his sons. “My son, you are here with me always and everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” Let’s conclude with a few lessons from Jesus’ parable.
God’s heart defies our moral logic. We want justice. We want the prodigal son to pay for what he did, but punishment never crosses God’s mind. The divine longing to love doesn’t embrace the human need to punish.
The father pleads with the older son whose anger and resentment are separating him from communion with his father and his family. Ironically, the prodigal son returns, as the unforgiving son departs.
This may be the most challenging of all Jesus’ parables. It attacks our sense of justice. It challenges our conditional love. It questions our understanding of sin. It teaches us that God ‘s ways are not our ways. That God doesn’t think like us, doesn’t judge like us, doesn’t punish like us. God loves the prodigal son and the unforgiving brother. God desires both to enter the divine embrace. This parable is our invitation to change our ways, to begin to act like God.
We’re told in the gospel today that it had been reported to Jesus that Pilate had mingled the blood of Galileans with a pagan sacrifice. There’s no proof that this event took place, but whether it was true or not, Jesus used the moment to teach. He even added an incident to the conversation: the death of eighteen people in a tower collapse.
We might add our own contemporary example to the two events that were presented, the horrific attack on Ukraine we’re witnessing today. Were the Ukrainians such terrible sinners that God would have unleashed such horrendous barbarity as a punishment upon them? It was common Jewish belief that bad things happened to bad people, and good things to good people. Jesus bucked this belief.
Jesus taught that suffering wasn’t God’s punishment for sin. To make his point, Jesus told a parable about a fig tree that wasn’t producing figs to address questions about sin, the sinner and God’s response.
The owner of a property wanted to cut down a fig tree, the symbol of a sinner, because it wasn’t fruitful. This was the human way of thinking. The gardener, God, committed to do all he could to save the tree, to make it fruitful. God’s purpose wasn’t to punish the sinner; God tried to bring new life to the sinner.
Today, I would suggest that that you take a renewed look at God. God’s desire is to help you, no matter what you’ve done or how you’ve acted. God’s way is not to condemn or punish. People may do so; institutions may do so; but that’s not God’s way. Throughout his ministry Jesus never spoke of sinners as being bad. Instead, he said they had lost their way. Examples of these are the woman who lost a coin and rejoiced with her friends when she found it, the sheep that wandered away from the ninetynine and was rescued by the shepherd who left the ninety-nine to search for the one that was lost, the son who abandoned his father and family and lost all his inheritance and was welcomed back home unconditionally.
I’ll leave you to your own thoughts, now, but before I do, I ask you to read these words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus to convince him of God’s love. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)
Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus is my favorite for two reasons. He told us what Jesus was talking about with Moses and Elijah: “his exodus and what he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” He also told us that “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” There’s a beautiful and powerful message here.
First. Jesus was in conversation with Moses, the spirit-filled leader who led the people of Israel from the slavery they suffered in Egypt to the promised land. Elijah was with them. He was Israel’s greatest prophet who did battle with the priests of the pagan god, Baal to assure Israel’s purity of faith. These three, Jesus, Moses and Elijah were speaking with one another. They were in communion – a harmony of mission. Moses and Elijah guided Israel to the very door of the kingdom of God. Jesus was the key that would open it.
Jesus was preparing for his personal Passover from life to death to resurrection his exodus. His journey into the Paschal Mystery, will bring redemption not only for Israel but for humankind, and for all time.
Second. Luke told us that the disciples, Peter, James and John, “becoming fully awake,” saw his glory. What does he mean by “becoming fully awake?” He means that the fog of spiritual sleep had been lifted. Now, they saw Jesus, the fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies and the Son of God, wrapped in the divine glory. “His face
changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” The disciples represent the Jewish people, tired, sleepy and disheartened from their longing for redemption for two thousand years! Jesus’ transfiguration was their moment of spiritual awakening. At that moment they saw heaven and earth united.
The Church wants us to reflect on this account of the transfiguration every year. It’s meant to alert us of our possible sleepiness. To respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow him we have to be awake – alive to his message and his example. We have to keep his glory in mind so they we can put on that same glory.
At the last supper Jesus prayed to his Father. “I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know they you sent me, and that you loved them even as you love me.” The Church wants us to take this to heart. Are we aware of God’s glory in us? Are we aware that we’re one with God? Does the world, the dark energy that perpetuates violence and aggression, poverty and injustice, disinformation and lies, feel the threat of the divine light within us?
Lent is our annual retreat into the desert. It’s the time we convert – turn ourselves around – face a new direction. It’s the time we get back in line to follow Jesus. It’s the time we wake up to see Jesus with alert, new eyes. It’s the time we reflect on his transfiguration and hope for ours.