ZECHARIAH 9:9-10 | ROMANS 8:9, 11-13 | MATTHEW 11:25-30
Today, we’re asked to reflect on the most famous invitation Jesus extended. “Come to me all who labor and are burdened, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
We’ve been reading chapter ten of Matthew’s Gospel for the past few Sundays. In that chapter Jesus was instructing his disciples in preparation for the preaching ministry they were about to begin. His invitation to “take my yoke upon you” was extended first to his apostles, and then to all disciples who would come after them. That’s all of us. Let’s think about this call.
Let’s look at the invitation Jesus extended to his apostles. They were his co-workers, his laborers. They accepted his call and carried the burdens his ministry demanded. Remember he told them not to take money with them or a change of clothes. He warned them that they wouldn’t even have a place to rest their heads at night. This was difficult stuff. Jesus was calling them in a radical way. But perhaps the most difficult part of the ministry would be the rejection that would come with it, a rejection Jesus himself experienced. Their teachings were condemned. They became social pariahs. They were arrested, some of them scourged and some executed.
The image of the yoke that Jesus used was well known to them. A yoke was a finely sculptured wooden beam that was secured over the shoulders of the ox. The plow was attached to the yoke so that the ox could painlessly lean into it to pull the plow. The yoke had to be precisely and uniquely shaved to fit perfectly so that the ox wouldn’t be bruised or chaffed. The yoke Jesus offers is his special care he gives to each one of us so that we might assist him in his ministry.
Most of us live securely within the structures of our society. We don’t fear the dangers that the apostles and early disciples did. Yet, we don’t seem to be as dedicated as the early disciples. We tend to hesitate taking on an active role in the ministry of Christ. I think that, deep down, we’re afraid of being rejected or threatened if we were to engage in his mission more publicly.
I think today’s gospel is asking each one of us, regardless of our age or social status to consider putting on the yoke of his ministry. To really be a Christian we have to discover when he meant when he said his yoke was easy and his burden light. That can only be achieved when we accept his yoke and begin plowing the field with him.
2 KINGS 4:8-11, 14-16A | ROMANS 6:3-4, 8-11 | MATTHEW 10:37-42
As a teacher and preacher, Jesus often used the tool of exaggeration to get the attention of his audience. I’m sure his message today got the attention of all of us.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” I’ve lost track of the number of people who have questioned me about this sentence. How could Jesus possibly ask that of his disciples? I always bring up the following sentence to add more stress to their question. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
We don’t hear this sentence like the people who first heard Jesus deliver it. During Jesus’ lifetime, when he was around eight years old, there was a revolt in Galilee lead by Judas, a zealot. In retaliation, Varus, the Roman general who squelched the revolt, lined the roads leading to Galilee with the crosses of 2000 Jews. The memory still haunted people’s minds. Why would he dare say something like this? His first demand to love him more than our fathers and mothers is clearly exaggeration. The second image would have sent chills down the spines of his listeners.
We Christians speak a lot about love, and much of our talk is warm and cuddly. That’s fine. A commitment to love should have the benefit of loved returned. Jesus loved his apostles, his special group of twelve disciples, and they loved him in return. We know that their love crumpled horribly during the last day of his life. All but one, the young man, John, abandoned him. They feared for their own lives, so they ran away and let him die alone.
Jesus’ teaching is so very important for our reflection. His command to “love one another as I have loved you” isn’t to be taken lightly. The love Jesus models is a sacrificial love. It’s love that gives without expecting to be loved in return. It means loving others even when they act unlovingly. It means carrying the cross of love.
JEREMIAH 20:10-13 | ROMANS 5:12-15 | MATTHEW 10:26-33
In this brief passage, Jesus speaks a simple message to everyone who believes in him. “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed.” In other words, the truth he speaks cannot be stifled. In spite of every imaginable opposition, the truth will come to the light, and it will find a place in every heart that accepts it.
Jesus is also alerting us, his disciples, to the challenge we’ll have in proclaiming this message. It will prove to be a dangerous and difficult battle. So, three times he cautions us not to be afraid to speak the truth.
That phrase, do not be afraid, is repeated 365 times in the bible. I guess God wants us to hear it and take it to heart. When the Gospels were written Christians were under persecution. They had plenty to fear. But in spite of the danger they shared the Good News Jesus announced, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He’s calling each of us, in our own unique way, to share the Good News – to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Don’t be put off with the idea of preaching Jesus’ message. You don’t have to be preachy to preach; but you do have to believe that the Kingdom of God is within reach – you have to open your heart to it.
In the only prayer Jesus bequeathed to us, he defined the Kingdom of God; it’s life in perfect harmony with God’s will. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God will manifest itself to the world through the hearts of disciples like you and me. When we, one step at a time, hand over our will to God, the Kingdom of God takes a step into our world.
Handing over our will isn’t easy to do. So, he encourages us, over and over again, “do not be afraid.” Let’s go. Freefall into God’s hands and begin sharing the message. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
DEUTERONOMY 8:2-3, 14B-16A | JOHN 4:7-16 | MATTHEW 11:25-30
The gospel begins with a beautiful image: Jesus looking over the crowds that are following after him. He had delivered his sermon on the mount a while ago and had been curing the sick as he traveled from town to town preaching in the synagogues. His heart is filled with pity for them. They’re troubled. He has awakened feelings they’ve buried long ago, feelings of poverty, and emptiness. They’re orphaned, motherless, fatherless, abandoned. They’re lost souls. They’re sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus turns his gaze to the disciples around him and announces, “The harvest is abundant.” Then he begins to pick his first laborers, twelve of them: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas. But what a group!
One will deny that he ever knew Jesus. Another will betray him by handing him over to the Jewish authorities. One will deny that Jesus rose from the dead. One, the tax collector, was a traitor to the Jewish nation. One was an assassin! This is the first set of laborers. Others will follow, but this is the first group, the model group. How did they accept the call to labor in the vineyard of the Lord?
This group of misfits preached throughout the Roman empire and beyond. They established many Christian communities in Italy,
Syria, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Armenia and even India. Peter and James wrote letters to their communities instructing them in the Christian way of life. They trained and assigned leaders to the communities to nurture them and to see to the continued spread of the gospel message. This group changed the world.
We’re the recipients of their labor. This account of the first disciples was given to us today so that we could hear the same call they heard. “But I’m not good enough,” you might say. “I’m not learned enough,” you might protest! “I’m not holy enough.”
Well, you’re not! And neither were they. But they said, “yes.” Look at the power of that word, nothing has been the same since they uttered it.
Jesus’ words are directed to us today: “Without cost you have received. Without cost you are to give.” He’s listening. Are you brave enough to say yes?
A third time the Lord called.
“Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.”
(1 Samuel 3:10)
DEUTERONOMY 8:2-3, 14B-16A | 1 CORINTHIANS 10:16-17 | JOHN 6:51-58
“As regards the Eucharist, give thanks in this manner. First for the cup. We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your servant, which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant. Glory be to you forever. And for the broken bread. We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant. Glory be to you forever. As this bread that is broken was scattered upon the mountains, and gathered together, and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom: for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.”
This quote is from a first-second century document, “The Didache.” It’s a handbook written by an anonymous Christian Community before the composition of the four gospels but after Paul wrote his letters to the Christian communities. It gives instructions for living the Christian life and directions for baptizing and celebrating the Eucharist. This passage I’ve quoted gives the words of blessing for the bread and wine. It’s certainly different from the ritual we celebrate today. It consists of three prayers of thanksgiving: thanks for the cup, thanks for the broken bread, and finally a prayer of thanks for all who share the bread.
The prayer recognizes Jesus as the holy vine of David, the messianic king, inaugurating the kingdom through the life and knowledge he brought from the Father. The bread, broken and shared, celebrates the community’s participation in Christ’s life of selfgiving.
The early vision of the eucharistic gathering that the passage from the Didache provides, can, I believe, help enrich our present experience of the Sunday gathering. It stresses the unity of those gathered. As the blessing reminds us, wheat was gathered and made into one loaf. So, we pray that the community will unite so profoundly that it will become the one body of Christ. The breaking and sharing of the bread symbolizes Christ’s breaking and sharing of himself and invites our participation in his unconditional love.
We may forget, sometimes, that the Eucharist speaks prophetically. When we pray that we become one body – the body of Christ – we should be aware that we are being challenged to live the unity that we celebrate. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian he admonished the community for dividing into factions. He asked them, “Can Christ be divided?”
It’s more important than ever for Christians to heed the prophetic call for unity. The world we live in is suffering so profoundly because of its disharmony and disunity. The Eucharist we celebrate compels all true followers of Christ to plant the seeds of unity in a disunited world by the way they live and interact. This is no easy task. That’s why Jesus warned us, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
As we celebrate the Feast of the Body of Christ today, let’s lift up the Didache’s prayer consecrating the bread and the community. Let’s commit to Christ’s call break and share the bread of unity. “As this bread that is broken was scattered upon the mountains, and gathered together, and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.”
EXODUS 34:4B-6, 8-9-11 | CORINTHIANS 13:11-13 | JOHN 3:16-18
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
This is our gospel message today. Can there be any message that carries more hope and consolation? When we contemplate the accounts of what Jesus said and did, these words stand out as a summary of his teachings and actions – love – love with no limits love unconditionally poured out.
Think of some of the things Jesus did. He told the religious leaders to throw the first stone if they themselves hadn’t sinned when they dragged an adulterous woman before him quoting the law that she should be stoned. He healed a leper by touching him, an act of horror and disgust to the people of his day. He entered into communion with traitors and sinners, like the tax collectors, Matthew and Zacchaeus, by eating with them. He offered “living water” to the Samaritan woman who was rejected by society because of her numerous marriages. He assured the revolutionary who was crucified with him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He looked down from the cross at the crowd condemning him and prayed, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” Can anyone deny God’s love for us when we look at Jesus’ actions?
Did Jesus get angry at people? Yes. He was angry with the religious leadership who were rigid and judgmental. Did he get frustrated by people who refused to hear his message of love and forgiveness? Of course! But as today’s gospel passage goes on, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
Never forget his teaching, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He was calling us to act like him, to think like him, to be like him. Paul testified to this call when he wrote to the Galatians: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” As followers of Jesus we have to be so careful not to fall into pre-Jesus ways of thinking: accusatory, intolerant, judgmental. We’re called to open our hearts to divine love to be healed by that love, just as the leper was healed by the touch of Jesus’ hand. We’re not called to self-righteous condemnation of others. We’re called to preach hope, consolation and God’s unconditional and unending love.
Let’s conclude this reflection by reminding ourselves of what Paul wrote to the Romans. “In all things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
ACTS 2:1-11 | 1 CORINTHIANS 12:3B-7, 12-13 | JOHN 20:19-23
It was fifty days after Passover. It was the Feast of Shavuot, the celebration commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was a day to eat festive pastries, to decorate homes and synagogues with flowers and to bring all the children to synagogue to witness the reading of the ten commandments. It was a day to contemplate Israel’s binding contract with God, the Law.
But it wasn’t so festive for the disciples of Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They were in hiding even though they had seen Jesus many times since his death. He spoke with them and instructed them about his life and mission. Some of them saw him ascend to the Father, but even though he promised to send the Spirit to them, they were frightened. They felt empty and, frankly, abandoned.
It happened suddenly. It was a loud sound of wind howling through the room, but they felt nothing. Then there was fire, small flames that looked like tongues that moved around the room attaching themselves to the disciples. And as the tongues touched them, they began to speak languages that weren’t their own. The Spirit Jesus had promised was embracing them. They were filled with courage, each one boldly giving witness to the Jesus event and proclaiming the message about the Kingdom of God.
People on the street heard the commotion – the wind and the cacophony of voices. A large crowd formed. What in the world was going on? How could it be that everyone, the people from Turkey and Iraq, Egypt and Libya, Iran and India, Greece and Rome who were visiting Jerusalem, heard the disciples’ message simultaneously in their own language and dialect?
Luke was reporting this Pentecost event fifty years or so after the fact. He was thinking of that day, but also of the on-going Pentecost he was witnessing. By the year 85 AD when Luke was writing, there were Christian communities throughout the Roman empire in areas we call Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The Roman persecutions had begun twenty years before, but the communities were still growing, and the gospel was still being preached. The fire of Pentecost remained with the disciples. People of every language were hearing about Jesus, and accepting him as Messiah and Lord. The Kingdom of God was near.
Today, you and I are reflecting on the same Pentecost event that the early disciples experienced; and, like Luke, we’re simultaneously looking around the world of today. We see people still reaching out to the tongues of fire; they’re proclaiming the Gospel and people are listening – in China, North Korea, India, throughout Africa and the Middle East. In so many of these places the persecutions continue, but the message is still proclaimed.
We recall St. Paul, recently released from prison, writing to his co-worker Timothy: “This is the gospel I preach even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word cannot be chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they, too, may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
It’s Pentecost. We’re celebrating the giving of the new Law, the Law of the heart that Jesus proclaimed on the Mount. We’re celebrating our anointing with the Spirit. The Kingdom of God is indeed near; it dwells in our hearts. It empowers us to dedicate our lives to the preaching of the Gospel. It empowers us to be the “light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.”
Acts: 1:12-14 | 11 Peter 4:13-15 | John 17:1-11
It’s the seventh, and final, week of Easter and the end of the fifty-day period known as Mystagogia – the time to celebrate and contemplate our immersion into the mystery of Christ. This week’s Gospel brings us back to the Last Supper to conclude our Easter reflection.
Jesus had just told his disciples that he would be returning to the Father while assuring them that he would not abandon them. In a short time, the Holy Spirit would anoint them with power from heaven so that they could carry on his mission.
Then, in deep communion with the Father, he spoke aloud a prayer. “Give glory to your Son, so that your Son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him.”
We should listen very closely to what Jesus is saying because he’s teaching us about the inner life of God and our connection to it. When Jesus speaks of Eternal life, he isn’t speaking about life without end; he’s speaking about a quality of life. Eternal life is the very life of the Eternal One. He promised inclusion in God’s inner life to anyone who believed in him. Remember his powerful proclamation. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Belief in Jesus as the anointed one sent by the Father is the way to Eternal life.
In his Last Supper prayer, Jesus revealed the profound nature of his mission: “I revealed your name to those whom you gave to me out of the world.” Knowing a name means knowing a person inside and out. Revealing God’s name to us means that the Eternal One is part of us, and we’re part of the Eternal One. Knowing the Eternal One is to know Eternal Life.
We’ve discovered, through Jesus, that God is love – love poured out – love received – love poured out in return. This last Sunday of our Easter Mystagogia reminds us that, because we know Jesus, we know God’s name. Our pilgrimage to Eternal life has begun. Take some time today to ponder this incredible revelation.
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
I praise you.
I bless you.
I glorify you.
I thank you for writing my name on your heart.
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 8:5-8, 14-17; | 1 PETER 3:15-18; | JOHN 14:15-21
The night before he died, Jesus opened his heart to his disciples. He spoke of his love for them, and assured them that he would not leave them orphans, a strange term to use. To understand why Jesus chose this image we have to gaze into our own hearts. There’s a powerful message in his choice of that word.
The film “Lion” tells the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy who was separated from his brother. It was nighttime. His brother told him to stay in the safety of a desolate train stop while he went to search for work. Of course, time moved very slowly for the child, so he began to explore the station. He wandered into an empty train only to find that its doors locked automatically behind him. Suddenly, the empty train began to move, and for the three days, without food or water, he was trapped. The train took him 2,500 miles away from his home. Watching Saroo calling for his brother over and over again when he was finally able to leave the train, is heartbreaking.
Watching the film, I imagined myself being five years old, having no idea where I was, and having no sense of reference. There was nowhere to turn to for help; everyone was a stranger. A panic choked me as I watched the poor child. The words of the mournful spiritual sounded in my head. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.”
When Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them orphans, he was not only trying to reassure them of his continual presence, he was introducing a new way of life to them. But before they could grasp his teaching they would have to experience the loss, the powerlessness, and the emptiness of an orphan. In twenty-four hours he would be dead. His body would be ripped apart by a merciless scourging and crucifixion.
Like little Saroo, the disciples experienced a heart wrenching loss. They lost not only their master and teacher, they lost the life-giving spark of hope that he had ignited in their hearts. The “soul loss” may be a good way to define their experience – the loss of inner light.
At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, and through them us, that he would not abandon them like orphans. He would send them “another Advocate to be with them always.” This “Advocate” would heal their soul loss. He would not only restore their sense of “me,” he would open for them the door to a new life, an expanded and liberated life.
The Last Supper was also Jesus’ First Supper. From this time on the disciples will never again gather as abandoned orphans, because it was at this meal that he gifted them with the Eucharist. From this moment on Jesus will be present with them not only as the Lord of the supper, but also as their friend who lays down his life for them. From now on, during each Eucharist they will know, without any doubt, that he will never break the bond of friendship with them. At each Eucharist, he will lay down his life for them and offer himself as the Lamb of God.
We haven’t been left as orphans. We’ve been found, redeemed and invited to dwell in the mansions the Father has prepared for us.
ASCENSION May 18, 2023
“While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing looking at the sky?’”
This account of the Ascension calls us back to our Jewish roots, the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In Jewish mysticism the blowing of the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah recalls the faith of Abraham. You remember the story; we read it at the Easter Vigil. To test his faith God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. But just as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, God stopped him. God rewarded Abraham’s faith by promising that he would become the father of a great nation. Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He took it and sacrificed it in place of his son. The blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, is meant to remind God of Abraham’s faith and his special, intimate relationship with the Jewish people. Its sound assures the Jewish people of God’s love, mercy and compassion as they ready themselves to confess their sins on Yom Kippur ten days later.
Tradition named the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur “The Days of Awe.” These are the ten days when Jews are in profound and intimate conversation with God, like Abraham was on Mount Moriah. Sukkot, celebrated five days after Yom Kippur concludes the Days of Awe by bringing the community back down to
earth; they eat outdoors with their feet planted on the ground. They’ve been in heaven. Sukkot calls them back to earth, purified and renewed.
Beginning with our mystical Liturgies of Holy Week, and continuing for fifty days after Easter, we’ve been remembering, and entering into, Christ’s Paschal Mystery his life, death and resurrection. We’ve baptized new members into his mystery, and have renewed our own immersion into Christ. The message of the two men dressed in white garments call the Christian community back down to earth. We’ve been in heaven long enough. It’s time to get to work, to plant our feet firmly on the ground. We have a mission to take up. We have to give sight to the blind, to cure the crippled, to cleanse the lepers, to open the ears of the deaf, to raise up the dead, and to preach the Good News to the poor. We have to wash each other’s feet. We have to break the bread of our lives for one another.
Don’t be afraid. Pentecost is a few days away. We’ll be anointed from above.
Prayer Come Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, ignite the fire of your love within us. Use us to renew the face of the earth.
ACTS 6:1-7 | 1 PETER 2:4-9 | JOHN 14:1-12
The gospel today is taken from John’s account of the Last Supper. If we were to read the entire passage, we’d realize that this meal is one long emotional roller coaster. It begins: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” Whatever he does and says at this last meal is of the upmost importance. It’s his LAST chance to get his disciples to understand who he is, and why he came. So, he washes the disciples’ feet instructing them to do the same for one another. He announces to the group that one of them will betray him. He gives them a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” He concludes by predicting Peter’s denial!
After all that, Jesus looks at these fragile men gathered around the table and says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” What a statement! In a few hours their world is going to implode. Judas will sell Jesus to the religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus will be arrested, and finally executed by crucifixion. These men, his closest disciples, will abandon him. Peter will deny that he ever knew him.
Trying to calm his disciples hearts, Jesus continues to teach them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself; where I am going you know the way.” Then Thomas, the disciple who will not believe that Jesus rose from the dead unless he touches the nail marks, asks the most important question of the evening. “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way.”
These disciples had followed him for three years. They’d given up everything for him, home, family, occupations. They felt that none of this was in vain because they believed Jesus was the Messiah. They didn’t know how,
but they were sure that he was going to overthrow the Roman occupation. He was going to set up a glorious Jewish kingdom, even more powerful than that of David and Solomon, and they would rule with him. They felt they had a glorious future ahead of them.
The answer Jesus gives to Thomas is the most important teaching any of them would ever hear. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
Jesus’ teaching seemed like riddle to the disciples at the time. They knew Jesus. They traveled with him. They camped with him. They ate with him. They witnessed the great catch of fish. They saw him walk on the water. They listened to him when he delivered the sermon on the mount. They saw him heal. They saw him raise Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter from the dead. These events were spectacular miracles. They saw miracles but failed to understand the meaning behind them.
“If you know me, then, you will also know my Father.” That was his message to the disciples the night of the Last Supper. That’s his message to us, today. Our hearts need to burn within us when we see him in the scriptures. Our hearts need to be touched by the miracles he performs. We need to truly recognize him when he gives us the bread to break and share. When we truly recognize him, our hearts will beat in sync with his, and with the Father’s. We mustn’t forget this most intimate and important teaching, and use it as the map to the Father’s heart. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”