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Posted by on Oct 17, 2021

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?

How many times do I have to tell you? Which of us has never heard this question addressed to us by an exasperated parent or teacher? Sometimes it’s an issue of not having paid attention. Sometimes it’s a question of not believing it applies to us. Sometimes it’s an issue of thinking that what is being said is too good to be true – or too bad to be believed.

Jesus had the same problem with his followers. In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark tells us of a time when two of the disciples, James and John, approached Jesus with a confidential request: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” (Mk 10:35-45) Jesus was flabbergasted (totally amazed) by their request. “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (To be baptized means to be plunged into something.)

Now Jesus has been telling his friends for a while already that he is going to Jerusalem and there he will be turned over to the authorities to be tortured and killed. No one can comprehend that this is really going to happen. I would guess they think he’s just a worrywart or exaggerating, but he was absolutely serious. This is why he asked James and John if they could do what he was going to have to do. They brashly assured him they would be able to do whatever he had to do, after all, what made him any more capable of dealing with whatever came than they were!

As it turns out, Jesus assures them, you will indeed drink from the same cup – face death for proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God – and in fact, they later did die as martyrs (witnesses).

When the others caught wind of this conversation, they were incensed. Who do these guys think they are? As the anger and conflict among them grew, Jesus intervened. He told them once again what would be demanded of them as his followers. He spoke of the social reality that existed in the world of non-Jews, the Gentiles (Romans, Greeks, and other surrounding nations). Large numbers of people were slaves. Estimates are that 1/3 of the people were slaves. Most of the rest were not particularly well-off. Only the rulers and upper classes lived well. They considered themselves to be better than the rest and didn’t hesitate to abuse and take advantage of everyone below them. Slaves were seen and treated as less than human, despite the fact that anyone could be enslaved for something as out of their control as the loss of a family’s income that plunged them into debt. If a debt could not be paid, the whole family and their belongings could be sold to pay the debt!

Jesus spoke words at this point that echoed ones we all have heard so often. Mark doesn’t have him saying, “How many times do it have to tell you?” But there’s the same sense of that in what Jesus says. The disciples are told point blank that if they want to be great, they must behave as if they were slaves to all they meet. The reason for this is that he has not come to be a master. He has come to serve as if he were a slave and to give his life as a ransom. This is not the first time he has told them this. It won’t be the last. Eventually, he will show them, but that comes later…

Isaiah spoke many generations earlier of the mystery of the Suffering Servant who would give his life as an offering for sin, see his descendants in a long life, and be the channel through which the Lord’s will can be accomplished. “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” (Is 53:10:11) This is from the fourth song of the suffering servant, the one most fully developed.

Jesus knew of these prophecies. He took them seriously, though many probably thought of them as more symbolic than realistic. Yet they fit into an ancient theme in Jewish history and thought. While the Israelites were traveling in the desert after they left Egypt, they were instructed to set up a tent for the Lord. Only certain people were allowed to enter the tent and only at certain times. If those conditions were not met, it could be fatal for the intruders and their families. Aaron, brother of Moses and priest ordained and authorized to offer sacrifices to the Lord, discovered this the hard way when two of his sons entered the tent and died. He was then required to offer a sacrifice of atonement for their actions or die himself. This is all described in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 16.

Aaron’s sacrifice included the use of two male goats. One was sacrificed and offered to the Lord inside the tent. The other was symbolically loaded down with the guilt for the sins of his sons, himself, and all the people. Then that goat was driven out into the desert to die there, taking the sins of the people with it. This goat came to be known as the scapegoat, perhaps because it was sometimes known as the “escaping goat.” Each year after that, on a date set by the Lord for each year, the high priest was to offer sacrifice on behalf of the people. After the temple in Jerusalem was built, the very innermost court was called the Holy of Holies. The high priest was the only person allowed to enter the Holy of Holies and offer the sacrifice of atonement there. The rest of the people were also to make sacrifices in their personal lives on that day. This tradition has continued to the present day, without the inclusion of temple sacrifices, on the Day of Atonement each fall.

The Suffering Servant in Isaiah would be the one on whom the guilt of all would rest. His sacrifice would bring a restoration of the good relationship with the Lord for all the people.

This theme arises again in the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 4:14-16). The author speaks of our great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens. This high priest does not need to offer a sacrifice for his sins and those of the people each year. Nor is he one who cannot understand human frailty and our tendency to sin, to miss the goal of acting lovingly. This high priest has shared everything there is to experience about being human, including suffering, loss, and death, but he has never sinned. Because our high priest is Jesus, we can approach the throne of God with absolute confidence, knowing we will be received with grace, mercy, and the help we need going forward.

So the question arises: Have I heard this time? Do I get it? Do I understand that I am not the one who will be in the driver’s seat? I am not to assume others will do my will. I am to be the one who seeks to meet the needs of my sisters and brothers, without demanding that they change or try to do things my way. Am I willing to serve as Jesus served? Am I willing to try to love as Jesus loved? Am I willing to learn to forgive as Jesus did?

The Kingdom of Love awaits. The ones who serve are the ones who will sit at the places of honor (figuratively, of course). Our Lord reaches out in service. As his followers, we are called to join him in doing the same.

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Posted by on Aug 30, 2016

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

The Holy Year of Mercy can seem a little abstract. Here is a wonderful video with a beautiful adaptation of the Ave Maria. What struck me was the emphasis on recovering lost dreams and hopes not so much for ourselves but those on the street, those seeking justice, the suffering. This is contrasted with the faith of the pilgrims and the churches and sites of Rome.

This is a moving presentation of the core belief of Christianity that we cannot say that we love God whom we do not see when we ignore our neighbors whom we can see. It is consolation and a challenge that persists in the proclamation of the Gospel from generation to generation. Today it comes in a beautiful  voice, a beautiful song, and the faith of beautiful people.

 

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Posted by on Aug 17, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Peace Flows Like a River

Water in the Desert

What I’ve discovered … is that when we show up for people in need — when we seek their well-being, flourishing, and justice, whether they ever convert to our religion or not — we might just see the transformation we long for in ourselves and in hard-to-access places around the world. – Jeremy Courtney

Baptist missionary Jeremy Courtney, his wife, and two children found themselves in the middle of the Iraq War.  In today’s attempt by some Moslems and Christians to demonize the other in a continuation of centuries of bloody warfare, Courtney has founded the Preemptive Love Coalition.

Courtney and his movement represent a broadening of the Protestant Evangelical notion of mission to one that is more in keeping with the Vatican II Catholic notion of the Christian missionary. Courtney’s approach is to pursue peace one heart at a time. “Love first and ask questions later.” became the theme of Courtney’s approach as he started helping Iraqi children to obtain life-saving and life-changing heart surgery within Iraq by increasing the capacity and capabilities of the country to care for its own children.

Courtney opens his web page, JeremyCourtney.com, with a compelling quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about how our failure to accept and embrace people we see as opponents corrupts us and our relationship with God because it leads us to a universe of pure hatred.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Although C.S. Lewis wrote in the context of World War II and the Nazi regime, his words are especially relevant in our moral challenge of relating to Islam and to Islamic extremists.

Courtney focuses on the need for authenticity, since many Protestant missionaries pose as aid workers or teachers in countries that are hostile to Christianity. In an OpEd for CNN’s Declassifed – Untold Stories of American Spies – “Three Arguments Against Christian Covert ‘Spycraft'” Courtney decries this practice as dishonest, harmful to religious freedom, and because it “puts a target on the backs of local Christians”.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

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Posted by on Mar 5, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

What is Mercy?

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son

On December 8, 2015 Pope Francis called the Church and the World to a Year of Mercy. This virtue is very prominent in the Pope’s preaching and teaching. Many have embraced this call; but, what is mercy?

Mercy is the attitude or action of someone who could justifiably be uninvolved, superior, insensitive or disdainful. It implies that the person extending mercy goes out of her or his way to ignore whatever differences there may be between the self and others. Sincere mercy is expressed by a person who has moved beyond self-preoccupation or fear to equanimity and even magnanimity. Mercy is inclusive. There is no judgment in mercy as to who deserves it or not. Mercy   knows that the one extending mercy also needs it.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, “hesed” and “rachamim” are both translated as mercy. “Hesed” is a holy, giving love. It is a love which reaches out. It is a love that is steadfast and dependable. (Joshua 2:12-14) “Rachamim” comes from “racham” which is a mother’s womb. (1 Kings 3:26) This is a love that is tender, compassionate, and responsive.

Mercy in Jesus’ Life

Jesus spoke of mercy often. His life often called him to go beyond the law, the rules, and social norms. He pulled to himself those who were unacceptable — the dirty, leprous and sinful: outcasts, women, the old. The widow of Nain, Matthew and Zacchaeus (tax collectors), the woman with the constant bleeding, the man born blind, the woman caught in adultery, and the Samaritan woman at the well — all are examples of Jesus’ extending mercy and often incurring the wrath of the respectable authorities. Jesus crossed the gaps of separation between people to demonstrate the joy of unity. The parable of the prodigal Son is a wonderful example of this. Jesus showed us that fear of the other is unnecessary and destructive of authentic humanity. Mercy’s goal is happiness rather than just legal fairness. Doing mercy is helping people flourish. This is much more than just not hindering people. Jesus let us know that we all need each other’s mercy — and God’s most of all.

Jesus also offered mercy to the powerful. He had openness to the Scribes and Pharisees and encouraged dialogue as long as they were civil. But they could not imagine engaging with someone who associated with outcasts, nor that they themselves might need mercy. These authorities saw the perfect following of their laws as a sign of their righteousness and their separation from outcasts as a good thing. (Never mind that the poor did not have the finances to do the symbolic washing, eating, dressing, tithes, rituals, and travel to be perfectly observant,) Jesus was looking at the heart and its intentions. The elite enjoyed power coming from superiority and were looking at appearances

Mercy in the New Testament and Today

In the New Testament one can also find “eleos” translated as mercy. The root of “eleos” is “oil that is poured out.” Thus God’s love is poured out to us. The generosity of God’s care fills the Scriptures. It is one of St. Paul’s themes.  ( Romans 5:5, Titus 3:6 and 1 Timothy 1:14) God’s mercy does not imply that God is weak. It does say that God knows well our circumstances and His love overflows for us.

Many people have experienced God’s mercy for them. In the most trying circumstances there are those who have leaned on God and found much solace and help. It is not easy to hit a wall and trust God. Coming up against those in power when they show no mercy is also a difficult, if not frightening thing.

In recent years those like Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Mother Teresa of Kolkata, and Dorothy Day in the United States have shown amazing humility and mercy. The examples of their lives speak to us as we deal with the challenges of our times and the call to give and receive mercy.

 

 

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