Saturday, March 26, 2016

Luke 24:1-12: Peter's Faith

In first-century Jewish culture a woman’s testimony was not believable. However, God uses these described women, the humble and discredited among society, to first witness and carry the news of Jesus’ Resurrection to the apostles. Upon hearing the women’s testimony, the men are doubtful: “But the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them” (11). Peter, however, is prompted to investigate the report of the empty tomb. Peter runs to the tomb, which indicates his excitement at the prospect of Christ’s Resurrection. After all, Peter was with Christ on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration.  Peter, also, was one of Jesus’ closest friends, learning daily at the feet of the Master. Peter would have recalled Jesus’ teaching regarding his rising three days after his death. At a run, Peter arrives and, in amazement, witnesses the empty tomb and the abandoned burial linen.

At this stage in his discipleship, Peter is much like many of us.  He is doubtful and must see evidence of Jesus with his own eyes. His faith, at this point, is still in its developmental stages.  Peter has recently denied Jesus three times. And although he is sorrowful regarding this denial (see Luke 22:62), Peter has yet to reconcile with Jesus, telling Jesus three times that he loves him (see John 21:15-19). Therefore, Peter’s amazement, or affirmation of belief, is not after the eyewitness report in Luke 24:9, but only after he has made the dash to the tomb to see for himself. We know from Scripture that Jesus several times talks about the necessity of his Passion (see Luke 18:31-33), each time in the presence of Peter. In those discussions, Jesus mentions his rising after three days.  Why does Peter doubt it, then, when he hears the eyewitness testimony from the women he knew were close to Jesus?

Faith, at times, can be challenging for me as it is here for Peter.  But Peter’s struggle gives me hope. If Peter, the prime disciple and eventual leader of Christ’s church can be a doubtful, self-confessed sinner, then there is hope for me. There is hope for us all. For Peter never gave up, and although he got it wrong many times throughout Scripture, he kept coming back to Jesus, seeking him out, and reconciling with him through a contrite heart.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Matthew 10:26-33

Jesus’ continued instruction to the apostles is important to their mission in serving him. But this mission of service is ours, too. Being a Christian in this world, therefore, means being not only a disciple (a learner) but an apostle (one sent forth), too. Jesus’ words for the twelve are also words for us. We are called to not fear but to proclaim the love of Christ with our lives. We are called to witness our Christian faith to all people by our acts of love, forgiveness, and self giving. We are called to acknowledge Jesus before others, witnessing the joy his love has brought to our lives and Jesus’ desire to give mercy and love to all.
But our walk with Christ can easily be stifled by our fears of what others’ think. Will people see me as some “mental case” Jesus freak? Will people no longer take me seriously because Christ is at the center of my life? These fears are unimportant, and yes, some people will persecute and judge us for our faith. The real fear, however, should be that of temptation and the discouragement of evil: “Fear him who can destroy both body and soul” (28).
Evil and temptation discourage and accuse us in our walk of faith, and by our own choice to follow temptation, we separate ourselves from relationship with God. Jesus, however, triumphantly counters temptation for us. Jesus says that we should not fear because God loves us and counts us dear in his eyes (31) and, according to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13, God will not allow us to be tried beyond our strength.  How we cooperate with God’s love and grace is our choice, however.  Discipleship and apostleship are not forced; we are given the grace of desire but must choose to live in Christ.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Matthew 16:10-25

Being a servant of Christ is rewarding and fills our hearts with his love and presence, but many in our world do not welcome Jesus’ message or embrace the gospel.  Those who reject the gospel or who are agitated by Christians will persecute Christians, and as followers of Christ we are to be prepared. Although most of us will not have to go before rulers or be persecuted in the streets of our towns, we will experience rejection from our families and friends.
When Jesus enters into our hearts, our disposition changes. We think, act, and react differently, and our world becomes a place centered on Christ. The people who know and hang on to our old selves will be angry, agitated, and even jealous and or offended by our new joy in Christ. We must be prepared to handle this rejection and to give witness to God in our lives, no matter the circumstance.
Lord Jesus, I am yours, a pupil ready to witness to you in this world, even at the cost of persecution.  But I cannot do this of my own power; it can only be done in, through, and with your grace and love. I am powerless outside of you. Use me, Lord Jesus, to love and forgive others (including myself) in this world. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Genesis 39:9-12: Knowing When to Walk Away

[Potiphar] is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. (Genesis 39:9-12)

The publication Our Daily Bread posted a meditation on this Scripture that I find invaluable, and I am sharing it with you below.  This meditation reveals a reality that I frequently face, the temptation to engage in quarrels or debates.

In Genesis, we read how Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph. He immediately recognized that giving in would cause him to “sin against God,” so he fled. Temptation knocks often at our door. Sometimes it comes from our own desires, other times through the situations and people we encounter. (Our Daily Bread: March 18, 2016)

Throughout the above meditation, which can be found here, the author narrates a personal story about his father.  His father dealt with difficult situations by discerning when to walk away, and in the examples given, the temptation to alcohol and arguing with others, we can identify with this struggle.

To build on his point, the author cites 1 Corinthians 10:13, one of my favorite passages from Paul’s letters. Paul counsels a Corinthian church that is divided and has fallen into sin. He advises, moreover, that they hold on to God’s offered grace in the midst of temptation:

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God’s “way out so that [we] may be able to endure it” can be a special grace to persevere or, in the father’s case, proper discernment on when to get up and prayerfully leave.

There are many times when I engage in a given conflict rather than leave it, whether it be disagreeing with others, chiding my kids, or being stubborn on a point with my wife.  That engagement often opens the door to temptation and less-than-charitable action. Sometimes walking away in prayer is best, even though there are times when we are called to put up a defense and offer loving witness. Proper discernment in the Holy Spirit is crucial, and that discernment requires time and prayer.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

John 5:44-47: Focus on Jesus

John 5:44-47: Focus on Jesus
The Jewish religious leaders, at this point, reject Jesus as the Christ, see him as blasphemous, and seek to persecute him. These Pharisees, moreover, are unfaithful to the Father because they reject the Son and instead seek each other’s worldly approval and acknowledgment: “How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” (44). This sin of pride makes them spiritually blind.

Vainglory always thwarts our true purpose in life, to give God glory in all things. Vainglory is the sin of inordinate pride, and pride, according to C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, is our worst sin:
The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. …. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. (Chapter 8)

According to Jesus, the self-pious religious leaders are wrong in seeking their own vainglory. God’s salvation is through his Son, Who stands in front of them. It is Jesus that Moses writes about in the Torah, and because of their pride, they are too blind to recognize it, reject Christ, and will not have eternal life through him: “For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (46-47).

Am I like the Pharisees, seeking the approval of others rather glorifying God and serving His will? Am I so blind as to miss the loving grace of Jesus in front of me? If I look carefully, I can see Jesus  in my neighbor, but my eyes are too easily closed by the noise of the world.

Please join me in the following prayer:
Loving God, I have sought approval from others when my focus should have been on You. Let me no longer look for worldly acceptance; instead, let me live to better serve and love You so I can better serve my neighbor through Your love. And by Your grace, dear God, let my life glorify You in Jesus Christ's name. Amen.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

John 7:28-30

John 7:28-30
Like the Jewish audience of Jesus' time, do we really know Jesus beyond where he is from and who he claims to be? First century Jews saw Jesus as the carpenter's son from Nazareth in Galilee. He was the humble teacher, miracle performer, and amazing uneducated scholar from the poor Jewish town on the outskirts. Jesus answers their skepticism with a shout in the temple: “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true" (28). The problem now, and the problem then, is that when we hear Christ in Scripture and prayer, when we see Jesus active in our lives changing us, we still doubt and refuse total surrender of self to Him. For instance, when Jesus declares Himself the Messiah of God, "... I am from him, and he sent me” (29), the pseudo-faithful aim to arrest Him, throwing Christ out of their lives. Are there moments when we, too, hear God's voice in our day and aim to arrest and throw Him out of our lives? If we more often listen and allow Christ to work in us, we, too, will become radiant new creations that "cry out" in the temples of our world "I am from him."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why We Should do our Best to Lead a Life Free From Sin

After healing the man at the pool of five porticoes, Jesus says something I find revealing: "... [D]o not sin anymore so that nothing worse may happen to you" (14). This implies that Jesus does more than just physically heal the man. Jesus forgives his sins. This man's sins are the spiritual root of his physically crippling ailment. And our lives are no different.

If we remember Jesus' teaching regarding the man born blind in John 9:3, physical ailments are not a direct result of sin; instead, our imperfections can function to show God's work through his healing. Jesus, however, reminds us that sin in our lives can cripple our walk with him. Sin, furthermore, causes spiritual paralysis and blindness. But through the grace of repentance, contrition, and seeking forgiveness, Jesus takes us off our figurative mats and makes us new creations in him. The journey doesn't end there, however. We must do our best to reject sin so that we don't become worse off in our faith journey, paralyzed and blinded again. Jesus is our Redeemer, and he patiently waits to give us new life in him.

Lord Jesus Christ, let me always choose you and reject the sin in my life. Amen.

Matthew 8:1-5

Matthew 8:1-5
It is times like this that I, too, identify as the leper. Immediately following his teaching on the mount, Jesus is met by the leper. In an act of bold faith, the leper petitions Christ for his healing grace: "Lord if you wish, you can make me clean" (2). Jesus immediately stretches out his hand and administers healing to the afflicted. I, too, seek Christ's healing touch. We must, however, ask for it, and not only that, but we have to reflect on and recognize the leprosy of our own faults, emptying ourselves of them, so God can fill us with His healing grace.
Loving God, please make me clean, for although I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, you enter, heal, love, and send me forth to reflect your love. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jesus gives two warnings to his would-be followers: ". . .the Son of Man has no where to rest his head" (20) and ". . .let the dead bury their dead" (22). Following Jesus meant living a nomadic existence, moving from place to place while relying on the generosity of others. The misinformed scribe and disciple are not fully aware of what it means to follow Christ. Healing and preaching the Good News does not consist of one moment in ministry and the other moment returning to a permanent home. And serving Christ and neighbor does not include living in one's past, looking back to the old way of living and fulfilling obligations.

Following Jesus means making him the priority in all things. We must get past our old ways of thinking and living before conversion, focusing on our new lives in Christ. Loyalty to Jesus must take first priority, even before family obligations. Does this mean that in following Christ we ignore family obligations? No. Being a disciple means that although Jesus comes first, we must fulfill our family obligations as well. But we do it all with the mind and heart of Christ. We have died to our old selves and have been reborn in Christ (Romans 6:6). Therefore, everything we do -- living, loving, day-to-day functioning, and working -- is now done in the spiritually-alive life Jesus has given us. Our past selves no longer exist; we are new creations in Christ.

Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus directs this parable to the self-righteous Pharisees. These religious leaders were known for their piety and self-proclaimed Abrahamic “right” to the kingdom of God. As Jesus points out, the Pharisee’s prayer, however, is an offering of false thanksgiving. The Pharisee is thankful for his own piety and for not being “one of them,” the group of marginalized sinners who do not follow the Deuteronomic/Mosaic Law of Judaism. But Jesus turns his audience’s attention to the humble contrition of the most loathed member of first-century Palestinian society, the parasitic tax collector. It is the humble contrition of the tax collector, however, that receives God’s mercy and forgiveness. The tax collector prays “at a distance,” not even raising his eyes to God. He beats his chest confirming his own unworthiness and self blame, putting himself at the absolute mercy of God. The Pharisee prays from the position of entitlement and pride; the tax collector prays from a distance, unworthy and humble.

Who am I in the scheme of God’s grace? How do I approach prayer and petition? This parable, written for a first-century Jewish audience, adapts well to a modern audience, to me, forcing me to look at my moment-to-moment walk with Christ. Jesus’ words function as a reminder that I, too, am no better than the most despised sinner in the world. God’s love is unfathomable, His forgiveness immeasurable, when we approach the altar of grace with humility and contrition.

Lord, please grant me the gift of humility and contrition so that I, too, can rightly pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Matthew 7: 21-23

Matthew 7: 21-23
Jesus is clear in his teaching on discipleship: Many who perform miracles and healings in his name will not enter the kingdom of heaven, for they are not living their lives according to his will and teachings. This reflects back to Matthew 7:15 and the warning about false teachers (prophets or followers) who pose as “sheep” but are really “ravenous wolves.” This passage forces me to reflect on my own discipleship: Am I truly a follower of Christ, or do I seek my own ambitions rather than seeking and serving the will of God?

Jesus came to love, serve others, and offer his life as a ransom for many. We, too, are to live lives of service and love. Many, however, who claim to follow Christ, both in first-century Palestine and today, fail to live a truly Christian life, one evidenced by our love for God and others. When we fail to have an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus, seeking him in prayer, Scripture, Sacrament, and our outreach to others in love and forgiveness, we fail to enter the kingdom of heaven. We must, according to Christ’s example, live by giving our lives away. We can call Jesus “Lord” and can even go through the motions of our religious faith traditions, banking on our efforts to attend worship and pay lip service to the Christian faith. This does not, however, make us true disciples of Christ. Discipleship, as Jesus mentions earlier in Matthew 7:14, is the “narrow gate” and “constricted road.” Our hearts must be in it, and if they are not, then we must surrender ourselves to Christ and “ask, knock, seek” for the grace of conversion. Discipleship is “walking the walk” of Christian faith, following the example of our Master, Jesus Christ, giving ourselves away to God and neighbor in our little corners of the world.

Lord Jesus, I pray for the grace to not only listen and take in your teaching and loving example but to put it into practice in my vocation as husband, father, teacher, and neighbor.

Matthew 8:1-3 -- Humbly Approaching Jesus

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.”  He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
It is times like this that I, too, identify as the leper. Immediately following his teaching on the mount, Jesus is met by the leper. In an act of bold faith, for lepers were considered unclean and not permitted near others until they were declared clean by a Levitical priest, the leper approaches and petitions Christ for his healing grace: "Lord if you wish, you can make me clean" (2). Jesus immediately stretches out his hand and administers healing to the afflicted. Do I, too, boldly seek Christ's healing touch? As Jesus says earlier in his sermon, we have to seek, ask, and knock, and God’s grace will freely flow. We must, however, do as this leper does, plead for Christ’s healing. And in our asking, we have to reflect on and recognize the leprosy of our own faults, emptying ourselves of them, so God can fill us with His healing grace.

A Prayer:
Loving God, please make me clean, for although I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, you enter, heal, love, and send me forth to reflect your love. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

May the grace and love of Christ live in and through you all.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Matthew 7:1-5: Judging Others

Matthew 7:1-5
When we look at others with disdain, pointing out all of their faults, we do it to ourselves, too. Judgment comes in the form of gossip and talking about others when we consciously know we shouldn't. So why do we? Because it is fun and makes us feel better about ourselves, right? That is the lie that we are led to believe. When we ridicule, make fun of, and point out faults found in others, we shine God's spotlight on our own faults. But it is a spotlight to which we tragically close our eyes.

Loving God, kindly grant me the grace to celebrate and reflect your boundless mercy and forgiveness and abandon the easy way of judgment, for you, Lord, are the only judge.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Matthew 6:19-21 Treasure in Heaven

Am I attached to any material items -- cell phone, computer, social networking, clothes?  Unhealthy attachments distract and draw me away from what matters, namely God's love. If I cannot focus on the mercy and love of God and my reciprocal love for Him, then I am aimless in my love for my family and the person in front of me. True treasure in this life is only that which draws me closer to Christ.  Anything else is temporary fodder for moths and thieves.

Lord Jesus, let me only be drawn to things that draw me into You.