Monday, April 24, 2017

Why We Should Seek Christ Among Us

Mark 6:2-6 (NRSV): Welcoming Christ Among Us
2 On the sabbath [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Jesus and his disciples return to Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. This return happens directly after Jesus performs many miracles. Just previous to this passage, for instance, Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43). The people in Jesus’ hometown would have heard of these miracles, and as he preaches in the synagogue, they are “astounded” by his “wisdom” and “deeds of power” (6:2). But something is amiss among the residents of Jesus’ hometown. They cannot see past their prejudices. They say, “‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (6:3). The people of Nazareth see Jesus as the poor, common carpenter from down the block. How can he, their response implies, be a prophet or the Messiah? The people in town were preoccupied with where Jesus came from rather than who he has the potential to be.
Harboring preconceived ideas about someone can cloud our ability to see who they truly are and stymie an individual’s promise. Our faith in the potential of a person is often blinded by our prejudices. Prejudicial thinking, moreover, breeds xenophobia, exclusionism, and marginalization. Wasn’t Jesus marginalized, seen as an outsider, and rejected by the establishment?
Upon self-examination, it is easy to see that we, too, can fall prey to this way of thinking. Would we, then, have pigeon-holed Jesus because of his upbringing? Mark writes that Jesus could “do no deed of power there” (6:5) because of people’s lack of faith. When we believe, however, that a person is capable of rising above their circumstances, we offer them the faith and loving hope they deserve.
O Most Loving God, I pray that our minds and hearts be open to the potential of all people, no matter their circumstances or past. Kindly grant each of us, O Lord, the grace to welcome Jesus Christ among us. For it is in his name we pray, Amen.

Have a blessed week.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why Looking with our Hearts Matters

Luke 24:30-32 (GNT): Recognizing the Risen Christ
29 But they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Wasn't it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
In the post-Resurrection “Road to Emmaus” narrative, Luke depicts two disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus. They meet him on Easter Sunday walking along the road to a village called Emmaus. And although Luke tells the listener it is Jesus, the two disciples, however, do not recognize him right away. It is not until Christ discusses the Hebrew Scriptures, is invited in, and, finally, breaks bread with them that they “see” him. Luke narrates, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. . . “ (24:31). And it is this recognition of Christ among us that is a challenge in today’s world of scepticism and doubt.
Every time we read and study Scripture, love our neighbor, and celebrate the Eucharist, we encounter Jesus. But why don’t we see him? Why doesn’t Jesus appear to us as he does the disciples along that road long ago? The answer, however, is a matter of how we see: Are we looking for Jesus with our hearts, sensing that “fire burning in us” (24:31) that the two disciples witness? Or are we merely looking with a set of eyes shaped an marred by the modern world?
This past week I saw Christ present in an expression of neighborly love. Upon finishing up my day, I was seated at the computer inputting some grades. The day was warm, about 78 degrees, my window was open, and it was a picture-perfect day. As the sound of laughter entered my room through the open window, I spied the Social Club outside tossing footballs, baseballs, and frisbees. The bursts of chortles and the unsteady pat-thump of excited footfalls were too much for me to ignore. Their joy opened my eyes.
For those who are not familiar, the Social Club is an afterschool activity that serves some of the most compassionate kids in our high school. All who participate benefit from the positive interaction of mentorship and friendship. The Social Club allows students to spend time with and be a friend to others. It is a school club, but I also see it as a ministry. And I am always moved by the students I see laughing, interacting, self-giving, and loving one another. It is through these students’ smiling faces, uncontrollable laughter, and commitment to each other that I witness the presence of Jesus among us. Christ is alive in the love of neighbor.
As some of us enjoy a few days off from the busyness of work, let us look around with the eyes of our hearts. For it is in that authentic looking that we see the resurrected Jesus among us. And when we do, our hearts, too, will feel “like a fire burning in us” with the loving presence of God in our midst.
Have blessed Easter!


Monday, April 10, 2017

Why we Should Meditate on Jesus’ Model of Prayer

Matthew 26:38-39, 27:46 (CEB): Jesus’ Model of Prayer
38 Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” 39 Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
46  At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
Although sometimes solemn, Holy Week contains its own joy. We celebrate the joy of Jesus’ faith, resilience, and love for humanity in the face of incomprehensible human suffering. He takes our iniquities with him to the cross, dying so that we may live, emptying himself so that we might be filled. And Jesus does this not with ease because he is God. Jesus, rather, embraces the sufferings of his humanity by experiencing sadness, reluctance, and abandonment.
While in Gethsemane, Jesus experiences the pain of sadness. He knows that the cross looms in the distance, and his prayer reflects this: “Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying . . .’” (26:38). How can God Incarnate feel the same troubling emotions as us? Jesus is as human as he is divine. Sadness, then, is a feeling that we all experience, and Jesus does, too. He wants his faithful to know that he suffers as we do. Therefore, when we are grieved by our own personal struggles, we should turn to Christ, knowing that he understands firsthand the pain of sadness and grief. And by meditating on Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane, we can identify with his pain and sadness, a common human struggle that he willingly took on for each of us.   
Sadness is one thing, but God being reluctant to face death is another. Jesus, lying prostrate, prays, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want” (26:39). Scripture clearly indicates that Jesus prefers to let “this cup of suffering” pass. This cup, of course, represents the humiliation and pain of Christ’s Passion and death. Jesus, like us, is reluctant to suffer and die. But he seeks to serve the Father’s will, not his human will. How do we handle our own sufferings in life? Do we remove our own cup or, like Jesus, empty ourselves to God’s will? Jesus’ reluctance ends with his obedience.
Jesus also expresses abandonment. Moments before his death, Jesus prays the opening line from a Davidic prayer, Psalm 22, and it is a question he poses to the Father: “My God, my God, why have you left me?” How many times do we feel that God is silent to our pleas? Whether a simple or profound petition, when our prayers are not answered, we, too, feel a sense of abandonment. And this shakes our faith. But Christ’s unshakable faith is our model. As Jesus cries out to the Father “Why?” he faithfully holds firm to his purpose and offers up his life for the sins of the world.
I pray that as we proceed through this Holy Week, we meditate on those difficult moments in Jesus’ prayer. And in that meditation, I pray that Jesus’ model of self-emptying love fortify our faith, uphold our hope, and deepen our devoted love toward God and neighbor.

Have a blessed Holy Week.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

On the Obedient, Humble Love of Jesus

Philippians 2: 4-8 (NRSV): Obedient, Humble Love
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Being a follower of Christ in today’s world is no easy task. And if it were not for God’s grace we would all be lost, trying to earn our own salvation in a world of immediacy and instant results. Paul, however, in his joy-filled letter to the church at Philippi, provides a formula of love and humility for Christ’s followers and answers the all-important question: How can we be more like Jesus in this world?
Jesus Christ did “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility [he regarded] others as better than [himself]” (2:3). The gospels are peppered with examples of Christ’s putting others first: We see a beautiful example of Christ’s humility in John 13:4-17. Here Jesus takes on the lowest job given to slaves, washing the feet of others. When his disciples question this humble action, Jesus answers, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Being like Jesus means prioritizing the needs of others. Paul says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (2:4). It is too easy for us to “look out for number one” in this competitive world, sacrificing the needs of others for our own wants. Jesus, in his life on earth, lived for the sake of others, for everything he did exemplified his love for us.
Being like Christ also includes an attitude adjustment. Paul, moreover, reminds us that we, too, are to have “the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). This means that Christ, although he had God’s nature, did not equate his earthly life with that of God (2:6). Instead, Jesus chose to live in poverty, taking on “the form of a slave,” a struggling human being who experienced both emotional and physical pain (2:7). Jesus chose to be born in a cold cave among animals, and he chose the course hay of a feeding trough as his crib (Luke 2:7). Jesus, as is discussed in more detail below, obediently chose the cross. Jesus, too, experienced deep emotional sadness at the death of his close friend Lazarus of Bethany, for the sacred writer states that upon witnessing the sadness of Lazarus’ death, ”[Jesus] was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. . . and Jesus began to weep” (John 11:33, 36).
Finally, Paul reminds us of Christ’s ultimate work of humility and love -- his sacred flesh offered on the cross for all: “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (2:8). Jesus willingly gave up his human life, and that we know he was all human and all God proves Christ’s Passion was an excruciating human experience. On the cross Jesus felt extreme physical pain as his hands and feet were pinioned with iron nails. Historically accurate accounts of crucifixion point to the crucified dying of asphyxiation as they struggled to push themselves up by pierced feet to catch a short breath only to fall again into a position that did not allow for inhalation. Eventually, physical weakness (or Roman guards breaking the legs of the criminals) would restrict this movement and the crucified would slowly die of suffocation. Jesus felt emotional pain and abandonment on the cross, too. His last words suggest this emotional struggle as he recited Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (1).
Jesus’ obedience and humility are insurmountable, so how can we ever compare? If our goal is to be more like Christ, how can we when his example is perfect? These are fair questions to consider. Our lives, though, are not in competition with the Incarnation of God. Jesus’ example, instead, is a living reminder, a call, to be ambassadors of his love in this world. When we look at Paul’s beautiful hymn to Christ, we reflect on the areas of our lives that need tweaking, the areas that need to embody more love toward others and less judgment, more giving and less taking. Jesus’ perfect example of love, obedience, and humility points us toward conversion. And if we are sincere, asking God to come into our lives, we, too, can effect positive change in our world by loving each person we meet in some small way, even if it is only in the form of a simple smile. For St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
I pray that our “simple smiles” be the genesis of Christ’s love reflected in our world and that each person we meet is changed by the light of Christ in each of us. Amen.
Have a blessed week.