28 March 2015

THAT’S NO WAY TO END UP

PALM SUNDAY
mark 11:1-10; isaiah 50:4-7; philippians 2:6-11; mark 14:1-15:47

addressing a college audience in missouri, gordon liddy (a former white house aide involved in the watergate affair) emphasized that only force, ruthless use of violence and an iron will could earn the respect of friends and foes in this «real world.»
one of the faculty rose timidly and stammered: «but… in our country, most people… base their ethics on… like… the teachings of JESUS… and this-doesn’t-sound-much-like-the-teachings-of-JESUS.» 
liddy glared a moment, took in a breath, and bellowed: «yeah! and look what happened to JESUS!» he flailed his arms outward as if on the cross and said: «they crucified him.»
the audience was stunned… but only briefly. then there was a thunderous applause! liddy merely stated what everyone else had already concluded: «failure, persecution and pain, instead of success, appreciation and a good retirement—that’s no way to end up» (cf. a.j. conyers, the eclipse of heaven).

like the college audience, the crowds in jerusalem two millennia ago applauded JESUS and greeted him with shouts and waving of palm branches because they expected him to be their conquering hero. however, since JESUS’ power was not the power the world understands, since the messiah was not a military hero but a suffering servant, their cheers on sunday quickly turned to jeers on friday. paul is clear in the letter to the philippians: though JESUS was the son of GOD, he did not cling to his privileges but humbled himself and became obedient unto a shameful death on a cross. abused and abandoned, he did not rebel, he did not use force but was the suffering servant.
it was this crucified and broken JESUS who «truly… was the son of GOD», a fact the roman centurion recognized and affirmed. wasn’t the roman a foe?!

failure, persecution and pain—that’s the way JESUS chose; that’s the force of GOD… which has won the respect, love and faith of millions of people through the ages.
which way will i choose: the way of gordon liddy—success, appreciation and a good retirement—or the way of JESUS—obedient suffering?

21 March 2015

WORK FROM THE INSIDE

V SUNDAY OF LENT
jeremiah 31:31-34; hebrews 5:7-9; john 12:20-33

a little boy asked: «why is it that when i open a marigold it dies, but if GOD does it, it’s so beautiful?» before anyone could answer him, he said: «i know! it’s because GOD always works from the inside.» 

the little boy was wise to GOD’s way of working! whether it’s with nature or with people, GOD works from the inside… as today’s readings indicate.
in the first reading, GOD announces the new covenant he intends making with his people. the earlier covenants had external elements: the sign of the covenant with noah was a rainbow; the covenant of sinai was inscribed on tablets. in this new covenant, GOD will put his «law within them and write it upon their hearts». further, it would be not an external keeping of laws but a relationship with GOD.
in the gospel, JESUS takes this covenant relationship further. he uses the analogy of a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying in order to produce much fruit to emphasize that the covenant now involves a dying to oneself and a rising to eternal life. GOD always works from the inside!
the writer of the letter to the hebrews is clear that JESUS «learned obedience from what he suffered.»

will i allow GOD to write his law upon my heart? will i—like JESUS—fall into the ground and die to myself so that i can produce fruits of the kingdom?
today, let me allow GOD to work from the inside.

14 March 2015

THE GREATEST GIFT

IV SUNDAY OF LENT
2 chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; ephesians 2:4-10; john 3:14-21

a man saw his five-year-old daughter tearing expensive wrapping-paper and sticking it on an old cardboard box, and yelled at her for wasting time and paper.
the next morning, the little girl brought that box to her dad, and said: «this is for you, daddy.» the father was embarrassed by his earlier reaction. he opened the box, found it empty, and he yelled again: «don’t you know, when you give someone a present there’s supposed to be something inside the package?» the little girl’s eyes became little pools. she said: «daddy, there is something inside. i blew kisses into it; i filled it with my love.» 
the father was crushed… he fell on his knees, put his arms around his little girl, and he asked her to forgive him for his anger. he kept that love-filled box by his bed for the rest of his life. often, he’d open the box, take out an imaginary kiss, and remember the love of the child who had put it there. 

in a very real sense, GOD our parent has given each of us a gift-box filled with the greatest gift of his unconditional love. 
the first reading tells us that GOD manifested his love through his patience and faithfulness towards his unfaithful people.
the second reading and the gospel tell us that GOD showed his love in the ultimate gift… the sending of his only SON. the text from john reads: «for GOD so loved the world that he gave his only SON» and this is the essence of the gospel. 
this text emphasizes two things: first, GOD took the initiative to love us and save us; he sent his son… for one reason: because he loved us. second, it tells us of the width of GOD’s love: he loved the world. not just the «chosen people»; not only those who loved him… GOD’s love is not a reserved love.

the greatest gift is for you and me. all you and i have to do is to accept the gift. do i accept the gift of GOD’s love? do i believe that GOD loves me so much that he sent his son to be my redeemer? how do i respond to his love?

07 March 2015

GOD’S PEOPLE… A LITTLE SLICE OF HEAVEN ON EARTH

III SUNDAY OF LENT SUNDAY III
exodus 20:1-17; 1 corinthians 1:22-25; john 2:13-25

in «culture shift», wayne cordeiro tells of a parishioner who found a «little slice of heaven on earth» around GOD’s people. he discovered that she worked six days a week, and volunteered to be a receptionist at the church her one day off. 
he asked her: «why do you come here and do this?» she replied: «being here is like a breath of fresh air.»
he asked: «don’t you want to take a day off?» she said: «this IS a day off. it fills my soul.»
cordeiro reflects: «she feels valued. that is the kind of love we want to show. this love… comes from learning to recognize evidence of GOD’s presence.»

the ten commandments were meant to put GOD’s people into a covenantal relationship with him and into a right relationship with one another… so that they became a sign of GOD’s presence, and all experienced a «little slice of heaven». 
gradually, these became 613 dos and don’ts which focused on externals.

the jerusalem temple was meant to be a sign of GOD’s presence… another «little slice of heaven». 
at JESUS’ time, it had become «a marketplace», where the money-changers and animal sellers extorted the poor pilgrims… in the name of religion. further, the «marketplace» was in the court of the gentiles… the only place where a gentile could pray. but the noise from the animals and people precluded any prayer.
in cleansing the temple, JESUS wished to restore it as a sign of GOD’s presence. in his confrontation with the jews, he indicated another sign (and reality) of GOD’s presence: his body!

we are GOD’s people and the body of CHRIST.
am i truly a sign of GOD’s presence? do people experience a «little slice of heaven on earth» and «a breath of fresh air» around me?
today, what do i need to cleanse in myself to become a true «temple»?