Like a sapling he grew in front of us, Like a root in arid ground… a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering …. And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours ~ the sorrows he carried. But we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low.
Yet in him lies a punishment that brings in peace and through his wound wewere healed – excerpted from Isaiah 53
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
GOOD FRIDAY 2016
Editor’s note: I wrote this piece in 1981, one of earliest writings. I still consider it one of my best pieces of prose.
It’s long, but I hope you enjoy it. You might wish to print it out and save it for bedtime. All the best, Bob.
Jesus is the one who is our tremendous Lover.
He came to live among us to reveal to us, his sisters and brothers, that we have a Father-God who loves us with a Love that is once a passionate, unconditional love and yet gentle, always inviting, never coercing. Jesus came among us to be our Love, to show the human race how to use the supreme power which God could give us: the intimate, infinite Love which is ours, if only we would claim it and model our lives after Jesus, who is Love itself.
Jesus was to be for us the model of Love because he was willing to experience in his heart the depths of human emotion. He risked time and again to embrace the sorrow, the agony, the need of those who came to him to be healed. He risked being burdened by the needs of others. He risked being disheartened by those who would take from him and not even say thanks. He risked being misunderstood and rejected by the authorities of the day and even his neighbors in his hometown. He risked the pain of realizing that even his closest disciples and friends had narrowed vision and missed the main point of his message.
He risked all, and realized that, in spite of pain and sorrow, in his heart, the soft Voice of the Father within him was asking him to keep going, to risk even more. To go deeper into his heart and to carve out still more and more places for those he would touch and heal, until one day there would be room in his heart for the whole world.
I doubt that Jesus ever forgot a single individual that he encountered, not even those who oppressed him. He kept them all in his great heart, remembering them, praying for them, hoping that they would open their hearts to the One who Loved them with a passionate Love — the Father-God of all. He must have realized how important it was to see and feel the tragedy of the corruption he witnessed among the religious and political leaders of the day, to keep even these things in his heart. As painful as it was, he hoped that by keeping them there, the great evil he saw would be disarmed and tamed.
That’s all he could do, after all — absorb the tragedy, the struggle, the sin, the failures in Love of the human race in his great, great heart. Yes, he healed a few sick and gave the gift of sight to some, but most of all he Loved: He let people into his heart (that’s the definition of Love, after all: to let someone into one’s heart) there to be comforted, if just for a moment. For one brief moment in the heart of the Lord Jesus is enough for any of us.
He had room for young John and impetuous Peter. And for Judas. He had room for the outcasts of his day, Zaccheus and Matthew and Mary Magdalen. And he brought the outcasts in and had them seated at table with the aristocrats. He had room for beggars and lepers and blind people. And he had room for the Pharisees who broke his heart by their refusal to see and understand.
We remember that he was capable of deep emotion. He wept profoundly when he saw in prophecy what would happen to Jerusalem because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. And yet, even the gift of his tears and the greatness of his Love would not stop the destruction that would come because of Israel’s hardness of heart and lack of vigilance.
In the end, he wept in the garden. I like to believe that his agony was not focused on the trauma he personally was about to endure but because the Father permitted him, in that moment, to experience to the depths the reality of evil and tragedy in the world. He must have experienced some of the pain and loss that many of us feel when we encounter hardness of heart and misunderstanding.
Jesus embodied the compassion of God — the mercy, the tenderness, the Hesed of God (to use the wonderful Hebrew word). God wanted to be known as the Merciful One. And we, likewise, are instructed to “Be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.” Pope Francis this year has given us this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy so that everyone can experience God’s wonderful mercy. Francis keeps saying it’s Mercy upon mercy upon mercy!
Jesus became for us the “Man of Sorrows familiar with suffering” ~ the suffering Servant of Yahweh. He bore the weight of the world’s refusal to Love and even worse its refusal to be Loved by the God of Love. He allowed that evil, that senseless tragedy of the human race, to be absorbed, and thereby redeemed and purified, with his own blood. In his own bloodstream the cosmic battle between the forces of Love and Hate was waged. And “his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” In him the great cosmic battle was focused. Our great compassionate God sent his Son to bear within his soul the brunt of that cosmic storm.
We are filled with awe at such overwhelming Love. And so we honor his great, great heart. But most importantly we should realize that he has become for us Love itself so that we will also might become Love.
The one essential ingredient of the Christian religion is to Love as Jesus has Loved us. We are to become compassionate as Jesus is compassionate. We, like Jesus, are called not to be afraid to embrace the suffering, the tragedy, the sin of the world, so that in Love we will join our hearts to his and, as St. Paul says, “to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”
Perhaps we can say, therefore, that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who are willing to accept their own share of suffering in the world (and a bit more for Jesus’ sake) and those who cannot or will not bear even the suffering caused by their own failures and sins. The compassionate ones do what they do out of Love, a seemingly foolish Love. Some Love because they have been opened up to a mystical awareness that they, like Jesus, are making their own soul and body available as an arena for the cosmic drama of interaction between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
I do not pity those who suffer. I rather pity those who are afraid to suffer. Out of suffering comes understanding — a larger perspective of the world and with it a practical wisdom that tempers Law and Life with Mercy. Out of suffering comes the ability to see the face of Christ in even a hardened criminal or a seemingly pitiful alcoholic.
The ability to see, to understand, the inner workings of people’s lives is a gift far greater than the suffering one must endure to attain it. To-suffer-unto-understanding (a definition of compassion) is to be able to look upon the world as Jesus does and as he invites us to do in the Beatitudes. (Of course, a person can suffer without understanding — especially when we are angry about and refuse to accept our lot of suffering. But if we pray faithfully while we suffer, God will most assuredly gift us with his own very special kind of understanding.)
Understanding is the goal of suffering for those who have eyes to see. Understanding which sees through the eyes of Jesus. Understanding allows us the courage to be with Jesus hanging on the Cross and to see what he saw from that perspective. Understanding allows us the courage to go with Jesus into the bowels of the earth and descend into hell and to see what Jesus saw. Then, too, understanding allows us to feel what Jesus felt when he was lifted from the grave.
I have always had an inner sense that the fastest, most efficient way to handle a crisis was to face it head on — not to avoid it. And so, I invite you to “go with” the suffering. Explore it. Allow yourself to experience the feelings, as painful and confused and frightening as they may be. The more you fight it, the more you will suffer. Ask Jesus the Light to lead you through the darkness. Then have faith and confidence that he will. (After all, the worst you will experience is what Jesus experienced, as long as you follow the will of God. (Other people have suffered more cruel deaths than Jesus.) And if you truly want to follow the will of God and are praying daily, then be assured that God is leading you. Take his hand in the darkness and follow — even if you can barely see the ground in front of you!
The easiest way through suffering is to stretch out our arms and allow ourselves to be nailed to our cross. Don’t fight it. Surrender to the will of God. Jesus in his agony on Thursday night saw through the nails in his hands and the crown of thorns on his head to the Resurrection. He didn’t ignore the Cross; he saw it and the horizon beyond it. Jesus didn’t focus on the pain. The pain of the Cross was only a brief moment (which he knew he had the strength to endure) in the history of his lordship presiding over the business of the universe. So you, too, should not focus on the painful aspects of our life. Look instead for the cause of the pain. Look for the reality — the truth! And remember that Jesus said “the truth shall make you free!” See as Jesus sees; that is, see and accept the truth. And leap from your cross as a butterfly leaps from the cocoon and as Jesus leapt from the grave.
“Impossible!” you may say, especially if you have been suffering for years.
“Not so!” says Jesus and the whole company of prophets and martyrs and confessors and virgins.
Ask for strength and you will receive strength.
Ask for guidance and you will be led through the darkness to a point you will recognize.
Ask to understand and Jesus will let you see yourself through his eyes.
But remember! Don’t focus on the pain. All those gory pictures of Jesus in agony and bloody crucifixes of the past generation, are, hopefully, gone for good.
Don’t forget to look at the horizon beyond the Cross. The sky on that first Good Friday afternoon undoubtedly was an awesome sight to behold.
Suffering in life is only a means to greater life. It is not our final lot. Resurrection is. Glory is. Triumph is, though the paradox is that we must accept our cross totally to be through with it. We are invited to surrender to our Father in complete abandonment as Jesus did, as if we were to leap off a cliff and know that we will land in the Loving arms of our great God.
And so, the question that we ponder this Good Friday, once again, is:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
And the answer is:
The great, great Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
who Loved us so much that he stretched out his arms in the most loving,
the most-nonviolent act, the world has ever seen.
He stretched out his arms in the face of his enemies and said from his Cross:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Come, then, adore the Lord, the tremendous Lover.
Renew your Love for him and know even more than ever before.
It is by the holy Cross that we have been redeemed.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul? What wondrous love is this?
And now, before you go, listen to this orchestral arrangement of What Wondrous Love sung by Steve Green. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
While I was on my retreat during Lent some years ago, one of my prayer assignments was to sit before a statue of the sorrowful mother. I have always had a devotion to Mary, the mother of the Lord, and on that balmy afternoon against the background of the cypress swamp I reflected on all the mothers I had tried to console throughout the years of my priesthood. I record for you now the prayer that was in my journal entry for my retreat master the next day. Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today. I dedicate this blog to all sorrowful mothers. May we all remember them with love. Perhaps you might call to mind the sorrowful mothers in your life. If you are one of them, I pray for you as I write.
Be sure to read the commentary about the 24-year-old Michelangelo and his first sculpture which follows. He chiseled his understanding of human grief, tap by tap, for two years. It is a magnificent meditation. Ponder it for yourself. Why not unite your own prayer to our Lady to his. There is also a very different image of grief below that I photographed from a book.
Dearest Lady, mother of Jesus, whose tender love brought Love Itself into our world, may those who have never known the tender embrace of their own mother’s love receive the same tender care and love you wish for each of them. . . for each of us . . . as you offered the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother upon Jesus, the Son of God who was nourished at your tender breasts, cradled in your arms, bounced upon your knee; whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth, whose dead body you received come down from the Cross: You were the one from whom Jesus learned the joys of human love.
Dearest Lady, Simeon said ~ holding your little Child in his arms ~ that a sword would pierce your soul.
Did you have any idea what he meant? Did you follow Jesus throughout his ministry? Where you among the women who took care of him and the others? If so, where did you stay? Or did you stay at home in Nazareth? Did you go out to visit him when you could? To listen to him preach?
Were you in the midst of the crowds who pressed around him? Did you have a chance to be alone with him for a while? Did you give him any motherly advice? Did you wash his clothes, fix his favorite meal when he was on the road?
Did you gain a sense of foreboding as you listened to the murmurings of hostility beginning to grow toward him? What did you do with that concern?
I think perhaps you knew.
You could see where this was going to end, because you kept all those forebodings Simeon told you in your heart. Sorrow and sadness must have entered your heart long before that fateful Friday. But probably not much worry or anxiety because I think you must have said over and over: Be it done unto me according to Your word. Be it done. . . . Thy will be done.
A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.
And so, dearest Lady, I think of mothers I have known who’ve watched their children die.
My cousin, Lynda, whose beautiful child Robbie who bore her father’s and my name died in a fire at age three. I don’t think his mother ever got over that sadness.
I think of Marie whose paralyzed son was in prison who couldn’t find a priest to console her after his wrongful death.
I think, dear Lady, that you unite yourself with other mothers who suffer at the bedside of a sick child.
With all those mothers who’ve had to flee their homeland torn by war and violence or trapped in violent countries without means of escape, living in fear, day in day out, seemingly without hope.
And I think of my friend Monica whose son Andrew died of AIDS;
Rosemarie, whose very popular high school senior John died heroically of a brain tumor;
Fran, whose son Jimmy died at the hands of a drunk driver;
Chris who loved two children within her belly and wrote a book to work out her grief;
Florence, the mother of my best priest-buddy Phil who died suddenly at age 47. “What a dirty trick!” she wailed at God.
The woman whose name I have long forgot whose surfer-son drowned in a storm in my first week of priestly ministry;
mothers I know whose sons who cannot escape from addiction;
Moniquewhose son despaired and ended his life, leaving his children.
And I think of all the mothers of the world who are condemned to watch their children die of malnutrition.
How can any of us really know what a mother must feel who must outlive her child?
Dearest Lady, I have loved you since I was a boy. I brought you flowers in springtime to express my devotion. I still do. Today, I contemplated the sorrowful image a sculptor captured in white marble. When I gazed into the eyes of that chiseled image for just a moment, I knew what you must have felt, what my friends must have felt. And that moment was gift. A gift I will always remember.
Dearest Lady, as you yourself shared in Jesus’ passion, I ask you to be with all those whose hearts are broken in sorrow.
Receive today all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters on this planet,
born and unborn. Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine/human love which is the glory of our Christian faith: the birth and life, suffering, death and resurrection of the son of a young beautiful woman, Son of God, our Brother, our Redeemer. our Friend, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
+ + + + + + +
From: ‘Guide to Saint Peter’s Basilica ‘
This is probably the world’s most famous sculpture of a religious subject. Michelangelo carved it when he was 24 years old, and it is the only one he ever signed. The beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone.
With this magnificent statue Michelangelo has given us a highly spiritual and Christian view of human suffering. Artists before and after Michelangelo always depicted the Virgin with the dead Christ in her arms as grief-stricken, almost on the verge of desperation. Michelangelo, on the other hand, created a highly supernatural feeling.
As she holds Jesus’ lifeless body on her lap, the Virgin’s face emanates sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of this immense sorrow, combined with her faith in the Redeemer. It seems almost as if Jesus is about to reawaken from a tranquil sleep and that after so much suffering and thorns, the rose of resurrection is about to bloom. As we contemplate the Pieta which conveys peace and tranquility, we can feel that the great sufferings of life and its pain can be mitigated.
Here, many Christians recall the price of their redemption and pray in silence. The words may be those of the “Salve Regina” or “Sub tuum presidium” or another prayer. After Peter’s Tomb, the Pieta Chapel is the most frequently visited and silent place in the entire basilica.
It is said that Michelangelo had been criticized for having portrayed the Virgin Mary as too young since she actually must have been around 45-50 years old when Jesus died. He answered that he did so deliberately because the effects of time could not mar the virginal features of this, the most blessed of women. He also said that he was thinking of his own mother’s face, he was only five when she died: the mother’s face is a symbol of eternal youth.
Before you go, here’s the Stabat Mater, the traditional mourning song to Our Lady. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. The translation of some of the verses follows.
At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, all His bitter anguish bearing, now at length the sword has passed.
O how sad and sore distressed was that Mother, highly blest, of the sole-begotten One.
Christ above in torment hangs, she beneath beholds the pangs of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep, whelmed in miseries so deep, Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s pain untold?
For the sins of His own nation, She saw Jesus wracked with torment, All with scourges rent:
She beheld her tender Child, Saw Him hang in desolation, Till His spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love! Touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord:
Make me feel as thou hast felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ my Lord.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. ~(John 12:1-3)
Yesterday we found Jesus mobbed but probably exhilarated by the crowds as he made his entry into the great city to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
This day, Monday, weary from all the excitement and eager once again to be welcomed by his beloved friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he makes the short trip to Bethany with his disciples.
Apparently he was expected; a dinner party had been arranged and Jesus was to have quite an intimate surprise ~ right there in front of God and everybody. Mary loved Jesus in a special way; Martha seemed to be jealous of her. She got down, washed Jesus dusty, tired, weary bare feet and massaged, soothed, and caressed them.
Suddenly she got up, went to a nearby shelf and got a beautiful alabaster bottle filled with the finest aromatic spikenard. She broke it open! and the whole house was instantly transformed by its wonderful aroma.
She poured it liberally over the Master’s feet. (And as we know Judas objected strenuously ~ but let’s not bother with that.)
(Permit me this Ignatian-style reflection ~ a bit R-rated.)
A sensual woman caresses a 33-year old man with perfumed oil. The oil squishes down between his toes; it soothes his weary feet. She rubs it in circular motions around the ankles.
Then Mary teases him dripping some, drop / drop on his shins, watching the glistening oil slither down his feet.
She leans back on her haunches and waits to get his reaction.
He grins, and raises his eyeballs toward the ceiling.
Then she pounces on him and rubs his feet firmly and furiously and backs away again, then just looks at him and smiles.
He returns the gaze, obviously, very pleased, very delighted, very relaxed.
Then she leans forward and begins to dry his feet with her hair!
This process takes a long time.
Oil takes a long to come out, just being dried by hair, as lovely as Mary’s is.
Now, dear friends, you can’t get more sensuous than that!
I wonder what were the thoughts and feelings of the Lord of the universe’s during this most intimate of male ~ female encounters. Perhaps this most unusual, very creative experience might be even as intimate, as soul-connecting as intercourse itself.
I wouldn’t even dare to imagine. I would simply let him have his own thoughts and feelings
The sacred text doesn’t say, but we can intimate from what we already know that Jesus is already very comfortable with Mary who used to sit gaga-eyed at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42.)
Was it sexual? No. But it sure as h- was sensual!
Did he enjoy the experience?
I’m quite sure he did.
Jesus was a whole, integrated man.
Was he embarrassed to have that happen in front of the others? Quite sure not.
He was with people with whom he could “let this hair down,” although Mary probably got a good talkin’ to by her sister in the bedroom later! Jesus, unlike many of us, was not afraid to be himself in any and all circumstances.
That Monday of that of Holy Week two Millennia ago was a day of relaxation for our Lord. He was able to make a sacrament of the present moment as he put aside concern about the events that lie ahead.
help us, too, to make our present moments a sacrament.
Help us to fully give ourselves to the moment we are in,
embracing it, with eyes and ears wide open to it,
putting all other concerns aside.
For that moment is where life happens.
We may not get another.
And now before you go, here’s the beautiful hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Click here.
Palm Sunday of the Passion of Jesus ~ April 14, 2019
All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus. The drama of the Paschal Mystery will be re-enacted once again in parishes throughout the world. I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you. We’ll go deep here. Please take time to reflect. Come with me now, won’t you?
Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world. Here’s the gospel story . . . .
Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’” So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?” They answered, “The Master has need of it.” So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”
As William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, notes, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part, this would begin the last act in the drama of his life. The whole city of Jerusalem was awash withvisitors in preparation for the Passover. Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and noted that number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulation stated that a party of a minimum of ten are required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!
The crowd receives Jesus like a king. They spread their cloaks in front of him. They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)
They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”
They shouted, “Hosanna!” The word means, “Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god. (Interesting ~ I didn’t know that!)
So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand. Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.
To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .
+ It shows Jesus’ courage. He knew he was entering a hostile city. All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance”~”a flinging down the gauntlet .”
+ It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.
+ It shows us his appeal ~ not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.
In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes . It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the long reading of the Passion ~ this year from the Gospel of Luke, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices. But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .
Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?
Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .
His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.
He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.
[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”
Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Joneses. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.
“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth, the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other, the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”
Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.
We raise our palms,
Once again, singing our Hosannas!
We listen to the story of your sacred passion and death.
And now we learn that You really meant it!
You weren’t just pretending to be human;
You immersed Yourself in our misery,
You got down in the muck with us
~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.
Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,
our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.
May this Holy Week truly be holy for us
so that we too will rise again with You to new life
and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.
To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.
Before you go, dear friends, here is a gospel hymn for you Click here. Be sure to enter full screen. Have a fruitful Holy Week. I will publish again throughout the week.
Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. To get back to this page, go to the top left corner of your computer screen, click on the < back arrow, and you’ll be right back here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Luke. I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.
Acknowledgements Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998
William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Matthew / The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975
We saw this in the wondrous story of the Prodigal Son proclaimed last week. That story was meant to show us that our God wants to be regarded as a gentle, loving Father who’s always on the lookout for his wayward children. A Father who treats us as “nobility” ready to place a ring on our finger, shoes on our muddy worn-out feet, a fine robe about us and who then throws a party in our honor.
That story, too, was aimed to confront the Pharisees. They were compared to the elder son who muttered and sputtered about all the attention that the younger brother was getting.
In today’s story, the scribes and Pharisees led a woman caught in adultery in front of Jesus. Their intention was to set a trap for him so they could have some charge to accuse him.
It was a terrible crime for a Jew to commit adultery. It was punishable by death by stoning. They planned a trap for him. The Mosaic law said she was to be stoned, but Roman Law forbade Jews to put anyone to death. There was no middle ground. No matter what he chose, Jesus would be breaking a law.
Let’s look at their concept of authority for a moment. The scribes and Pharisees, according to Scripture scholar William Barclay, were the legal experts of the day. To them authority was intended to censure and condemn. That authority should be based on sympathy, that it should be to reclaim the criminal and the sinner never entered their heads~ similar to much of our American justice and prison system today. They thought they had the right to stand over others and watch for every mistake and every deviation from the law with savage and unforgiving punishment.
Moreover, they were not looking at this woman as a person; they were looking at her as a thing, whereby they could formulate a charge against Jesus. This incident, Barclay suggests, shows vividly and cruelly the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees toward people. They were using her only as a man might use a tool, for their own purposes.
Picture the scene: the crowd wondering how—or if—Jesus was going to escape from this dilemma; the woman, fearful of her fate; the Pharisees, tasting victory. Jesus knew exactly what they were doing, and without a single word, exposed their hypocrisy, leaving them dumbfounded.
How? By writing something on the ground with his finger. What did he write? We don’t know. Check out these suggestions and then decide for yourself.
Maybe Jesus was just “doodling,” as we might do sitting at a boring meeting. It could have been his way of showing disdain for the entire procedure, of curbing his anger.
Maybe, as Barclay suggests, Jesus seized by an intolerable sense of shame, he couldn’t meet the eyes of the crowd or of the accusers or perhaps of the woman . . . and in his embarrassment he stooped down so as to hide his face, and began writing on the ground with his finger.
Maybe, without naming names, he wrote a list of sins, sins that many in the group would have to claim but were unknown to anyone else there.
Or consider this. No one commits adultery alone, anymore than a prostitute acts alone. Could Jesus have indicated, in some roundabout way, who were the partner – or partners – of this woman? Why should the woman be accused and convicted when her willing partners walk away with their reputations in tact? In Leviticus 20 we read: “. . . the man who commits adultery .. . will be put to death, he and the woman.”
Barclay tells us that the normal Greek word for to write is graphein; but here the word is used is katagraphein, which can mean to write down a record against someone.
Jesus knew exactly the right balance between justice and mercy, something most of us have a hard time achieving. After he had finished writing whatever it was he wrote, he stood up, looked directly at the crowd, and extended the invitation: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Not a single stone was thrown; nor would there have been if all of us had been in that crowd. Can anyone of us claim to be without sin? Did Jesus condone adultery? No, he did not. But he read the hearts of every person there, and the message he delivered applied to each and every one.
He told them – and is telling us – that we are not to judge. Both Luke and Matthew proclaim: “Judge not and you shall not be judged”(Mt.7:1).
He told her that he did not condemn her; that she should “Go and from now on sin no more.”Thus, he was not condoning adultery; he was giving her a second chance. She would have to take the opportunity to make her life brand new.
God through this story and that of the Prodigal Son make it very clear that God is doing something brand new.
No one else can read hearts. We see deeds and misdeeds. God sees the whole self.
That is why he said to the woman and now to us: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and avoid this sin.” Alone with Jesus she had everything she needed. Are we content to having “only Jesus?”
We may not think about it often, but every day we may ask that we may come to treat others as Jesus did in this gospel. How often have we prayed: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?”
Do we think about what we are saying? It could be a little scary, if we did.
I’d like to be like this Jesus we see in the gospel today. I’d like to have that large of a heart. And I’ve prayed for compassion all the years of my ministry because there have been times my arrogance has taken hold. I was told that at times I was arrogant and not compassionate towards my brother priests. And so I thank God for the moments in which God has given me the gift to be compassionate.
These days I am very much aware of Jesus’ mercy for me. In my almost 76 years, I have had my share of serious sins. And I am glad God is a merciful God. And I pray that I’ve put down the stones I sometimes have clutched in my fist.
You see, a really terrible sin is to throw stones at people whose sins we ourselves could have committed.
Gossiping is a grave sin. It is a sin because it can seriously harm the reputations of the persons we are talking about. Gossip can ruin lives.
Instead, let us be known for being merciful. And compassionate. And forgiving, when we pray: “Our Father.”
See, God makes all things new.
Mercy is a brand new thing that is part and parcel with the New Testament. Mercy is what Jesus is all about. And, therefore, mercy is what we should be all about.
And Pope Francis talks about the mercy of God all the time and in 2016 declared a Holy Year of Mercy.
Close your eyes for a moment.
Think about one sin you are glad for which God has forgiven you.
Now, when you next celebrate the holy Eucharist, you really have something for which you can praise and thank your God.
Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All,
I praise and thank you this day for all of your love and mercy and forgiveness
that you have shown me all of my life.
Many times you’ve done brand new things in my life,
and as my 76th birthday is coming up and the 50th anniversary of my priestly ordination,
perhaps you will once again fold the newness that is your love,
and send forth your Spirit into me and lift me up to continue to serve you as best I can.
To You be praise and honor and glory, forever. Amen.
And now, before you go, here’s the beautiful hymn appropriate for our theme, “What wondrous love is this?” Click here.
The sunday of joy halfway through Lent. the color of the vestments is rose rather than violet ~ a little more festive.
Today’s Gospel is the Story of the Prodigal Son. It’s been called the greatest short story in the world.
By way of introduction to the story of the Prodigal son, our scripture scholar William Barclay tells us it was an offense to the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus associated with men and women who the orthodox labeled as sinners. The Pharisees gave the people who didn’t keep the law called them the People of the Land, and there was a complete barrier between the Pharisees and these people. The regulations were: not to entrust no money to these people, take no testimony, trust no secret to them, don’t appoint them a guardian of an orphan, don’t accompany them on a journey. A Pharisee was forbidden to be a guest at such a person’s house or have them as a guest. A Pharisee was forbidden so far as possible to do business with such people. It was a deliberate their aim to avoid every contact with such people who were not only outsiders but sinners. Contact with them would necessarily defile. The strict Jew said not, “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,”, but “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God. They looked forward not to the saving but to the destruction of the sinner. (Think of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11.). (We’ll see how this applies in the in the second part of the story.)
Under Jewish law a father was not free leave his property as he liked. The elder son must get two-thirds and the younger one-third (Dt. 21:17). It was unusual for a father to distribute his estate before he died. And there’s a kind of heartless callousness in the request of the younger son. He said in effect, “Gimme the part of the estate I’ll get it anyway when you’re dead, and get outta here.”
The father didn’t argue. He knew his son had to learn from the hard knocks of life, and he granted the request. Without delay, the son collected his share of the property and left home.
He soon ran through the money; and he wound up feeding pigs, a task forbidden to a Jew because the law said, “Cursed is he who feeds swine.”
So the son decided to come home and plead to be taken back not as a son but in the lowest rank of the slaves, the hired servants, the men who were day laborers.
He came home, and his father never gave him a chance to ask to be a servant. He broke in before that and gave him a robe that stands for honor and a ring for authority. If a man gave his signet ring to another it was the same as giving him power of attorney. And shoes for a son as opposed to a slave, for children of a family wore shoes but slaves did not.(The slaves dream in the words of the spiritual—when ‘all God’s chillun got shoes’, for shoes were a sign of freedom.)
Barclay makes several points about Jesus’ famous parable . . . .
(1) It should never have been called the parable of the prodigal son, for the son is not the hero. It should be called the parable of the loving father, for it tells us of about the father’s love, than a son’s sin.
(2) It tells us a great deal about the forgiveness of God. The father must have been watching and waiting for the son for the son to come home for saw him a long way off. When he came, he forgave him, with no recriminations.
When forgiveness is as a favor—that’s not real forgiveness. It’s even worse when someone is forgiven but always by hint or word or threat the sin is held over the person.
Once Abraham Lincoln was asked how he would treat the rebellious southerners when they were defeated and finally returned to the Union. His answer: “I will treat them as if they had never had been away.”
But this isn’t the end of the story.
Then enters the elder son who was actually sorry that his brother had come. He stands for the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved.
Barclay points out . . . .
(1) His attitude shows that his years of obedience to his father had been years of grim duty and not loving service.
(2) He has absolutely no sympathy for his brother. He refers to one returned home not as my brother, but as your son. He was the kind of self-righteous character who would gleefully have kicked him farther into the gutter.
(3) He had nasty mind. There’s no mention of harlots until he mentions them. He probably suspected his brother of the sins he would have liked to have committed.
Barclay concludes with this . . . .
“Once again we have the amazing truth that it is easier to confess to God than to another person; that God is more merciful in his judgments than many orthodox people,that God’s love is far broader than human love; and that God can forgive when we refuse to forgive.
In the face of a love like that we cannot be but lost in wonder, love and praise!”
So, as you can see our Lenten journey fills us with the joy of God’s love for us. Pope Francis is fond of saying “mercy upon mercy upon mercy.”Yet, there is no story of Jesus ~ none in the entire Bible more poignant, more revealing of God’s love, God’s mercy towards us than the story of ~ not the Prodigal son, but the Prodigal Father!
Do you know what the word prodigal means? It means, according to my trusty “Synonym Finder” ~ wasteful, squandering, extravagant, excessive, generous, open-handed, abundant, plentiful, bounteous, lavish, exuberant, measureless, bottomless, limitless, overflowing.
That, dear friends, is what Jesus was trying to tell us in his most famous parable about who his Father wants to be for YOU and ME!
This morning in prayer, I caught myself realizing that my relationship with the Father fell short. I wasn’t even sure I loved him! Then I got to thinking that my relationship with my own father was always obscure too. And I felt really sad for a while. I know. I know I love God. And I know he loves me. But I had that moment of obscurity. But there’s still the wonder and the love.
Now, before you go, here’s a beautiful hymn with a slide show to fit our theme, There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. (I invite you to listen to it a second time; the words are amazing. Get Lost in the Wonder of God’s Mercy and Love!