Second Sunday of Lent ~ Have you been to the mountain?

The Second Sunday of Lent ~ February 28, 2021

Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire. 

It’s a great story.  It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil.  Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.

According to our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay, this story is another of the great hinges in Jesus’ life on earth—and we’ll see why. He was just about to set out for Jerusalem, setting his face toward the cross.

The story is cloaked in mystery. We can only try to understand. We usually associate this event with Mount Tabor, which is in the south of Galilee. However, Mark tells us this event happened eight days after events in Caesarea Philippi which is in the north. Not on that, Tabor is only about 1,000 feet high, and in the time of Jesus, Barclay indicates there was a fortress on top. It’s much more likely that this event took place amidst the eternal snows of Mount Hermon which is 9,200 high and much nearer Caesarea Philippi. 

Jesus took his favorite disciples, Peter, James and John up on the mountain to pray. On the mountain top, Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Moses was the great lawgiver of the people of Israel; Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. It was as if the princes of Israel’s life and thought and religion were affirming Jesus to go on.

There’s a vivid sentence here about the three apostles . . . .

            “When they were fully awake they saw his glory.”

 In life we miss so much because our minds are often asleep.

~ There are many of us who are so wrapped up in our own ideas that our minds are shut. “Someone may be knockin’ at the door” but we’re often like sleepers who will not awake.

~ There are others of us who refuse to think about anything. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How many of us have thought things out and thought them through?

~ We can drug ourselves mentally against any disturbing thought until we are sound asleep that Big Brother can taken over. Ever seen the “Matrix or read Orwell’s 1984?

But life is full of things designed to awaken us.

~ There is sorrow. Often sorrow can rudely awaken us, but in a moment, through the tears, we will see the glory.

~ There is love. Barclay references a poem by Robert Browning telling of two people who fell in love: She looked at him; he looked at her—“and suddenly life awoke.” 

I remember a similar experience in reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain for the second time several years ago. When I finished it I found myself immersed in joyous tears for weeks on end—filled with love for Jesus that this young monk and elicited in me. This Lent, I’m trying to re-enable that experience.

~ There is a sense of need. It’s easy enough to live the routine life half asleep; then all of a sudden there comes some completely insoluble problem, some unanswerable question, some overwhelming temptation, some summons to an effort that we feel is beyond our strength. And that sense of need can awaken us to God.

We would do well to pray, “Lord, keep me always awake to you.” 

Source: William Barclay /Gospel of Mark pp. 210–11.

But here’s a couple of other observations from the February 2016 issue of the Magnificat liturgical magazine:

After the disciples witnessed Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, this appears in the text . . . .

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice from the cloud . . .  (Mk: 9:8.)

The overshadowing of the divine Spirit does not darken, according to Saint Ambrose, but reveals secret things to the hearts of people. It is the luminous cloud the soaks us from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith sent by the voice of the almighty God.

The saint is talking about mystical experience that arise from deep prayer or centering prayer or even just experiencing an amazing sunset or an exhilarating conversation with a friend.

Anyway, what a gorgeous sentence that is “a luminous cloud that soaks us / from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith” . . .  Wow!  Think on that one.

Immediately following, we here from the cloud a voice that said,

       “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

You are my beloved son / my beloved daughter; listen to him!

It is a call to heed Jesus’ teaching about his Passion and our need to take up our cross and follow him: Jesus is the Messiah who suffers for us.  

You may never had a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had.  Even one mountain top experience  — one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.

Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.

As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come.  When they come, embrace  them.  Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do.  Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.

And now before you go, here is a hymn based upon the words “This is my beloved Son: Hear him” Click here.

And here are today’s Mass Readings. Click here.

Acknowledgements: William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Mark                                                                                    Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975, 2001

Magnificat.com / Yonkers, NY

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

 

 

 

 

The Fidelity of Jesus: May we be faithful too!

The First Sunday of Lent ~The Fidelity of Jesus ~ February 21, 2021

This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.

This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.

Before I get into my own thoughts on this important opening story in the life of our Lord, I’d like to share some notes from our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay.

He says that the word to tempt in Greek peirazein has a different emphasis than its English counterpart. We always think of tempting as something bad. But peirazein has a different emphasis; it means to test.

One of the great Old Testament stories makes this clear. Remember how Abraham narrowly escaped sacrificing his only son Isaac?  God was testing him, not tempting him!

So, with Jesus, this whole incident was not so much a tempting as the testing of Jesus.

We have to note further where this test took place. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine.  Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles.  It was called Jeshimmon, which means “the Devastation.”  The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestone looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted or rather the Father was shaping him — testing his mettle — for his mission.

Then there are these other points to take note .  .  .  .

First, all three gospel writers seem to stress the immediacy with which the temptations follow the baptism.  As Mark has it, “The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12).  Barclay suggests to us that we ought to be on guard when life brings us to the heights because that’s when we’re in the gravest danger of a fall.

Second, we should not regard this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. It was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul.  The proof is that there is no possible mountain from which all the mountains of the earth could be seen. This was an inner struggle.

It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. His attack can be so real that we might almost see the devil.

(Pope Francis has said that Christian life is sometimes a battle. And then he cautioned when someone said “you’re so old-fashioned; the devil doesn’t exist, “Watch out! The devil exists. We must learn how to battle him in the 21st Century and must not be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle him.”)

Third, Barclay goes on, we must not think that Jesus conquered the tempter and that the tempter never came to him again.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. In Christian warfare, says Barclay as well as Pope Francis, there is no release.  Some people think they should get beyond that stage; Jesus himself never did, even in his last hour in Gethsemane.

Fourth, one thing stands out about this story—these temptations could only come to a person who had special powers and knew he had them.  We are always tempted through our gifts.  We can use our gifts for selfish purposes or we can use them in the service of others.

Fifth, the source must have been Jesus himself. He was alone in the wilderness.  No one was with him in his struggle, so he must have told his men about it.

We must always approach this story with a unique and utmost reverence, for it is laying bare his inmost heart and soul. And that is what I’ve always done in the following presentation written many years ago .  .  .

THIS IS A STORY about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a Father-God who loves us with an everlasting love.

This is a story of confrontation and testing.

Dramatic confrontation with the elements–blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and fast.

There, he would shape his mission.  He was searching for the answer of the question:  What kind of spiritual leader would he be?

There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.

First, a harsh voice prompted Jesus to turn stones into bread as a way of manipulating others to get them to follow him.  Jesus could have made people dependent on him; instead, he shared with them what he realized: Our common dependence on the Father of all, who gives us our daily bread.

To interpret this, the first temptation presents physical attraction as the ultimate good, Jesus teaches us to seek bread from heaven. We continue to pray for and live by this daily bread.

Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple and have his angels come and raise him up.  He could put together a traveling road show of clever signs and wonders.  Things would be easier that way.  People would easily follow a clever magician.  But this would draw people away from the Father, not toward him.

The soft voice was simply asking Jesus to reveal the true order of the Father’s kingdom.

Jesus realized  his mission in life was to reveal Abba’s love as Father of all.   Jesus was to let the world know that there was a soft voice within us all, who is there to affirm and to love, to test and to guide.

Again, as an interpretation, the second temptation is about fame and admiration—making a name for ourselves. In fact, Christ will throw himself down—in free and obedient conformity to the Father. Jesus will endure mockery instead of admiration. Christ did not cast himself down from this pinnacle of the temple . . . He did not tempt God, but he did descend into the abyss of death . . .and the desolation of the defenseless.

A third harsh voice promised Jesus the whole world, saying: “You’ve got the power to gain the whole world.  You can be king of this world.

And Jesus sadly realized that many of his followers, even in the Church, would succumb to greed of every form.  They would kill in Crusades and Inquisitions in the name of love.

The third temptation is for earthly power and rule. But the only crown that Jesus will wear will be made of thorns, his kingdom is “not of this world” (john 18:36).

As he was tempted, he was led into a soul-embracing love of the One he was to reveal.  In the desert, Jesus must have knelt down and promised in all simplicity to seek and to do the will of the Father from moment to moment.  And in that act of fidelity, in that decision, the new covenant surely was sealed in Jesus’ heart.

In the desert and its temptations, the whole of humanity was drawn into the possibility of intimate experience of the divine.  Because one person was willing to be led into the holy of holies, we all can go with him.  We can go–provided that we–like Jesus, are willing to be tested and cleansed, strengthened and purified.

In this story, at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, is the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?

The answer was:

To surrender himself into the hands of evil people was the only way Jesus could be faithful.  God could have intervened on behalf of his own Son.  But that was out of the question.

The world could not accept God as a gentle Father.  They found his message of love much too demanding.  And since the authorities could not and would not accept him and his message, the only recourse left to him was simply to give witness to that message–even to the end.

He chose to be faithful to the soft Voice of the Father, not compromise the message, even if it led to his death.

Jesus had to suffer and die because, because tragically, that was the only way the world would allow him to be faithful to the Word he heard ~ and preached.

The Father was more pleased with the fidelity of one son than he would have been with the spread of a message that did not reveal his love.

This is a powerful lesson  for those among us who would COERCE others into being good – as we see the proliferation of dictators across the globe today.

The false voices which Jesus tamed and quieted ~the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.

The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear.

And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This  . . . . is the Jesus I know and love.

And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father.  Through Jesus, may we be faithful too.

And now, before you go, here’s  a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ On Eales’ Wings.  Click here.  It’s the text of Psalm 91 that says, For He will give His angels charge over you, To guard you in all your ways.”  Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them.              Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Matthew ~ Volume 1 revised edition                              Westminster Press Philadelphia / 1975 / pp. 62 -66.

I can see! You light up my life! Who lights up your life?

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The Fourth Sunday of Lent

The story of the man born blind

(Sunday, March 22nd, 2020)

John the Evangelist is inviting us to ask ourselves:  Who are the blind ones?  Who are those who see?

This story is amazing.  William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar, comments that “there’s no more vivid character drawing in all of literature than this. With deft and revealing touches John causes the people to come alive for us.

He says this is the only story in which the sufferer was blind from birth.  The Jews had this strange notion that one could have sin in them before one was born.  They also believed that the sins of their fathers are visited upon their children.

And  there’s something interesting about the pool of Siloam he mentions.  When Hezekiah realized Sennacherib was going to invade Palestine, he had a tunnel cut through solid rock from the spring into the city of Jerusalem. It was two ft. wide and six ft. high. They had to zigzag it around sacred sites so it was 583 yards long.  The engineers began cutting from both ends and met in the middle ~ truly an amazing feat for that time.  The pool of Siloam was where the stream entered into the city.  Siloam means “sent” because the water had to be sent through the city. Jesus sent the blind there for his cure.

John causes the people to come alive for us. First, there’s the blind man himself. He began to be irritated by the Pharisees persistence.  He himself was persistent that the man who put mud on his eyes had cured him of his blindness. Period! He would not change his story, no matter how many times the Pharisees questioned him. He was a brave man because he was certain to be excommunicated.

Second, there were his parents. They were uncooperative with the Pharisees, but they were also afraid.  The authorities had a powerful weapon.  They could excommunicate them as well, whereby they could be shut off from God’s people and their property could be forfeited as well.

Third, there were the Pharisees.  At first, they didn’t believe the man was cured. And then they were annoyed they could not meet the man’s argument that was based on scripture: “Jesus has done a wonderful thing; the fact that he has done it means that God hears him; now God never hears the prayers of a bad man; therefore Jesus could not be a bad man.”

The consequence of this for the man was that the authorities cast him out of the temple.  But Jesus, the Lord of the Temple,went looking for him.  Jesus is always true to the one who is true to him.  

And secondly, to this man Jesus revealed himself intimately.  Jesus asked the man if he believed in the Son of God. The man asked who that was. And Jesus said it was He.

And so, this man, who is not given a name in this story, progresses in his perception and understanding of Jesus and so should we.At first, he says, “the man they call Jesus opened my eyes.”

Then when he was asked his opinion of Jesus in view of the fact that he had given him his sight, his answer was, “He is a prophet.”  Finally, he came to confess that Jesus is the Son of God.  

Before we leave this wonderful story, I want you to take note of the final line that surely sounded Jesus death knell and is a warning to us all.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.  

So in our world today, we ask, “Who are the blind ones?”  “Who are those who see?  We’re dealing with the reality or rather the unreality of “fake news” these days. As a consequence, it’s hard to know whom to believe these days, where to find  and sort out the truth from the falsehood or the lies. 

When we ~ um ~ “converse” with people online, we often don’t really know whether they’re presenting themselves for who they are or giving a false persona; we probably don’t get to know them very well.

Some people only see the appearances of things.  Many of us don’t have the eyes to see the unseen and the unknowable.

A lot of advertising today only shows handsome young men and women.

What do you see when you wander around town?

Are you on the lookout for the truly beautiful?

Like Cindy, the bag lady I found sitting in the park knitting one day next to the main library in downtown Lauderdale.

A while back I took a double take when I noticed her on a cold morning just outside the door.  She caught my eye because she was polishing her nails a luminous pink. She had on a fuzzy cardigan to match.  I backed up ten steps to say hello.

What impressed me the most was the twinkle in her eye, her cheerful demeanor and her ready smile.

I wasn’t  nearly as self-possessed when I was homeless for a short time in the early Eighties. It ain’t pretty.  I was scared to death. 

What do you See with those eyes of yours, my friend?

Are you able to see the truly Beautiful People, like Cindy?

Can you distinguish between the real and the unreal / the true and the false ~ the True Self from the false self .

In the first reading the Lord teaches Samuel, his prophet not to judge by appearances, but to see beyond ~ to see into.

“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance

but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:10.)

We must not allow the hypocrites — or as I call them the “lipocrites” — to blind us from the beauty that is available to anyone who does have eyes to see.

No!  Don’t excuse yourself from finding God or love or a loving community of faith just because there are some who don’t get it.

Jesus healed the blind man;

he let the sensuous woman wash his feet with her hair;

hung out with sinners and the tax collectors;

told people to “Love one another as I have loved you”;

let the youngest disciple lean on his breast during the last supper;

kept his mouth shut when he was accused;

and, most importantly, simply did what his Father told him to do: be obedient (stay on message) until the very end.

And . . . and they killed him for that.

Just remember, if you choose to preach this gospel,

if you tell people to see the beauty — the Christ —  in the person in front of you,

whether that one be a  bag lady / homosexual / fallen down drunk / drug addict /

mentally ill, crazy man / Muslim / Republican / Democrat / Jew / Catholic / atheist

they may well crucify you too or cast you out of their life,

or stop their ears to anything you say or do —

just as they did with the blind man in this Gospel story John tells so dramatically today.

God sees differently, you know.  He does not divide.  God unifies.

God made us all as his children.  God sustains all of us in the present moment.

God loves us all.  No matter what!

Can you see yourself with God’s eyes, my friend?

Many people think they’re a piece of junk and so they pretend to be somebody else.

But God made you just-as-you-are.

He wants you to see yourself as he sees you.

When you can do that, then you will change.

The good in you will increase; the not-so-good will fall away because God himself will do the transforming.

The man who was blind was able to see that.

That was the second gift of sight Jesus gave him –not just the ability to see trees and people and flowers but to See with the eyes of the heart.

Why?  Because Jesus did more than give him his sight.

He Touched him!

He drew him close!

He treated the man as a person!

And that, very simply, is all Jesus wants US to do:

Treat one another as PERSONS! Someone just like you.

Try it today.  With your honey who treated you like vinegar this morning.

Your hyper kids.  Your nasty neighbor.  Your lousy boss.  A bedraggled stranger on the street.

That’s the message of this gospel story.

Lord Jesus,

You are truly My Light.

You help me see the beauty in myself and all around me.

My life and my world are very different because of You!

You have given me true sight,

the ability to see into things.

To have the courage to look at My Reality — good and not-so-good.

To see the beauty in the people in my life instead of their faults.

I want to help people see their own beauty!

To call it forth from them.

To walk around this world and See the beauty our Father has created all around us.

I love You, Lord.

You are My Light!

I believe that You truly are the Light of the World!

And St. Paul in today’s second reading sums it up:

Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead,

and Christ will give you light”            (Ephesians 5:8-14.)

Now here’s the song “You light up my life. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings that accompany this Gospel.

Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The Story of the John 9 was taken excerpted from William Barclay’s  the Gospel of John ~ Volume 2 / Revised Edition

The Westminster Press / Philadelphia, PA 1975 / pp. 37 – 52.

 

A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman ~ are you thirsty too?

A spring in North Florida / Bob Traupman

The Third Sunday of Lent (March 22, 2020

We’re in an important series of Sunday scriptures used to help catechumens (those preparing to meet the Lord in baptism).  In using this series of three stories (1st) The Woman at the Well, (2nd) The Man Born Blind (next Sunday) and (3rd)  The Raising of Lazarus, the Church  has asked John the Evangelist all through its history to interpret  for us how he sees Jesus and his significance for us.

This Sunday’s gospel has Jesus and his buddies passing through Samaritan territory.

Here are a few notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay once again. Jesus was on his way to Galilee in the north of Palestine from Judaea in the south.  But he had to pass through Samaria, unless he took the long way across the Jordan River.  Jacob’s well stands at the fork of the road in Samaria, one branch going northeast, the other going west. This place has many memories for Jews as Jacob bought this ground and bequeathed it to Joseph who had his bones brought back here for burial. The well itself is more than 100 feet deep. You also need to know the Jews and Samaritans had a feud that had lasted for centuries.  

William Barclay tells us that this story shows us a great deal about the character of Jesus.

~ It shows us his real humanity. He was weary from the journey and he sat by the side of the well tired and trying to relax a little. 

~ I shows us the warmth of his sympathy.  From an ordinary religious leader, from one of the orthodox church leaders of the day the Samaritan woman would have fled in embarrassment. She at last had met someone who was not a critic but a friend; it seemed the most natural thing in the world for her to talk with him.  

~ It shows that Jesus is one who breaks down barriers. The quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans was an old, old story, going back to 720 B.C. when the Assyrians that invaded the northern kingdom and captured it. The Samaritans lost their racial purity and therefore lost their right to be called Jews. Jesus wades into the middle of this controversy.

~ And there is still another way Jesus was taking down barriers.  The Samaritan was a woman. The strict Rabbis forbade Rabbis to greet a woman in public, not even their own wife or daughter. And not only that, she was also a woman of notorious character. No decent man, let alone a Rabbi, would have been seen in her company, or even exchanging a word with her, and yet Jesus entered into conversation with her.

And now here’s my telling of the story .  .  .  .

 Jesus and his buddies came to the well and his buddies went off to the nearby town of Sychar. The hour’s about noon and Jesus is weary, hot, dusty, sweaty (I presume) and thirsty.

He sits down by Jacob’s well but has no bucket; the cool stuff is right down there but he can’t access it.  

Along comes a woman with a bucket and he’s about to break all kinds of taboos:  One, Jews don’t associate with Samaritans as I said. Second, men don’t speak to women in public. She is shocked by his shattering both of these impenetrable barriers and is quite flustered. And third, she’s not exactly a woman of high moral standing.

He soon puts her at ease by asking her for a drink.  As the great Teacher he is, he reverses the symbol and says he will give her “living waters so she will never be thirsty again.”

She’s intrigued and begins to relax into his accepting, easy manner. (We forget that He was probably a handsome 31-year-old.) In fact, she quickly feels such total acceptance that she trusts him to touch her ~ on the inside.At some point, I realized that I had to learn how to proclaim (share ) the Good News not over the heads of masses of people but to share it as Jesus did here in a stranger’s town ~ one person at a time.

I ache inside when I realize so many have turned a deaf ear to the church because we priests and bishops often do not match our words with the lives we lead or because we use harsh and condemning words that push people away and sting their souls instead of drawing them close. Pope Francis is showing us that too.

In my videographer’s eye I can  see the two of them sitting close to each other on the wall of the well, gently conversing as Jesus listens to the story of her brokenness. I’ve learned that the only legitimate way to preach the gospel is to do so in mutual regard and respect and in mutual vulnerability.

If we keep yelling at people in harsh words we will be justifiably tuned out.  St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said, “Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”

I look to  Pope Francis and am in awe of this holy man at eighty years old with his youthful vigor and eternal smile and his message of  “mercy upon mercy upon mercy.” Oh! How I wish I could serve again like that. I pray that in some small way that it would be so.

The story of the woman at the well ends by telling us that this wonderful human being in Whom-God-shown-through (Gospel of the Transfiguration — Second Sunday of Lent) broke down the wall of prejudice and hostility between Jews and Samaritans so dramatically that the whole town welcomed him; and he and his buddies stayed for two days.  

And there you have it, dear friends. This is the Jesus I know and love.  And desire so much to be like.

Lord Jesus,

I give thanks that I have had mentors who drew me close

in whose loving embrace I received non-judgmental loving

and through whose example I myself desire to love without judgment.

In my own thirst to receive the faith of those I meet and care for

may I always bring them to You, the spring of living water

so that the water you give them “will become IN THEM

a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”

So be it! AMEN!  

Here’s Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Waters Click here.

Years ago when I first heard this song, I thought Jesus was / is the bridge!

And here are all of the Mass readings that accompany this story, that is with catechumens or candidates for the sacraments of Initiation present, Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

William Barclay: the Gospel of John – Volume 1 Revised Edition pp. 146 – 151.  / The Daily Study Bible Series                                                                   The Westminster Press – Philadelphia 1975

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience like Jesus did?

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The Second Sunday of Lent ~ March 8th, 2020

Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.  

It’s the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in which he takes his favorite companions, Peter, James and John up a high mountain to pray. And there they experience something really amazing!

I’d like to begin once again with some notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay. He says that tradition has it that this event took place on Mount Tabor but it’s no more than 1,000 feet high. Barclay suggests it’s more likely, that the transfiguration event took place on snow-covered Mount Hermon that’s 9,400 feet high where there would be more solitude.

He also explains the significance of the cloud. In Jewish thought, God’s presence is regularly connected with the cloud. It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the tabernacle. Here, the descent of the cloud was a way of saying the Messiah had come. All the gospel writers speak of the luminous cloud which overshadowed them on the mountain. All through history the luminous cloud stood for the shechinah, which was nothing less than the glory of the Almighty God.  In Exodus,  we read of the pillar of fire that was to lead the people away from their slavery.  “And the cloud  covered the tent of meeting and glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)

The transfiguration has a two-fold significance.

First, it did something significant for Jesus. In the desert, he had made the decision to go to Jerusalem, which meant facing the Cross and his death. On the mountain he received the approval of Moses and Elijah. They basically said, “Go on!” And he received the wonderful affirmation of his Father, who basically said, “You are acting as my own beloved Son should and must act. Go on!”

Secondly, it did something significant for the disciples. They were shattered that he was going to Jerusalem to die. Things were happening that were breaking their heart. What they experienced with Jesus on the mountain, even though they didn’t understand, gave them something to hold on to. It made them witnesses to the glory of Christ; they had a story they could hold in their hearts until the time came when they could share it.         (Barclay / Matthew /Volume 2 pp. 156-162.)

Now here are my reflections . . . .  .

It’s a great story.  It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert when he was tempted by the devil.  Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.

Peter, James and John are genuinely high in this morning’s gospel story.  First, they’re on a mountain – that’s exhilarating already, and secondly, they see Jesus transfigured before them in dazzling glory. This is a wonderful spiritual high, lest you get the wrong idea.  For Peter, James and John, this is as good a high as it gets – seeing the Son of God in his true glory.  They’re blown away.

Peter, speaking for all of them; he wants to stay there, at least, a while longer.  But it doesn’t happen.  They have to come back down from the mountain.  We might say they had to return to reality, but that’s not accurate. The vision of Jesus in brilliant light was reality too.  It wasn’t imaginary. It wasn’t an illusion. It was a real moment in their lives.

We experience wholesome highs, too.  A particularly rewarding achievement, an especially fulfilling moment in a relationship ~ a time when, for whatever reason, the world is bright, life makes sense, and most of the pieces of our lives fit together.

Such a moment can happen in our spiritual life, too.  A retreat or some other spiritual experience can send us soaring.  At such moments, we may feel the immense joy of God’s love and an intense personal affirmation .  But the experience inevitably fades.  We “come back to reality.”  But, again, that’s not accurate.  The spiritual high was also reality; it becomes folded into the rest of our life, like salt that gives zests to the taste of food.

Just for a moment, imagine that you are in Jesus’ company, along with Peter James and John as they are climbing the mountain.  You are about to have your own mountain top experience.

Perhaps you’ve lived in a valley all your life or are pretty much confined to the view that four walls bring you.

In the valleys, your view is limited; you cannot see either the sunrise or the sunset.  On a mountain top, your horizon gets expanded.  You can look far into the distance and see the sunrise if you look east, or the sunset if you look west.  Life in a valley can be boring, dull, monotonous.  Life as viewed from a mountain top can be exhilarating and engaging.

You may never have a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had.  Even ONE mountain top experience  ~ one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.

Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.  I remember one I had in 1976.

I was making a private retreat.  My retreat director assigned me a scripture on which to meditate.  I was to take a full hour to reflect on the  account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert from the gospel of Mark.  Nothing came the first time.  Nor the second.  The third one connected. One brief experience (it lasted only about 15 minutes) has changed my relationship with Jesus forever.

I had the experience that Jesus was quite close to me; in the meditation I got close enough to wrestle with him.  Yes, wrestle with him!  If that happened in my mind’s eye,  then it was and is possible to think of myself very often as that close to Jesus.  (I felt quite certain that I did not conjured it up because I never would have dreamed of myself in that situation with our Lord.)

How about you ~ have you ever had a peak experience?  Have you had more than one?  Then you understand what I am talking about.  You know that such moments can be life-changing.

What does it take to have a peak experience?

It can happen just in the faculty of our imagination ~ that special place inside us where we can be led to  new and wonderful things, things never seen before.

It requires openness ~ a sense of adventure, a willingness to leave our comfortable place to climb a mountain, or go visit the neighbor across the street we’ve never talked to.

Now imagine that you are accompanying Jesus and Peter, James and John as they climb the mountain . . . .  And you see Jesus become radiant.  Dazzling.  Incredibly beautiful in his appearance ~ his face, his hands his hair, his robe.

And then hear the Voice from above proclaim to you and the others:

“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”

How would you feel?  Would you be  afraid?  Would you be filled with joy?  Would you fall to the ground in worship?

Let’s focus on one point of the story.

Jesus received a tremendous affirmation from his heavenly Father who was heard saying,  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”

How about you — how often do you receive affirmation?

How often does your spouse or a friend or your boss praise you for something that you did or for who you are?  Probably not very often. How often do you sense God is affirming you?

Affirmation is important.  It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me.

Athletes get lots of affirmation and praise especially the ones who get gold medals but maybe not so often for the rest of us.

I used to receive a lot of affirmation when I was in a parish.  These days my dog Shoney gets all the praise and attention.

As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come.  When they come, embrace them ~ accept them.  Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do.  Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.

I pray for God’s affirmation for each of you.  Hear him say: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.

Now give someone a really good affirmation before the day is over.  And, before you go, here’s a song ”This is my beloved son” Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

the Gospel of Matthew Revised Edition Volume 2 / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The Jesus I know and love ~ And I want you to know and love him too!

Thursday after Ash Wednesday, February 27, 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In the first reading, Moses says:

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. 

Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Now here are my thoughts on Moses’ address to his people.  One often hears the words Choose Life as a Pro-Life message.  That’s important, but we’re invited to choose life again and again, every day.  This Lent is an acceptable time to choose the life that affirms and nourishes us and to deliver ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within our own homes that damage the souls of our spouses and our children.

Let’s choose Life this day in the way we speak to and about the folks we meet today.

Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person.  We need to choose our words carefully.  To preside over ~ take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths.  To realize our words create life or death.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says,

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me. 

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?  (Luke 9: 22-25)

My reflection: Jesus gives us a koan here. That’s a Zen word  for a riddle given to a student to mull over until the the student gets the insight.

Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Copy it on a card and repeat it often until you get it.

Jesus’ message is So counter-cultural.  In our society people do anything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. There are even numbing pads so that you don’t feel it when you prick your finger for the Accu-check  for diabetes.  And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. Some folks do this by getting a hasty divorce to run away from their problems or by dumping a girlfriend who no longer suits them via way of a cruel text message.

Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it as our Savior, yes, but also as a model for us. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face a lot of suffering on his journey.  He knew  he would make people angry by proclaiming the truth he saw in his heart.  He knew that it would lead him to death, but he never strayed from the road to Jerusalem.

The is the issue is Acceptance of whatever life calls us to. Jesus  accepted the Cross because he chose to be faithful to his mission.

He was a person of absolute integrity.  No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.

How many candidates for public office today have that kind of integrity? Maybe you should think about that in choosing them at the ballot box.

This is the Jesus I know and love:  The one who has the strength to love, no matter what.   He’s my Lord, my Savior, my mentor, if you will.  I would like very much to be like that.  How ’bout you?

Tomorrow we begin to reflect on Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the desert’ (the Mass text for this coming Sunday) to prepare for his mission. Now before you go, here’s Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie singing  the old hymn “Jesus walked the lonesome valley” Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion ~ My God, why have you forsaken me!

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion ~ April 19, 2019

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 he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpted from Isaiah 53.

I was blown away by an article I pondered in the volume of Lenten readings that sustain me every year called Bread and Wine. This one is by a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who was a prisoner of war in WWII. It’s entitled Prisoner of Hope . . . .

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, taking only three of his closest friends with him and “became greatly distressed and troubled” as Mark writes. “My soul is very sorrowful even to death,” he said, and begged his friends to stay awake with him.

Often, Jesus would withdraw at night to pray alone in order to be united with God whom he so intimately called “my Father.” Here, for the first time, Moltmann suggests, he doesn’t want to be alone with God. He seeks protection among his friends. Protection from whom?

And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me.”   (Mark 14:16)—spare me this suffering.

Christ’s request is not granted. God, his Father, rejected it. Elsewhere, we are always told “I and the Father are one.” But here Christ’s communion with God breaks down. Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane that was not heard.

Of course, there was the simple human fear of pain, But Moltmann believes it was a quite different fear that the only begotten Son could be “forsaken’, “rejected”, even “cursed’ by the Father. He’s not afraid for his life. He’s afraid for God and the Father’s kingdom whose joy he had proclaimed to the poor.

This suffering from God himself is the real torment of Christ’s passion. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Who could not be paralyzed by it? His friends were protected from it by a profound sleep.

Moltmann says the Luther bible heads this chapter with the title The Struggle in Gethsemane. The struggle with whom? Christ’s struggle with himself? His struggle with death? It’s the struggle with God. This was the real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender.

That was his victory—and our hope.

At the end of Christ’s Passion, on Golgotha, the place of execution, we hear a despairing cry to God . . .

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani

            MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!’”

For three hours he hung nailed to the cross, apparently in silence, locked in agony and waiting for death. And then with this cry, that expresses the most profound abandonment by the God on whom he pinned all his hopes and for whom he was hanging on the cross.

What Christ was afraid of, what he wrestled with in Gethsemane, what he implored the Father to save him from, was not spared him. It happened on the cross. The Father forsook ~ abandoned the Son and “God is silent!” The Son was forsaken by the Father, rejected and cursed, as Professor Moltmann suggests in this article. He bore the judgment in that everyone is alone and in that no one can stand.

(If you’re getting bored with this reasoning—please hang in there! I think you’ll be astonished how it will apply to you personally!)

Is there an answer to why God abandoned him? Is there an answer to the agonizing questionings and disappointment of death: “My God, Why? Why?”

As a priest I know that a real answer to that question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word “Because . . .”. It has to be a practical answer—an answer from experience.

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of the passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope?

Or is it the beginning of the true hope, because it is the beginning of a life that has death behind it and for which hell is no longer feared!

At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.

The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God’s silence, the Christ who in dying so totally abandoned—for us and for our sakes—is like the brother or friend to whom we can confide, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us—and more.

In our hopes about life, in our love in living and our activity, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom.

Our disappointments, our loneliness, and defeats don’t separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await the resurrection.

This—is what faith really is: believing, not with head or lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.

Good Friday is the most comprehensive and most profound expression of Christ’s fellowship with every human being.

In him the despair that oppresses us becomes freedom to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become open and vulnerable as he was.

What seemed so meaningless and irreconcilable—our hope and Christ’s cross—belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.

Beneath the cross of Christ, hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner—a prisoner of hope!”

As I said when I introduced this article, I was blown away by it, and I hope you have been nourished by it as well. It has changed my whole perspective on Good Friday and my own understanding of Christ’s passion and my own participation in it. I hope it will help to deepen your faith.

And now my prayer .  .  .

Dearest Lord,

Today everywhere in the world there are people

who are forsaken, abandoned, alone, afraid, dying ~ mourning the loss of loved ones. 

And we cry: “Why, God, Why?”   Be with them, Lord. Help us to help them.

And this Good Friday I feel closer to you because of what I’ve read, Lord. 

May it deepen our faith and strengthen our solidarity with our sisters and brothers. 

Thank you, Lord, because you’ve did it! It’s done! You saved us. Thank you ever so much!!!  

And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here

Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.

Jurgen Moltmann / “Prisoner of Hope” / Bread and Wine – Readings for Lent and Easter                                                                          Plough Publishing House /  Walden NY / 2003 

 

 

My God, why have you forsaken me!!!

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 he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpted from Isaiah 53.

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion ~

March 29, 2018

I was blown away by an article I pondered in the volume of Lenten readings that sustain me every year called Bread and Wine. This one is by a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who was a prisoner of war in WWII. It’s entitled Prisoner of Hope . . . .

The night before the Romans arrested him, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, taking only three of his closest friends with him and “became greatly distressed and troubled” as Mark writes. “My soul is very sorrowful even to death,” he said, and begged his friends to stay awake with him.

Often, Jesus would withdraw at night to pray alone in order to be united with God whom he so intimately called “my Father.” Here, for the first time he doesn’t want to be alone with God. He seeks protection among his friends. Protection from whom?

And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me.”   (Mark 14:16)—spare me this suffering.

Christ’s request is not granted. God, his Father, rejected it. Elsewhere, we are always told “I and the Father are one.” But here Christ’s communion with God breaks down. Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane that was not heard.

Of course, there was the simple human fear of pain, But Moltmann believes it was a quite different fear that the only begotten Son could be “forsaken’, “rejected”, even “cursed’ by the Father. He’s not afraid for his life. He’s afraid for God and the Father’s kingdom whose joy he had proclaimed to the poor.

This suffering from God himself is the real torment of Christ’s passion. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Who cannot be paralyzed by it? His friends were protected from it by a profound sleep.

Moltmann says the Luther bible heads this chapter with the title The Struggle in Gethsemane. The struggle with whom? Christ’s struggle with himself? His struggle with death? It’s the struggle with God. This was the real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender.

That was his victory—and our hope.

At the end of Christ’s Passion, on Golgotha, the place of execution, we hear a despairing cry to God . . .

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani

            MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!’”

For three hours he hung nailed to the cross, apparently in silence, locked in agony and waiting for death. And then with this cry, that expresses the most profound abandonment by the God on whom he pinned all his hopes and for whom he was hanging on the cross.

What Christ was afraid of, what he wrestled with in Gethsemane, what he implored the Father to save him from, was not spared him. It happened on the cross. The Father forsook ~ abandoned the Son and “God is silent!” The Son was forsaken by the Father, rejected and cursed, as Professor Moltmann suggests in this article. He bore the judgment in that everyone is alone and in that no one can stand.

(If you’re getting bored with this reasoning—please hang in there! I think you’ll be astonished how it will apply to you personally!)

Is there an answer to why God abandoned him? Is there an answer to the agonizing questionings and disappointment of death: “My God, Why? Why?”

As a priest I know that a real answer to that question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word “Because . . .”. It has to be a practical answer—an answer from experience.

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of the passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope?

Or is it the beginning of the true hope, because it is the beginning of a life that has death behind it and for which hell is no longer feared!

At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.

The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God’s silence, the Christ who in dying so totally abandoned—for us and for our sakes—is like the brother or friend to whom we can confide, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us—and more.

In our hopes about life, in our love in living and our activity, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom

Our disappointments, our loneliness, and defeats don’t separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await the resurrection.

This—is what faith really is: believing, not with head or lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.

Good Friday is the most comprehensive and most profound expression of Christ’s fellowship with every human being.

In him the despair that oppresses us becomes free to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become open as vulnerable as he was.

What seemed so meaningless and irreconcilable—our hope and Christ’s cross—belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.

Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope. Has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner—a prisoner of hope!”

As I said when I introduced this article, I was blown away by it, and I hope you have been nourished by it as well. It has changed my whole perspective on Good Friday and my own understanding of Christ’s passion and my own participation in it. I will help to deepen your faith.

And now my prayer .  .  .

Dearest Lord,

Today everywhere in the world there are people

who are forsaken, abandoned, alone, afraid, dying, mourning the loss of loved ones. 

And we cry: “Why, God, Why?”   Be with them, Lord. Help us to help them.

And this Good Friday I feel closer to you because of what I’ve read, Lord. 

May it deepen our to faith and strengthen our solidarity with my sisters and brothers. 

Thank you, Lord, because you’ve  did it! It’s done! You saved us. Thank you ever so much!!!  

And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here. 

Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.

Jurgen Moltmann / “Prisoner of Hope” / Bread and Wine – Readings for Lent and Easter                                                                          Plough Publishing House /  Walden NY / 2003 

 

 

Take up your cross and follow me!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent 2018

We are one week away from Holy Week.

May we prepare to celebrate the mysteries with profound reverence and love.

“The hour has come” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

“I solemnly assure you, 

unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat.

But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

The image is clear. Dying is part of living. No death, no life. No dying, no rising.

Jesus goes on with a riddle:

“The person who loves their life loses it,

while the person who hates their life

in this world

preserves it to eternal life.’

We often try to grasp the things and persons in our life tightly and not let go. Parents sometimes have difficulty letting go of their children. Persons diagnosed with terminal cancer sometimes have difficulty accepting the inevitable and have difficulty preparing for a peaceful—or as we used to say “a happy” death.

This scripture is about surrender.   About letting go.

 We think of surrender as something unhealthy, that surrender means defeat. But for Jesus and for us surrender is the way to victory.

 Jesus is a model of surrender and letting go for us. On the cross he stretched out his hands to be nailed. He let go of his ministry and his life and entrusted them to his heavenly Father.

He emptied himself—as the beautiful hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 shows us.

 If we want to live a truly spiritual life, we have to let go of all things that are not God.

There is a stripping process, a cleansing and purifying that is part of spiritual growth.

Throughout our lives we are given trials that can cleanse and purify us—if we let them.

We are to be purified as gold and silver are purified in the furnace.

The task is simple: to let go.

But we find that oh! so difficult. The more we realize we should let go, the tighter we cling to things and persons and pet projects.

When I walk my dog Shoney, he’s always on the hunt for chicken bones that our lawn-mower guys leave behind in the grass. Do you think I can get him to let go of one of the bones once he finds one? I’m the one that has to do the surrendering ~ even though it’s bad for him! But let’s move on.

“The person who loves his life, loses it” Jesus says.

Facing the issue of letting go and trying to discern the things we need to let go of is a holy and a wholesome process.

Forty years ago, at one of the darkest periods of my life, I came to realize that I needed to let go—not because it was the right thing to do but because I had no other choice. My life was not working any more. I had to try a different way.

I wrote the following prayer to capture the moment:

Lord Jesus, I surrender my ego;

forgive my sins of egotism.

Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-will;

let me be motivated by a loving concern for you and the people you want me to care for.

 Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-centeredness;

let me do what you want me to do.

Lord Jesus, bring the Father and the Holy Spirit and abide with me and remain with me.

Let me see as you see,

hear as you hear,

speak as you speak

and touch as you touch.

To you be glory and honor, forever and ever.

And now at this time of my life during this Lent there are still have other things that I have let go of and surrender to God.

I have let go of them; but I must pray that I not take them back.

The Cross is a paradox.

An instrument of cruelty and death becomes a sign of life and eternal salvation. Jesus allowed the soldiers to strip him of his clothes and he stretched out his hands to be willingly nailed to his cross.

What was this amazing paradox Jesus was teaching?

William Barclay offers three suggestions . . . .

First. Jesus was saying that by death comes life. The grain of wheat was ineffective and unfruitful so long as it was preserved in a jar or in a sack. It was when it was thrown into the cold ground, and buried as if in a tomb, that it bore fruit. It was by the death of the martyrs that the church grew. In a famous saying, “The blood of the martyrs in the seed of the Church.”

It is always because men have prepared to die that the great things have lived. By the death of personal desire and personal ambition someone becomes a servant of God.

Second. Jesus was saying that only by spending life do we retain it. The person who loves his life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and personal security. Not once but many times, Jesus insisted that the person who hoarded his life must in the end lose it. My mother had a saying,, “It’s better to burn out than to rust out.” The world owes everything to people who recklessly spent their strength and gave themselves to God and to others.

Third. Jesus was saying that only by service comes greatness. The people whom the world remembers with love are the people who serve others.

This Easter, may we surrender our life more fully, more richly into the hands of our loving Father. Let us unite to Jesus’ Cross the sins and shortcomings that hinder us from being the wonderful instrument of God that he wants us to be.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

And before you go, here’s a wonderful hymn with words on this Scripture. Click here.

Here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series /The Gospel of John – Volume 2 / Westminster Press /Philadelphia 1975: p. 123.

And here’s a Prayer of Acceptance that I composed back in 2007.  Perhaps you’d like to copy and paste it and  print it to place in a prayer book.

Prayer  for Acceptance

Heavenly Father,

I praise and thank you for the gift of life and of love you share with me and my loved ones.

I find acceptance very difficult at times.

Sometimes I feel you give me crosses too difficult to bear.

I ask you now if in your kindness you would grant me the grace to accept . . .

(here name the situation or persons.)

I really want to live in your will but sometimes I lack the faith and hope to do so.

I sometimes feel self pity / discouragement /anxiety /guilt and poor self esteem.

I keep taking back the things and persons I have placed in your hands

as if I lack confidence in your ability to preside over my life.

Today ~ right now ~ I ask that I may accept my life as it is

so that I may receive your grace and your loving guidance.

Father, I also pray for those around me who may be struggling with difficult crosses.

I pray for those who are struggling with relationships with their spouses or their children.

For those who are having financial difficulties.

For those young people who have lost their way.

For those who are seriously ill or near death.

May we all be given the strength and the grace we need.

Father, I meditate now on the Cross of your Son

and our Brother Jesus Christ who willingly accepted death on a Cross.

May we be given the strength to unite our lives,

as meager s they may seem to be, with his act of sacrifice

so that we may experience the joy of his Resurrection. 

Father, I place my life in your hands.

Father, I place my life in your hands.

Father, I place my life in your hands

~ bob traupman / st. augustine ~ 2007

The Fidelity of Jesus ~ May we be faithful too!

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The First Sunday of Lent ~The Fidelity of Jesus ~ February 18, 2018

This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.

This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.

Before I get into my own thoughts on this important opening story in the life of our Lord, I’d like to share some notes from our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay.

He says that the word to tempt in Greek peirazein has a different emphasis than its English counterpart. We always think of tempting as something bad. But peirazein has a different emphasis; it means to test.

One of the great Old Testament stories makes this clear. Remember how Abraham narrowly escaped sacrificing his only son Isaac?  God was testing him, not tempting him!

So, with Jesus, this whole incident was not so much a tempting as the testing of Jesus.

We have to note further where this test took place. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine.  Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles.  It was called Jeshimmon, which means “the Devastation.”  The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestones looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted or rather the Father was shaping him ~ testing his mettle ~ for his mission.

Then there are these other points to take note .  .  .  .

First, all three gospel writers seem to stress the immediacy with which the temptations follow the baptism.  As Mark has it, “The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12).  Barclay suggests to us that we do well to be on guard when life brings us to the heights that that’s when we’re in the gravest danger of a fall.

Second, we should not regard this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. It was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul.  The proof is that there is no possible mountain from which all the mountains of the earth could be seen. This is an inner struggle.

It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. His attack can be so real that we almost see the devil.

(Pope Francis in the meditation in the Magnificat liturgical magazine was saying that Christian life is a battle. And then cautioned when someone said “you’re so old-fashioned; the devil doesn’t exist, “Watch out! The devil exists. We must learn how to battle him in the 21st Century. And must not be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle him.”)

Three, Barclay goes on, we must not think that Jesus conquered the tempter and that the tempter never came to him again.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. In Christian warfare, says Barclay as well as Pope Francis, there is no release.  Some people think they should get beyond that stage; Jesus himself never did, even in his last hour in Gethsemane.

Four, one thing stands out about this story—these temptations could only come to a person who had special powers and knew he had them.  We are always tempted through our gifts.  We can use our gifts for selfish purposes or we can use them in the service of others.

Five, the source must have been Jesus himself. He was alone in the wilderness.  No one was with him in his struggle, so he must have told his men about it.

We must always approach this story with unique and utmost reverence, for it is laying bare his inmost heart and soul.

The story of Jesus moving into the desert this year, of course this year, is from the Gospel of Mark, and it’s very short; in fact it’s only sentence long. It has no dialogue between Jesus and the devil as Matthew and Luke do. But h

Here’s what Barclay has to say. I will add two  comments from the Magnificat liturgical magazine, and then I will fill in with the prose piece I wrote many a year ago . . .  So here are Barclay’s comments . . . .

No sooner than Jesus is has been immersed in his own baptism by John the Jordan River and basks for a moment in that glory that the battle of temptations begins.

Mark tells us that  the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness for his testing time. The very Spirit that came upon him during his baptism.

In this life it’s impossible to escape the assault of temptations; but they’re not sent to make us fail. They’re sent to strengthen the nerve and our sinews of the mind and heart and souls. They’re not meant for our ruin, but for our good.

The Lord once found his people in a wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert (Dt 32:10) That’s where we first find Jesus and that’s where he first finds us—in a wasteland of sorrow, confusion, suffering, sin. Magnificat

Barclay gives the example of a football player who is showing signs of real promise. The manager isn’t going to put on the third team where he’ll hardly break a sweat, but on the first team where he’ll be tested and have a chance to prove himself.

That’s what temptation is meant to do—to enable us to prove our strength of character and to emerge stronger for the fight.

From this episode, our first lesson should be that human life on earth is a life of warfare and the first thing Christians must expect is to be tempted by the devil. Reading in the Gospel that Jesus was tempted right after he was baptized, they will not grow fainthearted and fearful if they experience keener temptations from the temptations from the devil after their conversion or baptism than before—even if persecution should be their lot. Magnificat

And then there’s this: Forty days is not to be taken literally. It’s the regular Hebrew phrase for a considerable period of time. Moses was said to be on the mountain with God for forty days.

And it was Satan that tempted Jesus.. The word Satan in Hebrew means adversary.

The other title for Satan is the Devil: the word comes from the Greek diabolos, which literally means a slanderer. It’s a small step from the thought of one who searches for everything that can be said against a man (adversary) to the thought of one who maliciously and deliberately slanders man in the presence of God.

In the New Testament, we learn that it is the Devil or Satan human disease and suffering. It is the devil who seduces Judas. It is the devil who is destined for the final destruction.

And I wrote this many years ago. . . .

This is a story about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a father/God who loves us with an everlasting love.

This is a story of confrontation and testing.

Dramatic confrontation with the elements–blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and to fast.

There, he would shape his mission.  He was searching for the answer of the question:  What kind of spiritual leader would he be?

There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.

The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear.

And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the Jesus I know and love.

And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father.  Through Jesus, may we be faithful too!

Mark finishes with two vivid touches.

First. The beasts were his companions. In the desert there roamed the leopard, the bear, the wild boar and the jackal. This is usually taken to be a vivid detail of the grim terror of the scene. But perhaps here not so. Perhaps it is meant that the beasts were Jesus’ friends. Remember, Francis of Assisi befriended animals as well.

Second. The angels were helping him. There are ever divine reinforcements in the hour of trial. Jesus was not left alone—and neither are we.

And then Mark adds two verses. . .  Mark 1:14,15

After John had been arrested, 
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Barclay gives a brief outline of the content of the “Good News ” (the Gospel.)

1) It is the good news of truth.

Job: “O that I knew where I might find him.”

Marcus Aurelius said that the soul can see but dimly and the word he uses in Greek is for seeing through water.

2) It is good news of peace.

The penalty of being a human person is to have a split personality—beast and angel strangely intermingled. Schopenhauer, the gloomy philosopher was found wandering. He was asked, “Who are you?” “I wish you could tell me,” he answered.

3) It is the good news of promise.

It’s true that men had often thought of rather of God threats than of God of promises. Isn’t it so that non-Christian religions think of a demanding God while on Christianity tells of a God more ready to give than we are to ask?

4) It is a good news of immortality.

To the pagan, life was the road to death; man was characteristically a dying man, but Jesus came with good news that we are on the way to life rather than death.

5.) It is good news of salvation.

That salvation is not merely a negative thing; it is also positive. It is not simply liberation from penalty and escape from past sin; it is the power to live life victoriously and to conquer sin. The message of Jesus is good news indeed.

6) There is the word repent.

The Greek word metanoia literally means change of mind. We are very apt to confuse sorrow for the consequences of sin and sorrow for sin. Many a person is desperately sorry because he has made a mess that he has got himself into, if he could be reasonably sure he could escape the consequences, he would do the same thing again. It’s not the sin he hate, it’s the consequences.

Real repentance means that a man has come, to hate the son itself.

7) And finally, there is the word Believe.

“Believe,” says Jesus. “in the good news.”

To believe in the good news simply means to take Jesus at his word. To believe that God is the kind of God that Jesus has told us about. To believe that God so loves the world that he will make any sacrifice to bring us back to himself. To believe that what sounds too good to be true is really true.

And now, before you go, here’s  a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ On Eagles’ Wings.  Click here.  It’s the text of Psalm 91 that says, For He will give His angels charge over you, To guard you in all your ways.”  Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Mark / Westminster Press Philadelphia / 1975 / pp. 21-26.