Take up your cross and follow me!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent 2021

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.

During this past year so many of us came to understand this.  The New York Times this past week and the Washington Post offered articles showing how much has changed in American life during the past year. Many or most of us have indeed surrendered to the Pandemic and the changes it has wrought in our lives. 

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 used to walk  my dog Shoney, of happy memory, he was always on the hunt for chicken bones that our lawn-mower guys leave behind in the grass. Do you think I could get him to let go of one of the bones once he finds one? I was the one that used to do the surrendering ~ even though it was 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. Amen

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 us?

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.

We surrender our failure to spend time in prayer with the Lord.

We surrender our failure to offer true care and support to one another. 

We surrender all our character defects, particularly our refusal to grow spiritually.

We surrender our cynicism and lack of trust.

Our poor self-esteem and failure to love and love and accept ourselves.

We surrender our resentments.

We our sins and our tendency to do evil. 

But we also surrender all the beautiful loving moments of our lives ~ all those who have helped us grow and blossom ~ all our loving relationships.

“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 Fifth Sunday of Lent ~ See, I am doing something new! It’s Mercy! It’s Forgiveness!

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The Fifth Sunday of Lent ~ April 7, 2019

“See, I am doing something new!” says Isaiah.

What is this “new thing” that is promised?

It is mercy. It is compassion. It is forgiveness.

It is Jesus our Lord!

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.

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

William Barclay /  The Daily Study Bible Series /The Gospel of John / Volume 2 / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 pp.1-9.

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

contemplative writer