The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ Life-Surge ~ Stay connected

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ May 2, 2021

Jesus is so cool in the images he uses to communicate.

In the gospel passage today (John 15:1-8), Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches.” (You can read the entire passage below.)

Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay tells us that Jesus often uses images that are familiar to the people of his day that are part of their religious heritage.  Time and time again, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” Isaiah 5:1-7).  “Yet I planted you a choice vine,” says Jeremiah to Israel (Jeremiah 2:21).  Ezekiel, in turn, likens Israel to a vine in Chapter 15 and in 19:10.  “Israel is a luxuriant vine: said Hosea in 10:1.  “Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt,” they sang in Psalm 80 as they remembered their deliverance from Egypt.

One of the glories of the temple was the great golden vine in front of the Holy Place.  It was considered a great honor if you were rich enough to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a single grape to that vine.

Then Barclay gives us a bit of interesting exegesis.  Jesus calls himself the true vine.  The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine is this, he says:  “It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration.  The point of Isaiah’s picture is that vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into ‘degenerate and become a wild vine.’  It is as if Jesus said: ‘You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel that you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as the prophets saw.  It is I that am the true vine.” (Barclay / The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p. 173)

Now here are my own thoughts on today’s gospel.

Take a look at the image  above.  Every part of the vine, every grape, receives its life by being connected to the source of its life.

So, too, with us.  I have some readers who are not professed Christians.  But if you think about it, the message is the same:  If we stay connected to the Source of life, whatever that is for you, then our lives will flourish and bear fruit.

But some of us are like withered branches.  We have cut ourselves off from the source of life and we do not bring fruitfulness into our lives.

The following commentary I excerpted from the Magnificat liturgical magazine . . . .

He [Jesus’ Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (15:2)

In pruning, the vines were cut back so severely that they gave the appearance of lifeless stalks. When have you felt like that in your life? Did God ever generate new life from what seemed lifeless?

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that if we are bent on “diverse and trifling things,” our power is weakened and rendered less effective in doing good. And thus, God, to make us productive to do good often sends us trials and temptations, which if we overcome, we become stronger in doing good.

You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (15:3)

Think of how you were changed and made better by a word someone spoke to you: a word of forgiveness, of correction, of insight, of encouragement, of love

Here’s Aquinas again: “The Word of God by its power moves our hearts, weighed down by earthly things, and sets them on fire.

Another medieval Scholar, Cornelius a Lapide, says: “Christ pruned the Apostles of their ignorance, a certain vain confidence, an over-reliance on sensible (physical) presence of Christ, and from faint-heartedness, which made them almost despair of their own salvation now that Christ was departing.”

Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me. (15:4)

Of all the things our Lord could ask the night before he dies, he commands only this, “Remain in me”—the simplest thing of all.

            ~ Magnificat liturgical magazine / April 2018 ~ pp. 411-2

Take a few moments to consider the fruitfulness of your relationships.  Are the people in your life growing because they know you and are in your life?  Or are they withering up?

Stay connected.  Stay connected with your family, your friends, the people you love and the people who love and care about you.

We want to be connected to the Internet, on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and other social media.  But those connections are most often superficial.

What about connections of the heart?  The ones that really matter.

What about your connection with the earth and the environment and with the creatures who share this world with you?  Or does the world revolve only around you?

What about your connection with God and his desire that the whole church, indeed the whole world be connected in love.

Now here’s my prayer . . . .

Jesus, you use simple images to help us understand

what life for us can be like when we stay connected to You.

Wonderful life-surging energy flows through You as the Vine.

Let that same life-surging energy which is Your Holy Spirit

surge through us as well

and renew the face of the earth!

To You be glory now and forever! 

CHRIST IS RISEN!

Now here;s the entire text of today’s Gospel . . . .

Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in Me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples.” (John 15:1-8)

And now, before you go, here’s a song for your reflection on your relationship with Jesus. Click here.

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

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer  

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition  / Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 p. 173.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of Jesus ~ He emptied himself becoming utterly poor for us!

Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

March 28, 2021

Dear Friends,

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 ~ with limited attendance because  of the Pandemic but people can pick up their blessed palms at some other time, and I’m sure many others will be watching streamed Masses from home as they’ve become accustomed to this past year.

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 according to Mark . . .

When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem,
to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately on entering it,
you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
If anyone should say to you,
‘Why are you doing this?’ reply,
‘The Master has need of it
and will send it back here at once.'”
So they went off
and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street,
and they untied it.
Some of the bystanders said to them,
“What are you doing, untying the colt?”
They answered them just as Jesus had told them to,
and they permitted them to do it.
So they brought the colt to Jesus
and put their cloaks over it.
And he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
that they had cut from the fields.
Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out:
“Hosanna!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!” 
 (Mark 11:1-10)

As William Barclay notes, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, 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 with visitors in preparation for the Passover.

lambtop

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.)

Barclay notes they greeted him as they would a pilgrim, “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.” 

They  shouted, “Hosanna!”  The word means, “Save now!”  as well as “praise.” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god.   (Interesting ~ I wasn’t aware of 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 Mark, 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 Jones’s. 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.”  

And here is my prayer . . . .

 Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.

We raise our palms,

Lord Jesus, here we are, 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

 the Spirit.  

To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.

 

Before you go, dear friends, here is a section of Handel’s Messiah appropriate for this day “He was despis-ed.”  Click here.  Have a fruitful Holy Week.  I will publish again throughout the week. 

Here are the today’s Mass readings.  Click here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Mark.  

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 Mark/ The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

IMG_2148

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.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ~ You are my beloved Son / You are my beloved Daughter

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

This feast is part of the epiphany cycle of feasts ….

It reveals a bit more of the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, that is, our God entering our world and becoming flesh and blood like you and me.

By way of introduction, our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay offers a short commentary on today’s Gospel story from Matthew about the Baptism of Jesus . . . .

For thirty years Jesus waited patiently for the moment to embark on his mission. He waited for the hour to strike. And when John emerged, Jesus knew it was time.

Barclay asks why should this be so? For one very simple reason.

The Jews knew and used baptism only for proselytes who came from another faith. It was natural for the sin-stained proselyte to be baptized but no Jew ever conceived of a member of the chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God’s salvation, should ever need baptism. Baptism was for sinners, and no Jew ever conceived of himself as a sinner shut off from God. Now for the first time in their national history the Jews realized their own sin and their own pressing need for God. Never before had there been a unique national movement of penitence and search for God. This was the very moment for which Jesus was waiting and he slipped into the line of pilgrims waiting to be baptized by John. The others there were conscious of their sin and conscious of their need for God as never before.  In Jesus’ baptism, though not not for the purpose of repentance, he identified himself with the people he came to save.

When he approached John, he objected, saying, “I should be baptized by you” But Jesus replied, “Allow it for now for it is to fulfill all righteousness.” (Barclay Gospel of Matthew – Vol. I pp.59-60.)

Pope Benedict XVI also has an interesting commentary on this feast . . . .

The Baptism of Jesus was held in great importance by the apostolic community, in that circumstance, for the first time in history there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads of Palestine. The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the cross and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.

This is why the early Church Fathers have dedicated such great interest in this feast, which is the most ancient after Easter:

Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy,”sings today’s liturgy, “he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.” (Antiphon to the Benedictus) 

There is a strict relationship between the Baptism of Christ and our baptism. At the Jordan the heavens opened to indicate the Savior has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5) accomplished in baptism. The commitment that springs from baptism is therefore to “listen” to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will. 

(As recorded in the “Meditation of the Day” in the Magnificat liturgical magazine January 2019 issue, p.179.)

Thus, God sent his only Son to become one with us.

What better way to do this than to show acceptance of the human condition by being baptized for the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus has no personal sin.  Yet he got in line with hundreds of pilgrims to be baptized by the prophet John by the River Jordan.

In this we see Jesus’ humility.  He is willing to accept ALL of the human condition.  He willingly presents himself for baptism.

Imagine this scene . . . .

There he is:  John at the edge of the desert, wading out into the waters of the Jordan River.

A crowd has gathered on the banks.  Jesus is among them.  He’s unknown at this time because he’s yet to begin his ministry.  He has chosen this meeting with the Prophet to inaugurate his own mission.

Jesus waits patiently amidst the crowd.  There’s a line of people eagerly waiting to meet individually with John. Jesus is to receive his baptism of repentance ~ not because there’s sin in him, but in order to model for us the authentic way to approach the Father.

He goes to the Baptist as a beggar because the Mystery is mercy.  Jesus surrenders to mercy by submitting himself to baptism in order to invite us to share in his relationship with the Father.

The Lord Jesus lowers himself in his baptism and, as Nothingness, acknowledges his Father so that we will never hesitate to do the same. (Source: Magnificat /Jan. 2019 issue p. 173.)

An astonishing thing happened; the two of them were privileged to a vision.  The sky opened up and John saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus like a dove and hover over him.

With that, a voice from the heavens said,

“You are my beloved Son;  with you I am well pleased.”

In our immersion into the waters of baptism, we are consecrated, set apart and made holy.  In Jesus’ immersion in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the opposite becomes true.  Jesus consecrates, sets apart and makes holy the waters of baptism.  Jesus as Man consecrates the movement of divine grace that flows just as rivers flow.

Sometimes the river has abundant waters that give life to all living things that share its banks.  But sometimes the waters dry up and become like a desert.

So, too, with grace.  Grace flows like a river bringing wonderful fruit to all who drink and are immersed in it.  But sometimes grace  seemingly dries up and we live in a desert for a while.  But the river is still there, unseen; it just moves below the surface.

So we have to be willing to be immersed.  To be immersed in divine grace.  To be immersed in God.  To be immersed in love.

But that precisely is the problem.  We are scared of being immersed in love We are scared of being immersed in God.  We prefer to stand on the banks of the river and watch the waters of grace flow by, without having direct contact with it.

So this feast day is about us as well.  Don’t be afraid to be immersed in God.  Don’t be afraid to be immersed in love.

If we are immersed in God, in love, we will hear the voice of God say to us . . . .

“You are my beloved son.  You are my beloved daughter.  

Now, before you go, here’s the traditional spiritual Wade in the Water. Click here.

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

With Love, 

Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer

 

 

 

The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe

The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ                      King of the Universe                                                ~ Sunday November 22, 2020

Today’s feast is Good News for most of us who are weary (and fed up?) with all that’s gone down with the election and it’s aftermath and the Pandemic too.  There are two sections to my comments. First are those on the scriptures of the day followed by a reflection on the title of today’s Feast. I just did a bit of research in the liturgical archives: this feast has gotten an upgrade! Before it was just “The Feast of Christ the King.” Now it’s the Feast (we give it the fancy name of Solemnity) of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe.  That offers us a lot more richness for our spirituality and even our politics as you’ll see in a few moments.

In our last blog, we shared about the worldwide organization ONE devoted to caring for the poor, a humanitarian organization putting pressure on the governments of the world to do what they should be doing in caring for the least of society. 

Now here are the opening lines of today’s gospel . . . .

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. 
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome . . . .

Scripture scholar William Barclay, thinks this is one of the ‘most vivid’ parables Jesus ever told, and that his lesson is very clear—that God will judge us according to how we react to human need.  He won’t judge us by the amount of knowledge we’re able to cleverly use, or the fame or social status that we’ve acquired, or the wealth that we’ve somehow amassed, but the help we’ve given.  And he suggests that the parable describes how we should give.

Whatever we do, must be help in simple things. The things Jesus picks out—giving a hungry beggar a meal or a thirsty child a drink, welcoming a stranger or a new neighbor, cheering the sick, visiting a prisoner—are things anyone can do. These don’t require giving away hundreds or thousands of dollars or even just twenty. These are things we can do when we meet people every day.

The second point Jesus seems to make is that our giving must be uncalculating; that is, “so we could get our eternal reward” or get in the good graces of the bishop or the mayor!  Our attitude should simply be to help because we could not stop ourselves. To help as the result of a natural, instinctive reaction of a loving heart, without any calculation.

The attitude of those of those who failed to help was: “If we had known it was you we would’ve gladly helped, but we thought it was some common man not worth helping.” There are those who’ll help if they’ll get the praise and publicity, but that’s not help, it’s to pander to self-aggrandizement; it’s certainly not generosity.

*  *  *  *

Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

And as we look forward to Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas—the New Year and the upcoming inauguration of our new president, this feast brings us, not just a sigh of relief from all we’ve been through this past year and, for me at least, but an explosion of new hope and wonder as we realize we the implications of living in Jesus’ kin-dom here and now!

I was blown away by the insights of famed Franciscan author Father Richard Rohr’s recent book The Universal Christ from which I unabashedly quote extensively here.

I am making the whole of creation new . . .    It will come true . . . It is already done!             I am the Alpha and the Omega, both the Beginning and the End.                                            ~ Revelations 21:5-6

Jesus didn’t normally walk around Judea making “I AM” statements; if he did, he very soon would have ended up being stoned to death. He didn’t normally talk that way. But when we look at the phrase we all love, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” we see a very fair statement that should not offend or threaten anyone. He’s describing the “Way” by which all humans and all religions must allow matter and Spirit to operate as one.

Once we see that the Eternal Christ is the one talking in these passages, Jesus’ words about the nature of God—and those created in the image of God—seem full of deep hope and a broad vision for all of creation.

The leap of faith that the orthodox Christians made from the early period was that the eternal Christ presence was truly speaking through the person of Jesus. Divinity and humanity were somehow able to speak as one, for if the union of God and humankind is “true” in Jesus, there is hope that it might be true in all of us too. That is the big takeaway from having Jesus speak as the Eternal Christ. He is indeed “the pioneer and perfector of our faith,” as Hebrew puts it (12:2).

As the “Father of Orthodoxy,” St. Athanasius (296—375) wrote when the church had a more social, historical and revolutionary sense of itself: “God was consistent in working through man to reveal himself everywhere, as well as through the other parts of creation, so that nothing was left devoid of his Divinity and self-knowledge . . . so that the whole universe was filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea”. ~ Athanasius De Incarnatione Verbe 45           

I have a note in the margin or Rohr’s book at that quote: WOW!!!

Athanasius was writing in the Fourth Century! Think about that when today we’ve seen images of  our blue planet taken from the moon; when scientists are discovering black holes and other solar systems beyond our own.  And mystics like Athanasius are still with us too!   And yet for a Christian—Catholic or otherwise—who clings only to Jesus as their personal savior in a “Jesus and me” kind of faith is much too myopic and narrow-minded—Rohr would say, and therefore missing the real depth of their faith.

As a counterpoint, he says, the Eastern church, has a sacred word for this process, which in the West we call “incarnation” or “salvation”.  They call it “divinization (theosis).  If that sounds provocative, Rohr suggests, know that they are building on 2 Peter 1:4 where the author says, “He has given us something very great and wonderful  . . . . you are able to share the divine nature!

Most Catholics and Protestants still think of the incarnation as a one-time and one-person event having to only with the person of Jesus of Nazareth, instead of a cosmic event that has soaked all of history in the Divine Presence from the very beginning.  Therefore, this implies . . .

·      That God is not an old man on a throne. God is Relationship itself, a dynamism of Infinite Love between Divine Diversity, as the doctrine of the Trinity demonstrates.    

·      That God’s infinite love has always included all that God created from the very beginning (Ephesians 1:3-14). The Torah  (first five books of the Hebrew bible) calls it “covenant love,” an unconditional agreement, both offered and consummated on God’s side (even if we don’t reciprocate)      

·      That the Divine “DNA” of the Creator is therefore held in all creatures.  What we call the “soul” of every creature could easily be seen as the self-knowledge of God in that creature!  It knows who it is and grows into its identity, just like as seed and egg.

Faith at its essential core is accepting that you are accepted! We cannot deeply know ourselves without knowing the One who made us, and cannot fully accept ourselves without accepting God’s radical acceptance of every part of ourselves. And God’s impossible acceptance of ourselves is easier to grasp if we first recognize the perfect unity of the human Jesus with the divine Christ. Start with Jesus, continue with yourself, and finally expand to everything else. As John says, “From the fullness (pleroma) we have all received grace upon grace “(1:16).

And for my concluding prayer this day, I rely on the wisdom of David in Psalm 37 . . . .

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.

For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.

Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and [fn]cultivate faithfulness

Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart

Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday

Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes

Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.

For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land

Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there

But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.    

When I prayed this psalm the other evening, it calmed me because of our present post-election / pre-inauguration quandary and anxiety, It was just perfect for what I was thinking and feeling. Perhaps for you as well.

I will offer my Mass on Sunday for all of you, my readers—for yours and your families’ needs and intentions, Blessings to you this day!

Now before you go, I’m offering you a choice of music.

The first is “Crown Him with Many Crowns with about 3,000 voices. Click here,

The second is “Worthy is the Lamb” by the Australian young people’s group Hilsong.  Clickhere, And here are the Mass readings for today’s Feast, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

Acknowledgements  . . . .
William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Matthew –Volume 2 revised edition / The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1958
Richard Rohr The Universal Christ / Convergent Books New York 2019

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

 

 

 

 

 

You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth!

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The Feast of the Ascension  ~ May 24th, 2020

We’re coming to the conclusion of our Easter season now, even if we don’t see any end to this drasted  coronavirus. I’ve enjoyed writing these Easter blogs for you because it’s impacted my own spirituality as I was researching and writing for you.

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery.  First was the Resurrection six weeks ago on Easter Sunday in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life will never end.

Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand (designated, you may remember as “Ascension Thursday,” but to get more people to celebrate it, the feast was transferred in most dioceses to the following Sunday~ May 24th.)

And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind on Sunday, May 31st.

All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality.  The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.

Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.

At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience.

Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to

“ . . . .wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you  will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

He was, of course, referring to Pentecost.

. . . Then he said,

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you

AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”

What would it have been like to have been there?

As we listen to the last words of Jesus to the men he had chosen to carry on his mission—men he had fondly gathered, camped out with, ate with, slept with, talked and joked with, and formed to carry on his mission. This last meeting with Jesus, Barclay says, did three things:

~ He assured them of his power. (Matthew says they doubted.)

~ He gave them a commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples. (It may well be that the instruction to baptize is something that is a development of the actual words of Jesus.) That may be argued about; the salient fact remains that the commission of Jesus is to bring all people to himself.

~ He promised them a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galilaeans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But no sooner than the command was given, than the promise was fulfilled. They were sent out—as we are—on the greatest task of history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.

And we remember, they went out to the ends of the earth as they knew it and all were martyred for their faithfulness and zeal except for one.

Then, Acts says,  “Jesus was lifted up, a cloud took him from their sight.”

(However, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, the “lifting”  is not mentioned, just the commissioning.)

They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .

Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,

“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?

This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.

Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.

And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .

God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)

Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology.  The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin  talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love.  When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the  “Mass on the world – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.

So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe,  and we pray in these days of the pandemic that has left no nation untouched that our Lord and our Blessed Lady would watch over us all.  And so the Feast of Ascension is also about earth.

The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky?  You and I have work to do!

YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

A witness is one who experiences with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.

A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.

I consider myself a witness to the resurrection.  I have had enough experiences of risen life, even, it might seem,  of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is true also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me.  Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through my priesthood.

Brothers and sisters, we have work to do.  We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.

Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.

During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.

Christ is Risen!

Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many Crowns a. Click here.   Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

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

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ I am the Way and the Truth and the Life

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The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ May 10th, 2020

Many of us are struggling in one way or another ~ most of us financially ~ because of the coronavirus crisis and its lingering effects among us. So we might gladly hear as good news Jesus’ opening line in today’s gospel:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.

This passage appears very shortly before the apostles’ life begins to cave in (John 14:1-10).When he speaks of “his Father’s house” he’s talking about heaven, of course, and when he says there are “many dwelling places—or as Barclay calls them, “abiding places,”—Clement of Alexandria thought that there were degrees of glory, rewards and stages in proportion to a man’s achievement in holiness in this life.

Barclay suggests to us that there’s something attractive here. A lot of us think heaven is boring and static! There’s something attractive at the idea of a development which goes on even in the heavenly places.

And if there are many dwelling places in heaven, it may simply mean there’s room for all; an earthly house can become overcrowded especially in these coronavirus days,with short tempers and and all.)

It was Jesus real purpose “to prepare a place for us.” One of the great words that is used to describe Jesus is prodromos (Hebrews 6:20). It’s translated as forerunner. In the Roman army they were the reconnaissance troops that went ahead to blaze the trail.

And then Jesus said: “Where I am, there you will also be.” Here is the great truth put in the simplest way: for the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is!”

Again and again Jesus had told his disciples where he was going, but somehow they never understood. “Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go to him who him that sent me (John 7:33). Even less did they understand that the way he had to take was the Cross.

At this moment the disciples were bewildered men; they followed him, yes, but they didn’t quite get what was going on. But there was one among them who would never say he understood what he did not understand.

You might guess who that one was.

Thomas, of course!

Thomas said, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?

And Barclay says, that no one should ever be ashamed to express one’s doubts for it is amazingly true that he who seeks to the end will find—and the wonderful thing is that Thomas’ question provoked one of the greatest thinks Jesus ever said:

“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

That is the great saying to us, but it would be still greater to the Jew who heard it for the first time.

The Jews talked a great deal about the ways of God. “You shall walk in the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you Dt. 5:32,33). “Teach me your way, O Lord. (Psalm27: 11). 

So what did Jesus mean when he said he was “the Way”?

Jesus doesn’t tell us about the Way; He is the Way. He will take us where we need to go!

Jesus said, “I am the Truth.”

How many people have told us they have told us the truth—car sales persons, politicians, insurance brokers, realtors, bankers, journalist, husbands, wives, children and doctors who have lied to us instead.

But Jesus is the Truth. Moral truth cannot be conveyed solely in words; it must be conveyed by example. It finds its realization in him.

Jesus said, “I am the Life.”

The writer of Proverbs said, “The commandment is the lamp, and the teaching a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). “You show me the path of life. (Psalm16: 11).

There is only one way to put all this: “No one, said Jesus, comes to the Father except through me. He alone is the way to God. In him we see what God is like, and he alone can lead us to God’s presence with fear and without shame

.And so, once again, dear sisters and brothers, I call you, I invite you to an intimacy with Jesus who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.  

Last week we reflected on Jesus in his image as the Good Shepherd, walking the road ahead of us, protecting us from harm as the Sheep-gate. If you feel afraid or hesitant to draw close to him, don’t be. Sometimes people who’ve been hurt by love are even afraid of God too. That’s understandable. Just don’t be afraid! There is nothing to be afraid of.  Put your big toe in. The water’s warm. You’re in for the biggest surprise of your life!

Gentle Jesus, I thank you for guiding me along the way of my life,

I thank you for leading me on my life-long search for You, my Truth;

may I finally be united to you, my Life!

But most of all, I beg of you, to be with all of those who are struggling this day in any way because of this terrible disease ~ those who are sick, those who take care of them, those who worried about their jobs and finances, those in leadership positions to help guide us through this.

And finally, bless all of our mothers, grandmothers and mothers-to-be on this Mothers’ day. 

May Our Blessed Lady watch over us all! Amen!  

And now before you go, here’s the song ” I am the way and the truth and the life.Click Here. 

And here are this Sunday’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 John – Volume 2                                Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 154-9.

 

 

 

 

Shepherd me, O God ~ Do you really want God to shepherd you?

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The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ May 3rd, 2020

Good Shepherd Sunday

Have you ever thought about how shepherds handle their sheep? In many places even today they follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They’re not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.

Muse a bit about  Jesus as the Good Shepherd – Jesus walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them. And that’s how it can be with you and me!

Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,”says Jesus. The sheep pick out the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize.

In another place in the text, Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are hired hands that won’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and his care.

The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the good shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray.  He admonishes to seek the good shepherd: “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”

And, of course David was the Shepherd King of Israel, having written our beloved Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

The words  of Ezekiel were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they can be to us in this difficult time of  the coronavirus: the lost, the injured, the sick and those who are struggling to care for them.  The Jews, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock. (And isn’t that the same in our time, with politicians who don’t seem to care.)

While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep. But picture this  as shown to us by Professor Barclay. . .

The life of a shepherd in Palestine was very hard. He was never off duty. The sheep were bound to wander, and had to be constantly watched.  On the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for he not only had to guard the flock but to protect them from wild animals and thieves and robbers. He was out there with them in all kinds of weather, day and night.

As Barclay writes, quoting Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, “On some high moor, at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking over his scattered sheep, everyone of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why the Jews gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”  Constant vigilance, fearless, courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.

And so listen for the Voice of your Shepherd. What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows your voice and you know his. We will have instantaneous, constant communication as we seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”

Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.  

When the sheep came into the enclosure, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance, thus, literally becoming the Gate, or the Door!

Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.

There’s another meaning here, too, I think. A lot of people experiment with other matters in the spiritual world that are not so safe. Like hallucinogenic drugs or seances and tarot cards  or fortune-telling, or calling on the spirits.  These are not protected and can be very dangerous.

William Barclay has this to add about this passage. . . .

~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the littleness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.

~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.

~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.

Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words, “The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)

But let’s look at another side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.

Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.

And then ask yourself this question: Am I not, in turn, a good shepherd?

If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I adapt my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”

Christ is Risen!

Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.

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

William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series – revised edition / the Gospel of John: Volume 2 / The Westminster Press Philadelphia – 1975 / pp. 55-60.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

He became utterly poor for us!

Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ  April 5th, 2020

Dear Friends,

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? But STOP!

The coronavirus, has nearly brought to a halt the wonder and enjoyment we have always had with Holy Week liturgies. Gone are are the Palm Sunday processions. Gone is the Washing of the Feet at the Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Gone is the Veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Gone is the Blessing of the new fire and procession with the new Easter Candle and the singing of the Exultet on Holy Saturday night. And the baptisms and the welcoming of new candidates into the Church will have to wait until “the All Clear Signal” is promulgated, whenever that will be (and you’ll get your palms then too ~ never fear!) This is all unprecedented, maybe since Wartime or even the Plagues of the Middle Ages and it’s world-wide. Nevertheless, we still have the events, in Jesus’ life to commemorate and this is what this blog is about.

So please join me reverently here and enter into Jesus’s last days as best we can  . . . .

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 (from Matthew 21:1-11) that (normally precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .

When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, 
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 
“Go into the village opposite you, 
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet 
might be fulfilled:
Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, 
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, 
while others cut branches from the trees 
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem 
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied,
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

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.

This was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.

The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment.  Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were 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 dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this  year from the Gospel of Matthew, 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 because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .

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 own 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.”

And now, here’s my prayer . . . .

Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.

We can’t raise  our palms this year,

But we’re here, trying to be faithful to you as best we can.

We will try to read the story of your sacred passion and death so that we can understand and accept more fully how much you loved us

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 even if we can’t be there in church this year but  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 beautiful song, The Power of the Cross. 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 Matthew.  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- Volume 2          The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer