Sunday, March 11, 2018

God's persistent, energetic, sacrificial love for us & our response (Readings for March 11, 2018)

What these passages tell us about God
What these passages tell us to do
In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power. All this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah:  “Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths,  during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.”

In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia,  in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6.
R. (6ab) Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land we hung up our harps.
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
For there our captors asked of us the lyrics of our songs, and our despoilers urged us to be joyous: “Sing for us the songs of Zion!”
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten!
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy.
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

Reading 2 EPH 2:4-10
Brothers and sisters: God, who is rich in mercybecause of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved —, raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

Verse Before The Gospel JN 3:16
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.

Gospel JN 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,  so that everyone who believes in him might not perish  but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,  but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,  because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world,  but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light,  so that his works might not be exposed.
whoever lives the truth comes to the light,  so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

1.    God loves us in spite of our sin (second reading, gospel). He comes to us to draw us away from sin (first reading). Like a loving parent He sometimes lets us feel the sting of sin in order to correct us (first reading), but he ultimately does mighty works to rescue us from our sin (First reading, gospel).

2.   How should we respond to that wonderful, persistent, energetic love? By reciprocating with energetic work on His behalf (second reading, gospel). That work consists of both striving to get closer to God and serving our fellow man.

3.   Those dynamics are well described in Paragraph 1, Catechism of the Catholic Church:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.  He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.(emphasis added)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

What We Can Learn from Jesus' Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-24)

Then Jesus appeared: he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. 14John tried to dissuade him, with the words, 'It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!' 15But Jesus replied, 'Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.' Then John gave in to him. 16And when Jesus had been baptised he at once came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. 17And suddenly there was a voice from heaven, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.'

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. 10And at once, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.'

Now it happened that when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical form, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son; today have I fathered you.'

And John declared, 'I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him. 33I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is to baptise with the Holy Spirit." 34 I have seen and I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.'

1.    The undescribed background for the events described in these passages raises multiple topics for meditation:
A.   Did Jesus and Mary know what was coming? Did they anticipate that this trip to the Jordan was just a one-off pilgrimage, or did they understand that it was a decisive shift from one phase of Jesus’ life to another?  These passages do not speak to that, and other parts of scripture point in both directions:
i.               Isaiah 49:3-4 suggests that Messiah would not always understand what was happening as He fulfilled His mission.
ii.             Mark 6:30-34, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, and the failures of His efforts to keep His miracles secret indicate that He did not have complete knowledge of how His earthly ministry would go on a day-to-day/hour-by-hour basis.
iii.           The general tenor of Jesus’ statements about being a faithful executor of the Father’s directions suggests that He may not have known what those directions were going to be before He received them. See John 5:19, 6:38, 8:28, 12:49, 14:24.
iv.           Mark 3:21 suggests that Jesus’ family did not fully understand Jesus’ earthly ministry as it was occurring.
v.             On the other hand, Luke 2:49 and Matthew 3:14-15 indicate that Jesus had some understanding of His life’s special purpose before He started His public ministry.
B.    If Jesus knew that this was indeed the end of His old way of life, what prompted Him make that change? Luke 3:23 tells us that Jesus was about 30 years old when He began His public ministry, so He was well into adulthood. He had presumably been working during that time. What inspired Him to leave that life for a radically different one? Was it some sort of express divine communication, similar to those Mary and Joseph received in connection with Jesus’ birth/infancy? Did He get some sort of preview of what was about to happen, similar to that given John the Baptist, as described in John 1:33? Was it the general buzz around John the Baptist? That last scenario is consistent with Luke’s description of Jesus’ baptism, where Jesus is one of many baptized that day.
C.    Also, if Jesus and Mary knew that this was more than a mere pilgrimage, what had to be done to wrap up Jesus’ old life?  What practical matters/issues/tensions had to be worked through?

2.    Regardless of what got Jesus there and what He knew about what was about to happen, there is no question about the fact that He had to make real effort to get to there:
A.   He had to travel a significant distance, likely on foot. And in addition to the physical effort involved, Luke 10:30 reflects that travel in those days was not without hazard.
B.    Jesus had to at least temporarily leave His family and work, therefore causing domestic disruption and lost income.
C.    He faced regional prejudice once He got there. Folks from Galilee were apparently looked down upon by others. See John 1:46, 7:52.
D.   And once He got there he faced resistance from John, albeit innocent and fleeting resistance. See Matthew 3:14-15.
E.    In short, this was not an easy, passive, acceptance of God’s will, but instead involved great effort. We see the same dynamic in Mary and Joseph’s response to God’s will concerning Jesus’ birth and infancy. Although we often (and rightfully) think of the passion when we think of the great cost paid for our reconciliation with God, we should not overlook the other, very real, sacrifices Jesus and His earthly family made.

3.    Those realities illustrate an often overlooked dynamic: yielding to God’s will is not a passive act; it often (indeed usually) involves affirmative action. Jesus’ obedience here required Him to take concrete, positive, action.

4.    These events also illustrate a related dynamic: God’s response sometime only occurs after the His servants take affirmative action in reliance upon His invitation/instruction. For example, Peter and company only receive the provision they need to engage (or reengage) in fulltime ministry after they follow Jesus’ fishing advice. See Luke 5:1-11, John 21.  The disciples are only able to feed the multitudes after they follow Jesus’ instructions about the seemingly inadequate fishes and loaves. See Matthew 14:15-21, Matthew 15:32-38, Mark 6:35-44, Mark 8:1-9, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:5-13.    The 72 are only able to exercise the powers Jesus promises after they go out on the road. See Luke 10:1-24. Here, Jesus’ unique status is definitively revealed only after he takes the affirmative action of leaving Galilee in response to whatever prompted that action.

5.    Regardless of whether Jesus fully understood what was going to happen here before it did, Matthew’s account makes it clear that John did not. But that lack of comprehension did not prevent John performing the part of God’s plan he was created for. As Jesus later put it, “there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist[.]” Matthew 11:11(NJB). That goes to show that:
A.   Even those right in the middle of God’s will can sometimes not quite get what’s going on.

B.    Such lack of comprehension does not limit our effectiveness if we keep pressing on with what we do understand God wants of us. For more on this topic check out Fear does not equal Failure and Doubt does not equal Disqualification.