Saturday, January 30, 2016

Faith Asks: How Far Will You Go?

Behind the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, a movement of strict reform in the Judaism of the day, there lay an issue more important than whether to pick grain on the Sabbath or wash hands before eating.  Some have seen the issue as the Pharisee’s belief that obeying rules was the central religious obligation while Jesus placed love first.  But every knowledgable Jew understood that love was the most important principle of the Law.  Something more crucial was at stake.

Because peace and justice didn’t break out during Jesus’ lifetime and the world didn’t end, we forget that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.  Jesus knew that God’s love for humankind was total and unconquerable.  He was certain that divine love was about to conquer the world of hate, greed and indifference.  Jesus preached his hope wherever he went.  It was the soil in which his followers were to root their very lives. 

Jesus’ unshakable belief that God was about to transform the world gave rise to his radical morality.  Matthew’s gospel summarizes Jesus’ moral compass in the “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .” passages. (Matthew 5) 

When the authorities executed Jesus and even after his disciples experienced his resurrection, they were left with the obvious fact that God hadn’t yet transformed the world.  The Monday after Easter looked the same as the Friday before Easter.  The challenge for the early Church was to live the sweeping hope Jesus preached and the unflinching life Jesus lived without knowing when the new world he promised would arrive.

How could they give love as though their hearts couldn’t break?  How could they share as though their purses had no bottom?  How could they risk their lives for peace and justice as though they were immortal?  The issue was never whether to love, share and risk (every Jew agreed about that); the issue was how totally to embrace these behaviors. 

That’s decision is still the most important one that we have to make.  It’s the meaning of the question: Do you believe in Jesus?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Easter: The Triumph Of Hope

Christians have treasured the Easter story of two disciples meeting Jesus as they walked the few miles from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus.  That trip and its events changed the despondent  travelers’ lives.  The last  scene of breaking bread with Jesus deserves reflection by all who celebrate Eucharist in a Catholic or any other setting.

When Jesus broke bread with the two disciples, their hopes and dreams, untenable just moments before,  became not only possible but inevitable.  Jesus, who embodied such promise, was not only alive, he was with them, once again caring about and caring for them. 

The Jesus they had followed and come to know was a man of immense vistas.  He was not a theological test demanding humble assent, he was a man who brought hope, who made hope conceivable by forgiving and reflecting the Father’s forgiveness of their weakness and failings.  In Jesus they had discovered that the future was not determined by human limitations but by God’s boundless love.

These disciples knew Jesus lived when they ate bread with him.  In the nurturing, sharing community of a meal they recognized that their dreams and hopes hadn’t died on a Roman cross three days before. 

It wasn’t simply the awareness that Jesus hadn’t succumbed to the evil of Rome’s self -centered ruthlessness and Judea’s self-preserving fear.  The one they had hoped would redeem Israel and beyond hadn’t been driven from life.  The gift of knowing that renewed their courage and determination.  It was that renewal within themselves as much as the living presence of Jesus that filled their hearts.

Easter isn’t a remembrance of something that happened to someone else two millennia ago.  Easter is a belief in life and its future.  Easter is courage and excitement for life grounded in faith.  Easter is the joyous assurance that God’s Future is alive and growing in our world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

God's Love Is God's Forgiveness

The gospel this week tells two stories: Jesus appearing to the disciples telling them to forgive sins; then one of The Twelve, Thomas, refusing to believe that Jesus lived until he sees him with his own eyes.  The reason for the tale of Thomas seems obvious.  The reason for including Jesus’ instruction to forgive sins isn’t.  But it belongs here.

The Resurrection demonstrated that God’s desire to give us life is stronger than the damage our failures do to his gift.  Our Creator’s commitment to us isn’t just more powerful than our moral failures; it’s more powerful than our mistakes and our ignorance as well.  Our weakness can’t separate God from us.  Our Creator doesn’t get fed-up, bored or tired of us. 

We don’t have to convince God to stick with us.  We don’t have to prove to him that we’re worth caring about.  We don’t have to dampen his ire.  We don’t have to flatter is ego or attract his attention. 

We know we exist: we know God is with us.  Each statement contains the other.  If we understand Jesus, we understand this. 

The incidents that the gospels narrate about Jesus after the Resurrection center around his sending his disciples out with his message to the rest of the world.  Luke wrote in the Acts of the Apostles, Don’t stand there waiting for me to do something.  Go do for others what I have done for you.  Show everyone the God I’ve shown you. [Acts 1:8 & 11]

Jesus’ entire life demonstrated the God who forgives.  We can miss how central forgiveness is to our Creator’s relationship with us if we think of forgiveness as only referring to sins in the juridical sense of breaking some rule.  God sticks with us not just in the face of broken commandments.  No weakness, whatever the type, turns him away from us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Our Risen Hope

When Jesus’ followers walked, ate and reflected with him, they saw him not just as the presence of God among them; they also saw a person like themselves sharing their hopes and dreams.

He was one of them.  He struggled, as they did, to bring peace and security to those he loved.  He worked hard day-in, day-out.  He lived with the same pain of loss that they faced every time a friend or lover died.  He knew what it meant to wonder where the next meal was coming from.  He was exasperated by pain rooted in stupidity and  stubbornness.  He was helpless before tragedy caused by nothing more than sheer chance.  Just as they did, Jesus lived with not just life’s joy and hope but its chaos.

 When Jesus died on the cross, a resounding “no” to all the promise they had found in the man who personified  hope, throttled their hearts.  If none of the good Jesus had done made any difference, what difference would their efforts make.  There was nothing for them to do but hide, waiting for their own end. 

Then the women returned news from the tomb.

Jesus’ life and death reveals God’s total union with us.  Jesus’ resurrection reveals that everything we do for life, no matter how small and imperfect, is treasured by our Creator and built into the Future he promises and for which he labors.

The message of Easter isn’t heard most powerfully around a lily-covered altar.  It resonates most effectively in hearts wondering whether to go on with work that seems unappreciated and resisted at every turn.  It rings out where love for a friend or a child is rebuffed.  It echoes in lives where our own ignorance and imperfection taint our best efforts to create something good.

The gospel of Easter is that no matter the suffering and doubts haunting us, no effort expended, no care shown for the Future of life is lost.  God preserves it and molds it into our destiny.