Every time I read chapter five of Matthew’s gospel, I feel more and more challenged! The Beatitudes are enough but then there are so many other things added on…. One could spend a lifetime simply in that one chapter! Just take one little section like: I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. Yikes! I try but have been very short of success in that endeavor, especially as that statement is followed up with questions like: If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Difficult questions…challenging statements…. Love can certainly get complicated if your desire is to listen to the way of the disciples…. Are you still willing to go along?
Today’s gospel (MT 8: 23-27) presents us with the story of Jesus in a boat with his disciples, sleeping while everyone else is awake and intensely frightened that they are on the verge of drowning. In earlier translations I don’t ever recall the word “terrified” in the response of Jesus when they woke him, saying (probably shouting), “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” As he often did, he answered their fear with a question. In my recollection, it was always: “Why are you so frightened (or afraid), O you of little faith?”
Musing on the shift of just one word, I wonder about the translation I am reading. Are the translators pointing to the more tumultuous times we live in and trying to emphasize that danger? Is there new scholarship that finds a closer meaning for the word fear? Should we – with 2,000 years of living in the Christian Era – have more faith in Christ to save us or are the hazards of life reason enough to keep us terrified? What if we did drown – or die in a plane crash? Are we trusting enough in God to be there in that moment?
This may all sound like a ridiculous set of questions but the phrase that Jesus uses to address to his friends in the question is really key to the entire lesson. “O you of little faith…”
How we are able to face our fears is, for me, the question of the day. Believing that God is with us in all ways each day is a necessary component, it would seem, of each response. No easy task…rather the work of a lifetime for some. Practice and prayer seem to me to be the only way to strengthen our capacity to maintain peace of heart whatever comes our way.
Today is the day when that formidable gospel appears. It’s a great miracle story – but has a twist that makes me groan and look inside myself every time. If I hear the words “feeding of the 5,000” I know I can’t just sail along to the end where everyone gets relaxed on the green grass and fed from 5 loaves and 2 fish until they’re more than satisfied. Jesus is interesting in this text from MK 6:34-44.
When the disciples come and suggest to Jesus that he send the people away after a rather long session of teaching so they can find food somewhere (and perhaps so they themselves can do the same), Jesus comes back with a challenge. “Give them some food yourselves,” he says. Imagine their surprise! How could he even think that was possible? They must have felt silly walking around asking everyone to contribute their meager meal to the huge crowd but they did what he asked. The results were not at all helpful: 5 loaves and 2 fish – for 5,000 people (men only!) but again they did what he asked, having them sit down in groups while Jesus said the blessing over the food and then distributing what became more than enough for everyone.
There’s so much to wonder about. Where did they get the baskets for distribution and collection of leftovers? How did that whole process of distribution start. “He broke the loaves…and divided the fish…” It reminds me of a family vacation where my father took my friend fishing and she came back with one very small fish that she joyfully cooked and distributed among the half-dozen people in attendance – a tiny but wonderful appetizer to the meal. A gift of love.
It doesn’t really matter, I guess, what is given as long as we do willingly what we believe we are being called to do. It is our “Yes” – spoken or not – that counts. God takes care of the rest.
Today my Church honors St. Matthias, a man who was mentioned only once in the Scriptures. The event was a momentous one for him and a lesson for people who live in consistent attention to their spiritual lives. The first lectionary reading today tells the story of how Matthias became the replacement for Judas in the band of apostles. (ACTS 1:15-26) He was one of the two nominees for the position because he had accompanied the apostles the whole time Jesus was with them “from the baptism of John to the day on which he was taken up,” having also been a witness to the Resurrection. He was clearly one of those folks who knew the value of staying close to the example and teachings of Jesus – without needing to be known as “one of the Twelve.”
I spent this past weekend with a cohort of people who gave witness to the kind of faithfulness Matthias showed toward life with Jesus. It was a privilege to be in the company of such welcoming individuals who have grown together as a community – some for many years and some who have only recently experienced the spirit that holds their parish together, manifested in willingness to accompany one another in loving service. I would venture to say as well that none of them are looking for recognition as “leader of the pack.” Everyone just pitches in to do what they are able for the good of the whole, something Matthias would have understood when he was chosen by lot (a process that reinforces the value of all “contenders”).
I came home with a warm heart and renewed hope for the future because of that energetic and joyful band of disciples living and loving in the state of Maryland, USA. Thanks be to God!
This morning’s gospel (JN 14:1-6) has Jesus giving a sort of pep talk to his disciples. What we know that they didn’t is that Jesus will be leaving soon and he’s trying to prepare them to continue on without his physical presence. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. “In my father’s house there are many rooms.” I often wonder if they had, by that time, caught on to his manner of speaking in metaphor. Even now we have trouble understanding and accepting that diversity does not necessarily mean division in religious belief and practice.
Later in this very deep and meaningful text Jesus gets even more difficult to comprehend to people who are expecting him to stay around now that he has come back from the dead. Telling them he’s going to prepare a place for them was confusing enough but when he said, “Where I’m going you know the way,” they lost him totally. Thomas, the “show me” apostle, speaks up. “We don’t even know where you’re going! How can we know the way?”
The answer to that question still confounds us. We know it by heart but still fail to recognize how simple yet profound “the way” is. Maybe we find it too simple to be correct. It is a simple answer, but not easy nevertheless. “I AM the way,” Jesus says, “and the truth and the life.” All we are called to do is to “put on the mind of Christ,” walking in the absolute integrity that is consonant with the example and words of Christ, living the life that becomes transformed because of the unconditional love that fuels it. We think too much, perhaps, about achievement – doing good works that will get us to heaven. If we focus on the attitude that underlies our good works – the unconditional acceptance and welcome of others into our hearts, (the love that Jesus modeled) – our actions will follow in kind.
As I said, simple but not easy. One step at a time…
Although we are moving through the season of harvest here in our country now, the gospel for today reminds us of the necessity of sowing seeds on good ground. (LK 8:4-15) The disciples of Jesus didn’t understand the parable in which his message was “hidden” so he did something that rarely appears in these gospel texts. He explained the meaning! As he spoke of the different kinds of “soil” in which the word of God might be sown, they heard the pitfalls of life in how the yield of what was sown might be more or less. In the end, we find that as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance. (vs.15)
So today it may be time to look at what we have seen growing around and within us because of our generosity of heart and perseverance, being grateful for what has blossomed as well as for what needed to be weeded out. For all of it, may we give thanks to the Lord of the harvest.
christians, disciples, Divine Law, Easter, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, grace, Hebrews, Holy Spirit, mosaic law, Moses, Pentecost, respect, Shavuot, spirit, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, understanding
Today Christians celebrate the great feast of Pentecost (from the Greek for “the fiftieth day”), the commemoration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that enlivened the disciples of Jesus to spread the message of God’s love for the world. Lest we think that Christians are the only ones who celebrate faith at this time – 50 days after Easter, we need to look further back to recognize that there is a linkage to the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, which falls fifty days after Passover. In speaking of this connection, Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes from the Christian viewpoint: This [feast] was kept as a commemoration of Moses receiving the Divine Law on Sinai. The Christians understood that as the law came down from heaven to Moses for the people of God, so the Holy Spirit came down on the church. The age of the Mosaic Law was therefore fulfilled and completed by the new age of Spirit and Grace. (CRUX, June 3, 2017)
This morning, then, as I give thanks for the workings of the Spirit in my own life and throughout the centuries of the life of Christianity – amazed often that we have endured – I remember also the fidelity of the Hebrew people who carried their tradition from the days of Mosaic Law to the hearts of faithful Jews today. My prayer is that the Spirit will be instrumental in drawing us and all the peoples of the world into deeper respect and understanding that in essence our humanity makes us all one. May it be so!
Today’s gospel recounts the wonderful beginning of John’s 21st chapter that takes us from an early morning fishing experience to breakfast on the beach with Jesus. In this post-resurrection story, seven of the disciples were together at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee, probably still wondering what to do now that the bottom had fallen out of their world. Peter, leaning into all he had known before meeting Jesus, said to the others, “I’m going fishing.” They all jumped at the chance to do something familiar so off they went. Unfortunately, they caught nothing all night. It was at dawn, John records, that Jesus yelled to them to try again with the nets in a new way. In his version, they didn’t quibble with the seemingly ridiculous dictum that just moving the net to the other side of the boat would be a good solution; they just did it. And the rest, as they say, is history: 153 fish in a net that should have torn under the weight of so many but didn’t. Even stopping right there in the story gives a great deal of food for thought.
Something different for our reflection today can be found perhaps in Logion 8 from the Gospel of Thomas, probably the most commonly known text from the Nag Hammadi codex – the treasure trove of manuscripts found in the Egyptian desert in 1945, a Coptic version of what may be some of the earliest teachings of Jesus. This gospel is comprised of 114 sayings (logia) of Jesus and, while at least two-thirds of them overlap the four canonical gospels, some give a different twist to the message Jesus was hoping to impart. Such a message is contained in Logion 8.
Yeshua says, “A true human being can be compared to a wise fisherman who casts his net into the sea and draws it up from below full of small fish. Hidden among them is one large, exceptional fish that he seizes immediately, throwing back all the rest without a second thought. Whoever has ears, let them understand this.
Reflection on both versions of what has been written above might deepen our comprehension of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples regarding the mission that was now theirs. What new thoughts come to you from these words or your Spirit-filled silence in their presence?
The word “trust” keeps floating to the surface of my thoughts and experience these days. I think of how often we exercise trust in another person or group or organization without naming it or even recognizing that we are allowing it to function. We get in a car and trust that other drivers will obey the rules of the road and that we will be able to do the same. We get on a plane and trust that it will not fall out of the sky even though it is extremely heavy and is resting on nothing solid (like a road). We travel to a new city and trust others to take us to places that we could not find ourselves.
Even more elementally, we trust that people are telling us the truth if we sense that they are honest people and, when we find that we have been mistaken in our assessment, we are usually able to trust again, not giving up on the world because of one betrayal.
As we move toward the most significant days of this week where Jesus most likely trusted his disciples to be with him in all that awaited him, let us put ourselves in his position and then in the position of his companions and examine the trust quotient of each situation. Emotions may run high if we seriously ponder. Trust will be challenged. Willingness to be honest could come at a cost. Will you trust yourself?
The gospel for today is Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. I understand the desire of Jesus to take time away in a quiet place to be alone as it seems he often did. I might have chosen the Sea of Galilee as my getaway, but the hills might have been a better bet for Jesus as a total escape from people. One could wonder why on this particular day he chose to take Peter, James and John with him. Did he know what was going to happen? Was he afraid he would need help if the depth of experience got too intense? Or did he just have a desire to have some quiet time with less than a dozen companions?
The Transfiguration story appears in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the accounts differ only slightly. As usual, Peter jumps right in with a suggestion that they stay (forever?) on the mountain. He’s willing to erect shelters for Jesus and his guests, Moses and Elijah, so the vision must have presented those ancestors in a decidedly dense way. (How did Peter recognize who they were?) The disciples didn’t seem too shaken by all this – even the fact that Jesus was appearing in an altered state, until they heard the voice of God telling them to pay attention to Jesus, God’s Beloved. It was then that they fell prostrate in fear so that Jesus had to come and touch them (so they could tell they were still alive?) and tell them not to be afraid. At that point the event was ended and everything returned to “normal.”
I often think about the stricture Jesus put on the disciples on the way down the mountain, telling them not to share what they had seen with anyone. I wonder how difficult that knowing was for them and if/how it changed their lives. Did they feel more protective of Jesus? Did this experience make them wonder more deeply about his experiences when he left them to pray? Did their dreams of greatness as the ones closest to the Messiah increase? Or were they confused and bothered by the statement at the end of this text that says: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
This is all conjecture, of course, and we know that the gospels were not written down until years after the events happened so the writers had a post-Resurrection understanding by that time. My point in all this is – as usual – to look for application to our own lives. Sometimes it isn’t easy to keep the confidences with which people trust us, especially if the news is something sensational or a “tidbit” that others would love to know. We live in a world where gossip reigns and it is difficult to tell truth from fiction sometimes. If I had been one of the favored apostles on that mountain, would I have been able to hold my tongue and thereby protect Jesus – even if I wanted to share what I saw as an event that showed how amazing Jesus was? How difficult would it have been for me to come down that mountain and not go to any of the other nine to share the story? How would my relationship with someone change if I learned of some ability (or disability) that made them more (or less) acceptable to others? So many questions…so much to ask myself, looking for the deepest motivations and clearest truths of my heart, hoping for the touch of Jesus that says, “Do not be afraid.”