Serve, Serve, Serve!

Jn 6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. [1]

Jesus, You, Yourself, distributed to those who were reclining!!!  You, Yourself, waited hand and foot on these people, whom You didn’t “know,” who had come for what they could get from You, who were not Your disciples, who later would follow you not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. [Jn 6:26] But You still cared for their needs.

While the other three Gospels say that You gave the bread and fish to Your disciples to distribute [Mt 14:19; Mk 6:41, 8:6; Lk 9: 16], John, who was always with You and witnessed even the most intimate moments of Your public ministry including the raising of Jairus’ daughter [Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51], the transfiguration [Mt 16:1; Mk 9:2; Lk 9:28] and the agony in the garden [Mt 26:37; Mk 14:33], John writes that You, Yourself served the people.

One instance and we might be inclined to think this was just a single incident, not repeated, without much consequence. But, then You reinforce this message at the Last Supper: “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. [Jn 13:12-14] In both instances, it is you, John, who point out that You, Jesus, are the one serving, doing the menial tasks, waiting on others.

If You, the only begotten Son of God became Man, wait in others, how much more should we do the same. In fact, You point this out at the Last Supper: I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. [Jn 13:15]

Get with it, kid!!! Time to get out there and serve, serve, serve!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Advertisements

Sit Down…..

10 Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”[1]

“Sit down.” How many times in my life have I been told to sit down. The experiences range from polite or friendly invitations to reprimands from teachers or officials. The words can either place me in a relaxed mode or portend discipline or worse.

How many times have I been invited by God to “sit down” and watch, “sit down” and listen, “sit down” and learn?   Being and A-type personality, I ignore You, and rush around like Martha, anxious and worried about many things, while You are trying to tell me: There is need of only one thing, sitting beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. [Lk 10: 39, 41-42]

Instead, I am probably throwing up objections to why I am sooo busy,…playing the martyr host, making everybody else happy while forcing myself to run myself ragged and all the time, at least thinking, if not voicing the chastisement: Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me. [Lk 10:40]…ah, reminisces of the pity pot… lording it over others as goody-two-shoes playing the “humble” servant and making d-mn sure everybody knows it! Hubris comes in all shapes and sizes…one for every occasion.

When God tells me to “sit down,” “take a load off your feet,” Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while, [Mk 6:31], it is probably wise to do so. Indeed, He may also be saying, “Sit down and learn something!”

Maybe that is what is behind the third commandment: Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work,…For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. [Ex 20:8-11]

God must really, really like the Sabbath, the rest, the holiness. He certainly has a lot to say about it: “…it represents the longest of the Decalogue’s precepts.”[2]

Why the big deal about resting? What is the relationship between resting and keeping it holy? Keep my sabbaths, for that is to be the sign between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the LORD, who make you holy. [Ex 31:13] I guess You want to make me holy as You are holy [1 Pet 1:16; Lev 11:44, 19:2]…and this is where you start.

Maybe You are saying, rest and don’t work: “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear…. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” [Mt 6: 25, 32-33]

Scripture gives two reasons for the Sabbath:

  • God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. [Gen 2:3]
  • Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the sabbath day. [Deut 5:15]

Both have to do with God’s work and God’s resting and You wanting us to reflect on the fact that it is You who create, You who care for us, You who rescue us when we are slaves.

Maybe the way we are made holy is to sit at your feet and listen and learn. Maybe the Sabbath is to teach me to depend, not on my frenetic efforts, but to pay attention to what is really going on. I can labor for six days and do all my work…but, in the end, it is You, God, who are in charge. It is You, God, who provide all I need. It is You, God, who wants me to have a “time out” to sit by myself, to sit with You, to sit with our family, our friends, our congregation, and listen.

And, like the 5000 men plus women and children who are being told by the disciples to “sit down,” we too are sitting in the presence of the God/Man. We too are about to witness a miracle. We too are about to be fed…not just loaves and fish, but the bread from heaven.

Shhhh! I come in a still small voice. [1 Kgs 19:12] Be still and know that I am God. [Ps 40:10]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] NABRE Note on Ex 20:8.

“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” [Mt 15:26][1]

For me, this is one of the most difficult passages in the Gospels.  How can Jesus say this to this woman in pain?  Below is my feeble attempt to reconcile His love with His words.

In a sense, this reminds me of the two times Jesus calls his mother “Woman” and the times she comes to visit or rescue him and he rebuffs her. There is that same laser focus on The Hour, hearing the word and keeping it, caring for each other. You let the dead bury the dead, you keep plowing straight ahead and do not look behind. Here also, it is the focus on the Kingdom to be preached to the house of Israel.

Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. [Mt 8:10] The Centurion’s faith, though manifested in a slightly different way, parallels and prefigures this woman’s faith. Both are pagan Gentiles; both have heard of Jesus; both are driven by a great need to have their daughter or son/servant healed; both have absolute faith, absolute belief that Jesus can heal their loved one; both approach Jesus with this request; while in the Lk and Mt versions, he cites the parallels between the temporal chain of command and the spiritual, in John, he is initially rebuffed by Jesus who states: Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe, [Jn 4:48] just as the woman is rebuffed; both are persistent in their plea; both show great faith; both the daughter and son are cured.

This still begs the question: Did Jesus let slip a racial slur? And, if so, how could He, since He was without sin? Was it said in innocence, it just came out as part of the unconscious lingua franca, the patois, the jargon of the dialect. I was raised to not only be racially tolerant but to promote racial equality back in the stone age before the equal rights act, the million man march, “I have a dream,” and the riots and the civil rights movement. I was arrested for working with the NAACP in John Birch country in Aurora, Ill, trying to quell potential civil unrest in the “ghetto” following MLK’s assassination.

Yet, much later in life, when I was working for an Episcopalian Outreach Center under a wonderfully patient and holy African-American priest, I inadvertently used a phrase in our conversation to which I had never paid attention, never averted to before as being racially biased, but as soon as it came out of my mouth, I was horrified at what I had done. While I don’t remember what I did immediately thereafter, I should have apologized profusely; in any event, I also don’t recall whether He graciously forgave me or, since I do not recall him calling attention to my egregiously hurtful faux pas, accepted the verbal blow, chalked it up to cultural and social sinfulness and chose to overlook the incident rather than make an issue of it, an act of kindness and forgiveness for which I am eternally grateful. Indeed, we remain friends to this day. But it caught me up short that the residue of prejudice tainted me, whether I was aware of it, fostered it, meant it or not. It is part of the concupiscence, weakening of human awareness, the socially sin-filled pall that blankets society to which we are all subject and guilty and that we all inherit from Adam.

It can be objected that Jesus was not subject to such concupiscence, such weakening. I concur. But was he showing us that he who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin [Heb 4:15] realized that prejudice was a part of the human condition, that one could without malice inadvertently [though he did not do so] express prejudice without sin as long as the intent to hurt was not present and that, upon realization of one’s harmful error, one re-asserts the victim’s brotherhood and rectifies the situation. 

From the perspective of the woman, we learn (a) great humility in addition to great faith, accepting at face value the rebuff and turning it back into a positive argument for Jesus’ acquiescence, and (b) a gentle lesson in non-violent protest. It reminds me of a story about Mother Teresa who went into a shop in Calcutta and asked the shop-keeper for food for her starving children. He spit in her face. “Thank you for your gift to me. Now could you spare some food for my children.” Jesus, Himself, when He was in a similar situation during his trial before the Sanhedrin, replied to the guard in this manner: If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me? [Jn 18:23] In the end, we must remember that after suffering calumny, injustice, torture, scourging, ridicule and derision, mockery and betrayal, and being condemned by his own people, Jesus found the forgiving strength to pray: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” [Lk 23:34] 

Throughout his ministry, Jesus never does anything that isn’t in obedience to his Father’s will; He always knows exactly what He is doing and saying. When He says things to test people, He does it because he himself knew what he was going to do. [John 6:6] Thus, we cannot chalk this remark to the woman up to a momentary lapse of civility; Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He was testing the faith of the woman in a way she would understand and to which she could respond, while He was, simultaneously, asserting the primacy of the House of Israel as the initial focus of his ministry. His ultimate acquiescence to her plea is not only a precedent to his followers to affirm their later ministry to the Gentiles but also a proof that faith was to be found in all people, even deeper faith than those of the Chosen.

Perhaps, then, it was these lessons that He wished to teach through this rather harsh encounter: (a) that if we are the recipient, the butt of a racial or other slur, we remember with Paul that love is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [1 Cor: 13: 5-7]; (b) that the best way to non-violently protest such disparaging remarks, even ridicule or slander, is to be assertive, not aggressive, it to humbly reply with the truth; (c) that not all racial slurs bear malice; and finally (d) that when we do recognize that we have hurt the other, we must immediately apologize, listen closely with the heart and alleviate the pain, thus reasserting the tarnished equality of the other and engaging with the other again as a brother or sister.

I am not you, Jesus. I am not in control of my concupiscence. I do not always do the Father’s will. Guide me, Holy Spirit, to watch my tongue, to be aware of my frailty, to be cognizant of my immersion in the Social Sin of society, to be constantly on guard of my prejudices, my temper, my ill-will. Turn my faults and failings to good, helping me learn from my sinfulness and, with Your help, Your grace, Your guidance, not fall, at least not so often. Thank You. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Time out for the Assumption

You were/are perfection. As you point out, through no effort, no wisdom, no “doing” on your part, you were born perfect, without sin, the new Eve before the fall, the baptized without baptism, the mitzvahed without mitzvah, the one chosen, the chosen one, the created one who would help create the God-Man.

Throughout your life, you prayed, you talked to the Lord, you asked His will, you asked for his help, you offered yourself in service to your God.

“Be it done unto me”…the phrase raises hackles on your American family, today’s listeners…we don’t like anything done unto us. We are the “controllers,” at least we think, we work, we manipulate, we envision, we dedicate ourselves to the idol of perfect control of us, of our environment, of our world, our universe. But there is a hierarchy of “us-es,” some us do not control, do not manipulate, not because we do not buy into the illusion that this is the ultimate nirvana, but because we are the bottom of the ladder. In fact we may have fallen off the ladder and lie in the ditch, bruised and battered euphemistically “by life,” realistically by the rest of the “us-es,” who have stolen their birthright, stolen their dignity, stolen their bread, their water, their land, their homes, in then end, their very selves.

“Be it done unto me” and you joined the untouchables, the outcasts, the social pariahs, the lepers and tax collectors of our society, an unwed mother, forgotten, forbidden, forlorn, shunned, slandered, stultified.

And yet you had the courage, the gumption, the backbone, the faith to face your rumormongers, back-biters, whisperers and cheerfully go off to help your senior-citizen cousins birth their long awaited and yearned-for baby, just on the word of an angel.

How did you know if what he told you was true? Of course, he told you that as proof of what he had said before, to prove “nothing is impossible with God.” So, while you don’t know the pregnancy by sight, by touch, by witness, by the tangible, you know it in your heart, your soul, your very being…and that is faith.

It is the same faith that brought you through the birth, the flight, the prophecy, the finding,…it got you through “Woman” at Cana and “Woman” on Calvary…it got you through the fear of insanity and the sorrow of the pieta…it got you through the reuniting and the leaving…and it brought you to today.

Were you asleep and then in heaven, was it a quiet, hushed assuming, or did Elijah send his flaming chariot stealthily through the night sky to whisk you up to meet your Son? Whichever it was, your response was the same: Be it done unto me, according to Your word.

Thank you, Mary, for giving us the model of perfect obedience, of perfect faith, of perfect hope. You could not have endured what you endured without these bearing you up on their divine wings. You would have crumbled, broken down, been unable to cope…and yet, throughout His life, which you lived every second, every moment as he did, not just as any mother does of her child, but more, much, much more, for you knew you had a stake in the outcome of this divine experiment, this “outside society” “experience” of redemption, salvation, forgiveness. You held, you lived that stake for all of us, you bet your life that He would win in the end…and when you thought you lost, you won not just the jackpot, but eternal life, raised life, changed life, your life now. Amen. Alleluia!!!

Testing – 1 – 2 – 3

Jn 6:5-6 He said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. [1]

Why Philip? Jesus seems to have a soft spot in His heart for Philip.  Phil is a regular in John’s Gospel.  So why test Philip…why ask the question if He knew what He was going to do?

According to His question, we need to get food…the “real” question seemed to be “where?” All this with the crowd of 5000 hurrying up the mountain. Where is Hebrew National Catering when you need them?

Jesus, do You test me in the same way? Do You pose questions in my life which are so overwhelming, so mind-boggling, so infinite in their complexity and implications that I cannot possibly answer them? I think you do!!!..in fact, I know You do! What is life? Why am I here? Why Death? Why did Robin Williams commit suicide and Lauren Bacall die? Why don’t you answer me, God? Why all the killings, the violence, the insanity? Why the natural disasters if You are a good God? Why? Why? Why? These are the in-your-face questions that hit me ever time I power-up my computer, get a text or turn on the TV.  And what is terribly, horribly, agonizingly missing is any ability to understand the reason behind these realities…to understand what we, as a species, have, for the most part, given up understanding and euphemistically call these “mysteries of life.”

“Why do You do this to me?” I am tempted to ask. “What have I ever done to You to deserve this….this emotional anguish…this mental impotence?”

There are no words to answer these questions. Of this You were aware from all eternity. Of this You foretold time and again. Your only answer is YOU!  Right here, right now, in the flesh.

The answer is not a theological dogma, not a philosophical platitude, not a beautiful artistic artifice. The answer is a rough hewn, wooden  upright pillar and a cross-piece laying notched on the top…and You, nailed hands and feet to it… bloody, scourged, crowned, trembling, dehydrated, gasping of breath as your lungs fill with fluid, dying…and the question WHY…therein is the ultimate WHY, screamed to the heavens, splintering the cedars of Lebanon, roaring with fiery flame, shaking the desert of Kadesh. [Ps 29: 5,7,8] and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.[Lk 23:44]

You point to Yourself there and say: That’s why…not screaming, not raving, but praying: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”[Lk 23:34] Be still and know that I am God. [Ps 46:10]

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. [Jn 3:16-17]

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, forgive me, for I know not what I have done. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Jesus raised his eyes and saw a large crowd

Jn 6:5 When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”[1]

I am always puzzled why John and the Holy Spirit thought it important to mentioned that Jesus raised his eyes. John’s not that sloppy, not that offhanded, not that nonchalant about his phrasing. He is very meticulous about details, e.g. His consciousness of time and geographical location are very precise. And we know the Spirit does nothing that is not foreseen, that is not Providential, that is not fraught with the purpose of bringing us to know Jesus, to faith…

So why the phrase? Perhaps it is because it is the first bookend of a pair, a literary technique with which John is replete. The second instance occurs near the end of His priestly prayer, shortly before his arrest. When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. [Jn 17: 1-3]. Whether or not it is within a chaism is perhaps something to be explored. But, on the face of it, John and the Spirit achieve the same purpose, each use of the phrase to enhance and reveal hidden depths in the other; the crowd prefigure all people, so that He may give eternal life to all. Your hour, for this crowd in this place at this time, has indeed come. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes will indeed give You glory, such that they will want to crown You king.

But perhaps You, John and the Spirit are also conspiring [a communal in-spiring] to get me to lift up my eyes and see the crowd, to lift up my eyes to heaven and acknowledge God. Driving while intexticated caused 21% or 1.3 million crashes in 2011. Maybe, just maybe, my android is not where the it’s at. It certainly takes us “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”…but is that a good place to be? Will my next app enable me to see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink:…see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you:…see you ill or in prison, and visit you? [Mt 25:37-39]

Will my children, my family, my friends, strangers, feel inhibited about “interrupting me”…He’s busy…as I thumb and finger my way through another app. Will Jesus become indignant and said to [me], “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. [Mk 10:14]

Will I be the priest or Levite who passed by on the opposite side [Lk 10:31-32], or will I be the humble Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight? [Lk 10:33] I can’t be moved with compassion without raising my eyes and seeing the large crowd was coming to me in my daily life, in walking down the street, in the supermarket and parking lot, in the cashier’s line and at Starbucks, in the shopping mall and McDonalds, at the beach, the bleachers, the stadium, the concert hall, the board room, the town meeting, the library, even in Church! When I, in my righteous indignation, ask You: And who is my neighbor? You’ve got a lot of answers…Lord, help me to lift up my eyes to see with You the maddening, the wonderful, the confusing, the comforting, the unholy and the holy crowd of Your creation, Your people, Your family, …my family. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

What are you trying to tell me???

Jn 6:4 The Jewish feast of Passover was near. .[1]

What is John…what are You, Holy Spirit, trying to tell us in this seemingly offhanded remark? The time of the year? The reason for the large crowds? The first hint of the upcoming miracle of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus subsequent discourse of the Bread of Life? The oddity of a crowd coming to Jesus when they should be processing up to Jerusalem? Or something entirely different, entirely other…a reminder of Mt Sinai when God spoke to Moses and began to feed the people manna? Is this the melodic line that will return again and again until it reaches its crescendo on Calvary?

There was a conversation the other day about the distracted way men in general and husbands in particular listen to conversations and specifically what their wife says; many men seem to pay only partial attention to what is being said. From the wife’s point of view, we are being inattentive and discourteous, from the husband’s point of view, we are filtering out the extraneous information and focusing. It is fortunate that we love one another and accommodate ourselves to the other, for love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [1 Cor 13:4-7] Otherwise, we couldn’t survive.

In this age of texting, iPods, emails, and twitter, it is more and more difficult to get the attention to each other. Billions are spent on getting our attention to this product, that person, this thought. Have you noticed that much of it asks you questions about yourself, gets you to consider how you look, what insurance you have, whether you eat right, does the car you drive reflect well on you…you, you, you….me, me, me…I am constantly be reminded that others are judging me, watching me, urging me to follow them…and trying desperately to get me to think about me…what’s wrong with this picture???

Jesus presents a different perspective: “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God…. No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” [Lk 9:60-62] Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” [Mt 6: 25, 27, 32-33]

To get back to the off-handed remark. Holy Spirit, help me pay attention, full and undivided attention to what others say to me today. Help me to truly listen, not just with my ears but with my heart. To the off-hand remark, to the subtle aside, to the still small voice [1 Kgs:12] that cries out to be heard.

Charles Finn said it much better than I, way back in 1966…in a poem that struck me to the core: “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying.” I commend to you his poem below and his website, poetrybycharlescfinn.com, where you can read a collection of stories about the poem’s impact around the World.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.