” ‘But you — who do you say that I am?’ He asked them.” —Luke 9:20


 

I like to find a quiet place to pray, as there are fewer distractions. I can compose myself better and it seems there is a better chance that I can “hear” Jesus. That’s where the Disciples find themselves today, alone, in a quiet place with the Lord.

Jesus asks them a question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Many in Israel recognized Jesus as a mighty man of God, even comparing Him with the greatest of the prophets. I sometimes think, Lord, that if I had been around in your day I would have recognized who you were. I tell myself how easy it would have been to believe if I had seen you at work. How wrong I am! Even-the people who were with you, who witnessed your miracles, who heard your voice and saw your face, could not agree about who you really were. Not even Peter understood fully your mission from the Father, the real reason for your coming.

Before Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”, He asked: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”. Jesus did this to show we must separate ourselves from the crowd if we are to truly acknowledge Him as the Messiah, Lord, and God. Crowd-pleasers aren’t God-pleasers. Jesus is not popular; He is a “sign of contradiction”. The crowd took part in crucifying Jesus, and it hasn’t changed. Therefore, we are enemies of Christ and His cross if we are a crowd-pleaser, set on the things of the world, those things the crowd has always run after. Believing in Jesus means not being part of the crowd, which means suffering as Jesus suffered. Don’t get crowded out of life in Christ. It’s better to be persecuted by the crowd than to be persecuting in the crowd. Follow Jesus; leave the crowd behind.

” ‘But you — who do you say that I am?’ He asked them.” —Luke 9:20

In prayer and in our lives how do we reply? If we answer as Peter did: “The Christ of God”, we’d better also think of the cost: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly”. Jesus doesn’t want us to just tell others who He is, but rather to know Him in our hearts and to see Him in our daily lives and to live as He lived no matter what the cost. “There is an appointed time for everything.”  Now is the time for the Lord

Peter, always quick to respond whenever Jesus spoke, professed that Jesus was truly the “Christ of God”. No mortal being could have revealed this to Peter, but only God. Through the “eyes of faith” Peter discovered who Jesus truly was. Peter recognized that Jesus was much more than a great teacher, prophet, and miracle worker. Peter was the first apostle to publicly declare that Jesus was the Anointed One consecrated by the Father and sent into the world to redeem a fallen human race enslaved to sin and cut off from eternal life with God .

If suddenly you were taken away to a totally non-Christian environment, with no churches, no family, no friends, no expectations, would you still worship God daily? Would you keep holy the Lord’s day?  Would you obey the commandments? Would your relationship with Jesus remain?

What if it cost you your job to be a Christian? What if you didn’t get anything out of Church or even Christianity? Would you still be faithful because of your relationship with Him?

Eventually, only one question remains. Family, Church, upbringing, culture, and doctrine fade into the background. We can’t live forever on what others say about Jesus. We must have our own personal relationship with Him. On the last day, judgment day, Jesus will not ask us who do people say that He is. He will ask the only question that counts: “Who do you say that I am?”.

 

Lord, may I never be satisfied with simple answers to ‘Who do you say I am?’ As soon as I think I have the answer, I can be sure that I’m wrong, because no words, however many or however learned, can sum you up. You call me to keep searching for the real you, to keep listening for what you say of yourself.

Lord, your message is for everyone: show me how I can offer to others what I been given.


The directions Jesus gives to the Twelve in today’s gospel are very straightforward. Jesus gives His apostles some interesting instructions for their journey. “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking staff nor traveling bag; no bread, no money. The disciples would be provided for by their heavenly Father, Who knew all they needed before they could ask and Who provided everything for them. Since God was their Provider, the disciples were free to concentrate on proclaiming the good news of the Gospel.  Rather than take a change of clothes with them, food and money, Jesus tells them to leave all that behind and simply go forth unencumbered by the usual baggage. They are to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God and offer healing. That commission is extended to the whole church: the world needs to hear about the kingdom of God, needs the healing and reconciling love of God.

In obedience to His command, the disciples went out in faith to proclaim the good news and cure the sick. It’s kind of like walking a tightrope without a net; they simply go, depending on the charity of others to give them food and shelter, and provide for their needs. What does this do? It gives others the opportunity to help them in these simple but basic needs. And it gives the apostles the opportunity to receive the gift of hospitality. When God tells us to do something, it will always benefit us and perhaps others too. Let us never question God’s clear commands, but simply carry them out in obedience and faith. When we do, we — and others — can benefit as God intends.

Our central battle is one of faith. Will we or won’t we believe that God will provide for us? If we believe the Lord will personally provide for us, we won’t need to steal food and thereby provide for ourselves. Jesus asked His disciples: ” ‘When I sent you on mission without purse or traveling bag or sandals, were you in need of anything?’ ‘Not a thing,’ they replied”.

However, if we don’t believe Jesus and His promise that the Father provides our needs, we will steal or do whatever it takes to satisfy our needs. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, lost this battle of faith. Judas did steal to provide for his wants. In so doing, he profaned the name of his God and eventually betrayed Jesus at Gethsemane.

Does that pose a question for me who have been so blessed through the life of Jesus? Do I see the mission given the Twelve as something I have inherited with the faith? For most of us, life presents enough to cope with in day-to-day events to overshadow such thoughts. And yet the world challenges us: do you have something extra that makes life more worthwhile? Will you share it with us?

 

What kind of power and authority does God want you to exercise in your personal life and in your service of others? God’s word has power to change and transform our lives. Jesus gave His apostles both power and authority to speak and to act in His name – to cast out evil spirits, to heal, and to speak the word of God. He gave them the authority, the responsibility to “cure diseases… proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”  Jesus offered nothing beyond themselves; what He had already given them.  He offered them no healing herbs, no potions, no medical skills, no additional anything.  He sent them off with “… nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money,…no second tunic.”   When Jesus spoke of power and authority He did something unheard of. He wedded power and authority with love and humility. The world and the sinful flesh seek power for selfish gain. Jesus teaches us to use it for the good of our neighbor.

This is not about the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ of the sending. It is not about success or failure. It is about the journey itself. It is about inner movement, inner change, as well as physical relocation.  It is about the relationship between me and Jesus, me and others. It is about trusting who I am in the heart of God and that what I have been given is enough for the journey.The Good News is to hold fast to the journey, shaking the dust from my feet, moving deeper into relationship and responsibility.

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”


On the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time we hear Jesus tell His disciples about His passion, death and resurrection a second time. It is clear to him that they didn’t understand the first time. He knew that, along the way, they had been arguing about who was the greatest. He gathers the Apostles and says to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He knows very well that they had not been listening, so He tells them that any follower of His must be a servant to others. Placing a small child in the middle of the group, He declares that the trust and love they see in the eyes of this little one is a model for their future discipleship. Then Jesus does something a bit strange. After reminding them about the role of a true follower by being servant, Jesus embraces a child as a visual aid. This has to be somehow united with the theme of His death and how a virtuous follower is to live.

Mark is presenting Jesus as a servant Who is embracing His life, ending with His embracing of His cross and death. As easy as it is to welcome one little child into ones arms, a true follower of Jesus is to welcome the implications of that vocation. Jesus was available, welcoming and embracing of all the persons and events of His life including His welcoming of His death. The “child” becomes a convenient symbol of life and those who would be first of all must let go of the importance of being first and so be last in the “ego-line”. In this gospel, Jesus is making this message clearer. The demonstration of our beliefs should be through serving others. Jesus showed us through his actions that being humble enough to help others is important. His life was about serving others. He fed those who were hungry, cured the sick and sacrificed himself for our eternal life. Now it is our turn. We must speak out against persecution; ensure that no one goes hungry; bring comfort and dignity to those who are sick.

 

Leadership is not to be equated with control or domination of others. Rather, leadership is selfless service for the sake of others. A good leader is always a responsible steward of the opportunity that he or she has to make a lasting contribution toward the common good.

Jesus’ closest followers seemed to think that their privileged places at the side of the Master would translate into positions of prestige and importance once Jesus established an earthly kingdom. Jesus knows their hearts and wastes no time in setting them straight.  Jesus teaches that greatness lies not in receiving a position of authority and honor, but in serving other people. Jesus would teach this through His words and actions, especially in humbling Himself to suffer a horrible death, all at the service of our salvation. May we not only be thankful for the Lord accepting the role of a suffering servant, but may we imitate His self-giving through lives of faithful stewardship.

 

We often hear about the seven “capital” sins. They are the sins that flow from pride and passion. All other sins flow from them. One of them, envy, is often pictured as a green-eyed monster. In the first reading for today, the corrupt “power people” are plotting to get rid of a Holy One who is exposing their evil. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us.” Like scheming back-room politicians, they are saying, “He’s a pain! Get rid of him!” They plot to torture Him, and eventually they kill Him! Of course, the Just One wins out in the end since, in His wisdom, He is following the way that leads to truth and justice.

In the second reading, St. James warns the early Christians to avoid self-seeking and envy. This only leads to dissention, quarreling, and war. The true follower of Jesus will avoid that passion which comes from selfish goals, and seek that passion that comes from a pure heart, that flows from true wisdom. This kind of passion is “peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” According to St. James, this leads to good order and peace. As we think about that dramatic teaching of Jesus, we realize how far we are from being truly childlike. May we silence our ambitions, our dissentions, and the clamor of a fearful world this week, and listen to God’s Wisdom. In so doing, we will get rid of that green-eyed monster, envy, and grow in that wisdom that leads to humble service in the Lord’s kingdom.

Can we respond to the call with as instant and positive response that the apostle Matthew exhibited?


Today we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew, the apostle and evangelist, whose Gospel, placed first of the four in our versions of the New Testament, is a masterpiece of the gospel writer’s intent of showing the continuity of the life of Jesus with its roots in the Jewish Bible.  And what we read today remembers the call of Matthew as one of the twelve disciples that Jesus invited to walk with Him and to be part of the astounding message of hope, healing and wholeness that characterized Jesus’ words and actions.  I am always amazed at Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call.  There is absolutely NO hesitation on the part of the tax collector when he hears the call, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ’Follow Me,’ He told him, and Matthew got up and followed Him.”  The immediacy of the response is remarkable.  I am sure that the tax collector knew Jesus by reputation, but his reaction is wonderfully abrupt!

Matthew was a “tax collector” a code word for a public sinner.  The tax collector was hated both by his foreign employers and by the Jewish people.  They were hated by the Jews because they regularly cheated them in their tax collecting machinations and they represented the dreaded outside oppression of foreign domination. Because Matthew worked for the Romans, he cooperated in Rome’s oppression of the Jewish people. Therefore, when Matthew collected taxes, he also collected injustices and enemies. Yet Jesus called Matthew from his toll booth and with no hesitation he affirmed the call and followed Jesus.  What an excellent beginning. Matthew quit collecting taxes and followed Jesus. Then he collected the sayings and teachings of Jesus, the preaching of the early Church, and the accounts of Jesus’ miracles and healings. He put all this together to compose his Gospel.

Matthew’s call is a kind of healing. His “healing” is an interior event. Jesus’ invitation to him (the call) along with his immediate response shows forth the awesome power of the presence of Jesus to those who responded positively as disciples.  In this healing Matthew goes from public sinner to disciple/apostle with no apparent delay. The down-deep healing of Matthew reminds me of the magnificence of God’s love through Jesus.  Can I respond to the call with as instant and positive response that the apostle Matthew exhibited?   His journey from sinner to disciple can be a mirror of my own response to Jesus.  The grace of recognizing my own sinfulness and opening myself up to the rescuing presence of Jesus in my life truly is a miracle wrought by a merciful and gracious God.

You may be a collector yourself or any other officer. But what do you collect spiritually? Some people collect compulsions. They pick up one after another. Others collect fears. They “live in fear”. Some collect unforgiveness, resentment, and grudges. Others collect hurts. They have so many more hurts than healings. Notwithstanding our own “self-worth” which is so highly touted these days, everything that we have comes from God. Anything positive (holy or good) that we are capable of, or can ever do for whatever reason, is only possible by God’s plan for us and the action of the Holy Spirit. We may live in a “go it alone” society, but that shouldn’t keep us from realizing that to be all that we would ever want to be can only be done as a Catholic Christian united in the Body of Christ with Jesus Himself as our Head! Yes, we can be something we are not supposed to be, and may be very good at it too. But there is always the call from God through Jesus for us to do what we were made to do.

And so as Jesus continues to call and invite each of us: as Matthew found his roots in the Jewish Bible, we find our roots in Matthew’s response as well as the other disciples who said and continued to say “yes” to Jesus and to God. As Matthew did, let’s leave the spiritual garbage we’ve collected over the years and follow Jesus. Then we can start a new collection – a collection of healings, forgivenesses, freedoms, and commitments to the Lord.  We, too, should all listen for Jesus’ call! Look for Him, listen for Him, and then follow Him with all our heart, soul and strength. Only then can we realize our true self-worth!

As disciples, we have all embraced the core value of forgiveness one way or another.


When we read the Gospel today, we think of how Jesus is telling us to be forgiving people. I’m sure you have heard homily after homily about the value of forgiveness. As disciples, we have all embraced the core value of forgiveness one way or another. If you are like me, forgiveness can often be one of the most difficult values to live out. But we have all heard this message before. And we all continue to work on the virtue of forgiveness in our daily lives.

The story in today’s Gospel is familiar. Jesus is invited to a dinner party, and a woman provides a service that His host had failed to offer. The woman approaches Jesus without making eye contact. Her attention is on His feet and the reverent and tender care she brings to washing them with her tears, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with ointment. She has little but the ointment from the alabaster jar and kisses and tears from her own self to give in an act of sorrowful love.

The other guests at the party were scandalized because the woman was considered by them to be a “sinner”. Jesus should have known! Jesus responds first by pointing out His host’s lapse, and then by telling a little parable about two individuals forgiven debts, one small and one large, and asks His host which would be more loving. The host correctly answers that the one forgiven the most would likely be the most grateful and loving. Jesus then tells the assembled guests that the woman’s sins have been forgiven. She couldn’t have done it had she not already accepted God’s forgiveness. We learn that none of us can earn God’s favor. God forgives first and asks the forgiven one to accept that forgiveness. When one finally realizes that he or she has been forgiven and does accept that forgiveness, then loving action follows.  If we can’t bring ourselves to such loving action, maybe it’s because we haven’t really accepted God’s offer of forgiveness.

Do you believe that Jesus loves you so much that He died on the cross to free you from your sins? Do you believe that without Jesus’ death on the cross you would be doomed to hell forever because of your sins? Each one of us has been forgiven an enormous, un-payable debt. Therefore, we should:

  • cry tears of love, contrition, and joy
  • love Jesus so much that we throw ourselves at His feet
  • love Jesus so much that we wash, kiss, and perfume His feet ,
  • be impelled by love to share the good news of justification and forgiveness through Jesus,
  • forgive others for even the worst offenses – after all that the Lord has forgiven us, and
  • Love everyone, even our enemies, because Jesus first loved us.

If our love is small, then we do not realize how loved and forgiven we are. If our love is great, “we have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”. “Grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, and experience this love”. Then love and forgive accordingly.

Perhaps another message in today’s Gospel helps us in our interactions with regular people in daily life. Do we want to be the host or do we want to be the sinner? The host did not offer to wash the feet of Christ. The sinner washed his feet with her own tears.

I think this piece of scripture shows us that there isn’t a “regular” person. We aren’t all equals. To borrow a political term, we exist in a state of equity, not equality. We have all had different experiences, different relationships, and different outcomes. The best thing we can do for a person is celebrate their individuality – we are all people, but we have very different experiences. Treating other strangers as they are all the same person – someone you do not know – is not what we are supposed to do. A simple smile, a polite “how are you today?” or even a helping hand can help build your connection with strangers.  By giving each person the same cold shoulder stranger, we deny ourselves the opportunity to make another connection or relationship. We need to embody the spirit of the sinner in this passage: everyone is special. Let us not deny ourselves the opportunity to share our lives with others. Let us each smile at someone today.

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Jesus’ compassion gives life.


Jesus “said, ‘Young man, I bid you get up.’ The dead man sat up and began to speak.” –Luke 7:14-15

We are all probably familiar with the Gospel incident in which Jesus brought a man back to life. This happened because Jesus had compassion for the young man’s mother. The recounting of this simple, yet moving, story reminds us that God’s mercy will always be one of great compassion. The gospels occasionally tell us that Jesus responds from the depths of human compassion. On seeing the widow, Jesus responds not from a sense of practicality, but from human concern.

May be miracles on a grand scale are not part of the experience of many of us. And may be, when we lost a loved one, we would have liked to see the kind of miracle that we read about in the Gospel. Let us look at a different understanding of how God works, of what is the meaning of scripture and how our prayer fits into our relationship with God. If Jesus had raised you from the dead, wouldn’t that inspire you to love Him with all your heart and to serve Him with zeal and total abandon? However, Jesus has raised you from a worse death than physical death. He has raised you from the death of sin. If God is so compassionate toward us, who deserve such great punishment for our failure to love God through our neighbor, then imagine how forgiving we ought to be of others when we think they have offended us, mere mortals that we are.

Our lives before receiving new life in Christ were much more like death than life. God’s Word describes our original state thus: “You were dead because of your sins and offenses, as you gave allegiance to the present age and to the prince of the air, that spirit who is even now at work among the rebellious. All of us were once of their company”. “Even when you were dead in sin and your flesh was uncircumcised, God gave you new life in company with Christ. He pardoned all our sins”. “The wages of sin is death”. Those who do not repent are “among the living dead”. Even whole churches, cities, and nations can be dead. So it is not just a figure of speech that all of us were dead. It is a literal, spiritual statement.

Our God, embodied in the person of Jesus, is an incarnational God who embraces the pain and joy of our human experience.  Because of the Incarnation, Jesus responds compassionately to the childless widow’s grief. Jesus’ compassion gives life. By our Baptism into Jesus through faith, Jesus has raised us from death. We have reason to be grateful – eternally and zealously grateful. Therefore, “offer yourselves to God as men who have come back from the dead to life and your bodies to God as weapons for justice”. We have been raised! It is true! So, let us be forgiving of one another and pray for neighbor and enemy alike. As St. Francis of Assisi prayed, let us become instruments of peace to all whom we meet. Let us never return hatred for hatred, but rather bless those who curse us.