Author Archives: Mike Maude

About Mike Maude

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP is founder and president of Partners In Philanthropy, Inc. of Lawrence, Kansas and a founding partner of interNational advancement counsel (interNAC). Mike has over 30 years experience working in the nonprofit sector as campaign strategist, strategic planning consultant, and executive coach. He is sought by clients who need assistance in envisioning a robust future and in developing creative fundraising strategies that are critical to achieving ambitious organizational goals.

Keep salt in yourselves

January 22, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from Mark 42-50.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.”

If I were to take these words of Jesus literally, there would be much of me left! This is a very confusing passage for me. Drawing from Moloney in The Gospel of Mark helps, “Jesus’ words mean what they say. They are not about the maiming, but the unsurpassable blessing of life! His words ring true: ‘God is even more important than the most important parts of our body.”

Moloney points out, “This passage is a collection of originally independent sayings from pre-Markan tradition, gathered on the basis of two principles. The first of these principles is the problem of sin within the community. People who consider themselves ‘great’ may not concern themselves overly with ‘the little ones,’ yet such a person would be better eliminated from the community….From the ‘causing to sin’, the author moves to consider other parts of the body…which might lead to sin.”

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary states that the salt sayings have three different references. “Everyone will be salted with fire” is an image of “purification during the period of suffering before the final coming of God’s kingdom.” “If salt becomes insipid” refers to salt as seasoning and “probably refers to the disciples’ function as ‘salt of the earth.’” “Keep salt in yourselves” seems to allude “to hospitality and friendship among Jesus’ followers.” Assuming that Jesus’ words are fairly accurately recorded, it seems likely to me that he spoke in more detail so his listeners could understand his message more clearly.

Drawing from Moloney who quotes scholar Morna Hooker again makes it more clear to me, “Like fire, salt is an agent of purification. But unlike fire, salt is a source of life; it can be used to preserve food from putrefaction. However mixed the metaphor, the idea that men can be salted with fire sums up exactly the message of verses 43, 45 and 47: the purification process may destroy, but it can also preserve.” Moloney writes, “Having salt in themselves, believers are penetrated by belief in God and openness to God’s ways.” Being salted in that way assures that we will have peace with one another.

That reminds me of why I love St. John the Evangelist parish so much. Like Charlie Dominguez said before asking us to greet one another at Mass on Sunday, when he stands looking out upon us he sees the light of God shining from us. And he told us that he loves us. That’s the salt that Jesus is talking about and urges us to keep it in ourselves. That is the peace of Christ that we find when we accept and love and forgive one another. That’s not so easy. I am so quick to judge others, to see how they are different from me, to see myself as better than others. That’s what Jesus is warning against because it keeps me from being at peace with others. I can’t be at peace with myself if I am not also at peace with others. I have to keep salt in myself; I have to be a source of life and love. That’s only possible if I am penetrated by Jesus’ spirt and follow his ways. That’s what it always comes back to. Jesus has to give me the same message over and over in many different ways so that maybe it will sink it. Reading the gospels is like a steady drip and his message does slowly sink in deeper and deeper. At least I think it does. I want to be salt. I want to be flavorful, not insipid.



Whoever is not against us

January 20, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from Mark 9:38-41.

John said to him “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”

To me this means that we are not to be exclusive. None of us “owns” the faith, none of us have the whole truth. Jesus came to be with all of us, to minister to all of us, to love all of us, to ask all of us to follow him. He didn’t ask us to ascribe to a specific creed; he didn’t establish a church or even a religion. He came as the embodiment of God’s love for us, His forgiveness, and His desire for us to bend our selfish will to His own.

Jesus is teaching tolerance, acceptance, and inclusiveness. We have a tendency to exclude others who are not like us, who do not think like us, or worship like us. This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught his disciples. Unfortunately, we have ignored or repudiated his teaching in every generation and every culture. In so doing, we have committed unconscionable violence against one another. And somehow we have justified it — even justified it in his name! We still do.

There are no others. We are all children of God, created from His love. As such, we are to receive one another as Jesus taught in the preceding passage. It’s at first astounding that John so quickly forgot that teaching and is complaining about someone who is for Jesus, who is invoking his name to accomplish good for another. But I do the same thing. I’m quick to criticize or question those who don’t believe just as I do. There are some faith expressions that I completely close my mind to like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They, too, are for Jesus, though, not against him. Who am I to judge who belongs in the kingdom of God? I like what Barclay writes about this, “The basis of tolerance is simply the realization of the magnitude of the orb of truth….Intolerance is a sign of both arrogance and ignorance, for it is a sign that a man believes that there is no truth beyond the truth he sees.”

I have my own reality, my own truth. We each do. Jesus is reminding me today that actual reality and truth is much greater than that. I need to keep that in mind especially the next time I disagree with someone or fail to accept them or their beliefs. They, too, probably have a piece of truth that I can learn from so as to broaden my understanding of God’s truth. That’s tolerance rather than arrogance and ignorance.


The servant of all

January 19, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from Mark 9:33-37.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Busted! The disciples know that Jesus is not going to be pleased by their claims about who is the greatest, who is the most favored. So, they don’t answer. Boy, I’ve done that a bunch of times in my life, not wanting to confess to something I know I’ve done wrong. I have been ashamed of myself, of my thoughts or words or behavior.

Moloney in The Gospel of Mark thinks that the disciples still believed that Jesus would establish his kingdom by the force of power when they arrive in Jerusalem and that they were “concerned about their own respective places in the power structure of the messianic kingdom which Jesus will establish after his victory.” We see this in politics all the time in our day. Those who support and served the successful candidate jockey for positions in government to exert their own power and influence. It is their just reward in their minds. They too often forget that they are the servant of the people, the purpose of government.

The disciples still cannot accept the plain statements that Jesus has made about going to Jerusalem to be arrested, to suffer, and to die. They cannot accept the cross; all they want is the glory. I can understand that. I want the glory of the kingdom of heaven without suffering, without dying. I don’t want the cross either!

Jesus decides to use a concrete symbol, something they can understand, to teach them yet again about servant leadership. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, “The child is not so much a symbol of innocence or humility as someone without legal status and therefore helpless. The child can do nothing for the disciple; to receive a child is to perform a good act for an insignificant person, without hope of earthly reward.” Doing something for someone who is helpless. It could be a homeless person, a prisoner, an illegal immigrant, a hospital patient or someone dying, anyone without rights or status and power or control over much in his life. That is who I am to receive, to notice, to do a good act for knowing that there is no earthy reward, only a spiritual reward. In so doing I am receiving Jesus and His Father and the Holy Spirit. I am noticing them, giving them attention, and giving something of myself. That is what brings about the kingdom of God.

Is my goal, my desire, to serve myself or another? That’s the question that Jesus poses. His answer couldn’t be more clear. He is calling me to be the servant of all. I fail in that frequently. Then, I stand before Jesus in silence and he has to teach me all over again. That’s why I have to come back to the gospels again and again and again, to get my lessons.


They did not understand

January 16, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news at the end of the week continues in Mark 9:30-32.

They left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.

No wonder the disciples were afraid to question Jesus. He had been pretty harsh with them about their lack of understanding and faith. However, they had enough faith to continue to journey with him, listening and struggling to understand what he was telling them. They had to be torn what with all this talk of his impending death, the loss of someone whom they loved and had given up everything to follow. It was crazy talk. Why was he so determined to face this fate? Wouldn’t it be so much beneficial if he continued his ministry to the poor and sick and proclaiming God’s love? They had witnessed Jesus bringing others back to life, but if he were dead, who could do it?

They didn’t know and couldn’t know really that Jesus had reached a turning point. His public ministry in Galilee was over and he was now focused on his clash with the authorities and consequential suffering and death. His disciples either could not understand or accept that this was God’s divine plan and that Jesus would be raised through God’s power, not brought back to life but transformed into new life. How could they “get” something so far out, so far beyond reality as they knew it? It was this inability and stubborn denial that exasperated Jesus so much. They weren’t able to cross that threshold of complete surrender, of trusting faith in God’s design no matter what it was. They were unable “to accept the challenge of discipleship” as Moloney puts it in The Gospel of Mark.

The challenge of discipleship — the ability to surrender and trust. That’s my challenge every single day! Barclay writes, “Sometimes we are amazed that they did not grasp what was so plainly spoken. The human mind has an amazing faculty for rejecting what it does not wish to see. Are we so very different? Over and over again we have heard the Christian message. We know the glory of accepting it and the tragedy of rejecting it, but many of us are just as far off as ever we were from giving it our full allegiance and molding our lives to fit it. Men still accept the parts of the Christian message which they like and which suit them, and refuse to understand the rest.” Isn’t that the truth! That’s why I love our new Pope so much. He is a living model for me of what it means to be a Christian, accepting the whole message of Christ which is acceptance and love for all people, all people regardless of whether they follow all the rules of the Church or not. It’s the same now as it was when Jesus was walking toward Jerusalem. Pope Francis is showing me what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s up to me to surrender and trust in God’s divine plan, God’s unconditional love for me, His care of my needs. There are moments when I do, but they seem to be few and far between. Still, Jesus never gives up on me; he never abandons me. That’s the good news!


If you can!

January 14, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is in a fascinating story from Mark 9:14-29.

When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them. Immediately on seeing him, the whole crowd was utterly amazed. They ran up to him and greeted him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seized him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.” He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth. Then he questioned the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “’If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up. When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”

This seems like a kind of Catch-22 situation to me. Jesus can do anything for one who has faith and some demons can only be driven out through prayer. So, if I’m unable to drive out one of my demons like the disciples, does that mean I don’t have sufficient faith? Not all my prayers are answered in terms of the resolution I’m seeking. Does it mean I’m not praying in the right way? Does it mean I don’t have enough faith? What can I do about that? Or what am I to think about this teaching? Actually, my question is what is Jesus trying to teach me?

Moloney in The Gospel of Mark writes regarding Jesus’ frustration at his disciples’ lack of faith, “As failure increases, one might expect Jesus to declare ‘enough’ but this is never the case. Although expressed in different words, Jesus called the Twelve to be ‘with him,’ to share his life and ministry. The same idea is present here, but stated from Jesus’ side of the relationship. The brief expression of anger and frustration, which prepares for Jesus’ response to the disciples does not lead to Jesus’ abandoning of the disciples.” I can think of something I prayed for much of my life, nearly since childhood, to no avail. God didn’t respond as I asked, which sometimes caused me to question my faith and at other times to question myself.

This demon of doubt in God and in myself tried to kill me, tried to extinguish my faith and stirred thoughts of taking my own life. It came and went, but never left me entirely. It was only after reading and reflecting upon the gospels day after day for a year, which is a way of praying for me, that the demon was expelled. However, not in the way I expected. It was only when I was able to accept Jesus’ unconditional love for me, helping my unbelief, that I could be healed, made whole.

I think that what Jesus is trying to teach me is to simply pray for help in overcoming my unbelief. Instead of asking for what I want, for control over my life, I need to place myself in God’s loving care and let Him heal me in the way I need and in the way He wants to use me, to allow myself to be one with Him. Overcoming my unbelief by simply trusting God. That sounds so simple, but it is so hard for me to do. I want what I want! Just as Moloney says of the disciples, “They are beginning to impose their designs upon Jesus as something they can determine. For this they are regarded as a ‘faithless generation’ not prepared to admit their failure.” That’s the lack of faith that Jesus is decrying and is driving him to be frustrated with me. But he won’t abandon me; he will wait patiently for me to share his life, to follow his lead. Then, no demon can maintain power over me. Jesus will be able to command, “Come out of him and never enter him again!”


Listen to him

January 12, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is given to us in Mark 9:2-13.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He told them, “Elijah will indeed come first and restore all things, yet how is it written regarding the Son of Man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt? But I tell you the Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

According to Moloney in The Gospel of Mark, Mark’s notation that this event took places after six days echoes the experience of Moses when after he and Joshua had spent six days on the mountain God called to Moses from the cloud. Moloney also notes that Moses and Elijah are the only characters in the scriptures to meet God on a mountain and both in Jewish tradition were transported to heaven. Mark is making the point that Jesus is in the same rank. But somehow Peter didn’t make the connection as he addresses Jesus as rabbi, certainly not a heavenly title. However, as Mark says, he was terrified and didn’t know what to say, so he reverted to his customary address of Jesus as rabbi.

I wondered for a while whether Jesus’ transfiguration was primarily for his benefit or the disciples. Today I’m thinking it was for the disciples. So far they had been unable to comprehend all that had transpired and all that Jesus was telling them would take place in Jerusalem — his passion, death, and resurrection. Their minds just weren’t able to grasp all this. Together their minds and their feelings basically in denial locked them in denial. So, God had to enter the picture in a forceful, vivid way. He spoke to them from a cloud and commanded, “Listen to him!” — him, His beloved Son, His word enfleshed, the promise of His covenant. No wonder the poor disciples were terrified and bewildered.

It seems like that’s what God has said to me as well. It’s as if He’s saying to me, “Listen to me as I have spoken through my only begotten Son. Read his words. Take heed. I’m talking to you.” It’s like a slap in the head. Pay attention. Barclay writes, “They still did not understand, and their failure to understand was due to the cause which always makes men fail to understand — they clung to their way and refused to see God’s way. They wished things as they desired them and not as God had ordered them. The error of their thoughts had blinded them to the revelation of God’s truth.”

What always makes men fail to understand. I cling to my way and refuse to see God’s way. I wish things to be as I desire them and not as God has ordered them. That’s kind of my problem in a nutshell. All my instincts — stemming from my fears and my experiences — cause me to fail to understand God’s truth over and over. That’s why God has had to break through and tell me to “Listen to him!” I listen but sometimes I still fail to understand and I reject what I hear. But reading the gospels over and over is very slowly changing me, opening me to God’s love so that I want to return His love by following the command of His Son to love one another. If I can just resist reacting in the way I have all my life, I can hear God tell me, “Listen to him.:” When I do, love has a chance to intervene, a chance to change how I respond. That’s the transformation that God is trying to effect in me.


I must deny myself

January 9, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today — and I need good news especially today — is from Mark 8:34-9:1.

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” He also said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power.”

Isn’t in interesting that Jesus addresses not just his disciples, but he called a crowd to gather around to listen. I am in that crowd; he is talking to me right now. He says to us here over and over, “Whoever,” meaning everyone one of us.

This is serious stuff; this is life itself he’s talking about. Nothing else matters more than following Jesus as he proclaimed in the gospel, the good news. What is that? It seems to me that it can be boiled down to love one another, which necessarily means forgiving one another because I’m going to fail to love others all the time even those I profess to love the most. I’m going to hurt them, disappoint them, and even reject them at times. I think I have finally excepted that that is my fate. I am not perfect; I am not God.

The point is that I must try my best. I must act from a place of love, from God’s spirit within me, with His strength. I must try my best to go to that place and not let my emotions direct my words and actions. That does necessarily mean suffering, taking up my cross. Because I’m not going to have the satisfaction of striking out against someone who has hurt me or try to exercise control over someone else, not use whatever power, influence, and money I may have to satisfy my own desires at the expense of someone else. That means letting go and suffering for me, suffering because I’m giving up what I want. I am willing to follow Jesus. There are times when it seems like every part of me resists doing that. It’s a battle, sometimes fought several times a day.

It would behoove me to remember what Barclay has to say, “What he [Jesus] demanded that they should face, he, too, was ready to face.” He goes on to write, “God gave us life to spend and not to keep. If we live carefully, always thinking first of our own profit, ease, comfort, security, if our sole aim is to make life as long and as trouble-free as possible, if we will make no effort except for ourselves, we are losing life all the time. But if we spend life for others, if we forget health and time and wealth and comfort in our desire to do something for Jesus and for the men for whom Jesus died, we are winning life all the time.”

Wow! But that’s what Jesus is telling me today. I needed the good news today even if it’s hard to hear.


Get behind me, Satan

January 7, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is brought to us by Mark in 8:31-33.

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the Son of Man as described in the books of Enoch and Ezra is “a unique figure of extraordinary spiritual endowments, who will be revealed as the one through whom the everlasting kingdom decreed by God will be established.” However, it goes on to state that it is doubtful that Jesus used the title in this sense — or that Peter understood it in that way, but rather Jesus used it to mean simply a human being. I like that first meaning, though, as it seems to perfectly convey Jesus’ identity and mission. Moloney in The Gospel of Mark agrees that Jesus was teaching his disciples that “His messiahship is to be found in his future as the Son of Man….This is the first expression of ‘the Son of Man’s since Jesus’ earlier claim of authority to forgive sin and over the Sabbath.”

This is the first time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus speaks clearly to his disciples about his impending suffering, death, and rising from the tomb. The Commentary also concludes that Mark wrote of Peter in this way to emphasize that “Anyone who denies the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus stands on the side of Satan. By calling Peter ‘Satan,’ Jesus indicates that the false view of his messiahship is a temptation.” Temptation meaning a stumbling block to belief and faith. One cannot be a follower or disciple of Jesus without accepting his passion, death, and resurrection — as painful or disorienting or incredible as that may be. Moloney claims, “This is true sight,a fullness of vision. This truth must not be hidden; it must be openly proclaimed.”

Peter had a problem with this, though. As Moloney puts it, “Peter was ready to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, but talk of death and resurrection was not a part of his scheme.” “Get behind me” can be understood as Jesus warning his disciple to not stand in his way on his journey to Jerusalem and his passion and death. It is inevitable because it is God’s plan and human beings cannot thwart Him.

I can sympathize with Peter. For most of my life I wanted to thwart death and certainly avoid suffering. I wanted to resist God’s plan for me. However, it struck me a few years ago that if I really believe what I profess, then I should embrace death as my reunion with God’s spirit. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be frightened of dying. But, if I’m really Christian, then I shouldn’t fear death; I shouldn’t fear being embraced by God. There are certainly ways of dying that I fear, suffocation being at the top, I think. I was thinking about my final hours the other day and all that I hope is that a loved one is by my side holding my hand and encouraging me that God is waiting to embrace me. A loved one willing to pass me on to my Father’s loving care. That’s the only way I can possibly avoid panic or fear, I think. So, I can understand the fear that was provoked in Peter about what Jesus was telling his disciples. Now, I can also understand that Jesus doesn’t not want me to stand in the way of God’s plan for me, for reunification with His spirit.


Who do you say I am?

January 6, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good new today comes from Mark 8:27-30.

Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

I wonder what that meant to Peter when he replied, “You are the Messiah.” Just prior to this the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples were, “Do you still not understand?” I wonder what happened between that scene and this one. It seems that just as with the blind man whom Jesus healed in stages the disciples would arrive at an understanding of Jesus’ identity in stages. They obviously first came to know him as a teacher, as rabbi. Then they witnessed his hearings and miracles and certainly viewed him as God’s anointed one, a prophet perhaps. Now they are on a journey again. Along the way of their journey — physical and spiritual — he probed them to see if their understanding has increased? What was encapsulated in that title Messiah?

Jewish writers of the time “used it to describe Israel’s future leader in the period before the eschaton [meaning the end time] and during it; he would fulfill Israel’s hopes based on God’s promises,” according to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. The Greek word for Messiah is Christ which is used by many translations including the Douay-Rheims Version, the very first English translation of the Latin Vulgate. However, surely Peter did not mean Messiah or Christ in the way we use the title for Jesus. Jesus would predict his death and resurrection three times in the chapters to come; so as yet, the disciples had no understanding of the meaning we attach to Christ, the Son of God.

So, they certainly could not have grasped Jesus’ divinity as this point, but they had been led to believe that he was God’s anointed one — whatever that meant, a ruler in some sense, a savior of the Israelites from foreign overseers. As Barclay writes, “[T]he Messianic ideas which were in the minds of men when Jesus came…were violent, nationalistic, destructive, vengeful….Think of Jesus set against a background like that. No wonder he had to re-educate his disciples in the meaning of Messiahship.”

I know that my understanding of Jesus is unfolding. I don’t think I see clearly yet as the blind man did after Jesus laid hands on him again. I wonder how I think blindly about Jesus as Christ, as the Messiah. I, too, have thought of him as someone whose time is in the future; he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. I’m slowly realizing that Jesus is here now, walking with me and talking with me. The last thing he wants me to do is judge the living or the dead. He wants me to accept people as they are, as embodiments of God’s spirit as he was. I have been saying to myself over and over recently, “Love and accept him as he is and not as I want him to be.” That’s a really tall order for me.

Who do I say Jesus is? He is the model of God’s loving acceptance, His anointed one, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. That’s where I am in my deepening understanding of him.


He led the blind man by the hand

January 5, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

It’s been a busy holiday season! Today’s good news is from Mark 8:22-26.

When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”

What is Matthew trying to tell me in this story? Why did Jesus take the man outside of the village? It’s the only healing or miracle I can think of that took Jesus two tries. It was a gradual process, not producing the immediate cure that is described in other healings. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary speculates that Matthew used this story to symbolize the disciples’ gradual and imperfect understanding of Jesus’ impending death and resurrection. This passage immediately follows the scene where the disciples had forgotten to bring bread with them on the boat as they were crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked them, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”

So, does this gradual healing expose Jesus’ limitations or the blind man’s or both? Another way of asking that question is whether my limited sight or understanding is Jesus’ fault or mine? Then the answer seems clear — it is my limitations.

I am struck first that Jesus took the man by the hand and led him. I love that image! I just finished writing a presentation that I’ll be giving on God’s Word at the upcoming men’s retreat at Benedictine Abbey. I used that image of God leading me by the hand to His Son Jesus. What a personal, inviting thing for Jesus to do —to take the man’s hand and lead him. And the blind man trusted Jesus to lead him, trusted him to heal his blindness. It requires both elements — Jesus leading and the blind man trusting. So it has been for me — Jesus through the Holy Spirit leading me and my willingness to trust with the expectation of being healed, of being made whole.

Jesus took the man outside of the village, away from distractions, forcing him to give up his comfort within familiar surroundings. That’s what I need as well — to be taken out of my comfort zone, my usual way of living and being. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this retreat in a few weeks. For most of the last year I feel like I’m being called to meditate. I have good intentions, but I haven’t done it so far. Franciscan Richard Rohr among many others strongly advocates meditation, silence, as a way of opening oneself to the Holy Spirit, of being one with God. So, it doesn’t require a retreat to free myself of the distractions in my life, of my busyness. It just takes a few minutes every day to just rest in God, to recognize Him and His love for me in the depth of my being. And yet I still resist in the face of a laundry list of other things to do that I somehow think are more important — the same thing I’m inclined to do in my human love relationships.

This healing took place in stages. So does mine. Every time I read the gospels or talk with God or try to comprehend Him I come closer to Him. I am healed, made whole, a little bit each time. For me it’s a very gradual process. Obviously, it’s not God’s limitation. I am an evolving, developing human being. At every step I deepen my understanding of my self, of other, and of God. It’s a natural progression; there aren’t any shortcuts. But sometimes I do harden my heart like the disciples. Sometimes, in spite of what I’ve experienced of God’s love, it seems I’ve forgotten all those experiences and lessons. I fail to trust Him and fall back into the habit of trying take control, to fix myself and others, to fool myself into thinking that I’m God, that I’m perfect!

But then He reaches out His hand to lead me once again outside the village and once again effect a miracle, healing me of my sin, of my stubbornness and disobedience, of my selfishness and hardness of heart. It’s a gradual process, a lifelong project! But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. However, He warns me not to go back to where I was, not to relapse but to go forward. Always moving closer to union with Him, to new life. That’s what this story tells me. It’s very encouraging.