He went away sad

January 28, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

Mark gives us the good news today in 10:17-22.

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked at him and loved him because he had been faithful to the commandments and to his faith in God. Then, what does Jesus do? He calls him to take a further step, to become a disciple by giving up what he holds dear. Why? To become totally dependent on God, trusting in His love and care. Jesus was asking too much, though. It was too great a leap for the man to make at that time in his life. As Moloney states in The Gospel of Mark, “Capable of doing everything that he sets out to do and having the means to do it, he asks Jesus’ advice on what he must do to attain eternal life….The question, ‘What must I do?’ is the wrong question….His problem lies in his belief that he can attain this ‘something more’ by his own efforts….There is only thing that he lacks. He must rid himself of his possessions and his habitual determination of his own life….Reduced to a situation of need and dependence he will have the opportunity to be receptive to the action of God in his life….[B]ut the man is not receptive to Jesus’ word and the demands of discipleship, and departs.”

Years ago I in thinking about the wealthy — which I did a lot because my business was fundraising — I realized that they had an attitude of “I can” as in I can do whatever I choose because I have the financial means to do so. Money provides a good deal of freedom including the freedom to be generous. However, this freedom is what Jesus is getting at. It permits us to be independent of God. This is the only story in the gospels with the command to sell everything and give it to the poor. Jesus realized that it was this man’s attachment to his wealth and consequently his independence from God that kept him from entering into the kingdom of God during his life not just later. Moloney writes, Jesus “orders the removal of every other support which could interfere with an unconditional obedience….[T]he everyday danger of allowing possessions to determine one’s life is the reason for the man’s failure to become a disciple.”

What is the support that interferes with my unconditional obedience to God’s will, to utter dependence upon Him? I think it’s more than one thing. It is possessions to some extent certainly. The comfort of my home is really important to my sense of well-being. But it’s also my desire to travel and explore. And I choose to buy books instead of using the library. And I enjoy good food and wine. And I feel good wearing something new and in style. And I like to drive a vehicle that’s fun. It’s a long list of things and experiences that all require money. Money that enables me to quench my desires. Money that enables me to be pretty independent. That’s the everyday danger that Jesus is pointing out that can make it hard for me to be a disciple, to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus keeps calling me to follow him. Am I going to follow him or go away sad? I have a hard time saying “no” to myself. That’s what self-denial is all about. Jesus expects me to practice it more often, I think.

Mike
mmaude@develop-net.com

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Like a child

January 27, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from Mark 10:13-16.

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

Parents even today often present their children to be touched or blessed by someone respected like the Pope or President. The practice of politicians kissing babies may be the same kind of thing. There’s something about celebrity that compels some people to do this sort of thing. It’s almost as if they believe that some of the charisma or blessedness — as in the case of the Pope — will rub off on their children. It has a bit of the tinge of magic. I can imagine that’s what was going on. Jesus had developed quite a reputation by this time and people were always crowding around him, appealing for healing or hoping to receive something of his power. So, I can understand why his disciples were trying to protect Jesus. That’s what it seems to me they were trying to do anyway. Maybe they were a little over zealous about it. At any rate, the children were the innocents pawns in this scene and Jesus did not want them turned away, rejected.

There seem to be two points here. Children are of necessity receivers not givers of what they need for sustenance in life. Jesus has been making the point to his disciples for quite some time in Mark’s gospel that they are to be receptive to all people and to be of service to all people. They were slow learners like me. That was the reason he rebuked them; they continued to forget what he had been teaching them as they tried to keep all these children from being thrust upon Jesus instead of being open to them and looking for ways to serve them as the least in society.

There may be another lesson. A young child is totally dependent upon its parents and usually obedient as well. Children have no power nor status nor control. That’s likely what Jesus was inferring about accepting the kingdom of God in a child-like way. It is only in recognizing my dependence on God and in bending my will to His instead of asserting my own will and trying to exercise control that I can enter the kingdom of God — now or later. What am image Mark gives me. If I behave as a child, as a true disciple, Jesus will embrace me and bless me by the laying on of his hands. I like to imagine myself being touched by Jesus like that.

Mike
mmaude@develop-net.com

Because of the hardness of your hearts

January 26, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news this morning comes to us from Mark 10:1-12.

He set out from there and went into the district of Judea [and] across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him, as was his custom, he again taught them. The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

This is a hard lesson for many, me included. We can try to wiggle around this, justifying divorce for all kinds of reasons. Even the Church permits annulment of marriage continuing the practice instituted by Moses. Paul provides some exceptions to Jesus’ absolute teaching. It seems that men — Moses and Paul and Church elders — were and are ready to bow to reality, to the hardness of our hearts. Jesus concedes that point. However, that is not God’s desire as Jesus reminds his listeners. As the New Jerome Biblical Commentary puts it, “Jesus’ teaching is a restoration of God’s plan for creation.”

Sadly, we often put ourselves at odds with God, divorce just being one example. We put ourselves in opposition to God’s plan for creation all the time and usually justify the rationale in our minds. Jesus speaks plainly about this: “no human must separate.” No one has authority or license to undo God’s plan. The ten commandments do not prohibit divorce, but do forbid adultery. He fenced in his listeners. They couldn’t cite the law of Moses as justification for divorce. It violated both God’s commandment against adultery and His plan from the beginning of creation. Moloney in The Gospel of Mark is as plain about this as Jesus was, “The most intimate of human experiences, the union between a woman and a man, can lead to the cross. The suffering and self-denial that were Jesus’ own destiny (and the destiny of all who would claim to be his followers) are shown to be more than mere words. Jesus’ new law in a new situation of God-human relationships, where the original creative design of God is restored, can be costly. Being a disciple of Jesus does not remove the need for service and receptivity in the continual demand to give oneself unswervingly within the bonds of God’s design for man and woman in marriage. The teaching of Jesus on the is matter is as idealistic, countercultural, and difficult today as it was in the time of Jesus, but Mark has taken this element from Jesus’ teaching and used it to point out to disciples that cross, service, and receptivity are not simply theory. They come into play in one of the fundamental structures of their day-to-day lives: in man-woman relationships.”

For me this is about self-denial. Am I willing to deny my selfish desires and to follow Jesus to the cross? Obviously, the answer is no and I hardened my heart in order to justify it. That’s what we humans do; we harden our hearts to one another when our desires are in deep conflict, when our needs are not met to our selfish satisfaction. That’s the reality, though, not God’s plan and not the way with Jesus to the cross. I turned my back on him, on the cross. I don’t want the cross; I don’t want to suffer.

However, this is where forgiveness enters. God does forgive me because I have asked for His forgiveness. That doesn’t mean He condones it, but He forgives me for my weakness, for my imperfection, for my failure. He wants me to be reconciled to him. The hard part is forgiving myself. He wants me to soften my hardened heart so that I can again be the instrument of His love that He desires me to be. That is His plan. I have to begin by loving myself — and I can’t if I can’t forgive myself — so that I can love others, so that I can open my heart, so that I can be His instrument of love. That also means following Jesus, taking up the cross of suffering if necessary even when every part of me cries out against it. That, too, is God’s plan. To follow Jesus, not deny him and his teaching. He was the enfleshed word of God, after all.

Mike
mmaude@develop-net.com

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.

Mike
mmaude@develop-net.com

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.

Mike
mmaude@develop-net.com

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.

Mike
mmaude@develop-net.com

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!

Mike
mmaude@develop-net.com