Rejected

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

March 13, 2020

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Mt21_42rejected

Today, in Mercy, there is a great sadness in our readings.

The poignant opening line from Genesis immediately strikes us:

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age

Joseph

We picture young Joseph in his beautiful rainbow coat and, under an olive tree’s shade, old Jacob(Israel) proudly, tenderly, watching him play.

As the story ensues to reveal the later betrayal of Joseph’s jealous brothers, we are left astounded. Such treachery, especially among brothers, sickens the heart.


Our Gospel picks up the sad theme because Joseph and his brothers are archetypes of Christ’s story with humankind.

800px-The_Wicked_Husbandman_(The_Parables_of_Our_Lord_and_Saviour_Jesus_Christ)_MET_DP835802
The Wicked Husbandman by John Everett Millais shows the owner’s murdered son

Jesus tells a parable in which he is actually the unnamed main character. He is the Son sent by a loving Father. He is the one rejected, beaten and killed by the treacherous tenants of his Father’s garden.

We know from our familiarity with Scripture that both these stories ultimately come to glorious conclusions. But today’s readings do not take us there. They leave us standing, mouths dropped open, at the dense meanness of the human heart, at the soul’s imperviousness to grace, at the profound sadness Jesus felt at this point in his ministry.

In our prayer today, let’s just be with Jesus, sharing his sadness for the meanness still hardening our world. Let us comfort him with our desire to be open to God’s Grace and Mercy.

Music:  Handel:Messiah – He was despised and rejected – Alfred Deller

Turn and See

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

March 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us studies in dramatic contrasts.

the barren bush in a lava waste
vs.
the tree planted beside the waters

that turns its roots to the stream

Jere17_7barrentree



a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen

vs.
a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores

Gustave_Dore_Lazarus_and_the_Rich_Man
Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore (1891)

 

What are Jeremiah and Jesus teaching us with these unforgettable images?

Jeremiah summarizes his point in the very first verse:

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.

In his parable, Jesus has Abraham deliver the point:

You received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.


Praying with these passages, we might determine to make sure we don’t end up like the barren bush or the ultimately tormented rich person. 

But how can we do that?

I think the key lies in Jeremiah’s phrase, “one whose heart turns away from the LORD.” 

In his parable, Jesus shows us what that “turning” looks like. It is any blind indifference in us that allows us to ignore another’s suffering. 

Most of us don’t consciously choose that indifference. We simply fail to turn from our own comfort … plans, needs, agenda … to observe the pain or need around us.

So as we leave our prayer today, perhaps we can do so determined to turn from our self-interests … to see if there is a “Lazarus” right beside us whom we had failed to notice.

Music: Turn My Heart – Lynn DeShazo (Lyrics below)

Turn my heart O Lord
Like rivers of water
Turn my heart O Lord
By Your hand
‘Til my whole life flows
In the river of Your Spirit
And my name
Bring honor to the Lamb

Lord I surrender to
Your work in me
I rest my life within
Your loving hands

(Repeat chorus 3 times)

‘Til my name brings honor
‘Til my name brings honor
To the Lamb

Sheep or Goat?

Monday of the First Week of Lent

March 2, 2020

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sheep mosaic

Today, in Mercy, we are invited to be like God:

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel
and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

Our first reading goes on to tell us how: be a decent person.

  • Don’t steal, lie, or cheat
  • Pay just wages
  • Respect and help those physically burdened
  • Be impartial and just
  • Defend life
  • Don’t slander, hate, take revenge, or hold a grudge

Basically, the message is about kindness … deep kindness, the type that comes from realizing how infinitely kind God is to us.

Leviticus, after a long list of practical examples, sums it up:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.


Our Gospel tells us what happens when we make the choice to take the Old Testament advice — or not.

little lamb

We are all familiar with the parable of the sheep and the goats. And we all hope our scorecard gets us in the right herd “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him …”

 


Basically, in this parable, Jesus puts the advice of Leviticus into practical form for his followers. But he adds one dynamic element that not only invites but impels our wholehearted response:

Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.

Leviticus invites us to become holy as God is holy. But Jesus reveals the secret that this Holy God lives in the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned and sick. By embracing these most beloved of God, we find the pattern of Holiness.

Music: The Least of These – Karl Kohlhase

Lent: A Closer Walk

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

February 27, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings confirm that a life patterned on Christ contradicts worldly definitions.

Dt.30_19 Chhose

Deuteronomy gives us stark, either-or, advice:

I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live,
by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice,
and holding fast to him.

It’s definitive, but we could probably do that, right? Choose life, love God, heed God’s voice, hold fast to God? Sounds OK, doesn’t it?


It’s when Jesus comes along that it sounds difficult. 

Jesus tells us, “Here’s how you choose life –

“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”


Jesus tells us, “Here’s the God you must love, one who

“suffers greatly, is rejected, and is killed.”


Jesus tells us, “Here’s what my voice says to you –

“What profit is there for you to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit yourself?”


Jesus tells us, “Here’s how you hold fast to me –

‘Take up your cross daily and follow me.”

mcA Cross


Some have huge crosses to carry in their lives – perhaps famine, enslavement, untended illness, homelessness, persecution, poverty. Those who carry such crosses are singularly loved by God who dwells with them.

But if we don’t have big, obvious crosses in our lives – if we are among those the world deems fortunate – how do we follow the crucified Jesus to find our way to eternal life?

How do we really CHOOSE LIFE?


cross icon WP

We need to get close to the ones God singularly loves. We need to walk beside them and lift some of their heavy crosses. We need to help their voices be heard, their needs be met, their rights be honored.

Not all of us can do this by direct service. But we can do it by our advocacy, our material contributions, and our articulated support for justice.

We need to make these choices for life all the time. But Lent is a great time to examine the vigor and commitment of our choices, a time to take a closer walk with our suffering Christ and ask him to inspire our courage.

Music:  Just a Closer Walk with Thee – Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson

Be Impartial, or Not?

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, two Apostles of Jesus are our teachers. James advises us on what to do. Beloved Peter, as so often is the case, shows us what not to do.

James tells us to show no partiality. He makes clear that he is talking about impartiality toward those who are materially poor. It’s a maxim that Jesus gave us time and again in the Gospel.

James2_1 partiality

James reminds us that Jesus is not just impartial toward the poor, he actually has a preferential love for them. So Jesus was partial to the poor, right? Hmm!

Yes, I think that’s right. In order to balance our human inclination to the richest, best, strongest, etc., Jesus teaches us to go all out in the other direction.

It’s like this great cartoon that’s popped up on Facebook recently:

equity


Our Gospel picks up the theme.

Because of his great love for the poor and his passion for mercy, Jesus tells his followers that suffering is coming. Peter doesn’t like hearing that. Can you see Peter take Jesus aside and say, “Listen, Jesus, negative talk is going to hurt you campaign. You’re God! You can just zap suffering out of your life!


behind me satan

Jesus responds to Peter definitively: “Get thee behind me, Satan!

Wow! That must have stung! But that’s how important it was to Jesus that his followers understood his mission: to preach Mercy to the poor, sick, and broken by sharing and transforming their experience.

Jesus wants us to understand that too.

 


Music: Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick

Count It All Joy!

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, in this week and a half before Ash Wednesday, we begin the Epistle of James.

800px-Epistle_of_James_Chapter_1-2_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)
The Epistle of James- Chapter 1: Illustration provided to Wikimedia Commons by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing as part of a cooperation project. Sweet Publishing released these images, which are taken from now-out-of-print Read’n Grow Picture Bible Illustrations (Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984.), under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0

This letter is one of the very earliest of the New Testament. Scholars are mixed about exactly which “James” wrote it, but agree that it was one of several who were very close to Jesus – perhaps one of “the brothers of Jesus” mentioned in several New Testament passages:

  • Matthew 12:46-50
  • Mark 3:31
  • Luke 8:19
  • John 2:12
  • Acts 1:14
  • 1 Corinthians 9:5
  • and specifically “the Lord’s brother James” in Galatians 1:19

James writes in the style of Wisdom Literature, those Old Testament books that give advice, proverbs, and insights for living a holy life. His immediate audience was a community of dispersed Christian Jews whose world was filled with increasing upheaval and persecution.

When I read the following description I thought how germane James’s letter could be for our world today. His themes echo the teachings of Pope Francis for our chaotic time:


The epistle is renowned for exhortions on fighting poverty and caring for the poor in practical ways (1:26–27; 2:1-4; 2:14-19; 5:1-6), standing up for the oppressed (2:1-4; 5:1-6) and not being “like the world” in the way one responds to evil in the world (1:26-27; 2:11; 3:13-18; 4:1-10). Worldly wisdom is rejected and people are exhorted to embrace heavenly wisdom, which includes peacemaking and pursuing righteousness and justice (3:13-18).
(Jim Reiher, “Violent Language – a clue to the Historical Occasion of James.”Evangelical Quarterly. Vol. LXXXV No. 3. July 2013)


  • Be joyful in trials. (Wait! What!)
  • Let trials increase your perseverance not discourage you.
  • Doing this is a sign of wisdom.
  • When your wisdom is depleted, ask God for more with an open and trusting heart.
  • Honor all people, high or low in circumstances
  • Don’t be fooled by riches. They fade away.

In our Gospel, Jesus is frustrated with the Pharisees who insincerely demand a magical sign from him. They demonstrate none of the spiritual wisdom and openness to grace that James describes.

scale

When we think about our own faith, where does it fall on the scale of sincerity, on the spectrum of counter-culturalism?

Music: Count It All Joy – Scripture Memory Songs

Deep Law of the Heart

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020

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Ps119 Law


Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about LAW.

It’s a word we hear a lot about today, isn’t it? 

  • Rule of Law. 
  • Breaking the Law. 
  • Immigration Law.
  • Mother-in-Law.

You name it, LAW is all around us. So we should already know all about what today’s scripture passages describe – right?

Not really. 

230-2303502_law-clipart-law-and-order-clip-art.png


The “law” we are accustomed to discussing is about agreements constructed by human beings – some of those “agreements” better than others. They are interpreted, stretched, amended, honored, ignored, bypassed, and dissolved by human beings as well.

Sometimes, we equate these “laws” with justice which, at their best, we hope they are. But the LAW of today’s readings is above and beyond these humanly defined agreements. 


This LAW emanates from God. It is pure, whole, complete and holy. It is derived from the perfect nature of God which is, at once, both justice and mercy.

Sirach invites us to thrive in the perfection of God’s Law:

If you choose you can keep the commandments,
they will save you;

if you trust in God, you too shall live.

Paul tells the Corinthians that those “mature” in grace are able to receive the mystery of this Divine Law.

We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.

It is a “mysterious and hidden” Wisdom which the rulers/law makers of Paul’s age did not understand. Because when the Perfect Law became flesh in Jesus Christ, they could not comprehend him.


In our Gospel, Jesus is very clear. He is the fulfillment, not the abolishment of the Law. To live truly within that fulfillment, his disciples must go the extra mile – that is, they must infuse their practice of law/justice with the essence of Love and Mercy.


soup

In the five years since I retired, I’ve gotten pretty good at making soup. When I’m a little lazy, I use a commercial stock for my broth. But when I want to make a soup extra special – truly my own – I make my own bone broth. It makes all the difference.

 


I think growing in our understanding of God’s Law is a little bit like that. It is the “perfect broth” that requires us to put our whole hearts into it. When we consume it, we are nourished, sustained, changed.

Paul says that we can’t even imagine the “broth” God has prepared for us when we live, delight, and become transformed in God’s Law:

Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,

Music:  Eye HAs Not Seen – Marty Haugen

A Queenly Message

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. It’s another Solomon story worthy of the big screen where, in fact, it has been loosely fictionalized and adulterated many times.

sheba

Many trusted scripture scholars question the historicity of the story. Several agree that Solomon never rose to the kind of material glory described in the passage. The two books of Kings were written 500 years after Solomon lived. In many aspects, the writings offer a reflection on the meaning of his reign in Israel’s covenanted life rather than a strict account of his life.

So what might we glean from today’s passage on the mysterious queen. The story demonstrates that Solomon is so accomplished that a revered leader will come to learn from him. Once she arrives, she is overwhelmed by his material successes and strength. Solomon has constructed a dominant, rich and subservient culture.

But wait. Is there a bit of ironic judgement and, perhaps, prophetic reminder woven into the Queen’s accolades? Shifting the focus from an increasingly arrogant Solomon back to Israel’s God, she says:

Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice

In fact, the great wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom was built, not on justice and judgement, but on the backs of the poor and excluded. For example, Walter Brueggemann says this:

(Solomon’s kingdom) … was an economy of extraction that regularly transferred wealth from subsistence farmers to the elite in Jerusalem, who lived off the surplus and the device and the strategy for that extraction was an exploitative tax system.

When the Biblical scribe puts the words judgment and justice into the Queen’s remarks, it may be intended to forecast the miserable end Solomon will meet because he has abandoned his responsibilities to care for all the people according the the Lord’s covenant.

This glorious, shining realm which so impressed the Queen is a kingdom built on corruption, greed, militarism, and manipulation of the poor.

The lessons for our world are obvious.


As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t matter whether we’re gilded in gold on the outside and spin our words in glorious promises. What matters are the true intentions of our hearts and the compassionate actions they inspire:

But what comes out of the person, that is what defiles him.
From within, from the heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Ultimately, the great Solomon misses the boat on this. May his story help us not to do the same.


Also, as we pray, we may want to remember the devastated people of Yemen, the land identified as the historical Sheba. For some background on the current crisis in Yemen, see this article from Catholic Bishops


Music: La Reine de Saba – Raymond LeFevre

God Won’t Be Boxed!

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about how we try to “house” God.

Because God is bigger than BIG, our minds struggle. More than struggle, they actually fail, repeatedly, to define God. Yet we still try, don’t we?

Mk7_13 box god

We try to picture, describe, paint, quote, and interpret God. We even decide what God wants and create laws to insure God gets that.

We dilute Divinity to our human dimensions. We just can’t take it straight. We mix it and bottle it in our laws, and box it in our rituals — because we can’t manage Omnipotence. 

And let’s face it, most of us like to manage things. 😉At least the Pharisees in today’s Gospel liked that kind of control. And Jesus challenges them on it.


Praying with these thoughts today, I think of my Dad. He liked an occasional jigger of really fine bourbon – savored in its unadulterated state, without water or soda – what today’s purists call “sipping whisky”.

When the doctor informed him, unfortunately in my mother’s presence, that whisky was a no-no, Dad didn’t like it. But he acquiesced. At least we thought he did. 

After Dad died, my brother and I found his bottle of Kentucky bourbon wrapped in a towel in the basement dryer. You see, only Dad did the wash. Mom never liked machines.

I think Jesus would have really enjoyed my Dad as one of his original disciples. Dad liked life “straight”. His faith was simple, direct, complete and undiluted. Sitting with Jesus that Gospel day, Dad wouldn’t have washed his hands either. He would have been too busy listening to the pure, unbottled Word pouring over him.

The message I took from today’s prayer: 

  • Be very wary of anyone who thinks they know exactly what God wants.
  • Let God out of the boxes I put Him in.
  • Invite God’s Spirit to run free through my heart.
  • Don’t bottle God up; don’t box God in.
  • Enjoy sipping God’s surprising and infinite grace.

Music:  New Pharisees – Charlie Daniels Band (Lyrics below)

New Pharisees

They go walking into church every Sunday morning
They the self-appointed sin patrol
Well they whisper and they gossip behind the back
Of anybody that they can’t control

See that girl in the choir she’s got evil desires
She must be drinking from the devil’s well
She’s a downright disgrace with that paint on her face
She looks just like a Jezebel

And they’re running around putting everybody down
What are you trying to do?
You need to pick up the Book and take another look
‘Cause brother I’ve got the news for you

You know Jesus was sent with a new covenant
And he even died for you
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

You see that boy over there with that long shaggy hair
Ought to be ashamed of his self
He wearing hip-hop clothes got a ring in his nose
Don’t he know he going straight to hell

And then yesterday morning me and sister Johnson
Were talkin’ on the party line
She said that Deacon Brown was having dinner downtown
Somebody seen him with a glass of wine

And you act so righteous and you look so pious
You always pay your tithe
But there’s a rock in your heart and a fire on your tongue
And there ain’t no love in your eyes

Bad news is begotten and the devil is smiling
You gossip and you criticize
New pharisees like a fatal disease
Always flapping your jaws trying to live by the law

Well you can’t get by the law so quit flapping your jaws
New pharisees yes, you’re a lot like me

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote