Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings offer us a theme of CONFIDENCE with a dash of JOY.
John begins with the reassuring verse:
From the Latin root meaning “to have full trust”, confidence is a rare and beautiful blessing in our lives. How many people or things are you able to trust that deeply? Are you blessed with a true confidant in your life?
John tells us that this is the kind of relationship we can and should have with God.
He says that when we pray with this confidence, we trust whatever answer we receive to bring us grace and life.
In our Gospel, John the Baptist’s followers are having a little trouble with their confidence. They are unsettled by the appearance and rising popularity of Jesus. John says to trust what is happening. He had already told them that a greater One would come after him.
John’s ultimate response is worth repeating in prayer, “So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”
Poetry: JOHN THE BAPTIST: THE PASSOVER (JOHN 1:35–39) by Irene Zimmerman, OSF
For years he’d preached the coming was at hand. Now John saw Jesus walking on the strand. “Behold the Lamb of God!” he called, and sent his own disciples hurrying. They went, filling Jesus’ footprints in the sand faster than the water could. John stayed and poured the river on the people and passed them over to his Lord.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, John and Jesus continue to teach us.
In our first reading, we hear John preaching to a community that has become confused. Some have begun to doubt and to teach a watered-down version of Christ and the Gospel.
John convinces his community, and us, that we are invited into God’s own life through Baptism, the Paschal-Eucharistic Mystery, and through the Holy Spirit. This is the truth of Jesus Christ which we embrace by a faithful life.
This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and Blood. The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth. So there are three who testify, the Spirit, the water, and the Blood, and the three are of one accord.
1 John 5:6
In our Gospel, Jesus shows us how to live that faithful life – through loving, generous service such as he models.
A pitiable leper interrupts Jesus on his journey to ask for help. People like this man were scorned, feared, and isolated. Their leprosy impoverished them, making them annoying beggars. Their cries usually met with indifference at best and banishment at worst.
But when this leper poses his proposal to Jesus – “If you want to, you can heal me.” — Jesus gives the spontaneous answer of a true, merciful heart: “Of course I want to!” He responds with open arms and open heart.
There is no annoyance, no suggestion that other concerns are more important. There is just the confirmation that – Yes- this is the purpose of my life: to heal, love, show mercy toward whatever suffering is in my power to touch. There is just the clear message that “You, too, poor broken leper, are Beloved of God.”
What an example and call Jesus gives us today! We are commissioned to continue this merciful touch of Christ along the path of our own lives. When circumstances offer us the opportunity to be Mercy for another, may we too respond with enthusiasm, “Of course I want to!” May we have the eyes to see through any “leprosy” to find the Beloved of God.
Prose: Mother Teresa – fromIn the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers
Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.
I know: the title sounds like a new TV series, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s a story as old as time!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, John talks about liars. He made me really think.
When I was a kid going to weekly Saturday night confession (yes, remember a lot of us did that!) I really had to scrape to get a decent pile of sins. I mean, honestly, how much evil can one eight-year-old generate in a week?
But lying was always a good fallback to report on. You know the deal:
I told my teacher that I forgot my homework when I really hadn’t done it.
I told Petey Nicolo I could beat him up when I knew I couldn’t.
I told Chickie Schmidt I could ride a big bike like hers when I had actually just fallen on my face off a smaller one.
I told Sister I wasn’t smoking in the girls’ room when my very own cousin Joanie threw me under the bus!
As you can see, I was your normal childhood compulsive liar – pretending to be and do lots of things I only wished I could be or do. But that’s just part of growing up. Like most people, I got over it when I began to realize the power and necessity of growing confidently into one’s true self.
People depend on us to be who we really are, to be the real deal. The value of our work and contributions to the world hinges on this. The depth and endurance of our relationships rest on such transparency and authenticity. Even our ability to love ourselves is rooted in honest self-awareness.
So how do we deepen in that kind of truthfulness, especially in a modern culture that so often abuses it? John tells us that love is the way:
Beloved, we love God because God first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister , they are liars; for whoever does not love the one they can see cannot love God whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from God: Whoever loves God must also love their sister and brother.
1 John 4:19-21
Friends, we live in a culture drowning in lies. Some have come to believe that unless one lies, one cannot compete. Businesses lie to sell untested or worthless commodities. Manufacturers veil the danger of their drugs, tobacco and vaping products. Politicians lie to condemn their opponents and excuse themselves. Leaders lie to justify war. And criminals lie to hide their crimes.
These liars may never even consider that their tangled lives are related to the scriptures. But every one of these deceptions is fueled by a failure in reverence and love for our sisters and brothers, by a failure in courage to be responsible for and love one another.
Our reading closes today with these words, so critical to the rebuilding of a truthful world:
In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey the commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep the commandments. These are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
1 John 5:2-4
Prose: from “Man’s Universe” by Rabindranath Tagore
On the surface of our being we have the ever-changing phases of the individual self, but in the depth there dwells the Eternal Spirit of human unity beyond our direct knowledge. It very often contradicts the trivialities of our daily life and upsets the arrangements made for securing our personal exclusiveness behind the walls of individual habits and superficial conventions. It inspires in us works that are the expressions of a Universal Spirit; it invokes unexpectedly in the midst of a self-centered life a supreme sacrifice. At its call, we hasten to dedicate our lives to the cause of truth and beauty, to unrewarded service of others.
Music: True Heart – Oak Ridge Boys
Often, I use a popular song for prayer, allowing its words to speak to God for me. You might like to try it with this song. No doubt intended as a human love song, it can be a divine love song too – and it’s sure a good wake up prayer 🙂
Making money they can hide away. They never know what they’re working for. All they think about is making more. And every time the world spins round There’s a few more hearts that can’t be found ‘Cause they never had nothing to hold on to The way that I’m holding you. All ever need is your true heart Next to me when it’s cold and dark. All I need to keep from falling apart Is the beat of your true heart. Some people spend day and night Trying to love everybody in sight They never know what love is for All they think about is keeping the score. And every time the world spins round There’s a few more hearts that can’t be found ‘Cause they never had nothing to hold on to The way that I’m holding you. All ever need is your true heart Next to me when it’s cold and dark. All I need to keep from falling apart Is the beat of your true heart. Your true heart. No they never had nothing to hold on to The way that I’m holding you. All ever need is your true heart Next to me when it’s cold and dark. All I need to keep from falling apart Is the beat of your true heart. All ever need is your true heart Next to me when it’s cold and dark. All I need to keep from falling apart Is the beat of your true heart. All ever need is your true heart Next to me when it’s cold and dark. All I need to keep from falling apart Is the beat of your true heart.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings are full of surprises for Jesus’s new followers and for us.
Jesus begins to reveal what his Presence among us is all about. The message is this: I am here for the poor, hungry, sick and abandoned:
The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor and to proclaim liberty to captives.
And Jesus wants us to be like him.
In our first reading, John makes that sound so simple:
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
1 John 4:8
Someone might read that line and think, “OK! I can do that! I love lots of people and things. I know how to love.”
But then our Gospel suggests that maybe we, like the disciples, have a lot to learn about how God loves. Mark shows us that Jesus is living a new kind of love.
Imagine the situation. John the Baptist has been murdered. The new disciples are returning from their first “apostolic gig”. They, and probably Jesus, are shocked, saddened and tired. Jesus recognizes this and tells them:
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
But instead the hungry crowds followed them, their needs intruding on the deserved and desired solitude. The disciples sound a little annoyed in their practicality:
By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
Mark 6: 35-36
But when Jesus saw the crowd, his response was not annoyance or practicality.
When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd…
In the Greek translation, the word for “moved with pity” is “ἐσπλαγχνίσθη” (Esplanchnisthē) – “splancha”
“Splancha”, in my mind, says that the heart of Jesus ”rumbled with mercy”; that he was so shaken to his roots with compassion that he pulled heaven down in a miracle to feed these people who were hungry at every level of their being.
The crowds, and indeed the disciples, are surprised not just by the cataract of fish and bread. But they are even more deeply astounded at this astounding demonstration of how God loves – with impractical, unlimited, immediate, miraculous generosity!
The lesson for us? Just as the disciples were commissioned to distribute the basketsful of miracles, we are charged to carry God’s mercy in our time.
Through the grace of Baptism, we have it within us to be the agent of miracles – the power to let God love through us. As John encourages us:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
1 John 4:7
Poetry: Miracles by Robert William Service
Each time that I switch on the light A Miracle it seems to me That I should rediscover sight And banish dark so utterly. One moment I am bleakly blind, The next–exultant life I find. Below the sable of the sky My eyelids double darkness make. Sleep is divine, yet oh how I Am glad with wonder to awake! To welcome, glimmery and wan The mighty Miracle of Dawn. For I’ve mad moments when I seem, With all the marvel of a child, To dwell within a world of dream, To sober fact unreconciled. Each simple act has struck me thus– Incredibly miraculous. When everything I see and do So magical can seem to me, How vain it is to seek the True, The riddle of Reality . . . So let me with joy lyrical Proclaim all Life a Miracle.
Music: Beloved, Let Us Love One Another – a perky encouragement for your prayer 🙂
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, in this week after the Epiphany, we continue with John’s inspirational readings. They are intended to deepen us in love, truth and simplicity.
And we also have several Gospels this week that take us with Jesus as he begins his public ministry.
Today’s Gospel opens with a tinge of sadness. Jesus has just heard that John had been arrested. Reality dawns on them both that theirs will be no easy missionary journey. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if these cousins could have teamed up, gone about preaching unhindered by the fears and bullying of the powerful?
But a free and easy story is not the one God chose to tell us, because our own stories are not always free and easy. Some, yes, more so than others. But all people suffer in some way and we all need a God who understands and shares that suffering.
So, “hearing that John had been arrested”, Jesus bravely begins. He goes to the Capernaum lakeshore where the common people gather to refresh themselves. He will find them hungry, confused, sinful, questioning, bereft, and battered. And he will begin by feeding and soothing them.
Where would Jesus begin with you? If you sat along that seashore in those first days, what would you lay before his tender mercy? Perhaps the need does not belong precisely to you, but to someone you love, someone who needs love in a harsh world.
Picture yourself there this morning. The sun begins to warm the salty edges of the sea. The crowd is large but quiet, as if they think themselves in church. Jesus looks out over all the gathered. But for one moment, his eyes meet yours, and that moment is enough to begin.
Poetry: To the Sea of Galilee – Benjamin Waugh (1839-1908) (It’s not a great voice of literature, but I think this little poem is charming.)
O PEARL of seas! how fairly set, thou lovely Galilee! Well may all waters of the world for beauty envy thee.
For more than beauty! On thy shores heaven’s purest feet have trod; And in thy face, as now yon sun, was mirrored once my God.
He loved to walk with thee beside; He gazed into thy face; 5 Thy troubled moods He calmed for thee; thou seem’st His child of grace.
But yet why envy thee, fair sea, by Jesus favoured thus? Far more than He hath favoured thee hath Jesus favoured us.
Not for thy waters Jesus came His precious work to do; ’Twas not to give thy troubles peace that Him from glory drew. 10
Thine was a brief, a passing joy, as transient as thy flowers; Thy side He left, and went away—He never leaveth ours.
Yet, sea of seas, I envy thee, thou small, but greatest deep For on thy bosom Jesus found the place where He might sleep.
His weary frame, His heavy heart were pillowed on thy breast. 15 As John on Him, so He on thee found place where He might rest.
Jesus, if thou, by work or wrong, should’st sad or weary be, Come seek within my heart the place once found on Galilee.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our first reading offers us John’s perfect honesty and simplicity:
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.
1 John 2:5-6
Yes, it’s that simple and that hard!
Then, in our Gospel, we meet Simeon who speaks with the holy confidence of a long and well-lived life. His lifelong dream was that he might not die before seeing the Messiah. That dream now fulfilled, Simeon intones one of the most beautiful prayers in Scripture:
Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
Luke 2: 29-32
For as John also assures us:
Whoever says they are in the light, yet hates their brother or sister is still in the darkness. But whoever loves their brother and sister remains in the light …
1 John 2: 9-10
Let’s pray today for those who are dying, that they may know this kind of peace.
Let us pray for ourselves, that when our time comes, we too may experience this confidence.
Poetry: Nunc Dimittis – Joseph Brodsky (from Joseph Brodsky, A Part of Speech by George L. Kline (NY: Noonday, 1996) The poem is long but exceptionally beautiful I hope you can take the time to enjoy it.
When Mary first came to present the Christ Childto God in His temple, she found—of those fewwho fasted and prayed there, departing not from it—devout Simeon and the prophetess Anna.The holy man took the Babe up in his arms.The three of them, lost in the grayness of dawn,now stood like a small shifting frame that surroundedthe Child in the palpable dark of the temple.The temple enclosed them in forests of stone.Its lofty vaults stooped as though trying to cloakthe prophetess Anna, and Simeon, and Mary—to hide them from men and to hide them from Heaven.And only a chance ray of light struck the hairof that sleeping Infant, who stirred but as yetwas conscious of nothing and blew drowsy bubbles;old Simeon's arms held him like a stout cradle.It had been revealed to this upright old manthat he would not die until his eyes had seenthe Son of the Lord. And it thus came to pass. Andhe said: ‘Now, O Lord, lettest thou thy poor servant,according to thy holy word, leave in peace,for mine eyes have witnessed thine offspring: he isthy continuation and also the source ofthy Light for idolatrous tribes, and the gloryof Israel as well.' The old Simeon paused.The silence, regaining the temple's clear spaceoozed from all its corners and almost engulfed them,and only his echoing words grazed the rafters,to spin for a moment, with faint rustling sounds,high over their heads in the tall temple's vaults,akin to a bird that can soar, yet that cannotreturn to the earth, even if it should want to.A strangeness engulfed them. The silence now seemedas strange as the words of old Simeon's speech.And Mary, confused and bewildered, said nothing—so strange had his words been. He added, while turningdirectly to Mary: ‘Behold, in this Child,now close to thy breast, is concealed the great fallof many, the great elevation of others,a subject of strife and a source of dissension,and that very steel which will torture his fleshshall pierce through thine own soul as well. And that woundwill show to thee, Mary, as in a new visionwhat lies hidden, deep in the hearts of all people.’He ended and moved toward the temple's great door.Old Anna, bent down with the weight of her years,and Mary, now stooping gazed after him, silent.He moved and grew smaller, in size and in meaning,to these two frail women who stood in the gloom.As though driven on by the force of their looks,he strode through the cold empty space of the templeand moved toward the whitening blur of the doorway.The stride of his old legs was steady and firm.When Anna's voice sounded behind him, he slowedhis step for a moment. But she was not callingto him; she had started to bless God and praise Him.The door came still closer. The wind stirred his robeand fanned at his forehead; the roar of the street,exploding in life by the door of the temple,beat stubbornly into old Simeon's hearing.He went forth to die. It was not the loud dinof streets that he faced when he flung the door wide,but rather the deaf-and-dumb fields of death's kingdom.He strode through a space that was no longer solid.The rustle of time ebbed away in his ears.And Simeon's soul held the form of the Child—its feathery crown now enveloped in glory—aloft, like a torch, pressing back the black shadows,to light up the path that leads into death's realm,where never before until this present hourhad any man managed to lighten his pathway.The old man's torch glowed and the pathway grew wider.
Music: Nyne Otpushchayeshi ~Sergei Rachmaninoff (translated Nunc Dimittis, Now Let Your Servant Go). This was sung at Rachmaninoff’s funeral, at his prior request. (For musicians among you, point of interest: Nunc dimittis (Nyne otpushchayeshi), has gained notoriety for its ending in which the low basses must negotiate a descending scale that ends with a low B-flat (the third B-flat below middle C).
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we once again pray with Psalm 27, we do so in the light of our seminal first reading from John:
God is love, and when we remain in love we remain in God and God in us.
1 John 4:16
Psalm 27 tells us how God does it:
For the Lord rescues the poor who cry out, and the afflicted who have no other help. The Lord has pity for the lowly and the poor; and saves the lives of the poor.
Psalm 27: 12-13
Our psalm gives us the measure for love in our lives. Who are the suffering ones in the circle of our experience? How are we widening that circle to offer loving mercy with greater energy and fidelity?
The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy can be our guide as we seek to stretch our love in ever-widening circles.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
To feed the hungry To give water to the thirsty To clothe the naked To shelter the homeless To visit the sick To visit the imprisoned, and ransom the captive To bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
To instruct the ignorant. To counsel the doubtful. To admonish sinners. To bear patiently those who wrong us. To forgive offenses. To comfort the afflicted. To pray for the living and the dead.
Poetry: Widening Circles – Rainer Maria Rilke
I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 72 which will be familiar to us because it is used six times throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons.
O God, with your judgment endow the king, and with your justice, the king’s son; He shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment.
Psalm 72: 1-2
This short post-Epiphany season is all about “manifestation” – how Jesus begins to show us the face of God-become-flesh.
The core message, conveyed to us in the daily progressive reading of 1 John, is that God is Love.
Our Gospel today, the feeding of the 5000, shows how that Love is expressed – merciful action for those in need.
Our psalm, written a thousand years before Christ, exults in the expectation of such a merciful Messiah:
The mountains shall yield peace for the people, and the hills justice. He shall defend the afflicted among the people, save the children of the poor. Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Poetry: When Little Was Enough – Irene Zimmerman, OSF
“Send the people away from this deserted place to find food and lodgings,” the twelve urged Jesus, “for the day is advanced and it is almost evening.”
Jesus looked at the crowd (there were about five thousand) and looked at his disciples, still excited and tired from their first mission journey.
What had they learned from the villagers of Galilee who shared bread and sheltered them from cold night winds? What had they learned of human coldness on the way?
He remembered the pain in his mother’s voice as she told of his birth night when they found no room in all of Bethlehem, House of Bread.
“You give them something to eat!” he said.
“We have only five loaves and two fish!” they protested. “How can we feed so many with so little?” He understood their incredulity.
They had yet to learn that a little was enough when it was all they had— that God could turn these very stones to bread.
“Have the crowd sit down in groups of fifty,” he said. Jesus took the food and looked up to heaven. He blessed it, broke it, gave it to the disciples to distribute to the new-formed churches.
Afterwards, when everyone was satisfied, the twelve filled twelve baskets of bread left over— as faith stirred like yeast within them.
Today, in Mercy, we continue to relish John’s eloquent first letter in which he heartily instructs us in the life of Christian love.
John has written this letter out of concern about false teachings that are cropping up in the early Church. Misguided “teachers” are placing distorted interpretations on the pure, original message of the Gospel.
Human beings have never stopped doing that, have we? Down through the centuries, how many heresies and misinterpretations have woven their way into the Gospel’s central, inviolable thread?
Has it happened to our faith? Have we lost the crisp, clear power of our original belief?
John tells us to hold fast to the core teaching of the Gospel. This is the faith that many of us learned as children from devout parents and teachers. It is a faith that continues to evolve through scriptural prayer and meditation, through openness to theological wisdom, through the holy dialogue of the beloved community.
It is a living faith, stretched and tested by our daily choices for true Christian love for all people, especially the poor, sick and marginalized.
Ultimately, it is a faith rooted in the Cross and transformed by the Resurrection.
Over these next few weeks, let us listen carefully to John as he guides us to the depth of that faith.
Music: some gentle meditation music for your prayer with John: