Monday, August 24, 2015

To Whom Shall We Go? Discipleship in the Midst of Doubt

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 122

Reading 1JOSHUA 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
summoning their elders, their leaders,
their judges, and their officers. 
When they stood in ranks before God,
Joshua addressed all the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. 
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

But the people answered,
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods. 
For it was the LORD, our God,
who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,
out of a state of slavery. 
He performed those great miracles before our very eyes
and protected us along our entire journey
and among the peoples through whom we passed. 
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

Responsorial PsalmPSALM 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21

R. (9a) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Many are the troubles of the just one,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him;
he watches over all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Reading 2EPHESIANS 5:21-32

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body. 
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish. 
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. 
He who loves his wife loves himself. 
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it, 
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

OrEPHESIANS 5:2A, 25-32

Brothers and sisters:
Live in love, as Christ loved us. 
Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish. 
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. 
He who loves his wife loves himself. 
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it, 
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.

This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

AlleluiaJohN 6:63C, 68C

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelJN 6:60-69

Many of Jesus’disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before? 
It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him. 
And he said,
“For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life. 
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

To Whom Shall We Go? Discipleship in the Midst of Doubt
Homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our readings today are challenging. They all include a decision to live beyond the prevailing culture, human passions, and peer pressure. In the Old Testament reading from Joshua, they are a challenge to live above the sexually promiscuous gods of the Amorites in Canaan; in the 2nd reading by St. Paul, to be above the prevailing imperial Roman treatment of women as nothing more than objects, and in our Gospel reading today, to be more than a fair-weather follower of Jesus.

Joshua responds, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

St. Paul challenges husbands to do what Rome thought was ludicrous—love their wives, mutually submit to them, and pour themselves out like the sacrifice of Christ to make them holy.

Finally, Jesus tells some of his disciples some hard truths—about Communion—about eating the Lord’s flesh and drinking his blood—and MANY of them walk away. Not just a few.

Christians are called to a counter-cultural people. We are not like the promiscuous Amorites in Canaan; we don’t have our names on the Ashley Madison website, unlike others in the state of Colorado, which has the dubious distinction of having the 2nd highest % of people on this evil website. We are not like the women-abusing culture of Rome, and we do not follow Jesus just when we like it, as if we could be cafeteria disciples.
Like St. Peter, we say, “to whom shall we go?” You have the words of eternal life.

I am still not sure if Jesus would be able to cut it as a religious figure today….all these people decide to leave…what does he do “do you want to leave, too?” No, it would be “wait, let’s talk, we can make a deal for you; this communion thing isn’t that important. There’s another place, right down the street, and they have better music.”

(Slide) Some of the disciples said “this is a hard teaching.”
You know, only true disciples accept hard teaching. In America we have grown up in comfort, in luxury, in slavery to our appetites and passions and feelings, and if anyone gets into our grill with a challenging teaching of Jesus we start complaining “this is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” I’m outta here!

I want to share something with you that may trouble you, may even anger you. Actually, I hope it does.

(Slide) God has no grandchildren.
In other words, we are one generation from the Church disappearing in our world. You want proof? Go to Western Europe on a Sunday and walk into a Catholic Church. You want data? It’s already happening in America.

(Slide) for every 1 Catholic convert….

(Slide) Catholicism loses….
If Apple Computer had six people who threw away their iPads for every one they sold; CEO Tim Cook would stop everything and figure out what was wrong.

(Slide) 13% of all Americans
Does that bother you? Does that disturb you? We sit up and talk, Father and Doug and the staff gather, and we agonize about this—how many adults did we baptize last year? How many are still with us? How are we doing? How many fallen-away Catholics are there in this town, and what are we doing to go out and bring them back to the faith? We even know where they are….

I have some news for you. I’m not delighted. I don’t think Jesus is delighted.
(Slide) …“New Life’s pastor”
To go to a church where you can just pray Jesus into your heart, which is not found in the scriptures, where they believe that it’s just crackers and grape juice, not the real presence of Christ . . . I think that’s important. That allows some pastor who is sexually immoral to just go down the street and set up another church—there is no discipline out there. Say what you want about the Catholic clergy scandals--at least there were some priests who got fired. There is no courage to call sin a sin, and deal with it. And to hear teachers—actual Catholic teachers in this city—say that it doesn’t matter what church you go, I know one thing—they would be walking away would those other would-be disciples, not standing there with Peter.

But Peter’s not complaining, he’s not leaving, he’s not quibbling. He’s has got his weaknesses, doesn’t he? But one thing he is not—and that’s being half-hearted. That headstrong, blabbermouth, lying, cowardly fisherman says, “to whom shall we go?” YOU have the words of eternal life.

That’s what we need.

Why are we doing so poorly as an American church? I think there are some exciting things going on at OLP, but we have to look honestly at the world and at the American Catholic Church and be candid here.

(Slide) Hosea said “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” You look at lives destroyed because families wander from the faith, how many kids wander off when they leave home, good Catholic kids who get all chewed up in college, who don’t know how to answer their professors, folks who can’t explain why they are Catholic, or who can’t simply discuss the faith. Catholics who don’t get married in the Catholic Church anymore. Catholic marriages having no greater statistical chance of making it as the general culture. People who know more about Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton than they know the Catechism. They know the words to every rock n roll song, but the idea of memorizing a passage of scripture seems like it’s too extreme. And they don’t think it’s important to stay on top of their knowledge. Their learning about the faith stopped at Confirmation. If you are not busy learning and being formed, continuously formed, in the faith, you are dying.

So what can we do? What’s the most important thing to do?

(Slide) Here are the most important things for a real Christian to do.

Greatest Commandment, and the Greatest Commission…..nothing else is more key to our thriving.
(Slide) “Faith Formation” is just another phrase for “discipleship.”

We’re going to be talking about these more and more—every member of this church should be having their faith formed, growing as a disciple. And we have the means to get that done. Don’t have time to preach on them today, just have time to announce them, and encourage you to read your bulletins, the website, talk to us.

(Slide) “Ascend” is our High School Ministry nights, and “climb higher is for 9th through 12th grade youth—I wish this ministry was around when I was growing up.

“Illumin8” Is our Middle School Ministry nights, and “Let Your Light Shine” is for 6th through 8th grade young people.

(Slide) Every Second Counts/Spirit Confirmation. ESC: This preparation (first confession, first Eucharist) process is run through the Office of MFL & serves as the Faith Formation for 2nd graders this year

Spirit Confirmation is for youth who are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation (8th-12th grade).

(Slide) —Root 73/Voyagers) Kids, I will give you a dollar if you know what the 73 stands for (editor's note: there are 73 books in the Catholic Bible).

Root 73—High School Bible Study “Be Set Free on Root 73” (9th through 12th grade youth)
Voyagers: Our Children’s Ministry—can’t wait to see how our Parish Hall has been completely transformed for these events—churches, by the Sea of Galilee, it is absolutely awesome. Our children will be grounded in the truths of the faith.

(Slide) —Fusion/Welcome Home
Fusion is an exciting and active adventure is for families who like to grow in their Faith TOGETHER! This original ministry truly empowers parents as the primary educators of the Catholic Faith and combines monthly large group “rally” sessions and at-home sessions. For preK-12th grade and parents.

Welcome Home is the new name we have given to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Already we have been studying the bible with families, couples, individuals, getting them all dialed in. Once a month on Wednesdays in 2015—we are going to be efficient with your time—twice a month in 2016 before the Easter Vigil.

I want to talk to everyone else, if I don’t have your attention already…..

(Slide) —Unplugged)
This is a practical way to share your faith, bring your lapsed Catholic friends back to Mass on more time, get your straying children dialed in, so please look at the insert in the bulletin. 

We will have printed invitations you can give to your friends, we have a Facebook page….it’s going to be awesome….

A great way to make disciples!

Look at all the topics in the bulletin, posters, the website, etc.

Answer the Call!

Despite the challenges that face the American Catholic Church, I am thrilled to be a part of this faith family—and I am excited that this year we are moving up to a higher level of commitment. It might be a bit challenging—I’ve never been challenged like this before—but is it from the Scriptures? Do I need this? We want you to search your heart. We want you to get involved. We want you to make more time in your schedule than you make now—to pray, to study, to learn, to spend time with non-Christians and lapsed Catholics—and bring them back to Christ.

Close with a quote from this football player from Fordham U, a Catholic…he was a pretty decent football player. It's all about commitment! That’s all we need here to transform the world.

(Slide) Who was this guy?

"St." Vincent Lombardi…I know, he may may not have been a saint in the eyes of the Vatican, but there were some games they won that were simply miraculous, and if they play football in heaven (and you know they do!), God lets Vince Lombardi be the coach.

Love the faith, learn the faith, live the faith….be completely committed. And then, when the time of testing comes to your faith—to your children’s faith—and it will come, you will be able to respond by saying….

(Slide) To whom shall we go?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sheep Without A Shepherd: A World in Search of Direction

Sheep Without A Shepherd: A World in Search of Direction

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 107

Reading 1: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD.
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the LORD.

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
as king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

Reading 2: Ephesians 2:13-18
Brothers and sisters:
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, he who made both one
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,
abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims,
that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace,
and might reconcile both with God,
in one body, through the cross,
putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught. 
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” 
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat. 
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. 
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. 
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Our readings today are all connected by the theme of guidance and direction for our lives. Last we took up the walking stick of Christ—our guide for the journey. This week we continue down that path—seeking the right way to go. Who is our guide today?

Guidance is hard, because sometimes you have to ask for help. I am so glad we have the GPS systems today, because I get lost when I am out on business trips so often without one. Learned at West Point, “an officer is never lost. He may be temporarily misoriented.” I remember a few years later, when I was leading an infantry rifle company through the jungles of Panama in jungle school, that in spite of my map and my compass, I got 135 people lost. And the company CO was in the chopper above me, and he was decidedly NOT a West Pointer, and he said (and I have to clean this up a bit), “Bauer, where are you?” And I said, “Sir, I’m temporarily misoriented.” And he said, in that clear back woods Kentucky voice, “Bauer, you are not misoriented, you are lost.” Say it, you are lost. Now yell it so everyone around you knows…..and I’m yelling, “Sir, I’m lost.” That was humiliating.
We need guidance, don’t we?

“I just do what feels good.” OK, you are your own guide. How is that working out? Most of us, if we admit it at times we don’t like to talk about at parties, we can’t even live up to our own standards.

Jeremiah 10:23 says, “I know O Lord, it is not in man who lives to direct his steps.”
We have tried it on our own, and we have failed. That’s what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. We get guidance, we get some sense of limit and boundary, and we decide that God is not a good guide. We lose faith that God loves us and wants what is best for us.

Jeremiah speaks as a prophet, a forth-teller of God, in what God thinks of false guides, false shepherds

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD

Each of us is responsible before God for our behavior, but those who have been assigned to care for the people of God, the shepherds who have been asked to guide the sheep, have a heavy burden when the sheep are scattered and driven away due to the actions, or lack of action, by the shepherds. God chastises the shepherds “who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away.”

Not something like “oh, they mean well”, but woe to them. But it’s so hard to tell who the misleading ones are….they have nice suits and slick hair and they know how to talk about JEEEZus. In and of themselves, religious leaders can and have and do lead people astray. Some of them have Bibles, some have other ancient books, and some have only their own overblown sense of their own authority.

We need better religious guides. Because religious guides can be wrong. This is what happened in the Reformation. People reacted to bad religious guides and abusive money-hungry churches, and they wrongly decided that THEY alone were better guides, that they could interpret the scriptures on their own, without any history or handed on church tradition, teachings that were 1500 years old, as if there was never a church before they walked into town. They picked up the scriptures, they read them as they felt they were led, and they formed new churches, different churches, Protestant churches. OK, but along the way they become misguided, as they formed church after church after church because people look at the scriptures without any history, without any guidance, or animated only by one aspect of teaching—and they go astray.

“Rick, are you saying that the Protestant churches have gone astray?” “Aren’t we all well-meaning, and everyone is basically good, and any church that has a cross on the top of the building must be okay, right?”

Listen to me, mark my words. I would be a misguiding religious leader, a bad shepherd, if I told you that you should just follow some religious leader. They can lead you astray. And in America today we have over 33,000 different denominations, a result of people not being able to agree, people having no tradition going back to the apostles—read the scriptures, the early church was bound together by oral/preached tradition as well as the word of God, and the teaching office of the church—the Magisterium—expressed when Jesus said, “you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church….and I will give you the keys to the kingdom….and what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” We need the scriptures, we need the traditions of the church expressed form the words of Jesus to the words of the apostles through their successors, otherwise we’ll go off with the Bible—or even without it—and end of splitting and dividing and splitting and dividing and spitting and dividing—and hurting and misleading the faith of so many people in the process. Look at our own city. One man is in an immoral relationship as a pastor of a major church in town, New Life, and he leaves that church, no sense of closure, of discipline, of repentance to the flock, no guidance from the apostles or from any authority, and then that misguided pastor goes off and forms another church, and another group splits off, and on and on and on….

What happened to the very early tradition, embodies in the creed which we will pray in just a few moments, something that took shape even as the scriptures were taking shape, as a tradition of the church, of the church as “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic”? It’s gone today. Just going into a church building with a cross or a nice band doesn’t mean you’re going to be guided well. We need a church that is one—not split into tens of thousands of groups—holy, where there are standards, that there is discipline, that there is a call to purity in spite of the culture—and even some churches—saying something else, catholic—not some regional or city isolated group, but tied into a worldwide movement that goes back to the very days of Jesus—that is apostolic—that reflects there teachings and the traditions of the apostles and their successors.

You want religious guidance? That’s what we need today.

Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
I am against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. 

God’s reaction? Opposition. I oppose that. God is not for religion for its own sake, some sort of ecumenical Vitamix that whirls a lot of do-goodisms together—try to be a nice person. And people say “well, I try not to hurt anybody.” This is not guidance; that only scatters the sheep. The sheep start thinking that guidance isn’t that important, that we can be our own guides. We confuse democracy with spiritual guidance, and we seek out those people who tell us what we want to hear.  

And even if we are in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, do we approach the guidance of Jesus as if it were the Golden Corral—Best Buffet in the USA? I like this love, I like this giving to the poor, but I’m not into prayer, and I really don’t have to be in attendance with the body of Christ when we gather together each week, do I? I can just come during Christmas and Easter, right? Man, I don’t want the church to get next to me, either. Start talking about my personal life, what I do with my time, what I do with my girlfriend, how I yell at my wife or my employees….that’s a private matter between me and God, and the church or its leaders have no right to talk about this stuff. “Just stick to the Lilies of the Field, Rick.”

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the LORD.

God will deal with misguided and misguiding religious leaders. And another thing God is interested in? God wants us to increase and multiply. He wants his flock to go into all the world and make disciples. That is our mission, our purpose—and we are going to be talking a lot about that. “And none shall be missing.”

We have some exciting plans that we will be sharing with you in the weeks to come about ways that we can be those good shepherds, those who seek and save those who are wandering off, that they can find the Way—Christ—the truth—Christ—and the life—Christ.

The Responsorial Psalm today speaks of God as our Shepherd….he leads us to nourishment, his rod and staff (for protection and for guidance), and even if we find ourselves in death’s shadow—in the land of Mordor—we need not fear the evil around us.

When Jesus was alive, the shepherd could name each sheep and each one knew his voice by heart, much like the family dog knows your voice. Good shepherds would search and search for one lost sheep. Or if one was turned absurdly on its back, unable to roll over again because of its full fleece, the shepherd would take his “crook,” and using the big curve on one end would easily maneuver that sheep back onto its feet. If there was real danger, as for instance if wolves were ready to pounce, the shepherd would take out his “staff,” a pole-like weapon, and deal with the predators.

And it is so easy to give way to fear these days. The courts, the culture, the breakdown of morality, the drugs and violence, addiction all around us, and others openly selling those very things that would destroy us and our families. Oh, we are terrified of a world when people slay each other in the name of their God, when our soldiers are slain before our very eyes, when our brothers and sisters are slain in churches because of their color of their skin…we need a good shepherd, for it seems that our world is taking on that shadow of bleakest death—parts of children sold by Planned Parenthood—where is the planning and guidance for parenthood there? They are blind guides, and we need a good shepherd to keep us on the way. Someone not to keep us from a world of evil, but one who will prepare a banquet for us in the very presence of all this misguided hatred and brutality.

And that is what we have in a few moments—and it is a banquet—guidance for the journey, viaticum in the presence of our enemies, and to drink that cup that overflows with grace where we previously found only hatred and bitterness, of love where there was loss, and hope where there was only despair. Oh, and we have a good shepherd, who is so good he laid down his life for we sheep.

And we close with our gospel today. Mark records

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Jesus saw all the crowds—he knew that they did not find guidance anywhere else but in Him—and he was moved by their lostness, he was moved by how they were stumbling and blinded and could not find their way home….
Look at Jesus’ heart here—he was moved.

He had compassion—to feel the same—to be alongside. He wasn’t just sitting at home and watching the news and complaining about how bad the world was. Yes, there was evil in the world, but it is because people have the wrong guides. They trust in themselves, they trust in misguided religions, they trust in politics and political leaders. Do not put your trust in these false guides.

We are surrounded by many voices. There’s rarely a moment within our waking lives that someone or something isn’t calling out to us and, even in our sleep, dreams and nightmares ask for our attention.  And each voice has its own particular cadence and message. Some voices invite us in, promising us life if we do this or that or buy a certain product or idea; others threaten us. Some voices beckon us towards hated, bitterness, and anger, while others challenge is towards love, graciousness, and forgiveness. Some voices tell us that they are playful and humorous, not to be taken seriously, even as others trumpet that they are urgent and weighty, the voice of non-negotiable truth, God’s voice.

Jesus tells us that he alone is the Good Shepherd, and his own will hear his voice and come to him, in the midst of all these other voices. Let us always listen—and listen with a desire to obey—speak Lord, your servant hears”—the voice of the Good Shepherd. And remember these things about the voice of the Good Shepherd, the voice of God, that many times His voice comes to us in ways that are paradoxical:

  • The voice of God is recognized both in whispers and in soft tones, even as it is recognized in thunder and in storm.
  • The voice of God is recognized wherever one sees life, joy, health, color, and humor, even as it is recognized wherever one sees dying, suffering, conscriptive poverty, and a beaten-down spirit.
  • The voice of God is recognized in what calls us to what’s higher, sets us apart, and invites us to holiness, even as it is recognized in what calls us to humility, submergence into humanity, and in that which refuses to denigrate our humanity.
  • The voice of God is recognized in what appears in our lives as “foreign,” as other, as “stranger,” as “those lost, like sheep without a Shepherd”, even as it is recognized in the voice that beckons us home.
  • The voice of God is the one that most challenges and stretches us, even as it is the only voice that ultimately soothes and comforts us.
  • The voice of God enters our lives as the greatest of all powers, even as it forever lies in vulnerability, like a helpless baby in the straw of a Bethlehem manger.
  • The voice of God is always heard in privileged way in the poor, even as it beckons us through the voice of the artist, the poet, and the pure of heart.
  • The voice of God always invites us to live beyond all fear, even as it inspires holy fear.
  • The voice of is heard inside the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as it invites us never to deny the complexities of our world and our own lives.
  • The voice of God is always heard wherever there is genuine enjoyment and gratitude, even as it asks us to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and freely relinquish all the things of this world that hold us so tightly.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Touching Jesus

Touching the Master, and Being Touched by Him
June 28, 2015; Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time; Lectionary: 98
Mark 5: 21-43 (New American Bible)

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, 
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to Jesus,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” 
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.

After a series of healings in Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus having authority over life itself, healing a little 12-year old girl who had been ill, the daughter of a synagogue ruler. Jesus enters the house, and says “arise.” In the midst of sorrow and pain, and public anguish and weeping, he is the calmest person in the room. It is an amazing healing.  

But I want us to focus on the earlier healing we read about today, this woman who broke through the crowd to touch Jesus. This is a wonderful healing story, one that also applies to our own healing today. Not sure what affliction you may be carrying today—marriage in trouble, loss of a job, long bout with sickness or illness, a dullness and emptiness in your faith, searching for the life of faith, a separation between you and your children—this woman’s faith and action (and Jesus’ response)—tells us a lot about our own path to healing and wholeness today.

The Bible is not very specific about her problem, it says she had “an issue of blood” for twelve years. Most commentators agree it was some kind of chronic uterine bleeding. As a Jewish woman, she was thus rendered ritually unclean, compounding her health problems with moral ones.

Now Jesus has come to her village. With that, this poor woman makes the decision that somehow, someway she must get through to see Jesus. If only she could touch him. She did not speak to him because she was embarrassed and ashamed of her condition. She thought to simply touch him, receive her healing, and then slip away unnoticed. After so many years, she was used to coping with life that way.

Now she reaches out and touches Jesus. The text is very clear on what happened when she touched Jesus’ garment. Two different words are used. She was immediately (v. 44) and instantly (v. 47) healed. The text even specifies that at the moment she touched his garment, the bleeding stopped.

It was an amazing miracle. Jesus is walking away from her, Jairus the synagogue ruler is tugging at him and talking and crying all at the same time. Meanwhile, the crowd is so tightly packed in the narrow alleyway that a person could hardly breathe, much less move. The disciples are trying to do crowd control, but they are swept along with the flow. No one sees this poor woman off to the side, no one notices as she elbows her way to the center, no one pays attention as she reaches out her hand, no one speaks to her and she speaks to no one.

Here comes Jesus! As he passes by, her hand brushes his robe. Something like an electrical shock moves from her fingers through her hand, up her arm, and into every part of her body. Only it is not an electrical shock, but the infusion of some mighty power with which she was not familiar. And in less time than it takes to tell it, her weary arteries, shrunken veins, diseased organs, withered muscles, and shattered nerves are filled with health and life and strength. The disastrous decay of twelve years is instantly halted and then reversed.

She is well again! Healthy again! Whole again!

She turns to go, not ungrateful—no, not at all—but fearful lest she call attention to herself and she is respectful of the greater work Jesus does. He has gone to heal the daughter of someone important, a synagogue ruler, and has no time for me. She must not bother him. But with a smile on her face, the first real smile in a long, long time, she turns to go home.

But just at that moment, Jesus stops, turns, and surveying the crowd asks, “Who touched me?” It seems to Peter and the other disciples like the craziest question in the world. Hundreds of people were milling and jostling around and he wants to know who touched him? Everybody was touching him! So many people were crowding around Jesus it could have been anyone. Besides, what difference does it make? A touch is a touch is a touch.

But that’s not true with Jesus.

Jesus could distinguish between the bumps and jostles and the press of the crowd and the touch of faith. That’s the touch of this poor woman. If the disciples couldn’t tell the difference, it did not matter—Jesus could. He knew that someone had touched him in faith. He felt the faith in the passing brush of her fingers on his garment.

As he walked down that crowded street, hundreds of hands reached out to him. Yet he felt only this thin, sickly hand of faith. He felt it! He felt her touch ... He stopped ... He turned ... He spoke to her. He was not offended or angry with her. Nor was he too busy or too tired to bother with her. Think of it. She stopped Jesus in his tracks. In the gospels, the only thing that stops Jesus—that stops him in his tracks, that amazes him—two things: faith, or lack of faith.

He asks this question about touching not for the woman who had already been healed, but for the others who had gathered. For their faith. You know what? He also asks that question to us today. “Who touched me?”

“I know some of you are in the crowd, I know some of you are attending Mass today, but who really touched me?” “I know you sang a little, and stayed awake during the homily, but did you reach out and touch me in faith?” “Who reached out with even a feeble, mustard-seed faith?” “Who is struggling with those life-dominating sins, those weaknesses that have accumulated for years?” “Who touched me today?” “Who is going to touch me today?”

And he spoke to her as if she were the only person in the crowd. When he turned, it was just Jesus and her. No one else mattered.

Jesus loves you as if there were only one person in the universe to love. He hears you as if you were the only one speaking to him. He attends to your needs as if yours were the only needs in the universe. What a Savior! Can I get a witness?

All that touches you touches him. If it is your pain today, then he feels that pain. If it is sorrow, then he feels that exact sorrow. If it is loss, then he feels the loss as dearly as you do. If it is failure, then he feels the failure. Whatever it is that hurts you, he feels it. If it touches you, it touches him. That’s what the writer to the Hebrews meant when he said, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Thank God it is so. If it hurts us, it hurts him. And he bears that burden so we don’t have to.

This story also shows us the amazing power of even a feeble faith. She didn’t have a huge amount of faith. But she had a mustard seed faith, and through it God moved the mountain of her illness.

Do you ever feel as if your problems keep you from coming to God? Do you ever feel so dirty and unclean that you think Jesus would not have anything to do with you? Do not despair. Jesus is not offended by your problems. He’s seen it all before. I say it again. He will not turn you away. Can I please get a witness?

For those of you who partake in communion in a few moments, we have again the opportunity to reach out and to touch—to taste, to consume—the literal body and blood of Jesus. If we reach out to him with faith during those moments, he will stop, listen, hear, and bless our lives. We will touch him, and He will touch us.

That’s what even a feeble faith can do. Coming to Christ is not difficult. The hardest part is reaching out with the hand of faith. If you want to touch Jesus, all you have to do is reach out to him.