Jesus in Your Story

Our eight-day countdown to Christmas begins today—in the fog of a rather long and obscure family tree.

But don’t be dismayed. Don’t skip today’s Gospel reading. The glorious mystery of Jesus’ identity begins to unfold in this genealogy. It starts with the summary in the very first line—Jesus Christ is “son of David, son of Abraham.” To name Jesus as the son of David is to declare that he is God’s own and nothing less than the true king of God’s chosen people, Israel.

But that’s not all. Jesus is also the “son of Abraham”—the heir to Abraham, who responded to God and was blessed to become the founding ancestor of God’s people, Israel. Jesus fulfills God’s covenant with Abraham—because of his obedience, “all the nations of the earth will find blessing.”

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Donald Jackson, Matthew Frontispiece: The Genealogy of Christ
We are being introduced to grand claims about this Jesus. But then Matthew brings it down to our level. The bulk of what follows is dedicated to recounting the human history of Jesus. And it’s not always so high and mighty, predictable and orderly, or even dignified. We hear of Tamar, who disguises herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law; Ruth, a non-Israelite woman who seizes her own destiny by boldly presenting herself to Boaz, a powerful Israelite; and others whose lives are rather messy and oh-so-human.

And this is why the birth of Jesus matters for each of us. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything promised to David and Abraham. Yet not merely in the abstract—he enters the human story in his very own family tree.

Has Jesus entered your story? As we near the culmination of our Advent watch, today is a good time to invite him in. Jesus is ready to take on your past, and remain with us, transforming us, today and always.

See the Gospel text and prayers at: FaithND (where this post originally appeared)
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Not Accepting Labels: Pharisees & Evangelization

How many of of us have a positive impression of Pharisees? Probably not too many. For most Bible readers, the Pharisees stand out, memorably as the best known opposition to Jesus and his followers.

230px-rubens-feast_of_simon_the_phariseeHowever, this Sunday’s Gospel reading for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Luke 7:36-8:3) reminds us of the absolute folly in settling for a label instead of a story in our relationships with others, even those we don’t yet know.

In the end we see that Sherry Weddell’s maxim, “never accept a label in place of a story” was as relevant to Jesus’ ministry as it should be for us.

As Luke the Evangelist so often reminds us, Jesus did a lot of eating. Jesus ends up at this particular dinner party because, “a Pharisee invited him to dine with him” (Lk 7:36). Did you catch that? Jesus, the Good News personified, doesn’t set up some intricate plan to attract the “unchurched” or “dechurched” of his age to come to him–a Pharisee invites Jesus. This tells us that Jesus operated outside the circle of his immediate followers. He wasn’t known only to disciples, he wasn’t so busy with his disciples that he made no impact, or impression on the outside world.

This can be tough for us today in our modern day settings. We want to be part of our local Christian fellowship in a parish, it’s good to be growing and living life with other disciples in parish life–yet, without keeping a balance, of cultivating authentic relationships outside of the parish walls, we’ll never experience what Jesus did. Without the perception of a possible “yet” to such an invitation, even from someone of different worldview or religious convictions, who would reasonably want to invite me to dine with them? While we don’t know the full intentions or motives of this Pharisee, we do see that he is taken at face value. Jesus accepts the invitation. And we can do the same, assuming good will and genuine intentions of every person we interact with, especially those “in opposition” to us in some way.

In the meal conversation, we begin to see beyond the label “Pharisee.” This man who was interested (for whatever reasons!) in having Jesus attend his dinner has ideas about Jesus’ identity. He thinks that Jesus might be a prophet (Lk 7:39). He already considers Jesus a teacher (Lk 7:40). In short, if we were to accept the label “Pharisee” as the full picture, we as time-travelling evangelists might write this man off. We might see him as one in opposition to the disciples and Jesus. We might assume his religious viewpoints are absolutely fixed and decided. We might take this man as a hypocrite because other Pharisees acted that way publicly. And if we did that–accepting the label instead of a story–we’d never know that he was toying with the idea that Jesus was a genuine prophet, and already convinced that Jesus was a wisdom-filled teacher.

 

But Jesus is always operating beyond a label. Jesus makes it personal. He addresses this Pharisee by name (Lk 7:40). “The Pharisee” has become Simon, a man who is wondering if Jesus is a prophet and interested in his teachings. And Jesus enters into Simon’s story.

See Simon was put off that Jesus had accepted the attention and affection of a sinner who had slipped into the dinner (Lk 7:38-39). Jesus does not give Simon the answer. He does not issue a direct correction. Jesus leads Simon to be able to see things differently, telling him a parable of two debtors, and asking him a question. It’s still Simon’s story. The difference is that Jesus is in it.

Now, sometimes we imagine that when it comes to evangelization, it’s all or nothing. But this isn’t the case. Jesus loves to save. Jesus loves to save so much that he’s willing to take a little openness and work with it.

Simon answers Jesus’ question about the parable correctly. Kind of. See Simon isn’t so sure. He couches his answer with an uncertain, “I suppose” (Lk 7:43). But Jesus does not call Simon out for hedging his bets on the answer. Jesus affirms the faith present. He gives a Teacher’s approval, telling Simon, “You have judged rightly.” You. This is all about Simon, not the religious beliefs, convictions, and practices of all the Pharisees Jesus has ever met or heard about.

And, just as Jesus heals the son of the father who can only muster this statement of faith, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24), or Paul takes as evangelistic success the response, “We should like to hear you on this some other time” (Acts 17:32), I suppose is an occasion for rejoicing. Jesus is in Simon’s story. We don’t (this side of eternity!) know the rest of Simon’s story. But, we do know this–there would have been no hope for Simon if Jesus had accepted the label, “Pharisee.”

Image credit: “Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee” (Rubens, c. 1618, via Wikipedia)

St. Mark’s Challenge to Us

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Image: Wikipedia (Saint Mark, Donatello)

Happy feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist!

Mark the Evangelist gave us a distinctively short Gospel, with the word “immediately” seemingly used in just about every narrative…something like 40x in 16 chapters–whoa…no thesaurus.com in antiquity! 😉  But, God inspired him as a true human author, using his unique skills and personality to give us an action-packed, fast-moving evangelization project that still manged to provide us extra vivid details into Jesus’ wondrous deeds and a dramatic half-way-thru-the-Gospel shocking turn to blunt emphasis on Jesus’ servant-kingship.

St. Mark the Evangelist also uniquely “punts” the ball to us in his first “curtain call” ending (16:8) where he makes it look as if Jesus’ Resurrection is the end of the story here. The end of any message of salvation going forth, as the women flee from the tomb, trembling, astonished, and saying nothing of this to anyone. Ouch.

While we as modern-day Christians are blessed with the benefit of additional longer, canonical manuscript endings (16:9-20 proclaimed in today’s Mass), there were likely many early believers who only heard the first “curtain call” ending. Yikes. It’s hard for us to imagine!

Yet, think about the implied responsibility Mark is creatively pointing us toward. St. Mark is reminding us that now it is up to us to choose to take an active role in spreading the word about this great miracle, this victory over death that changes lives for the better! St. Mark recorded his Evangel (Gospel) in writing, but now it’s time for anyone who hears and believes to continue to share the message, to evangelize in their own unique time in history, guided and empowered by the same Holy Spirit that inspired Mark is such an amazing way 🙂

St. Mark the Evangelist, pray for us that we would respond to your challenge with the urgency, joy, and excitement you modeled, and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed through our lives as disciples.

“Jesus, That’s Ridicuous”

Where do I need to say, “Jesus, that’s ridiculous”–and then listen to Him?

Lk 5:1-11, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fishing nets, Bermagui

Image: “Fishing nets, Bermagui,” by Brad Hinton, Creative Commons 2.0 license, via Flickr

“We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works”

We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)

Thinking about how to “do Church” and be disciples. Not just a new 21st century trend–but present in the 1st century as well 🙂 A nice reminder from yesterday’s Mass readings (Thursday of the 3rd Week in Ordinary Time).

God Has Spoken to Us Through the Son: The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) Mass During the Day

Today’s second reading from the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-6) begins:

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.

The Letter to the Hebrews was most likely written in the 80s A.D., or possibly the 60s A.D. (Fr. Raymond Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament), so the “last days” perspective of the author is our position in salvation history too–the time after the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. The “us” of Hebrews is us today, as well.

God has spoken to us through the Son.

Sounds so simple and obvious, it’s easy (at least for me) to overlook the profound meaning of this statement.

Early on, the Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on these verses, explaining:

Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one (§65).

Jesus, the Word made flesh–incarnate by the Holy Spirit, as we celebrate this holy day–is the Alpha and the Omega, the eternal logos. And, Jesus humbles Himself to become our Savior on a cross–“God has said everything in his Word” (CCC section title §65).

Christianity is a historical faith. But, it’s not mere history. Christianity didn’t soley happen in the past, Jesus is not contained within or confined to history.

As the Catechism goes on to make clear:

even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries (§66). 

This is where the us comes in again–yes, you and I–that kind of “us.” We of “Christian faith” gradually grasp the full significance of God’s Revelation in Jesus Christ, God’s Word.

In sum and compilation it [Revelation being made completely explicit] goes on over the course of centuries. But the tiny steps through which our dim and blurry understandings of God become more explicit, more clear, more fully revealed (cf 1 Cor. 13:12) emerge day-by-day in each of our sometimes-mundane and sometimes-more-dramatic lives as disciples of Jesus Christ living in the Holy Spirit.

God has spoken to us through the Son. 
What are you hearing God say, through the Son?
Who do you need to share the message with, so that God is speaking to an us?

 

Breaking Open the Multiple Passion Narratives of Holy Week

Whether you’re relatively new to Holy Week [aka Great Week], or you’ve marked this week for decades, the double passion narratives often make us all stop, and say wait, what was different?

If you attend Sunday Mass (for Palm/Passion Sunday) and Good Friday Service, it means that you’ll hear two different Gospel narratives describing the events like Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, trial, and drama surrounding Jesus’ road to crucifixion on calvary. Now, if you’ve ever taken any Biblical studies courses in college or maybe in adult faith formation at your parish, you know that what scholars love to do is analyze the differences between the Gospel writers. And that’s interesting, to a degree.

But, the key for evangelization and discipleship, is translating those scholarly observations into avenues for ordinary people to truly connect with the text. To feel the Gospel on different levels. To experience being swept away by what the author is trying to convey. When we can accomplish this–through preaching, formation, small groups, or one-on-one mentorship–Scripture reading shifts from a duty or academic pursuit, to a powerful form of prayer.

This interview with New Testament scholar, Fr. Donald Senior, C.P., is approachable, easy-to-read, and provides some great starting points for entering into this coming week’s Gospel passion narratives. It would be a great start for a faith formation talk, a Bible study or small group, or even a parish retreat of a few hours.

Wishing you a fruitful and holy week ahead.