Archive for category Jesus
The new millennium has witnessed and continues to witness various and different faces of violence, division and situations of unpeace. Hardly any day passes that we do not hear the sad news of violent aggression and brutality unleashed against innocent people somewhere around the world. To make matters worse, perpetrators of these acts of violence often try to justify these atrocities by claiming that they are fighting a holy war in God’s name. Think of the crusades, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. And the latest is the ISIS or ISIL.
Today’s readings are indeed a call to war: not a war against other people but a war against sin and evil; not a war against people we perceive as evil, but a war against the evil one, the devil.
Jesus shocked his disciples when he declared that he would cast fire and cause division rather than peace upon the earth. This is a disturbing word knowing Jesus as the Prince of Peace who has come “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79) and to dispense peace “among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14) Here he makes it clear that he cast fire and brings division rather than peace. In Matthew’s parallel verse (10:34), Jesus brings a sword.
Is Jesus contradicting himself on his teachings about love peace and unity? Is Jesus contradicting himself the fourth precept of the Decalogue or Ten Commandment which is, “Honor your father and mother!” Certainly not. Jesus, in saying those paradoxical words, did not intend to destroy family and other human relations, ties and institutions. Rather he was only telling his disciples, in a forceful language, the following:
First, to choose and to follow Jesus is a matter of personal choice. No can one can make decision for us. Not even the Church or the State. Not even our family. And when we choose, either we choose and follow Jesus or reject him. There is no middle way. There is no half-way. There is no other alternative. There is no other option. Please bear in mind that our sanctification and salvation depend on the kind of choice we make. Choose God and you choose life, happiness and peace.
Second, if we opted to choose and follow Jesus then our loyalty, obedience and faithfulness to him must be urgent, exclusive and unparalleled. When it comes to hierarchy of values and priorities in life, God always takes precedence over possessions and relations. To choose and follow Jesus only and always may sometimes bring division and conflict. This is the necessary consequence and cost of following Jesus. This substantially explains the paradoxical words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Third, Jesus’ message of love, peace and unity does not necessarily mean that we compromise with evil and tolerates injustices and wrong-doings. Peace and unity that we rightly desire can be achieved not by compromise, force and violence but by doing the will of God for us and through us. Let this Christian moral principles always guide us: Do good and hate sin! Love sinner and hate evil!
In today’s Mass, Jesus invites all of us to examine who we love first and foremost. Does the love of Jesus Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (2 Corinthians 5:14)? A true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ. Jesus insists that his disciples give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is higher than spouse or kin because it is possible that family and friends can become our enemies when they prevent and hinder us from following and serving the Lord.
Let our “faith in God leads us to turn to him alone as our first origin and our ultimate goal, and neither to prefer anything to him nor to substitute anything for him” (CCC 229).
You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet. I have just given you an example that as I have done, you also may do.”
A few nights ago, The History Channel showed a documentary in which scientists attempted to create what may be the most realistic 3-D image of the face of Christ.
They spent many months on the project, using sophisticated computer technology to craft the image from the Shroud of Turin.
The result is the face of a young man with long hair, and a beard, and scars, and blood stains around his brow. The computer estimates that he’d be about 5’8″. He looks heavier, more muscular than most may think. But he otherwise looks very much the way any of us might imagine Jesus looked at the time of his death.
What Jesus really looked like has fascinated us for centuries – and it’s informed how he’s been portrayed in art. And it’s not just what he looked like, but what he did. We see him depicted so often in art as a crucified victim, or a good shepherd, or a teacher preaching to his followers.
But tonight, on one of the holiest nights of the year, we are given a very different picture of Jesus. And it may be more surprising than anything you’d see on the History Channel.
We see him on his knees, wiping away dirt, washing feet.
This is truly what it means to be Christ. He said so himself.
“I have given you a model to follow,” he tells his apostles. “So that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
For all those who ask the perennial question, “What would Jesus do?,” here is your answer.
And it comes at a surprising moment: on this night when we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, and the institution of the priesthood. But the church does not offer us a gospel reading about Christ giving us himself in the form of bread and wine. Instead, it gives us this gospel reading.
But the message, I think, is the same. Tonight, God gets down on his knees for us. Tonight, He lowers himself. Tonight, He becomes a servant to the world — as humble as a slave, as meager and plain as a crumb of bread.
From this, we learn what it means to be like Christ.
The overwhelming impression is surprising, and challenging. It is God becoming less…so that we can become more.
One of his last acts on earth, the last communal moment with his friends, is spent taking care of them, purifying them, removing the dust of the day. Perhaps he is anticipating the roads they will travel in the hours ahead. Maybe he is somehow getting them ready for the long journey ahead — missions they will undertake after he has gone, traveling by foot to bring the gospel to the world.
I also think it is also a beautiful representation of the priesthood, and the sacrament of reconciliation. We all walk the earth carrying the debris of our lives – our failings, our sins, our weaknesses. They cling to us. But here, they are washed away. We are made new; we can begin again.
And this, too, is what it means to be like Christ.
“As I have done for you, you should also do.”
The Imitation of Christ begins with this moment. It is in the selfless service, doing what others won’t do, or can’t.
It is people like Fr. Rick Frechette, in Haiti, performing surgery on the poorest people of the Western hemisphere’s poorest country, and caring for those who cannot care for themselves, and quietly going to mass graves to pray for the dead when no one else will.
It’s aid workers in Sri Lanka and Sisters of Charity in the Bronx and missionaries in Nepal.
And it is priests like those here tonight, and thousands around the world, who anoint our sick and offer absolution for our sins, and celebrate mass with one simple goal in mind – to save souls.
At a moment when the priesthood is under attack, we can’t forget those who are quietly, prayerfully, persistently doing God’s work in our world – the great majority of good priests whose work often goes unnoticed. You won’t see headlines about them in the New York Times.
Years ago, when the AIDS crisis first broke, protestors showed up regularly at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to throw condoms and protest the church’s teachings about sex. But every week, Cardinal O’Connor left his residence and went to St. Claire’s Hospital in midtown to visit AIDS patients — to bathe them and empty their bedpans. No one ever knew about it. It wasn’t reported until after he died. But that kind of work goes on today, in every corner of the world. I think of Bishop Daily, who rises early almost every Saturday, in every kind of weather, and puts on his coat and goes to the abortion clinic down on Austin Street, and stands outside, and simply prays the rosary. A humble, simple act that can change hearts and, maybe, save lives.
That is what it means to be like Christ.
That is what it means to wash feet.
“As I have done for you, you should also do.”
That is Christ’s message to his followers – and to us.
And so, this night, confronted with this challenging gospel reading, it’s worth asking ourselves: what have we done? How many feet have we washed?
How have I tried to imitate Christ?
Science and technology can only tell us so much. The fact remains: if you want to really know what Jesus looked like, you won’t find it on the History Channel. You won’t even find it on the Shroud of Turin.
Look, instead, to tonight’s gospel.
Because here – on his knees before others, his head lowered in humility and in love, doing the work of a slave – here is where you see the true image of Christ.
Pope Paul VI. Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow-men throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.
Ignatius of Loyola. O Dearly beloved Word of God, teach me to be generous, to serve Thee as Thou dost deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at my wounds, to labor without seeking rest, to spend myself without looking for any reward other than that of knowing that I do Thy holy will. Amen.
Jesus has just driven out the demon from a mute person. While the crowds are awed, some people attribute the miracle to the power of Beelzebul. Jesus points to the absurdity of Satan fighting against himself and says that he drives out demons “by the finger of God.”
Jesus also implies that his adversaries have less faith in God’s finger at work in him and in the world than the magicians at Pharaoh’s court. For the third plague sent to persuade the Pharaoh to let the Israelites depart from Egypt (Ex 8:12-15), Aaron struck the ground with his staff, and gnats arose from the dust, infesting people and beasts. The Pharaoh’s magicians used their magic arts to duplicate the feat but were unable to do so. Admitting their failure, the magicians told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”
Besides representing divine power working mighty signs and wonders for his people, God’s finger (or “hand”) is seen in the created world—the heavens, the moon, the stars, humans, and animals (Ps 8). When the Pharaoh refuses to let Israel go, God tells Moses that he will lay his hand on Egypt, and by great acts of judgment, God will bring Israel out of bondage. It is God’s own finger that inscribes the Ten Commandments on the two stone tablets given to Moses (Ex 31:18; Dt 9:10).
God’s Spirit is in Jesus who is God’s finger at work to free men and women from Satan and the forces of evil. Those who follow Jesus share in his victory over evil and continue his liberating mission.
As a priest of eleven years in the ministry, one of the most challenging moments in my priesthood is to deliver a homily, facilitate a retreat or recollection, conduct seminar, and correct gently in charity people such as my relatives, neighbors, friends and classmates and teachers who have known me and my background since childhood.
Usually in moments like this, I feel I am unworthy and apprehensive of what will be their attitudes and reactions of what I ought to say and do knowing that they knew me very well and I know them too. Behind all these, deep within me, I am fully convinced, that familiarity breeds contempt. And no critics are more severe than kin and neighbors who have known me since my childhood.
This is what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus suffers the bias, prejudices and antagonism instead of warm welcome, hospitality and generosity of his town mates when he returned to his home town, not simply as the carpenter’s son, but now as a rabbi with disciples. This led him to exclaim, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house” (Mt 13:57).
Jesus “native place” is Nazareth, which he has already left to make Capernaum, by the sea of Tiberias, his homebase for his Galilean ministry. “Native place may also apply to the whole country – Israel – for the rejection at Nazareth mirrors the rejection of the wider territory of the Jews. The “house” refers to his immediate and extended families. It can also apply to the household of God – Israel – the chosen people.
It was customary for Jesus to go weekly to the synagogue to worship and on occasion to read the scriptures and comment on them to the people. His hometown folks listened with rapt attention on this occasion because they had heard about the miracles he had performed in other towns. As they listened, his town mates were surprised to what they see and hear saying, “”Where did he get this wisdom and these special powers? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:54). The Jews were really surprised to hear him speak so well in the synagogue. Surprised because for them Jesus was just a son of Joseph, and had practiced the trade of carpenter himself for some years since Joseph’s death. Not as prophet or teacher as they now see and hear.
Their amazement instead of leading them to repentance, conversion and discipleship, they took took offense at him and refused to listen to what he had to say. They despised his preaching because he was a workingman, a carpenter, a mere layman and they despised him because of his family.
Worst of all, according to some versions of the Gospel, Jesus was promptly expelled from the synagogue and almost killed at the outskirts of Nazareth, causing him to remark, “Indeed no prophet is accepted and honored by his townsmen, relatives and friends”. What he really wanted to convey was: Prophet is only accepted and honored by a person who believes. Because of their lack of faith, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands of them. Indeed familiarity breeds contempt. Jesus could do no mighty works in their midst because of their stubbornness of heart, ignorance and unbelief.
The Nazarenes’ surprise is partly due to people’s difficulty in recognizing anything exceptional and supernatural in those with whom they have bee on familiar terms. Hence the saying, ” No one is a prophet in his own country.” These old neighbors were also jealous of Jesus. Where did he acquire his wisdom? Why him rather than us? They were unaware of Jesus’ conception; surprise and jealousy cause them to be shocked to look down on Jesus and not to believe in Him: “He came to his own home, and His own people received Him not” (John 1:11).
At the annunciation the angel already identified the Jesus the son of Mary as the ‘Son of the Most High’ and the ‘Son of God’ (Lk 1:32, 35). The demons called Jesus ‘Holy One of God (Mk 1:24)0, ‘Son of God’ (Mk 3:11), ‘Son of the Most High’ (Mk 5:7). At the foot of the cross the Centurion acknowledged, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” The doubting Thomas acclaimed Jesus: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20: 28). And the Father himself at the baptism (Mk 1:11) and at the transfiguration (Mk 9:7) claimed Jesus, “This is my beloved Son.” Can you still remain skeptical like the doubting Thomas and the people of Nazareth? Will you still hesitate to put your faith in Jesus? “Do not be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn 20:27).
As we continue the celebration of the Mass, let us pray for the gift of faith. Let us always entrust ourselves wholly to God and believe absolutely all that He says for He is God who neither deceives nor can be deceived. Jesus has done so much for us that we may repent, believe and be saved. Let us, therefore, live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end by nourishing it with the word of God and the sacraments; begging the Lord to increase our faith (see Mk 9:24; Lk 17:5; 22:32); and lastly by making our faith working through charity, abounding in hope and rooted in the faith of the Church (see Gal 5:6; Rom 15:13; cf. Jas 2:14-26).