Lectio

You will not suffer your holy one to see corruption

Peter appeals to a Psalm of David as evidence that the resurrection is God’s activity

Occasion: Third Sunday of Easter

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the New Testament reading, Acts 2⋅14, 22-23.

Reading

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
“You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem.
Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
You who are Israelites, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
For David says of him:
I saw the Lord ever before me,
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted;
my flesh, too, will dwell in hope,
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.

“My brothers, one can confidently say to you
about the patriarch David that he died and was buried,
and his tomb is in our midst to this day.
But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him
that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,
he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,
that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld
nor did his flesh see corruption.
God raised this Jesus;
of this we are all witnesses.
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father
and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”

Standout words

lawless men, corruption, joy, prophet, poured him forth

Reflection

Christians generally forget this, if they ever knew it, but for the ancients the Psalms were not just a collection of strange poetry; they were essentially about Christ:

  • the church’s prayer to God, either through or in Christ; and
  • Christ’s prayer to the Father, in both his divinity and his humanity.

We see this in Peter’s reference to Psalm 16 in his preaching to his fellow Jews. The Psalm is attributed to David, whom the Jews consider not merely a king but a prophet. And Peter elaborates on this, pointing out that David clearly could not have been referring to himself as the one God “will not suffer to see corruption,” because David himself had died. So, he argues, if you consider the scriptures to tell the truth, you must conclude that David referred to someone else, a descendant of his. This descendant Peter avers to be Jesus, pointing to his missing body as proof that God did not allow him to suffer corruption: God made the “paths of life” known to his Son’s human nature, and the divine Son then poured forth the Holy Spirit as proof that he had returned to the Father’s presence.

The book of Acts tells us this message was successful; many of Peter’s hearers came to believe this message and received baptism. This confirms several things that people often overlook today:

First, these Scriptures were indeed considered by the general population to have prophetic value regarding the Messiah; Peter’s interpretation was not repugnant to them, whereas some of Jesus’ teachings were so repugnant as to lose him followers (as in the gospel of John, chapter 6).

Second, that Jesus’ body had gone missing after his death. Had it been possible to find it easily, it would have been possible to refute Peter easily. Instead the authorities had to resort to further acts of violence on the apostles and, eventually, on the Church itself, through the hands of a man who should have had easy refutation — Saul — but who instead became the early Church’s great missionary to the Gentiles.

Surrexit Dominus vere — the Lord is truly risen!

Not just another guy with a message

There is darkness in our life and indeed in our world and we find emptiness when we do not encounter Christ.

Resurrection Sunday (Easter)

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the New Testament reading, Matthew 28⋅1-10.

Reading

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning
and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him
and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply,
“Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
‘He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”
Then they went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

Standout words

Do not be afraid; he has been raised; fearful yet overjoyed

Reflection

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit Jesus’ tomb when they found it empty. The darkness and emptiness of the tomb was probably very unsettling to them but they were told by the angel messenger not to be afraid. Their entry into the dark tomb in search of Jesus is very similar to what we often encounter on our journey. There is darkness in our life and indeed in our world and we find emptiness when we do not encounter Christ. The good news is that Christ calls us out of the dark tomb and tells us not to be afraid, just as he told Mary Magdalene on the first Easter morning. He calls them out into the light and tells them to tell the others the good news. We are asked to spread the good news in our own lives. You see, the Resurrection of Christ is the good news. Without the Resurrection, our faith makes not sense. Without it, Jesus was just a guy with a message. So go forth and spread the good news. Do not be afraid!

Do we accept Jesus’ humanity?

In human likeness, human in appearance, even to death on a cross.

Occasion: Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion, April 9, 2016

Second Reading, Philippians, 2:6-11

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Standout words:

did not regard equality with God, emptied himself, humbled himself, obedient to the point of death, exalted him, Jesus Christ is Lord

Reflection

In this letter, St. Paul describes how Jesus, who was in the form of God, took the form of man. He does not say that Jesus ceased to be God, only that he was God and also became human. It is tough to wrap the mind around the fact that he was both. There are countless theological treatises on the subject, going back centuries, but we can save those for another time.

It is easy to overlook the idea of Jesus being human. We know he was, but do we accept that he was?

At this stage of Lent, we see Jesus at his most human. Last week, he wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. This week, he will be increasingly upset as the time of his passion draws near. At dinner, he will announce that one of the twelve is about to betray him. Later, he wants his three closest friends nearby while he goes off to pray. He even asks his Father if it is possible for him to not have to go through with the coming events. Notice, he does not ask to get out of it, but only if it is possible to skip it. Through it all, he is obedient. He follows the plan his Father has for him.

Jesus faced temptations, just as we do. Satan believed enough in his humanity to present him with temptations very similar to our own; ego, power, and what we think we need. He resisted, accepting the Father’s will over his own.

Jesus ultimately accepted humanity to suffer and die for our sins. He became fully human, experiencing the same emotions we do, and showed us that it is possible to accept God’s will for us over our own desires and fears.

Your brother will rise

Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 2, 2017

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the New Testament reading, John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33B-45.

Reading

The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying,
“Master, the one you love is ill.”
When Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples,
“Let us go back to Judea.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
Your brother will rise.”
Martha said,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s d, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
but because of the crowd here I have said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

Standout words:

 

glory of God, if you had been here, your brother will rise, Jesus wept, untie him and let him go

Reflection

“I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus Christ, God from God, Light from Light. The Word that was spoken and the universe came to be now speaks beside the grave of a dear friend. And he is perturbed. And he weeps.

For what does he weep, and what has upset him so? Some have said it was the lack of faith that perturbed him. Perhaps. But I believe it was the condition of death itself. The people lacked faith because death was the end result of life. And Jesus knew that “from the beginning it was not so.”

Jesus knew that man was created for more than this – mourning at a tomb, thinking of what might have been if only the Master had arrived earlier. Jesus also knew that his own tomb awaited him. That his own death on the cross was just a few days away. For Death and Hell to be vanquished, Jesus came to suffer and die.

Jesus raised Lazarus, demonstrating his power over death. And then he suffered at the hand of the Romans, died on a cruel instrument of torture, was laid in a borrowed tomb, and raised again on the third day – so that all who believe in him may live eternally.

God, you give life. Help us to be life givers as well. To those we meet who are ignorant of your love. To those who suffer from bodily ailments. To those who fear death. May we be our brothers’ keepers. And trust that by your life-giving grace they will rise.

 

That the works of God be made visible through you

Occasion: Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017

You can find the readings here. The lectio is based on part of the Gospel.

Reading (excerpt)

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

Standout words

blind from birthnight is comingworks of Godsentable to see

Reflection

Why was I born blind?

I don’t mean this in a literal way, though in a sense it is true that, on account of my genetics, I was destined to grow so nearsighted that I cannot operate without glasses. In that sense I was indeed born blind.

What I mean, rather, is the spiritual sense. I was born with original sin, which I often think of as a spiritual blindness which makes it impossible to see God clearly, and thus impossible to act morally all the time. Sooner or later I will see something attractive and chase after it, heedless (thanks to my blindness) that it steers me away from God, the highest good whom I should love above all things. For that reason, I need spiritual healing before I can enter heaven.

Why was I born this way? Jesus’ answer seems to be: so that the works of God might be made visible through me. How? by healing me. Healing me of what? of my sin.

Many interesting dynamics are at work in this passage, but we will reflect on only two of them in particular, both from this excerpt.

The first regards theodicy, the attempt to explain God’s goodness in the face of so much evil in the world. The disciples ask Jesus a question that people have struggled with throughout the centuries: Why does this man suffer?

A common consensus, both then and now, is that suffering is due to sin. In this particular case, the disciples’ question assumes this consensus as settled. They want simply to know whether his parents sinned, and he suffers for their sake (or, perhaps, better, through their fault), or whether he sinned, and was born blind as a sort of preemptive punishment of that sin.

Neither, says Jesus. This is not the only time we find this in the Gospels; on at least one other occasion, our Lord asks his listeners if people who died from a water tower collapse were “more guilty” than those who live, answering his own question in the negative.

(A curious aside. The tower in Luke’s gospel is called the “tower of Siloam,” whereas here the pool is called the “pool of Siloam.” I wish I knew enough of ancient Jerusalem’s geography to say whether they were in the same area, but even if not it is a curious similarity.)

So God seems to allow suffering in order to bring something greater out of it. What that is we cannot always know, but this interpretation finds further evidence in the fact that the Father allowed the Son to suffer and die for us who had made ourselves his enemies, in order to bring about the resurrection. None of us can find particular meaning to any one person’s suffering, nor what good may come of it; we can only find general meaning, and hope, in God’s embrace of that suffering in the cross.

The second dynamic I’d like to highlight concerns a particular curiosity of this passage. In many Gospel passages, Jesus’ miracles are preceded by an act of faith. A blind man cried out for healing to the “Son of David;” a woman who suffered a hemorrhage followed Jesus and touched his cloak; in other cases, a father came to intercede with Jesus on behalf of a son or daughter. Some read too much into these episodes, to the point that they claim God is limited by our faith, or the lack thereof, and we must make an explicit act of faith in order to receive our miracle. To take an extreme example, certain televangelists abuse this idea by suggesting that the act of faith we need for our miracle is to send a $100 or $1000 check.

Nothing of that sort transpires in this Gospel, not even in the simplest request on the blind man’s part. As far as we can tell, the blind man was blissfully unaware that Jesus was on the scene until Jesus approached him of his own initiative. Some interpreters argue that the act of washing in the pool of Siloam was an act of faith. Perhaps, but, blind or nay, I wouldn’t exactly need the sort of faith that moves mountains to go and wash my face after someone smeared mud over my eyes. Heck, I might even mutter a few imprecations along the way: “Smear mud on my face, hunh? Everyone thinks it funny to pick on the blind man, hunh? Harrumph! I’d show you a few tricks with mud if I could only see…”

Be not afraid, even if your faith is weak or failing. God is at work in you at all times, waiting for your cooperation even when your are blind to his work, and he keeps his eye focused on your healing. Listening to that urge that tells you to go wash in the pool is the first step in a grand voyage of love: take it!

An encounter with the incarnate Truth

Living water to quench our deepest longing

Occasion: Third Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2017

You can find the readings here. The lectio is based on the Gospel.

Reading

Jn 4:5-42

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned,
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,
but still no one said, “What are you looking for?”
or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him.
Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
But he said to them,
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another,
“Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment
and gathering crops for eternal life,
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.‘
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for;
others have done the work,
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified,
“He told me everything I have done.”
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
“We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

Standout Words

Give me a drink; the cistern is deep; believe in Him because of His word; He told me everything I have done; food to eat of which you do not know; true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth

Reflection

Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman and surprises her by requesting a drink of water. Jews and Samaritans, while sharing similarities in faith, were separated by the question of where to worship God. During this encounter we see Jesus reveal himself as something more than an ordinary man. Jesus was able to tell the Samaritan woman her sins, which immediately got her attention and caused her to identify Him as a prophet. He goes on to tell her about water that only He can give, water that will spring up into eternal life. The Samaritan woman is at first unsure of the meaning and responds by telling him that the cistern is deep and he seemed to have no bucket with which to fetch this miraculous water. When the disciples returned with food they urged Jesus to eat. He gave them a response that he had food of which they were unaware. The Samaritan woman told the town about Jesus and he was invited to stay for a few days. During this time, he won many hearts because of his word.

When we unpack this Gospel message we see some common themes. First, we see that Jesus continues to push the envelope when it comes to those that he preaches to. He seeks out the marginalized, the sinners, and those that hold different beliefs. He is disarming at first, but quickly challenges the way people think. There was nothing comforting about Jesus preaching. He tells the truth because HE is the truth. His Word is the Word of God because HE is the Word of God. In this specific discourse, Jesus talks about water that only he can give and which will spring up into eternal life. He tells his disciples about food that he has that they do not know about. This food and drink is a pre-figurement of the Eucharist. Jesus is beginning to reveal the new covenant which will replace the old and make questions such as what mountain to worship God on irrelevant.

Jesus doesn’t stop here. He begins to reveal the character of the triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He tells the Samarian woman that soon people will worship the Father in Spirit (the Holy Spirit) and Truth (the Incarnate Word; Jesus).

We are blessed with an understanding of this divine revelation that was given to us in the fullness of time. How must have the Samaritan woman and the disciples felt about Jesus’ words?  Jesus brought many people to himself during his ministry. It is through blind faith and the grace of God that people received his teaching although they lacked the clarity that we benefit from today. We have the gift of Christ’s church. The Gospels, writings of the Fathers, and the Magisterium. Most importantly we have the Sacraments! May we ask God for an abundance of faith to follow Christ even when we aren’t clear about what he is asking of us. I believe, Lord, heal my unbelief.

Keep your eye on God’s glory

Three angles of the transfiguration have a unifying thread

Occasion: Second Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2017

You can find the full readings here. This lectio is based on the Gospel.

Reading

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Standout Words

Transfigured, Moses and Elijah, my beloved Son, be not afraid, raised from the dead

Reflection

Peter, James, and John are said to have been Jesus’ closest friends. He brought them with Him to the garden of Gethsemane, and John was at the foot of His cross with Mary. Sometime before those events, He leads these three up a mountain and He shares something very special with them; a glimpse of His true nature. It is something so profound that Peter and John mention it years later in their letters.

Jesus’ revelation can be seen from three angles, but all with a unifying thread. First, He is speaking with Moses and Elijah; the Giver of the Law and the greatest of the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets were intended to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah. Second, this reading comes a week after His temptation by Satan. Jesus shows His friends the glory that awaits us if we can resist sin and stay focused on the path God lays before us. The third angle is that He wants to strengthen them before they witness His suffering and death. At this point, His Passion is not far off, and it is going to shake them to the core, but they will need to stay the course and trust Him.

The thread in all this is to stay the course. Keep the eye on the prize of God’s glory, and glory that He wants to share with all of us.