Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Living Dead

March 30, 2013 –– EASTER VIGIL
Romans 6:3–11 / Luke 24:1–12
The Living Dead

On this Easter Vigil night we come out of the darkness of death into the wonderful light of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. There is Good News: Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. This is the Gospel. This is our Christian Faith, and this night has for centuries been a time for new baptisms and confirming our baptism.

What is this Christian Faith to which we are called? What does it mean for the way we live each day to say I am a Christian..... I am a practicing Catholic.... I am alive in Christ....?

In Romans 6 the question is: If God has chosen to forgive by putting all sin on his Son, then why do we need to be concerned about sin? Why not sin all the more so God’s grace will be further magnified? Some think this is a convenient arrangement: People want to sin and God wants to forgive sin, and that sums it up. Paul has a vehement response to this idea. The literal response is May it not be!, but there is an implied tone so that the old KJV says God forbid! The meaning is clear: being casual about sin is not an appropriate response to Christ’s death for our sins.

A story is told of a teacher who wanted to explain to the 6-year-olds in her class what someone had to do in order to go to heaven. In an attempt to discover what kids already believed about the subject, she asked a few questions:
― "If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and gave all my money to the church," he asked, "would that get me to heaven?"  "No!" the children answered. The teacher was encouraged.
― "If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me to heaven?" Again the answer was, "No!"
― "Well then," she said, "If I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved everybody, would that get me into heaven?" Again they all shouted, "No!"
― "Well then," the teacher asked, looking at her class with great encouragement, "how can I get to heaven?"  A boy in the back row stood up and shouted, "You gotta be dead!"

The little fellow spoke better than he knew. He meant, of course, that someone had to die physically before going to heaven. What we find in Romans 6 is that we have to be “dead” to have a claim to God’s salvation. Thus, we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.... (v3,4a).

Baptism affects a person’s identity. It marks a change of identification from Adam to Christ, from death to life, from condemnation to righteousness. In baptism a sinner is immersed into the death of Jesus. When a person goes into the water it is a picture of going all the way into the grave ― buried with the One who died for us. This is how we are forgiven (and how everything else inherent in our salvation comes to us): For a dead person has been absolved from sin (v7).
The point here is identity. The basis is what God has done through his Son. Everything about our salvation starts with God. It is crucial to see that God has a definitive purpose in this: our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin (v6). God wants a people who are not identified by their sin. And when we remember how helpless we are in our sins, we know that the only way for that to happen is for God to do it.

He has done it! He has done, on the one hand, something one-sided and supernatural. His Son came into our world, born of the Virgin Mary. He died for ours sins and then came back from the dead both to prove that his death was something special and to show that God’s life is bigger than sin and death: We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him (v9).

This is how the death of Christ, his resurrection and our baptism come together. So, what are we to do (because of what God has done in and through his Son)?  you.... must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus (v11).

But if our identity is Christ ― if we embrace his death for our sins, and if his kind of life is our pattern and goal ― then what will we seek to do?  The text continues: do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin... but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life (v12,13). Our hands, our feet, our tongues, our ears, our eyes.... our houses, our “free time,” our money.... our minds.... they all belong to God because a Christian is someone who died with Christ. Christians are to live in this world each day remembering they are the living dead –– dead to sin and alive in Christ.

One day a man saw another walking toward him on a city sidewalk with a big signboard over his shoulders that read, I am a slave of Christ. Curious, the first man turned to take a second look as the walking billboard passed and began to move away. On the back of the signboard was a question: Whose slave are you? You see, we have a choice of masters, but we do not have the choice not to be a slave. We all belong to someone or some thing. St Augustine once wrote, “a wicked man serves not just one master, but, what’s worse, as many masters as he has vices.” St Paul says our master determines our identity.

Christ has done everything to set us free from sin and death –– he submitted to an awful death and then rose from the dead, but how many people choose to live in slavery rather than newness of life? It can seem that Christians are ignorant or deranged to live in this world as the living dead, but identifying with the death of Jesus Christ is the only way to have his resurrection life.

Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  He calls us into his resurrection life. That means taking our baptism seriously, knowing that first of all we are crucified with Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus turns this world upside down, and we are witnesses to that when we know that Christians are the living dead.

Homily for Holy Saturday

This is the reading in the Liturgy of the Hours for Holy Saturday.... Wonderful!

From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday
The Lord's descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Who Do We Serve?

Wednesday: 27 March, 2013 –– Holy Week
Isaiah 50:4–9a / Matthew 26:14–25
Who Do We Serve?

As the Apostles began to see the Old Testament through the coming of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, it became crystal clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.

Jesus came into our world to take upon himself the burden of our sins. He said of himself, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Just think –– the Son of God knew Judas was going to betray him, yet Jesus plays into the whole scheme and instead of serving himself (the mantra of our culture), gave himself for our salvation.

As we follow Jesus, we pray for the grace to give priority to honoring God, not pandering to the opinions of people who seek their own will and way. Who do we serve?

We pray for the grace to follow people like St Paul who, by embracing the servanthood of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant which was fulfilled in Jesus, said: I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

Who do we serve?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Crucify Him!

March 24, 2013 –– Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Isaiah 50:4–7 / Philippians 2:6–11 / Luke 22:14–23:56
Crucify Him!

The words shock us –– at least they should –– grating into our ears like fingernails on a chalk board: Crucify Him!

We think, No! Don’t do that to Jesus....

But too often we do not think.... or we think something else:

“I know it’s wrong, but God will forgive me.” ....Crucify Him!

“Well, I know it’s not really right, but everyone does it.” ....Crucify Him!

“I’m going to give that person a piece of my mind.”  ....Crucify Him!

“I don’t care what the Church says, that’s stupid.”  ....Crucify Him!

“I’m going to do what I want to do.”  ....Crucify Him!

Yet even as He hung on the cross giving His life for our sins, our Lord gives the Good News of the Gospel: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Let’s open ourselves to our true need for forgiveness. Let’s be honest about the things in us that cry out, Crucify Him!  And let’s learn to turn from our sins.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Wednesday: 20 March, 2013 –– Fifth Week in Lent
Daniel 3:14–20, 91–92, 95 / John 8:31–42

The Old Testament reading today has the three men standing before Nebuchadnezzar and saying: If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up (v17,18).

This is the attitude of God’s faithful. Queen Esther was put in the situation of pleading to the king for her people, but anyone going into the king’s presence without invitation was subject to execution. After reflection and prayer, Esther came to this decision: ....I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).

Job, in the midst of his bewildering pain, cried out: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him (Job 13:15).

The prophet Habakkuk, seeing the judgment of God on the horizon because of Judah’s sin, still affirmed:

Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation (Hab 3:17–18).

These expressions are in the spirit of Mary’s response, which is our ultimate model of abandonment to God: ....let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38).

How can we embrace such an abandonment? Jesus says, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).

John writes in his first letter: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18).

Let us seek to love the One who first loved us –– and to enter into that love more and more –– so that no fear in this world is greater than our confidence in his love.  This is abandonment.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

St Joseph – Second String (in a First String World)

Tuesday: 19 March, 2013 –– Fifth Week in Lent
2 Samuel7:4–5a, 12–12a, 16 / Romans 4:13, 16–18, 22  / Matthew 1:16, 18–21, 24a
St Joseph – Second String (in a First String World)

Have you thought much about Joseph? Could anyone have stood in with Mary at the manger? One line of thought would say yes.  I mean, what did Joseph have to do with things?  Mary was the one who carried the Child, and it was God himself who was the Father.  All Joseph had to do was be a lackey. Isn't that right? That is not right according to Matthew's story. Before everything else, Joseph was a righteous man. Even in a minor role, Joseph had to be God's man to have a part in the greatest drama of history.  Otherwise, the pressures would have been too much.

What were those pressures? One would have been the ridicule he must have endured by those who thought Mary's pregnancy was what it naturally seemed. It was as though Joseph was a flunky. In the eyes of those looking on, Joseph was a man who needed to settle for "used goods."  Today we get so caught up in the glory of the Christmas story that it is easy to forget Jesus was born under the cloud of a scandal. Another pressure was sexual.  It seems most men today cannot even wait until marriage to bed their partners; Joseph went ahead with the marriage, but he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son (v25). Church Tradition says there was no sexual activity at all between Joseph and Mary. That is incomprehensible to contemporary mentality.

So what kind of person does it take to be a Joseph?  It takes someone who is so committed to God and his ways that it does not matter if his or her lot in life is in some non-glorious role.  There is a story that someone once asked a famous conductor what the most difficult instrument in the orchestra was. His answer said more about human nature than musical instruments; his answer was, "Second fiddle, because everyone always wants the solo or to be first chair."  If you think about that, it's true. We live in a "first-string" world. Dads want their sons to be on the starting line-up in little league. We want our children to be in the top ten percent academically. The culture sends the clear message that success comes to the most beautiful and well-dressed. What does God have for second string people in a first string world? One answer to that question comes when we look to Joseph.

How did Joseph handle his seemingly inglorious task? Note: he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded (v24).  There is a simple word for that –– obedience. Obedience is what God is looking for in those who would be his people. He wants a heart that will say “second string” in the world's eyes is fine if that is where his plans and pleasure can be done.

For Joseph, obedience meant God had the right man to be the support for bringing his Son into the world.  All it takes for you and me to be a Joseph is to have that same heart of obedience.  It may look "second-string" to a watching world, but God does things his own way. One of the great truths of Christian Faith is that God needs and uses people like Joseph –– people like you and me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Spirit of Evil

Friday: 15 March, 2013 –– Fourth Week in Lent
Wisdom 2:1a, 12–22 / John 7:1–2, 10, 25–30
The Spirit of Evil

There is a spirit of evil in our world that hates goodness. The wicked oppression of the righteous is a recurring story in Scripture from the beginning. Cain hated Abel and killed him. Joseph’s brothers’ resentment of his dreams from God turned to murderous intent. An evil spirit in Saul sought David’s death. Jeremiah was watched with the single intent of finding any excuse to bring accusations that could justify his death. Daniel’s enemies manipulated the king to pass a law they knew Daniel would not honor, then waited and watched until they could charge him before the king.

This is the spirit described in the first reading from Wisdom: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us.... to us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us.... He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.... With revilement and torture let us put him to the test....

One thing that infuriated some people against Jesus was his goodness. Jesus’ life and teachings turned a spotlight on the pettiness and hypocrisy and selfishness of leaders who wore their so-called righteousness as an external veneer. Jesus had to be eliminated in order to remove his condemning presence.

The closer God’s people live in true goodness, the more they will irritate the spirit of evil that is so often imbedded in people who take pleasure in wickedness and hide behind a twisted “goodness.”  God speaks through the prophet Isaiah: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil (5:20).

We are hearing today, increasingly, the very attitude described by the Wisdom writer. The secular mind –– and particularly the homosexual lobby –– hates the very existence of people who give witness to biblical sexual morality. It is clear they do not want to tolerate those they love to label as intolerant.

God give us grace to grow in true goodness. God give us grace to stay faithful regardless of the oppression that may come from the spirit of evil. It’s an ongoing story in the drama of salvation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Judging God

Wednesday: 13 March, 2013 –– Fourth Week in Lent
Isaiah 49:8–15 / John 5:17–30
Judging God

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” This was not an isolated problem. We have all heard it –– people who have ideas of what God should do or should not allow. Some dismiss God because of their own standard of judgment: “How could there be a God when....” The details can vary, but the principle is the same –– human expectations sit in judgment on God.

We are hearing this in a particular way now as secular news commentators spout their opinions of what a new Pope should do. The Church is misunderstood and vilified beyond the inconsistencies and even atrocities of some of its members. There is a big difference between the behaviors of some Catholics and the true teachings and practices of the Church. When popular opinion denigrates the teachings of the Magisterium –– even the very existence and function of the teaching office –– we are hearing a pompous human judgment on what God has done. This is the autonomous spirit of human rebellion. This is essence of the first disobedience that opened the doors of our world to powers of hell.

This is the spirit that took Jesus to his death. Jesus was doing the work of God the Father. It was For this reason they tried all the more to kill him.... Then Jesus expounds, again and again, I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just,  because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me. We all choose “judgments” every day. We cannot escape making decisions about the issues which surround us. The question is whether we will judge worldly thinking as lacking, or whether we will judge godliness with contempt.

There are voices –– popular voices –– sitting in judgment on God because God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. The brokenness of our humanity causes us to seek our own way, what we think is best. A basic issue of Christian Faith is believing that God knows best, that he is always working for our good even when we cannot comprehend.

Isaiah was able to see what so many in Israel had come to deny: For the Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted. Jesus gives an even greater promise: whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation.

Which voices are we believing? Do we embrace the words of the Father no matter what popular opinion says, or do we join with those who are judging God?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two Worlds

Monday: 11 March, 2013 –– Fourth Week in Lent
Isaiah 65:17–21 / John 4:43–54
Two Worlds

Christians live in two worlds. First, we live in the present world that is experienced through the normal senses. In this world we have the experiences –– joys, hopes, anxieties, pains –– that all people have. When our children are sick or suffering in any way, we want them to be well. We cry out to the Lord for his grace and blessing, and sometimes we receive what we ask.

The Lord’s blessings in this life are meant to encourage us to hope for even better things in the second of the two worlds we live in –– the one we do not yet see with our physical eyes. When we or those we love face a hard thing, and crying out to the Lord we have our cries answered, we are being reminded that the God who can do wonderful things for us in this world is preparing something even better in the next world.

Yet the Lord does not always answer all our prayers (at least not according to our limited understanding and desires). Sometimes we ask the Lord for relief from our pain and we are left in our pain –– or maybe it gets worse. Why? I think this, too, is a grace. It is a grace that is meant to keep us from feeling too much at home in this present world that is not forever. God gives us enough disappointment and pain to make us homesick for heaven (if we have the faith to recognize that).

And so, as we live in this world that we see and as we feel deeply its many attachments, we also need to be refreshing our perspective of what is ultimately true and lasting. That is what God tells us in this incredible prophecy from Isaiah: 

Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the things of the past shall not be remembered or come into mind.
Instead, there shall be rejoicing and gladness in what I create....

We live in two worlds. Let’s keep this one in proper perspective, and never lose sight of the next.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

About Dad

March 10, 2013 –– Fourth Sunday in Lent
2 Corinthians 5:11–21 / Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
About Dad

I think most children go through a stage where they are either ashamed or resentful of their parents. It is part of maturing –– “individuation” is the psychological word. When children are young they usually identify almost totally with their parents, but there is a time when questions come, along with the desire to find one’s own way. While this is a natural stage of development, Christians should be aware that we live in a world corrupted by evil spiritual powers that work to propel that natural stage of developing maturity into rebellion. It is a crucial time when young lives can be wrecked and broken.

This is one way to understand the well-known story Jesus told that we call The Prodigal Son. This son was telling his friends that Dad was old and boring and out of touch with “real life.” He made sure that no one thought that Dad represented him in any way. There were probably some big boasts: “You just wait, I’m gettin’ out’a here!” After being teased and dared enough, he finally did it: “Dad, if you really love me you’ll let me go.... and give me my fair share.  After all, I didn’t ask to be born ––you owe me.” 

The Father lets him go, and even gives him his fair share. The son, of course, can’t see the love. The son doesn’t see the pain –– even the tears –– in “the old man’s” eyes. All the son can see are the visions of fun, fun, fun dancing in his head. “Life is for living, man, and time’s a’waste’n.”

It’s not hard to imagine how the time and money was spent after he left home. The world can, indeed, be a fun place.... as long as the fantasy conditions can be maintained. Money, health, accessible diversions –– these things can distract the soul so that we forget, for a while, the harsh realities of the true “real world.” It’s a rare person who has enough money so that it doesn’t run out. And even if that were not true, no one lives forever, and the more one lives with indulgence and recklessness, the more likely that health dissipates quickly. The devil is a liar. He is always out to hurt and destroy. When the world offers us “life” apart from God –– no matter how much pleasure and fun sugar-coats the “bait” –– we are being given a poison that will surely lead to death.

Except.... the Father that loves us and lets us go is always waiting for us to see past the mirage. The Father is always waiting for the son, desiring a coming to his senses.... The son probably didn’t even recognize what he was truly doing at first, but he embraced repentance –– “I was wrong; the old man was right....” Then he acted on his attitude of heart: I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned....”  

And so he did.... and the Father was waiting.... and looking.... and was filled with compassion.... The son was welcomed.... restored.... and celebrated. We do not have an account of what happened after that initial welcome and the planned party. I think I can safely give at least some of “the rest of the story” ––

Most of the old neighborhood crowd was still around. They knew what the son had done –– the disrespect and the waste. They surely knew he was back, and what would he say now?

I’ll tell you what the son said –– to anyone who would listen. He, more than anyone, remembered the awful way he spoke of life at home and his father. Now he has a different line.... and it’s not about himself.  I can hear that son telling everyone who will listen, and saying it again and again: Let me tell you about my Dad.... let me tell how wonderful he is.... let me tell you what Dad did for me.... let me tell you about my Dad....

Sons and daughters who have been lost and found have a story to tell, and the hero is our Father who is in heaven. I was lost, but I have been welcomed back... let me tell you about my Dad! The fuller story is actually the Father giving his only Son so that we who were estranged from the beginning could be adopted into the family. How about that for love?! We have a story to tell –– it’s why John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called us to the New Evangelization.

And so St Paul says: ....we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.... For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Let me tell you about my Dad!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Single Focus

Got this from Ron Block's post.... We are to have ONE focus: Jesus our Lord..... any other impassioned distraction will take us off course. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (St James)

Chuang Tzu - The need to win

When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.

If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.

If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind

Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.

He cares
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Suffering, Reality & Spiritual Fruit

March 3, 2013 –– Third Sunday in Lent
Luke 13:1–9
Suffering, Reality & Spiritual Fruit

Whether it’s a tragedy on headline news or an occasion of suffering in our personal lives, we instinctively ask why. We want a reason for the hard things because it seems a way for us to be in control. A common belief held by people in the Old Testament –– by the Jews in the days of Jesus –– was the idea that calamity was a punishment sent from God for sins. Jesus identifies that attitude here. A number of Galileans had been killed by Pilate's soldiers. In another incident, eighteen men had been killed in an accident when a tower fell on them. The popular opinion would have been that those people were guilty of some particular sin which God was punishing. 

Maybe you know someone who has experienced an awful tragedy and then struggled with guilt, thinking that if they had done "this" or not done "that" the awful thing would not have happened. That is a terrible load to live under, and it's not a Christian view of life.

We can try so hard to find a way to “fix” the world. We would like to have control over the hard things –– so that we can avoid them!  Is it a sign of God's judgment on a person if a bad accident or horrible illness comes our way? Can we live “good enough” to avoid tragedy? Jesus says no. Why, then, do horrible things happen in this world? That is one of the oldest questions of humanity. We need to see our world and its many issues through the eyes of Christian Faith.

Why are we here? What does God want from us? What do we expect from God? Is life just a search for what is easy and most comfortable? That seems to be the attitude of our culture. Is our highest priority to look around and see where the threats and pains are and try at all costs to avoid them?  It is too, too easy for people in our decadent society who call themselves Christians –– people like us –– to be spiritually anesthetized. We can get comfortable as long as suffering doesn’t come too close, and then we just “go with the flow.” This doesn’t usually last very long or work very well. Life in the “real world” intrudes.

How do we understand the bad things that happen in our world? Do we realize that the world is not the way it was meant to be? Do we have the faith to believe that some temporal delights may not be so good after all, and that what the world-spirit despises may be the very thing we need? Our perceptions are skewed. Popular media does not tell the truth. Christian Faith takes the “Fall” –– human rebellion against God and the brokenness of our world –– seriously. The truth of mankind's rebellion against God is foundational to everything else we believe about salvation and who we are called to be. Whenever bad things happen, we should remember that the world is not as it was meant to be, nor is it the way it shall one day be.

Suffering can be understood as a God-given reality check. Jesus says the real issue of suffering is universal sinfulness, and so he gives this warning, Unless you repent, you too will all perish. Suffering should remind all of us, more than anything else, of our temporal existence.  No one is spared pain; we live in a painful world.  No one is without sin, because the evil that has been unleashed in our world affects all of us. None of us is going to escape judgment. The writer to the Hebrews says, is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (9:27). There is no escaping the pain of living in this world, but there is a way to escape the eternal separation in God's judgment against sin: we need to have the right kind of fruit in our lives.

That is where the analogy of the fig tree comes in. Unless the fig tree bears fruit it is worthless and will be cut down, and unless we bear the fruit of God’s Spirit, we will suffer the destruction of God's judgment. We need to know there is something in this world worse than being the subject of violence or a bad accident. There is something worse than living with this world's pain and disappointments. The worse thing is a life of worthlessness as far as God is concerned.  The fig tree was using resources without giving any fruit –– why should it use up the soil? (v7).

Some people live the same way. The real question is whether we are bearing fruit in our lives for God. After “preaching the Scriptures” for thirty years I found myself asking what would bear lasting fruit. There were “holes” in my own soul that were not healing –– in spite of my outwardly effective ministry. While I took the Bible extremely seriously (and I still do), I knew of others who did, too, and my interpretation of Scripture did not always match theirs. Who is “right?” Is it just personal opinion? What was the core foundation on which I could entrust my own heart?

I began to do what the man did in Jesus’ story of the fig tree –– look for fruit. Almost fifteen years ago, as I began to face my deepest desires in new ways, I found that I needed to get closer to the Lord in my personal, inner life (and not be content with my outward, pastoral persona). I discovered the age-old practice of praying the Psalms, taking prayer beyond my own small world and desires and into the heart-cries rooted in Scripture. Praying the Psalms took me to The Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer book of the Catholic Church –– the breviary, and then The Liturgy of the Hours introduced me to the early Church Fathers.  As I read the Fathers, I was pointed to the Eucharist, and I thought, “These guys sound Catholic!” After another five years or so of progressive reflection, I realized that the mystery of Holy Communion had been the pinnacle of the Church’s worship from the beginning.

When the priest stands before us and says Behold the Lamb of God... we are seeing a touch of hand from the priest to the bishop to a line of bishops that goes all the way back to Peter, to whom the Lord said on this rock I will built my church (Mtt 16:18). That did it for me. I wanted the continuity of Faith that has been handed down from the beginning. I wanted the fullness of the Church. I want to be as “Christian” as God’s grace can make me in this world. In a time when change is happening beyond our ability to keep up, and when popular expressions of so-called Christianity call “good” the very things that the Church through the years has always called “evil,” it is time to find something that cannot be shaken. The more our world seeks its own comfort and security, the more it crumbles so that the social order is cut loose from all that is stable. I want  –– and we all need –– something fixed and sure. It is present in the Church Jesus founded.

It is so easy to think that as long as we are comfortable, things are okay. In the Gospel today, Jesus wants us to know there is a Day of Reckoning coming. We all need the grace of God, and we need to take that seriously. We need a true perspective on life in this world. We need the Church. If we do nothing –– if we produce no fruit, like the barren fig tree –– we invite horrors worse than the human tragedies Jesus spoke of.... or the hard things we ourselves may be going through right now.

Here is the good news: God gives us the time to do something. About eight years ago, when I surrendered everything to the Lord –– my career, my financial security, my identity, the way others looked at me –– I found a freedom and an intimacy and a joy that I’d never had before when I was trying to serve the Lord outside the fullness of the Church. At the time, I could not have imagined being here like this today. 

But we need to use what God offers us... The fig tree was given another year to see if fruit might yet come. As long as we have time and life, God is giving us mercy.  It is not a mercy instead of judgment; it is a time of mercy to consider judgment, and to change life accordingly. As long as we have Now Jesus can turn our barrenness into fruitfulness toward God. It does not mean we will not experience tragedy in life. But whenever we see or even experience bad things, we will only be reminded that such is life in a world where brokenness is everywhere.  So we are always aware of our need for mercy –– the mercy of our Lord that is there for all people who will receive it. May we all hunger for the fruit of righteousness, and may we seek the Lord and follow him into his death and resurrection so that the fruit of his Spirit can ever grow in our lives.

Site Meter