Naming the Story

September 19th, 2019 Posted in writing | No Comments »

One of the most familiar stories in the Bible is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But we could also name it the Parable of the Beaten Traveler, the Tale of the Two Men Who Kept Walking or, finally, the Story of the Person Who Cared. Depending on the person or persons we center on, the story’s focus changes and gives us different things to think about.

For instance, if we call it the Parable of the Beaten Traveler, we might ask if we have ever been in a situation similar to his. We probably have been if we’ve ever found ourselves victimized, attacked physically, verbally, psychologically, or mentally and left lying at the side of the road, bruised and hurt and just wishing someone would come along to help us.

If we name the story the Tale of the Two Men Who Kept Walking, then we might ask if we have passed people by, either because we simply don’t see them lying along our way or because we choose not to find out who they are, how they got there or how we might be able to help them. Perhaps, if we do see them, we may feel some pity but think that we don’t have time for reaching out or that maybe they’re pulling a scam to get money.

Lastly, we can continue to call the story the Parable of the Good Samaritan, remembering that Jesus’ audience might have been surprised that a Samaritan would be capable of doing anything good, selfless or compassionate. The Jewish listeners of the day might have expected that the priest and Levite who passed by would have stopped to help the man. But those two ignored him, while the Samaritan went out of his way to tend to the man and even pay for his care at an inn. Have we ever gone out of our way to help someone who is not part of our family, neighborhood, ethnic or racial group?

Of the three names we could give this story, which grabs our attention most, and which part do we most frequently find ourselves playing?

Easter Surprises

June 2nd, 2019 Posted in writing | No Comments »

These days Christians start to wrap up the Easter season. We probably can’t imagine a year without Easter. But if we can imagine a world in which there were no Easter, we might get a glimpse of how remarkable, even earth-shaking the first Easter must have been. I’ve been thinking about two surprises from that first Easter and how they have changed how we can look at life and our understanding of God.

The first change began with Mary Magdalene’s report that she had gone to the place where Jesus had been buried, found the tomb empty AND had seen him alive and talked with him. The disciples likely tried to convince her that she must have imagined it, for when someone had died with all the pain and agony Jesus did, that person was going to stay dead. No one would have expected anything else. But then, that evening, Jesus himself appeared to the disciples and spoke to them. That must have been an incredible surprise, and the gospel writers said the disciples were filled with joy.

But perhaps seeing him alive wasn’t joy all the way through, for what would Jesus say to all those followers who had run away at his arrest? They had disowned him, so, why wouldn’t he disown them for their disloyalty and cowardice?

That was the second surprise. Jesus spoke only words of peace, not condemnation, breathed his very own spirit (the Holy Spirit) over them and into them and asked them to continue his work of spreading the good news of reconciliation and forgiveness. Rather than condemning them, Jesus was drawing the disciples more closely to himself — and never once did he demand from them a word of explanation or an apology for their behavior. Instead, Jesus showed them they had not forfeited his love. That surely would have remade the disciples’ understanding of God’s justice and the reality and power of his forgiveness.

The disciples would have fifty days between Easter and Pentecost to begin to get used to the meaning and implication of their experience of the first Easter, and the gospel writers say that during those days there were times when they and Jesus spent time with each other. And two millennia since that first Easter, we as individuals and as a church still work to deepen our understanding of what it means that Jesus is truly Risen and alive and that, no matter what disloyalty or lack of faith may mark our lives, nothing can separate us from his love.(Romans, chapter 8)

The Triduum

April 15th, 2019 Posted in writing | No Comments »

During Holy Week, the Church observes what is known as the Triduum, the time from Holy Thursday until Easter. During that time the Church gives reverent attention to the passion, death and rising of Jesus.

On Thursday evening there is a joyful commemoration of the Lord’s Last Supper and his gift of the Eucharist to us. But as the service ends there is a change of mood as we acknowledge that his gift entailed his suffering and death.

On Good Friday, the Church remembers Christ’s death in a liturgy that has many elements taken from the early days of the Church. The Good Friday liturgy reminds us that Jesus died a truly painful and difficult death to show us how much he loved his Father and us.

On Holy Saturday we wait, as Mary and the disciples waited on the day after Good Friday, no doubt trying to absorb all that had happened on Thursday and Friday. It is a quiet day liturgically. There are no services until the Easter vigil in the evening, which begins the 50-day Easter season.

So much is contained in the Triduum that we can never grasp the whole of it, but every year it reminds us of the great events that make our faith and hope secure.

Manna Lessons (Exodus 16)

March 28th, 2019 Posted in writing | No Comments »

When the children of Israel left Egypt, they didn’t have time to gather all the things they might need, including enough bread to last for more than a short time. It wasn’t long before they started complaining that there wasn’t enough to eat. Moses took their complaints to God, who promised to give them food. So, one morning, when they looked out from their tents, the people saw the ground and bushes covered in a white sticky substance. They named it manna (the name means “What is this?”) and discovered they could eat it.

Moses told the people that each morning they could gather enough to feed themselves for that day, but if they gathered more than they needed for that day, it would spoil and be inedible. (The only exception was the day before the sabbath when they could gather manna for two days since they could not work on the sabbath.) They ate manna throughout their forty years of wandering, and it ceased only when they entered the land God had promised them.

I think we can draw two simple lessons from the story of the manna. First, if we think of our life as a journey, we can trust that God will send us the food/the grace to keep going until we reach our journey’s end. And, second, lest we think we can hoard up God’s help and grace, the story reminds us that we will be given what we need for each day, but not all at once, lest we forget that our food/our grace for each day is God’s daily gift.

As we enter into the second part of Lent, let’s ask ourselves how God has fed and graced us each day of our journey up until now and how we might show our gratitude.

Lent’s Big Three

March 5th, 2019 Posted in writing | No Comments »

The “big three” practices of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The three are straightforward and easily understood. Still, as Lent begins, we might benefit from trying to figure out what lies behind them and what each one points to.

Look at prayer. We can pray any number of ways, from reciting traditional prayers like the Our Father or Hail Mary, to quiet personal prayer in a church or even when enjoying a peaceful cup of tea or coffee. But all prayer comes out of some experience or belief that God wishes to speak to us and wants us to speak to him. Prayer during Lent should remind us of the truth that God not only says to us, “I love you” but also, “Let’s talk.”

Then there is fasting, when we normally feel hunger in some form. Our daily experience of Lenten hunger — for sweets, meat, cookies, cake, ice cream or alcohol — might remind us that we have other hungers, too. We might discover we are hungry for love, purposeful work, reconciliation, respect, or that we might have that “hunger and thirst for righteousness” Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount.

Giving alms also seems simple enough. Almsgiving is about sharing something we have with people who need it. We can give money to individuals in need, either directly or through charitable organizations, or we can give our time and talents to help improve the lot of others. But behind the practice of almsgiving lies the truth that we are all one human family. And one of the most important lessons any family member can learn is that, in a family, we must learn to share.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not matters of rocket science or super-human effort. But forty days of practicing them, understanding where they come from and what they point to, can make for a very rich Lent.