Thursday, May 16, 2019
"Jesus said: 'My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. . . No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father's hand. The Father and I are one.' "-[John 10: 27-30].
On the popular TV show, The View, Joy Behar ridiculed Christians for saying that they "hear Jesus' voice." Bear said, "It's one thing to talk to Jesus. It's another thing when Jesus talks to you." She went on to say that hearing voices is "a mental illness."
I have to say that when I decided to join my church, and my pastor was talking me through the process, he told me how to pray. After a few attempts at this practice, I ran back to him, "spooked" because I was getting answers! He chuckled and said, "Oh. I think you'll get used to it."
This "conversation" with Jesus is called Prayer. We humans may feel so limited that we believe that a conversation with Jesus is merely a one-way dialogue. We beg Jesus for forgiveness, or for personal favors, such as enough money to pay the bills, or an A+ on a test - but many of us are completely astonished when Jesus actually answers!
I have been meditating upon what Jesus' Voice is like, or what He is conveying?
Could I get confused if His Voice seems to point me in one direction, only to find it may be a false turn?
Certainly, Paul talks about the cacophony of voices in the world that can mislead or even wound. In
1 Corinthians 13: 1, Paul says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not Love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
I am finding that the simplest way to discern if God is working through someone or if He is telling me which way to turn, IS THAT - when the message is not rooted in Love, it is not God!
These days, so-called friends have said some cruel things to me. They berate me or are unkind or they judge over things they know nothing about. If I listened to everything the world told me to do, or told me about myself, I would be spinning and twisting as if buffeted by dangerous winds from all directions.
Becoming a Christian, growing as a Christian, is a long, hard walk. My pastor explained to me that we all have the Holy Trinity inside of us. The longing for God - Something or Someone greater and more eternal than ourselves- is innate; and we possess the capacity for His unconditional Love deep within us.
But anger, jealousy, bitterness, impatience and so forth threaten the fulfillment of that unconditional Love. When I hear those cruelties, I have a visceral response, because that is not what God wants for me, and that is not God speaking to me!
I have been whipped around by the viciousness of the world lately. Someone makes one small, unintentional mistake or utters something unwittingly insensitive, and that person is driven to the edge of society. This viciousness is flamed by social media and lives on forever in the cloud. The person who erred is never forgiven and never allowed to redeem himself.
But then again, complete strangers have spoken the Word of God to me, have lifted me up with their kindness and wisdom.
That is, that must be Jesus' Voice! That Love and compassion is what I shall follow:
"I heard the voice of Jesus, say, 'I am this dark world's Light; Look unto me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright. I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun; And in that Light of life I'll walk, Till traveling days are done." -[Hymn: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say."]
[Related Postings: "She Talks To God", 4/23/18; "The Shepherd's Voice", 5/8/17; "Hearing the Shepherd's Voice", 4/19/16".]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, May 6, 2019
"Simon Peter [and the disciples] went out and got into the boat [to go fishing], but that night they caught nothing. . . Jesus said to them, 'Children, have you caught anything to eat?' They answered Him, 'No.' So He said to them, 'Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.' So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord.'
When the climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. . . Jesus said to them, 'Come have breakfast.' Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?'
Simon Peter answered Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'
He then said to Simon Peter a second time, 'Simon, do you love me?'
Simon Peter answered Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Tend my sheep.'
Jesus said to him a third time, 'Simon, do you love me?'
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said [this] to him a third time, and he said to Him, 'Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'
And when He had said this, He said to him, 'Follow me.' "
-[John 21: 1-19].
This Scripture is laden with symbolism: when Jesus' ministry began, he appealed to the disciples to leave their nets and become "Fishers of Men". This meal on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias mirrors in a poignant and earthly way, the Last Supper which became the basis of Communion for Christians. Upon Jesus taking the bread and the fish, and giving it to His disciples, Jesus is recognized for who He is. The great number of fish in the net has been numbered at 153, the number of different kinds of fish believed to be in the sea at that time; meaning that Jesus and His disciples fish for ALL, not just for some.
But the most important and poignant part of this Scripture is when Jesus says, "Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep."
In the series, "Jesus: His Life" aired over Easter week on the History channel, Biblical scholars argue that Simon Peter, having denied Jesus three times before His Crucifixion, returns to fishing believing that he is a failure; and that the Way, the Truth and the Life are over.
Imagine Peter's astonishment when the Risen Jesus appears at the shore. Not only does Jesus literally feed His disciples, he commands them to go forth and to, "Feed my lambs."
This ministry of nourishment can be found in this meal of fish and bread, and more crucially, in the meal of the Eucharist. But, this ministry of nourishment expands into a worldwide command to love others- when Jesus tells His disciples, "Follow me."
Jesus makes the command to love others directly personal. Nothing can be more clear than the explicit connection with Jesus established in Matthew 25: "And He will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused help to the least of one of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' " -[Matthew 25:45; New Living Translation.]
I read the news and social media today - and what I read is judgment, hard-heartedness, hate, jealousy, scapegoating, contempt, abuse, harassment, ego, selfishness, racism, violence and so forth.
Yes, there is good and evil. Yes, we must fight for justice.
But, however it is that we approach the poor, the ill, the marginalized, the folks who stumble badly - THAT approach is what we do to Jesus Himself.
Christians "have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wrong, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety." -[Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "The Cost of Discipleship"]. We do not judge such as these, instead we share their burdens and we work to alleviate their sufferings.
Nor do we respond with violence, verbal or otherwise, at being rejected by the world. For the world does reject us for refusing to accommodate its selfishness and greed, its vicious judgment of others, its bitterness and war. "The disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it upon others." -[D. Bonhoeffer].
A Christian judges others for their struggles or their mistakes- at his peril - because, "Every idle word which we think so little of, betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. . Let us see whether we have tried to win popularity by falling in with the worlds' hatred, its contempt . . For if we do, we are murderers." -[D. Bonhoeffer.] For as we display anger with our brother, or judge him despite the immensity of our own sins, we assert ourselves as God.
Consider the sum total of all news and social media content. . . what percentage of it amounts to contempt, anger, egoism, and the inserting ourselves as a false God in society?
Because, in the end, only Love vanquishes all sin, all evil, all fear, all rejection and abandonment. Jesus proves this, as He loves and forgives Peter three times- that Love of Jesus triumphing over Peter's thrice denials before the cross.
Because, "Who needs our Love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of Love?" -[D. Bonhoeffer].
[Related Postings: "Feed Me", 4/11/16; "Do You Love Me?", 4/14/13.].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of [crucifixion], Jesus came and stood in their midst and said them, 'Peace be with you.' When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' " -[John 20: 19-31].
On the morning of the first day of the week- - Sunday - - Mary of Magdala "came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb." -[John 20:1-9]. Jesus in physical body was gone! He had risen!
That evening, the disciples hid in fear in a locked room. They were terrified that they, too, would be crucified. It seems hard to believe that the disciples were not out right away, preaching and healing and converting unbelievers.
But, it is clear from their actions and demeanor, even before the Crucifixion in the Garden of Gesthemani, that the disciples were confused, overwhelmed, and fearful. It is quite possible that they did not even comprehend what had just happened.
Yes, Jesus had told them for a long time, how He had to suffer and die and return to His Father. But, when someone says that to you, there is an air of unreality, as if it is all a dream or perhaps a nightmare. That cannot BE, the disciples likely agonized.
The central story of Easter is that Jesus came to walk among us, to show us in human form the unconditional Love of His Father. The other enduring part of the story is that there is another life to come, in Heaven, which is made possible to us because of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension.
The disciples' reaction to this is very much a mirror of our own reactions - incredulity; unawareness of its Truth; somnolence, as in the way the disciples literally fell asleep in the Garden of Gesthemani; confusion even as to Jesus' identity. And yes - Fear.
It is one thing to have an idea of the Divine, and of another Life in the supernatural. It is another thing to live it and confront it and experience it. Imagine Mary of Magdala's utter joy, but total shock, upon discovering that Jesus was simply gone!
But, imagine also the terror of the disciples when they realize the true cost of being followers of Jesus. He paid with His Life. The disciples could very well do the same.
The dawn of Easter brings the "dawning" realization that devotion to Jesus cannot be half-hearted. Jesus wants all of us, in the same way that He gave all of Himself, to us.
I see plenty of Fear in faith communities today. Synagogues and mosques and churches are being bombed and being subjected to mass shootings. I cannot in any way mock the Fear of the disciples. Their fear, OUR fear, are well-founded in some ways.
God and Jesus do not want merely a Sunday devotion. They want us to devote our lives- and our Life - to them. Our walk with Jesus merely begins on Sunday, but it continues on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday . . .
And Jesus walks WITH us: Jesus the wounded, Risen Christ, who walks through walls to reach us, who calls us all disciples because, "As the Father has sent me, so I send YOU."
The world's churches and mosques and synagogues, by rights, should be filled with worshippers, who literally stand up to be counted. The Faithful are not called to hide in the dark, in fear.
The Faithful are called to come out in the light, to BE the light.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about "Cheap Grace" vs. "Costly Grace." "Cheap Grace" is the kind of Faith that requires us to merely sit in church on Sundays and sing hymns. "Costly Grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again. . . It is costly because it costs a man his life, because it cost God the life of His Son."
Bonhoeffer goes on to write: "The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the divisions which rend cities and homes. Jesus and His disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading nations astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord."
And WHY would a Christian ever contemplate such a journey, such a Grace Walk? Because Jesus shows us His wounds, and as He shows us the Truth of His wounds, He shows us that He is one of us, and we belong to Him.
[Related Postings: "Peace Be With You", 4/8/18; "Without a Doubt", 4/26/17; "Fear", 4/4/16; "The Benefit of Doubt", 4/29/14; "His Divine Mercy", 5/17/12; "The Truth of His Wounds"; "Doubt", 5/1/11].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
"On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, 'They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put Him.' So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. The other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there. Then the other disciples also went in, and he saw and believed." -[John 20: 1-9].
"Easter" is a word that refers to, or means The Dawn.
The discovery of Jesus absent from the tomb is made at dawn. Easter is quite literally, the dawning of a new age, when early Christians saw and believed that there is a whole lot more beyond our limited sight, than what we can perceive in the natural world.
Easter is THE demarcation between early inklings of who Jesus was, as He himself prophesied, and a time when the disciples came to understand proof of Jesus as Divine.
It is not as if Jesus did not warn His disciples. In Mark, the earliest Gospel account, Jesus tells His followers, "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, . . He must be killed and after three days rise against." -[Mark 8: 31-33].
Jesus also tells his disciples: "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days, He will rise." -[Matthew 17: 22-23].
And in John 2:12-22, when Jesus overturns the tables of the greedy money changers at the temple, He says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." His listeners said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But Jesus was talking about the destruction of His body, and his rising from the dead to new life.
Jesus' disciples and His listeners had varying degrees of disbelief and unbelief. Easter is an unfolding, of layers of meaning and revelation for the disciples - AND for all of us. I used to feel foolish for not really understanding the full meaning of Easter.
But now I am beginning to realize that the unfolding of Easter is all part of our growth as Christians.
When I was a child, I used to hear the priest in my church say that "Jesus died for us." I thought that was horrible. Who wants to hear about the aftermath of a grisly death, on a day so full of the life of spring and promise? How can the violent end of one man save lowly ME? It made no sense. It was just too awful, especially since that one Man was God's only Son!
I still cannot watch any reenactment of the Passion. It wounds ME. But I am starting to understand that the Crucifixion is "supposed" to wound me! Jesus is a part of me, I share in His Passion. Whatever Sin I commit, crucifies Him a little bit more. Any Sin against me, is a crucifixion of Jesus. Each time I receive the Eucharist, I receive a tiny bit of His body and blood, like a healing balm for my human weakness and temptation.
It took the deaths of my best friend, my father, my mother, my mother-in-law and a dear family friend, all in a span of two years, for me to finally live out the simple Truth, that Jesus went to Heaven before us, so that we can follow Him. He established the way: literally the Way, the Truth and the Life. I don't have to live in despair that this Life of sweat and violence and evil is all that there is. Beyond our human capacity, lies a supernatural world that possesses far more than we could ever imagine in this Life.
I understood from a young age, that doing Evil in exchange for Evil, only hurts myself, AND Jesus. I have always tried to be part of the cadre of humans who offer compassion and peace.
But, it has taken me a lifetime to understand that in this Life we all suffer. It took me getting to this Easter to finally see - perhaps to accept - that there is no escaping the trials and suffering of our human existence. Whatever it is we humans all suffer is merely a matter of degree- some suffering horribly, others less so.
I used to spend a good part of my day, reciting the litany of every bad thing that has ever happened to me. My litany was a chorus of grief, a lament over the trauma of my life. I believed that all these bad things should not happen to me, or to ANYONE. I was capable of getting depressed simply that these bad things ever occurred.
I don't know what I was expecting? Christians are meant to carry their own crosses. My dear mother-in-law used to say all the time, "We all have our crosses to bear." I used to see that as a platitude. A nice saying that you would discover on a wall plaque. It seemed hollow of meaning. This Easter, I see the profound Truth in it.
Every human on this planet has the experience of feeling deep Joy, but also awful despair. But we Christians do not carry our crosses alone. We have each other. And we have Jesus, who suffered the greatest agony ever. He understands our agonies, more than anyone. He walks with us.
Each Easter, I encounter a new Dawn of revelation, of what Jesus meant to us over history, and of how today, I can live with Him in my daily experience. Each Easter, I am a new creation, as I rediscover Jesus in a new way.
Each Easter, I encounter the Dawn that conquers the darkness.
[Related Postings: "Easter Joy!", 4/23/11; "Easter Redemption", 4/7/12; "Roll Away the Stone", 4/17/14; "Crucifixion Redux", 3/20/16; "The Triumph of Easter", 4/15/17; "Killing Him Softly", 3/27/18.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
"Morning after morning, the Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned my back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help. Therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame." -[Isaiah 50: 4-7].
Palm Sunday, in a word, hurts my feelings. The reading of the Passion evokes in me such pain and deep sadness.
Even though we all understand that the Resurrection comes in the dawn, nevertheless, the whole ugly, bloody scene of the arrest, the false trial, the nailing onto the Cross, and Christ's suffering, hurt me to the core. The point when Jesus utters, "My God, why have You abandoned me?!" is probably my lowest point.
Each year, I ask if the Crucifixion was a one of a kind event, or if Jesus would be just as likely to be crucified today?
Each year, I tragically conclude that, yes, Jesus would just as readily be crucified today.
Jesus' trial was a sham. He had broken no Roman laws. Even Pilate said, "I find no fault in this man." -[Luke 23:4]. The trial was on the Sabbath, and was arguably illegal. The judges were high priests who determined that Jesus had committed blasphemy but that was not a Roman offense, only a religious one. It was only under Roman law that execution was warranted.
The high priests accused Jesus of the wrong things, with misleading questions: Asking if He was King? But Jesus replied that He would sit at the right hand of His Father, no earthly King, he. The high priests accused Jesus of blasphemy for saying he would crush the temple and raise it up again in three days. But, Jesus was referring to the Truth of His Resurrection from the tomb after three days, something the high priests could not have foreseen.
The Roman governor Pontius Pilate addressed the crowd three times, "What evil has this man done?"
What ensues next is what I call mass psychology - the crowd began to cry out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" and "Away with this man!"
I see our world today enmeshed in mass psychology, especially on the Internet. Collective calls for mob justice can build and roll on social media, into a veritable tsunami.
In our upside-down world, a good person or movement is labeled bad. Or, an evil person is revered because he is wealthy or powerful.
Powerful people in Jesus' time saw His goodness as a threat. The Romans held all the political power in a very violent way. It was believed that when the Messiah came, he would be a King or a Judge, as in the Old Testament time. In other words, the Messiah was expected to be a political leader. Jesus walking around preaching that He was the King and brought forth by God was a direct threat to Rome.
Jesus said, "Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." - [Matthew 10:34]. This is not a literal sword, but the sharp divide between those who are powerful and evil vs. those who are good and holy.
Disrupters like Jesus can rarely last long in our world. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The world doesn't like people like Gandhi, They don't like people like Christ; they don't like people like Lincoln. They killed him. Here was the man of nonviolence falling at the hands of a man with hate, [But] thank God, Good Friday is never the end." -[From The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr].
There are powerful forces today, like Rome, who possess absolute power, and whose power corrupts absolutely. Any differences of opinion, religious beliefs or ethnicities (e.g. Rome vs. Jews vs. Jesus), is hemmed in, curtailed and ultimately crushed.
Rome's Hope was that Jesus was just one Man, and that they could stop the movement by eliminating the Man. Herod and Pilate conspired to crush Jesus and His movement by crucifying the Man. They believed they were buying stability. They had no idea that Jesus' crucifixion would spark a conflagration.
Once Rome crucified Jesus, and His Resurrection was told as the miracle that it is; once early Christians traveled far and wide - on Roman roads, after all!- Jesus' story became the Way, the Truth and the Life.
And there was nothing stopping Him - for all of Time.
[Related Postings: " Killing Him Softly", 3/27/18; "Our Own Role in the Passion", 4/10/17; "Why Did Jesus Have to Die?", 8/31/14; "Who Killed Jesus?", 5/7/14.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, April 7, 2019
"Now a man was ill, Lazarus, from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, 'Master, the one you love is ill.' Jesus 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. 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 to 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.' When Jesus saw her weeping, 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 Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.' Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands. So Jesus said to them, 'Untie him and let him go.' " -[ John 11: 1-45].
At a very dark point in my life, I went to see the pastor of my church. In the last two years or so, my father had died abruptly (we didn't even know he was sick); then a long-time family friend died, someone the family referred to as "Aunt"; then my best friend died; then my father-in-law's beloved wife died; then my mother died.
I felt as if I were swirling in a black hole, descending, falling down, down, down. Yes, you could say it was as if I were in a cave.
I found myself telling my life story to my pastor:
* When I was born, I almost died before I made it out of the womb. My mother nearly died in childbirth. BUT, the doctor's hands saved me.
* When I was about three, there was a fire in my grandparents' house. I was traumatized to see the charred walls and smell the acrid smoke in the air. BUT, no one was home at the time, and no one was injured. Damage was limited to one corner of one room.
* When I was four, I nearly drowned in a neighbor's pool. BUT strong arms lifted me up, to life-giving air. It was my mother who saved me.
* When I was five, the serious dysfunction of my parents meant they were not feeding me consistently. BUT, neighbors fed me and I did not starve.
*When I was six, I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. My mother's chain smoking worsened the scarring on my lungs. By the time I reached age 14, my parents were no longer taking me to the doctor for this disease. BUT several years ago, I found a devoted doctor, who even made house calls. His treatments put me back on a path to better health.
* When I was ten, my beloved grandfather died. After that blow, and years of abuse in my childhood home, I stopped speaking. My pastor said, You speak eloquently now.
* When I was in my twenties, I was the victim of a violent crime and nearly died at the hands of my attacker. As I felt my breath slip away, I prayed to God. The attacker loosed his grip on me and left. I lived.
* When I was in my early 40's, I was bringing my son home from the park, pulling him in his bright red wagon. I hesitated at the corner nearest our house, the wind was beginning to howl. I heard a "voice" say, "Cross here". . in other words, do not continue on straight, but cross the road, now. I was confused. I said to my son, "What did you say?" But he had said nothing. A tree fell across the road and I pulled the wagon at top speed. The tree fell only a few yards short of us. My son and I did not have one scratch. I believe that voice was my Guardian Angel.
*And now, I had lost many of the most important people in my life.
After I had recounted all this, my pastor turned and said to me, "You have had a lot of resurrection in your Life."
I was stunned. I had seen only trauma, terror and loss. I had never even seen the resurrection!
There are people today who say, 'Get over it. That is in the past. You cannot be defined by all the bad things that happened in your past.'
My answer to this is, even Jesus wept. He grieved along with Mary and Martha. He deeply felt the poignancy. Even WITH the possibility of resurrection in the next Life, it hurts. Jesus allowed himself to feel pain. He did not deny the raw emotion. The tears conveyed His humanity, his compassion.
Even when our resurrection comes, we remain in "the cave" for a time, scarcely believing that our resurrection has come. Just as Jesus has to beckon Lazarus out of the dark cave, Jesus has to cry out to us in a loud voice, "Come out!"
But what I also see is that we can be permitted our resurrection, not just in the next Life, but in this one. We don't have to stumble around in the dark, half blind, to find the Light, either. We are not alone. Jesus beckons. He exhorts us, He leads the way.
At the darkest of times, we can believe that somehow, with Jesus' help, we can overcome.
In fact, if we believe only in the individual, human effort to help ourselves, we vastly diminish the possibilities of resurrection. We don't need to rise up again, alone, and we ought not to. It is a haunting pride, as humans, to believe that we can raise ourselves up again, solely by our own efforts. As Thomas Merton says, in "The Seven Storey Mountain", "How could I love God, when everything I did was not done for Him, but for myself, and not trusting in His aid, but relying on my own wisdom and talents?"
And then, if we do rely upon God and Jesus for our resurrection, we see "the Lord [who] opens a way in the seas and a path in mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army. Remember not the events of the past, see I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? " -[Isaiah 43: 16-21].
[Related Postings: "Fear", 4/4/16; "Raising Lazarus", 4/3/17."]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
" Jesus addressed this parable: 'A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.'
So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off for a distant country. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend his swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, 'Here am I, dying of hunger. I shall get up and got o m y father and I shall say to him, 'Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would one of your hired workers.'
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His father ordered to his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest rob; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fatted calf and slaughter it.' "
- [Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32].
We live in an age when social media has enabled us to scrutinized others' lives with infinite detail. Ordinary citizens, as well as big media, weigh in on everyone's relative merits. It is as if we believe ourselves to possess the ultimate powers of judge, jury and Arbiter. Some of the enumerated demerits are deserved. Others are exaggerated or completely false.
Imagine a celebrity who, it was found out, abused women or children. We would be horrified. But imagine that we discover that this abuser was himself abused as a child. The celebrity's act of abuse is still horrifying. But things get more complicated when we learn about how haunted the accused is from his own past.
Imagine a celebrity who, it is found out, used corrupt means to earn more money. We would call out that behavior with vehemence, for the greed and evil that it is. But imagine that we discover that this greedy person is also struggling with drug abuse? The corruption is still wrong. But things get more complicated when we learn about the addiction.
In Luke 15, the older son does not run off to a life of dissipation, he does stay with his father and do the right thing, supporting his father's orders and working hard. The older son is visibly angry when the father welcomes home the dissolute son.
The older son says, "Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends."
But the father says to the obedient son, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found."
I think that the son with whom you most identify says a lot about you. I was once like the older son, a dutiful daughter who always did the right thing. And yet my brother, who made mistakes and sometimes made a mess of his life, was always receiving help and special treatment.
I felt angry and self-righteous. Why did I not receive more, when I was the one who was loyal and sober-minded?
It did not occur to me that I had already "won" by living my life in good standing. But my brother, who struggled, felt pain and believed he could not ever measure up, was "dying on the vine", and felt like he could do no right.
You see, there is a big difference between being Right and being Compassionate. Said another way, there is a big difference between Justice and Mercy.
In a world of only Justice, we can only harp on what everyone did wrong. We can never let anyone live down that one moment when he made a horrible mistake or did something awful. We can never allow anyone to have an epiphany moment, when a person has gained hard-won perspective and can see the awful mistake for what it was.
In a world of only Justice, even a plea agreement or a prison term can never let anyone move on and try to live a life that makes amends. Instead, we hunt the person down for the rest of his life; we corner him and trap him and flog him endlessly. We take away all his future earnings, we hound him in public, we always return to that one horrible chapter, while never allowing the possibility of redemption.
At the same time, in a world of only Mercy, every act is morally relative. We "live and let live". We declare, "I am the one in charge of my own life, to hell with anyone else." It is individuality run amok.
We need both Justice and Mercy, friends. Justice establishes Right from Wrong. Mercy allows us to overcome our sins.
God sees us in all of our complexity, virtues and faults alike. God allows us to name what we did wrong, in the same way that the younger son says, "I have sinned against you and Heaven." God allows us to change our ways and to reap rewards from our redemption.
God allows us the free will to make a mess of our lives, but to also own those mistakes and to be given the chance to rise again. He allows us to move past the dark chapters into the Light.
[Related Postings: "The Prodigal Son", 3/10/13; "The Prodigal Daughter", 9/15/13; "To Forgive is Divine", 3/9/16.]
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