A Liberated Critic

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; 2Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8

The Advent Season raises up this rather peculiar character this week and next, John the Baptist.  He really is one of the more complex characters we encounter.  There is this rather hipster vibe that he portrays by what he wears and eats and just wandering out in the wild, the desert.  Yet, at the same time, he comes off as this rather fire and brimstone kind of guy, together just making him complex and very much a paradox to himself.  He is one of the great prophets, along with Isaiah, whom we hear from this season, pointing us, often, right into the desert.

The one thing about the Baptist, though, is that there is a sense of freedom and liberation about him.  In these very brief encounters, despite his strong words, it comes from a place within.  He even mentions today that one mightier than I is to come and he shows that in his words and actions.  He remains grounded as a prophet in the eternal Christ, giving him the freedom and integrity to be who he is, despite the hesitation of the leaders towards him at that time.  In John’s Gospel he’ll go onto say that I must decrease and he must increase, in reference to the Christ. 

We all have that prophetic voice within but all too often it becomes separated from the Christ leading more to a rather self-critical voice instead.  We all know what that’s like and have seen it in ourselves and others when it’s more about criticizing but not coming from a deeper place.  It is part of Israel’s storied history as it is ours.  If they are consistent with anything it’s separating themselves from the Eternal and they end up becoming their own worst enemy.  Here they are, again, moving out of Exile, a second exodus for Israel, and they quickly begin to return to their old ways.  They resort to their own critical voice and despite being led from exile remain far from free nor liberated from what it had done to them.  They become the source of discrimination, war, and oppression, clinging to an institutionalized god who no longer serves.  As a matter of fact, when we cling to the critical thoughts that aren’t grounded in the Christ, they begin to strangle the divine and squelch the voice of the Spirit working within.  Israel remains symbolic of our own story as individuals and nation.

Then there is the Baptist.  As I said, a rather peculiar fellow that we encounter and yet often feared by the religious and political leaders because of this liberating element to him.  More often than not they don’t like what he has to say.  They become his greatest critics, and as we know, eventually leads to his beheading.  Even that becomes symbolic of cutting off that place where so many of the self-critical thoughts come from.  That wasn’t the case with the Baptist though.  It’s what they never understood about him.  His prophetic voice wasn’t coming simply from some heady place.  It was coming from deep within his very foundation.  What appeared to them as fearful thoughts was actually the eternal working through the Baptist from deep within his heart and soul.  That’s the freedom and liberation that this complex character exemplified.  For John, this message of repentance, of totally turning around and looking at life differently, being grounded in the eternal is what it’s all about.  John never forgot his own place and it wasn’t the Christ.  One mightier than I is to come.  I must decrease and he must increase.  It’s the mantra of the season.

And so we have these two great prophets pointing the way to freedom and a deeper way of life, an about-face to be liberated for the eternal.  The avenue to that freedom, though, is through the desert.  Isaiah tells us “In the desert prepare the way”.  Other than when he’s jailed all we know of the Baptist is through this desert experience.  Many throughout our history have physically gone to the desert to experience the wildness of their own hearts and souls, to see what they were already feeling within.  Maybe that’s why so many are drawn to the Baptist at that time.  It becomes symbolic of the soul’s journey for so many in Scripture, the vast, wide, emptiness that we often fear becomes the place of transformation, freedom, awareness of our own critical voice and liberation from within.  Our lives and the about face is from being led from the external world to the interior world which holds the eternal.  This is what makes Isaiah and the Baptist who they are.  It’s what separates them, so often, from activists even of our own day.  It comes from the depths of their souls and they know it as truth, as the eternal.

Peter reminds us in the second reading today, thankfully, that God remains patient with us through this process of transformation.  The more the eternal is freed up from the strangle of the critical and we become aware that the critical is not God, the more we begin to experience not the institutionalized god we have come to know but rather the God of mystery and freedom, and true freedom at that.  Like Israel we can say we’re free all we want but if we’re still holding on from within we haven’t experienced the divine in that way.  Peter reminds us that what is not of God will all be dissolved anyway so why not open ourselves up to mystery and to the unknown God.  Be eager for peace.

As we continue this Advent journey and encounter these redeemed prophetic voices of Isaiah and the Baptist, we pray for the awareness in our own lives of that critical voice that is still in need of being liberated.  God desires so much more for each of us and yet we tend to settle for much less.  When we move from being led by that critical voice to being led by and with love, our lives are changed forever.  We, like the Baptist, are complex creatures often in need of love and redemption more than anything.  This season we’re invited into the desert of our own souls, with a very patient God, where a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day, to experience our lives and how we see ourselves and the world in a very different way.  No longer grounded in criticism, control, and fear, the institutionalized gods we create in our lives, but rather the God of love, freedom, and liberation, pointed to us by the Baptist himself.

The Injustice of My Own Heart

Deut 26: 4-10; Luke 4: 1-13

I say it every year as a good reminder, that this gospel reminds us how careful we should be about using Scripture against someone knowing that the devil knows scripture and uses scripture as well as anyone. We can never forget that point. The readings this weekend, though, point us to one reality and that is that there is one God and that it’s not me and it’s not you but we struggle with a daily temptation thinking otherwise. Like most things, we have a way of even making the temptations into something superficial. We limit it often to what we can see, of the flesh, habits we must break, but we never move to the deeper questions that ask why I’m so easily tempted and from where within me do they arise, often these crazy desires that we sometimes face and, rather easily, submit to in our lives. There can be a lot of truth in the statement that the devil made me do it. Of course, as long as we accept that the devil is within me.

But the temptations that Jesus seems to face in today’s gospel don’t sound like anything that we encounter and so can come off as being disconnected from our own humanity. But his temptations go beyond what he can see with his eyes, even though the devil shows him in that way. Let’s recall how the story unfolds because it is the Spirit that leads Jesus out into the desert. Of course, the desert has great meaning to the people as they recall the events of the exodus in the first reading today. The desert becomes that most vulnerable place within, where we are somewhat in limbo and experiencing great vulnerability. We know what it’s like. There’s not much life, or so it seems. It’s hot and can be quite cold. It would make any of us uneasy. But it is precisely in this God-sized hole, our own interior desert, that the Spirit also tries to lead us, to our own place of vulnerability, to a deeper hunger that reveals the depths of the temptations in our own lives.

But it’s the place we’d rather not go. We like Lent the way it is, on the surface and making some little changes in my life knowing I can always go back to it come Easter, a temporary respite. Any of us can do something for forty days. But that’s not the point. I had mentioned yesterday that the Lent we are called to and the fast that we are called to is much more radical, a fast that the prophetic voices preach and lose their lives for. What we are called to fast from and change is from the injustices that happen around us all the time and our participation in the injustices. On a deeper level, there is greed. On a deeper level, there is safety. On a deeper level, within this God-sized hole, there is all this activity that catapults our world into war and famine and how easy it is to turn a blind eye to it all, actively participating so often by doing nothing. Worse yet, we have often made virtues out of some of them, such as greed, that we become so blinded by it that we consciously give into it because we’ve decided it’s something good. How blind we can become and how easily we can be swayed into believing something is not true, all in the name of virtue, happening in the world and Church. We can never call out big money lest we be called out, nor can we say anything against war. Oh, how much easier it is to keep Lent on the surface and never examining where these desires come from and why we are led to such blindness.

But there is that deeper hunger within and that Jesus experiences after forty days in the desert. Again, it’s paramount the experience in the desert. We hear that recounting of the exodus from Deuteronomy today. They too fell into that trap, people Israel, in thinking that they can be god. They buy into the lie that they can do it alone, despite being up against such opposition in facing the same realities in their lives that we do in war and famine, abuse of power and willing it over others. Gradually they too had to be led to that same place, to their own vulnerability and a confrontation with their own inner hunger before they can surrender themselves over to the one true God, the one that leads from death to life.

The Spirit not only leads Jesus to the desert. That same Spirit will lead Jesus to the Garden which we will hear on Palm Sunday. It’s the same Spirit that leads him to the Cross, the most vulnerable and humiliating of places for anyone, including Jesus, only to hand himself over, not only to the hands of the authorities but to hand his life over to the Supreme Authority in God. The temptations Jesus faces in the desert are central to our own lives but we must be willing to go to the same place and allow the Spirit to lead. The only way we change and seek conversion in our lives is to go to that place, below the surface of our superficial temptations that we’ve vowed to give up for at least forty days, and to go to the place of injustice. It’s not just the injustice out there. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that I must confront. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that needs change and conversion.

As we enter into this season we pray for the Spirit to lead us where it wills, in particular, to the place of vulnerability, to the God-sized hole within that we try to fill. It never works and deep down we know it, but the temptation to be God is also very real and convinces us as it tries Jesus that we’re something and someone that we are not. There is but one God and it is that one God that changes hearts and souls to be more like Him. We pray this is a time to fast from injustice, to feel and experience the Cross within, so that we too may be transformed into a new life, a life we have been created for in serving the one true God in this world and to build up not our own kingdom, but the Kingdom of that God.

The Illusion of Being Satisfied

John 6: 1-15

I’ve had the chance over the past years in ministry to travel to Haiti twice to participate in mission work with different groups and I often think of that experience when I hear this gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. You know the poverty is extreme there and that in no way diminishes the poverty we face right outside our front door, but the extreme of it in Haiti is hard to imagine especially for us Americans. You know, they can go to grocery stores like we do up the street but they don’t buy the same stuff we do. I’ve tried to bring back a staple item there but it always falls apart on me but the best way to describe it is like when little kids make mud pies. That’s exactly what this food looks like and really is that they eat. It’s hard to imagine! It has absolutely no nutritional value but it does one thing. It gives the person the illusion that they are satisfied and full. That’s it; no value but an illusion of being satisfied.

I dare say we don’t go around eating mud or dirt pies but that’s not to say that we aren’t good at feeding that same illusion in our lives. You know, Pope Francis gets criticized a lot because of what he says about consumerism and capitalism, partially because the system is somewhat based on that very lie and illusion. We all know that we have a deeper need to be fed in relationship but at the same time aren’t and so the system preys on that need and feeds that illusion that somehow and in some way, whatever it is that is being sold is somehow going to do the trick and feed what hurts, only leaving us more empty and hurting, hungering and longing for something more. It says a great deal about the addictive society and world in which we live and how we go about feeding it with dirt and mud patties.

As much as I see that experience in Haiti, I also see the people in today’s gospel, clamoring for an experience of Jesus, trying to fill that deeper hunger and longing in their lives, practically crawling over one another to catch a glimpse, to be fed. I also see the people I see on the news who hurt. I see the people outside our front door who are hurting an looking for someone to acknowledge and reverence. I see the people in this city who continue to hurt and longing for something that will feed and nourish, beyond the mud and dirt that are often thrown at them. It’s an atrocity the number of kids that continue to go hungry in this city and this country while so many of us continue to feed the illusions of our own lives, disconnected from the reality of a people who are hurting and longing. Ironically, or maybe providentially, it’s a little boy that appears on the scene of today’s gospel carrying some bread and fish to be multiplied to feed the those who hunger. A problem that seemed overwhelming to the disciples is diminished by the young boy who then reclines and shares. In what we way are we feeding ourselves these days?

Yet, as soon as they are fed, Jesus scurries off in the gospel, up the mountain alone. As is so often the case in John’s gospel, they talk passed one another or yet, Jesus speaks on a deeper level. They thinking they are being fed physically, and they are; then Jesus speaks and blesses and breaks and they are fed on another level as well. This is no mud or dirt pie, this is what feeds forever, with some left over in the end. He scurries off and once again they will seek him out. The emptiness will once again overwhelm and consume as they try to be fed in other ways but nothing will take the place of that day, of that sign, when they were fed in more ways than one, in relationship with one another and with Christ.

These next weeks now we will find ourselves marching through this one chapter in John’s Gospel, the first fifteen versus being today’s on the sign given of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It’s known as the Bread of Life discourse of this gospel. In the end, some will leave. They won’t like how they are being challenged to think or to question in the way they are being fed and feeding themselves. As is so often the case, we want to maintain the status quo of life; yet, an encounter and relationship with the Bread of life demands something more of us. This relationship is going to demand of us to examine how we are being fed and feeding ourselves. What are the dirt and mud pies in our lives? What has no nutritional and spiritual value, and yet, that longing and hunger within us continues to draw us to other ways and means of satisfying what hurts. Bring it to the table and be healed.

The more we try to feed it with anything else, whatever it may be for us…the latest gadget, alcohol, drugs, the latest and biggest house, money, whatever it may be, if it leads to greater emptiness, it’s time to bring it to the table and let it go. There is but one thing and one person that will sustain us, feed us, nurture us, fill us, and that’s this meal we share and it’s our relationship with Christ in this Eucharist. We all buy into the illusion and will feed the illusion in our lives; we’re human and broken and poured out, but today we pray we may recognize those dirt and mud pies in our lives and demand now something more, something greater, that will sustain and nurture us all the days of our lives.

Being Love to the World

Mark 16: 1-7

And they went away seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. That’s how Mark concludes the Resurrection narrative that we hear today at the conclusion of the gospel. It’s seems rather odd, especially coming from those who have been most dedicated to him on this journey, the women, who are prepared to anoint his body and visit his tomb, leave in fear and trembling. In the end, they were no different than the disciples, seemingly faithful only “from a distance” as the disciples were throughout, and even the woman viewed the death from a safe place. In the end, their lives were about playing it safe rather than with and in a radical faith. For Mark, there doesn’t seem to be any “happily ever after” moment, but isn’t that how our lives often are? Mark now gives his listeners and readers the choice as to how they will live their lives forward.

But it’s Easter and none of that makes any sense. They were about to do what was expected of them by visiting the tomb and anointing his body. Their lives were about doing what was expected of them, until they encounter the unexpected and they leave bewildered, afraid, and seized with trembling. They all learned quite well what their fellow humans are capable of by arresting and crucifying an innocent man named Jesus. Like us so often, they were trapped by that lens in life, victims of what was expected and unaware of the unexpected happening within and around them. They knew what their fellow human beings were capable of and maybe missed the point of the Mystery in its fullness before their very eyes in Jesus, failing like the disciples, to see he was more than what can be seen with the eyes; he was more than human but also divine. The unexpected happened in an unexpected place and at an unexpected time, and their lives are about to change forever, no longer living from a distance, but encountering life in love.

But not yet. None of us knows what the women do after this. We can assume that they do eventually do as commanded, once a burning begins within them, because we know and will hear throughout this season how that early community began to grow in Acts of the Apostles. But their work was not done as it wasn’t for his disciples. Once again Peter is singled out in this gospel, like us, needs even a little extra work, but all of them will be called to go back to where it began in Mark’s Gospel and begin to not only view life from a different place but also to live it from a different place, a place from within.

On Holy Thursday we heard of the story of the Passover of the Lord and our sharing in that story and the pain that often accompanies this journey of conversion and discipleship. On the journey we must go to the place where we felt rejected. We must go to the place where we felt abandoned and be healed of our own passion. Good Friday challenged us to pass through that narrow path of the Cross in order to recognize that deeper love and not live our lives from the place of hate and judgment. Easter, though, pushes us through and offers the hope we so often need to be healed of all that holds us back, from playing it safely from a distance, to let go of our own hurt past and history, knowing we must go through it in order that we may live Easter not only at the end of our lives, in the fullness of God’s love, but to live in and with the desire that God has for us at this very moment, to be God’s love in the world, only through an embracing of the fullness of the Mystery and it’s ever-deeper reality.

Now we may not be there yet and certainly we aren’t in its fullness. We may be like the women in the Gospel or the disciples that we encountered these past days. We may still be living in fear, and for them at this moment, the haunting fear of the rejection they will face in believing that there is something more to life in Christ. We may still be holding onto parts of our past, trying to control and missing the unexpected working in our lives. Heck, we may find ourselves square in the tomb, wondering, lost in my own victimhood, trying to do it all by myself, knowing deep in my heart and the place of emptiness within me, that that stone can only be moved by God, in order that I may come out a changed person, living in and through love, being love to the world. That stone can only be moved by a God who works in the most unexpected places of our lives in order to gift us to be God’s love to the world.

As we celebrate the Resurrection of the Crucified Christ, we pray for an awareness that God meets us wherever we may be on this journey and accepts us at that point, knowing the demands and pressures of our society to live one way when God calls us to another. In a world that so often calls us to conform, to play it safe from a distance, on this great feast of Easter, when the Crucified One is raised from the dead, God calls us to be and to live in the unexpected and that our eyes and minds and hearts are opened to be transformed into God’s great love in the world! Happy Easter!

Becoming Love Through the Cross

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John

You need only turn on the news for a few minutes and see how easy it is to become what we hate. There’s so much violence, judgment, hatred, which signifies just how much hurt and suffering exists. We become what we hate when we don’t have the ability to self-reflect,a prophetic eye, to see what it is that needs to die within ourselves. All this, so often as we have seen, in the name of God, in the name of religion, which has gone on since the beginning of time. How easy it is to become what it is we hate.

How quickly, also, the crowd turns on Jesus. Remember back to the entrance on Palm Sunday as they waved palms, welcoming him into the eternal city. Hosanna in the Highest! And yet today, crucify him! When the tension begins to build between Jesus and those John refers to as “the Jews”, which isn’t what we mean it today, but rather the leaders of the faith, the Pharisees and others, the crowd quickly begins to change its tune. They quickly give into the fear projected on them by the leaders who are threatened by Jesus’ true power, as he refers in today’s Passion reading, a power from above. Fear becomes the call of the people in the face of such love, passion, and suffering; Jesus stands in the midst of it watching it crumble, a world created by man while he opens the door to THE Kingdom, built on love.

Yet, we become what we hate. We are uncomfortable with Good Friday and everything that is good about it. We’re uncomfortable with the emptiness of the church, showing the depths of our own being and where God invites. We’re uncomfortable to come and reverence in some way the wood of the cross that will lie before us. Something deep within us tries to hold us back from approaching the emptiness, the wood of the cross, despite the knowing of a deeper reality that this is the true us imprinted on our very souls. Rather than becoming what we hate, the Cross invites us to become the love that God created us to be.

You see, this cross isn’t just some external reality that we come and venerate. No, it’s our story, unfolding every day of our lives, leading us deeper into the recesses of our being, the emptiness that leads us to a radical poverty, a radical love, that can only be manifested by a God that loves beyond all understanding. This is the day, not to mourn, but, yes, to remember the death of Christ, but the reality that it’s our story as well. We don’t have to settle for becoming what it is that we hate. There’s enough hatred and violence in the name of God in our world; but our God leads us to the truth of who we are as people, through the cross, into the depths of our being, our soul, imprinted by Christ, to become who Christ was and is to us, God’s great and everlasting love and to share that gift with the world. It comes through a radical poverty and emptiness of our lives, through the cross. It comes through a radical love, only possible through the cross. It comes from a great trust that Christ invites us into this day, naked, vulnerable, exposed, and yet, a love that transforms our lives and our world not into what and who we hate but into a manifestation of that love. O Come, Let us Adore.

Mirror of My Soul

2Sam 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Luke 1: 26-38

The obvious connection with the first reading and Gospel today on this Fourth Sunday of Advent is the lineage of Jesus with David and the fulfillment of that line in Jesus through Mary. However, like most of Scripture there is often a deeper meaning and connection with them. You see, there’s something happening in both the life of David and Mary at this very moment. There’s a stirring deep within their hearts and souls of a God leading them to greater fulfillment in their lives and ultimately in the world. A God who can accomplish the impossible is hard at work and on the scene in both of their lives, both in very different places and circumstances of life, but both being stirred by this God who brings life.

For David, it’s probably similar to many of us, albeit it to the extreme. The reading even begins by mentioning that David had just gotten settled. It’s in that moment when he’s getting used to his role as King and the great palace that he now lives and the many walls and such that protect him, and yet, none of it is offering fulfillment in his life. He knows in his head that God is always with him; Nathan makes that point to him in the reading today in the reading today. Yet, as a visual, he then sees how the Ark of God dwells in comparison to himself, an earthly king. Here’s the ark in a tent, exposed to the elements, vulnerable, out there, in the line of fire, per say, and then here’s David in his protected walls and palace with everything at his fingertips. He can do anything he wants or desires and then there’s the Ark of God. In that very moment, things begin to stir within his heart and soul. It’s almost as if you were to hold up a mirror to David’s heart and soul, looking back would be what we hear in the gospel today, the unfolding of the annunciation and the beginnings of the incarnation of our God. Here’s David, long before Jesus ever enters the scene or is dreamed of, being moved in a way, deep within his own vulnerability and emptiness, his own empty crib as we see before us, a God who begins to stir within David to bring about the God in the flesh into the world and do great things, pondering all these things in his heart. Of course, he doesn’t always do it right. He abuses his power, takes advantage of the role he has has king, and yet, in a moment of vulnerability and emptiness, despite have everything he could possibly want or imagine, God begins to stir.

Mary experiences that same stirring and vulnerability within herself as she enters the scene. If you were here on the Immaculate Conception I had said Mary, of all the characters we encounter in Scripture, is probably one of the most misunderstood. We have done a greater job at creating her into who we want her to be or think we need her to be than to encounter her for who she is in this passage. Mary enters in poverty. Mary enters as peasant. Mary enters in a male-dominated world. Mary enters with absolutely no clout, like David, and is totally exposed and vulnerable as a young teenager. If there’s anything against anyone, it’s Mary, yet, she can’t ignore the stirring within her. She could try to ignore and pay no attention to it, but God has other plans and in the deepest part of Mary, pondering all these things in her heart and her empty crib, Mary responds with a yes despite the expectations of a world in which she grows up and lives. Mary goes against the tide and says yes to the incarnate, despite knowing the implications on her life, Joseph’s life, and the life of Jesus. When God stirs in our own vulnerability and empty crib, we come with great humility as Mary does knowing it was designed and built for one, our Lord.

There will be great demands brought upon all of us this week. We will do everything we can to fulfill expectations of others or even of ourselves. We will spend time with loved ones and even some we may not be fond of, but all along, God knows we’ve spent a great deal of this time trying to fill that longing and empty crib with many other things and so I go back to what I said on the First Sunday of Advent, how important it is to find silence in this time. We may not experience the empty crib right now. Some may experience it on Christmas but for many of us, we begin to experience it following Christmas when we begin to realize that so much of it hasn’t brought fulfillment. We didn’t get the right gift. They didn’t like what we had gotten them despite the hours walking in the mall. All of these things begin to grow within and like David and Mary and Elizabeth, that’s when God steps in and begins to stir us. If God were to place that mirror up to your heart and soul, what does God see? What have we tried to fill that crib with other than God? God invites us to sit with it long enough to allow the stirring to bring life and healing, for when we do, the impossible becomes the reality in our lives and world.

Modeling and Becoming Love


John 13: 1-15

John begins his Gospel with the “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Some scripture scholars would say that this passage we hear tonight and are quite familiar with, the washing of the disciples feet, is the turning point in the gospel and the consummation of that Word becoming flesh and dwelling among them, as he takes off his outer garments, kneels down, and washes the disciples feet. In that one act of love, Jesus consummates the relationship with his disciples and when who he is and what he is about comes together in John’s Gospel. We heard the beginnings of that from Saint Paul on Palm Sunday in his letter to the Philippians, in his beautiful canticle…emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself. Takes off his garments, kneels down, washes the feet of the disciples.

It leaves them quite uncomfortable and bewildered by Jesus’ actions. They don’t know what to make of it and why he would do such a thing, which is why Peter questions. They’re left feeling uncomfortable because they come with certain expectations. Certainly in John’s Gospel, as we will hear tomorrow from that Passion reading, there is a much more kingly approach to Jesus and so watching him in this act of love, even though they don’t see it as that, leaves Peter and the others wondering. Why would this “king” do something beneath them? The status that they expect of Jesus doesn’t match the act of love being modeled and given. They can’t receive the love being given by Jesus. Yet, the very act pushes them to their limits and Jesus gets there where they need to be, on the edge, uncomfortable, where God does some of his best work at bringing about conversion in our hearts, where the Word made flesh breaks in and acts in ways that so often leave us feeling bewildered and wondering.

On these days we enter into, we are often invited into uncomfortable experiences of ritual that often leave us questioning in the same way and can we receive the outpouring of love that is being given to us. We are invited into seeing ourselves having our feet washed. Taking off his outer garments, kneeling down, washing our feet. We are invited into the stripping of the altar, often leaving us uncomfortable because it stretches us from the norm and we’re pushed to look at things differently. Jesus takes off his garments and the altar is stripped to nothing. Taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself, vulnerable before his disciples inviting them to do and be the same.

If you find yourself being pushed this evening and throughout these experiences of some of the most sacred rituals the next couple of days, stay with that. It’s where God wants to meet us. It’s where God does great work. It’s where God consummates the relationship with us, breaking in as Word made flesh, stripping himself of all, vulnerable, humble, conversion happening in ways beyond understanding. I have washed your feet; you ought to wash one another’s. When we allow ourselves to be pushed to that place of vulnerability in our lives, we become the love that is given. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Save What Was Lost

Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Luke 19: 1-10

In most areas of our lives, we have bought into the idea or belief that “knowledge is power”.  If I want to succeed at anything, I have to have the right knowledge or intellect and I can get what I want.  In the age we live, we are also inundated with information through internet and other sources that we just keep accumulating.  Yet, maybe that’s part of the reason why we change careers so often in this day and age…the knowledge gives us part of the equation, but we know if our heart and soul isn’t into something, it makes it very challenging.  All the knowledge in the world won’t give us what we want in that instance, we will always be left feeling empty when we spend our lives climbing the tree as Zacchaeus does in today’s gospel, trying to find what was lost. 

I think it helps to know some of the symbolism from myth, soul, and dream work to understand what’s going on in this passage.  Many scholars question whether Zacchaeus has already begun to have a conversion in his life and has been feeling empty.  He had all the knowledge and was quite successful at what he did, but it was about him more than it was the people.  He knew how to play the system.  He knew how to make money off the less fortunate and he did it, leaving people resentful of him for what he had done.  Again, though, he did it through his mind.  If we look at all of this as symbol, climbing  the tree for Zacchaeus is where he was comfortable; it’s Zacchaeus getting “in his head” thinking that he could encounter Jesus that way.  We could think and study all we want about Jesus and God, but that’s not where the encounter will take place.  I had a gentleman tell me last evening that it took him 70 years of his life before he knew what it meant to say that he loves Jesus.  We think we can think our way to God, but like Zacchaeus, it will often leave us feeling empty and lonely, knowing something is still missing.  We just can’t think that we can think our way to God!

But then comes the invitation and the openness on the part of Zacchaeus.  Once it comes, nothing will stop us from making the journey.  If climbing the tree is getting lost in our heads, the other symbol of the story is the house.  In dream and soul work, the house often represents the soul.  He is invited down out of his head and into his soul where the encounter will take place.  That doesn’t mean that he could just go from one to the other.  There is a crowd of many negative voices and feelings that Zacchaeus is going to have to encounter before he gets there.  He has swindled people and taken advantage of them and for once he’s going to begin to see what he has done and what has led him to such emptiness.  He will begin to recognize all that he had done to build up his own ego and inflated image of himself while knocking everyone down in the process.  Like Zacchaeus, it is often a stumbling out of the tree that is going to lead us down into the soul, but again, when that invitation comes and we hear the voice of Jesus speak, not much is going to stop us from making it.  We, like him, finally begin to see who we really are.  Like Zacchaeus, the one we often need to be saved from is ourselves and thankfully, as the writer of Wisdom tells us today, God remains patient with us in that process because God is “the lover of souls”.  It becomes authentic to Zacchaeus in the way he wants to reconcile with others, finally knowing in himself that he is a loved sinner.

If our faith is simply about knowledge and intellect, we become dangerous.  We start to lord it over others, build judgments, and become critical of others.  Just think about it, if coming to this Table each week is about trying to understand what transubstantiation is all about or some other big word, it may never lead us to God.  We can go our entire lives and never have an encounter with God.  But like Zacchaeus, when the invitation comes from somewhere deeper within our souls and tells us to leave the tree, we will begin to move and this will become much more than an intellectual experience.  The last line of the gospel today, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” is a major theme in Luke’s Gospel.  When we are open to this invitation, we begin to realize just what has been lost and sacrificed and that is our soul.  We see it in ourselves; we see it in our world, the absence of soul.  We feel safe in our heads and minds.  We know it and it always seems to be faithful to us.  It has all the answers that we could ever want, but most likely will never give us what we truly desire.  We are invited today, like Zacchaeus, to come out of the tree, probably stumbling along the way, and enter into what has been lost, our souls, so as the Gospel tells us, salvation today will come upon this house.  We don’t have to wait until the end of our lives; salvation is today when we say yes to the invitation from Jesus to come down out of the tree and into our souls.  We can’t think it.  We can’t even know it as an intellectual entity.  We can only be it once it finally comes upon our house.  Come down quickly, for the Lord has invited himself to your house!

What Matters to God

Ecclesiastes 1: 2; 2: 21-23;  Luke 12: 13-21

The readings this weekend can be hard for us to hear, considering what our world and culture often value.  When we define success, it often comes with college degree, making large sums of money, nice house and car, none of which are bad unto themselves.  However, we are often told that it’s not enough.  That we still need more and more, where who we are is defined by what we have and how much of it we have.  I can tell you from personal experience, there is nothing more disheartening than preparing for a funeral and you have family members fighting over inheritance, like today’s gospel.  Everyone wants something and they want more of it.  Who cares about the person who has died!  Yet, both the first reading and the gospel today put us in that position…that moment of death.  Do we know what is really important in our lives?  Can we imagine ourselves on our death bed and ask, “What really matters?”  Is it all this stuff that we cling to in life and think defines us or is it what matters to God as Jesus tells in the parable.  I can’t believe that God will be checking our bank accounts when we die, but God may be looking at how we loved in our relationships and how we loved Christ.  We can accumulate all we want in this life, but as the saying goes, none of us can take it with us.

I think the best image I can think of since the idea of barns is not familiar to us is these self-storage places that you see.  Again, not bad in and of themselves, but do we have that much stuff that we need to store it up in other locations?  When you have the opportunity to travel to Third World countries, it’s hard to imagine the excess that we have in this country and we still want more.

The Book of Ecclesiastes is often considered one of the more negative books in the Bible.  However, what the collected wisdom of that community wanted to convey was the emptiness that one would experience when their lives were consumed by greed.  It’s unfortunate that we have often equated vanity with those that like to look at themselves because Ecclesiastes makes it a much broader issue.  It was anything that has the potential for becoming a god for us.  The reading goes onto say that we can toil and toil all our lives thinking it good that we can have, but at what cost?  Is it costing us our relationships and the love we desire?

The people that Jesus addresses the parable should have known better.  It was law that the land owner leave some of the harvest in the field for those who were in need, and yet, the rich man today, rather than leaving it for those in need, decides to stock pile the excess.  A selfish act on his part when he had no need of it.  Pope Francis recently identified this part of the culture as a “cult of money”.  We allow money, wealth, and possessions to take hold of our lives and define us for who we are.  Through these challenging readings, though, there is an invitation.

There is an invitation for us today to die before we die.  God, it seems, from time to time gives us opportunity to reflect upon what is most important in our lives.  God leads us into these crises within our lives that forces us to look at our lives and into the emptiness and shallowness that Ecclesiastes speaks of to get to the heart of who we really are.  None of us wants to wait until the real death comes to first seek how empty we have spent our lives, and so we pray that we may be given the grace to die before we die.

It is an invitation to become aware of the barns we have built in our own lives and what we are stock piling, what it is that maybe most of our lives we believe defined us and begin to recognize that it’s not really me.  To see that there is more out of life and more important things that money and possessions and all the things that have defined us because what matters most to God is how we loved.  It’s what we all desire.  It is much more complicated than accumulating and stock piling, but it is the life that God calls us to.  To die before we die and to ask ourselves what really matters to us.  Is it all this stuff that our world, the culture, and the financial market tells us we need, much of what is good unto itself, but is not really us?  Or is it love, love of God and love of neighbor.  That’s all that matters to God and should be all that matters to us.