Inside Out

Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20; James 3: 16–4: 3; Mark 9: 30-37

One of the themes of Mark’s Gospel is that of “movement”.  The disciples and Jesus are always on the go as the gospel proceeds, at least until the passion when it will come to a screeching halt.  Mark, though, would not be the one to read if you want a geography lesson on this part of the world because they’re all over the place!  But there’s another more profound movement that takes place in Mark’s Gospel and we hear it today, “once they were inside the house”.  There’s a movement from outside to inside with this Gospel and when we hear that they were inside the house our ears should perk up because it usually indicates something important is about to be taught.  It’s not just about being inside the house.  It’s a symbolic move that shifts them to their own interior life, within their hearts, that this message needs to penetrate.  It’s here where what really needs to happen in moving to a changed heart for the disciples and us and where their own interior struggle is revealed.

The crazy thing of the story is that Jesus isn’t even dead yet and they’re already fighting about who’s the greatest, who’s the most important, who has the power, and all the rest.  You could just imagine them bickering about all of it as if they were waiting for that moment.  Yet, there’s Jesus just going along with them until they enter the recesses of their own hearts where the shallowness of the argument begins to reveal itself.  He goes to the extent of bring a child into the center to teach them what this life as a disciple is all about because the child would have no place in society and certainly no standing.  Such as it is with the disciples.  No bickering of greatest and power and who’s the best but rather of service and humility.  When we remain on that level of conflict there is a lack of humility and conflict continues.

It’s what James tells us in today’s second reading.  He goes onto say that we shouldn’t even have to ask ourselves why war, conflict, division, and this clamoring for power exists because even to this day we refuse to do our interior work, to get our own house in order.  All these writers would remind us even to this day that life is about being lived from the inside out; that if we get our own house in order, our own interior life, then there is less need for jealousy and selfish ambition as he tells us today.  As a matter of fact, he’d go onto say that if we have the need to boast about how wise we are, how great we are, how smart we are, and all the rest then it does quite the opposite.  It goes onto show just how empty we can be in our own interior life and how empty the house really is.  Yet, it’s our culture in the Church and certainly in our nation, that we believe that all the externals are in place, we dress the part and play the part, then all is fine, despite the fact that more often than not we’re living a lie.  The more we neglect our own house, our own interior, the more we tend to act upon our jealousies and selfish ambitions.  Quite frankly, it’s easier to live the blame game and blame everyone else for our problems.  Yet, James reminds us they are still there, lurking below the surface in our own homes, our own interior lives.

Solomon, the writer of Wisdom would tell us the same.  He speaks of that wickedness that tends to dominate our interior when we neglect it.  He portrays for us in many ways the image of the true Israelite.  Yet, the wicked ones, who claim power and wisdom, are doing everything to undo him and to expose him as a fraud, not realizing that they are the frauds in it all.  They don’t quite know what to do with themselves because once Solomon does his own work and gets his own house in order, they no longer have control or power over him.  It’s what pushes them to try to undo him and prove him as a fraud.  Yet, Solomon has nothing to prove.  Solomon recognizes his own wickedness and has learned to reconcile it within himself.  War, conflict, division, and all the rest continues to plague us on all levels because we refuse to get our own house in order.  It’s easier to blame and to allow our own “wickedness” to come out towards others, all along emptying of us of the very fullness of life that we desire within our own interior life.  We begin to separate ourselves from our own humanity and cast our sin upon the other.

We need to get our own house in order.  The invitation of Jesus this evening is the invitation to each of us, to come inside the house.  Sure, we often fear that place within ourselves, but it’s the only path towards healing and reconciliation and a change of heart.  The path of discipleship is not only of service but of humility and that humility is revealed in the interior wisdom when we begin the oft painful process of getting our house in order.

We pray for the grace this day to enter the house over and over again, to our own interior lives and confront our own wickedness that torments us as it did the ideal Israelite and will certainly torment the disciples as they face Jerusalem.  The appearance of humility and wisdom is just not enough.  It continues to reveal how bankrupt our culture can become and that culture in turn influences our politics and our Church.  We become what we hate and settle for lies over the stream of wisdom that flows within the house, our very hearts.  We all desire that fullness of life but it will never come by focusing solely on the exterior world of power, success, wealth, and all the rest.  They will only leave us more anxious and empty.  The fullness of life we desire lies within, when we can live our lives from the inside out.

Love’s Friends

Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; I John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17

You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to understand that the message of love stands at the very heart of John’s writing.  Between the second reading and the gospel today, a total of eleven verses, the word love appears eighteen times.  It stands as the core of his ethic and what it means to be a community that has Christ at its center.  The past few weeks it’s all we have heard from him is this message of love.

Today, though, he tells it in the context of friendship.  He calls his disciples friends.  Of course, friendship is near and dear to all of us.  More than anything it is our friends that accept us for who we are, warts and all.  There’s no need to hide or mask ourselves in anyway.  There’s no sense of superiority or feeling less than. If there is it really would not be friendship anyway.  Over the course of our lives they tend to be some of the most important people in our lives, accepting us, the first people we call, the ones who walk with us through struggles, the ones who love us in a very unique way, often willing to put our own needs ahead of their own.

It’s a rather unique description that would be used by Jesus in describing his own followers as they prepare to be sent forth into a hostile world.  It’s a radical message for them as a crew who would be familiar with their own tradition knowing that the only one named friend of God in Scripture is Abraham, the father of their faith, and now Jesus using the same language.  He comes down on their level and meets them there while raising them up in line with someone like Abraham.  They are friends.  Of course, it won’t take very long before they find out what this friendship is going to ask of them.  They’re not the best of friends at first, abandoning him in the darkest of times out of fear for their own lives.  Yet, he meets them where they are, in all their imperfections and nonsense, love comes down to them and calls them forth.

We have seen how that plays itself out in the earliest community of Acts of the Apostles these six weeks of Easter now and once again today Peter is confronted with this reality in relation to others.  Peter has just had a miracle done through him so Cornelius believes that he is at an elevated position.  Now, of course, we have put Peter in that position ourselves, and there’s nothing wrong with being a leader, but what Peter doesn’t forget is that it’s not about him.  As a matter of fact, when he gets out of the way, as he did today, his ministry is even more fruitful because he knows it’s not about him and it is only this love and this friendship with Jesus that continues to work in and through Peter to do what he does.  Now it’s not that they always get it right either and we’ve heard that these weeks as well.  They are constantly discerning and figuring it as they go and learning where it is that God’s leading them, but they can only do this by doing what was commanded to them in this farewell discourse of John, by remaining and abiding in their friendship with Jesus and to keep returning to that source of love.

The community at times still falls back to its old ways and old way of thinking.  The other followers of the way can’t seem to understand how the Spirit has come upon the Gentiles in the first reading today.  Israel, like Peter, has had its own struggle with having a somewhat superior status of being the chosen ones of God.  The master/slave relationship that Jesus speaks of was most familiar to them and has influenced them greatly.  It all takes time and returning to that source of love that begins to expand their hearts to understand that it doesn’t matter whether your Jewish, or followers of the Way, the early Christians, Samaritans, or Gentiles, this love far exceeds a particular group of people because the chosen-ness has nothing to do with that and everything to do with who this God is and the expansiveness of that love.  As they grow and deepen in that love it begins to make sense and the normal boundaries and judgments that have separated them begin to dissipate.  The love that transforms their hearts now transforms the world around them.  It only happens, though, when the return, abide, remain, the message that we have heard consistently from Jesus the past few weeks.  You only become love when you return to that source of love and that friendship with Jesus.

As we come ever nearer to the end of the Easter Season we return back to the beginning when we were asked as to what kind of community we’re called to be.  John has reinforced that message of love over and over for us these weeks and calls us to remain and abide in that love.  It’s the only thing that changes and transforms us.  Today, though, he calls it forth through friendship, one of the most valued of all relationships we cherish because we choose this friendship with Jesus.  We come like the disciples, messed up at times, afraid, far from perfect, masks and all at times, but he comes down to us and raises us up to that place of love to transform our hearts where we no longer need to hide from this God but rather enter into friendship in order to abide in love and become that love.

It is only love that will see the disciples through as they are sent forth into the hostile world, a world that remains hostile towards love.  Hostility, fear, war, violence know full well the power of love and will do anything to have us succumb to something less than love.  We go forth to bring that love to a world that doesn’t need more violence, separation, war, and division, but needs to be loved.  It’s the only thing that will transform it.  The more we enter more deeply into friendship with Jesus the more that love transforms our hearts and we become the hands and feet of Christ to those most in need and who are hurting.  We don’t go forth in order to be more of the same.  Rather, we go forth in order to love in a very different way as we are called to be a community of love, of friends, who don’t see ourselves as better than or even inferior towards others, rather as the most humble of ways, as friends.  Friends who share in love and are called to become love.  We pray for the grace to abide and remain in that love so that despite whatever it is we face, the world will be, as it was with Peter, transformed in and through us because we have allowed, over and over again, love to transform us.

“Urgency of the Moment”

It seems as if I have written on this subject more than anything since beginning this blog several years ago.  One because of my own affinity with working with young people and when their lives are cut short senselessly, my heart bleeds for them.  It’s not just a life that ends, but hope, creativity, future, imagination, and so much more that they hadn’t had the chance to share with the world in the fullest.  Secondly, though, is our obsession with violence in our society and culture that we never quite come to grips with, showing our own immaturity on the world stage with the thinking that violence and acts of violence can somehow declare us victor or solve problems, never quite seeing beyond the immediate choice that is made to pull a trigger.

I happened to catch an interview with a Congressman this morning.  His name and location I can’t remember, but his comment has stuck with me throughout the day in reflecting on the events in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  He had commented that we are an exceptional country.  We have the strongest military.  We have the best people.  He seemed to go on and on about our exceptionalism and yet, it all stands in the face of yet another tragedy.  If we can do ourselves any favors, as a country, we can stop using such language to describe ourselves.

If there is anything I’ve learned, in spending so much time working with people, it’s that if you have to spend time trying to convince others how exceptional you are you probably are not.  When we live with such a mantra, where even our greatest strength is military, over time we convince ourselves of the illusion that somehow we can’t learn from others, that somehow we know better than every other kid on the block and they should look to me to see how to do things.  It casts a glaze over our eyes in the way we see things and prevents us from the possibility and potential of finally looking at ourselves so that we can go more deeply into the real problems we face as a country and society.  When you convince yourself of your exceptionalism there’s no room for growth.  You’ve decided you’ve already reached the promised land and the promised land is right here.

I started looking at the names and faces of the next seventeen people to add to the list of this ongoing violence.  Their smiles.  Imagining their potential.  Their innocence in the face of tragedy, most likely not even knowing what had happened to them with others now trying to pick up pieces that can almost never be brought together again.  It’s the unfortunately reality of such events and honestly, there’s nothing exceptional about it.

I simply wrote yesterday upon hearing the news that I’m grateful that I grew up in a different time when such acts weren’t even imagined.  The tragic reality only fuels the reaction it brings, somehow thinking arming more people, threatening even more violence, is going to somehow resolve the issue.  I couldn’t even begin to fathom a day when I walked into school needing to go through security.  Yet, listening to students speak in interviews, they think nothing of it.  There in lies even more proof that we refuse to look at ourselves.  We’ll simply continue to arm ourselves with our defense, our fear, our lack of compassion and empathy, our ideology, and unfortunately our politics, which more often than not only fuels the problem and is fed through the problem.  The entire system currently feeds on division, which, in and of itself, invokes violence in various ways.

It is rare that empires fall at the hands of outsiders.  More often than not empires fall from within.  They divide themselves and fall.  Quite frankly because they lose their sense of humanity, a logical outcome of thinking your exceptional.  As heinous acts of violence continue to ensue our landscape, roads and bridges collapse, inequality grows more deeply,  schools often failing their students or unable to challenge them, and political divides deepen, debt climbs out of control, there will come a day of reckoning of just what it means to be exceptional or great.  In the end we simply lie to ourselves and over time believe the lie while the world watches.

It’s going to take the young minds and hearts to steer this ship in a new direction, but if we continue to insist on taking such lives, not only in schools but on our own street corners, there will be no future to envision.  The illusion of exceptionalism has been smashed for some time, but the more we cling to it and try to convince ourselves otherwise is yet another day lost to imagining what could be.  When Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 he said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.  It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”  Yet, despite the times of great injustice that continue, he still dreamed and so must we.  There is an urgency of this moment in which we are given, either to once again get swallowed up in needing to be exceptional and ignoring our deeper human problems or rising to the occasion as he demanded, to dream a better way of life, not only for ourselves but for the generations who will inherit what we have done. 

There is an urgency in the moment to seek a larger and yet common vision for who we are, that rises above guns, politics, and money.  There is an urgency in the moment because we owe it to the current 17 and the countless others that stand in the cross-hairs of violence each day in this country.  In spite of it all, we must, and must we must, dare to dream lest others die in vain.  We need the necessary freedom to break free from our way of thinking that we have become paralyzed by it all, powerless to change.  We have the gifts and not through the walls of Congress or the White House, but in our very hearts to imagine better days.  It doesn’t mean a naïve look, where all is perfect.  That’s how we got here in the first place.  Rather, a looking at what we have allowed and become through the eyes of humility that we’re not done yet and all we can do is keep our eye on the prize, the promised land.  “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.  Land where my fathers died.  Land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

The Predictably Unpredictable Master

The parable of the talents is now the second of the three in this chapter of Matthew.  Last week we heard the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and then next week will be the culmination of Jesus’ teaching in this gospel in the judgment of the nations.  It’s the final teaching of Jesus before the real event as to what this all means and what it has to tell them about who this God and who this Jesus really is and what he’s all about.  Like the other two parables this one is filled, like our lives, with many contradictions that are hidden in plain sight.

Our natural inclination, as I’ve said before, is to automatically try to identify who’s who in these parables that Jesus offers us.  It’s almost as if we have to identify roles so we know where we fit and somehow feel comfortable with it, knowing who’s who.  However, that would leave us in a bit of a predicament with calling God the master of the story, considering what we know about the master according to the one who was given one talent.  Even the master makes a pre-judgment about the guy by only giving one, according to his ability.  But this same guy then reveals the identity of the master by telling us that he’s demanding, a lie and a cheat and pretty much leaves them to their own accord by leaving.  Now I can’t necessarily say that’s how I would identify God, and yet, when we rush to judgment and trying fill in the blanks, it’s the God we’re left with.  But maybe that’s Jesus point.

Let’s look at the other two who obviously were very successful in turning the talents into great wealth.  According to our standard today we’re talking millions of dollars, more money than we know what to do with.  They make this money by becoming the likeness of the master and his success which means they too become demanding along with liars and cheats.  It was common knowledge in that time.  Also common thinking, as it often is to this very day, that wealth and this accumulation of it was how they viewed God.  The more I had the more somehow God has blessed me and graced my life, as if grace and blessing can somehow be quantified.  Today we’d call it the prosperity gospel.  The more I have the more God must love me and well, if I don’t it’s probably my own fault.  You see, God is not the master in this sense.  The master is a god but they serve the master of success of wealth and power.  It stands in total contradiction to what they are about to witness about the true Master facing the passion, death, and resurrection.  Yet, we’ve adopted in our own churches serving the wrong master at times.  It may bring us joy, as we hear, but it’s a fleeting joy, not the joy that comes through the true Master, the eternal.

That does, though, leave the third one hanging out there.  Mindful of all we know of Jesus and all the stories we’ve heard from Matthew this year wouldn’t it make sense that he’d be drawn to this final character of the parable.  You can almost imagine him huddled over out of fear seeking the Lord of life.  But the master of success in the parable has already made a judgment about him, just as the Pharisees have done about anyone that has not been somehow blessed by God, by not having.  Here’s a guy who even stands up to the master of success, facing him with a sense of authenticity and courage, humbling confronting the master and just as the Pharisees do, he’s tossed into the darkness.  He comes with nothing and leaves with nothing.  Isn’t that just how our lives are designed?  We always want more and the more is never enough.  Success for the true Master is more about less being more, it’s about coming as we are, with nothing, in humility and with authenticity standing up to the many masters we serve.

That is what’s behind this rather unusual proverb we hear in the first reading.  What the heck does the ideal wife have to do with talents and all the rest in the gospel?  What makes her the ideal is that she’s not there to serve the master in her husband.  Rather, she’s mindful of the true master and does all she does in the name of that Master.  The proverb tells us that she finds all the superficialities as fleeting, charm and beauty are simply joys that will pass.  She keeps her eye on her one God.  She is a woman that fears the Lord in its truest sense, a hope and joy that is eternal and she finds that through serving the true Master, as we’d say, in Christ, through the grace to trust and have a deeper sense of faith that transcends what the world offers her, which at that time was not a great deal.

Paul reminds us through his letter to the Thessalonians today that the moment comes in all of our lives, like a thief in the night, when we’re questioned and when we should begin to question the master that it is that we are serving.  He tells us when it arises in us it’s like labor pains, a painful experience when we are awakened to the reality that we’ve been serving our own master rather than the Master.  It will not only be what master we decide to serve but also what we do with it.  Do we continue to seek fleeting joy and the instant gratification in our lives or do we look for more?  Ironically, when we look for more it’s often less that can fill.  The more we try to fill ourselves with our own masters the more empty we become, lacking meaning and purpose in our lives.

We are now just over a month away from when our lives become all about the “more”.  We’ll need more gifts, cards, parties, stuff to have ourselves a successful Christmas.  Yet, we’ve probably all been in that place, that, when all is said and done we feel empty and unfulfilled.  More often than not it’s because we’ve spent our times serving the wrong master and then we’re faced with the holiday blues.  We pray this day for the grace to become aware or maybe even just to begin to ask ourselves who is the master we serve in our lives.  The master we serve says a lot about the God we choose to serve.  This god of success and prosperity is so tempting in our lives and yet often comes at great cost.  Maybe not in the moment but at some point it happens.  The true Master calls us to a life of humility, faith and trust.  The more we keep our eye and heart on the true Master the more we begin to realize that we don’t need much, that less is often more.  It’s a God of deep mystery that we are invited to fall into, as the ideal wife does in Proverbs, trusting in the promise of the eternal joy that arrives when we finally let go of our own masters and learn to trust the fall into the true Master of our lives, the eternal Christ.

 

Fasting for Life

Isaiah 58: 7-10; ICor 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16

I feel blessed because I’ve had the opportunity to travel to several Third World countries over the years, often with high school students. I still remember the first time I had left the country and had done one of these trips to Honduras. Needless to say, it’s a culture shock when you step off the plane in another country like this and see men standing around in many locations with machine guns. You quickly realize that you’re no longer in the States and are going to be pushed to look at life and people very differently than what we’re used to here. You know, I’m from small town Pennsylvania and I never had an experience of someone of a different color in my life until I had gone to college. My only experience was judgment, stereotype, and fear. That was it; but quickly learned that none of it was true when I began to enter into relationships with others. It didn’t seem to matter color, lifestyle, religion or anything else that is used to separate and put ourselves in a place of superiority.

The one striking thing we’d often push each other on in these different cultures and surroundings was to catch ourselves when we were being over-American. As Americans, we love to fix and we want to help to the point where we want to, in many ways, create “mini-me’s” around the globe. We think we’re the greatest and somehow know how to do this life thing better than anyone else. However, when we want to fix and we want to help, it also puts us in a place of superiority because we know better than “those” people. It automatically puts up a barrier between and prevents relationship. If there’s anything I learned, none of these experiences were about changing anyone else. More often than not, they were about changing me as a person and to let go of my fears and judgements, sometimes even about myself.

At the heart of the first reading today from the prophet Isaiah is about that, about fasting, but not int the way we use that word. Like most things, we water it down to make these things more palatable, like giving up food or something. That’s not the message of Isaiah though. Isaiah’s challenge is a much more radical fasting. He challenges Israel to fast from malicious thought, oppression, false accusation, and as I said, would include, fear and judgment. Israel also has lived with this complex of greatness, but that’s a hard standard to live up to forever. Eventually it begins to crack and Isaiah is inviting them into that place. Like us at times, they want to enter into these relationships thinking their somehow superior and above and thought everyone should be like them. Isaiah says and challenges today, to give it up. To give up that kind of thinking that stands in the way of relationship. He says to go and serve the poor, the hungry, the homeless. In our own day, we’d add refugees which is not a new phenomenon. It’s gone on for some time and we are left wondering what to do with a humanity that is not in need of fixing and helping but of healing and reconciliation. It’s not just about serving for our own need. It’s about a service that challenges us to go to the vulnerable places in our own lives that are in need of healing. It is so often in these relationships that we are pushed to that place.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. But not always. We haven’t as a country and we aren’t always in our daily lives. We can’t ignore our own darkness and the moments when we allow fear to control our lives. The light is the only thing that can help to illumine the darkness of our lives. It is so often that fear and judgement that we hold onto and often define ourselves by that prevents us from stepping out of the dark and entering into relationship with the other. Maybe it’s fear of us being moved to change that prevents us the most. When you think you’re the greatest there’s really no need for change. However, here’s the thing about greatness. You can never be it until you give up and surrender all interest in it. There’s no humility in that type of greatness, only pride that cuts our lives short from where it is that God invites us to grow in these relationships with one another.

Relationships are hard, not only others but with God. They require a great deal of effort on our part and an openness to change, me changing! It is much easier to crawl up into my fear and judgement and lock myself into my own little corner of the world but there’s nothing freeing about that. It is so often in the relationships that we have avoided because of our fear and judgment that have prevented us from an experience of the unknown, of another part of God which is then opened up to us. That’s the real desire of Isaiah and also the desire of Paul in proclaiming the mystery of God. The invitation today is to step beyond our own comfort. Maybe it is in service to someone different than myself that I have feared. The challenge is to not go into it with the intention to fix or someone change to your image and likeness, but low and behold, to maybe, just maybe, allow yourself to be changed. The more we fast from this fear and judgment and even malicious thoughts that Isaiah tells us about today, the more we are opened to hearts that are healed and vulnerable to a greater experience of love. In that we continue to grow into our call in being salt of the earth and light of the world.

#holyresistance

Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13;  I Cor 1: 26-31; Matthew 5: 1-12

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen them all and still believe that the originals from back in the 70’s and 80’s were some of the best. It is mythology at its best and transcends time. But we also often want to reduce it to a battle of good and evil or light and darkness. However, the main characters of the originals were not choosing sides. As a matter of fact, they were the resistant movement, including Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Now it’s not resistant in the way we want to use it today, in our politics. That’s more oppositional energy being exerted and often spending most of its time fighting rather than resisting, trying to seek another way.

The resistance movement were in many ways the wisdom figures. They tried to find truth in all things while what appears to be good and evil continues to fight. The archetypal character becomes Luke Skywalker in his training with Yoda. He wants to fight. He loves to fight! But Yoda keeps pushing him to a different place, to a place within himself and to see that the war he’s fighting the most lies within him, not just beyond him. This is the path to resistance, when he comes to a place where it’s no longer about choosing sides and winning and losing, but a path towards humility when he recognizes his own participation not only in bringing about good but also towards what he’s been fighting. It is the true path of resistance, a holy resistance.

It’s what this great Gospel is about today as we reflect upon the Beatitudes. There is a sense of humiliation in the current times, where there is poverty, there is mourning, war, violence, hunger, and persecution. They are the lived reality of the disciples and the people of Jesus’ time and of course of today. The resistance that Jesus proposes and the tension that lies within, is not to react to all of it and allow ourselves to enter into war after war. Certainly there is a place for opposition in the face of injustice, but the resistance movement of Star Wars is about finding another way. That’s what Christianity was about; it was about following the Way, not about choosing sides and fighting battle after battle. The opposition is typically only what I’m fighting within myself anyway. It will take the Cross before the disciples could begin to make sense of what these beatitudes were really about. The resistance we face is accepting this lived reality as it is but feeling that pull to a more just society, a more just life, an unfolding of the Kingdom.

Paul speaks of that oppositional energy today as he speaks of boasting and how that opposition often comes from our own pride. We want to prove ourselves to be right and the other wrong. Paul knows it because that was Paul. For him the cross becomes the point of resistance and the point when that begins to break down in his own life. He says the weak will shame the strong and the foolish will shame the wise. There is this breaking down and this entering into this interior journey for Paul that awakens him to this reality and to recognize that this battle is first fought within himself. He must face his own humiliation and the fact of how he persecuted, and even despite the good, Paul was still capable of unspeakable darkness towards humanity and to face that head on becomes his cross, becomes his place of transformation. For Paul it was no longer about winning and losing. That’s not the gospel anyway. It becomes about sitting with that resistance in these collision of opposites and finding another way.

It is also the roll of the prophetic voices that we hear throughout the year as it is with Zephaniah in today’s first reading. There is a great deal of opposition towards the new King Josiah at that time. They don’t like him. They don’t like what he’s doing and the reform he is bringing about, but the risk is always to fight and to become just like him. It is the warning of the prophets throughout Scripture. For him he too tries to lead them to this path of humility, by seeking justice and peace. Oppositional energy will eventually begin to fizzle and often cannot be sustained. What we seek is that resistance within ourselves as it was for our ancestors. This holy resistance is an invitation to ask ourselves the questions of our own lives and what it is God is trying to move us to letting go of and opening the door for the breaking in of the Kingdom. If anyone knows the reality of opposition it’s Israel. It’s part of their storied history and the invitation, as it is with Luke Skywalker, is to go within ourselves and look at our own injustice. Look at where we want to oppose and fight rather than seek a more just life, the common good. That is what our faith teaches us.

These are trying times for us individually and as country. Like Paul, our own pride often stands in the way, including our pride of who we think we are supposed to be as a country. It’s not the path of resistance and it certainly isn’t the path of humility that all the readings touch upon today. Whether we can admit it about ourselves or not, we all partake in the humiliation of our present age, we fight, we stand opposed, but we so often want it to end there. It leads to war and violence. It leads to division. It leads to winners and losers. I can’t say it enough; that’s not the gospel. The Gospel, especially the one we hear today, points us to another way. It points us to this holy resistance in our own lives, where it’s not about winning and losing, but a path to justice and peace. When I allow myself to go to that place within and learn to be patient with it, it will transform us. We will tap into that humility and become a more just person so, in turn, can move society to a more just place for all peoples.

Navigating Darkness

Matthew 2: 1-12

One of the movies I caught over the holidays was A Monster Calls. The story is about a young boy, Conor, who finds himself just overwhelmed by life and not able to take much more of it. His parents are divorced, he’s bullied at school because he’s become so isolated, and now the one consistency in his life, his mother, is dying of cancer. He has this ongoing nightmare where he feels as if life is slipping through his hands. There’s so much uncertainly that he lives in this constant state of fear, let along the anxiety and anger he’s experiencing because of this deep grief.

But he encounters this “monster” which is the tree outside in the cemetery that comes to life. Even that distracts him from the nightmare he’s used to. He begins to call upon it. He begins to realize that the “monster” isn’t out there in the cemetery, it’s deep within him. The monster keeps assuring him that he’s leading him to healing, to this deeper truth that gets lost in the darkness of despair and this ongoing lie that he’s holding onto that everything will be alright and his mother will somehow survive. He begins to learn how to navigate through the darkness that has so often consumed his life and learns to let go. It’s not easy for us adults let along a young boy trying to navigate.

This whole season has been allowing ourselves to wander and navigate that same darkness in our lives. Christmas does not expel the darkness nor does it somehow destroy it. We seem to operate in the world that we can get rid of it which only leads to greater darkness. These Magi we encounter today are learning to do the same in their lives. Even their navigation is a bit off, leaning on their own expectations of a king being born. They find themselves a few miles outside Bethlehem in Jerusalem, in what seems to be their final challenge in learning how to navigate this great darkness, the Herod that lies within.

Fear rules Herod and the land and it’s what the Magi now must face within themselves. He was a tyrant and often believed to have been paranoid in the end of his days. He too finds himself in a position where life seems to be slipping through his fingers and losing control. However, he doesn’t let it go. Rather, he takes it out on the most vulnerable, on the children and has them killed. It’s fear, darkness, and despair when it comes to Herod but a valuable lesson for the Magi seeking life, the newborn King. it’s a struggle for many of us, the darkness within ourselves that is so often easier to cast upon the other rather than learning how to navigate it all. Jerusalem will become that same place for the disciples as the story goes on. They too won’t understand the Christ until they first encounter that same darkness. It won’t come in the form of Herod but in the form of a crucifixion by others who are plagued by darkness. Jerusalem becomes the doorway to Bethlehem.

And so they find their way to the Christ. They offer their own gifts, in someways symbolic of their own journey and the darkness that they too had to confront. The journey to the Christ took them where they’d rather not go, where we would rather not go, but like God, we are often led without even knowing, into the great unknown, into this deeper reality of mystery. For young Conor and for the disciples, it was about seeking truth and truth leads to darkness and to life. He had to let go of what he knew. It was no longer about the head knowledge that we want to cling to and how it’s supposed to be or how we want it to be, but rather a deeper knowledge. It’s deeper knowing and truth that so often is beyond words but lies deep within, ever so gently navigating us through that very darkness that we have feared.

As this season of Christmas draws to a close, the journey really just begins. We’ll hear the call of the disciples to go deeper. We’ll hear the call to enter into this journey and to begin to learn to trust something deeper within themselves as they too are led to uncharted territory, where all that they have known begins to slip through their fingers. They will be left with the same choice as the Magi as the encounter the Christ. Do they leave it all at that crib, with great humility, life and death, or do they cling to what they can see, what they know, what they are comfortable with in life? It is what is asked of us as well. With God’s grace, we can learn to navigate the darkest of times, but we can’t deal with the darkness of the country or the world until we first begin to master it within ourselves. When we do, like the Magi, we can no longer go home the same way. The seeking of and finding of the Christ changes the course of our lives where we too go home by another way. It’s no longer about going home to what we know but into the unknown, into this deeper mystery. No, and not that physical place we call home, but deep in the recesses of our hearts and souls, ever so gently teaching and guiding us, while casting light, to navigate the darkness of our lives.