Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Grateful and Graced by Beth DeCristofaro

Grateful and Graced by Beth DeCristofaro

Therefore, your servant now finds the courage to make this prayer to you. And now, Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are truth; you have made this generous promise to your servant. Do, then, bless the house of your servant that it may be before you forever; for you, Lord GOD, have promised, and by your blessing, the house of your servant shall be blessed forever.” (Samuel 7:27-29)

He also told them, “Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still, more will be given to you.
To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
(Mark 4:24-25)

You are God, and your words are Truth.  Do then, O God, bless this servant’s house as I live in gratitude and share your grace by loving my neighbors.  (From David’s prayer)

Many years ago, the university asked me to complete an official evaluation of an instructor using the standard form.  In my remarks which were generally positive, I also stated that his style was particularly confrontational which, I felt, had a negative impact on the group effort in which we were engaged.  In my exit interview, the professor spoke to me of his dismay at my words, pointing out that I should have addressed my concerns with him in advance, with the class.  In effect, he said, I had ambushed him.  Although my critique I still feel was valid, I learned the critical lesson about owning my words and respecting someone by personally giving honest, positive criticism.  To this day, I prefer feedback that builds someone up even if it relates a negative and does not “ambush.”

In the reading from Samuel, David has just been dressed down by the Lord through the prophet Nathan.  This incident is a lesson in gratitude and grace, experiences I share from that university experience.  David is told not to presume to build a temple for God.  God neatly lets him know that that is not his job. Instead, as God puts David in his place, God bestows the promise that God will build a dynasty for David. David’s prayer is one of gracious acceptance of his status as lesser-than yet favored by God.  God’s grace lends this king the humility to accept the lesson that it is God alone who called the shepherd boy to be a King. We are who we are as we recognize and make use of God’s gifts to us.

Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is also given to us to hear, see, and live the Word.  Without God’s grace and our willing acceptance of it, we lose our close relation to him.  Without God’s grace and our acceptance of it, with the knowledge that God is God and we are His people, what (we have) will be taken away. 

God’s generous love will not take away what has been given, but I can refuse.  My professor’s innate human worth was God-given which I could not eradicate yet I could tarnish his name by my lack of respect.  What lessons have you learned for which you are grateful?  What experience do you still need to learn?  Jesus is willing.

Illustration:  “David Dancing” Richard McBee, 1986,

“God’s Will be Done” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“God’s Will be Done” by Colleen O’Sullivan

That night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:  Should you build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day on which I led the children of Israel out of Egypt to the present, but I have been going about in a tent under cloth.  In all my wanderings everywhere among the children of Israel, did I ever utter a word to any one of the judges whom I charged to tend my people Israel, to ask:  Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’… The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you.  And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his Kingdom firm.  It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever.   (2 Samuel 7:4-7, 11c-13)

“I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David, my servant:
I will make your dynasty stand forever and establish your throne through all ages.”  (Psalm 89:4-5)

Lord, may I remember to seek your will before I rush to put mine into action.

Statue of King David (c. 1600),
Nicolas Cordier, Borghese Chapel, 
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore,
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Today’s reading from 2 Samuel is a play on the word “house.”  King David might be suffering from a guilty conscience.  After all, he commissioned for himself a splendid palace, built from the cedars of Lebanon.  No one else has such a fine home, not even God, David has to admit.  The more he ponders the inequity of this, the more it doesn’t seem right.  God has nothing but a cloth tent for a home.  The more the king considers this, the more convinced he becomes that he should rectify this inequity.  He’ll build God a house of God’s own!  Then he won’t have any reason to feel guilty about living in such elegant surroundings himself.

As the Scripture passage says, however, this isn’t what God wants at all.  God has never had any fancy dwelling place.  His tent under a scrap of cloth has served him well ever since the day Israel escaped the Egyptians through the parted waters of the Red Sea.  God sounds a little indignant as he speaks to Nathan in a dream, giving him a message for the king.  I’ve never complained about my living quarters.  I’ve never desired a luxurious palace for a dwelling place.  I have always wanted to be able to move with my people, and what I have now has served me well. 

No, I don’t want David building me anything.  Just the opposite is true.  I’m going to build a house for David.  Not a house of bricks and mortar (or cedar), but a dynasty that will stand forever.  I am going to establish a royal throne that will be for all ages.

And about building me a permanent dwelling…  That’s not for this king to do.  I have in mind a future king whose mission will include that. 

Sometimes I wonder about the human beings I’ve created.  Do they never pray for discernment of my will before they start making plans?   So many of them carry on as though they are their own little gods.  David built himself a house fit for a king, but I’m going to construct a house fit for the King of Kings. 

It seems a bit ironic that when the King of Kings enters our world, his shelter is the rudest of animal stables. Real greatness has nothing to do with living in a mansion, cedar or otherwise.

The Scripture doesn’t explicitly spell out David’s motive for being about to build a beautiful house for God, but he very well might have felt guilty about the inequity between his magnificent palace and God’s cloth tent.  However, he was about to rush into something that wasn’t what God desired at all.
When you have a few minutes today, reflect on some time when you forged ahead with a big project without first discerning God’s desires in the matter.  How did it turn out?
It can be challenging to know whether we’re listening to our voice or the voice of God, but things generally turn out better if we at least try to discern what God is saying to us or asking of us.

Monday, January 27, 2020

“Whoever Does the Will of God” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“Whoever Does the Will of God” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. When he finished making these offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the
LORD of hosts.  (2 Samuel 6:17-18)

Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord! (Psalm 24:8)

“Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

Jesus bless all the members of our family and help me to love them as You do.

That woman at work who’s always right, right, right, and takes pleasure in telling you you’re wrong, wrong, wrong.

That twenty-something guy who’s watching his phone instead of his dog or the traffic light as he walks into the intersection on a red light.

The person in the car ahead of you who is driving the speed limit and there’s no way for you get into the other lane because everyone else on the road is driving ten to fifteen mph over the speed limit.

The barista who always gets something wrong about your order even though it’s a simple grande decaf cappuccino.

Yep. God loves them too, just as much as He loves you. And for all you know, they’re doing His will in unseen ways, perhaps better than you are. Yep. They’re your brothers and sisters and mothers, just like the blood relatives with whom you have beautiful memories, the ones for whom you’d give a kidney without hesitation.

So pray for them. And pray for yourself, that you might grow to delight in them as He does.

Offer your evening prayers for someone who annoyed you today.

“Enter a Strong Man’s House” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

“Enter a Strong Man’s House” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

Once you spoke in a vision, and to your faithful ones you said: “On a champion I have placed a crown; over the people I have set a youth.”  Psalm 89:20

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.  Mark 3:24-27

We are now in the Third Weel in Ordinary Time.  During this week, our first readings come from the Second Book of Samuel. The Lord anoints a young David as King of Israel.  With his army, David captures the city of Zion. In the festivities that followed, Samuel offers the delightful image of a joyful David at the Ark of the Covenant, “dancing before the LORD with abandon ... with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn.”

In Mark's Gospel this week, we have many familiar stories. The scribes, hearing of his many healings, accuse Jesus of being possessed by Satan. He replies that a house is divided against itself cannot stand.  Mary and other relatives arrive at a home where Jesus is teaching, but Jesus does not go to them, saying, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” He tells the parable of the sower and the seeds which fall on fertile ground and rocky soil. These parables require and demand that we have a better understanding of what Jesus is teaching.

We dedicated Sunday to promote the love and knowledge of Scripture as if it was our new annual “Bible Sunday” for Catholics! Bishop Desmond Tutu likes to say:
“When the missionaries came to Africa, we had the land, and they had the Bible. Then they said, ‘Let us pray’ and asked us to close our eyes. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible”. He adds, “And I think we got the better deal.”

The Bible is the written word of God, but the [whole] Word of God is Jesus as we pray in the Angelus Prayer:  “The Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.”

This is why Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe, as the Catechism teaches (no. 108), that the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book"-- Jesus never said assemble a book and pass it around. Instead, he established a Church that discerned which books comprise Sacred Scripture. Although both Catholics and Protestants have the same 27 books in the New Testament, Protestants have 39 books in their Old Testament because they follow the Hebrew canon. Catholics have 46 books in the Old Testament because we follow the Septuagint or Greek version. However, it is essential to know that we take almost all of the New Testament references to the Old Testament from the Septuagint version.  That version clearly was the version the first Christians used. Plus, who could have known that 400 years after Martin Luther, we found many Hebrew copies of Septuagint in the Dead Sea scrolls at the Qumran Caves?

My mnemonic device to remember the missing seven books not found in the Protestant Bible-- “To be with Sweet Jesus My Man” (7)

Tobit, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Our Sunday Gospel featured professional fisherman. They had in hand circular fishing nets, weighted around the perimeter.  They threw these nets from a standing position into shallow water to catch large shoals of fish at one cast.
Am I a “Fisher of Men?” And I don’t mean girls looking for a date! Jesus did not say, “Come after me, and we’ll talk about fishing for men.” He said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

There is a delightful story about a young Asian girl named Yi (pronounced “Yee”). Yi first heard this verse at Vacation Bible School, but she heard it in the King James Version of the Bible, which begins like this, “Go YE, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”  Yi didn’t understand that in the King James English, the word “ye” means “you.” This young girl thought her name was in the Bible! She became genuinely excited that Jesus was telling her — “Ye” – to personally go spread his message to the world, that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again!

Our Readings Sunday and throughout the week mention “light” several times.
Ceramic oil lamps are among the artifacts most frequently found in archaeological excavations in the Holy Land.  These are the same types of lamps that Psalm 119:105 refers to, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
Illumination can refer to either visible light or intellectual light. The Bible uses the word "light" to represent intelligence. When Jesus said, "I am the light of the world," he means that he is the expresser of Truth in all its aspects.

Faith is light.  Once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. Isaiah says,  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

The light that is the remedy for the gloom of sin is repentance: “Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The light is on for you (the slogan for Wednesday confessions during Lent).

The new reality requiring repentance is the onset of the kingdom--the reclaiming of the world for God’s rule, dispossessing the control of Satan and binding the strong man so we can take BACK our house from Satan.

Blaise Pascal said, “In faith, there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”

The man or woman of God welcomes the light that searches their deeds and finds them true. If we are going to “enter the strong man’s house,” we should be armed with an understanding of Jesus’ teaching.

An igloo can reach 61 degrees when warmed by body heat alone.  The Gloom and chill busters is a faithful believer who has the light of Christ, in the state of grace.

Our faith comes from hearing, Romans 10:17, says—
The organs for speaking and hearing are the lungs, windpipe, larynx and vocal cords, throat, nose, and mouth. These are also breathing organs.

The spirituality of breath is rooted in this biological reality.  Breath prayer is an ancient Christian prayer practice.  The Jesus Prayer is usually said by inhaling with, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, and exhaling on, “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

St. Paul wrote some letters, called epistles, but in his days, the people read these aloud; all of Scripture is at root an oral phenomenon.  Since only 1 out of 10 in the Roman Empire could read, Christians heard the Bible read at Mass.

If you don’t hear testimonies…

If you don’t hear the Bible read…

If you don’t hear lessons in Sunday school…

…then you will dry-up and won’t have much faith. Why? Because faith comes from hearing.  It’s a good practice to read some verses of the Bible, then re-tell it to someone else, adding your personal experience.

But, given the short attention span of hearing, Romans 10:17 also says, “and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

St. Paul teaches in this same section that the source of the problem is not the lack of "hearing" in itself, but rather the lack of a faithful (obedient) hearing. Obeying the gospel. An obedience that is qualified by faith.

What comes after hearing about Jesus in obedient faith?

Calling on the Name of the Lord, as Romans 10:13 says: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Calling on “the Name” of the Lord is linked to baptism (see Acts. 2:21, 2:38).  “Lord is a divine title for Jesus” (Catechism 449), and it’s the thematic expression of baptism. To call on the name of the Lord is to express faith in Jesus’ saving work in a baptismal liturgy so you could then be baptized. The Council of Trent describes Baptism as the instrumental cause of our justification, which is the means used by Christ to cleanse us from guilt, fill us with the grace of divine life, and adopt us as children of God.

Since faith comes from hearing, and since faith is a light, the Methodist minister, the Reverend Dale Schoening, spotted this sign: “If God can make a bug’s butt light up, think what He can do for you.”  Amen. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

“Persistent Waiting!” by Wayne Miller

“Persistent Waiting!” by Wayne Miller

 “…but in the end, he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles.… The people who walked in darkness / have seen a great light…” (Isiah 8:23-9:3)

 “The Lord is my light and my salvation. I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13-14)

 “I urge you…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (Corinthians 1:10-13, 17)

… Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-23

Father God, teach me to know You and live Your Love in my helplessness. Give me the eyes to see, ears to hear, and heart to understand Your ineffable Presence and Love in every moment of my life.  Help me to live Your Being, especially when I am obsessed with my Doing.

Isaiah prophesized that “the people who walked in darkness would see a great light.” The Psalmist promises that “I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living,” and counsels that I must “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted and wait for the Lord.” St. Paul urged “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…all agree in what they say, and that there be no divisions among us, but be united in the same mind and purpose.” And Jesus preached, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

With all that Good News shouting in my heart, why can’t I hold a civil conversation with my grown son without being challenged and ridiculed at every turn about my beliefs and ethics? I know that I am in good company. Jesus was verbally and physically abused much worse and yet maintained a living presence of the Peace that is the kingdom of heaven on this earth. Shouldn’t I be able to do the same with just one angry man?

Last month, I quoted Dorothy Day, who said: “We only love God as much as we love the most unlovable person in our life.” And I believe and have tried to live it for much of my life. But I want to apologize this month for my sanctimonious preaching. I am in a desert right now, watching the son that I love – a tangled bundle of a beautiful delighted child, hard-working adolescent, innovative, successful adult, and bitter victim of a broken marriage – utterly reject any attempt at counsel or encouragement or love.

Is the Kingdom of Heaven really at hand? Here? Now? What can I do in this heart-wrenching food fight that will bring spirit and joy to so much sadness?

Friends have tried for years to help me learn and practice Contemplation, but my mind was always busy, insisting on Doing something, Seeing something, Saying something. And they just said that if I “got” anything out of a session, I wasn’t doing it right.

In my desperation of late, I have discovered peace beyond my understanding, just sitting and staring into utter emptiness. No flashes of revelation. No “Aha” moments. And yet, as I sit without thinking or solving or reflecting, I have discovered an unerring certainty that, in my complete helplessness, I am safe and enveloped in the Loving Grace of Our Father. I have no earthly idea where this is leading, but I am loved, and I AM is at my side. Nothing else matters.

I’m heading back into the fray. “Make a Friend, Be a Friend, and Bring Christ to my Friend” has a whole new meaning. I need your prayers to be a true, loving, listening presence to this son who is dealing with so much emotional pain. I need your prayers to hold fast to the belief that God is holding him securely and that they will work out the next step in his life; that he will walk out of the darkness and into the Light and know the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And if none of that happens on my timetable, I need your prayers to help me hold fast to Our Lord in the emptiness.

De Colores!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Go Into the World

Go Into the World

I persecuted this Way to the death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison. Even the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify on my behalf. For from them, I even received letters to the brothers and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem in chains for punishment those there as well. “On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon, a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’”  Acts 22:4-7

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: “Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:15-16

“Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.”[i]

Saul was free to do as he pleased. He was persecuting the people who followed Jesus — delivering them to prison and bringing people in chains.

Saul was free until he was not.  And when he was not free to persecute the followers of Jesus, he was then free to follow the Gospel.  Saul changed and, in his place, stood Paul, free to follow Jesus the Nazorean.  He was so loose that he could not “not” follow Jesus.

The intentional pairing of Saul/Paul’s conversion with the commissioning of the disciples after the resurrection reminds us that our salvation story in Sacred Scripture is a tale with new beginnings.   

Early in Ordinary Time 2020 is a new beginning for us as well.  How does Paul inspire change in us? What would Jesus say as we sat in the dirt, knocked off our high and mighty horse (ego)?  Would he challenge the fancy cars we drive?  The big houses?  The money we store up for retirement?  The small portion that we give to the poor?

“Tony, Tony, why are you persecuting me?”

Jesus sent Paul into town to seek out people who will reveal his mission – not unlike Jesus commissions the disciples in today’s Gospel. 

Paul meets with Ananias. However, despite the challenging instruction, his attitude shines forth in the response:  “Here I am, Lord.”  He accepted the task with obedience and humility.

Will we respond like Paul:  blind and in chains?  Or will we respond like Ananias: with obedience and humility?  How is Jesus changing your heart, your mind, and your life? 

[i] From Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee”

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

“Healing and Loving” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Healing and Loving” by Beth DeCristofaro

And from that day on, Saul was jealous of David. Saul discussed his intention of killing David with his son Jonathan and with all his servants. (1 Samuel 18:9, 19:1)

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd so that they would not crush him. (Mark 3:7-10)

Help me, Lord, to know when I need healing.  Please help me to turn to you in moments of jealousy, betrayal, anger, frustration and offer the force of those hurts to you that you may transform them into goodness.  May I show your glory in my choices.

Saul had been God’s chosen, anointed to kingship.  Yet he plotted to kill David, also chosen by God.  It is hard for me, at times, to accept that the anticipated course of my life, or that the expertise I bring to a task might be overshadowed and pushed off course by another.  It is also difficult to not act on those feelings of resentment, frustration, being pushed to the side.  I’ve been guilty of resisting changes and even sabotaging people that I feel are undermining me – sometimes ignorant of the good which could come from the changes and sometimes choosing to misread the goodness.

A more profound difficulty is suffering guilt for having those feelings even when choosing not to act on them.  Corrosive, negative emotions can tear us up like demons. Jimmy Carter’s famously commented, “I lusted in my heart.”  This phrase has been used to explain why we wallow in guilt.  Perhaps Jimmy did, in fact, let his guilt lead him but we don’t know.  What we do know is that he acknowledged the feelings that he knew could lead to sin and acted instead to remain steadfast to his wife, Rosalynn, to evangelize as a Sunday school teacher and to spend his retirement in bettering the world through simple service in his community. 

Even though Saul’s son Jonathan counseled him against acting on those feelings of hurt and anger, Saul chose a path of violence, retribution and ultimately rejected his own God.  With awareness of his human nature, Jimmy decided to take a better path modeled by Jesus’ loving healing of the multitudes.

Guilt can drive wedges between people, isolate us, or propel us into terribly unproductive activity.  There are so many ways to suffer in this world rather than seizing the joy Jesus wished for the crowds and us.  Acknowledging negative emotions yet not acting upon them and letting go of guilt – even when justified – allows space in our hearts for the love Jesus wishes to fill us with. What negative emotions obstruct the joy Jesus desires for you?  Ask for the peace of Jesus’ healing upon you and choose loving action.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

“Prayers for the Powerless” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Prayers for the Powerless” by Colleen O’Sullivan

Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The LORD called me from birth, from my mother's womb; he gave me my name... You are my servant; he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory. (Isaiah 49:1,3)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. (Ephesians 1:3-4)

The disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

God our Creator, we give thanks to you, who alone has the power to impart the breath of life as you form each of us in our mother's womb; grant, we pray, that we, whom you have made stewards of creation, may remain faithful to this sacred trust and constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human life. (Collect for Mass for Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life)

Out of curiosity, the other day, I looked back to see when I became a Daily Tripod writer – September 2010. If I had never missed a week, that would add up to 488 Daily Tripods. Factoring in vacations, retreats, and a couple of surgeries, I would estimate I’ve written at least 450 daily Scripture meditations over the years. Over and over as I’ve studied the daily Scripture readings, I have observed Jesus reaching out to the least among us, the powerless and the vulnerable in society, the people with whom no one wants to have anything to do. He asks us to do the same today. He doesn’t have much to say about those of us who have the means to take care of ourselves.

As Christians, our faith and our God ask us to respect all human life from conception to death. We have a long way to go in improving the way we care for those at either end of the life spectrum, but today we are praying for the unborn. An unborn child can do nothing for herself. She is totally dependent on her mother for care. That child’s welfare depends on what her mother eats and drinks during her pregnancy, whether or not she misuses drugs or alcohol, and whether or not she receives prenatal care.

Life is a precious gift to be nurtured and protected. We existed in God’s mind for all eternity before we lived in our mother’s womb. God even knows our name before we are born, and God also knows for what purpose He sends any of us into the world.

It breaks Jesus’ heart when the most vulnerable among us are mistreated or have their lives snuffed out before they’ve even begun.

Pray today for the most helpless among us, unborn children.

“This Is He” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

The Anointing of David (Public Domain)

“This Is He” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Send for him; we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.” Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. The LORD said, “There–anoint him, for this is he!”  (1 Samuel 16:11-14)

I have found David, my servant. (Psalm 89:21)

Lord, help me to embrace the path You have set for me.

It wasn’t that David’s seven brothers were awful people. In today’s first reading, we learn the names of only three of them, and God speaks of rejecting just one of them; the others, Samuel tells us, were not chosen for anointing. The ruddy youngest brother will fill that role.

Elsewhere, we learn of the ebb and flow on David’s relationship with his brothers. At times, they resented him. At times, they considered him prideful and lazy. At times, they were ready to die for him as members of his army. They each had a God-given role; sometimes, all eight brothers performed that role well; sometimes, they—including David—fell far short.

Not being chosen for the big part is hard for some people, whether it’s to be king, county board chairman, pastor, president of the condo association, a best-selling author, an award-winning pianist, and so on. But the less public parts are just as important, as my writer friend Donna Lee Davis recently wrote in a post titled “Elixir.” 

“It’s a wise woman who embraces her small successes,” Donna writes. “I’m learning to be wise.”

None of us is likely to be anointed king or queen. But may we embrace His anointing for that particular role He has for us.

Offer gratitude for the gifts the Lord has given you, and look today for a new way to use them.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"Into Fresh Wineskins" by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

Into Fresh Wineskins

But Samuel said: “Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obedience to the command of the LORD? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams. For a sin like divination is rebellion, and presumption is the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he, too, has rejected you as ruler.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23

No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

The Second Week of Ordinary Time started by offering beautiful readings from the Prophet Isaiah: "I will make you a light to the nations..."

Then, in the Gospel, John the Baptist and his followers see Jesus as he walks toward them. John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’”

As an opposite of the beholding of the Lamb of God, this week’s readings from the First Book of Samuel, tell us of God's rejection of Saul as king. Then, Samuel anoints the youngest of Jesse's sons, the shepherd boy David, as the king. Instead of beholding the Lamb of God, they see the temporal king. As we begin Mark's Gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don't fast. He challenges them to have a completely open mind and heart to his teaching because he will be pouring "new wine…into fresh wineskins.” Beholding Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath brings new freedom.[i]

We heard John 1:29 in our Gospel yesterday when John Baptist said: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  Today, the Pharisees encountered Jesus without any "proper beholding."  They were just taking a look and did not like what they saw.  Let’s look at a couple of authentic John 1:29 moments.

A man said that he met a former friend before Mass. We stepped aside to a quiet corner. He looked me straight in the eye and got right to the point: "Dean, I've come to tell you how deeply sorry I am for the sins I have committed against you. I ask you to forgive me." Dean later wrote, “Bam—just like that! I knew by the earnestness of his words and the piercing intensity in his eyes that he spoke from the depths of his being and meant every word. This awkward but immensely powerful moment was the fruition of a long, complicated process of stocktaking. On that day, in that place, without forewarning, a John 1:29 moment arrived, ‘The Lamb of God’ took away his resentment and mine.”

 “Beholding” is different than “taking a look.” Beholding has the connotation of taking an in-depth, lengthy, contemplative look at something.

"Who takes away," sin expresses the idea of the pardoning or forgiveness of sin, and the removal of guilt because Jesus was destined to be sacrificed like a spotless lamb as a sin offering to God.

In fact, in both Jewish apocalyptic judgment and the Book of Revelation, it is a conquering lamb who destroys evil in the world (The Testament of Joseph 19:8; Enoch 90:38, Rev. 14:1). Jesus took away sin not by the violent destruction of evil, but by voluntarily laying down his life on the Cross; although the Biblical picture is that to "take away" is parallel to "destroy."

The Lamb of God will take away resentments.

Hebrews 12:15 says, “see to it that….no bitter root grows up to cause trouble.” Ask Jesus daily to take away your anger, resentment, and bitterness.

Here’s another John 1:29 moment that did not go as well.  A man said, “I had an excellent friend called Bob. But he and his wife moved to another country. A little while later, my wife, Charlotte, had to have a very severe operation. Bob and his wife never got in touch with us. I know they knew about it. I was very hurt because they never called to see her or ever inquire about how she was. So, I dropped the relationship. Over the years, I met Bob a few times and he always tried to reconcile, but I didn’t accept it. I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation. I was prideful. I shrugged him off. A few years later, he died of cancer. I feel so sad. I never got to see him. I never got to forgive him. It pains me so much. My advice is: don’t wait.”

Welcome John 1:29 moments when they come.

Notice the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world — “takes away” sin and temptation not “Oh, God, make it go away!” God won’t take away carrying our crosses or take away our daily responsibilities. Taking-away does not replace the need for discernment regarding what activities or things we might want to change according to the virtue of prudence.

God won’t even take away temptations if we don’t want them taken away. Consider James 1:14-15, where St. Paul says that “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

We should not delay in Beholding the Lamb of God and asking him to take away temptations.  Then, our fresh wineskins can hold the new wine Jesus offers.