“Blessed are…”

The Beatitudes speak loudly to us in today’s crazy world, given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:1-12.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”

There was no one line that spoke out to me more than any other because they all spoke out equally to me. Yet they all began the same: Blessed are. Here, Jesus lays out the virtues of human spirituality. If you are a Christian, a true Christian, these should all speak out to you.

Don’t look for the boastful rich patrician, the overly pious or self-righteous, the callous or indifferent, the troublemaker or the warlord. Instead, look for the understanding; the care giver; the empathetic; the merciful; the seeker of truth, justice, and the right; the peaceful; the persecuted and their protectors; and those who love in name of Jesus the Christ and follow His example of love of all. These are all addressed by Jesus in this passage from Matthew, often referred to as The Beatitudes.

There are many false preachers – false prophets, if you like – purporting to speak for Jesus. But they fail to speak on these terms. They want you to love money and possessions and celebrity, forsaking these virtues espoused directly by Our Lord Himself. They want you to follow rigid rules of the Old Testament but fail to follow the two simplest and most important called for by Jesus Himself, love!

Never have The Beatitudes been more important than today in the world we live in now. When the world is spinning crazily around our heads, these are the virtues, the morals, that should guide us. And they all begin with love. Love of God, love of one another.

 

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“Why are you terrified?”

Many of us are terrified today. But we don’t have to be, as we learn in Mark 4:35-41. God is there for us; we just need to have faith.

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

I cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like to be out on the water with Jesus and the disciples when that violent squall came up, waves breaking over the boat and filling it with water. I’ve lived near Lake Michigan a good part of my life and I have seen what violent storms do on the piers along the shore and how frightening those can be. But I can imagine I would have been afraid in the situation described in this passage from Mark.

Yet, the disciples wake Jesus and he commandingly tells the storm and the waters to be still, and they obey. “Why are you terrified?” he asks the disciples. “Do you not yet have faith?” Was He challenging their faith or trying to calm them? Was He trying to reassure them of His own power or teach them about their own abilities to command nature? In other Gospel passages, Jesus teaches that with faith we can move mountains; whether He meant that literally or figuratively we don’t know. The passage does end with the disciples saying, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

To me, this sends a powerful message to all of us. God is our creator and our sustainer. He loves us and protects us in our times of need. Jesus has told us that whatever we need, if we ask the Father in Jesus’ name the Father will provide. And in many Gospel passages, when Jesus heals someone or brings them back to life, he says it is by their faith that it is done. It has been my experience that when I ask the Father for something I need – really need, not just something I want – and when I know in faith that He will provide it, He provides it, especially when I turn over my fears to God’s will. “Let it be as you will, Father.” I stop being terrified and I trust God.

“Why are you terrified?” Jesus asks. “Do you not yet have faith?” It takes time to learn how to turn ourselves over to God’s will, to have faith, and to stop being terrified. But if we believe that God loves us and if we love God, that’s what it takes.

“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”

Keeping the sabbath has created controversy over the centuries. In Mark 2:23-28, we read what Jesus had to say about it.

As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath,
his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain.
At this the Pharisees said to him,
“Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
He said to them,
“Have you never read what David did
when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry?
How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest
and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat,
and shared it with his companions?”
Then he said to them,
The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Much was made of the sabbath in the past to suggest that the world was to shut down on that day. The commandment says to keep the sabbath day holy. But what does that really mean? Today it means a myriad of things to different people. To businesses, it often means slightly shorter hours, but someone has to work, although some more conservative businesses do shut down. To most Jews it means you cannot do any kind of labor, including turning on or off light switches. To Catholics it means attending Mass regularly, at least weekly. To Protestants it means attending services every Sunday, sometimes multiple times a day, and sometimes it means doing nothing ungodly, including watching television, or going to a movie, or partying.

In this Gospel according to Mark, Jesus has an interesting take on the sabbath. He says the sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. God set aside the seventh day – the sabbath – for rest. But to what purpose? Surely not just to lay around. Surely He didn’t intend to deprive. Perhaps the key is in the wording of the commandment, which is in the keeping of the sabbath day as holy. And how can we do that? Surely the sabbath was set aside as a day to appreciate God’s works, His creation, and most important, His love. We can do that while we’re doing other things, as long as our focus is on His love. That includes while serving others or having communion or community with them.

When Jesus was traveling with His disciples through the field of grain on the sabbath, likely they were communing, being community. Picking grains to feed themselves would not have interrupted that. And so it can be with your activities on the sabbath. You can be doing things in the spirit of the Lord’s Day, mindful of God and His love, serving others in community. Should you actually work on the sabbath? If it is in the service of others, honoring God’s creation, and done with love.

There has always been controversy over how to observe the sabbath. Everyone needs a time of rest and worship, but Jesus shows us it doesn’t have to be done just one way — Jesus himself regularly took time out to pray away on his own. And He frequently admonished the Pharisees for being sticklers for rules. In this reading from Mark, He tells them that the sabbath is for man. We decide how to observe the sabbath, not the Pharisees.

“Woman, how does your concern affect me?

Was Jesus simply showing His human side in Cana, or was Jesus finally accepting His role as caretaker of the least among us? We read about it in In John 2:1-11.

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
(although the servers who had drawn the water knew),
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

This is one of my favorite passages from the Gospels, because to me it seems to show the very human side of Jesus as well as the divine.

Here, His mother, Mary, is concerned that the wedding couple has run out of wine during their celebration. She turns to Jesus, who she knows has great powers, wanting Him to do something to help them. But Jesus at first seems reluctant. Some see His response as a rebuke, almost a “What is this to you?” Perhaps it’s just the way the translators of this version of the Gospels chose their wording, but in saying “How does your concern affect me?” it could almost be a worry response, knowing that what He does next leads Him ultimately to His suffering and death on the cross. That’s the “affect me” part, Jesus the human not quite ready to leap ahead. In the end, with Mary pushing Him by telling the servers, “Do whatever he tells you,” Jesus gives in to his divinity and creates His first public miracle, changing water into wine.

Perhaps it was a teachable moment for Jesus, too. Maybe the “how does your concern affect me” response was the human Jesus wondering aloud how He personally was to be affected by this. Could this be the moment Jesus assumed the responsibility and the noble cause of caring for the needy? Here was a couple likely with a limited budget for their wedding celebration, since they didn’t have enough wine to last the event, and Jesus needed to come to their aid. Did it lead to His caring for the least among us? Was he teaching the rest of us something?

How often do we hear someone respond to the needs of others by saying, “How does your concern affect me?” Jesus answers it here, setting the example by providing for their needs. It is the duty of all who call themselves Christians to follow His example.

Of course, the scene in Cana is also where Jesus first showed His glory to His disciples, “and they began to believe in him.” How extraordinary is must have been to witness the Son of God turn water into wine!

“Everyone is looking for you”

As they said in the movie, Love Actually, love is all around us. We just have to open our eyes to see it. In Mark 1:29-39, we read that Jesus mission was to preach, which was about love, and everyone sought him out. Maybe that’s what we’re all really looking for.

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn,
he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons
throughout the whole of Galilee.

Everyone is looking for love. They look for it in personal relationships, many of which go awry. They look for it in books or movies or television shows. They look for it in greeting cards and photos and posters. They seek it people-watching while sipping coffee or tea or soda at sidewalk cafés. But it’s actually right before them. “Everyone is looking for you,” said Simon. And Jesus said let’s go preach, “for this purpose I have come.”

Jesus taught us that the most important commandment is to love. His very life and every act in it were done out of love, even dying on the cross for us. He commands us to love one another and to see in one another Him and His love. There is no more perfect love than the love of God.

If you seek love, look about you. Know that God loves you. You were created to love and to be loved. God created those around you to love and be loved. And the Father created the Son to be one among us to bring that love together.

We may not know it initially, but what we really seek is God’s love. That’s what life is all about. Jesus is the personification of God’s love. Everyone is looking for you, Lord Jesus, and all they have to do is open their eyes. There you are.

Some have queried, if God is so all powerful and so perfect, why does He need love — why is He so needy? They see it as a sign of imperfection, thus a reason not to believe in Him. But they are seeing it wrong. God doesn’t need love; He is the embodiment of love. God wants it for us. We are His creation whom He loves, and He wants us to to share in that love and share it with one another. He gave us free will to accept it. Life is that journey to finding it. Within ourselves, within others, and most important, in God. Love is everywhere. God is love — everyone is looking for you.

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

Jesus will be found when sought with an open heart, as we find in Matthew 2:1-12.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

Where is the newborn king of the Jews? In our hearts. If our search for Him is not in our hearts, we will not find Him. And so, those who do not in truth search for Him, they will never find Him. Herod didn’t want to find the Messiah, the Savior, he wanted to find his rival. And so he didn’t find the Christ Child. We must seek Him out in our hearts if we are ever to find Him.

While the magi may not have thought of the Christ Child as the Messiah, the Savior, they did seek Him out with pure hearts and without malice. On the other hand, we don’t know what they thought of “the newborn king of the Jews” — did they understand He was the Messiah?  They were astrologers but had open minds. And they came to do Him homage. And the star of Bethlehem led them to Jesus the Christ Child.

Those who do not seek to believe will not find Jesus. They must first be open to faith. If you are open to faith, you will find Him. If you are having difficulty finding Him, be patient. God acts in His own good time. The magi weren’t transported immediately to the manger. They had to follow a star across desolate lands. And so your journey may also have to be. But with an open, willing heart, you, too, will find Jesus. Be steadfast and of good heart.

“He was named Jesus”

It’s a week since we celebrated the birth of Jesus. In Luke 2:16-21, we find it may be time to start the new year with a fresh perspective.

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.

As with the birth of our Lord, we have turned a new corner. Happy New Year.

It is a week since we celebrated the birth of the Christ Child, and in this reading we note the “Octave Day of Christmas” and the “Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.”

Here, the shepherds have visited Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child and revealed what the angel of the Lord had told them. Remember that Mary and Joseph have themselves been visited by the angel of the Lord and been told about the Christ Child, who is now in their care. After eight days and His circumcision as is the Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph faithfully carried through with Gabriel’s instructions and named the Christ Child Jesus.

All things are now new. God is among us as the Christ Child, God becoming man. He has a human name. He will live as we live, in all but in sin. He will even die a human death. It’s a new day.

Take this New Years Day to reflect on this new relationship that God made with us through the birth of His Son and the birth of a new calendar year and how it can give us a new relationship with others and in our lives. I always look on New Years as a time to start over. I like to forget past slights, forgive the past year’s transgressions, push back last year’s failures or missteps (mine or theirs), and move forward into the new year fresh. It’s better to forgive than to re-grieve, to recast an idiom on giving. And we have Jesus to use as an example, who forgave those who crucified Him on the cross.

Some people like to make New Years resolutions. Perhaps one to consider is to use this day to begin anew, to give others another chance or to at least have a fresh perspective. Happy New Year to you and yours.