“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled”

The message in Luke 18:9-14 is simple. Jesus tells us we are to live humbly before God and each other.

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — 
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus’s message here is simple. It is contained in the last two lines. Be humble before God and others, for no one makes himself greater than another in the eyes of God. To exalt yourself before God is an affront to God, to whom we owe all our love and glory. To exalt yourself above others is also an affront to God, who tells us to love others as ourselves. Until we learn to be humble loving souls, we will not be justified.

Glory to God!


“You are with me always”

Here in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 we have the story of the returning son. Also the jealous brother. Which are we?

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable.
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”‘
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.'”

I count this story, sometimes called the story of the prodigal son, sometimes called the story of the forgiving father, as one of the most beautiful of the Gospels. I think it could also be called the story of the jealous brother. But ultimately, it must be called the story of forgiveness.

Jesus never tells us how the story ends, but I suspect the angry brother finally gives in and welcomes his lost brother home, also forgiving him. Jesus’s aim, of course, was to demonstrate to the Pharisees and scribes the value of every person and that in every sinner is the persona of the redeemed son — that is why Jesus spends His time among them, to give them the chance to be redeems. Jesus often says he comes not to save the righteous but the unrighteous.

So, if we are sometimes wont to condemn sinners, let us remember this story from Jesus’s own lips. If we count ourselves as the brother who always lives rightly and feel overly righteous in the presence of those who are not, Jesus tells us we do not know about the circumstances of the brother who has acted wrongly and his potential to “come home” a changed man. And if we see God lavishing on that brother, we shouldn’t be angry or jealous but be happy, for the Father is enormously happy that brother (or sister) has come home and is alive in Him. We should embrace that person with our hearts.

And lest we are heartbroken in God’s rejoicing, when we have been righteous all along (at least in our own eyes), remember the words of the father in this story. “You are here with me always. But now we must rejoice and celebrate.” God loves us. Every one of us. Even the lost sons and daughters. Sometimes the lost sons and daughters have left home, sometimes they have remained at home; but always, they have the father’s deep abiding love.

Glory to God!

“The kingdom of God is at hand”

In Mark 1:12-15, Jesus emerges from the desert and begins his ministry to fulfill God’s promise. For us, it is a time of opportunity.

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, 
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested, 
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Though they are related, there are two distinctly different parts to this passage from Mark.

First, there is the part about Jesus being led into the desert by the Spirit, where he was among wild beasts and was tempted by Satan. This was a time of trial for Jesus, both physically and spiritually. We know from the other books of the Gospels that Jesus outlasted nature didn’t let Satan goad Him into sin. This seems almost like a time of spiritual purification for Him as He prepares to take on His public ministry, which then leads us into the second part.

Second, we know from elsewhere that after his time in the desert Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Here, it simply says that after John was arrested Jesus came to Galilee and began proclaiming the gospel (the good news) of God. His message is that the time of fulfillment of all that God promised is here. “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Stop resisting, have a change of heart, and believe in this good news!

What can we glean from today’s reading? During this time of Lent, a time of spiritual purification for those who choose to go through it, we can come back into the world fresh, renewed in our relationship with God. Ready for our invigorated encounter with God, we can face our own time of fulfillment, face that day when we pass away from this earth and enter God’s glorious kingdom at his invitation. But first, we must repent — have a change of heart — and believe; have faith in God. That isn’t as simple as saying, “I believe,” but it requires that we take Jesus’s teachings to heart and love God and love others, deeply and with actions.

God so loves us that He came down to earth in human form and lived among us. He taught us right from wrong and how to live rightly and justly, with love and compassion and mercy together. And He taught us how to get to Heaven, by living as He taught us. Out time of fulfillment is here. The kingdom of God is at hand.

Glory to God!

“You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition”

Who is your father and your mother? In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus teaches the infamy of giving over to human tradition instead of observing God’s law.

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.
(For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.
And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.)
So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”
He responded,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,
as it is written:

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
In vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
He went on to say,
“How well you have set aside the commandment of God
in order to uphold your tradition!
For Moses said,
Honor your father and your mother,
and Whoever curses father or mother shall die.
Yet you say,
‘If someone says to father or mother,
“Any support you might have had from me is qorban”‘
(meaning, dedicated to God),
you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.
And you do many such things.”

We have read before Jesus teaching that you are as liable for the intent of the law as the literal word of the law. Such is the case here. Honor your father and your mother, and whoever curses father and mother, are the literal word of the law. Your father and mother are the literal word of the law. But the intent of the law is everyone’s father and mother — all the elderly of the world — whom we must honor.

Thus, if you dishonor or curse or fail to care for or support any father or mother, especially the elderly, you are essentially nullifying the word of God. He isn’t saying that fathers and mothers are incapable of error or failure, but He is saying that they are due our respect and in their times of need, they are due our care and help and support.

There are those whose “tradition” it is to ignore or pull the support of the elderly. Whether it’s to shuttle them off to a care facility, rarely to see them again, or to yank financial and medical support in general. That is clearly not living up to the commandment to honor your father and your mother. Society must come to grips with its responsibility and God’s commandment to respect and honor all our fathers and mothers, even when they are not our personal parents.

And once again, it gets back to Jesus’s recognition of the most important commandments. We are nullifying the word of God to love others as we love ourselves if we do not love in honor and care fathers and mothers, especially in their waning years. “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition,” as Jesus tells us in this passage. As always, Jesus gives us a better way to treat our parents and our elders, and it’s through love of all.

Glory to God!



“Do not blow a trumpet before you”

When you fast or pray or give alms, don’t call attention to yourself, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is tradition to attend Mass (or Church service) and have the ashes of the palms from Palm Sunday, which are burned in remembrance, marked on your forehead. It is an open sign visible to all that you are a Christian.

It is also a tradition among many to begin Lent on Ash Wednesday, a time spent in fasting and prayer and self denial and the giving of alms for the poor. It is meant to be a time of self-reflection before God and a time of giving to others as Jesus has taught us.

As a Judaeo-Christian faith, there has long been a tradition of fasting and prayer and alms giving. And in doing so, some of us can get carried away. Jesus cautions us against this, for in “blowing a trumpet before us” we bring attention to ourselves for our own glory rather than either for the act of service this is meant to be or for doing this to the glory of God.

So if you attend Ash Wednesday services, and if you participate in acts of Lenten sacrifice and service to others, Jesus tells us to do it quietly and reservedly. If we gather attention to ourselves in doing it, we have already received our reward. Instead, He says, do it to be noticed only by Our Heavenly Father, “who sees what is hidden and will repay you.”

Love God and love others. Be of service to them to the glory of God. He will smile down upon you and lift you up in love.

Glory to God!

“No sign will be given to this generation”

The Pharisees demanded signs from Jesus, but in Mark 8:11-13 Jesus said, no signs will be given. He teaches us to live a life of faith.

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.

Do you not feel deeply for Jesus in this passage from Mark, who says “He sighed from the depth of his spirit”? We read often from the Gospels that the Pharisees sought a sign from Jesus, some miracle or special work to prove that He was the Messiah, truly the Son of God. How wearying it must have been. “Why does this generation seek a sign?” Jesus laments. “Amen, I say to you,” Jesus assures them, “no sign will be given to this generation.” Then he left them. That was kind of a like a mic-drop moment.

People seek signs today, looking for signs in everything that happens. They see God’s hand in every disaster or every apparent miracle. But Jesus himself didn’t deal in signs. He dealt in faith. By your faith are you healed. As you believe, let you be healed.

The faithful don’t need signs. Jesus teaches us that if we have faith, the Father will provide. If we pray to Jesus, He will heal us. Don’t look for signs in the sky that the final days are coming, have faith in God and live a Christ-centered life so that when the final days come you won’t have to worry about them.

Jesus teaches us how to live so that we don’t need to look for signs. Faith is enough.

Glory to God!

“I do will it. Be made clean.”

We learn in Mark 1:40-45, Jesus willing heals us. Whatever ails us.

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, 
touched him, and said to him, 
I do will it. Be made clean.
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 

He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest 
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

From us it’s, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” From God it’s, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Healing is a two way street. We have to want it; God is willing to do it. We have to have faith God will do it; God will act on it. And so this passage from Mark shows, our acknowledgement of God’s presence in our lives, our seeking His acting on our behalf, and our faith that He will be there for us — our implicit communication with God for His intercession — is all that it takes.

So often in the Gospels, it is a simple act of faith to which Jesus responds. A pleading for His healing. A touch of the fabric of His cloak. A persistent calling out from within a large crowd for His mercy. It is your faith that has healed you, Jesus often says. In one passage, Jesus tells someone, as you believe it so let it be done. You must believe. And Jesus’s response is, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

And what does “be made clean” mean? Don’t think it just means illness. It can be a physical cleansing. It can also be a mental or emotional cleansing. It can be a cleansing of the heart. And it can also be a spiritual cleansing. Whatever ails you, seek Jesus and be made clean.

Glory to God!