“There are some of you who do not believe”

We live in seemingly darker times. In John 6:60-69, we learn the source of our salvation.

Many of the disciples of Jesus who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer walked with him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

I was asked by a friend and reader of these pages to address our darker times. While reflecting on her theme, I came across this passage, which was the reading for Mass on Saturday, which was certainly timely. Perhaps God was speaking to her directly through daily scripture.

First, there have been many dark times. Humanity has risen anew from them. Think of the Inquisition. Think of World War I and World War II. Think of the Dark Ages. These are just a few examples. In all these times, our faith has sustained us.

Second, while organized religion has been the source of some of the darker times, Jesus teaches us that God does not inflict us with difficulty or pain to punish us. He provides us with relief in His glory. Some would have you believe that if we are ill or disabled or experiencing problems, it is because God is punishing up. Jesus says no. The Father loves us too much to do that. The Father provides for us. The God who would forgive us our sins, who would forgive us for crucifying Him, surely would not inflict us with maladies instead. Rather, at our prayers He would answer us with relief, even if He might seem to take His time.

Third, since the source of these darker times is not God but man, who can win this battle? Who is more powerful than God? Did God not create heaven and earth? Did God not create all living things, including man? Then it is God who will bring light to the world. Man cannot stand against Him.

Today’s passage says, “There are some of you who do not believe. Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe.” And it says, “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.” Is this not the trouble with our world today? Many say they believe in God or perhaps once believed and stopped believing, or even perhaps believed but have been led astray, but now do not believe. Or they believe in a Jesus and a Father and a Holy Spirit who is not as presented to us in the Gospels.

But it also says there were still a group of core believers. “Do you also want to go?” Jesus asked them. Simon Peter asked, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” They still believed and would not abandon their faith and Jesus’ teachings.

We will arise out of these darker times because we still have faith. And if we have faith, we have hope. And if we have hope, we have future. We can share that faith and hope and future with others to help all emerge from this darkness. We are the lamp that cannot be hidden. We are the lamp that must shine, must give light to the world, the light of Christ.

What is the light of Christ? It is not to hate but to love. It is not to be intolerant but to be inclusive. It is not to ignore the needs of others but to give aid. It is not hoard but to share. It is not to seek vengeance but to forgive. It is not to judge and condemn but to seek to understand and seek repentance. It is not to seek self glory but to glorify God. It is not to seek riches and wealth but to seek the kingdom of God.  These are all things that Jesus taught us in the Gospels.

The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not a God of punishment and pain. They are a God of love. They are not a God of darkness. Go now and share the light of God’s love and dispel the darkness of those who do not believe.

We will arise out of these darker times. Through the grace of God. Because we believe.

“Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do”

If we believe in someone, don’t we emulate their behavior? In John 14:6-14, Jesus tells us to follow His lead.

Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”

This passage is full of important messages. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. If you know Jesus, you know the Father – if you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. Jesus’ works are the Father’s. Whatever you ask in Jesus’ name, He will do it. And, finally, whoever believes in Jesus will do the works that He does.

This passage is a uniting of the Father and the Son, in purpose, in voice, and in deed. And it is calling on us to do the good works that Jesus did, which really are the works the Father did through Jesus. So we are being commanded to love God, love one another, assist one another, and save one another by the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ and in His name.

I hear a lot of preaching to fear God, to condemn sinners, and to ignore the needs of others because they are afflicted through their sins. But if you read the Gospels, there are no such messages. If you believe in Jesus, don’t follow this preaching but follow His preaching, which is to love God not fear Him, which is to love your neighbor not condemn him as a sinner, which is to care for him in his need not ignore him. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for you to hate or oppress others but for you to love and embrace others — to follow in His footsteps, that you might also follow Him in resurrection after death.

Whoever believes in Jesus will do the works that he did (and continues to do now). He healed. He provided. He embraced. He loved. He especially healed, provided for, embraced, and loved the downtrodden, the poor, the disabled, and, yes, the sinner. Your job isn’t to condemn and ignore but to embrace others. That is what Jesus would do.

“Oh, how foolish you are!”

Do we miss the cues for encountering the living Christ in our lives? In Luke 24:13-35, we learn of two disciples who nearly did.

That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus’ disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”
They said to him,
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see.”
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, “Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

This is an interesting passage from Luke, one sometimes referenced at business conferences for those on a passage of faith when we are confronted with a reality and we fail to see all the signs and then that reality suddenly dawns on us. If we had just paid attention to the signs earlier, goes the thinking. “Oh, how foolish you are!”

This, of course, involved two disciples – we only know one, named Cleopas – away from the others. They have heard what happened but haven’t seen Jesus return from the dead themselves. It is still a fantastic story to them. And then along comes this stranger, whom they do not initially recognize. It isn’t until the stranger blesses the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them as Jesus did at the Last Supper that Jesus’ presence among them reveals itself. “Were not our hearts burning within us,” they recall of their encounter. Weren’t the signs there?

We live in a time of deep denial on many things. The Holocaust, climate change, even the physical existence of Jesus in his own time. It’s natural to doubt, to be skeptical, but now is an especially troubling time when facts are denied and evidence is discounted. The political debates aside, the spiritual consequences can be dire.

You either believe in Jesus the Christ or you don’t. If you don’t believe in Him, you may never, although there are those who eventually come to. If you do believe in Him, you may occasionally have doubts about your own faith. That happens, too. But don’t let these days of denial wrap a blindfold around your eyes. Look deeply into your heart and see if Jesus hasn’t found a place there; see if He hasn’t stirred your soul. If in prayer to Him or contemplating Him or reading or hearing His words hasn’t resonated deeply somewhere within you. Were not your hearts burning within you?

And in your life journey, are there not times when you see Jesus in others? In the kindness of a caregiver. In the struggle of the homeless. In the weeping of the widow. In the aching of the hungry. Has not the compassion of Jesus not welled up in you? Were you hearts not burning within you? How about when you received His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist, if you are a member of a faith that provides that sacrament?

If we miss those cues to see Jesus personally, then are we not also missing the opportunity to share His love with others, as He has called on us to do? Are you, too, on a journey to Emmaus?

Jesus is everywhere around us, offering Himself in love, just as he was on that road to Emmaus. If we are blind to it, oh, how foolish we are!

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”

In John 20:19-31 Jesus sends forth His disciples into the world. So He also sends us.

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Three times in this reading, Jesus greets the disciples with, “Peace be with you.” The first time is when He first enters the room. The third time is when He enters the room for the second time. But the second instance is when Jesus sends the disciples out into the world with, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Now, often this reading is used to tell the story of Thomas, the doubter. But just as important is the story of Jesus sending forth the disciples to spread the Good News and continue His good works. Right after He sends them forth, He also gives them the authority to forgive sins in His name.

A couple of things are noteworthy for us.

First, Jesus bids us peace as well as He did His immediate faithful.

Second, Jesus sends us out into the world to continue His good works and spread the Good News. We don’t have to be ordained priests or pastors or preachers or ministers to do this. But as members of His faithful flock, we should accept His command to take our faith beyond our personal belief and share it with others. And that doesn’t have to mean being in other people’s faces with it. Sharing by example to the glory of God, taking no credit for the good works we do can be a form of evangelization.

Third, while we don’t have the authority to forgive sins as the clergy do, we do have the authority to forgive one another in our personal lives, in the way of “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We should always be eager to forgive those who slight us or hurt us or anger us. Jesus has given us examples in the Gospels. Jesus forgave from the cross; can we not forgive the less grievous acts against us?

Jesus sends us forth into the world, his faithful. We are to do acts of goodness, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and love. For God so loved the world He sent his only beloved son, and then His only beloved son sent us. Go forth.

“Tell my brothers to go to Galilee”

It is Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter, as we read in Matthew 28:1-10.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning
and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him
and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply,
“Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
‘He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”
Then they went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

One of the most joyous Masses of the year is the Easter Vigil Mass, held in the evening of the night before Easter Sunday. There is much pomp in the ceremony, with many readings from the Old Testament, the Epistle of Paul, and in the Gospel reading, the greeting from the Angel of the Lord to Mary Magdelene and “the other Mary” telling them that Jesus crucified has risen as foretold and is on his way to meet them in Galilee. Holy water is blessed for the year. The new Easter candle is blessed for the year. Often, there is a candle lighting ceremony with the congregation as the Mass begins in darkness and the new light from the Easter candle is shared with parishioners from back to front, lighting the whole assembly. The Gloria is sung in a beautiful rendition that glorifies God in a away that can send chills down your spine. That’s the way I have experienced in the Catholic tradition, anyway.

Jesus has risen from the dead and is on his way to Galilee to meet his disciples and himself greets the Marys on their way to tell them, urging the Marys to let the disciples know. The Marys are the first to know the good news. The Christian church begins. And as Jesus urges his followers to meet him in Galilee, it begs the question: Is there a Galilee for the rest of us? Will you meet Jesus at Easter Vigil service tonight? Or perhaps at Easter Sunday service? “Church” is a word meaning “community,” not building. Will you meet him in the Galilee of your heart? In the good works you do in His name?

“Tell my brothers to go to Galilee” is a direct command from Jesus to come to Him. An invitation, if you like. And it isn’t just to “brothers,” but to sisters, too. For Jesus gave the gift of first knowledge of His rising from the dead to two women. The Angel of the Lord said Jesus was going before them to Galilee.

Are you accepting Jesus’ invitation to meet him in “Galilee” this weekend? He’s there for you.

I wish you God’s blessings this joyous evening and a blessed Easter Sunday.

“Whom are you looking for?”

John 18:1-19:42, the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians, particularly Catholics, around the world contemplate the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday.

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley
to where there was a garden,
into which he and his disciples entered.
Judas his betrayer also knew the place,
because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards
from the chief priests and the Pharisees
and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.
Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him,
went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?
They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
He said to them, “I AM.”
Judas his betrayer was also with them.
When he said to them, “I AM, ”
they turned away and fell to the ground.
So he again asked them,
“Whom are you looking for?”
They said, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
Jesus answered,
“I told you that I AM.
So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
This was to fulfill what he had said,
“I have not lost any of those you gave me.”
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it,
struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.
The slave’s name was Malchus.
Jesus said to Peter,
“Put your sword into its scabbard.
Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

So the band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus,
bound him, and brought him to Annas first.
He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year.
It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews
that it was better that one man should die rather than the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus.
Now the other disciple was known to the high priest,
and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus.
But Peter stood at the gate outside.
So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest,
went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in.
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter,
“You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?”
He said, “I am not.”
Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire
that they had made, because it was cold,
and were warming themselves.
Peter was also standing there keeping warm.

The high priest questioned Jesus
about his disciples and about his doctrine.
Jesus answered him,
“I have spoken publicly to the world.
I have always taught in a synagogue
or in the temple area where all the Jews gather,
and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me?
Ask those who heard me what I said to them.
They know what I said.”
When he had said this,
one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said,
“Is this the way you answer the high priest?”
Jesus answered him,
“If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong;
but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm.
And they said to him,
“You are not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it and said,
“I am not.”
One of the slaves of the high priest,
a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said,
“Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
Again Peter denied it.
And immediately the cock crowed.

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium.
It was morning.
And they themselves did not enter the praetorium,
in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.
So Pilate came out to them and said,
“What charge do you bring against this man?”
They answered and said to him,
“If he were not a criminal,
we would not have handed him over to you.”
At this, Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.”
The Jews answered him,
“We do not have the right to execute anyone, ”
in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled
that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.
So Pilate went back into the praetorium
and summoned Jesus and said to him,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered,
“Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?”
Pilate answered,
“I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done?”
Jesus answered,
“My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
So Pilate said to him,
“Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered,
“You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

When he had said this,
he again went out to the Jews and said to them,
“I find no guilt in him.
But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover.
Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
They cried out again,
“Not this one but Barabbas!”
Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.
And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head,
and clothed him in a purple cloak,
and they came to him and said,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
And they struck him repeatedly.
Once more Pilate went out and said to them,
“Look, I am bringing him out to you,
so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”
So Jesus came out,
wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak.
And he said to them, “Behold, the man!”
When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out,
“Crucify him, crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and crucify him.
I find no guilt in him.”
The Jews answered,
“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die,
because he made himself the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this statement,
he became even more afraid,
and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus,
“Where are you from?”
Jesus did not answer him.
So Pilate said to him,
“Do you not speak to me?
Do you not know that I have power to release you
and I have power to crucify you?”
Jesus answered him,
“You would have no power over me
if it had not been given to you from above.
For this reason the one who handed me over to you
has the greater sin.”
Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out,
“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar.
Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out
and seated him on the judge’s bench
in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon.
And he said to the Jews,
“Behold, your king!”
They cried out,
“Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Shall I crucify your king?”
The chief priests answered,
“We have no king but Caesar.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself,
he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull,
in Hebrew, Golgotha.
There they crucified him, and with him two others,
one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.
Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.
It read,
“Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”
Now many of the Jews read this inscription,
because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city;
and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate,
“Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’
but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’.”
Pilate answered,
“What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus,
they took his clothes and divided them into four shares,
a share for each soldier.
They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless,
woven in one piece from the top down.
So they said to one another,
“Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be, ”
in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says:
They divided my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots.

This is what the soldiers did.
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, aware that everything was now finished,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop
and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

Here all kneel and pause for a short time.

Now since it was preparation day,
in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath,
for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one,
the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken
and that they be taken down.
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first
and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side,
and immediately blood and water flowed out.
An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true;
he knows that he is speaking the truth,
so that you also may come to believe.
For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled:
Not a bone of it will be broken.
And again another passage says:
They will look upon him whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathea,
secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews,
asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus.
And Pilate permitted it.
So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night,
also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes
weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus
and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices,
according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden,
and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day;
for the tomb was close by.

As we finish out Lent, leading up to to Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus, we reflect on the day Our Lord suffered humiliation, scourging, and death on the cross in forgiveness of our sins. Rather than adding my own thoughts, I refer you to a reflection titled “What do we mean by the ‘Passion’ of Christ?”  It may help you understand both the context used in the word “Passion” and what is meant by many of the words used to describe Jesus’ experience on this brutal day.

Another interesting reflection worth consulting is the Last Seven Words of Jesus. It is both a book by Father James Martin, SJ, and here is a podcast interview with Father Martin conducted by The Maxwell Institute (I believe affiliated with the Church of Latter Day Saints but conducted with broad ecumenicism) that explores the themes of the book. The New Testament records seven phrases Jesus uttered as he hung on the cross and Father Martin discusses those seven phrases and their meanings for us.

I hope these will help you spend an hour or so contemplating the Passion or Suffering of Our Lord on our behalf and that it will help you think about “who are you looking for” in your faith life. Jesus died for our sins and then he rose again that we might follow him in resurrection. He loved us that much.

“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”

Just what did Jesus mean when He said He came to “fulfill the law”? To learn that, we read Matthew 5:17-19.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

I have often wondered what Jesus meant when He used the word “fulfill”, so I did some research. In the context of this passage from Matthew, there are a couple of different interpretations. One is that Jesus came to enforce the laws of Moses. Another is that He came to explain and teach, in a broadening interpretation. When you look beyond this shorter excerpt from chapter 5 of Matthew, you will find that Jesus expands on the Commandments, and so we might look to the latter interpretation.

Here is the thrust of what I learned in my research: Some use this passage as a way of binding us all to the Old Testament rules and laws of the Torah. But the early Church said that we aren’t bound by the rules. For instance, men aren’t required to be circumcised, as proscribed in the Torah, to be Christians. Other examples include, we are allowed to eat shellfish and pork.  But as you read farther into chapter 5 of Matthew, Jesus picks out specific commandments (of the Ten Commandments) we are expected to live by and expands on what they mean in the way we are to live. For instance, we have all heard of the law against adultery; Jesus says if you lust after another person you have committed adultery in your heart. For another example, we have all heard of the law against murder; Jesus says if you are angry against your neighbor you are equally liable. He also speaks to the law on bearing witness, saying not to swear an oath on anything but to speaking truthfully, meaning yes when you say yes and meaning no when you say no — don’t lie or mislead.

What Jesus is saying here is that He didn’t come to obfuscate the law; He came to clarify it. He came to teach us how to live by the laws God gave us to live rightly. Now, maybe we aren’t subject to all the rules of the Torah, but we are subject to the Commandments, and while we are subject to even the smallest letters of those laws (the words of the laws), what Jesus is saying is that we are even more subject to the heart (or intended meaning) of those laws.

Interestingly, one of the articles I read talked about one aspect of Jesus fulfilling the Commandments, which was that He wrapped them all up into the greatest laws: to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our soul and to love one another as ourselves. When we do that, we can observe all the other Commandments as well, said the writer. That was Jesus’ ultimate teaching or fulfillment of the law of all. As such, He didn’t “abolish” anything but brought everything together as one.

So how does this apply to us? We should seek to keep the Commandments, which begins with loving God and loving one another. When we truly do that, the rest will follow.

Now, in this shorter version of chapter 5, Jesus does go on to say that “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so, will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.” And “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” So the commandments are important, as is how we address them. But if we truly love God and one another that shouldn’t be a problem.

(Note: I haven’t published in a while because I have worked so hard to get this one right; it could be so easy to get it wrong. I apologize for not posting for a while.)