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Lent is a time for Christians to fully examine their relationship with the Lord. Through prayer, sacrifice and service, we develop an understanding of what it means to "take up your cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34) As Christians, we are called to live Christ's life- not to study the life of Jesus and try to be like Him, but actually let Him live through us.

In my own journey this Lent, Our Lord is asking me to fully understand His love. Through several prayer experiences, I hear him calling me to this deeper understanding of His love- not just with my head, but with my heart. And the key to understanding that amazing love is to understand His suffering. My intellect understands that the Lord suffered, but I have never explored His suffering with my heart. His love is greater than His suffering, but how great was that suffering?

I am participating in an independent Threshold Bible Study called People of the Passion by Stephen J. Binz. In this study, I will explore the meaning of discipleship through the people who encounter Jesus during His passion. These people witness and are impacted by the suffering of Jesus. They saw the suffering of our Lord first hand. It is my hope that by going on this journey through their eyes, I will have a better understanding of His suffering and then of His love.

Please know that I am not a scholar. I have no formal education in theology, philosophy or church history. I'm just a regular person trying to make sense of what Jesus is asking me to do- to love like He loves.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Final Thoughts

The people I encountered in the People of the Passion taught me a lot about myself.  I think that I went into this with the idea that I would always be the faithful disciple.  In other words, if I were to be a character in the story, I would be a good guy.  But the reality is, I saw myself mostly in the bad guys.  Like Peter, I have publically denied my relationship with the Lord.  Many times, I have sided with the crowd instead of with Jesus.  I am like Nicodemus who asked numerous questions before finally stepping out in faith.  I am like the Centurion who needed an earthquake to reveal the truth to him.  I am like Barabbas who is released while the Lord is crucified. I am like Pilate who does what is easy instead of what is right.  I am like Judas who tries to do things his way instead of God's way.  But, I also discovered that I am a little like Mary Magdalene in that I have had an encounter with the Lord.  And even though throughout my life, I have been all these other characters, he still called my name.  And I heard him call.  I was sitting in the pew of an old Catholic Church in New Orleans.  I wasn't Catholic yet and I was struggling with the belief of the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  But on that day, when the Priest held up the host and began the Eucharistic prayers, I knew.  I knew without a doubt Jesus was there.  He was offering himself up on that alter.  That day, I heard him call me to himself.  He called me to his Church that he established- the church he built on the rock.  It has taken me a long time to really unwrap the faith he gave me on that day.  But now that I have gotten most of the wrapping paper off, I am starting to understand that amazing love- the love that drove God to suffer and die for me so that I may live.  Even though I was all the bad guys in the story, he still did it.  He wanted this sinner that badly and loved me that much.  And now I am reaching this understanding, I hear him calling me again.  Just like when he asked Mary to go tell the rest of the disciples the good news, he is asking me to do the same.  In one of his blogs, Catholic rock musician Matt Maher said that once you've had a conversion experience like he did, the only appropriate response is to dedicate all of one's self to the Lord.  I think that is a totally awesome idea.

I would like to thank Stephen Binz for sharing his talents and his dedication to adult education in God's Word.  There are several other bible studies in the Threshold Bible Study series and I encourage all of you to check it out.  I would also like to thank Rosina Hendrickson for making this study available in our parish community.  And I would be remiss not to thank the readers of this blog.  I have no idea how many readers made this journey with me and that is probably a good thing.  Writing on the internet like this is a double edged sword.  On the one hand, I feel like I can be candid because I can pretend no one reads this blog.  But on the other hand, I feel very vulnerable because I have no idea who reads this blog.   It’s a little like being on stage completely naked and not being able to see the audience.  Anyhow, I pray that the Lord touched you through these words as much as he touched me. 

All glory and honor be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever and ever.  Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 30- Mary Magdalene Comes to the Tomb

John 20:1-2, 11-18

1 2 3 On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran 4 and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him."
Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," 9 which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, "Stop holding on to me, 10 for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and what he told her.

Mary Magdalene was the first to discover the empty tomb.  In her grief, she went to the tomb while it was still dark.  But when she arrived, she discovered that the tomb had been opened and the body of Jesus was gone.  She assumed the grave had been robbed and his body taken.  Upon her discovery, the fresh wounds in her heart over his death were made deeper.  Little did she know she was not alone.  The angels at the tomb asked her why she was weeping.  After explaining that her Lord had been taken, she looks and sees Jesus but does not recognize him.  When he says her name, she realizes it is him.  And then he tells her that she must not cling to him.  That last part is rather surprising to me. Why must she let him go? 

Mary and the rest of the disciples had the great privilege of knowing Jesus while he walked on this earth.  They were able to hear his voice, see his face, hug him, and share meals with him.  They walked with him, witnessed his miracles and ministered to his needs.  He was a tangible person to them.  He was a flesh and blood God.  Once he died and rose from the grave, Jesus says to Mary that she cannot hold on to him like she did when he was in the flesh.  He is ascending to the Father and she will have to come to know him in a new way.  Instead of a flesh and blood God, she will have to come to know Jesus as he is in being one with the Father. She will have to see him in her heart rather than with her eyes. Once she understands, he gives her a mission and tells her to deliver the good news to the other disciples- that he has risen. 

Mary Magdalene's experience in the tomb is one that most, if not all Christians come to know.  As children, we are taught about Jesus.  We get to know an historical figure who taught about peace and love.  We learn how much he loved by understanding his Passion and death.  And then we learn about his divinity and power by his resurrection.  But, for some of us, the learning stops there.  We come to know Jesus as a great man who did great things and was the son of a great God.  But he is not personal to us.  He is not real in our present lives.  Then, just as he did with Mary, he calls out our name.  He calls us to himself.  Maybe it happens in your experience with the Eucharist.  Maybe it happens in a prayer experience.  Maybe he calls you through the words of a priest or friend.  We may not recognize him at first.  Maybe it takes a while for us to understand his voice.  But once we do, we have a choice:  we can let him in our hearts or we can ignore him.  Mary chose to let him in.  Even though I am sure she would have loved to have her flesh and blood God back, she submitted to his new way of knowing Christ and she let him into her heart.  And then she did the only thing one desires to do once they have had that encounter with the Lord:  she obeyed his call and evangelized.  She went out and proclaimed the good news.  She told others about the risen Lord who loves them in a new and unimaginable way.  As morning took hold of the land and light spilled out onto the horizon, a new light also arose in Mary.  Jesus turned her darkness into light.  He longs to do that with all of us.  All we have to do is say yes and let him into our hearts and lives.  We are the candles and he longs to be our flame.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 29- Nicodemus Prepares the Body of Jesus for Burial

John 19:38-42

17 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.


John 3:1-12

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born 3 from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?" Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind 4 blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus answered and said to him, "How can this happen?" Jesus answered and said to him, "You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

In his commentary, Binz describes Nicodemus as a man who gradually came to know the Lord.  When he first approached Jesus, he did so at night so as to not drawn attention to himself.  Nicodemus questioned Jesus about his teachings in an effort to understand.  As that understanding took root inside of him, Nicodemus was changed.  He was transformed.  In these two passages, we see the transformation from a man with questions to a man who sought to lavishly serve the Lord.

Sometimes our conversion process isn't a night and day experience.  Seeds are planted here and there.  Maybe a homily catches our attention.  Or the prayer of a friend really moves us.  And when you compile these experiences together, over time, they change us.  God gently molds our hearts until we recognize our need for Him in our lives.  And when that light bulb starts to come on, awesome things happen.

I was at a retreat last weekend.  It was the second time I had been on this particular retreat.  In the previous retreat, we wrote all our sins and things that keep us from knowing God on rocks.  And then we threw the rocks into the lake.  Last weekend, my friend and I were walking along the shore of that same lake.  We noticed all the debris that washed up on the shore.  My friend turned to me and said, "I hope our rocks don't wash up!  I wrote a book on that thing.  I would be afraid for someone to read it."  We laughed and then we started talking about our rocks.  And in the conversation, I realized that those rocks have been sitting in flowing water.  There is probably not a word left on them.  They have been washed clean.  Jesus is the living water.  If we let him flow in us and through us, we are washed clean and made new.  That is the conversion process.  Its letting go of selfish desires and desiring that living water- desiring God in your life.  I imagine it took a while for Nicodemus to allow that living water bubble up inside of him.  But once he did, he couldn't help but show his love for the Lord.  So, he showed up in the darkest hour with a lavish amount of burial spices and anointed the body of the Lord.  His conversion was slow but complete.  And that is what matters.

Day 28- Joseph of Arimathea Lays the Body of Jesus in the Tomb

Mark 15: 42-46

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time.  When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.  Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that he had been hewn out of the rock.  He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

Binz gives an explanation of who Joseph of Arimathea was.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin but he was also a follower of Jesus.  But, because of his place in society, he kept his discipleship under wraps out of fear of the Jewish leaders.  Then, once Jesus died, something stirred inside of him.  He couldn't leave Jesus out for the wild beasts and birds of prey to devour.  He needed to give him a proper burial according to the Jewish law.  So, in a risky move, he boldly goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus' body.  He shows the world who he really is- a disciple of Jesus.

I think I can relate to Joseph a little.  My Dad was in the Navy so we moved around a lot.  That meant I was always adjusting to new communities and finding new friends.  With each move, I could start over and reinvent who I was.  I developed a certain social adaptability- like a chameleon.  I could blend in and be who the crowd wanted me to be so as to fit in.  I have taken this skill with me into adulthood.  It has a positive influence in the work place because I can work with just about anybody.  But I haven't always used this skill in a healthy way.  In my 20s, I shed the Christian label.  I was mad at God for the rocky start to life after college and I just wanted to be "normal" and live in the world without so much religion.  We were in a new place so it was easy to reinvent myself sans God.  So I did.  And after so many years, I was miserable.  When I finally decided to go back to church and get involved, I realized where my misery came from.  I was living someone else's life.  I was denying who I really was.  Once I embraced my Christianity and relationship with God, life got a lot better.  It felt good to wear the shoes that were made to fit me.  It's not always easy to be seen in those shoes, but they feel really good on my feet.

I imagine that Joseph felt really good to say who he was.  Even though he may have faced difficult consequences, he wasn't living a lie anymore.  He could embrace Jesus with all of himself.  Binz points out that it must have been a moving experience to take down Jesus' body, wrap it in linen and place it in the tomb.  I imagine so.  He was finally face to face with the man who changed his life.  He no longer watched him from a distance.  He no longer stood with those who hated Jesus.  He was finally caring for his Lord and waiting with the rest of the disciples for the Kingdom of God.

Day 27- The Women of Galilee Remain with Jesus

Luke 8:1-3

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.  The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities:  Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many other who provided for them out of their resources.

Mark 15:40-41

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.  These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

These women were with Jesus throughout his ministry.  They cared for him and provided what he needed so he may teach and minister to others.  They were an integral part of his life and ministry.  And I am embarrassed to say, that I have never really paid that much attention to them.  I didn't realize that Jesus had such followers.  But it makes perfect sense.  We hear about women that he encounters throughout the gospels.  I makes sense to assume that after their encounters, they would also become disciples and follow Jesus. 

It is interesting to point out that the only disciple of the 12 who were with Jesus at calvery was the beloved disciple.  The other 11 disciples fled in fear.  But, as we see in Mark's gospel, all the women who had followed Jesus were there.  They didn't leave his side.  They stayed with him to the end.  But, Jesus chose the 12 to build his church.  And he chose one of those that betrayed him to lead his church.  This is a great illustration of the mercy of God.  Jesus doesn't call the qualified, but qualifies the called.  The 12 weren't ready to lead, but by the time Pentecost rolled around, they were ready.  They were on fire. 

But let’s get back to the women of Galilee.  What can we learn from them?  They didn't run in the face of fear.  They didn't abandon the Lord when things got ugly.  I wish I can say that I have always had that much faith.  But I haven't.  I have failed in this area.  I think there have been many points in my life when I looked suffering in the eye and ran.  Maybe it was when my friend needed a helping hand and I was too busy.  Or when my ailing Grandmother just needed someone to sit with her but I was too busy.  Or maybe when a friend just wanted someone to pray with but I was not comfortable.  For me it is easy to come up with excuses but it isn't easy to do what is right.  And that is what discipleship is about- doing what is right for God, living in his will and loving his people.  These women followed Jesus to places they didn't want to go.  They saw things they didn't want to see.  But their lives weren't about what they wanted.  Their lives were about him.  He was what they wanted. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 26- The Centurion Professes Faith in Jesus

Matthew 27:45-54

27 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" 28 which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 29 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "This one is calling for Elijah." Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him." 30 But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. 31 The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 32 The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, "Truly, this was the Son of God!"

At the moment Jesus died, there was an earthquake, the veil in the temple tore, rocks split in half, and tombs opened.  That must have been quite an awe-filled moment for any of the witnesses at Golgotha.  This moment was especially awesome to the Centurion who had kept watch over Jesus while he hung on the cross.  This gentile listened to the crowd mock and scorn Jesus while he died.  He heard them call Jesus a liar and a fraud.  And the Centurion didn't have any reason not to believe the crowd until Jesus died.  The events that immediately followed His death terrified the soldiers.  Those awesome events made these Gentile men who crucified Jesus believers that he was the Son of God.  In his commentary, Binz tells us that the Centurion represents the scores of Romans who eventually embrace Christianity.  He further explains that church tradition gives this particular Centurion a name- Saint Longinus.

It is interesting that in all the chaos after Jesus' death, the people who came to know him as the Son of God were not the priests and teachers who accused him of blasphemy.  But, it was the gentiles- people outside of "the chosen people."  The events that transpired after Jesus' death made His identity quite clear to the outsiders, but the insiders still had hearts of stone and were blinded by their own pride.  How often does this happen in our own lives?  How often do we find that we can't see the forest because of the trees?

I have to admit that sometimes, I need an earthquake.  There have been times when the Lord wants me to do something, but I can't or refuse to figure it out.  I don't see the path to take.  I refuse to acknowledge God's influence in the situation.  Our move from New Orleans to Dallas was one of those times.  I did not want to move.  We had just gotten settled.  I was just a year into my dream job.  We had just unpacked the last box in our new house.  I wasn't going anywhere.  Then, God had other plans.  And I went to Dallas kicking and screaming.  A year after we moved, our old house in New Orleans was hit by a tornado.  That is what it took to get me to quit pouting and recognize God's hand in my life.  Lets forget about the fact my husband landed the job of a lifetime, we were able to buy a nice house in Dallas way below market price and that we were able to stay with my in-laws while we were in limbo.  The move to Dallas couldn't have been any smoother.  But no, I needed a tornado.  That is what finally got my attention.

Every day, I ask God to be patient with me.  I like to say I dye my hair blonde for a reason.  Sometimes, I'm a little slow on the uptake.  But God is love and St. Paul tell us that love is patient.  There are some days when I put all my hope and trust in that one little fact.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 25- The Mother of Jesus Stands at the Cross

John 19:25-27

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son."  Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother."  And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.

John 2:1-5

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciple had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."  And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

The Gospel of John is my favorite book of the bible.  While the other books give an historical account of what Jesus did, the Gospel of John gives us a glimpse of who Jesus is.  And he also gives us a glimpse of who Mary is.  We see in the above passages that Mary is with Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.  In fact, she facilitated his first miracle.  And we also see Mary at the cross.  By framing Jesus' ministry with his mother's presence, John shows us that Mary was with Jesus throughout his ministry on earth.  She was his support- his rock. 

I could get into a lot of Marion doctrine here, but I won't.  Instead, I'm just going to point out the obvious.  Mary was just 14 years old when she said yes to God.  It is hard to believe that God used a teenager's yes to change the world.  And when he asked her to be his mother, she didn't hesitate.  She didn't tell him that she needed to talk to her parents, or friends, or mentors.  She just said, "Yes, I am the handmaid of the Lord."  She said yes and handed her life over to Jesus.  And she said yes to God's will for Jesus' life.  I think that we get wrapped up in the fact that she said yes to giving birth to him and raising him, but we forget that she also said yes to the plan of salvation.  She said yes to the cross.  She was there when they falsely accused him.  She was there when they spit on him. She was there when they beat him. She was there when he fell face first in the dirt under the cross' weight.  She was there when they hammered nails into his hands.  She watched him struggle to breathe as he hung on the cross.  She watched him give up his life.  She watched all of it.  She didn't leave his side.  She was his rock.

As a mother, I have no idea how Mary did it.  I don't know how she was able to watch and not intervene.  The amount of trust she had in God must have been incredible.  This is just one reason why she is God's greatest work of art.  And guess what?  Jesus gave her to us in his last moments.  In verse 27, Jesus gives his greatest work of art to his beloved disciple. 

When Jesus makes us children of God through his death and resurrection, we are adopted into his family- Jesus our brother, God our Father, and Mary our mother.  Now, let's understand one thing: I am not saying Mary is God.  Mary is God's greatest work of humanity and resides with God the father and Jesus the son in heaven.  And her purpose is not to be worshipped but to lead us to her son.  As his mother, she knows Jesus better than any person who has ever lived on earth.  When we ask her to let us see her son through her eyes, we get to know him better. And the more we know and understand him, the easier it is to let him live in us and through us.  Mary is Jesus' greatest disciple.  We should be open to getting to know her better so that we may follow her example and walk that much closer to her son, Our Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 24- Two Criminals Travel the Way of Crucifixion with Jesus

Luke 23: 32-43

Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."] 5 They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." 6 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

In these verses, Luke describes the scene where Jesus is crucified along with two criminals.  But, before I get to the criminals (which are the purpose of this reflection), I want to address something that happens in the beginning of the passage.  I want to address the verse where Jesus says "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."  So, lets set the scene a little bit for this verse.  At this point, Jesus has been beaten beyond recognition, humiliated, yelled at and on trial, awake all night, he's carried his cross through the city, he's been nailed to the cross and now hoisted up.  And, in the midst of all that, he asks the Father to forgive his crucifiers.  Wow.  How can one question His divinity?  At the moment of his greatest suffering, he is concerned about the sins of humanity.  Although his suffering is more than we can imagine, it has not distracted him from the goal- to rescue us sinners from death and into the hands of the Father. 

Now, back to the criminals.  There are two criminals crucified with Jesus.  And they are different.  One criminal joins in the mocking and asks Jesus to save himself and them if he is really the Messiah.  This criminal is only interested in being saved from death- riding on Jesus' coat tails so to speak.  The other criminal goes through a conversion process.  First, he recognizes that Jesus is special.  He sees that Jesus is dying even though he is innocent.  He sees the divinity in Jesus.  Then this criminal sees his own sin.  He recognizes that he is getting what he deserves.  So, he asks Jesus to forgive him and remember him.  Jesus forgives him and grants him eternal life.  He will be counted among the saved in paradise.

So, we have a choice.  We can approach Jesus from the perspective of the first criminal and just ask him for what we want for purely selfish reasons.  Or we can be like the second criminal and recognize that we are sinners and need help.  We can recognize Jesus' kingship and divinity.  Then surrender to Him, ask him for forgiveness and hope in salvation through him.

As a convert, it took me a while to get comfortable with the crucifix.  In the churches where I grew up, Jesus was not on the cross.  Only empty crosses were displayed.  The reason they use an empty cross is because Jesus has risen from the dead.  He is no longer on the cross but in heaven.  Although they have a great point, my brothers and sisters in Christ who exclude the crucifix from their churches are missing out on a beautiful symbol.  The crucifix is the ultimate symbol of love.  Because there we see the lamb who, out of love, gave his life to us and for us.  He is up there on that cross wearing all my sin and your sin.  He is paying our debt of death so that we may be free from that sin, and that we may live eternally with him.  He wants us that badly.  He loves us that much.  And he is ready to forgive as soon as we ask.  Just as he did with the criminal, he does with us.  All we have to do is ask.  He already paid the price for our sin- for our souls.  All  we have to do recognize we need him to pay that price and ask him to take that sin from our hearts and allow him to live in us and through us.  So, he is waiting for you in the confessional.  He longs to give you the gift he won on that crucifix.  How long will you make him wait?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 23-The Women of Jerusalem Weep for Jesus

Luke 23:27-31

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.  But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.'  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.'  For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

In this passage, Binz tells us that Jesus addresses these women with a prophetic message rather than a consoling one.  Because Jesus knows the destruction that will soon come to Jerusalem when it is attacked by the Romans in AD 70.  That time was a dark time for the Jewish people.  It was better to never have had children rather than watch them die in this horrible attack.  When he tells them "For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" he is comparing the destruction of himself (green wood) to the future destruction of Jerusalem (dry wood).  In other words, if the Jews can do this to their innocent messiah(green wood), how much worse will the destruction be for Jerusalem (dry wood)?

To tell you the truth, I never really paid a lot of attention to this scene.  It totally makes sense to me why these women are flipping out.  I would like to think that I would have been one of them.  They recognize who Jesus is and what is happening to him. And they mourn.  However, I never knew that Jesus' response to them was prophetic.  I did not put two and two together with regards to these words and the later destruction of Jerusalem. 

Have you noticed that women in the Passion account are portrayed in a mostly favorable light?  Why is that?  And while we are at it, lets jump forward to the hear and now.  Have you noticed that women are more likely to be at prayer groups, faith formation classes, retreats, etc..? At least that is the case in all the churches I have attended.  Why are the women out numbering the men?

I have thought about this for a while and I am going to go out on a limb and tell you my ideas behind this dichotomy.  Women seem to be just naturally more open to the spirit, while men seem to have thicker and stronger walls to overcome.  It seems to be much harder for a man to ask for prayer or even to approach God in a posture of surrender.  I am not quite sure why this is.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that men refuse to ask for directions.  Anyhow, since coming to these conclusions, I have fostered a deep respect for the men in my church.  They have overcome so much more than I have in regard to growing their faith.  I love to listen to them pray and hear them sing and worship next to them.  They inspire me.  I pray that their numbers will grow by leaps and bounds.  Our churches need more than a few good men.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 22- Simon of Cyrene Carries the Cross

Mark 15:21-11

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.  Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).

Romans 16:13

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother- a mother to me also.

Binz tells us that Simon of Cyrene is a Jewish man from Northern Africa (Lydia) who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the passover feast.  He arrived just in time to be ordered by the Roman guards to help Jesus carry the cross.  Jesus was weakened by the severe scourging and the soldiers knew he could not make it all the way to Golgotha without help.  At first Simon was very reluctant to help Jesus.  Binz states that "it was a terrible indignity" to carry the cross of a condemned man.  But that indignity became Simon's moment of glory.  Because, Simon encountered Jesus and his life changed forever.  Historians speculate Simon's family was among the first Christians in Rome.  We see that theory supported in Paul's conclusion of his letter to the Romans where he affectionately refers to Rufus and his mother, Simon's wife. 

Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn't want to do?  But while you were doing it, something happened that you were not expecting to happen?  Did you grow out of that experience?  That is what happened to Simon.  He really didn't want to help.  He was just happened to be walking by.  Helping a criminal in this manner was rather humiliating.  But, probably out of fear of the soldiers, he helped.  And in the process, he encountered a man whom he came to know as his personal Lord and Savior.  That moment, when he helped the Lord carry his cross, changed Simon forever.  And it changed his whole family.  They all became disciples and contributed to the fabric of a courageous community of Christians in Rome.  Simon was a true disciple to Jesus in his greatest suffering.  While the original 12 fled the Lord, Simon was there to help Jesus- to take some of the heavy load from our Lord's shoulders. 

Jesus tells us, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34).  So, what does that mean? I think our crosses are the sufferings we encounter in our lives.  When we encounter suffering, we have a choice.  We can either wallow in self pity or we can turn to God.  We can either blame God or partner with God.  We can either grow closer to God or allow our suffering to pull us away from God. 

Simon did not ask to help the Lord.  He did not want to suffer.  He did not want that cross.  But once he took it, he figured out the meaning to his life.  He found his heart's desire.  He found his Lord.  We do not ask for the sufferings we are burdened with in this life.  We do not ask for cancer or financial problems or divorce but sometimes that is exactly what we get.  How we choose to deal with the suffering is where we will meet or not meet our Lord.  I hear a lot abut the fairness of life with regard to the existence of God.  Isn't fair that a young person dies of cancer.  It isn't fair that a child is left with out a parent.  It isn't fair that a family must live in their car.  If God exists, how can he allow these things to happen to people?  That is a hard question.  And I am not going to pretend to have an answer.  But I can say that the purpose of our lives is to find God here so that we may share in His life when we leave this earth.  The purpose of our crosses is to aid us in that process.  If we truly take up our cross and follow him, then we will find our purpose and encounter the Lord.  But if we take up our cross and don't follow him, we may find ourselves crushed under its weight.