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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.

Day 21- The Soldiers Mock and Torture Jesus

Matthew 27:27-31

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him.  They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head.  They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.  After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

This scene takes place immediately after Jesus was scourged.  I didn't really understand what scourged meant until recently.  The soldiers used whips with sharp objects (sharpened bone or lead) attached to the ends.  With each lash, the sharp ends ripped skin and muscle tissue from the body.  The victim looses so much blood that it was very difficult if not impossible for him to carry the cross for his crucifixion.  So at this point in Matthew's gospel, Jesus' whole body feels as if he were on fire.  He is covered in blood.  He is weak due to his massive blood loss.  They dress him in a robe. And while they make fun of him, the robe sticks to his fresh wounds as the blood attempts to form a scab.  They press a crown of thorns into his head, so now the only part of his body that probably wasn't bleeding, is now bleeding and exploding in fresh pain.  As they make fun of him, they spit on him and hit him in the face.  Each blow jostles the crown of thorns causing new waves of pain.  When they are bored with their antics, the soldiers strip the robe from Jesus' bloody body, opening up all the fresh wounds once again.  His whole being explodes in fiery agony all over.

They make fun of Him by calling him king and staging a mock coronation.  This is rather ironic because he is the King of Kings.  Jesus, as the Son of God possesses the power to make all this stop.  But he doesn't.  He doesn't get angry. He doesn't fight back.  He doesn't call a legion of angels to help him.  He doesn't because He is fulfilling the will of the Father.  He is doing what Adam failed to do in the garden: hand over His life for another.  The bloody mess that is now his body is wearing all our sin.

In John's gospel, Pilate parades Jesus back out in front of the crowd.  He gives the crowd another chance to change their minds.  They have a chance to see Jesus beaten, bloodied, humiliated and weak.  They see exactly what their demands have done to him.  But they have no compassion.  They demand his crucifixion. What role would you play in the crowd?  Where would you be?  How would you feel?  You hear the chanting all around you.  You see the bloody mess that is your Lord.  What would you do?

Jesus taught that we should love one another as He loves us.  Even though we can't physically be in that moment 2000 years ago, we can help Jesus here and now.  Mother Theresa is a great example for us to follow.  She saw Jesus in the face of all the suffering people she encountered and she comforted them.  She had the compassion for others that the crowd failed to have for Jesus.  While the crowd held to their law, she held to the meaning of the law- love.

So what will you do the next time you encounter someone who is suffering?  Will you turn away with the crowd?  Or will you reach out and offer comfort?  Jesus said: "Amen, I say to you, what ever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mat 25:40)  So, look that the bloody mess that is your Lord.  Look at all your sin on his flesh. Look at what he has endured out of love for you.  Even though you can't reach back 2000 years and help him then, you can help him now by reaching out and offering comfort to those who are suffering all around you. 

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 20- Barabbas Is Released While Jesus is Condemned

Matthew 27:15-26

Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. 9 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called (Jesus) Barabbas. So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, "Which one do you want me to release to you, (Jesus) Barabbas, or Jesus called Messiah?" 10 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over. 11 While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him." The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus. The governor said to them in reply, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" They answered, "Barabbas!" 12 Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus called Messiah?" They all said, "Let him be crucified!" But he said, "Why? What evil has he done?" They only shouted the louder, "Let him be crucified!" 13 When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood. Look to it yourselves." And the whole people said in reply, "His blood be upon us and upon our children." Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, 14 he handed him over to be crucified.

In his commentary, Binz explains that the Roman government released a prisoner at Passover in order to calm the nationalistic crowds gathered to celebrate Israel's independence from Egypt.  Pilate knows that the chief priests have impure motives for wanting Jesus to die, so he offers the worst of the criminals to the crowd, Barabbas.  Barabbas' name means "son of the father" which is interesting because Jesus is really the true Son of the Father.  So, the crowd has to choose between the truth and a lie.  I think you know how the story ends.  It is interesting to note that Pilate's wife sent him a note asking him not to condemn Jesus.  As we see, Pilate chooses to listen to the crowd's pressure and silence his own and his wife's intuition.

How many times have we chosen Barabbas over Jesus?  How many times have we silenced that voice telling us what is right and wrong?  How many times have we let our passions drive our decision rather than our minds or our hearts?  It is so easy to see how wrong the crowd is when we are reading it from afar.  But, it is not so easy when we are in the crowd.  It is not so easy when we are asked to be the one lone voice standing up for what is right- like a lamb surrounded by wolves.  But that is exactly what Jesus was- a lamb surrounded by wolves.  When we are asked to live this life, we are asked to live Christ's life.  He lives in us and through us.  He is the flame while we are the candle.  He asks us to completely surrender to Him just as he completely surrendered to us- agape love.  As we see in the Passion account, the lamb was slain by the wolves.  He allowed himself to be slain for the sake of the wolves.  When we find ourselves in a crowd of wolves, will we announce that we are not one of them?  Will we say who we really are?  Will we risk our lives so that the lamb can live through us?  Or will we be one of the wolves?

Day 19-Herod Mocks Jesus

Luke 23:6-15

On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. (Even) Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, "You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him.

Binz offers great commentary for this passage.  Pilate, in another attempt to not make a judgement concerning Jesus, sends Jesus to be judged by Herod who is the ruler of Jesus' home country, Galilee.  Jesus was born during the reign of Herod's father- the ruler who sought to kill Jesus as an infant.  The current Herod was the ruler who killed John Baptist and had his head brought on a platter to Herodias as a gift at her request.  He lead a decadent life and the expense of those in his kingdom.  And he wanted to meet Jesus- not because he was a great prophet or the Son of God.  He wanted to meet Him so he could see Jesus perform a miracle.  Jesus was a spectacle for Herod's entertainment.  When Jesus didn't respond to him, Herod made fun of him and found him not guilty and sent him back to Pilate.  Basically, Jesus was not of any use to Herod so he passed the buck back to Pilate.  It is interesting to note that Pilate and Herod were enemies until this day after which they became friends.  Somehow Jesus was able to pass an olive branch between the two men.  Even here, in His greatest suffering, He sows reconciliation.

Today, on Facebook, a link put out by the local news station caught my attention: 'Pray for Rain' to end Wildfires, Drought in West Texas.  It was a story about how the leaders in one west Texas county issued a proclamation asking its citizens to pray for rain.  The local diocese ran with it and is calling upon all its churches to include this request in the prayers during Mass this weekend.  When these links about religion come along on Facebook from this news station, I always read the comments and I usually make a positive comment to balance out all the religion haters chiming in with how Christians are a bunch of "ignorant idiots."  I am always amazed with how hateful people can be when it comes to religion.  Anyhow, in one such comment, the non-religious person said he was going to sit back and wait for this "miracle" and when the rain didn't come, he was going to laugh at all these "fools."  I imagine that is what Herod did.  He asked for a miracle and when Jesus did not come through, he laughed at Him.  He mocked Him and dismissed Him.  If Jesus wasn't going to preform for him, then he had no use for Him. 

There was a time in my life when I was a little like Herod.  I had my life all planned out.  I had all my ducks in a row.  And I expected that God would be on the same page as me.  But, it turned how that He wasn't.  And when life started making unexpected turns, I dismissed God from the board room.  If He wasn't going to follow my plan, then I had no use for Him.  Little did I know how miserable I would become.  Little did I know how lonely I would become.  Little did I know how un-purposeful my life would become.  Fortunately, God gave me the grace to realize that He was what I was missing.  He was who I needed.  He was my purpose. 

We can't use God to get what we want.  He isn't a puppet to make our lives go the way WE think they should go.  A friend in class last night said this:  "The faith walk is walking with God while not knowing what is coming along.  We walk blindly into the night and trust that the trials that cross are path are there to bring us closer to salvation."  Our prayers to God shouldn't just be a list of what we need and want, but our submission to His will and our willingness to walk blindly into the night and trust He is leading us to the path of holiness- the path of salvation.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 18- Pilate Hands Jesus Over for Crucifixion

John 19:5

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." 2 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. 3 Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar." When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him 4 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. 5 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.

In his commentary, Binz explains that Pilate is actually the one on trial.  He does not want to make a decision concerning the fate of Jesus.  He does not want to have to choose between right and wrong.  Pilate has Jesus scourged and mocked in an effort to show the crowd that Jesus is just a miserable man who does not deserved to be listened to.  The crowd (and the religious leaders inciting the crowd) are not fooled.  They continue to call for Pilate to crucify Jesus.  It is interesting to note that it was noon on the Day of Preparation for the Passover when Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.  Ritually, at noon on that day, the priests in the temple slaughter the passover lambs.

Have you ever seen the Passion of the Christ?  I watched it for the first time last year.  I always avoided that movie because I wanted to remain in the dark about the suffering of my Lord.  I love Him with all my heart and I just couldn't bear to watch that movie.  I knew the visual images in that movie would be burned into my memory and haunt me for the rest of my days.   And I was right.  Those images did haunt me.  After I watched that movie, I dreamed I was in the crowd.  I dreamed I was watching the whole thing.  I locked eyes with the Lord.  I was in the crowd paralyzed with fear.  I could do nothing.  I wonder if that is how his disciples felt.  I wonder if they were in the crowd.  I wonder if they felt helpless and afraid.  I wonder if they were waiting for a miracle.  It must have broken their hearts to see their Lord and Master in this condition.  There was someone else in the crowd watching this whole thing too.  Our Mother Mary.  Not only was she in the crowd, but she watched when they beat him almost to death.  She was his divine support here on earth.  When God made Mary, he gave her all the graces she needed to watch this moment and stay strong.  If it were me, I would have acted like a lunatic.  But she was his rock. 

So, think about it.  Put yourself in the crowd.  Be in that moment.  Because that moment is for you.  He died for you.  His Mother watched him die so that you may gain life.  His love for you is greater than all the pain he feels at that moment.

Day 17- Pilate is Put on Trial by Jesus

John 18:28-40

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. 13 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," 14 15 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. 16 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. 17 Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?" They cried out again, "Not this one but Barabbas!" 18 Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.

John's account of Jesus' trial before Pilate is the most detailed of all the gospel accounts.  According to Binz, John is bringing out Pilate's inner struggle.  John expands the conversation between Pilate and Jesus during Pilate's questioning.  We hear Jesus explain that his kingdom is not of this world and he is here in this world so that he my reveal the truth.  Then he goes on to say, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."  This statement implies a question; Jesus is asking Pilate if he knows the truth.  Pilate's response to Jesus is a question: "What is truth?"  So, we see that Pilate doesn't know the truth.  Binz goes onto explain that "Nothing is more contrary to the truth than Pilate and the world he represents."

I think that we live in a world much like the world Pilate represented.  We live in a society that has compromised the truth.  We live in a society that favors the the will of self over the will of God.  So, how do we live in this society?  Am I like Pilate- blind to the truth?  Or am I like the Saints-those who lived the truth and even died for the truth?  Is it possible to be just a regular person trying to find the line in the sand?  Is it possible to live the truth but not rock the boat? 

Its funny how this study and my catechism class are making wonderful parallels.  I was just reading today about the meaning of the second commandment.  I am not going to attempt to paraphrase Kreeft since he states it so eloquently:
"The faithful should bear witness to the Lord's name by confessing the faith"[cf. Mt 10:32; I Tim 6:12] (CCC 2145).  Catholics should be as zealous as any of the sects... in "witnessing" publicly to their faith, for it is not theirs as a private and personal possession, like their good looks, but is a public divine gift.  They should be proud of it, and certainly never ashamed, for this is not being proud of themselves.
To "witness" to unbelievers is to risk scorn and hostility and, in many places in the world today, even to risk death.  Even in nations that have freedom of religion, to witness to the faith is to risk social ostracism and misunderstanding.  But this is a small price to pay for loyalty to the Christ who paid the ultimate price for us.  And it is a price Christ requires (see Mk 8:34-38).
Kreeft, Peter J.  Catholic Christianity.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001. pp. 211

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 16- Pilate Questions Jesus and the Crowd

Mark 15:1-15

As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. 1 They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" 2 He said to him in reply, "You say so." The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, "Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of." Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. 3 Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested. A man called Barabbas 4 was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion. The crowd came forward and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed. Pilate answered, "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply, "Then what (do you want) me to do with (the man you call) the king of the Jews?" 5 They shouted again, "Crucify him." Pilate said to them, "Why? What evil has he done?" They only shouted the louder, "Crucify him." 6 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

When I was a kid, I really really disliked Pontius Pilate.  I blamed him for the death of Jesus.  And when we listen to our creed, it is easy to come to that conclusion: "And he suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried."  Even though I wasn't Catholic as a kid, I did conclude that Pilate was the executor.  He decided to kill Jesus.  But as an adult, I have studied these passages, read commentaries, and taken classes and now I realize that Pilate isn't the only one with blood on his hands.  In fact, Pilate is more of a puppet than a leader.  He was a little manipulated.  The chief priests are the ones who brought the "convicted" Jesus to Pilate.  Pilate knew their motives were less than pure.  He tried to persuade them by pointing out Jesus' innocence.  But to no avail.  When the Jewish leaders would not be swayed, he turned to the crowd and asked them if they wanted an innocent man to be crucified.  They said yes.  They said yes so emphatically that Pilate was afraid that he would have a riot on his hands if he didn't bend to their wishes.  So, he did.  He would rather satisfy them by killing an innocent man than deal with a riot.  That makes him less of a leader and more of a fair weather Politian in my opinion.

So the blood of Jesus is on the hands of Pilate, the chief priests and the crowd.  It wasn't just one person who wanted him to die, but an entire culture- an entire city.  And the people in the city were His own people.  The same people that His father chose to raise up in order to bring Jesus into the world.  These are the same people that Mary was raised to love and respect.  These people- His family was chanting for His death. Sometimes I wonder if that moment was more horrible for Jesus than all the time he spent being scourged.  Or all the time He spent on the cross.  It's one thing for power hungry leaders to reject Him, but it’s entirely different for the average everyday people who walked with Him, ate with Him and witnessed His miracles to be chanting for His death.  That must have been almost as painful as the moment when His disciples deserted Him in the garden.

I am also intrigued by the role Barabbas plays to the crowd.  Barabbas is a murderer- he takes life.  Jesus is the fountain of life.  It is very interesting that they would choose the person who takes life over the person who gives life. I wonder how many times this same scenario plays out in our own lives.

It is important to realize that Pilate took the easy way out.  Instead of standing up for what he thought was right, he chose to bend to the wishes of the crowd.  That scenario plays out over and over in our lives.  It is easier to go with the crowd or the norms of society than say that you would rather not.  It is easier to say that abortion is a personal decision than to say that it is wrong.  It is easier to justify the death penalty than defend the life the worst criminals.  It is easier to turn a blind eye to a family member's addiction than to help that person seek help.   It is easier to leave religion alone than to invite someone to church.  Yes, I think I have taken the easy way out more than I have stood up for the truth. 

Mary, Mother of God, pray the Lord will have mercy on my soul!

Day 15- Judas Ends His Life with Remorse

Matthew 27:3-10

Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver 3 to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? Look to it yourself." 4 Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself. The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, "It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood." After consultation, they used it to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, 5 "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, and they paid it out for the potter's field just as the Lord had commanded me."

Here, we see Judas realize the gravity of the situation that he created.  Maybe he never meant for Jesus to be condemned to death.  As I discussed in an earlier post, maybe he was trying to force Jesus to start a rebellion.  Although we may not know Judas' goal for handing over Jesus, we do know that the outcome was not what he expected.  He played Russian roulette and lost.  Also, we will never know what was going through Judas' head when he decided to take his life.  We do know that taking a bribe to shed innocent blood was a serious offense in Israel (Det 27:25).  Maybe he thought his sin was too great. 

In his commentary, Binz compares and contrasts Peter and Judas.  Both men had sinned against the Lord.  Both men betrayed their Master.  Both men failed in their commitment to discipleship.  But their lives had very different outcomes.  Peter "wept bitterly" and threw himself on the mercy of God.  While Judas did not believe in the mercy Jesus taught him and in his desperate moment, he chose death.  Peter gave himself up to the will of God while Judas took matters into his own hands once again.

In my Catechism class, we just finished studying the sins against faith, hope and charity.  I was surprised to learn that it is a sin(against hope) to not believe that God will forgive your sins or to lose hope that He will grant you personal salvation.  I didn't realize those were actual sins.  I think there are a lot of people out there who fall into this category.  They think that the things they have done are so bad that there is no possible way they could be forgiven.  And that is their excuse to not ask for forgiveness.  Sometimes, that is their excuse to not go to church.  But the Jesus didn't teach that.  He taught that sins will be forgiven.  If we don't believe in that, then we are calling God a liar.  We are saying to him that he suffered and died on that cross for nothing.  Choosing not to believe in that forgiveness is offensive to God.

So, I guess, we have to choose.  Do we want to be like Peter or like Judas?  Do we surrender to God and find life or do we cave to despair and choose death?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 14- Peter Denies Knowing Jesus

Matthew 26:69-75

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean." 38 But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about!" As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus the Nazorean." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man!" 39 A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away." At that he began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times." He went out and began to weep bitterly.

This must have been the worst moment of Peter's life.  Peter LOVED the Lord.  Peter left everything he had to follow Him.  Peter witnessed many miracles and was one of the three disciples to see Jesus' transfiguration.  He even offered to lay down his life for Jesus.  And now look at Peter.  He is denying that he even knew Jesus. Jesus predicted this would happen and Peter was devastated that Jesus would think he would do such a thing, and then he did it. 

Let's look at the way this scene unfolded.  When Peter denied Jesus the first time, he sort of deflects the accusation by saying he doesn't know what the girl is talking about.  But when the second time rolls around, he is more adamant about not knowing Jesus- he swears an oath that he doesn't know Jesus.  When he is questioned publicly by a group, he curses and swears another oath saying he doesn't know Jesus.  So with each instance, Peter's denial grows more escalated.  In Luke's gospel, Jesus is said to have locked eyes with Peter when the cock crowed.  Peter must have felt that sin like a dagger to his heart.

The way in which Peter's denials escalate from a passing lie to one person and then to shouting and swearing in his denial to many people illustrates how easily sin grabs a hold of us.  At first, the sin seems small.  And when we feel like we got away with it, we find it easier to sin again- maybe even something more serious.  If left unchecked, the sinning gets easier and easier and before we know it, we are in a real mess.

I can relate well to this cycle of sin.  I can relate well to Peter's denial of our Lord.  When I was working three jobs as a full time student in college, getting to Mass was almost impossible.  So, sometimes, I didn't go.  And as time passed, I didn't go more and more often.  Before I knew it, I was hardly going at all.  When I wasn't going to church, I sometimes found myself in conversations where the Catholic/Christian faith was being attacked.  And I didn't say anything.  I didn't stand up for my faith.  I didn't want to be labeled as the "girl with religion."  I also didn't always behave like someone who loved the Lord.  For the most part, I just did what I wanted and silenced the now very soft voice calling me to a better life.  By the time I was older, I realized that I was missing something important in my life.  I knew I needed to start going to church.  I knew I needed the Lord.  And in that moment, the cock crowed.  And I realized that I had denied my Lord.  I had not been a good witness.  I had cast Jesus out of my life.  So, I went to confession for the first time in 10 years.  And I said to the Priest that I felt like Peter.  I knew and LOVED the Lord, but I fell away.  And I publicly denied that I knew Him.  It wasn't a good feeling.  But in that confessional, I felt forgiveness.  I felt as if my slate had been wiped clean.  And I took the Lord's hand and started out on the road less traveled once again.

Jesus taught: "Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).  Peter's sin was horrible.  If Peter never confessed it, it would have cost him his salvation.  But he did confess.  And the Lord forgave him.  And then He gave him the keys to the Kingdom.  Peter was the rock upon which He built His Church.  That is a powerful lesson in the Lord's mercy.

Day 13- Caiaphas Charges Jesus with Blasphemy

Matthew 26:57-68
Those who had arrested Jesus led him away to Caiaphas 31 the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest's courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome. The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin 32 kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two 33 came forward who stated, "This man said, 'I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.'" The high priest rose and addressed him, "Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?" But Jesus was silent. 34 Then the high priest said to him, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to him in reply, "You have said so. 35 But I tell you: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven.'" Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed! 36 What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?" They said in reply, "He deserves to die!" 37 Then they spat in his face and struck him, while some slapped him, saying, "Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?"

In this passage, Jesus is put on trial before the high priest.  They know that they can not find solid evidence upon which to convict him, so they find several false witnesses to testify against Jesus.  In the end, they get him to admit that he is the Messiah.  Immediately Caiaphas charges him with blasphemy and issues the death sentence.  Jesus' fate is a little more sealed.

I am struck by the difference in Peter at the trial as compared to his behavior when Jesus was arrested in the garden.  In the garden, Peter fights Jesus' attackers with a sword.  He is ready to do what it takes to protect his Lord.  But at the trial, Peter sneaks in and sits with the guards so as not to draw attention to himself.  He sits and he watches.  And that is it.  He never stood to defend the Lord.  He didn't try to save Him.  Was he afraid?  Was he obeying the Lord's instructions regarding his behavior in the garden?  Has he given up in himself or has he surrendered to the will of God?  He must have been pretty calm, cool and collected to be able to sit with the guards and not draw attention to himself.  I wonder what was going through his head.

I am also struck by the difference in Caiaphas and Jesus.  Both are leaders in their community and both hold power.  Caiaphas sees Jesus as a threat to his power.  He is afraid that Jesus is going to take some of that power away from him.  So, he wants to get rid of Jesus.  Caiaphas wants to take a life in order to keep his power.  Jesus has a different approach.  Jesus is going to sacrifice his life and conquer death to show the world his power.  Jesus is ready to give his life.  Caiaphas wants to take and Jesus wants to give.  It is easy to see which person is the true priest- the one who embraces the love of God rather than the love of power. 

I find it interesting that one of the final false witnesses testifies that Jesus said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.  This statement is not entirely untrue.  Jesus is eluding to himself.  He will allow himself to be destroyed, but then he will rise from the dead and walk this earth again just three days later.  If I were Caiaphas, and the following week, I heard that Jesus was risen from the grave, I think I would be doing a little repenting.  Caiaphas must have been shakin' in his boots.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 12- Annas Interrogates Jesus

John 18: 12-14, 19-24

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.  First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.  Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.  Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me?  Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said."  When he has said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "is that how you answer the high priest?"  Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong.  But it I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?"  Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Jesus was a threat to Annas and his powerful family.  Annas was the chief priest and several of his sons were chief priests after him.  The current chief priest was Annas' son-in-law.  So, you can see how this man holds power in the religious community.  Jesus threatened that power.  Jesus was undermining Annas' influence over the religious community and Jesus had to be stopped.  I think that it is interesting that Caiaphas prophesied that "Jesus was about to die for the nation" and "to gather the dispersed children of God" (11:51-52). 

Jesus' domineer during the questioning is courageous.  He did not dance around their "accusations".  He answered them with the truth- that he said what he said and he was stickin' to it.  And if they really weren't sure what he said, then they could ask those who heard him say it.  He didn't understand why they were asking him these questions because they already knew what he taught.  When he pointed that out, Annas was stopped in his tracks.  Out of frustration, he sent him to the official high priest, Caiaphas.  You see Annas didn't want to hear the truth.  His mind about Jesus was already made up.  Jesus, the threat to his power, had to go.

There is one other thing in this passage that really caught my attention- Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me?  Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said."  If we were there, and forced to testify in the case of Jesus to the high priest, would we know what Jesus said?  Do we know our faith?  Could we tell the high priest the truth?  Would we have the courage to tell the truth or would we cave in the face of fear?  I think that we are faced with these situations daily.  When the world comes at us with all of its temptations, we are forced to testify.  We are forced to choose the truth, or not.  We are forced to cave into the fear or rise above the temptation.  Jesus was crucified because he taught the truth to a world who did not want to hear it- a world drunk on its own power.  If we are to let Jesus live through us, then we must be willing to be crucified for the truth. We must be willing to allow that part of ourselves that is drunk on the world to be crucified.  The part of us that must die is our bushel basket hiding our light.  We must get rid of that bushel basket before the truth can shine.

O Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 11- The Young Man who Ran Off Naked

Mark 14:48-52

     The Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit?  Day fater day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.  But let the scriptures be fulfilled."  All of them deserted him and fled.
     A certain young man was following him, wearing othing but a linen cloth.  They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

I have to admit that it feels as if I am reading this passage for the first time.  I was unaware of a naked man running from the garden when Jesus was arrested.  How badly did he want to get away that he was willing to leave behind his clothing?  How scared was he that he was ready to leave all he had just to flee?  All of Jesus' disciples fled, but this one gave everything he had to flee.  In the reflection outlined in the book, Binz points out the otherside of discipleship.  When Jesus called his disciples, he asked them to leave their nets and follow him.  He asked them to leave everything they had behind and follow him.  And they did.  Untill they figured out that he was walking the way of the cross.  Then they fled.  In fact, one disciple left everything behind in order to get away.  They left Jesus, the man who they knew was the Messiah to face His suffering alone.  Doesn' t that just break your heart?

How many times have I done this?  Was it when I didn't go visit a sick friend in the hospital?  Or when I failed to give to someone in need?  Or when I didn't offer to counsel or to pray with a friend who was seeking answers?  Or when I blew off a friend who just needed my ear and time?  Whenever we meet suffering, we are to meet that person as if they were our Lord.  He asks us to love like he loves.  So, we should pray that in the face of suffering, we will love like he loves and not run away.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day 10- Simon Peter Fights Back with a Sword

John 18:10-11

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 back into its sheath.  Am I not to drink the bup that the Father has given me?"

Matthew 26:51-56

Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scripture be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?"  At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit?  Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.  But all this had taken place, so that the scripture of the prophets may be fulfilled.  Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Admit it.  You want to cheer for Peter.  You want to see Him protect the Lord and keep this whole thing from happening.  At least that is my reaction.  But, as we see in both of these passages, Peter's reaction wasn't right.  Jesus preaches that violence isn't the answer.  And that these coming events are the will of the Father which Jesus had whole heartedly surrendered to.  His disciples were ready to fight for His life, but Jesus was ready to lay it down for theirs.  And for the rest of humanity.  It is quite clear that the disciples didn't understand why Jesus was surrendering.  And that is why they fled.  They didn't understand why Jesus wasn't fighting and they weren't ready to face what was going to take place.  They probably feared their own safety.  I have to admit, I probably would have ran too. 

The human part of us has that inate sense of fight or flight.  It is a survival instinct.  Whenever we meet conflict, the instinct kicks in.  And, some of us put it into daily practice in a variety of situations.  I am more of a flight person.  I run in the face of conflict.  If I can't resolve it and make all parties happy, I will probably leave the room.  But, when I am passionate about something, I am ready to fight.  And the fight can get down right nasty. I usually don't make the best decisions during the fight.  And that is never good.

As we see in this account, the disciples fought and then fled.  But Jesus did the opposite.  He broke up the fight and even healed the victim (see Luke's account).  Then He surrendered.  What is He teaching us here?I'm not quite sure how to apply this to my life.  I am sure there are situations where I must stand up for what is right and the fight is necessary.  And I am sure there are situations where it is better for me to leave in order to defuse the situation.  But when am I to peacefully stay and surrender?  I guess each situation is unique in this matter.  And the only way to figure out what to do is to know the will of the Father.  Jesus surrendered because He knew that is what His Father wanted.  It was His will.  And He didn't choose the legions of angels but He chose His father's will.  For us.  It's neat to see how all roads lead to His amazing love.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 9- Judas Betrays Jesus with a Kiss

Matthew 26:47-50

While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him."  At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.  Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.

Luke 22: 47-48

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them.  He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?"

In the gospel accounts, this is the moment where Judas meets Jesus for the last time.  And in that final meeting, he hands over his teacher and friend to the Sanhedrin.  He looks Jesus in the eye, kisses him on the cheek and hands him over to an angry mob.  The kiss is particularly bothersome.  Because it was by the kiss that Judas made Jesus' identity known to the mob.  He handed Jesus over to his ultimate death through an intimate sign of friendship.  It is a sad moment for Judas because in that moment, he rejected the Lord.  He set into motion events that he could never take back or undo while rejecting the love and life the Lord offered him.  No wonder the man hung himself. 

As I discussed in an earlier reflection, I don't understand why Judas did what he did.  I can't accept the theory that it was for greed- that Jesus' life was worth 30 pieces of silver to him.  Judas followed Jesus and participated in his ministry.  Judas was one of the 12 beloved disciples.  Jesus loved this man and Judas knew it.  How could 30 pieces of silver replace that friendship? 

Binz offers another theory as to why Judas did what he did.  Maybe Judas was trying to set things in motion.  Judas did believe that Jesus was the messiah, but things were moving slowly.  The great rebellion Jesus was to lead in order to overthrow the current religious rulers was progressing much too slowly for Judas.  So this was his solution to get things going.  If Jesus were arrested, then he would be forced to use his powers to start this rebellion and set up his kingdom.  So, under this theory, Judas was taking matters into his own hands.  He thought that he knew better than God.

I can not tell you how many times in my life that I thought I knew better than God.  And how badly I made a mess of things because I thought I knew better than God.  Submitting myself to the unknown will of God is HARD.  So, I guess I can empathize with Judas a little in the latter theory.  I can't say that I would so as far as to sell out my Lord, but I can understand his frustration.

We live in a world of immediate gratification.  We want what we want when we want it.  And God doesn't live in that world.  God gives us what we need when we need it.  Sometimes that is hard.  But, in all the waiting, and wondering and more waiting, God forms us.  He makes us into the people he wants us to be.  And when we are ready, he shows us his will or his great adventure for our lives.  But we have to surrender to this process.  And we have to trust.  Judas failed miserably in this area.  Let us all learn from his mistakes. Let us never find ourselves looking the Lord in the eye and saying no to His love.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!