Matthew 11: An Evil Generation

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Paolo Veronese: Jesus Healing the Servant of a Centurion

The New American Bible designates this portion of Matthew’s Gospel: Opposition from Israel.  Today and tomorrow we will examine Chapters 11 and 12 to discover more fully Jesus’ role in Israel. We will prepare more deeply for the Easter story and the arrival of the Spirit that brings joy and hope. And we will understand more intensely what it means to totally and unconditionally depend on God for all. 

Poor leaders and insincere co-workers use fear and guilt and manipulation to achieve their own goals.  If we read Matthew 11 and 12 carefully we understand that a kind word and a committed heart call more people to a cause than force and coercion.  Jesus confronts this evil generation and calls us as he called to the unrepentant towns: If the mighty deeds had been done in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.

Corrupt family and friends use subterfuge, dishonesty and tricks to force others into committing to their point of view.  If we to read Matthew 11 and12 mindfully we see that honesty and courtesy invite more people to commitment than passive aggression and duplicity.  Jesus challenges this evil generation and urges them as he urges us: Whoever has ears ought to hear. 

Deceitful loved ones use betrayal, secrecy and projection of their own problems onto others because they cannot or do not want to grow.  If we read Matthew 11 and 12 intentionally we comprehend that openness and love bring more people to union than threats and lines drawn in the sand.  Jesus speaks to this evil generation and assures them as he assures us: My yoke is easy, and my burden light. 

As Jesus moves about Israel healing, preaching and converting, the power structure feels its own influence dwindling and those invested in the status quo begin to panic. They oppose Jesus at every turning and we watch to see how Jesus will meet this opposition.

Jesus the Healer knows that words mean little while actions mean all.  Jesus the Interceder knows that corruption runs deep and is not easily unseated.  Jesus the Cornerstone knows that we are like children playing games who sit in the marketplace calling out to one another.  Jesus the Redeemer knows that we are in need of his help and that God is the only one who can fully confront this evil generation.  Jesus, the Son of Man, knows that his authority and strength are in God alone. 

Tomorrow we take a look at how Jesus confronts those who challenge him. Today let us depend on God as Jesus does, and let us we pray as Jesus prays.

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.  Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.  Amen. 

Adapted from a reflection posted on December 22, 2011. 

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healing_the_centurion%27s_servant

Jonah 2: A Prayer from the Belly of the Whale

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Jonah and the Whale: Folio from a Jami Tavarikh (Compendium_of_Chronicles)

Yesterday we reflected on this short but crucial portion of Jonah’s story; why does he offer a prayer of thanksgiving when he finds himself devoured by a whale?  Enter the words Jonah in the Belly of the Whale and then join Jonah in his prayer . . .

Out of our distress we cry to you . . . the waters swirl about us, threatening our lives . . . the abyss envelops us . . . the soul faints within and we remember the Lord. 

As we near the coming Passion of Christ and Eastertide, we have much to accomplish.  Some of our chores we do gladly; others weigh heavily on us. Good and wise God, help us to sort out the trivial from the real as we struggle to balance work and play.

As we approach the festival of joy we continue to be haunted by old angers and anxieties; we might relish this turmoil or we may want to cast it off. Good and patient God, lead us to the understanding that what looks like death is life, what seems to be the end is a new beginning. 

As we move toward the celebration of hope we have sorrows and fears; we may be managing to stay afloat in this sea of turmoil or we may be sinking into its cold depths.  Good and compassionate God, remind us that living for a time in the belly of the whale means that despite our fears, we have the opportunity to draw ever closer to you. 

Our prayer reaches God as we give God resounding praise. We are delivered by the hands of the Lord. 


This prayer is adapted from the Prayer of Jonah first posted on December 21, 2011.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonah#The_fish

Jonah 2: A Journey into the Belly of the Whale

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Pieter Lastman: Jonah and the Whale

When the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenge Jesus in Matthew 12 and Luke 11 about his authority and ask him for a sign, Jesus points out the wickedness of this demanding approach to miracles, and he says that the only sign they will receive is the sign of Jonah. Today we look at an interesting point in the story of the man who lived in the belly of a whale for three days to be delivered in order to do God’s work.  Commentary tells us that Jesus refers to his own three days between death and life that he will experience in order to save the world. Further commentary tells us why the psalm we read today is so important to us. 

Jonah is called by God to do something he does not want to do and so he flees.  Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:3)  We may also want to reject a task God has laid out for us. 

 Once on board, Jonah admits to the sailors that he has indeed fled the Lord.  They try to save him but the storm is too great for them and Jonah volunteers to go overboard. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. (Jonah 1:17)

On dry land, Jonah goes to Nineveh to do as the Lord has asked.  When the people have a change of heart and heed the prophecy Jonah delivers, the Lord has compassion on them for turning from their evil ways.  (Jonah 3:10)

The dialog between Jonah and Yahweh continues in chapter 4 where we see a push-pull relationship between the two. The conversion in Nineveh greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry; (Jonah 4:1) still, God abides with his servant and continues to present to him his own pathway for conversion.  God continues to provide a journey away from anger toward compassion. God might be speaking to us when he says to Jonah: Do you have a right to be angry?

Jonah runs from the Lord and finds that he has come up against an obstacle too large to overcome. Leaping into the raging storm he expects death, and yet he is saved. 

Today’s post is adapted from the December 20, 2011 reflection and provides more context of the Jonah story. To visit, enter the words In the Belly of the Whale into the blog search bar and explore. 

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1474. Print.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jonah

Numbers 9:15-23: God’s Presence in Our Desert Moments

Monday, March 20, 2023

Caravan in the desert, Mongolia

We have entered the closing weeks of our desert experience, a time when we anticipate the renewing strength of the Passion experience and the nourishing stories we hear in the Eastertide liturgies. In those times when we struggle to move through the wash of negative news, we must remember that God is with us. 

So much of life seems to be a desert existence, a constant struggle against unseen but powerful forces that appear to control all we do and much of what we think. In dark days we struggle against headwinds that deliver blasts of driven sand; we hunker down in our tents to secure ourselves against the onslaught. When we must move from place to place, we barely survive the trek from one oasis to the next. There are times of happiness in which we experience joy; yet with those times there is often a sense of impending doom; somewhere inside us is a haunting that tells us to enjoy our contentment while it lasts because darkness stalks us on each leg of our journey.  The desert crossing is one we do not want to experience alone.  We know that we will need stamina, provisions, and companions along the way; yet where do we find the surety and comfort that will see us through? There is only one presence that provides all for the body, mind and soul, the presence of God. 

It is the fool who prepares carelessly for the wilderness journey; a wise woman or man goes first in search of God. The fool stores up supplies and necessities; the wise one makes plans and trusts in the Lord. The fool believes that security and comfort can be purchased; the wise one knows that happiness and eternal safety lie in doing what is just. The fool relies on personal strength and durability; the wise one perseveres in seeking God, knowing that everything we need for the journey is found in one place, only in the presence of God.

The fiery cloud we reflect on in today’s reading is a pre-figuration of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sends after his Ascension to the Father as tongues of fire that produce speech that all can understand. (Acts 2)  Just as Jesus and Scripture are the Word of God, The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God, and for that reason this advocate has inspired the writing of scripture. The symbols of the Holy Spirit are: water, the oil and the seal of anointing, fire, the hand/finger of Jesus who heals, the dove which finds the olive branch after the flood along with the dove which descends at Jesus’ baptism, and the image of cloud and light. This cloud that accompanies the Hebrews, descends when Solomon builds the Temple in Jerusalem and also at Jesus’ Transfiguration. This Spirit surrounds Jesus at his Ascension.   This Spirit lives with us today to accompany us on our desert wanderings.  This Spirit is the presence of God. 

This post is an adaption of our December 19, 2011 reflection of the Presence of God as we navigate the tumult of Christmas preparations. 

Image from: https://unsplash.com/s/photos/gobi-desert

Luke 2:41-51: Found

Luke 2:41-51: Found

William Holman Hunt: The Finding of the Savior in the Temple

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2023

Today’s familiar story foreshadows the conflict that will take place in Jesus’ adult years when his message of God’s mercy brings the wrath of leaders against him, and lays the fate of creation in his hands. As a child, Jesus remains in Jerusalem after Passover to converse with temple elders. Discovered by his parents, he goes home to live obediently with them. The child Jesus dazzles leaders and yet lives in humility. The child Jesus knows that God is in charge.

Coptic Icon of the Transfiguration of Christ

Coptic Icon: Transfiguration of Christ

The man Jesus goes up to the mountain to experience his own transfiguration, but he does not go alone. He takes two friends who later testify to this beautiful experience on the mountain top. The man Jesus confounds his friends and yet delivers the expectation that his kingdom is here and now. The man Jesus knows that God’s outrageous hope is essential to human existence.

The prophet Jesus brings healing and confidence to the marginalized and forgotten. He escapes the crowd by disappearing over the brow of the hill. He slips through the fingers of those who would obliterate him. He challenges our beliefs and our doubts. The prophet Jesus knows that God’s enduring faith is critical in the human journey.

The risen Jesus defies all laws of physics and logic to bring hope to the abandoned and faith to the desperate. He hands himself over to the authorities who despise him. He suffers meekly at the hands of his enemies whom he calls to goodness. He offers the gift of healing and solace to all of creation. Christ Jesus knows that God’s enormous love is crucial in our human lives.

As we approach Palm Sunday and its story of Christ’s Passion, let us remember our Lenten practices while we journey up to Jerusalem. As we near our Easter home, let us pray, meditate and remember that once we were fearful, and now we rest in Christ. Once we doubted and now we believe. Once we were lost and now, like the child Jesus, we are found.

Images from: https://fineartamerica.com/art/pharisees and https://www.stvnashville.org/feast-of-transfiguration

John 12: 36-43: Belief and Unbelief

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Benjamin West: Moses and Aaron before Moses

This is a difficult idea for many of us but we see it as far back as the Pentateuch when we hear that Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart when he changed his mind about letting Moses’ people go (Exodus 8:15). This is a theme with which we struggle to live: We are not in charge.

When suffering happens, we remind ourselves, God will turn it into something good if we allow the Spirit to reside in our hearts.

We are not in charge.

God heals all wounds, we say, and we pass the stories of these healings on to younger generations.

We are not in charge.

In today’s reading, we see Jesus hiding for a bit as he prepares himself for the tasks ahead. We hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah describing a God who “blinded their eyes and hardened their heart . . . so that they might be converted.”

We are not in charge.

The Israelites crossed the Red Sea through parted waters – after Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart – and so we see Yahweh’s power and might and mercy. The Pharisees do not acknowledge the power of Jesus – which the people see clearly – and in fact the Sanhedrin do not arrest Jesus on several occasions for fear that the people will stone them. (Acts 5:17-26)

We are not in charge.

Gerrit Van Honthorst: Christ Before the High Priest, Annas

Gerrit Van Honthorst: Christ Before the High Priest, Annas

Many times when we are doing God’s work we will find ourselves in opposition to the culture in which we live. Jesus is counter-cultural and lives on the edges of society. So must we be if we are true disciples, if we go to the light and do not hide in the dark (John 3:16-21).

We are not in charge.

We reflect on our lives and pray that we – unlike the Pharisees who preferred human praise to the glory of God . . . may remember that we are not in charge.

We remember our Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “I will set all things right in God’s kingdom,” let us think instead, “I will strive each day to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness, mercy and love”.

 Adapted from a reflection written on April 18, 2007.

Tomorrow, passion.

Images from: http://collection.mam.org/details.php?id=4902 and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moses_and_Aaron_before_Pharaoh.jpg

John 10:31-42: Slipping Through Their Fingers

Jordan River

The Jordan River

Friday, March 17, 2023

Jesus saysI have made a present to you from the Father of a great many good actions. For which of these acts do you stone me?

Family and friends help us or hinder us in our journey to our Easter home. Strangers and outsiders come and go, sometimes catching our attention, other times going unnoticed. Enemies litter our pathway with boulders of fear and hate. Worry and peace, anxiety and rejoicing accompany us as we move ever forward in our passage from Easter passion to joy. Today we examine how we act in the world and reflect on whether we hold Jesus in faithful hope or let him slip through our fingers. Do we follow him across the Jordan and believe?

They tried yet again to arrest him, but he slipped through their fingers. He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and stayed there. A lot of people followed him over. They were saying, “John did no miracles, but everything he said about this man has come true.” Many believed in him then and there.

God says: The world may seem like a strange place yet I have created it just as I have created you. The noise of the world makes it difficult for you to hear my voice; yet you are never alone. The message of the world fights to drown out my words; yet I am with you always. When those you trust betray you, remember Jesus and Judas. When those close to you no longer believe in you, remember Jesus and Peter. When you are tossed by the world, remember Jesus and Mary. There is always a roadmap for you to follow . . . although you feel that you are falling over a sharp and dangerous edge. I am always with you to protect you . . . although it seems that I am slipping through your fingers. Trust in me. Rely on me. There is no firmer ground or safer refuge. Cross the Jordan with me and believe.

Before we allow Jesus to slip through our fingers, we remember our Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “I will set all things right in God’s kingdom,” let us think instead, “I will strive each day to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness, mercy and love”.

Tomorrow, belief and unbelief. 

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_River

John 8:51-59:  Over the Edge

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Jesus says: If you practice what I’m telling you, you’ll never have to look death in the face.

Then the people say . . . Now we know you’re crazy.

And Jesus replies . . . Believe me, I am who I am long before Abraham was anything.

Then how do we, the people, respond? That did it—pushed them over the edge. They picked up rocks to throw at Jesus. But he slipped away, getting out of the Temple.

Jesus cannot be more clear. All that troubles and hounds us here in the life we try to create for ourselves will fade into dust in the moment we pass from this world into the next.

Jesus cannot be more bold. The world that awaits us is more amazing and more transforming than any we might imagine.

Jesus cannot be more sane. He brings us miracles as acts of his love. He enters our hearts to melt cold crystals of anger and hate. He lives in our bones and minds, and still so many of us do not believe the beautiful truth he unfolds.

When faced with looming obstacles, we always have a clear path to freedom, a path that leads to eternal freedom and life that Jesus treads to show us The Way. And how do we, the people, respond when life presents its complications and hurdles? Do we follow Jesus, or do we choose to go over the edge?

We remember our Lenten practice as we turn away from the edge to return to the center . . . to the teaching of Jesus. Rather than thinking: “I will set all things right in God’s kingdom,” let us think instead, “I will strive each day to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness, mercy and love”.

Tomorrow, slipping through their fingers.

Image from: https://www.pexels.com/search/person%20at%20edge%20of%20cliff/

John 8:31-42: Truth and Freedom

Wednesday, March 15, 2023truth set free

Jesus says: The truth will set you free.

Many of us believe that truth must be told at all times and at all cost. Others hold that the truth can be painful and so make allowances for small inventions that ease or ruin feelings and relationships. Little white lies, we are told, soften the rough edges of life and moderate rough patches we experience. Today we are invited to examine The Truth that Jesus opens to us. The Truth that transforms and even releases. The Truth that liberates and exhorts. What can this truth and this freedom possibly look like?

God says: I have called you away from the dead end of self-involvement with the hope that you will see the beauty of my kingdom. The hope I place in you is that you welcome the balm of my love and take it in fully. I have faith that you will allow my love to travel through you to release you from your small worries and enormous burdens. My son teaches you how to give in to this love. He shows you a life that acts in full freedom through me. I have created you for fullness in me rather than the world. I have formed you for high purpose and noble deeds. I have shaped you for deep love and infinite commitment. This is the truth I offer you. This is the truth that will fully free you.

IMG_0095The freedom from illness and violence. The truth that is bold yet gentle. A parent who protects and guides. A brother who shepherds and heals. A lover who gives in to no turmoil or pain. This is the truth and freedom we seek. It is the truth and freedom we already possess. It is the truth and freedom that we find in God’s kingdom of love.

Moving away from the path that ends in nothing to the path that brings us life, we remember our Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “I will set all things right in God’s kingdom,” let us think instead, “I will strive each day to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness, mercy and love”.

Tomorrow, over the edge.

Images from: https://philosophynews.com/what-is-truth/ and http://lookingintothelawofliberty.com/2014/10/08/what-does-jesus-mean-by-the-truth-will-set-you-free-and-what-does-that-freedom-look-like/

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