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Posts Tagged ‘mystery’


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Isaiah-scroll1[1]Isaiah 51 & 52

Servants

In Isaiah 51 we find a reason to rejoice when life overwhelms us. When we are fear-filled, we must remember to ask God’s grace, patience, and wisdom so that we might discern God’s hand in all that happens to and around us. We lean on our brother Jesus whose has broad and strong shoulders. And we abide in the Spirit who brings us comfort and understanding. Remembering that God knows all and keeps the promises made to us, we ask not only for God’s grace in our own lives but we also ask intercessory prayers for those who do us damage. Through all of our turmoil, God remains our servant, tending to our needs and sorting through our wishes to grant those that make us stronger in body, mind and soul.

In Chapter 52 we find the fourth and final of Isaiah’s Servant Songs.  t begins . . . See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.  Even as many were amazed at him – so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals – so shall he startle nations.

The true, faithful servant is perfect not in that he or she has escaped life unscathed, but in that they strive to reach the potential God has placed in them. Others are startled because the true, faithful servant wears the scars of existence and lives along the margins of life. God’s servant does not seek comfort in the physical world, nor does this one stay long in the heady turmoil of power, fame and wealth. The true, faithful servant meets God’s mercy and grace through the pain and suffering of life. The true, faithful servant knows that he or she finds serenity in God and not in the superficial satisfaction of grudges long held or of worldly battles soundly won. This is the mystery Isaiah lays out for us and it is the mystery we see in Christ. It is the mystery to which we are called for we are created to be servants to one another. We are created as a servant people.

Mary Magdalene in the cemetery garden and the apostles on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Christ in the early moments of his return . . . so transformed was he . . . so momentous was the transition from one life to the next. So it is reasonable that we do not at first see Christ standing before us . . . calling us to service. Yet it is well worth our effort to discern the servant Jesus and to strive to serve as he does.

This one who is in God comes to meet us through the woe of our living . . . and to convert this woe to joy.

This one who is in God  comes to meet us through the miseries of our existence . . . and to transform them into songs of celebration.

This one who is in God  graces us with a healing touch . . . and so God asks that we also serve.

This one who is in God  knows the intimate detail of our suffering . . . and so God accompanies us as we learn to be faithful servants.

This one who is in God loves us so much that God will go wherever we are . . . sit with us no matter who we are . . . walk with us no matter the burdens of the journey . . . in order to serve us even as we serve. This love knows no limit. This love leads us out of our sorrow. This love leads us to joy.

Servant work is difficult, frustrating and humbling. Servant work is a gift. Servant work is the only work truly worth doing. Servant work is the work of Christ. Let us spend some time today with this Servant Song, and let us practice it so well that when we feel the weight of our load on our tired shoulders, we will know how to give full voice to the melody and words of the Servant Song.


Adapted from reflections written on February 13, 2007 and January 14, 2010. 

Image from: http://lcos.org/WP/?p=374

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

tumblr_m82nssecoa1rsdmtxo1_5001.jpgJohn 16:12-15

Trinity of Love

A re-post from Trinity Sunday 2013.

Throughout Eastertide we explored the gifts we receive when we open ourselves to the privilege of serving as Christ’s disciples: meekness, broken-heartedness, constancy, honesty, truth revealed, willingness, steadfastness and celebration.  Today as we celebrate the mystery and gift of the Trinity, we might well wonder how and where and when we will find the stamina to endure.  We might ask . . . how are we to endure?

Jesus said to his disciples: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. 

It is true that if we were to see the fullness of our lives rolled out before us we might fall into despair.  How wise it is that in God’s plan we live only a day at a time.

When the Spirit of truth comes she will guide you all to truth.

It is best that we learn to live in truth alone.  It is the very essence of God’s plan and so we must set aside all thought of deception, subterfuge and deceit.  How good it is in God’s plan that we look forward in hope.

She will not speak on her own but she will speak what she hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. 

It is correct that once we use our suffering to tune ourselves to hear God’s word we find the work of discipleship less painful.  How wonderful it is that God is so constant and loving.

She will glorify me, because she will take from what is mine and declare it to you.

It is amazing that God continues to love us despite our smallness and reluctance to follow the difficult Way.  How astonishing is God to show us this intense and passionate fidelity.

Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you she will take from what is mine and declare it to you.

It is humbling to discover that God and Christ and the Spirit live together in lovely harmony.  How marvelous it is that God shares the mystery of this union even though we understand it so poorly.

Jesus said to his disciples: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. 

Let us cease our grumbling, let us banish our doubt, and let us come to God willingly, honestly and steadfastly.  Let us bring our brokenness.  Let us surrender our willfulness.  And let us rejoice in celebration that this Trinity of Love counts us at her center.


Image from: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/trinity%20knot

For other reflections on Creator, Redeemer and Spirit, type the word Trinity in the blog search bar and explore.   Tomorrow, the Trinity and time unknown . . .

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John 19:1-7: Pontius Pilate

Friday, December 27, 2019

pontius-pilate-slice[1]

Antonio Ciseri: Ecce Homo – Behold the Man

We revel in the arrival of a babe among us who saves each of us if we but ask.

We enter into Christmastide in joyful hope that the promise we have heard is indeed true.

We struggle with this mystery of a child who knowingly puts himself in danger for the good of all.

We lean forward in anticipation that if we might look closely enough we will better understand this mystery. 

Today we spend time with the Gospel of John and we watch as Pontius Pilate searches for a better understanding of who Jesus is.  We see him struggle to understand who and what stands before him.  We witness his attempt to satisfy his heart and his head.  And so we watch and learn . . .

Throughout this portion of John’s Gospel we observe Pontius Pilate as he tries to make sense of the mystery that Jesus presents to him.  He wants to make sense of a man who might save himself in an instant but who instead puts himself in the hands of an invisible force.  Pilate struggles to understand a man who allows himself to suffer for others – even others who despise him.  Pilate cannot use human logic to follow this thinking; and this is because salvific suffering is of the divine.

The mockery of something beautiful makes us cringe and each time we read this story we might try to imagine where we might be standing on this day: with the persecutors or the believers.  And then we must transfer that imagining to reality to look at our own life and actions.  What we believe we might do must connect somehow with what we actually do each day.  If we want to see if we would have been standing with the guards who persecuted Jesus or the followers who cried along the Way of the Cross, we need only look to how we treat the marginalized today.  What do we do for the poor and disenfranchised?  When do we speak up for those who have no voice?  How do we demonstrate our alliance with this one obeys an unseen God?  Where do we exert our influence?  Who matters most to us? When do we act on the part of those who have few possessions and little power?

From time to time in our lives we will be the Pontius Pilate figure, making decisions that will affect a life in a significant way.  In those times, it must be our intent to act in accord with the Law of Love which Jesus taught.  We hope to be successful.  Sometimes we are not.

We might allow ourselves to be saddened by today’s story or by our own failures, but I do not believe that this is what Jesus asks of us . . . our sadness.  I believe that Jesus asks that we act as a result of this story for he has come to save and not to condemn.  Jesus asks that we make known the Gospel to any and all who will listen.  Jesus asks that we remember who actually holds power and who actually merits glory.  He asks that we consider whose is the true kingdom . . . and I believe that Jesus watches us carefully as we make our own decisions sand take our own actions.

The marvelous irony is that Jesus comes to us not as a superior, not as a ruler, not as a priest.  He comes as a vulnerable child among us.  He comes to an average family.  He arrives in difficult circumstances in a difficult time.  He is barely noticed except by the lowly and by those who seek him.

This Advent, let us consider both ends of the human Christ’s story – his birth and his death – and then let us reflect on our own journey of faith, our life and its cumulative acts.


First written on Tuesday, May 11, 2010.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://collider.com/pontius-pilate-vera-blasi/190526/

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Thistledown

Wisdom 4:20 & 5: Hope

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

These verses – actually beginning with the last verse of Chapter 4 – give us reflections of the wicked concerning the fate of the faithful.  Here is an answer to all of the times the psalmist laments: Why do we suffer and the wicked get away with murder?  Today we have the answer to so much questioning.  The faithful will rest in peace after struggling so long in the temporal world.  This chapter is a balancing counterpoint to chapters three and four: The Hidden Counsels of God.

So much about God is mystery.  Perhaps this is why we like this time of year with lights twinkling in the darkness, carols piercing cold air, our breath forming vapor as we step into the early morning crispness.

Over the week end my grandchildren and I watched one of their favorite movies, Babe, about a pig that becomes a sheepdog.  The story takes place in New Zealand and so Christmas is celebrated in the dead of summer; yet the farmer places a Christmas tree atop his house and the family gathers in the warm weather to exchange presents.  The grandchildren and I had a lively conversation about what we would and would not like about having Christmas in July.  At first it was winter that seemed more appropriate because it is the time when we are hunkered in and hunkered down, waiting for life to begin.  On the other hand, the coming of Light and Truth into the world coincides with the full and open days of summer, jammed with activities that distract us.  When do we need Christ more?  The answer is likely: all of the time.

We also spent time – as we always do when we watch this film – reflecting on the faith and doubt of the farmer and his wife about the pig and themselves.  We spoke again about the relationships between generations.  And, of course, we spoke about the incredible idea that a pig might win a sheep herding tourney.  We have sat in the bleachers at the Harford County Farm Fair and watched these dogs work a flock of sheep.  We have also watched pig races, horse sled pulls and other animal trials.  The children – and I – are impressed by the competency of this Hollywood pig.  And we are all rewarded by the cheers of the crowd when Babe brings the final sheep configuration home.  These were the same people who had jeered moments before.  Yes, the hope of the wicked is like thistledown borne on the wind . . .

When we are confronted with sneering laughter we need only focus on the potential within and wear the Lord as our armor (verses 16-19).  For when we put on Christ as recommended by Paul in Ephesians 6, we have no need of any other thing for the just live forever, and in the Lord is their recompense. 

This is one of the times in the liturgical year when we hear the theme of the rejected cornerstone.  It gives us the opportunity to think about surprises . . . and about unusual possibilities like Christmas in July . . . pigs that can herd sheep . . . cornerstones that no one recognizes.  It is the time of year to think about arming ourselves with Light and Joy . . . Peace and Hope . . . about wearing the Lord as we set forth each day . . . about being Christ in a turbulent world.


Written on December 1, 2008, re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2010/03/page/4/

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Matthew 13:1-50: The Parable Discourse

Friday, September 27, 2019

Mustard Seed

If we can find the time this evening or this weekend, we will want to leaf through the first portions of the 13th chapter of Matthew and reflect.  The Gospel writer is careful to record Christ’s words; he preserves them for us so many centuries after they were first spoken.

An essay in THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE makes three points about this portion of Matthew’s Jesus Story.  First, we must seek meaning in these verses and when we do, we will be rewarded with the wisdom and grace of Spirit’s presence.  Second, we must always be confident in God’s promise and providence brought to us by Jesus.  And third, leaders of all kinds will have to struggle with the gray world of often opposing forces.  The past and present will be linked only when we seek and trust God.

“Parables are the trademark of Jesus . . . [T]hese pointed stories both reveal and veil the mystery of the Kingdom. Unless the listener is willing to probe beneath the surface of the parables, the true meaning of Jesus’ words will escape them . . . [T]rue followers of Jesus are to put aside everything and be fully committed to the compelling beauty of God’s reign.

“Many of the parables in Matthew’s Gospel have obvious moral messages . . . The parable of the weeds sown among the wheat explanation makes the point that the church, like the world itself, is a mix of good and evil.  The disciples should not be discouraged by this but be confident that God’s grace will triumph at the end of time and evil will be punished . . .

“The conclusion of the parable discourse seems almost to be a signature of the Gospel writer . . . Bridging past and present in an open and respectful manner is one the greatest challenges of religious leadership”.  (Senior RG 397)

And so we wait. We search.  We question.  We doubt.  We struggle.  We turn to and rely on God.  We enter willingly into both the mystery and the revelation . . . for the more we know the more we question.

The Parable Discourse is a lesson on how to meet difficulty.  It is a graced interchange and dialog with our God.  And it is an open door that invites us to enter the world of Jesus.  May we be confident enough and bold enough to accept this invitation.


Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 397. Print.  

A re-post from September 7, 2012.

Image from: http://notesfromthepastorsoffice.com/2011/07/23/sermon-fodder-why-is-the-parable-discourse-matthew-13-even-more-important-than-it-appears/

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Luke 8:4-15: Living as an Engaged Listener

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Vincent Van Gogh: The Sower

This familiar story has much to teach us not only about our capacity to instruct others but about the way we engage the mysteries of God’s kingdom.  Commentary tells us that this parable “can serve to encourage those who have looked at their failures and who have forgotten that some seed will yield abundantly.  What is important is to realize that this is a parable, and therefore is not a simple illustration of a point being made otherwise.  Rather, a parable is the message, and a message offered in such a way as to elicit listener involvement in its meaning.  With parables listeners bear heavy responsibility for what is heard and understood; quite often the message is not obvious nor available to casual, unengaged listeners . . . In the interpretation (8:11-15) the parable is made into an allegory, i.e., a story in which each item in the narrative is made to represent something else.  Most scholars agree this interpretation represents the situation of the early church in its missionary preaching to a variety of conditions.  As an ‘explanation’ of the parable, however, the interpretation is less than clear”.  (Mays, 939)

We always want answers to our questions in the same manner as we warn a meal in a microwave oven.  We hit a few buttons and we have our desired result.  Listening for and to God’s voice is not so swiftly done.  In order to hear the wisdom of scripture we must settle ourselves, read the words before us, and then grapple with the “less than clear” interpretation given to us.  As the commentary points out, even when we are active, engaged listeners we will not clearly discern the message we know is being placed before us.  And so we look for more clues.

In Matthew 13:18 Jesus seems to be saying that the word goes out to four kinds of hearers: those who will never accept the kingdom’s word, those believe for a little while and then lose heart and fall away, those believe but who are too anxious to act, and finally those who hear the word and produce fruit abundantly.  We see roles defined and demarcations made; the mystery becomes a bit more clear for us and we are less uncomfortable.  Yet we know there is more.  We understand that with this story – as with all stories that Jesus tells – we are given the opportunity to clear away some of the fog that always clutters our view when we are kingdom-seeking.  We are given the chance to examine our failures and successes without being judged.  Knowing that there is more to be found than these simple equivalents of soil and people, we return to Luke’s Gospel . . . we concentrate and read again.  We lean forward a bit as if to physically engage ourselves with these verses in order to wrestle more clarity from them . . . in order to dispel the fog that impedes our vision.  We pray as we read each verse.

Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you . . . and we offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving for this story that shows us that although we work hard at conveying God’s message of love, we will not always succeed.   We marvel at this God who is so patient and willing to give each of us all the time we need to find our way to him.  Thus one of the mysteries of the kingdom is revealed.

But to the rest [the mysteries] are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand’ . . . and we offer a quick prayer of petition that stony hearts be softened and stiff necks unbent.  And we marvel at this God who is so merciful and loving that he waits endlessly for us to finally listen and hear . . . to finally see and understand.  And here is another mystery of the kingdom revealed.

The image of sowing and reaping was common in Jesus’ day and so the story of the sower was easily understood on a practical level.  What was challenging for Jesus’ listeners then – and what is just as challenging for us today – is to engage with the mysteries Jesus offers to us, to enter into the inscrutable ways of the kingdom, and to willing accept the heavy responsibility of living in this swirling fog of trust, fear, compassion, mystery . . . and love.   This is a message Jesus gives his kingdom-builders.  It is a message we are called to live.

Mays, James L., ed. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1203. Print.


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on June 28, 2011.

Image from: https://gl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficheiro:The_Sower_-_painting_by_Van_Gogh.jpg

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Numbers 21:4-9: The Bronze Serpent

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives – Charles Le Brun: The Brazen Serpent

On this Tuesday before Palm Sunday, we spend time with the morning’s first liturgical reading, and today we explore a story we often hear during the Lenten season when we are called to make reparations.  In today’s Noontime, we see people who have tired of living a life of bare survival in the desert with only manna to eat.  They complain as they long for the milk and honey that Yahweh has promised.  Serpents appear and begin to bite them and so Moses intercedes. The Old Testament image of God is so different from the compassionate image in the New Testament; but today we examine the similarity between the disease and the cure.  The bronze serpent made by Moses heals those bitten by the living serpents. And so we ask . . .

Do we too often steer ourselves away from an obstacle when the cure lies in our willingness to enter God’s plan? Do we fear too much and trust too little? Are we as stiff-necked as the people we observe today? Do we complain too much? Do we ask too little? Do we understand God’s mystery, goodness and grace?

Adapted from a reflection written on August 15, 2007.

Visit the Worn Out reflection on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/12/03/worn-out/

Image from: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-brazen-serpent-188732  

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Matthew 9:35-38Epiphany – A Reprise

Saturday, January 6, 2018

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying

Today’s post is a reprise from January 6, 2012.

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again.

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.

For more on the identity of three Magi, visit: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9%3A35-38&version=GNT;NRSV;CJB;MSG

For more on the gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/ 

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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Judges 16Samson and Delilah

Peter Paul Reubens: Samson and Delilah

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

This is a familiar story to us – and when we open scripture to a comfortable place, we might look more closely, more intensely, to see if we are perhaps missing something because of the familiarity.

Samson was one of the series of Judges who protected and guided the Hebrew people before they asked for a king.  In this book we see the people of God continually repeat a cycle of dissent into separation from God . . . which causes loneliness and anguish followed by sorrow and repentance.  Yahweh always responds by forgiving and tending to his lost sheep.  There are periods of complacency and quiet when the people forget that God is central to their lives which separate the times of the judges whom God sends to lead the faithful.  Samson is one of the most famous.  We look at the following verses: 2 – And all the night they waited saying, “Tomorrow we plan to kill him”, verse 19 – Then she began to mistreat him, for his strength had left him, verse 28 – Samson cried out to the Lord and said,  “O Lord God, remember me!  Strengthen me, O God, this last time . . . let me die with the Philistines!”

Samson enters into a cycle familiar to all of us. He succumbs to Delilah and to the plot surrounding him.  He is human.  He fails.  He suffers.  He has hope.  He repents.  He makes reparation for his former action.  He is honored.  He brings the light of truth into the darkness of greed and corruption.  After closer reading, we see the cycle so familiar in our own lives. After closer reading, we do not understand the mystery of what happened more, but what we do understand is that no destruction or death can overcome the bright light of God’s goodness and mercy, and we are – we hope – a little more willing to see God’s goodness in our own lives..

From MAGNIFICAT today: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:5God is mystery.  The maker of the universe dwells in light inaccessible, so bright that it blinds the probing eye, the questioning mind.

For those who are powerless, that they may experience your power employed on their behalf. 

For those who have abandoned hope, that they may know your mercy.

For those who fail to see you in mystery, that they may come to feel your gentle love.

Amen.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 9.4 (2008). Print.  

Adapted from a Favorite written on April 9, 2008. 

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