Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 2

our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.

Take a look at the those on the crosses. All different, right? I would like to reflect on these people and consider equality and possibility.

Who was there? Jesus, of course. Dismas, the ‘good thief.’ Gestas, the impenitent thief. By the way, his name means ‘to complain or moan.’ The Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John, and the three other Marys (Mary Cleophas, Mary Salome and Mary Magdalene). The centurion and the soldiers. Representatives of the Sanhedrin (the scribes, elders, or rulers), including perhaps the chief priests. And, finally, the rest, the people from the whole surrounding countryside. Quite a crowd.

In this array of people, we may perceive ourselves to be better than some, worse than others. We may struggle (those of us who are particularly attuned to organizing things) with where we fit on the ladder; what shelf we may be on. Let’s see, well I’m not as good as Jesus, or Mary, or St. John. Am I better than Mary Magdalene? Am I better than Dismas? Certainly, Gestas, and the soldiers, and the Sanhedrin, and the chief priests, and most of the crowd who rejected Jesus, and, and, and… are lower than I am.

Equality and possibility. Disciples must rightly measure both.

A disciple recognizes inherent equality in human dignity. The image of Christ is in all. There is no distinction in color, background, ability, sexuality. We must see in each, another self, and respect each person’s life and dignity through our kindness and mercy. Taken from that perspective, each person on and around the cross is us. None deserves hatred. None is less than we are.

A disciple properly orders possibility – that we are not a copy of each other (I’ll never be as smart as… As beautiful / handsome as… As artistic as…) but rather that I am able to come to Jesus and be saved (as Dismas was). All sorts and conditions of humanity gathered at the Cross, the whole scene a picture of equality and possibility. Our discipleship message is that all have equality before Jesus and each, like Dismas, has possibility in the Cross of Christ.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 1

What does Scripture say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart —that is, the word of faith that we preach—for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For the Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For there is no distinction 

If you attended Holy Mass on Ash Wednesday, you had a preview of our Lenten homily series. We are spending Lent with St. Dismas. For those who do not know, Dismas was the “good thief,” crucified alongside Jesus. In Greek, the name Dismas, means sunset or death. There are many stores about St. Dismas, but they are not our concern. Rather, we will delve into Dismas as a person, much like ourselves. He took many wrong turns in his life, much like we do. Perhaps, none of our turns was as extreme as Dismas’ turns; yet we have much in common  with him when we turn from God.

Dismas’ turns were dark. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus noted Dismas was a brigand – a thief and abuser. He is much like the robbers the poor man in the story of the Good Samaritan encountered. Brigands lived in the hills, watching for and robbing travelers. They left their victims beaten, robbed, stripped, and helpless along highways and byways. Unless helped, those robbed typically died.

Other works note Dismas as a terrorist or as a fratricidal murderer. As I said, his turns were dark. What was most important however was his last-minute turn to Jesus. Jesus,remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.

Who was this Dismas, really? What brought him to the life he led? None of us can really answer that question. We can speculate. Was he a man, perhaps abused or neglected by his family? Was his family somehow killed by violence or disease, leaving him to fend for himself? Was he a person of little skill who could not find work? Hopelessness can drive a man or woman to extremes. As in our very neighborhood, young men and women join gangs because of hopelessness.

The question we must ask ourselves in our inner Lenten examinations is: ‘Why did I turn from God when I did? What temptation won?’ Again, perhaps not as darkly as Dismas, but nonetheless, away from God. What hopelessness drew me into sin? How might I repent/turn back and in doing so show unity with God’s heart by relieving another person’s hopelessness? Disciples ask these questions and use them to grow into images of Jesus.

Yes,
I am serious.

Jesus told his disciples a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. “

Two weeks ago, we entered into the Sermon on the Plain. We learned that this sermon was likely repeated by Jesus on many occasions – on the mount, in the dessert, in the city, by the shore. This sermon wasn’t repeated because it was necessarily popular or because Jesus didn’t have anything else to say, but because it was consistent with Who God is. Jesus was revealing what life in God is all about; how His disciples are to live.

The first part of the message from the plain was centered on blessings and curses. To live consistently in Jesus, we must be prepared to live poor, weeping, and hungry if it is necessary to witness to Him. We must be prepared to be hated, excluded, insulted and denounced if necessary, to put Him before all else. The reward, the blessing, is life eternal. To do otherwise brings curse.

Last week we returned to the plain. Jesus continued to exhort His disciples to live consistently in God, with God, and as living images of God. This part of the sermon did not so much focus on what we must do to be Jesus’ disciples. but more on how we must respond to things that may happen to us. In examples of what His disciples might experience, Jesus spoke about what our reaction is to be. How we are to deal with difficult situations, events, people, confrontations, and daily living speaks volumes about our discipleship.

Today, we remain on the plain with Jesus. He continues His serious instruction. He warns strictly against judgmentalism. He asks us to focus on our need for repentance and healing, ways we must turn from sin and live in His image. We are to be like our teacher.

Jesus calls us to bear “good fruit.” If we live as He lives, bearing good fruit, focused on building our lives into stronger and stronger images of God, then people will be drawn to us. They will come to us to receive nourishment, new life, refreshment. They will not be put off, fearful of drawing near to us – because they will find Jesus here.

St. Paul takes up Jesus’ seriousness. He tells us: be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted.Lent is here, let us commit to living seriously in Jesus and bearing Him fully in our lives, actions, and reactions. Disciples!

Yes,
I am serious.

Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Last week, we entered into the Sermon on the Plain. We learned that this sermon was likely repeated by Jesus on many occasions – on the mount, in the dessert, in the city, by the shore. This sermon wasn’t repeated because it was necessarily popular or because Jesus didn’t have anything else to say, but because it was consistent with Who God is. Jesus was consistent in His revelation, in His message, and in His call to His disciples to live a certain way.

Last week’s message from the plain was centered on blessings and curses. To live consistently in Jesus, we must be prepared to live poor, weeping, and hungry if it is necessary in witness to Him. We must be prepared to be hated, excluded, insulted and denounced if necessary, to put Him before all else. The reward, the blessing, is life eternal. To do otherwise brings curse.

Today, we return to the plain. Jesus continues to exhort His disciples to live consistently in God, with God, and as living images of God daily. This part of the sermon does not so much focus on what we must bear to be Jesus’ disciples. but more on how we must respond to things that may happen to us. In examples of what disciples might experience, it is about our reaction.

Our key consistent reaction to what we may face is to be mercy, non-judgmentalism, and sacrificial generosity.

Jesus remains serious in His instruction to us. As His disciples, we are to live a certain way and react in a certain way.

How we deal with difficult situations, events, people, confrontations, and daily living speaks volumes about our discipleship. We are and will be challenged. When we encounter people who may be difficult or different, does that become a block to our discipleship or an opportunity for witness? I have a neighbor who “borrowed” my best ladder, about six years ago. It has become more ‘best’ over the years. I’ve never asked for it back. It is small, and inwardly it has strengthened my discipleship because I am not using this for judging or bitterness. The rewards for being that kind of disciple are rich – good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing

Yes,
I am serious.

Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people. And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said…

Over the past several weeks, I have focused on the poignancy of the Gospel narratives. Each a very visual setting. Each a revelation of who Christ is, who the Father is – what life in God looks like. Each a call to join in the life of God as disciples.

Today, we are presented with the Sermon on the Plain. Yes, plain, not mount. While the sermons found in Matthew (mount) and Luke (plain) are similar, many biblical scholars see these as two different events. In other words, Matthew and Luke were not confused about geography. Scholars see these sermons as an indication that Jesus stayed on message throughout His teaching. This sermon may well have been delivered in the city and at the shore too.

In God, consistency is key. He is, as we say – unchanging – from eternity to eternity. Jesus was consistent in His revelation, in His message, and in His call to His disciples (yes, you and me) to live a certain way.

This call follows on the tradition God established with the people of Israel. At the giving of the Law, God laid out blessings and curses. Those who kept the Law, who lived just, holy lives in His ways would receive abundant blessing. Those who did not – curses awaited them.

Today, we learn that Jeremiah heard the same things from God. Do things that your world centered peers want, believe the things they say – your life is destroyed. Follow My way – your life is blessed. In Me you live, are protected, drink life giving water deeply, are not distressed, and bear much fruit. Today’s Psalm lays out all kinds of blessings and curses. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, reminds them of the Church’s teaching. In a very blunt way, he tells them that they must remain consistent with what has been experienced, witnessed, and taught. God has no room for the inconsistent. If we are not consistent, we are the most pitiable people of all.

Yesterday, we celebrated the life and work of our organizer – he laid all aside for Jesus and stayed consistent. He followed, as all Jesus’ disciples must, Jesus’ consistent message. Jesus is serious. Be poor, weep, and hunger. Be hated, excluded, insulted and denounced. Put Him before all and be blessed eternally.

Cleanup
here and now.

Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.

Another poignant Gospel testimony. Jesus borrows a boat and is teaching people along the shore. We can picture this beautiful day, crowds gathered, wanting to see what was going on, eager to hear this new prophet. The sea – calm. The fishermen continue washing their nets, half paying attention to Jesus, half involved in their duties. Then, Jesus asks one of the fishermen to put our farther. “Lower your nets,” He says. The fishermen are incredulous, there are no fish out here! Maybe they laugh to each other thinking that it is a joke. They lower the nets just to see what would happen. Either He is a prophet or a joke. Then the nets are full, full to overflowing, so full they need another boat. Jesus’ revelation is confirmed in their sight and by their experience. 

Jesus’ revelation, His appearance and His words have brought renewed life; essential change in the lives of those who chose to encounter Him. It was not just netting full of fish or beautiful sunny days for those who accepted Him and listened. Rather, it goes much deeper and is not just long-lasting, but everlasting.

Today’s reading from Isaiah makes the change the Lord brings very clear. If you notice, the words from Isaiah 6 are used as the basis of the priest’s prayer before proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacrament of the Word.

Isaiah saw the Lord and was enveloped in unworthiness. Isaiah is shocked and scared. He says: “Woe is me, I am doomed! Yet the Lord will not let that sense of doom and gloom stand. He sends His angel who takes a coal from the heavenly altar and touches Isaiah’s mouth, making him clean and worthy. Isaiah’s life is renewed. When the Lord asks: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah readily answers: “Here I am, send me!”

What have we done with the renewed and everlasting lives our encounter with Jesus provides? How has Jesus appearance and revelation mattered to us? Are we caught up in fear and trepidation or will we say: “Here I am, send me!” Those who get discipleship see not just where they are, but where their cleaned and renewed everlasting lives will take them.   

Annual
what?

They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Last week we heard the beginning of this revelation story. Today we hear the end. This is one of those poignant Gospel testimonies. It is so visual. Jesus returns to His hometown and speaks in the Synagogue. We can picture this day, crowds gathered, wanting to see what this hometown boy was going to do, waiting to hear this new prophet. The day – calm. The people half paying attention to Jesus, half involved in their opinions of Him. Jesus is thought of well by some – His words considered gracious. Some spoke highly of Him. Others are incredulous, there is nothing great here! They laugh to each other thinking that it is a joke. The son of a carpenter? Are you kidding me? Jesus confirms His revelation, He confirms it in their sight and by their hearing. The promised Messiah is here. They respond by dragging Him to the edge of town, intent on throwing Him off a cliff. Jesus’ revelation continues, and we see how some people react.

Today, we carry on the democratic tradition of our Holy Church. Our time to react.

Some see this effort as just another meeting. Maybe, like Jesus’ crowd, some stay caught up in their opinions, half paying attention. Some listen to the message, incredulous because – well how can this be true. There is no future, no wealth poured down from on high. We’ll just cruise along and avoid reality – until it is too late to do something about it. Some may laugh, thinking the whole thing is a joke. Are you kidding me? A miracle in Schenectady? So, I deeply pray, I worry a little, and I place my trust in Christ. He will destroy the chains of doubt, incredulity, and indifference where they exist. He will give new strength to each of us, the strength He gave Jeremiah.

God tells us: I’ve known you forever. I know what you can do in my Holy Name. Stand up and tell them (the world). Be not crushed. They (doubt, fear, lack of energy) will fight against you but not prevail. I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

Jesus answer is for us this very day. Do not let Him pass through our midst and go away. We have much to do, much to learn, much to accomplish, much to disciple. Let’s react – faithfully working for Him!

Something from
revelation.

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down

We see later, in today’s Gospel the next revelation of Jesus, but before that part, taken from Chapter 4 of Luke’s Gospel, we hear from the very first part of Luke’s first chapter.

This interesting placement of parts from two different Chapters helps us to call to mind what must happen in our lives if we are to be Jesus’ disciples, His followers.

Luke is an interesting example of discipleship lived. Luke wrote both a Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He was likely a gentile and a slave who was trained as a scientist and physician; disciples come from every background. Luke’s gospel shows special focus on evangelizing Gentiles; the message disciples are to bring. Luke loyally stays with Paul when he is imprisoned in Rome. After everyone else deserts Paul, Luke remains; discipleship lived.

Luke’s Gospel speaks to the poor and speaks of social justice – work that is a mark of discipleship. He points to forgiveness and God’s mercy to sinners. Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God’s mercy; the proclamation and work of disciples in reconciling sinners.

Reading Luke’s gospel gives a good idea of his life as a disciple. He loved the poor and outcast, wanted the door to God’s kingdom opened to all, was close to Mary, and saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone. I want to be like that! If we are in the Church, part of the Church, lovers and followers of Jesus – then we must all strive to be that kind of disciple.

Luke starts – I want to tell you all about Jesus. I scientifically analyzed all this so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings.

Jesus again enters the public space, another revelation, this time at the Synagogue in Nazareth. He reads from Isaiah and tells everyone that the prophesy is fulfilled in His listeners’ hearing. I am here. This is real.

We have the revelation of Jesus. Like Luke, let hearing result is action and, disciple.

you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.

Jesus again enters the public scene. What better place to do that than at a wedding?

From Christmas forward we see the revelation of Jesus increasing. First, His obvious revelation to Mary and Joseph, the first to behold Him. Soon the crowd starts finding their way to Jesus. Helped by angels, the shepherds see Him, believe, and go forth to proclaim Him. Simeon, the priest and Anna, the prophetess, behold Him in the Temple. The wise men, guided by a star, find Him and the nations of the world pay Him homage. The people of Egypt come to know Him as a refugee and exile. Next, it is the inhabitants of Nazareth, the crowd on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the teachers in the Temple, John and his disciples at the Jordan and the heavenly proclamation: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

What’s amazing about the Christmas season is the repeated opportunities the world had and has to encounter Jesus. We don’t just jump from shepherds to Magi to John the Baptist to Cana. Rather, it is thousands of smaller, more intimate encounters with Jesus. It is chances (focus on the plural) to encounter Him, be changed by Him and be something different.

The wedding at Cana is a reminder of the encountering and the changing, as well as the work of those who point to Jesus (at Cana, it was Mary). Cana reminds us that things have changed. We are called to reconnect, to re-recognize the ways in which we are different and the ways we fall short of how different we must be. Things have changed – we are changed by our meeting with Jesus. We have more capacity and room for encounter and change.

At Cana, the usual was changed. The good wine came our later. The disciples came to believe. The usual became wonderfully unusual.

Isaiah reminded us that things would be and must be different. We get a new name – we are called differently. What was usual in us becomes wonderfully unusual. Encounter to change, change to further encounter, more change.

Encounter be changed. Call to mind and bring to action the discipleship of being something different in Jesus. 

Getting to
work.

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

One more week has gone by, and how many years have passed in Jesus’ life? Twenty-eight more!

Jesus, having been baptized by John, is praying alongside the Jordan, and the Father and the Holy Spirit reveal him. In other gospel accounts, we find John pointing to Jesus and telling His disciples: “Look, the Lamb of God!” This is similarly a form of revealing, of pointing out and pointing to Jesus. The next sentence after that pointing out tells us what happened: When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

This year, we are asked to dedicate ourselves to discipleship, to set to work in better following Jesus: To trust, to be willing, and to get to work following Jesus.

If you read our Bishop’s Pastoral Letter, you will see, simply explained, the ways we can do that. If you have looked at our parish newsletter, you read about the parallels between discipleship and apprenticeship. Are we ready to sign our Jesus Union Card and get to learning and working?

Whoa Pastor, what do you mean? I have to do what?

That shock might come from some sort of self-assessment – I am not strong enough, willing enough, I don’t have the skill for, or I am simply unwilling to set to that kind of work. Others could then turn around and comment, judging from afar – oh, look at them – they do so little. What we do not do is scrape away the top layer; we don’t look deeper. Underneath that attitude we may very well find poor self-opinion, a belief in one’s unworthiness or fear of disappointing God; guilt, past error, or fear weighing people down. If that is the case in your life, and it certainly has been in mine, then look at what Peter said in the house of Cornelius – “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Serious words – God chose us, allowed us to be baptized into His family, His Union, His discipleship. God does not choose stupidly. Trust that.

When John’s disciples (learners) ran up to Jesus to be His learners, Jesus didn’t ask for an application or a resume. There was no test – only willingness. Be willing.

Jesus has been revealed. With trust and willingness, we must take the first step – and the next – learning from Him, modeling His life, getting to work. Not stopping. Following Him.