Cleaning out.

  • First reading: Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22,24-25
  • Psalm: 41:2-3,4-5,13-14
  • Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1:18-22
  • Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

We are in the second week of this short two-and-a-half-week season dedicated to preparation for our Lenten journey. It is a season of ‘cleaning out the old’ to make room for the new thing God has waiting for us.

Last Sunday we recognized our likeness to the leper in the Gospel. We acknowledged the fact that we must throw away the old idols within us and clean ourselves of the rebellion against God that is in us. We must ask Jesus to cleanse us of our ẓaraʿat, and trust that He will cleanse us.

Jesus pointedly brings that message home to us today. We must trust that He can and will cleanse us.

The story of the paralyzed man and his friends is dramatic. A crowded street and entryway to a home. People pressing in on all sides, the man and his friends unable to get to Jesus. They get up to the roof and tear it open to lower their friend to Jesus. It is miracle time. Jesus is going to cleanse him of his paralyzing condition.

Jesus had been sitting there speaking the word to them. He was proclaiming the gospel message, repent and believe, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. I have come to free you from your handicaps, from your blindness and captivity. He was alluding to the words of Isaiah: The past is forgotten; a new way is being made. No matter how obstinate you have been, no matter how sinful, for My own sake I wipe out your offenses, and remember not your sins. I have come to cleanse you at a whole different level – completely.

Some in the room were listening, others not. Along (or down) comes the paralyzed man. The room goes silent. What will happen next. Will he walk? Will Jesus fail?

Jesus looks up and says: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I am hereby cleansing you of every sin, every failing, every fault. 

The Scribes (read lawyers) were shocked. Jesus cannot cleanse that way. That is blasphemy. So, Jesus confronts them. He asks them what is harder, the cleansing of forgiveness or of healing.

Jesus shows that His cleaning is God’s cleaning and that His cleaning is at a different level – it is so deep it is complete.

St. Paul got our doubt about the completeness of Jesus’ cleansing. How could God free me, heal me, cleanse me. That is why Paul told us that Jesus is YES and AMEN. In Greek “yes” means “sure” and “amen” means “firm.” All of God’s promises are sure and firm. They are unchanging, unwavering, and unmovable. He will do what He says. He will provide us complete cleansing. Jesus has forgiveness and healing waiting for us. Yes, we can trust in Him.

Scripture: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 21:15-18

Do you love me more than these?

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Antioch. Odd thing at face value to most of us. Why celebrate someone’s chair? A little history will help us understand.

This Feast actually celebrates the establishment of the Church at Antioch, and St. Peter’s office as bishop of that city. Bishops have a special chair they sit in which signifies their office as bishop or overseer. This day celebrates his taking leadership in that city.

St. Peter’s role in Antioch is known from historical references found in the writings of the Church Fathers such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Clement. Saint John Chrysostom says that Saint Peter was there for a long period. It was in the City of Antioch that Jesus’ faithful were first called Christians, followers of the Christ, the Messiah.

More than history, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ question to Peter, Do you love me more than these?

Jesus asks this question with the Apostles gathered along the Sea of Galilee (AKA the Sea of Tiberias) after Jesus’ resurrection. The question had real significance for Peter as does the fact that Jesus had to ask Peter the same question three times. This was the opportunity for Peter to repent of His denying Jesus three times. 

But, more than history, and Jesus’ specific reconciliation with Peter, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to ask ourselves, Do you love me more than these?

Do I love Jesus more than anyone else? You see, we are called to outdo each other in love (Romans 12:10). We are each called to excel at love. Peter’s lesson beside the sea was that love in and of Christ Jesus was necessary for those who wished to follow Him. Service was required for those who love Jesus. Feed and care for my sheep and lambs. Giving up our self-interest is necessary as well. Not where you wish to go but be bound to Me and go where I want you to go.

It starts in forgiveness. Certainly, we have all fallen short. We have all, like Peter, denied Christ. We have all sent Him to the cross. Every time we speak with anger and judgment, every time to enter into conflict, every time we listen to voices of greed and self-interest, every prejudice in us, every thought of us against them, every time we sin, we deny Christ. We say with Peter, “I do not know him…” But thanks be to God that Jesus will not let us end up in our sin. He is generous in forgiving us for our denials of Him, in allowing us to start anew.

Next comes the welcome. As with Peter in the house of Cornelius we must also say, I see that God shows no partiality. Our hearts and our everyday reality must be one of welcome. We must open the doors of our homes to welcome. We must open our wallets to provide welcome to those in need and to level the inequality in our community, our land, and the world. We must open our parishes to everyone who seeks the Face of God.

Then, the witness of the Christian people in their ministers, their lay leaders, and their churches as a whole. Tend to the flock, oversee willingly, do not lord it over, be examples. Words are not enough, for in the rush to outdo each other in love let our actions and example speak volumes about the power of God’s love given us in Jesus Christ.

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the commencement exercises at Antioch College. He said this:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word maladjusted. And we all want to live the well-adjusted life so that we can avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must be honest enough to say to you that there are some things in our world and in our nation to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. To which I call all men of good will to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. For you see it may well be that our world is in need of a new organization – The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the Prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in words that echo across the centuries.: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yes, as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.”

Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from this bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

At Antioch, the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Let that be our true name. Let us not be Christ deniers wallowing in sin; let us never become adjusted to anything that denies Christ. Let us not be short in welcoming people into the family of God, and let us be examples by our leadership. On this day, let us reflect anew on Jesus’ question: Do you love me more than these? And be ready to answer Him, Yes, Lord, you know that I do.

The cost of sin.
The reward of love.

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”

This example of true repentance, of forgiveness, and of reconciliation is so powerful. Jesus’ shows this power today.

Jesus didn’t just happen unto situations. He knew that in going to the house of the Pharisee He would find the Pharisee’s life laid out before Him. He would see what kind of man he was. The situation was heighted when this “sinful” woman, indeed a prostitute, was waiting there to meet Him. Now the Pharisee would be really tested.

We might have different perspectives on this. Was the real problem the Pharisee’s judgmentalism? Was it his lack of hospitality? Was it his lack of love?

At he core of the lesson is one of love. It is exemplified in the dichotomy between the sinful woman’s love and the kind of love the Pharisee exercised.

It was not that the Pharisee was without love – he certainly loved his family and all those who thought and acted like he did. It was that his love was out of tune with the way God exhibits love. The Pharisee, as a teacher of God’s Law, failed to find the connection between the Law and love.

More than this, Jesus took this opportunity to show the fullness of God’s love. His love. Those with Him were amazed. He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The fullness of God’s love is exhibited in the perfection of His forgiveness. The love that gives full forgiveness, which allows for a God who would sacrifice Himself completely to bring forgiveness to His people, regardless of sin, is real love.

The cost of sin is separateness, distance, loneliness, and heartache. The woman at the Pharisee’s house knew this. She was completely alone but knew there was only one way to find connection to God once more. Jesus gave this woman the perfection of forgiveness only God can offer. It is the perfection found in only the words God can offer: “Your sins are forgiven.” Let us pay attention and realize that in His forgiveness we have the reward of love. Let us faith in His forgiveness.


Thankfully, God is

“Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! But you have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

In today’s reading from Isaiah we hear God complaining a bit. After all of the history between Him and His people, they still forgot to call upon Him in their need. In fact they had forgotten all He had done. In forgetting, they turned away from Him and decided to rely on themselves. They basically said – I can figure it out for myself, I can save myself. Every time God blessed them with good things, they returned evil things:

God gave them the Temple – they gave Him idol worship. God gave them truth – they lived and proclaimed a lie. God gave them His commands – they lived like they were suggestions. God gave them wealth – they used it to abuse the poor. God gave them Himself – they gave Him nothing except rejection.

We can see ourselves doing similar things can’t we? We sometimes forget all the good God has done for us.
Like the children of Israel we might hear God complaining a bit about us. At the same time we may be filled with regret for having hurt Him, thinking that we really do not deserve to receive anything from God. Not true!

As God still loved Israel, God still loves us. As God desired to help Israel, He earnestly wants to help us change. Listen to God’s words: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

God desires to do amazing and wonderful things for us. Things we ourselves could never imagine doing. Our God is not a god of condemnation; He is the God of salvation.

God continues to hold out the hand of hope – even today. If we have forgotten Him, we can come back. If we have fallen into bad habits, addiction, anger, any failing whatsoever, we can come back.

The greatest hope of all is that once we come back God has pledged to forget it all. God will not look back. I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

To blot out means that our past wrongs have been wiped out, destroyed, and are forgotten. God will not meet us with a book filled with our sins, because there is no such book. By His power and abundant mercy He gives us new life, rebirth, and a clean slate. Let us approach the coming season of repentance knowing that in our return to Him we are made new once again.

Reflection for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014


We have put on

But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.

In the moment of baptism we put on Christ. The white garment we received represents the purity and beauty of our souls at that moment and also represents our future, where as Revelation tells us: a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.

We should reflect on this awesome picture and see ourselves standing there, clothed in white, before God’s throne, ready to praise, worship, adore, and live with Him forever.

We began our readings today with the Book of Wisdom, and Wisdom knows that all fall and cannot possibly live up to the perfection of God. God is mighty, yet His might is filled with mercy and lenience. He sets that example for us to live up to, for we must be kind. The caveat is that kindness must flow from being just.

To be just means that we live guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness. Our actions are principled; equitable; and proper. Everything we feel, say, do; all that is seen and unseen is based on right and in keeping with the truth of God. It means that if we have put on Christ, taken up that white robe, our lives must be modeled on and lived out in His way.

The problems we face in our lives, homes, neighborhoods, cities – in fact worldwide – come from confusing God’s mercy and leniency with license to do whatever we feel, to believe whatever we want, to just let it all be. We forget our white robes (I think I left them in that closet I never open), and that we have put on Christ. We think being just is to just go along, to ignore the questions that should be plaguing us. We believe the false prophets who tell us that everything is ok, do what feels good, our feelings are all that matter. We start thinking all faiths are somehow equal and ‘what does it really matter…’ Jesus gets reduced to maybe a once weekly outing.

The allures are strong, we can be weak – but there is hope in God’s forgiveness. With prayer, regular worship, and bible study we build up the strength to be just – to dig out those white robes, to remember that we must measure every moment of our lives against Jesus. Jesus is the only truth, and each decision, word, and action are to be considered, spoken, and done as if Jesus were doing them – for we are wearing Him.

Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Advent


“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”

Today we hear of Joseph as he confronts fear, doubt, and a decision about right and wrong.

The Gospel tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. Now, being ‘righteous’ or ‘just’ as an observant Jew meant that Joseph followed, lived, and abided by the law.

The law laid out the penalty for pre-marital sex and adultery. It was death for both the woman and man involved. Leviticus 20:10 states: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.Deuteronomy 22:22 states: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

Since Joseph and Mary were engaged, Mary was legally Joseph’s wife. Mary was obviously pregnant – so in everyone’s mind she was an adulteress. By law Joseph could denounce Mary and she would be stoned to death. Joseph would cast first stone.

Joseph is shamed by Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph went home to think this all over. We can imagine his thoughts, the stress, the anger, the shame, and the hurt. What should he do? The law says put her to death, get revenge, and purify the community. What would happen if he didn’t follow the law?

Before his adopted Son would ever proclaim the value of forgiveness, before Jesus would say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” or “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” Joseph acted with true righteousness. Amidst the hurt, pain, and conflict Joseph decided against death. He would arrange a no-fault divorce, without admitting or denying paternity of child. This would save Mary’s life.

God would intervene through His angel to give Joseph all of the facts – that there is no human father for Jesus. More importantly, Joseph provides us with an example of true righteousness. This is the kind of righteousness we are called to live.

Death is the penalty for sin. Thankfully, through Jesus’ coming, we have been freed from death. Being freed, Jesus asks us to free others from death. This is not the literal death of the Old Testament imposed by stoning, but the sort of death we impose if we harden our hearts to those who have hurt us.

As Joseph chose true righteousness so must we. When we do, when we forgive as we are forgiven, when we free as we have been freed, we overcome death by love.

Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time


Doing whatever
it takes

Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.

Zacchaeus was not a good person. As we learned last week, people despised tax collectors. Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector – but was the chief tax collector!

Zacchaeus may likely have suffered from what we might call a Napoleon complex (although he lived long before Napoleon). A Napoleon complex is an informal term describing a psychology that is said to exist in persons, usually men, of short stature. People with a Napoleon complex compensate for their short stature by being overly aggressive and domineering.

So here you have Zacchaeus, short, the chief of the thieves, living the high life – nice house, great food, all the luxuries who is also aggressive and domineering.

We consider what may have motivated Zacchaeus to see Jesus. He certainly heard of Jesus, and likely knew Jesus’ reputation – He was a healer, a prophet, and was known to have broken the rules by spending time with sinners. Jesus invited a tax collector to follow Him (Luke 5), His feet were bathed by the tears of a prostitute (Luke 7), He healed those possessed by evil (Luke 8, 9, 11), tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him (Luke 15:1).

The power of grace moved Zacchaeus to see Jesus. He was moved to do whatever it took to see Him. He was moved by the possibility of Jesus, the remote chance that Jesus might notice him and heal the smallness of his soul.

Zacchaeus’ hopes were met when Jesus stopped, looked up, and said “Zacchae’us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

Grace motivated Zacchaeus to seek the Lord, and the Lord replied to Zacchaeus’ response, not just by saying ‘you are forgiven,’ but by emphatically stating that He MUST stay with Him. Zacchaeus did whatever it took and Jesus answered. Zacchaeus was raised up out of sin and into new life – repenting and doing whatever it took to make his life right before God: And Zacchae’us stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

We are given grace every day, called to do whatever it takes to be raised from smallness of life to greatness of life in Christ. Jesus notices when we respond, and He responds by staying with us, healing us, freeing us, and making us great in the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection for Quinquagesima Sunday

Swim away!
Maybe it would be better if…

“Child, your sins are forgiven.”

Fishing is a two-way relationship. It involves work, struggle, and tension. It also involves pain and trauma for the fish.

When a fisherman hooks a fish, which of them is really in charge? Most think the fisherman. He has the brains, the tools, and the power to overcome and land his catch.

Every fisherman knows that for every fish caught, many more get away. Some snap lines that trail behind them as they swim away. Others tear the hook out in the struggle, and swim away wounded.

Yet some fish figure out a simpler, braver path. Rather than pull, dash, or thrash, they swim toward shore, and approach the fisherman. When fish do so, you’re bound to see a frantic person reeling like crazy shouting “No, no, no—not towards me!” But if the fish persists, the line goes slack, and the hook comes out with a flick of its head.

In cases where fish swim toward their enemy, they often gain freedom from pain, and leave dragging nothing behind them.

Today, God asks us to consider His forgiveness and the way we forgive each other.

Like the fish and fisherman, we are in relationships with each other. At times those relationships can be marked by struggle, tension, and pain.

When we choose, as a result of hurt (those hooks that stab at us) to fight and flee, we end up either dragging the memories of those hurts behind us, or we end up deeply wounded.

God asks us to be the smart fish, to swim towards those who have hurt us. As we do, we free ourselves from the barbs that hurt us and we are free.

The pain doesn’t go away easily, and true reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships is a much longer process, but it has to start with our going toward those who hurt us. There we offer our forgiveness.

When we hurt God through sin, we will always find Him swimming toward us, with complete forgiveness. As we enter Lent, let us resolve to do the same with each other.