Jesus' Action Plan

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February 17, 2019 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 6:17, 20-26

In the air these days in the United States is talk about potential candidates for the next presidential election. All candidates ask themselves how they might best address the American People. What can they say to gain the most votes? They want a popular message, one that will stir the hearts and minds of voters, especially those who vote more for the candidate than for a political party. The so-called “independents.”

Today’s gospel summarizes the “campaign” message of Jesus. He lists a series of positives that he will help create in our world. Read in that light, how would you judge the possibilities of his success?

He begins by affirming three planks in his platform: (1) Further lack of resources for the poor, (2) continued hunger for those not having enough to eat, and (3) more sadness for those who are mourning the difficulties of their lives.

Wait a second, you say. That kind of political platform will get no votes. He’d better change his approach if he wants to be popular. But there’s the catch: Jesus is not after popularity. He’s about offering to his listeners, then and now, directions on how you, your family and friends, really anyone, can enter and live more fully in God’s kingdom.

 

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God of Surprises

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February 10, 2019 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 5:1-11

A few years ago, I read a wonderful book about the spiritual life called, The God of Surprises. Reading this work reminded me of a couple of important things that I tend to forget. First, I am not fully in change of my life. God is. And second, I may well be surprised what God has planned for me. It might often be more challenging, more demanding, and more wonderful than anything I might have expected.

This element of surprise is manifest in the narrative presented in today’s gospel. It is sometimes called “The Great Catch.” It describes a time when Jesus told Peter and his fishing crew to head out for the deeper waters. Then he told them to drop their nets, and let’s see what happens. It turned out that a whole lot of fish suddenly filled their nets. So many, in fact, that they had to call for another boat to help them bring in their haul. Peter and his fishing buddies were really surprised.

Having had such a great catch that day, Peter couldn’t wait to get out on the water the next day. Fishing was his business. It gave him and his family a livelihood. If he could get a similar catch the next day and the next day, well, he would be among those who could boast that they were quite successful fishermen.

Then came another surprise.

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Hard News

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February 3, 2019 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 4:21-30

You have probably heard that the word gospel means “good news.” That might give the impression that everything we read about in the gospels, especially the words of Jesus himself, will be good to hear and read. We will readily accept and agree with all of it. We imagine that the gospel message should not make us feel uneasy or disturb us. It will all be good for us and we will be glad to apply it to our everyday lives.

And it seems that when Jesus came to his home town of Nazareth, that’s what his hearers wanted from Jesus. Just the good stuff. Like they imagined, like what they thought he had said in the nearby town of Capernaum. Tell us what you told them. Do here what you did there. We want to be your followers, too. Lead us to the promised land.

Apparently, Jesus did not fulfill their wishes. That’s because his message was challenging, and at times, quite difficult and demanding. His description of what was “good” likely differed from theirs. We don’t know the details, but we do know that he would say such things as, “Love your neighbor. Do good to those who hate you.” Or “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” So, when he told them what they might not have wanted to hear, they rejected him. Since Jesus failed to deliver the goods they wanted, they turned on him and “drove him out of town.” So much for “home-field advantage!”

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Time to Do Our Part

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January 27, 2019 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Over these first weeks in January, on successive Sundays we have been hearing about various “firsts” in the life of Jesus. His first miracle was described last week at the wedding feast at Cana. The week before we were informed of his first awareness of being loved by God. And this week we hear described his first liturgical act, which happened is home town of Nazareth.

I present here part of the words from Isaiah that Jesus read at the synagogue in Nazareth, a reference to the hoped-for Messiah. According to Isaiah this person would be filled with God’s Spirit and would (1) bring glad tidings to the poor, (2) liberty to captives, (3) sight to the blind and (4) freedom for those who are oppressed. Certainly, all those who heard these words, then and now, would be in favor of all this happening. And they would also be alert to judge whether they were happening.

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Life of the Party

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January 20, 2019 – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time -
John 2: 1-11

There might be a bit of humor hidden in today’s gospel. Immediately after mentioning that the disciples of Jesus came to the wedding feast at Cana, the account states that “the wine ran short.” Could that have happened because the disciples of Jesus caused the wine shortage by drinking a little too much? Perhaps.

But let’s move on to matters more significant. For instance, John’s gospel is filled with “signs” indicating the presence of God’s involvement in the life of the world - the establishment of God’s Kingdom. For centuries, the Jews hoped for the beginning of this entrance of God into their history.

From the perspective of John’s Gospel, it began with the coming of the Christ. But how would the reality of God’s Kingdom begin in earnest? With a victorious battle over the Romans? With spectacular heavenly events? With an earthquake or another natural event?

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Message Received

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January 13, 2019 – The Baptism of the Lord - Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

It’s not often that we have a record of God speaking. So, when we do, it’s a very good idea to take seriously what God says. So, put yourself back to the time when Jesus submitted to the baptism of John the Baptist. Luke’s Gospel notes that there were others being baptized at the same time. After Jesus came out of the water, he sought some quiet time for prayer. Much like we would do after an important personal activity. Quiet time helps the power of that event to enter us more deeply. When we have gone though a major event, we often say to ourselves, “Let me think about that a while” or “Give me some quiet time.” Especially if we want that moment to touch us more deeply.

Once alone, Luke describes the scene: The heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. In other words, a powerful connection was being made between God and the human Jesus. And what was said to Jesus? It was brief, but extremely important. “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Are there any more important words ever “said” by God? I don’t think so. They confirmed for Jesus in his humanity that, as a human like us, Jesus was loved by God.

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Follow the Star

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January 6, 2019 – The Epiphany - Matt. 2:1-12

When I read the gospel for today’s feast, I learned something new. There is no mention of how many magi (wise men) travelled to see the new-born, Jesus. I assumed (like 99% of us) that there were three. Isn’t that the standard number in most manger scenes? Yet their number is not to be found in the biblical account. But you can be sure of one thing. That whatever their number, Jesus, Mary and Joseph would have noticed each one.

That’s because in the ways of our God, each person counts. Each one of us is important to God. As is our personal meeting God in whatever the circumstance of our lives.

Each year the church reminds us of the key moments in the life of Jesus. This Sunday, the Epiphany (which means “manifestation” or “appearance”) is a good example of this practice. We are invited with our “gifts” to come and encounter the child who is God in human form. Think of just that: the greatest in the smallest. My guess is that the wise ones who came were surprised because he was just a little baby. His parents were ordinary. Much like us. Is this how God is “manifested” to us? In surprising ways? In ways we might not expect? I think so.

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From the Heart of God

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December 30, 2018 – First Sunday after Christmas
(Holy Family Sunday) 
John 1:1-18

“In the beginning … “What a way to start a narrative! And when St. John the Evangelist uses the word beginning, he’s not talking about a beginning in the ordinary sense of the word. He’s talking about the very beginning of EVERYTHING. Before there was “the first day” or the Big Bang. Before there was anything at all. Before there was any history to anything! Try to get your head around that one. I know I can’t. Still, in the judgment of St. John, that was how to best begin his gospel. With the wonderful mystery of creation.

And what exactly was there before “the beginning?” I guess we can say, “The Word.” The Word of God. The one we would eventually call “the Son of God,” the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Later, we will learn about the Holy Spirit. But here, just focus on the Word. The First Word of God. The word that we will eventually learn is the word, “Love.” The Word that fully expresses the loving, tender, compassionate, merciful nature of God.

Through that word “all things came into being.” Again, a very challenging idea, a truth that should stretch our minds. For instance, this suggests that God’s immense creation was not constructed out of pre-existing anything. It came out of NOTHING. Or to use a somewhat poetic phrase: It came from God’s heart.

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Magnify the Lord

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December 23, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:39-45

Here is a trivia question. How many prayers are there in the gospels? Many would answer that there is one original prayer in the gospels. It was composed by Jesus himself. It’s called, “The Our Father.” Wrong! There are actually two prayers in the gospels. The second one was said by Mary, the mother of Jesus. And when did she say that prayer? During her pregnancy while she was visiting her cousin, Elizabeth.

We hear it proclaimed in this Sunday’s gospel. Here are the first words of Mary’s powerful prayer” “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.” I invite us to first reflect on the meaning of the very first line of the prayer: my soul magnifies the Lord. Our attention will focus on the word, “magnify.”

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Make Space for God

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December 16, 2018 – Third Sunday of Advent
Luke 3:7-18

After reading today’s gospel, I suddenly feel guilty about what John the Baptist says about preparing to meet the Messiah. After letting people know that he is not the one they are hoping for (apparently, some thought he was), he suggests something along these lines. “Well, if you want to prepare for the coming of the Messiah and you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. And if you have power over someone, let go of that power and be kind and considerate to that person.” Since I don’t have much power over anyone (our children are on their own – mostly) that suggestion doesn’t challenge me that much. But the coat thing does.

I have more than one coat. But I say to myself, I need more than one coat. I live in a part of the world that can be very cold during winter. The temperature goes up and down. Sometimes it snows. Sometimes it rains. I need a coat for every possibility. But it is not just coats. What about my other items of clothing. How many shirts do I need? Pants? You get the picture. I ‘m sure that I have more than I need.

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