Seeking Signs of God

The Nazareth Page  - A gospel meditation for your home

January 5, 2020 – The Epiphany of the Lord - Matthew 2:1-12

No one would ever call Jesus a “show off.” But today’s feast, the Epiphany, is exactly about Jesus showing off. The point is that in God’s wisdom it was important that we humans have a way to know God. God wants us to know that God exists, that God created the universe and remains part of that creation. Finally, God wants us to know that God loves us much more than we can imagine. For us to know this, God seeded Creation with clues about God. The biggest clue, of course, was the Incarnation, God taking human form in the person of Jesus Christ. Seeing Jesus was, in God’s Plan, for seeing God.

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Holy Family at Risk

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December 29, 2019 – The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Matthew’s account of the flight into Egypt by the Holy Family may sound like it’s taken from today’s news. It describes a family on the run, seeking asylum because their lives were in danger. They had to travel to a place of safety.

The urgency of their departure was highlighted by the fact that they had to leave at night. They would be traveling on their own across territory that would be unfamiliar to them. They were from the north. They were told to head south. It is about 500 miles from Jerusalem to Cairo. They walked all the way. It might have taken them weeks, if not months to make this perilous journey. Hardly any details are given about how difficult this was for the Holy Family. But we can easily imagine the challenges they faced each day. Not only were their lives in danger from bandits and wild animals, but they had to find safe places to sleep and food and drink. Most of their journey was across desert land. But they had no choice. Life and death were in the balance.

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St. Joseph's Choice

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December 22, 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Advent - Matthew 1:18-24

Let’s briefly turn our attention to St. Joseph. While we might not think of him as a major player in God’s Plan for our salvation, we would do well to reconsider his role. The gospel for today, right before Christmas, describes what happened as God’s preparation for that monumental day. And interestingly, Joseph is featured.

Joseph had been betrothed to Mary. Betrothal was much more important back then than engagement is today. According to the Jewish law and custom of the time, when he learned that Mary was pregnant and knowing that he was not the father, it was his religious duty to divorce her. The gospel implies that he decided to do exactly that and that out of love and respect for Mary, he would do so “quietly.” Think about this. If he did this, something his religion required, we are left to wonder what would happen from then on.

But we know that he stayed with her and eventually (probably quite quickly) married her. Let’s think about what caused him to make this unconventional response to the situation. Did he simply change his mind? Was he pressured by his family or close friends whom he might have confided in?

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Jesus is the Reason

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December 15, 2019 – Third Sunday of Advent - Matthew 11:2-12

Before Jesus there was John the Baptist. Reading between the lines of today’s gospel we can surmise that those who made their way to the Jordan River for John’s baptism were many. And their baptism was not just a “pass through and move on” experience. They joined John as his followers. And further, they must have been organized enough to make their way into Matthew’s gospel by simply being referred to as “the disciples of John.”

We should add then when Jesus eventually begins his public life, he did not enter an empty stage. There were many organized religious groups in Israel. Some were called zealots who were organized almost as para-military units preparing for the final “battle” between the forces of good and the forces of evil. While not mentioned in the New Testament, we have learned through archaeological research of a sizable monastic group called the Essenes. They were the ones who created the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. And there were the followers of John the Baptist. All these groups had their members and most important here, their leaders. John was one of them.

Religious leadership can easily bring forth questions about its value and authenticity. So, it would not be surprising that John the Baptist, who was well-known in religious circles, caused some to wonder about whether he was the Messiah. His prophetic message of repentance and renewal fit well into the expectations of some who hoped and prayed that God would send (“messiah” means “one sent”) one who would restore Israel and Judaism to its earlier greatness.

As when Jesus entered the religious world of that time, it should be of no surprise that the opinion of John the Baptist would be sought about this new fellow who also brought a message thought by some to be from God. Is Jesus to be listened to? Are you and Jesus some kind of religious team? John’s response is clear. He is of less importance than Jesus. Jesus alone is the one you should listen to. So John, as we say today, stepped aside.

What is the truth we should listen to? It’s simple and complicated at the same time. Jesus is to be first in our lives. His teachings and example are primary. If there are other religious leaders, their views must be in line with those of Jesus. Their interpretations of God’s truth must always be measured against those of Jesus. This was true in the time of John the Baptist and remain so today. That’s why we are called Christians.

©David M. Thomas, PhD

Baptized for Mission

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December 8, 2019 – Second Sunday of Advent - Matthew 3:1-12

There are two major actors in the gospels. One, of course, is Jesus. And the other one is John the Baptist. One points more to the present and the future. That would be Jesus. The other, John the Baptist, calls attention to the past. Both are important in God’s Plan. Both help us to understand ourselves.

John’s message was one of repentance. His basic message was that we are all sinners. (No need to go into detail here. We each know the ways that we have failed to do what was right.) And we need to express sorrow for our past failings, especially to God who created us to do what is good. We might call what John was about Act One.

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Stay awake

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December 1, 2019 – First Sunday of Advent - Matthew 24:36-44

When I was a youngster, I was beset with two giant fears. One related to what I had learned in my religion class. It was about “the end of the world.” Jesus as judge would come atop the clouds and pronounce a judgment on each one of us. Including me! That was scary enough for this eight-year-older. Second, like many others, I feared an attack by our primary enemy of that time, Communist Russia. I had even set up a small bomb shelter in the basement of our family home. These two possible events lived deep within me and if I thought about them, I was one scared little boy.

Today's gospel reminds me of those early fears, although I now see things differently. As I hear about the coming of “the Son of Man” – a reference originally to the coming of the Messiah – I know that the Messiah has already come and remains with us to this day. As the gospel puts it in another place, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It has already begun with the coming of Christ. To use current language, “It’s now operational.” So, in hearing that important message in the gospel for today, we are to “stay awake” to the presence of God in our lives right now. No matter how busy we are, God is there, right next to us or within us, as our creator, support and friend.

But to be aware of this miracle is far from easy. There are so many other things to think about than the presence of God’s Spirit among us. It’s hard to remain aware that all the good that we do, however small, contributes our share to the New Creation.

After all, there’s all that’s happening these days in the world of politics and economics. There’s our favorite sports teams to follow. Christmas is coming. We need to “shop ‘til we drop.” And all those decorations waiting our attention. And not least, there are often serious health concerns involving both ourselves, and those we love. And there never seems enough money. We can easily be filled with many worries and concerns. And fears.

In other words, we are perfect candidates who should listen to today’s gospel invitation, “Stay awake.” Be aware that we are in God’s hands and under God’s care. We are loved no matter what. If we stray from God’s path, God’s mercy will bring us back on track. We are invited to trust God more than Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue. We are called to be persons or peace rather than harried shoppers filled with the worries of the season. It’s called “the Advent season” which means that the God who loves each of us very much not only promised to come and be with us but has already done so. What’s needed is our awareness and gratitude for God’s faithful promise to be with us.

©David M. Thomas, PhD

Our True King

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November 24, 2019 – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - Luke 23:35-43

It is the last Sunday of the Church Year. To grasp the importance of this Sunday, imagine yourself standing at the side of the road, watching a long parade pass by. There are decorated floats, marching bands and if you are watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, large inflated figures sail by above you in the wind. Strong ropes held by muscular men keep Snoopy and his friends from straying away from the parade route. The parade culminates with the arrival of Santa Claus on perhaps the most decorated float of all. Small children wonder, “Is that the real Santa?”

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Eyes on the Prize

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November 17, 2019 – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 21:5-19

When our children were younger, the most common question I heard as we made our way home, or to the playground, or to their grandparents’ place was, “Are we there yet?” The ability to ask this question is issued almost as soon as a child is able to speak. Children can be impatient. And if we are honest, so can adults. Think of this as you hear the followers of Jesus asking him if “the End” is near. Today’s gospel, which comes near the end of the church’s year, is timely.

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Imagine Heaven

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November 10, 2019 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 20:27-38

As each of us ages, we might not only call forth memories from our past, but also look to our futures in this life -- and in what follows. From today’s gospel we learn that there was not agreement among the Jews at the time of Jesus about what awaits us after we die. Jesus, however, said that our lives will not end. He responded to their inquiries not by offering any details except the provocative words that for God “all are alive.” That includes you and me. Now and forever.

There is no mention of pearly gates, angels strumming on celestial harps or streets paved with gold. But we can bank on one extremely important idea: we will be with God!

And added from our belief in the Communion of Saints, we can also conclude that we will also be with each other. And when you think about that, this is enough of a picture to give us not only hope for the future, but we can imaginatively forecast a bit of what it will be like. Our biggest clue for this comes from the Resurrection of Jesus.

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Jesus Befriends Us

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November 3, 2019 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 19:1-10

Imagine what it’s like to walk down the street and know that everyone you pass casts a hateful glance in your direction. They might even utter a few chosen bad words your way. That was the fate of Zacchaeus whom we meet in today’s gospel. The reason for his bad reputation had to do with his occupation. He was the chief tax collector for the Romans, hated occupiers of Jericho, a town that stood near the Jordan River, a little east of Jerusalem. No good Jew liked Zacchaeus.

As the reputation spread of Jesus being a very special person of God, crowds gathered to watch him as he passed through various towns and villages. Zacchaeus wanted to see him, so he stood hiding in the shadows by the roadside, which ended up being less than a good idea because he was short. Short people see better when standing in the front, not in the back.

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