Monthly Archives: March 2015

A Life Pleasing to the Crowd

Who do we seek to please – the crowd or God?

After questioning Jesus, Pontius Pilate concluded that he had committed no crime and offered to release him in accordance with the custom to release one prisoner at the feast of the Passover. The chief priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of an insurrectionist named Barabbas instead of Jesus and have Jesus crucified. Pilate resisted at first, but then Mark reports, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas…He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:15)

The crowd seldom gets it right. How often do we see conventional wisdom that is not wise, popular opinion that does not reflect the truth, and consensus that leads to the wrong result?

Cynthia Cooper, the vice president of Internal Audit for WorldCom who discovered the massive fraudulent accounting in 2002, says in her book, Extraordinary Circumstances, “Most of the people who participated in the WorldCom fraud were ordinary, middle-class Americans. They had no prior criminal records and never imagined they would be confronted with such life-altering choices. They were mothers and fathers who went to work to support their families, spent weekends going to their children’s activities and church, and were respected within their communities.” In speculating on the motivation of the mid-level employees who participated in the fraud, she said they simply “felt pressured and afraid that they would lose their jobs if they didn’t go along.” (See Hope for the Workplace – Christ in You, p. 11, www.zacchaeuspublications.com)

One of the few things Jesus did say when questioned by Pilate was that he had come into the world to testify to the truth. Ironically, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” though the embodiment of all truth was standing before him in the person of Jesus. (John 18:37-38)

Like Jesus, our decisions and actions should testify to the truth. Unlike Pilate, we should not be governed by what the crowd or others want, but rather should be seeking the truth which is what God wants.

The crowd yelled, “Crucify him!” But the crowd got it wrong. God redeemed the wrong and took the cross, a symbol of Roman cruelty and oppression, and transformed it into a symbol of love, sacrifice and hope.

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How Do You Deal with Temptation?

How often do we choose sleep instead of prayer at the beginning of our day? After Jesus and the disciples retired to the Mount of Olives following their celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:40) He then withdrew to pray about his impending passion. Even he was tempted to ask God to free him from the trial he was about to undergo, but then submitted to God’s will.

Meanwhile, the disciples were not praying as he suggested, but had fallen asleep. He chastises them for sleeping and not praying, saying again, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” We know what happened next; they succumbed to the temptation of fear, and all of them scattered, abandoning Jesus at his arrest.

Jesus’ antidote for temptation is not complicated. It is simply prayer. In his suggested prayer to his disciples and to us, his concluding petition is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Mt. 6:13)

Jesus invites us to pray just as he did the disciples. He invites us to begin our day with him and the Father. He knows from his personal experience that we will not be able to withstand the temptations we face each day without prayer. Prayer nurtures our relationship with Jesus and the Father. The temptations we face are many and varied — telling the boss what he wants to hear instead of the truth; getting angry when things don’t go our way; engaging in negative humor at the expense of others; flirting with a co-worker; overstating an item on an expense account; getting short with our spouse; or not spending time with our children at the end of a busy day.

One of my more frequent temptations is to get impatient with a store clerk or the person on a help desk when their response seems to take too long or is off the mark. When I don’t pray, my pride’s expectations are often disproportionate to the problem at hand.

With each temptation that Satan threw at Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus countered with a scripture that refuted Satan’s premise for the temptation. Prayer and scripture are weapons Jesus gives us against temptation and the wiles of Satan. St. Paul describes them as the armor of God and adds to them truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 6:13-18) To these, the Church adds the sacraments of reconciliation and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

“Why are you sleeping?” Jesus asks. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

“Yet Not My Will, But Yours”

How often do we ask God to free us from a difficult burden? It may be a serious illness, dealing with a rebellious child, satisfying a demanding boss, overcoming a hurt from a family member, or wanting to avoid the consequences of our own wrongful conduct.

Getting free of the burden is usually our first priority. Even if we take the matter to prayer, our first prayer is likely that the burden be lifted. Even Jesus, in a demonstration of how real his humanity was, asked God before his arrest to take the cup of his impending trial, torture and execution, along with the crushing weight of taking onto himself all the sins of humankind.

But after pleading that the cup be taken, Jesus laid down his will to God’s will. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

In Hope for the Workplace – Christ in you (www.zacchaeuspublications.com), there is the story of Bob, an insurance broker who made a substantial investment in a new company providing specialized insurance products, and then lost the entire investment due to the unethical practices of a partner operating the venture. A few years later, Bob read in the newspaper that the partner had been convicted of embezzlement in another business venture and sent to prison. Bob said, “I begin to sense that the Lord wanted me to go visit him in prison. My first reaction was, ‘No way!’ I was still angry with him for what he had done.” Yet, Bob was willing to let go of his will and submit to the Lord’s will, and make the visit.

Bob said, “When I walked into the visitor’s area, he was shocked to see me. Tears started to well up in his eyes. He couldn’t believe that someone whom he previously hurt would come to visit him. He was a different man. He had been attending a Bible study and was open to talk about spiritual matters. I visited him a couple more times and we would read scripture and pray.”

When he was released from prison, Bob gave him a Bible, invited him to a Christians in Commerce breakfast and continued to encourage him in re-establishing his life.

When Bob submitted his will to God’s will, God transformed his unforgiving heart, and then used him to support his former colleague’s new life.

Jesus said, “My food [sustenance] is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) We worry and carry on about so many things in life. Yet, seeking God’s will in all matters might sustain us above all else.

“Then Satan Entered Judas”

How do we explain evil, which is a bit of a mystery to most of us? We see its effects and deplore its presence. We wonder why some people seem to exhibit it more than others. Like St. Paul, we see tendencies in ourselves toward evil that we lament. (Rom. 7:19)

In all four Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus announces that one of the disciples will betray him. Luke reports that the chief priests were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus. “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” (Luke 22:3) Judas goes to the chief priests and agrees to take money in return for betraying Jesus.

As one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas had traveled with him, listened to his teachings, and saw him perform numerous miracles. What caused him to want to betray Jesus? Was he a loyal disciple one moment and then suddenly a betrayer? What caused Satan to enter him? John suggests that he was a thief who, as keeper of the money, regularly helped himself. (John 12:6)

Since our physical nature is so closely tied to what our physical senses can perceive in the physical reality around us, it may be hard to get our minds around the non-physical or spiritual reality that also surrounds us. Yet we can observe the demonstrable effects of good and evil. While we may not be able to physically see the Holy Spirit and Satan, we can readily observe the fruit of their presence. With the Holy Spirit we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness and self-control. With Satan we see idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, sexual immorality, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and the like. (See Galatians 5:19-24)

What makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attack? Peter says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)  Like all predators, Satan attacks our weaknesses, bad habits and self-indulgences, inclining us to serve first ourselves instead of others. He inspires hurt that leads to anger and unforgiveness. His goal is to separate us from God whom he hates.

The antidote to Satan and the putrid fruit he dispenses is accepting God’s offer to dwell in us through the Holy Spirit and embracing his example of death to self – the cross. This is impossible for us without God’s presence and grace. But as Jesus says, “With God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26) Many years ago, I met Jesus one evening and asked him to take the present sin and disorder in my life…and he did! It was truly a life-changing moment.

James says it well when he exhorts us to “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:7) Sin begets more sin. Grace begets more grace.

The Stones Will Cry Out

Do you hold back your praise of God for the blessings and miracles in your life?

As Jesus was entering Jerusalem prior to his passion, a crowd of his disciples began to praise God joyfully in loud voices for all of the miracles they had seen. Their exuberant and unrestrained praise caused some Pharisees in the crowd to complain to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Jesus responded, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40)

All of creation had been awaiting God’s personal and physical visitation to make things right upon the earth. That visitation was now taking place in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of Kings. Jesus is saying that if those who recognize his visitation and miracles are restrained in their joy and praise, even the stones, inanimate objects of creation, will cry out.

Years later, St. Paul captures this same thought when he says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” He adds, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” for God to bring his saving presence to the human race. (Romans 8:19, 22)

As current day disciples, are we loud and joyful in our praise of all the good things God has done in our lives, or are we restrained in our cool and sophisticated ways?

On a winter evening in 1977, I was prayed with for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit by some sisters from the St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton House of Prayer at an evening of renewal program in Briar Cliff Manner, New York. I experienced a visitation and personal encounter with Jesus Christ and my faith was renewed. It was a mountain top experience. I remember driving home in a blinding snow storm on the hilly and curvy roads of upper Westchester County, New York. I could hardly see beyond the hood of my car, but it didn’t matter, for I was brimming with joy and praise of God for his visitation and the changes that he was bringing about in my life. Even the blizzard, like the Pharisees, could not restrain my joy and praise.

Today, with five older children and thirteen grandchildren, this space is not sufficient for me to acknowledge and praise God for all the miracles I have witnessed in my life.   But if you will stay tuned into this blog, I promise that I will share some of the many blessings with you in the weeks ahead.

Let us be loud and joyful in our praise of God for his presence and miracles in our life today!