Monthly Archives: March 2017

Jesus Fixing Our Mistakes

Have you ever experienced someone fixing a problem that you created?

That is what Jesus did for Peter when Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant at Jesus’ arrest.  “When his followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’  And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”  (Luke 22:49-51)  John’s gospel identifies Peter as the one who struck with his sword, and Malchus as the name of the high priest’s servant.

It was God’s will for Jesus to be arrested and crucified, which was necessary for the atonement of our sins and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection to demonstrate God’s victory and authority over evil.  Peter’s actions, though well intentioned, were mistakenly getting in the way of God’s will for Jesus and his plan for the salvation of all of mankind. 

Jesus reverses Peter’s mistake with a miracle in touching Malcus’ ear and totally restoring it.  This is a miracle that doesn’t get a lot of commentary, but think of its impact on Peter and Malchus.   For Peter, Jesus is not only reprimanding him for resorting to violence, but miraculously healing the enemy.  It may have kept Peter from being arrested for attacking the high priest’s servant.  For Malchus, it is likely that he later became a follower of Jesus as evidenced by John being able to remember his name when he wrote his gospel sixty years later.

We all make mistakes, and sometimes a friend, spouse or colleague is able to step in and take action to minimize the consequences.  A classic football example is a fellow team member who recovers our fumble.  Other examples include a work colleague who spots a mistake we have made in a report and corrects it before it gets submitted to the boss; or a friend who saves us the embarrassment of not remembering the name of an acquaintance in a social situation.

One of Jesus’ many titles is “Wonderful Counselor.”  When we make mistakes of any kind, we can go to Jesus and ask for his counsel in how we should remedy the mistake and ask for his grace to do what is necessary.  If our mistake involves a sin, we can ask him to forgive us.  If our mistake has offended someone, we can ask him for the grace to seek reconciliation.  We can even ask him to prepare the heart of the person with whom we need to be reconciled.

I am reminded of the old hymn, O What a Friend We Have in Jesus. He is available to us 24/7.  As Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”  He delights in helping us fix our mistakes when we humble ourselves and ask for his assistance.

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The Rich Man’s Sin

What was the rich man’s sin in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus?  (Luke 16:19-31)

In the parable Jesus tells how a rich man lived in luxury and Lazarus, a poor man lived as a beggar, covered with sores lying at the rich man’s gate, longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.  They both died.  Lazarus went to heaven to be at Abraham’s side.  The rich man went to hell.

It wasn’t because the rich man had wealth, or that he did anything affirmatively wrong to Lazarus that caused him to go to hell.  Though Jesus doesn’t specify a reason, the implication is that it was the rich man’s indifference to Lazarus.  He had to pass Lazarus everyday as he went in and out of his gate, but he paid him no attention.  He made no inquiry.  He never tried to help, or even give him what fell from his table.

Do we realize how much of a sin indifference is?  Indifference is non-love.  Though it appears to be passive in nature, it is still a choice – a decision not to act, not to help, not to love.  Since God is love, indifference is the antithesis of God and all that he desires for us. 

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput commented on this parable in his recently published book, Strangers in a Strange Land.  He says, “The story underscores a simple fact: If we don’t love the poor we will go to hell.  If we let our possessions blind us to our dependence on God, we will go to hell.  If we let food and clothes and all the other distractions of modern life keep us from seeing the needs of our neighbors, we will go to hell.” 

He goes on to remind us that Abraham was also a rich man, but he never forgot his dependence on God.

Jesus has harsh words for people who are indifferent or lukewarm in living out their faith and serving others’ needs.  He tells the Church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)

In our affluence and busyness, we can easily become isolated from those less fortunate, and as a result, indifferent to their needs.  Even when we see someone asking for money on a street corner, we may still pass them by because of our indifference, or we make the excuse that they may use what we give them to buy alcohol or drugs. 

A few years ago I was traveling with a colleague at the Los Angeles Airport.  At the bottom of the escalator leading to the baggage claim, was a nun collecting for some cause.  After I gave her a few dollars, my colleague asked how I knew whether she was legitimate and not a scam.  I said I didn’t, but that was not my responsibility.  It was hers.  My responsibility as a Christian is if I see a need, I should try to respond to it as best I can.  Unfortunately, I haven’t always done this.

As the parable suggests, the consequence for our indifference is significant.              

 

Listening to Jesus

Do you listen to Jesus?

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all report on an event which has become known as the transfiguration of Jesus.  In it, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to a high mountain where Jesus’ face begins to shine like the sun and his clothes become as white as light.  Moses and Elijah appear and begin talking with Jesus.  Then a cloud envelopes them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!” (Mt. 17:1-9)

What a remarkable occurrence!  God is speaking audibly and directly to the three disciples, confirming that Jesus is his son and that they should listen to him. 

We are blessed to have four different gospel writers handing down a treasure trove of Jesus’ words, teachings, and actions.  As a result, one way for us to listen to Jesus is to read what he has to say, digest the meaning of his parables and observe his actions for the example they give us in how we should conduct our lives.

But Jesus and his Holy Spirit can also speak to us as a quiet whisper to our hearts.  A few years ago, a close friend experienced a massive brain hemorrhage in the night and was taken to one of our local hospitals.  A brain scan indicated that he would likely not survive.  I went to the hospital in the morning and then again in the afternoon to support him, his wife and family.

While the prognosis was fairly certain, the timing was not.  After spending most of the day at the hospital, I decided to go home for dinner.  After dinner, I was tired and my first inclination was not to return to the hospital, but then the question started coming into my mind, “What if he dies tonight?”  The question started to nag at me.  It wouldn’t go away.  Then it dawned on me to ask, “Is that you Lord?  Do you want me to go back to the hospital?”  I grabbed my Bible and headed out the door.

When I arrived in his room, there were now more friends beside the family.  We gathered around my friend’s bed and began to pray, read psalms and other passages from the Bible.  We sang hymns that were familiar to him and his family.  Our mood went from being somber to a realization that we were assisting our good friend in his passage from this life to the next.  We began praising God for his life, and what he meant to his family and the rest of us. 

The monitor started to show an irregular heartbeat, and the intervals between breaths were growing longer.  After a few minutes the line on the monitor went flat.  My friend had passed on to the arms of Jesus.

I believe that nagging question I heard after dinner, “What if he dies tonight?” was from Jesus and his Holy Spirit, leading me back to the hospital.  What a privilege and blessing it was for me to be physically present as his soul and spirit left his body to be with God!  

I believe that Jesus wanted me to be with my friend and his family when he died.  If I had not listened to Jesus, I would have missed both the opportunity and the privilege.   

“This is my son.  Listen to him!”    

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

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Ruth’s co-worker, Stella was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  As the illness progressed, Ruth frequently talked with Stella on the phone.  “Very soon I realized that the Lord was putting it on my heart to bring his word to Stella,” Ruth observed.  “My first reaction was apathy and denial. ‘Lord, are you sure you want me to do this?  I’m not sure I know how.’ 

“Finally, after lots of prayer and several sleepless nights, I asked if she was receiving visitors.  She said yes and also mentioned that she had been having several dreams recently and that I was in each of them.  I took this as a sign that the Holy Spirit was bringing us together.

“When I visited her the following day, she asked about the right way to pray and wondered whether her illness was the result of something bad she had done in her life.  I assured her that was not the case, and that God loved her more than she can comprehend.  All she needed to do was invite God into her life.

“Over the next few visits, we continued to talk and pray, and she invited Jesus into her life.  The last time I saw her before she died, she had an angelic peaceful quality about her, and although she could barely whisper, she assured me she was praying and would be just fine.”

After Stella’s death, the family thanked Ruth for helping Stella find the Lord.  Interestingly, they tried to do the same thing, but had been told that her friend Ruth was already providing for her spiritual needs.

What is significant about this story is that Ruth’s love for Stella moved from being passive in nature to becoming active, as evidenced by Ruth’s initial reaction not to act on the promptings she was receiving from the Holy Spirit.

The parable of the Sheep and the Goats is considered to be about the last judgment when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.  Notice that whether people are considered to be a sheep or a goat at the time of judgment has already been determined by their choices and conduct in life.

To the sheep, the King says, “Come, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt. 25:35-36)

The sheep asked when did they do these things for the king, and he said whatever you did for the least of people, you did it for me.  Our action toward others is our action toward God.  Unless love is acted upon, is it really love?

In recent years I have deliberately volunteered to serve in the Chaplain’s office of the local county jail, take communion to residents of a nearby nursing home, and participate  in an organization that raises money to establish special education programs in Catholic schools for the intellectually disabled.

My hope is to counter the inherent self-focused busyness in my life, and to let my faith and love move from being passive to being active. 

“There is no substitute for active love.” (Jerome Biblical Commentary)