Monthly Archives: November 2018

Greater than John

John the Baptist is in prison.  He sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one to come or should they expect another.  Jesus replies, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Luke 7:22)

Then Jesus makes an astounding statement, “I tell you, among those born of women there is none greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)

Jesus seems to be saying that until this time, John is the greatest prophet and man who ever lived.  Mark’s gospel confirms this when he reports that “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” 

Imagine the power of John’s words and actions to attract people to travel more than a day’s journey by foot to a remote desert location, making provision for food and sleeping, all to confess their sins and be baptized.  Surely the Holy Spirit had to be acting powerfully in him.  Yet, Jesus is saying that the people who are least in the kingdom of God are greater than John.

Do we realize how privileged we are as Christians to be in the kingdom of God, compared to the people who lived before God became one of us in the person of Jesus and inaugurated his kingdom on earth?

Last Sunday the Church celebrated Christ as king of God’s kingdom.  Next Sunday we will begin preparations to celebrate his human birth conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary – Emmanuel – God is with us.

Yes, God is with us through the person of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus says:

  • “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4)
  • “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
  • “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
  • “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

While we may accept the idea that we are “least in the kingdom of God,” it is much harder to believe that we are greater than John the Baptist.  Yet, that is what Jesus is saying because we are part of the kingdom of God, and God is with us in a way that he never was before. 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Co.5:17)

Recognizing Jesus

“I know who you are—the Holy one of God!” (Luke 4:34)

These words were addressed to Jesus from an evil spirit who was in possession of a man in a synagogue in Capernaum.  Jesus had come to the synagogue and began to teach the people.  Luke reports that the people “were amazed at his teaching because his message had authority.”  The man with the demon and evil spirit cried out, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy one of God!” (Luke 4:31-37)

How ironic!  Most of the Jewish people – the religious leaders, those in authority, even the people from his home town, did not recognize Jesus for who he was—the Son of the living God.  Yet, throughout the gospels, we see reports of evil spirits who recognize Jesus, cower at his presence and beg him not to destroy them. 

We should not be too critical of the people of Jesus’ day in not to recognizing him, for how often have we failed to recognize Jesus’ presence in our lives?

The world and its many attractions, demands and cares often dull our senses to the presence of Jesus.  Our busyness causes us to overlook his work in us and others.  Our low expectations of God obscure his action in our lives.

This past weekend I had the privilege of taking communion to men in a local jail and also to the elderly in a nearby nursing home.  I saw Jesus in the men who were eager to understand Sunday’s gospel readings.  They are searching for the truth in acknowledging their circumstances and in desiring to bring change to their lives.

I saw the face of Jesus in Phyllis, bedridden in the nursing home, but with a big smile she was eager to recite the Lord’s Prayer and receive communion.

It is not uncommon for us to miss the presence of Jesus in our family and those closest to us.  When I take time to reflect, I see Jesus in my wife who recently cooked a meal for a neighbor who is going through chemotherapy for her second bout with ovarian cancer.   I see Jesus in our four adult children who are all raising active families and passing on our heritage of faith to their children.  I see Jesus in our three sons-in-law who live out their faith in their business and professional lives.

I see Jesus in our son and his wife who, through their photography business, capture the beauty, love and sacredness of marriage.

Mother Theresa used to say that one of her motivations for serving the poorest of the poor was that she saw the face of Jesus in every one of them.  How many times have I failed to see the face of Jesus in the homeless person with a sign asking for money at a busy intersection?

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Matthew and the Rich Young Man

“’Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi [Matthew] got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28)

What contributed to the difference in the response of Matthew and the rich young man to Jesus’ invitations to follow him?   

Like the rich young man, Matthew was also wealthy, for the gospels describe him as holding a huge banquet for Jesus at his house at which he invited a large crowd of tax collectors and other guests.  Unlike the rich young man, however, Luke says Matthew “left everything and followed” Jesus. 

In contrast to Matthew, when Jesus suggested to the rich young man that he sell his possessions, give to the poor, and then come and follow him, the Gospel reports that he “went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mt. 19:16-30)

The rich young man was apparently leading an exemplary life for he said he had kept all the commandments.  Matthew, on the other hand, was a tax collector, one of the most despised classes  among the Jewish people, and considered a sinner.  Yet, Matthew was willing to “leave everything” and follow Jesus, but the rich young man was not. 

When my wife and I were in our 30’s we were practicing Catholics, attempting to live out our faith as best we could.  A friend from our parish started inviting me to events that would supposedly renew and deepen my faith, but I declined her several invitations over a period of about a year.   So then she started inviting my wife who agreed to attend what was referred to as a Week of Renewal in the Holy Spirit.  It was a program involving five evenings in a row of talks and prayer.

Although I also declined invitations from my wife to join her, I observed how each evening she came home from the program with great joy.  I was so struck by her reaction to what she was experiencing night after night, that I decided to join her on the final evening.  On that evening, in spite of all my previous reluctance, I met the Lord Jesus in a new and personal way that I had never previously experienced.

It became a watershed moment in my life which led to a renewal of my faith.  I came to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in a fuller way, an increased desire to pray and read scripture, and to serve the Lord as best I could in all areas of my life.  Like the rich young man, I previously was not ready to follow Jesus in a deeper way.  I believe the Lord prepared my heart, through my wife and other circumstances, to follow him anew.  

Scripture does not tell us what eventually happened to the rich young man.  Some writers say there is circumstantial evidence to speculate that he was the Barnabas of Acts 4:36 who sold a field that he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Perhaps the lesson is that the Lord is always calling and he is always preparing our hearts to follow him.  Some of us may take longer to answer the call, but the Lord never stops preparing our hearts and continuing the call.   


Stereotyping Others

“I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24)

After Jesus was tempted in the desert, the Gospel of Luke tells us that he returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and began his public ministry.  He taught in the synagogues of the region and news started to spread about him throughout the whole countryside.

He came to Nazareth where he had been brought up.  He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and read from the scroll of Isaiah where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of the sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

Then he proclaimed that this scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing.  In other words, he was God’s long awaited anointed one, the Messiah!  At first the people were amazed about his gracious words, but then they started asking, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They became furious with what Jesus was saying and claiming to be.

How quick we are to judge and stereotype the people in our lives!

Sometimes we do this even with members of our own families or friends with whom we are most familiar.   We form a view or perspective about them, and then if they step outside our perspective or exceed our expectations, we refuse to accept what we see.  If they change, mature or exhibit growth in some way, we have trouble accepting their new state.

We make a judgment about someone based upon our experience with them or judge them by their appearance.

We may recall the TV show, Britain’s Got Talent, in 2009, when a singer from a small village in Scotland, Susan Boyle, appeared on the program.  She was 47, had somewhat of a dowdy appearance and was a bit awkward in her speech and manner.  It was clear that both the judges and the audience had immediately formed a low, almost mocking reaction to her, until she started singing, I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. article-1259588997732-0481bca6000005dc-616016_478x616

Almost immediately, their mockery turned into shouts of approval and a standing ovation for her beautiful voice.  Even one of the judges admitted afterwards he had never been so surprised by the performance of a singer.  Another judge apologized for her initial reaction.  Boyle became an overnight sensation on the internet and around the world.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (Mt. 7:2) How frightening!  God will judge us as we judge others.