Tag Archives: Jesus


I once heard two Baptist ministers on TV say that anyone who does not profess Jesus to be his or her Lord and Savior is doomed to everlasting damnation. No exceptions. Innocent ignorance and good intentions notwithstanding, anyone who does not accept Jesus as the one and only Savior is condemned to everlasting torture.

Here we are once again with a Gospel reading that seems to say what we find impossible to accept, something we know to be unreasonable and untrue. You just heard the words attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer, this time St. John, that whoever does not believe in Jesus as God’s only Son and the Savior of the world has already been condemned. What are we to make of such a statement? Well, I suggest that this is what we do with it:

1. We start with the fact that through the entire first century, the infant church did not have the bible that we have today; there was a word of mouth tradition, the faith being passed on from person to person and generation to generation under the leadership of the apostles and their successors. The church was like a classroom that had a teacher and an eager body of learners – but not yet a textbook. The formation of the Christian faith community came first; the textbook — the bible — was being developed and refined at the same time.

2. We admit that both the Old and the New Testaments contain many vengeful statements, as they are called, that sound hard, even cruel, and we realize that they have to be understood in the context of love. I think no one has expressed that better than the authors of the brilliant little book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God. Listen to this quote from page 13: “…we use vengeful punishment language all the time in our homes and families. Such statements are exaggerations (hyperbole) that can be safely used only in a context where everyone understands that they are not to be taken literally…”

Later on the authors say that when Jesus intervened in the about-to-take-place stoning of a woman accused of adultery, he was telling the scribes and Pharisees that they were not to interpret literally those words of Moses which commanded the violent execution of such a sinner.

3. We must read or hear the bible always with common sense! We can be sure that Jesus and the Spirit of God expect that of us. If I tell you that I am blue today, I assume you know that the comment has nothing to do with my skin color, but only with my mood. If you tell me that there were a million people at the dinner last night, I know you mean many, not a thousand thousand. Similar adjustments and accommodations that we make all the time must also be made when we are reading or hearing the ancient scriptures.

With these guidelines in mind, we can be certain that Jesus is not saying what the two ministers interviewed on TV claimed he was saying: that those who don’t know or follow Jesus are on their way to eternal damnation. No, what he was saying is that the first and most basic duty of every human being is to try to find the truth in all things and then to live by it, to look for the light and to walk toward it and then in it. Truth and light will lead us to goodness and love. Jesus is truth and light, and all persons, regardless of their religion, who make goodness and love the essential standards of their lives, walk in the company of Jesus, whether they recognize him or not.

Saints are in every religion – and many are in none! Let us love and respect one another, as Jesus wants us to.



I know very few people who appear to be incapable of rage. Some of them came to my mind as I was preparing this homily early this past week. But most of us, I think, have experienced the frustration of dealing with a person or an incident that just doesn’t yield to rational negotiation. We get “fed up to here”, as the expression has it, with a situation that has become unacceptable. We can, therefore, easily imagine Jesus lashing out, striking in every direction, yelling for all to hear, “Get out of here, all of you! You know as well as I do that this is the house of God, my Father’s house. And you are dishonoring it, using it for your own selfish, sinful gain! Get out of here and stay out!”

We feel Jesus’ righteousness and we cheer him on.

But why did St. John and the other three Gospel writers choose to include this event in their writings about Jesus — especially this early in their manuscripts? (John’s gospel, for example, has 21 chapters, and this incident occurs in only Chapter 2.)

Many reasons have been suggested, but my favorite is that Jesus was saying something about himself and the Jewish religion of his day that was very important to him. What he is saying is that he is not merely trying to purify what already exists in Jewish religion by, for example, driving out from the temple the merchants and their wares; rather, he is declaring that the temple and all its functions and rituals have been replaced by himself! He is the “place” of true worship now! The temple had been built by human labor and through it people sought union with God. But now, God had built the temple — the very person of Jesus — and only by entering him can anyone experience the fullest possible union with the One he called Father.

Analyze the context of the story: Jesus angrily confronts the money-changers. Their business was to take the Gentile money that worshipers brought with them and, for a fee, to exchange it for coins that were acceptable for use at the temple. In attacking this practice, Jesus was abolishing the ban against non-Jews and making it clear that everyone is welcome in the new temple that was himself!

No favorites, no exclusion, no separation — just people making up but one family united in him.

He drives out the cattle and the sheep, the animals that would be sacrificed in the temple worship. Another revolutionary statement not from his mouth but from his mind and his actions: “Animals are no longer necessary at the altar. You can commune with the invisible God with and through me,” he was telling them. His perfectly truthful and loving life would incite hatred and vengeance in evil hearts, and he would soon enough be slaughtered like a lamb — not as a human sacrifice to a presumably offended God, but to satisfy the blood-thirst of those who hated him and wanted him destroyed. His very presence was both a threat and a rebuke to them.

They asked him to justify what he was doing and saying among them — things they had never heard before. Who do you think you are?, they asked. He gave a puzzling answer: “Tear this temple down, and I will rebuild it in three days.” Looking back, we realize that he was referring to his coming death and resurrection. They thought he was a madman, talking that way.

The passage ends disturbingly, not with the “good news” we are accustomed to hearing. Instead we are told that he could not bring himself to trust the people who had come to believe in him. Why? Because he knew what was really in their hearts. Their faith wasn’t deep enough: it was merely amazement at what he was saying and doing — a momentary, fleeting Yes to what he was offering to ease the burden of their shabby lives. It wasn’t the solid commitment, including the possibility of suffering, he was looking for.

There could well be something of them in us, too. We do believe; but in what areas of our lives are we not really sure that Jesus is the way?


In the first year of my priesthood, more than 6 decades ago, I had the good fortune of starting out as a full-time hospital chaplain. That was unusual in those days, and several times I was asked by concerned observers what I had done to deserve such a punishment. (I remember one person asking me what window I had broken!) In those days hospital assignments were considered handy outposts for priests who got into one sort of trouble or another. The five years I spent there were among the happiest of my life.

Among the blessings and advantages that I enjoyed were my friendships with the medical and nursing staffs and the opportunity to be with them every day in a variety of situations. I can still recall many of the conversations that enriched my life. One came back to me as I was preparing this homily. Several of us had just left the chapel after a Holy Week celebration, I think it was Good Friday. I was especially aware of the presence of a young doctor, only a few years older than I, who was coming from the Mass. He was regarded as an extraordinarily good physician; how many times I heard nurses say, “If ever I am suddenly in need of a doctor, please don’t call anyone but him.”

I was especially aware of his presence because I was feeling embarrassed over the archaic, unscientific, largely mythical character of the ancient scripture readings we had just heard, and I wondered what this learned man of medical science was really thinking.

As we waited for the elevator, I said to him, “Pretty hard to swallow some of that old stuff, isn’t it, Doctor? I think it’s about time the church brings it up to date.”

He answered quickly, spontaneously, “I’d much prefer the poetry we just heard to the lifeless prose of a medical journal.”

He was even smarter than I had previously judged him to be! Holy scripture was considered my field, not primarily his, but he taught me something I have never forgot. In that wise comment, he showed himself, as a Catholic Christian, to be way ahead of his time.

Poetry. The bible, we now increasingly understand, is full of poetry. They are not historical accounts or scientific reports that we find there; mostly they are poetic outpourings from the hearts and minds of men and women who had come to know that the one and only God of Love is always with us. They knew that that divine presence was the ultimate source of our life and our destiny. They could not find enough ways to announce to the world, “Emmanuel,” God with us! And so, where to begin but with human language at its colorful best?

At this time of the year, we hear the familiar ancient messages about a divine architect, and heralding angels, and a guiding star, and mysterious stargazers, and awestruck shepherds, and reverent animals, and a most unusual birth. All exquisite poetry! Profound message! And the doctor was right: It beats a dispassionate reading from a scientific journal any day of the week!

What are we being told in such a resilient and enduring way? It is being revealed to us that in Jesus we have a new window onto the mystery of God! What we see through that window is that we do not need a bridge between us and a supposedly distant God. No. Jesus saves us from that ancient misconception and lets us in on the until-then secret that God is in everyone and everything, in every particle of this vast and incomprehensible universe! Emmanuel: God with us!

A truth as fundamental as that cannot, should not, be left to mere factual statement. It deserves to be and it needs to be celebrated with every means at our disposal. Let’s keep listening to the ecstatic biblical authors with our hearts and minds as open as we can make them! Let’s enjoy what they have written for us! We will most certainly never hear better news than that!



Let’s start with the last reading, Jesus’ story as told by St. Matthew and that we just heard. I think no one would deny that the agreement between the boss and the workers is logical. It’s honest and just. They agreed to be paid a certain amount of money for a decided-upon number of hours of labor. And both they and the boss kept their word at the end of the day. No problem there.

But, enter the latecomers, who began to work pretty near closing time. For whatever personal reason, the boss decides to pay them the same as he was paying those who worked much longer hours . All emotional feelings aside, who can say that the “early birds” were being in any way cheated? Really no one.

On the surface of the issue, it does seem at first that the charge of unfairness can be defended; but deeper analysis reveals that, strictly speaking, the boss’s generosity to those who were hired late in the day has nothing to do with what he owed those those who had worked longer.

(I must, though, add parenthetically that this is no way to foster peace and harmony among the workers!)

It was decades ago that I began to suspect that Jesus was deliberately trying to upset his hearers, both those in his own day and us today, as a way of making us all think more deeply about life. And I have developed that line of thought into four possibilities of what he had in mind and intention:

That whether life has been kind or cruel to us, we are fortunate to have lived at all, because life is ultimately beautiful and unending beyond our deaths.

2. That we are not created to live in isolation — unnoticed, unwanted, and unrelated to others; no, we are called by the God of Life into relationship with God and our fellow humans, from which we are destined to gain a share in the eternal life of God.

3. That however competitive our progress in the present world must be, there should be no competition among the people of God. All are beneficiaries of God’s boundless mercy and love.

4. That God does not give us merely what is our due: God goes far beyond that always, gifting us with wild generosity and forgetting our offenses. There are no rules or restraints, no limits to God’s love, no conditions.

It seems to me that this Gospel story is aimed at our tidiness, our self-assured sense of justice, having all the “ducks” of our life in neat little rows. We are the ones who impose limits and all kinds of regulations which are perceived as putting us in good favor with God. But the truth is that God’s love is unmeasured and unchained. We have only to receive it with gratitude and joy and pass it on generously and forgivingly to others.

Jesus, with attractive stories like this one today, is coaxing us into a more reckless way of life patterned after the life of the one he called Father. He says, over and over again, “Just live, do good, be kind and generous and forgiving — and let happen what happens.”

The simple truth is that God will happen!


When I was 22 years old, a senior in college, I finally decided that I would study for the priesthood. My father expressed reservations about my plans and said much about my having led a rather sheltered life. He suggested that I take some time off for a long trip to see the world or for a work experience or anything that would have the effect of maturing me in the ways of the world and the realities of life. I remember understanding his point of view while at the same time being very sure that this was the thing for me to do and that now was the time to do it.

My father was motivated, in giving me that advice, by the desire to help me avoid making a mistake in a matter of importance — my future. More than that, I believe he thought of the priesthood as a life of personal denial and lack of freedom that, although entered with romantic idealism, could eventually leave me regretful and unhappy. He was doing his job as a parent to protect the oldest of his children from harm.

It seems to me that Peter was acting like a protective parent toward the young Jesus in the incident we heard proclaimed today. Along with Jesus’ other disciples and apostles, Peter had an idea of what being the Messiah meant, and he was absolutely certain that it could not possibly involve suffering and death. How could it? Messiah is savior, conqueror of evil forces, bringer of life. “Suffering Messiah” is a contradiction in terms.

All Jesus’ many references and predictions concerning future suffering for him and his followers escaped their comprehension. As we’d say today, “They just didn’t get it.” Eventually, but only when they experienced it themselves, they did learn that there’s an inevitable price attached to being Messiah — and to following Messiah.

And so must we learn the same.

It is misplaced kindness to discourage those we love from what the Spirit of God is moving them to do when we think we see more clearly than they do that there are sufferings ahead. It is the right thing to do, instead, to discern with them what they are probably facing and to encourage them to trust that, if they believe that this is really what God wants them to do, then God will provide for every future conflict and difficulty.

Just being a faithful Catholic is going to involve pain and suffering.

We all run the risk of being called extremists and fundamentalists if we speak and act boldly when we feel that our government or society itself is taking the wrong stand in a moral issue of our day.

To resist the madness of out-of-control-consumerism can mark us as hopelessly out of step with our fast-paced society.

To belong to one political party or another and oppose, on grounds of Gospel principles, some of what it stands for takes courage and firm commitment.

We don’t need, any more than Jesus did, to be talked out of our moral principles; we don’t need to be saved from hurt or loss. We need to encourage each other to consider prayerfully his mind and heart and to act accordingly, certain only that at precisely the right time support and confirmation will be given us — as it was given to him.


During the 20 years of my pastorship in the Paterson Diocese, I made regular visits to our homebound parishioners, taking Communion to them and serving them in whatever ways I could. One of the widows on the long list was an elderly woman who lived alone and at whose front door I’d have to wait for several minutes as she methodically and slowly opened three locks and a deadbolt. She was a very sensible, level-headed person, not at all paranoiac. The four security measures were simply necessary to keep her sufficiently safe. That upset me then and still does as I think about it today.

It also bothers me to have to lock my car doors for the night and to endorse checks properly before putting them in my wallet — because we do these things assuming that people are not to be trusted — that we are natural enemies who will take advantage of each other whenever we can. The key, the lock, the deadbolt and the burglar alarm are all signs of what we have become — or, conversely, what we have never become. They are a shame, a disgrace, an embarrassment, a judgment.

Jesus entrusted to Peter and the infant church what he called the “keys to heaven” and with them the power to bind and to absolve. (I believe that “bind” in this context means to command or to impose an obligation with authority.) No notion here of keeping anyone out or of defending the infant church from enemies.

No, what Jesus seems to be doing is placing his spirit in the community, helping the community to judge all things wisely and then to act as Jesus himself would act in the same situation. That is what those keys unlock — the guidance of the Holy Spirit, always available to to those who want to think and and say and do what is right and true and life-giving.

The keys that the church has been given are meant to free its members from ignorance and fear, from crippling conservatism, from suspicion and distrust.

Life-giving is the work of the church. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have to to the full.” To be a member of the church is to share in the power of the keys in one way or another. We are being church when we, in any way, open up to others God’s presence in our midst.

Pope Francis has been given the “master key”, so to speak, to enable him to serve the church throughout the world; but to each of us are also given keys, no two exactly alike, enabling us to be givers of life in the countless circumstances of our daily lives.

As I look out at this very moment, I am awestruck by the power for good that you represent! And I ask you to remain mindful of who and what you are: bearers of the keys to life that Jesus has placed in your hands and in your hearts.


Some of the answers that Jesus gave to people asking for his help seem unkind, almost cruel; what we just heard is one of them. To understand what was going on between him and the distraught mother, we have to realize that she was a Gentile, therefore looked down upon by the Jews. At first he responds like the Jew that he was, telling her that if she were a faithful Jew he’d honor her request immediately. But since she’s the equivalent of a heathen, for him to help her would be like giving to the dogs the food that should go to the children.

The woman is obviously a bright lady; she doesn’t let Jesus off the hook; she reminds him that the house pets are allowed to eat the food that falls off the family table. Jesus likes that response, and likes her. He grants her request.

Bible experts tell us that in Jesus’ time, that little exchange of clever words would not have sounded insulting at all. It was a common form of conversation — a “thrust & parry” of words and ideas. Jesus was not being uncaring or unkind; he was simply drawing out the conversation in order to make an important point for the woman and us to hold onto.

Remember that she had addressed him as “Lord” and “Son of David” — which means that, even though she wasn’t a Jew, she did have faith in him as a person who seemed to know God well. She expressed faith in him and what he could do for her and her daughter. She’s a believing Gentile — maybe the first he’d ever met. No matter what nation or family or religion she came from, there was undeniable faith in her heart. She may not have recognized God in the temple, but she did see God in the person of Jesus! That had to be a gift of the Holy Spirit.

We Catholics have come from a very rigid tradition in which there was a standard pattern for religious belief and practice for us all. If we traveled to Paris, Peoria or Pakistan, the rules and the rituals would be essentially the same. It was a good feeling to be so united.

But things are different now, as we are fond of saying, and — I would say — much better. We interpret the scriptures differently; many theologies are invited to shed light on the one ancient faith; the creativity and customs of a variety of peoples give uniqueness and individuality to worship. No longer do we regard as enemies to be avoided those who pray or act differently from us. Instead, we recognize them as sisters and brothers in whom the same Spirit of Love and Truth is gently at work.

Some Catholics pine for the “good ol’ days” when everything we Catholics did and said was cut & dried and meant to remain forever unchanged. Not so today. As the famous spirituals say, “The Spirit is a-movin’!” And we must pray, as Jesus always did, not to become narrow-minded and short-sighted. And to recognize true faith and goodness in whatever form they appear.

God calls us to build unity in our families, our communities and our world, not by all wearing the same spiritual clothing, but by praising the Spirit of God in every life-giving word and work that comes from anyone, anywhere!

Be at peace! God loves you wildly exactly as you are!!