Tag Archives: Luke

ASCENSION 2017

Our ancestors concocted wonderful and enduring stories about the mysteries of faith, taking them from what they saw around them. For example, they marveled at how a potter makes a beautiful vase out of a lump of clay, and they said “That’s how God made us!” The facts were wrong, but the message was right: that God is the creator of all that is, and that human beings were created to resemble that God in ways not possible for any other creature.

It is the meaning of what they thought and said and wrote that counts, not what facts it contains or doesn’t contain. They didn’t have access to those facts, as we do today. But fundamentalists even now insist that the Bible can make no error of any kind, and they calculate, therefore, that the universe is only 6,000 years old – while solid science tells us that the universe is some 15 billion years old!

What is written in the Bible about the feast we are celebrating today is a significant case in point. Consider that, of the four gospel authors and St. Paul, out of those five, Luke is the only one who has left us with a step-by-step account of the events of Jesus’ life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Nowhere else in the Bible will you find the purported “facts” that he offers. John bunches up the Resurrection of Jesus, his Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples into one brief day. Mark and Matthew make no mention of an Ascension; they tell only of Jesus’ Resurrection. And Paul, the first New Testament writer – before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — treats the two events, Resurrection and Ascension, as if they were one and the same.

So, we’re not going to get much in the way of factual reliability from those five! But who should care about a little contradiction here & there? Like a good spice, it makes the story tastier!

It is the meaning of what is passed on that is the important thing, not whether or not it is historically or scientifically accurate. The scriptures, let us say again & again, are not history books; they are not biographies; they are expressions of faith.

There’s a message for us in these Ascension accounts and references; namely, that we who have heard and accepted Jesus as the ultimate life-giver, the ultimate expression of the mystery that we call God, are called, not only to believe, but to imitate! We are to carry on what he began: a ministry of love, healing, forgiveness, and peacemaking. We are to do that, not depending on our limited human resources alone, but on the Divine Spirit whom God would share with us always. The story of his “Ascension,” even though it may not have been the lifting of his living body skyward, implies that he is with God in a total union of the most intense love and that we are here to be him to others by allowing the Spirit that worked through him to work through us.

He has left us — only to be with us always!

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33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

As we near the end of the church’s year and the beginning of Advent, two of today’s scripture readings can cause us useless trouble unless we hear them thoughtfully. Malachi puts into the mouth of God (as if God had a mouth or a voice or a vocabulary) a very harsh judgment: all who do evil will be destroyed by fire, reducing them to stubble. And in Luke’s version of the Gospel, Jesus predicts that all sorts of catastrophes, some by the forces of nature and some by the will of evil authorities and warring nations, are about to occur and must be seen as a sign of God’s judgment on human society and also of the end of the world as we know it.

What are we to make of this?

Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. Rabbis, like persons in any other profession, have methods and techniques that have been passed on down the ages from generation to generation. One of those many methods of getting the people’s attention and reaching into their hearts and minds is called the apocalyptic, which focuses on the inevitable death of every human being and the death of the world itself – realities none of us likes to think about. As a way of shaking up their hearers and forcing them to face their ultimate future — to deal with their mortality, as we might put it — the rabbis made frightening word pictures for them.

Matthew, Dennis, and Sheila Linn are the authors of one of my all-time favorite books, Good Goats, Healing Our Image of God. They’ve written much about how we imagine God, and in the book I just mentioned they wrote, “…exaggeration (or hyperbole) was a common way of speaking in Jesus’ culture. When he spoke in ways that seemed to threaten vengeful punishment, Jesus’ listeners would have understood that his words were not intended as threats or as predictions of what was inevitably going to happen to them. Rather, such words were intended as warnings, meant to wake (them) up and deter (them) from destructive behavior.”

I offer you a lens through which to discover what Jesus had in mind when he used such terrifying images with his disciples as a way of getting them to think more seriously about the quality of their own lives. The “lens” is this simple truth: the choice is ours as to how we shall imagine the invisible God: we can see God either as the Judge who condemns, or as the Compassionate One who forgives and transforms.

You know which one of those two images Jesus used in describing God, especially in his immortal parable about the prodigal son. Then don’t allow yourself to be distracted or thrown off-course by the techniques he used as a typical rabbi!

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A timely footnote: To millions of Americans, the result of last Tuesday’s presidential election was a frightening warning of terrible days ahead, including possibly the ultimate destruction of the United States of America. Just as we need corrective lenses to understand the occasional apocalyptic language of Jesus, so do we here & now in order to interpret correctly what we are hearing about our government, present and future. The best lens I have thus far found was published this past Thursday, written by the brilliant New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who said, “The time for ranting is over, and it’s time to accept the inevitable. Trump has surprised us in many ways this year, and let’s hope and pray that he will stun us once again by repairing the tears he made in our social fabric. Let’s give him a chance — for those are our democratic values.”

In the column right next to Kristof’s, Erick-Woods Erickson wrote, “Those of us who opposed him should pray for him and give him a chance.”

It seems to me, and maybe it does to you also, that as followers of Jesus that must be our choice. By making it, we are expressing our faith and hope both in the Spirit of God and in the strength of this remarkable country we so love.

19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

I know a Franciscan priest who spent 27 months in a Nazi concentration camp as one of the nearly 3000 priests there.  Twice he was beaten almost to death.  He came very close to perishing from starvation.  One day, emaciated, his face gaunt, his eyes recessed as if in empty, blackened pools, he stood at the barbed wire fence idly gazing out into the adjacent woods.  Suddenly he saw what he later described to me as the most beautiful sight he had ever beheld: a young soldier cautiously stepping out from behind a tree, his uniform identifying him as an American.

Too weak to shout or to run, my friend stood transfixed at this apparition.  No human words, he told me years later, could ever express the joy and the blessed relief that filled his heart and soul at this realization of immanent rescue.  Two and a quarter years of indescribable torture and despair were soon to end!  The GI realized that he had been seen and therefore motioned to Father Karas that he must not tell others what he was seeing.  And so my friend waited, his heart pounding as fast as it possibly could, his spirit already thanking the God he believed had saved people down through the ages and now was saving him and others.  Several minutes later, the massive invasion of liberation began.

If you can identify with the account I’ve just shared with you, at least in imagination if not through some personal experience of your own that relates to it, then you are prepared to understand something important in the Old and New Testament scriptural readings appointed for this Sunday throughout the world.  They speak of delays and waiting and the expectation of great saving actions on the part of God.  But what you may not be aware of is that between the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the composition of the gospels attributed to Mark and Luke, there was a strong belief among the early Christians that very soon Jesus was going to return to Earth — “any day now,” as we would say.

Expecting that triumphant return, that “Day of the Lord,” ecstatic about experiencing the Lord’s coming kingdom of life and love and peace, many of them adopted an attitude of inactive waiting.  Other considerations, other responsibilities and opportunities became less and less important to them.  Mark and Luke, two of the four gospel writers, took on the task of combatting this popular notion that Jesus would very soon be returning and that, therefore, this overwhelming, approaching event should make everything else trivial and futile.

In essence, these two evangelists said that no one could possibly know when the Lord would come back and that no one should be so foolish as to stand around idle and looking up to the heavens.  Instead, they said emphatically, they should all be looking around and finding what still needed to be done.  In other words, they should be good disciples of the Master, living and loving and caring and serving as he had taught them and as he had shown them. They should not be speculating on what Jesus himself had said only God could reveal.  Discipleship, the two evangelists made very clear, meant constructive action; to be a genuine disciple of Jesus meant living and acting in love and faith.

The bumper sticker we see so often puts it well in another way: KEEP IT SIMPLE.  It isn’t a constant litany of prayers and devotions that make us, and mark us as, loyal followers of Jesus.  It is rather our living in love and faith, which we express generously in our relationship to others.