A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for March, 2013

Why does one become ambivalent?

In human relationships we tend to run the spectrum from positive caring to negative criticism.  Namely, from “good buddy” to “I can’t stand him/her.”  The curious thing  about human relationships is that these ambivalent feelings can occur within a short time, or even simultaneously.

In today’s liturgy (Palm Sunday),  we see an ambivalence of feeling toward Jesus.  For example, from the people’s  joyous celebration of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem, to their anger during his trial, when they shouted “crucify him.” 

What happened to bring about this ambivalent feeling?  In the Gospel reading (Luke 22:14-23:56), we notice two situations that may help us to understand: (1)-The Last Supper, and (2)-The Garden of Gethsemane.

At the last supper we note the situation of Judas, who was a strong supporter of Jesus and yet betrayed him.  Then there is the case of the apostles who were quarreling with each other arguing who would be the “greatest” in God’s kingdom.  Jesus settled that dispute by washing their feet and consequently emphasizing the importance of service to others. 

But it was Peter who was the most demonstrative of his ambivalence.  He loudly proclaimed his support of Jesus, no matter what.  Yet, he wound up denying Jesus several times.  Judas, the apostles and Peter were ambivalent.

While in prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus was aware of the the ambivalence of his friends, which indicated that their commitment was not strong enough to withstand the constant onslaughts that were to come.  It was at this momemt of doubt that he prayed to God his Father:  “Father, your will, not mine be done.”  Jesus dealt with the ambivalence of his friends by entrusting the outcome to God the Father.

Ambivalence is much like temptation where decision affects actions.  Entrusting the outcome of ambivalence to God the Father means that prayerful hope is expressed that the hearts of the guilty will be opened to choose for God instead of against him.  The “opened heart” makes the correct decision which results in proper moral action.

We become ambivalent when the positive and negative sides of an issue seem equal in our thinking. Our choice will depend upon our ability to judge the effectiveness of both actions.  That is why Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane is so helpful.  God’s choice may be ours as well–if not now, maybe later. 

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane), oil painting by Heinrich Ferdinand Hofmann (Heinrich Hofmann). The original is at the Riverside Church (Riverside Church, New York City). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

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Jesus and the adulteress

Can you imagine what was going on in the mind of the woman in today’s Gospel? (John 8:1-11)  Here she was standing in the town square, virtually surrounded by men who were ready to stone her for having committed adultery.  She possibly thought, “What happens to the guy who was with me?  Why am I taking the whole blame?”   The reading also tells us the Jesus was present.  It turns out that the scribes and Pharisees were more interested in entrapping Jesus than in the woman herself.  Quite likely, jealously could have been a motive.  After all, Jesus was attracting more people.

So, the test question was posed.  “Teacher, this woman was caught committing adultery.  Now, in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone her.  What do you say?”  If Jesus sided with the woman, he would be violating the Mosaic Law.  If  Jesus ordered the woman stoned, he would be in trouble with the Romans who alone had the powers of life and death in legal matters.  “Ah,” thought the perpetrators, “we have him trapped.”

How did Jesus handle this?  First, he squatted down and started writing in the sand.  What he wrote no one knows.  Perhaps it was a series of sins that the group with stones in their hands may have committed.  Anyway, it was a bit of reflective reaction.  The group of men most likely saw the writing and possibly thought, “Hey, that’s me.”  I suspect that others present knew about the private lives of all who were there.   Still, the potential stoners wanted an anwer to their question.

Second, Jesus stood up to answer the question. There was a pause.  Then Jesus said,   “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Wow!  What a zinger.  All the people present had a good idea who were the thieves, liars, bullies, and so on.  Thus, one by one they dropped their stones and left.

The woman and Jesus were left alone.  “Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asked.   “No one,” she replied.  Jesus compassionately looked at her and said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more.”

I’m sure we can pick up many lessons from today’s reading.  But I would like to suggest one, namely, the manifestation of COMPASSION.  Compassion comes from the Latin which means “to suffer with.”  This suggests  that compassion does not mean “to feel sorry for” which indicates a passivity, but rather “to suffer with” which advocates activity.

For example, God had compassion on his suffering people, so he sent his son to be with us, that is, to be in our midst.  This is the significance of the mystery of the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas.  It is also part of  the promise of “Immanuel” (Hebrew for “God with us”).  Then, there is the situation of Jesus who had compassion on us by dying and rising from the dead, thus giving us hope that with every suffering there is a resurrection.  This is the significance of the mystery of Easter

Then, there is also “human” compassion.  We become actively involved in situations of injustice (to others or to ourselves) wherever and whenever they occur in order to bring about justice.  Remember, we don’t “feel sorry” for others or ourselves, but we do “manifest compassion” as Jesus did to the woman taken in adultery.

A depiction of Jesus and the woman taken in ad...

A depiction of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The loving father and the prodigal sons

We often wonder why some people can’t mind their own business.  They are folks who want to make your business their business.  The frequent problem is that by their “interference,” they often impute motivation rather than seek it.

In the Gospel (Luke 15:11-32) the scribes and Pharisees impute motivation to Jesus by saying, in effect, that he should watch his relationship with sinners.  “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  How can one maintain social stratification  if one welcomes and eat with the “lower class?”  This type of consorting is not the “proper” thing to do.

Jesus, however, made it clear that he was not interested in social niceties but in forgiveness and reconciliation.  So, he tells the parable of what we often refer to as the prodigal son.  But, it is important to note that it is the father in this parable who is the key figure.  How so?  Because the text tells us that the father had TWO sons, and thus the contrast between the two  is emphasized in terms of  forgiveness and reconciliation.

With regard to the younger son, we see that when he headstrongly left the farm and squandered all his money, at the time of a great famine, he regretted what he had done.  He was very sorry and planned to apologize to his father.  But when his father saw him from a distance, he ran to the young man, embraced and kissed him.  There was forgiveness and the reconciliation took place at the feast.

The older brother, however, became aware of what was happening and was outraged.  After all, he was very loyal and did whatever was asked of him.  The father noticed  the older son refusing to come and join the feast because of his anger.  “Look what your son has done,” the older brother said to the father referring to his younger brother’s waste if money.  The father assured him that the farm was his, but he should be happy because “your brother” has been lost and is now found.  The father made sure that family realationships were properly maintained.  The father, no doubt, forgave the older son and the two were undoubtedly  reconciled by the son participating in the feast.

Both sons could be called “prodigal” because both had veered off the moral path of behavior.  But the same can be said of us who have often veered off the moral path. We can find forgiveness and reconciliation when we acknowledge our guilt, express our sorrow, and accept the subsequent responsibilities.

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Meeting Someone Famous….

I suspect that many of us have met someone famous during our lives.  Was it a famous sports figure?  A movie star?  A rock star?  The list of categories could go on.  But my question is this.   What was your reaction when the meeting took place?  Shock?  Surprise?  Embarrassment?  I think the reaction reflects the nature of the encounter.

In the first of today’s readings (Exodus 3:1-15) Moses meets God!  Now, that’s somebody famous.  His reaction was one of surprise, fear, acquiescence, and willingness–one feeling after another in an almost simultaneous fashion.  He was “surprised” at seeing an unconsumed burning bush; “fearful” at being told to take his sandals off so close to a burning fire; “acquiescence” in  that the deity was known to his ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), therefore possibly known to him as well.

But this series of reactions led to the most important reaction of all, namely, the “willingness” to fulfill the mission that God had for him.   But before the mission could be effectively completed, two things were necessary:  the self-revelation of the deity and the purpose of the mission.

First of all, the deity’s self-revelation was important.  Moses had to know who was sending him and why.  God identified himself as YHWH (translated as “I will be who I will be”).  Most likely,  this name could have been tied in with the notion of divine accompaniment, which was a key theological concept for Israel.  A small, insignificant people needed the presence of a deity for  support and encouragement. 

Secondly, the purpose of the mission was liberation of the people Israel who were slaves in Egypt.  The liberation occurred because of the ten plagues, the crossing dryshod across the sea, and the mutual covenant at Sinai (“IF you keep my commandments, (THEN) I will be your God.

How can this reading touch us directly?  First, God can reveal himself anyway he wants.  We have to determine how it is done.  Through marginalized people?  In situations of injustice?  I suspect that surprise and fear could probably be aspects of the divine self revelation.  How can we know that God is with us for giving support and encouragement?

Secondly, our Baptism is the initial self-revelation of God when we are also given the responsibilities to be of service to others.  As long as we maintain the responsibilities of Baptism, namely, to realize that God is with us, and constantly accept the challenge to liberate others from the slavery of injustice, the relationship of meeting someone famous (God) is constantly present–and developing.

But this series of reactions led u

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