millennium goals
2395 University Avenue, Suite 202, St. Paul, MN - 55114, 651-646-2854


REFLECTIONS

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

A friend of mine began his homily for this Sunday (6 years ago) with these words: "For me, personally, Jesus never spoke more tender, affirming, and consoling words than the one's we hear in today's gospel when he addresses his disciples before his execution.  Those words are now addressed to us, his disciples here and now: "I will not leave you orphans."  He went on to point out "Parents are those who give us roots of security."  He experienced this reality while working in Haiti at the clinic hospice that he helped to establish for orphaned and abandoned children.  This was before the recent earthquake death and devastation.

"I will not leave you orphans . . . " My friend continues: Jesus so understood the potential dynamic of being present to his disciples, his "little children," as he called them, with the immanence of his pending execution.  It's a dynamic none of us should ever forget in our life  Christ followers, students of the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.  There isn't any one of us  here that deserves to be abandoned at any time in our journey through life.  It's the primary reason for the church, for us to be in relationship to one another, and not just Eucharistically.  The Eucharist should remind us of our responsibility to one another and our need for each other while it pronounces the sacred text over and over in our hearts and heads, "I will not leave you orphaned . . . "  It also provides us with the dictum to see to it that justice is accomplished in our world for the sake of those who are bereft of work, or health, or medication, or home, or food, or family, or friends . . . . Revenge is the ugly American sin and our culture is steeped in violence.  Note the movies and play station antics and cartoon magazines our young people are subject to.

To me it was a sign of hope that over 70 theology teachers sent a letter to John Boehner, speaker of the house of Representatives, decrying his budget cut proposals as "Anti Life."

Each of us may be called this day to decide what we can do to make sure that the many orphans in our world are not left without supportive Christians who live out the commission we have received from Jesus.


Jesus tells his apostles and us: "Whoever has my commandments and observes them, is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him."

Do you want Jesus to be revealed to you?  He tells us how.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles is one that captures something of our experience.  Disciples are “complaining.”  The King James Version says, “there arose a murmuring.”  The Greek word is gogusmos.  Listen to how that word sounds and you get a sense of what was going on.  As human beings and disciples we are familiar with murmuring, complaining, muttering under our breath, making some strange sounds, hearing strange sounds at times.

We even categorize some people as brooding.  I remember someone describing me that way once.  Not knowing exactly what that meant I investigated the meaning of the word in Webster’s dictionary.  Webster informed me: “1. to sit on or incubate (eggs) for the purpose of hatching them; hence to hatch.  2. to think anxiously or moodily upon; to ponder, to dwell continuously or moodily on a subject.”  With these definitions I found the negative connotations of the word to disappear and I found I was thinking of myself when brooding as working on hatching something, perhaps meditating or nurturing.

But we need to ask ourselves, “What is my usual reaction to complaining, murmuring or brooding?”  So often I think we dismiss it.

And just what were those who “spoke Greek "complaining about the ones who spoke Aramaic?”  It is interesting how different translations name the neglect:  RSV “because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”  NAB “were neglected in the daily distribution.” CEV “were not given their share when the food supplies were handed out each day.”  Because of these differences I wondered if the neglect only had to do with food or if it went further.  The Greek word that named the neglect was diakonia.  The NT dictionary in the Greek New Testament gives this definition for diakonia: ministry, service;  contribution, help, support; mission; perhaps office of deacon or authority.”

My brooding about these differences led me to recall my experience with another community that was suffering neglect.  This was the community of homeless or poor that existed in Milwaukee.  The first services provided were the creation of meal programs and distribution of food.  The number of food programs began to grow.  But there was a call for another food program on the South Side of Milwaukee.  The St. Vincent de Paul societies took on this neglect and provided a meal program staffed by different parish Vincent de Paul societies.  But before long the need for other services became obvious.  Eventually this program grew into providing job counseling, housing information, addiction assistance, etc.  A similar phenomenon has happened in Harlingen, Texas with a meal program that began as Loaves and Fishes.

I also recall that the Archbishop of Milwaukee heard complaining, murmuring, brooding about abortion.  He did not dismiss it but instead chose to schedule a series of hearings.  In the paper pictures appeared of some of these hearings.  Hearing, attention, seriousness were captured in the pictures of the Archbishop and the women attending the hearings.


For me these readings raise other issues about abortion.  Is it enough to be concerned so totally with stopping actual abortions, or must we not also be concerned with the structural sins which create conditions in which a woman feels that abortion is her preferred choice?

What are the other questions that people are complaining, murmuring, protesting, uttering under their breath about?  What is my responsibility as a Catholic-Christian to those utterances?  Am I able to get beyond the ostrich approach of taking my head and burying it in the sand?  Am I able to stand up with both ears attentive to listen?


Can I hear not just the words (sometimes expressed with fierce harshness and volatility)?  Am I attuned to the non-verbals that people use to express themselves?  Do I find myself able to get by the harsh tones of voice?  Am I able to listen to the person who whispers, or perhaps even whimpers?  Do I hear only the people that express themselves just as I do?  Do I hear only the people who express themselves differently?
 
The Good News of the Reading from the Acts of the Apostles for me this Sunday is that the community was able to listen through the complaining to get at the real problem.  They didn’t just deal with symptoms, the complaining.  The real problem was that there was neglect within the community.

If we can’t get beyond the symptoms to the real problems we won’t experience the good news.  Thank God for Jesus who knew what was in people’s hearts.  Thank God that the Twelve called together the whole community of disciples and acknowledged “it is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.”  Therefore other ministers were chosen and appointed so that the word of God would not be neglected but neither would those who spoke Greek.  Thank God for those in our midst that have the ability to get to the heart of the matter and come up with solutions.  

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

On an early morning in Israel I sat atop a little hill reading the scriptures and pondering some of the new meanings coming from actually walking the land that Jesus walked.  A slight movement, on the gentle slope across the valley from the hill where I was, caught my attention.  I only caught it out of the corner of my eye, my peripheral vision.  But when I looked up from the bible to catch sight of what had moved I didn’t notice anything.  Then as I returned to my reading, it happened again.  This time I gave a longer look and I became aware of some slight movement on the far distant slope. I watched more intently.  Gradually it became clear to me that a flock of sheep were slowly moving up the hill.  I would notice a scurried movement at the front of the flock and then something similar at the back of the flock.  My watching became a studied observation.  I gradually discerned that in the midst of the flock was a shepherd.  I noticed his arm move in one direction and then another.  Finally I deciphered that he was throwing little pebbles, to the front of the sheep that were leading the flock to make sure they did not get too far ahead.  As he cast a stone up ahead of them, they would slow and then stop.  Then he would cast a pebble to the back of the sheep, bringing up the rear, to speed them up a little.  Gradually and consistently the flock progressed together up the hill.


“I am the Good Shepherd.”  The words sounded in my ears.  I reflected that in a way the Good Shepherd has dealt with me in this gentle and loving way.  I also thought it was significant that the shepherd was leading from the midst of the flock.  On top of these thoughts I also remembered an experience of Ghandi’s that I had read about.  While on march with some of his followers Ghandi had stopped to talk with some people at the side of the road.  But then looking ahead he saw that the people journeying with him had moved on ahead of him.  He said:  “There go my people I must hurry and catch up for I am their leader.”

Sometimes this Sunday falls on the same day as Mother’s Day.  We have a popular church song, which says, “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock and gathers the lambs in his arms, holding them carefully close to his heart, leading them home.”  A friend of mine who works in the mountains of Peru told me that most of the shepherds there are women.  The song almost works better with these words, “Like a shepherd she feeds her flock and gathers the lambs in her arms, holding them carefully close to her heart, leading them home.”  Good shepherding is done for us by Jesus and by his followers.  We are called to be Good Shepherds to one another.

We must also be conscious that some people masquerade as good shepherds but are really thieves and robbers.  Sadly we are experiencing this of some priests in the United States.  We must pray for the victims and work to Protect God’s children.  We must also pray for these priests.  We must pray for our Church that we deal better with these thieves and robbers.

This Sunday let us reflect on how the Good Shepherd has dealt with us.  When has he had to slow us down, when has he tried to speed us up?  Who have been the people that have exercised the Shepherding role for me?  How do I exercise my call to Shepherd others?

Reflection by: Dave Jackson

 

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

 
In this Sunday’s Gospel the city of Jerusalem is important and the journey motif is also important.

We must remember that Luke began his Gospel in Jerusalem, in the Temple.  We have the story of Zacharias.  Jesus for the major part of this Gospel is “on the way,” on a journey to Jerusalem.  “I must go up to Jerusalem.”

Luke also has Jesus born on a journey.  Mary and Joseph must journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Jesus’ entire life is a journey.  He is born on a journey, for a journey.

The Emmaus story is a journey within the Jesus Journey.

The two disciples are not going “up to Jerusalem” as Jesus did.  They are going away from Jerusalem.  There are two disciples, one of whom is named Cleopas.  Because of the noted examples of women in Luke’s Gospel, some have speculated that the other disciple was a woman, maybe the spouse of Cleopas.

At the beginning of the journey their eyes are closed.  The death of Jesus had been for them a terrible trauma.  Jesus is simply a stranger.  But he “went with them.”  He enters their emptiness, their meaninglessness, their feeling of divine abandonment.
 
Their conversation reflects the various “ups” and “downs” of their recent life.  UP, “Jesus of Nazareth a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and man.” 

DOWN, “our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”
 
UP,  “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel (the Spanish translation says they were hoping he was “the liberator”)

DOWN, “some women from our group, (were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body.”
 
UP, “they reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.”

DOWN, “Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”

 

 As the Journey progresses Jesus explains things to them and teaches them.  They come to a point and welcome the stranger to stay with them.  They recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (UP) but then he vanishes (DOWN).
 
Jesus wishes to walk not just with these two disciples but also with us as his disciples.  He enters into our experiences of loss, disillusionment, discouragement.  But he also wishes to be our companion in our experiences of joy and happiness and celebration.
 
As people who know the companionship of Jesus we are to be his presence to one another.  As Jesus entered into the experiences of the two disciples, so we must enter into the experiences of one another with the qualities of Jesus.  Pope John Paul II conveyed the attitude of Jesus, not just in his words, “John Paul II loves you,” but also in his manner of receiving children and dignitaries. Pope Francis (with his smiling demeanor) captures the spirit of encounter very powerfully.
 
Are there any sadder words than, “We had hoped.” Disillusionment, disappointment, sadness that come from hopes shattered.  These disciples experienced this.  We at times experience this in our lives.
 
Yet what words of joy.  “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us on the way?”  They only later realize that something was happening all along.  Hopefully we all have had this kind of experience at some time and place in our lives, when our hearts burned within us, a moment that we look back on with great tenderness and joy.
 
Jesus is our companion on the journey.  Many times our eyes are closed.  We must recognize the face of Jesus in the strangers we meet along the way.  Can I invite the stranger to stay?  There are many kinds of strangers.  People in the same family can be or become strangers to one another.  If we are honest we have to admit that even our friends are part strangers to us.  We are even part strangers to ourselves. Immigrants and refugees are a special kind of stranger that we are called to welcome.
 

These disciples were changed and went in a different direction; they returned to Jerusalem.  We too at times must be changed and go in a different direction.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
        
As part of my preparation for Easter this year I studied Raymond Brown's chapter in the book THE VIRGINAL CONCEPTION & BODILY RESURRECTION OF JESUS. On page 106 in a footnote I read this:

"I suggest that this second appearance may be the evangelists' dramatization in which Thomas serves to personify an attitude.  The other Gospels mention fright or disbelief when Jesus appears, but John transferred this doubt to a separate episode and personified it in Thomas.  Such free dramatization is characteristic of the Fourth Gospel."  This interpretation gives further witness to "
Another spiritual tradition about Thomas the Twin is that you and I are the Twin."  To be sure "fright" and "disbelief" are part of our life experience. 
 
Thomas the Twin dominates today’s Gospel.  In popular use, hardly anyone named Thomas has not been dubbed, “doubting Thomas” at some time in his life.  But it is interesting that not many people have asked the question, “who is the other twin?”

Speculation on this subject is interesting.  Some have hazarded that Judas was his twin.  Since Judas betrayed Jesus and went and hanged himself (evidently in despair), his relation to Thomas would have been suppressed.  Others have proposed that Mary Magdalene is his twin.  Mary as the first proclaimer of the Resurrection has her own difficulties in getting through to the other Apostles.  Some have even hazarded that Jesus is Thomas’ twin.  Now to Catholics that is unthinkable, but not to those who take the references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus as literal.

It would seem that Thomas reaction to the death of Jesus is to go off by himself alone to deal with this loss.  But from the other information that we have from the Gospels about Thomas it would also seem that he was re-examining how he could have missed in his judgement about Jesus.  Wasn’t Jesus to be the Messiah, the restorer of the Kingdom of Israel?  How could this Jesus end up killed on a cross?  Thomas probably thought that Jesus would tie all his searching and synthesizing together.  Now Jesus has died ignominiously on a cross.  It seems he needed time apart to process his thoughts, to regroup.  If Thomas was an introvert he would process things alone on his inside before talking with others.  His refined observation skills had failed him.  He was re-examining past events.  He was dealing with the darkness of doubt.

Some years back in a dialogue homily I posed the question:  “Why do you think Thomas was not with the other disciples?”  A little boy of about 12, put up his hand, “because he couldn’t get off work.”  It does make you think.

When Thomas does rejoin the group (a week later) he is presented with the information that they have seen the Lord.  He thinks that this must be some kind of delusional thinking.  He must have his own personal proof, put his finger in the wounds of his hand and his hand into Jesus’ side.  I think that it must have been a tense week: the ten holding, “we have seen the Lord,” in one part of the room and in another part Thomas “I don’t believe.”

Jesus comes to Thomas.  Jesus make his approach to Thomas particular to this man.  There is nothing of the “don’t touch me” words directed to Mary Magdalene.  In fact Jesus tells Thomas, just the opposite, come and touch.

Thomas is overwhelmed and bursts forth his own profession of faith, “My Lord and My God.”  This Thomas who was not easily convinced, now was convinced. ( I find myself wondering if he did put his finger in the hand and his hand in Jesus’ side.  I’ve solicited different responses to this question and the answers are quite differing and interesting.  Particularly why people think what they think.)  Surely his faith must have enriched the others.  Thomas was one of those types who gathers lots of information (I personally identify here with Thomas), he was always perceiving and analyzing things, even things that others missed.  Doubting Thomas becomes believing Thomas and inspires the others to greater depth of belief.

Tradition tells us that Thomas was the apostle to India.  Would this not make sense, that he who was the most difficult to convince, once convinced would have the most impulse and stamina and drive to carry the news the farthest?

Another spiritual tradition about Thomas the Twin is that you and I are the Twin. 

Has Jesus come to you in a particular way?  Have you been called to put your personality, your history, your gifts at the service of the Jesus in a particular way?  Is Jesus perhaps speaking to you today, to put some good, which has laid dormant inside you, into action for Jesus?  Can you say with Thomas, “My Lord and My God.”  “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Reflection by: Dave Jackson

 

EASTER SUNDAY

This Easter Sunday, I would like to focus on the experience of three people, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and Peter. They each have something to teach us about ourselves, Jesus and the Resurrection. We will look at their individual reaction to the death of Jesus, Jesus' individual reaction to each of them, and the individual mission which was entrusted to each. Each of them has a particular darkness: Mary Magdalene, sorrow; Thomas, doubt; Peter, remorse.

MARY MAGDALENE

Her reaction to the death of Jesus: she is preoccupied with getting the spices needed to anoint the body of Jesus. She does observe the Sabbath rest, maybe because of what others would think. She comes to the tomb with her programmed expectations. She is busy responding to her loss by doing something. Her words are repeated three times almost like a lament, "They have taken his body and I don't know where they have laid him." She is so disoriented by this unexpected turn that she doesn't recognize Jesus when he is present to her. She thinks he is the gardener.

Jesus deals with Mary by calling her by name. He leads her out of the darkness of her sorrow. In this calling she receives recognition and again moves into action. She clings to Jesus. He then tells her, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the father." Sandra Schneider's discussion of this is most enlightening. She says the literal translation would be: "Not me (emphatic) continue to touch but "go to my brothers and sisters." The emphatic placement of the "me" at the beginning of the command and closest to the negative, which thus seems to govern the pronoun "me" rather than the verb "touch," suggests that what Jesus is forbidding is not so much the touching itself but Mary's selection of the object to touch, namely, Jesus who stands before her as an individual. . . . In other words, I would suggest that what Jesus is really doing is redirecting Mary's desire for union with himself from his physical or earthly body (which is any case no longer exists because it is the glorified Lord who stands before her in an appearance which is temporary) to the new locus of his presence in the world, that is, the community of his brothers and sisters, the disciples."

Jesus then missions her with the words, "But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" The writer of the fourth Gospel states: "Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord,' and what he told her." Jesus had progressively led her from the darkness of sorrow to the light of joy. This joy she could now share. Her witness to Jesus would be different because she was different.

THOMAS

Thomas reacts to the death of Jesus by going off by himself alone to deal with his loss. He probably went over his contacts with Jesus to see where he (Thomas) had been wrong. This Jesus whom he thought had the key that would tie all his searching and synthesizing together now had died ignominiously on a Cross. He needed time alone to process his thoughts, to regroup. He was dealing with the darkness of doubt. When he does rejoin the group, he is presented with the information that they have seen the Lord. He thinks that this must be some kind of delusional thinking. He must have his own personal proof, put his finger in the wounds of the hand and his hand into the side.

Jesus comes to Thomas. Jesus particularizes his approach to Thomas. There is nothing of the don't touch words directed to Mary Magdalene. In fact, Jesus tells him just the opposite, come and touch.

Thomas is overwhelmed and bursts forth his own, My Lord and My God. His profession of faith must have enriched the others. Thomas was the one who gathered so much information, he was always perceiving things, even things that others missed. Doubting Thomas became believing Thomas and inspired the others to greater depths of belief. Tradition has Thomas bringing the Gospel as far away as India.

PETER

Peter responds to the death of Jesus by returning to his familiar home and tasks, fishing in Galilee. He was overwhelmed by all that had happened to Jesus and how it had all affected him. He obsessed about his own protests, his taking a sword in the garden, his denials, his flight, his going out and weeping bitterly. It was all too much for him. He was overwhelmed by the darkness of his own powerful emotions. He was in a fog.

So when Jesus comes to them on the shore, Peter doesn't recognize Jesus, but John does. But upon recognition he does the impulsive thing (Peter always seemed to be doing the impulsive thing) and jumps into the water.

Jesus takes Peter by himself and questions him, "Simon, son of John do you love me?" The Greek is important to understand the meaning of these questions and Peter's response.

Jesus' first two questions are with the word AGAPAS. Peter responds, "Yes Lord you know that I love (PHILO) you." Jesus is asking about "self sacrificing love." Peter is responding with the "love of friendship." It would seem that Peter's heart wasn't in it. Maybe he was still dealing with the fact that he had denied Jesus.

A second time Jesus questions him: "Simon son of John do you love (AGAPAS) me." Peter's response was the same (PHILO) a second time. Now he was probably preoccupied with the fact that he had denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times.

A third time Jesus questions (now Jesus switches to the word PHILEIS) Peter, and this time the emotional Peter comes through. The Gospel writer tells us: "Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, 'Do you love me?' and he said to him, Lord you know everything: you know that I love (PHILO) you." Peter could now hear Jesus' question. Jesus, finding Peter incapable at this moment of AGAPE, settles for PHILEO.

Peter is to feed and shepherd. Now Peter has expressed his "friendship love" for Jesus. Jesus goes on to tell him more. Peter would have to surrender. " . . . when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Peter will eventually lose his life over Jesus--but he will do it unwillingly. Wes Howard-Brook, "The fisherman who has, for better or worse, been in charge of his own destiny throughout the narrative will, in the end, find his fate determined by another. Is this "another" simply the Romans or is it God?" The text leaves it open. In Peter's surrender Jesus could say to Simon son of John, now Peter again, "Follow me."

Jesus uses images, symbols in dealing with Peter, feeder of lambs and sheep, shepherd of sheep, bound for the Lord.

But Peter was preoccupied about the Beloved Disciple that was following: "Lord what about him?" Peter is to incarnate they laying down of life, the Beloved Disciple will model remaining in Jesus' love. The Beloved Disciple apparently was not martyred. The different perspectives of the ultimate ecclesial authority of the martyred Peter and his successors raises the question of what is Jesus' will for the different band of disciples, the Johannine community.

The content of Jesus' words to Peter is: don't worry about him, just do what I want of you. Peter did this.

CONCLUSION

One of the aspects that stands out so clearly in these stories is that the three persons are very different. They are treated very differently by Jesus and they are missioned differently by Jesus. Easter lessons for us would be: we are different people, one from the other, we experience different darkness. Jesus comes to us and treats each of us differently but offers us life and light. He also has a particular expression of the Gospel that he wants you and I to live. Be the Easter life of Jesus for yourself, for others, for the world.