How Will You Understand:Mark 4:13-25


Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.” He also told them, “Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

As mentioned last week, here is where Jesus explains the parable He’d just given, to His followers; explaining in detail what He meant by His teaching. His explanation here does bring to light a paradox, which I’d like for us to explore. I had not considered this before.

So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.  (Isaiah 55:11)

The paradox? His word not returning to Him void…accomplishing what it was sent to do, and the explanation He gives of the parable. Is the word really accomplishing what God sent it forth to do? Some reject it, some hold on to it for a moment then let it go. Others let it get choked out and still others receive it and hold on to it; how do we reconcile this? Is God All-Powerful? Are His plans being thwarted by humanity?

There are extreme views on each side, from hyper-Calvinism to universal salvation, to Pelagianism with each school of thought supported by their own interpretation  of Scripture.

Let me pose the more moderate stance and state that indeed God’s word does accomplish all He sends it to do; it does not return to Him void. For He knows beforehand, to whom he sends it to and how it will, or will not, be received by humanity.

Why does God choose to work through  humanity? After all, He is the “All Powerful and Everliving God” He can certainly do things as He pleases. Yet throughout history, He has choesn to work through  mankind to accomplish His will, rather than by-pass mankind.

Let’s look at three examples, major events in salvation history, to describe what I mean.

  1. Abraham: called by God to leave his homeland and go to a place God would show him. He was also called to be the “father of a multitude,” a people that God would adopt and call His firstborn.
  2. Moses: called by God to bring His people out of the slavery of Egypt. He delivered to His people, the Law of God and lead them to the Promised Land.
  3. The Blessed Virgin Mary: called by God to be the mother of His only begotten Son. Along with her husband, St. Joseph, she was called to nurture, raise, teach and provide for Jesus, so that He in turn, could provide salvation for the world.

God could have done each of these things on His own, apart from any human participation, yet He did not. Why?

I think we can answer this question, simply by looking at the first creation account in Genesis. God created mankind, not because He was lonely or wanted fellowship (He had perfect fellowship within Himself in Trinitarian form). He created mankind from the abundance of His love.

Love that isn’t shared, does not exist. That may seem a bit philosophical, but I believe that the creation account, would prove this thought true.

Since we know that God is love ( I Jn. 4:16) and He created us in His image and His likeness (Gen. 1:26) we can experience Him in the fullness of love, which of course, is Himself.

So as we seek to understand the tension between predestination and free-will, the safest road to take to this understanding, would be the both/and  road. Since God is omniscient, He knows what we will choose…but we must still choose ! As Abraham, Moses and the Blessed Virgin Mary all had to say Yes,  and choose God, so must we.

So we begin to understand that His word will accomplish exactly what He intends it to, because He knows what we will choose to do. And in our choice to accept His word, we then get to participate in His Divine love. In His story of salvation and redemption.

As the Cathechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

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By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation.Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

So this week, let us, let His love shine forth from us like the lamp on the lampstand. And let us not keep hidden His word or His love, but let it be revealed through us, sharing the secret and light of this love, which is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. In this love, there is choice; so let us choose to love Him, because He first loved us ( I Jn. 4:19).

Amen.

Family Business: Mark 3:31-35


His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers (and your sisters) are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and (my) brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. (For) whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Moments after Jesus had taught about the unforgivable sin  and a house divided against itself cannot stand , here comes His family. As you recall last weeks study, some of Jesus’ relatives were going to seize Him, quite possibly because they believed what the scribes were saying about Jesus, He is possessed by Beelzebul.

So here are his mother and brothers and sisters asking for Him. The passage doesn’t say why they are asking for Him, could it have been for the same reasons as His other relatives? I don’t think so…and here’s why.

Mary, certainly knew who He (Jesus) was. She knew He was not possessed by a demon. We are told by St. Luke, in his Gospel, that:

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her,”The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God, nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said,” Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.   Luke 1:26-38 

Mary was told that He would be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.

 

It doesn’t get much plainer than that, does it? And after His birth St. Luke reveals to us that, Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, (Luke 2:19).

 

That statement, lends itself to the assumption that His brothers and sisters didn’t know  who He was. Yet, with Mary there, we know that she was going to do whatever she could to protect her Son, her Savior, the Savior of the world.

Could this have been a living illustration of His previous teaching on a house divided? Maybe so. But as Jesus does so well, He takes this opportunity to teach a deeper truth.

 

As the crowd delivers the message, Your mother and your brothers (and your sisters) are outside asking for you, He asks the rhetorical question, Who are my mother and (my) brothers?Could the crowd have anticipated where Jesus was going to go with this? Remember, He was in His hometown, and again from last weeks study, had quite a few relatives there, who thought He was out of His mind.

 

He then brings the message home (no pun intended) And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. (For) whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

As Christians, we are called the family of God, but let us ask ourselves the hard, soul searching question; Do I do the will of God in my life, therefore making myself a part of God’s family?  Isn’t this why we were created in the first place?

 

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in the Prologue:

 

The Life of Man—To Know and Love God
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God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

Taking this weeks and last weeks teachings together, we see the whole spectrum of what Jesus is saying; Unity is essential to family life. It is true of the human family, and true of the spiritual family. Doing the will of God identifies us with His family, just as doing the will (obeying the rules) of our earthly father identifies us with our earthly family.

So this week, let us examine ourselves; our actions, our words, our attitudes – not just toward Our Father, but toward our spiritual siblings  as well.

He’s calling…..will we answer?

Amen.

Jesus Chooses His Mother: Part I


In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”  Luke 1:26-31

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  

The greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary is of great importance to understand in the context of salvation history. Let’s look at this section of sacred scripture to see how.

First the  Hail” or, as it is also translated “Rejoice” would’ve for Mary, and should for us, call to mind the Old Testament passages that refer to “Daughter Zion” and her “faithful children” rejoicing in the coming Messianic age. For God has chosen to dwell in their midst (Joel 2:23-24; Zeph. 3:14-17; Zech. 9:9).

 

 Chosen to be the virgin mother of the Messiah, Mary is greeted with this word, for she would indeed become the “daughter” who would bring God’s Messiah to the faithful “children”.

Next, the word “full of grace” happens to be one word in the Greek text (kecharitomene) which has a very different expression of the same words Luke uses of Stephen in Acts 6:8 (pleres charitos). Kecharitomene indicates that God has already graced Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who, has been and is now, filled with the Divine Life.

Different translations such as, “favored one” or “highly favored” are possible but fall short in meaning, because of the special and unique role that Mary accepts at this hinge-point of salvation history. Since God endowed Mary with an abundance of grace, preparing her for this call to divine motherhood, the best translation should be the more exalted one.

This better explains the reaction of Mary after the greeting. But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.

I mean, look at the text, Gabriel had not mentioned anything to her at this point, of God’s plan for her. So why would she become greatly troubled by the saying and the greeting? It only makes sense in this context.

Again, this is no call to “worship” Mary. Mary calls us to worship her Son, Jesus.

Jesus Gives Us His Mother: Part I


When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple there whom He loved, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.   John 19: 26-27

It is said that we as Christians have become the family of God (Eph. 3:15). We’ve been adopted as sons (Gal.4: 5). Now I am aware that we live in the days of dysfunction, but I can confidently declare:

GOD IS NOT DYSFUNCTIONAL!!!

What kind of family would God be adopting us into, if He brought us into one that had no mother? Do we render Jesus’ promise null and void,  “I will not leave you as orphans;”  (John 14:8, from the Greek word, orphanos – without parents-plural)? We also know that God is not a God of disorder (I Cor. 14:33) and that He created the family (Gen. 1:27-28, 2:24).

So, what is not to understand? God is our Father. Jesus, His Son, is our brother. The Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother, is our mother.

This doesn’t make her divine. This doesn’t make her the fourth member of the Trinity. It simply means she is our Mother, The Mother of all the faithful.

Before we can continue with this train of thought, we must clarify some early Christian teaching brought to us through Judaism.

                  

               The Communion of the Saints 

 

In the Apostles Creed, there is a line that states; “[I believe in] the communion of Saints.” This phrase refers to the bond of unity among all those, living and dead, who are or who have been committed followers of Christ. This should lead us to understand the Ephesians 3:14-15 passage a little better, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” along with others of Paul’s writings of being one Body (Rom. 12:5, I Cor. 12:26).

 

Then may come the argument of, “Well, Paul is talking about (and writing to) those who are living, not dead.” To which I would respond, “He was speaking of both.”  For two major reasons:

 

First, as a Pharisee, and a devout Jew, Paul (and even the other apostles) was more than aware of the Jewish practice of praying for the dead and even for the intercession of the saints in heaven (2 Maccabees 12: 39-46, 15: 11-16, normally I wouldn’t make reference to a deuterocanonical book but, since I’m speaking of earlier Jewish religious practices I will. The Maccabean revolt and their defense of the Temple, is where the celebration of the Feast of Lights, Hanukkah, originated).

 

Secondly, since God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32) and to be “absent from the body and to be present to the Lord” (2 Cor.5:8 ) those who have died in Christ are truly in His presence. Who better to pray on our behalf (intercede for us) than those in the presence of the Lord Himself!?

 

So, in understanding the Communion of the Saints, we can better grasp the concept of “praying to the Saints.” As a Catholic, I ask Saints to pray for my family and I. I do not pray to them as an end, for they are not God, but as a means to an end. Much like I would ask a faithful friend to pray for my family or I.

 

“The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” (James 5:16) and again, who better to intercede for us than those present with our Lord already.

 

This should help clarify this aspect of the role of Mary (and the Saints) in the lives of Catholic Christians, though it does go a little deeper with our Mother. And we will look at her role specifically in our next post.

 

Amen.

Lenten Reflection Week 3: John 19:26-27


When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

As we’ve seen the past two weeks, Jesus is extremely forgiving and merciful….and this week is no exception. So far we’ve heard, Father forgive them… and Today you will be with me in Paradise. Now, we hear His words to His mother, Mary and His beloved disciple, John. “Woman, behold, your son” and “Behold, your mother.”

What are we to learn from this passage? They are, after all, the words of Sacred Scripture. They were written for a reason. Why put this in his gospel narrative? It’s the same John the Evangelist, that writes, There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written(Jn. 21: 25). What made this important enough to include and dismiss the others?

Of course, it starts with honoring your [father and] mother, one of the ten commandments. We also see the great mercy and compassion He has for others – as He’s suffering, again in extreme pain, He sees His mother, weeping her own tears of great pain (Lk. 2: 34-35) He did not want her to be alone and uncared for. So He gives her to the care of His disciple, John. Why would Jesus give His mother to one of His disciples? It was Jewish custom for family to care for family. Jesus surely brought about change as to religious customs, but didn’t try to implement change so much on the social or cultural ones.

I’ve heard said the reason was that His “brothers” (not holding to the teachings of the early Church Fathers of Mary’s perpetual virginity…even Luther, Calvin and Zwingli taught this) were not believers [in Christ] yet; but wouldn’t that change after His ressurection, wouldn’t He then return her to His family? No, Mary moved to Ephesus with John. I’m sorry…I’ve digressed. This is a Lenten Reflection. If you would like to know more about this teaching check out this and this

Let’s make this practical. We see Jesus’ concern for His mother and her well being in a physical sense and we see Jesus even place His “faith” in John to be able to accomplish this. Not unlike God the Father, putting His “faith” in Mary at the Annuciation.

Since God is relational ,we being made in His image and likeness, are relational as well. We are also called to, “… love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39). These aren’t just mere verses to memorize, or to glance over. It’s our responsibility to live them out! Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He’s not talking about lip service and no action here, He’s not talking about meeting two or three times a week telling each other, “I luv you“. The world can’t see that! They see us in their world – loving and caring for one another the way Christ loved and cared for others while He was here on this earth, and as He cares for us now; healing and restoring our soul.

So in this third week of Lent, let us put our love in action, as Paul reminds us in Titus 3:8 & 14, “This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these points, that those who have believed in God be careful to devote themselves to good works; these are excellent and beneficial to others. But let our people, too, learn to devote themselves to good works to supply urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.

Openly loving and doing good for others in all the ways we can, is an opportunity for us to let “ [y]our light shine before others  that they may see [y]our good deeds and glorify [y]our heavenly Father. ”

Amen.

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