Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

June 18, 2017
John 6:51-58

Background:

In the opening verse, Jesus identifies himself as the bread from heaven. In the next verse, he states that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has life eternal. The fact that the Jews quarreled among themselves at this statement should not be a surprise. The word that Jesus used, translated as “eats” here, would carry a sense of gnawing, as a dog with a bone. Drinking blood was prohibited within the Jewish community. It should not be surprising that some of the Jews who were hearing this questioned his teaching. Questions in John’s gospel usually present an opportunity for Jesus to further explain his teaching.

Jesus explains, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:51) In case they missed the point, Jesus restates this point three more times (verses 53, 54, and 55). The expression “flesh and blood” was to describe a human person. For those Jesus is addressing, the term “flesh and blood” would also call to mind the animals that were ritually slaughtered as offerings to God–including offerings made throughout the year, but especially those made as part of the Passover observance.  Jesus is describing himself as the lamb that was killed and had its blood drained so that it could be used as a sacrificial offering.  This same connection will be made later in John’s gospel when he places the hour of Jesus’ death at about the time when the lambs were being killed for the Passover observance.

For John’s community, Jesus is their food and drink. Because John’s gospel is the last of the four gospels to be written, those in the community have had more time to reflect on the significance of the Jewish tradition in Jesus’ life and teaching. The experience of God feeding the Jews in the desert is a springboard to help them understand God’s new revelation in Jesus. It is not enough to believe in Jesus, or even to ritually participate in the new customs of the Christian community. They are seeking to understand how God is continuing to nourish with God’s real presence on this new journey.

Departing from Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s gospel does not have a Last Supper account before his passion and death. Therefore, Jesus’ instruction here about being the Body and Blood that gives eternal life is not tied as directly to Eucharist. It is a much broader and pervasive reality than just Eucharist.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your thinking of bread, what memories come to mind when you think of bread?
  2. What memories do you have of wine?
  3. What images come to mind when you think of flesh? What images come to mind when you think of blood?
  4. Have you ever had periods when you did not get enough to eat? How far back would you have to go in your family to note a generation that truly worried about not having enough to eat? How do you think that experience affected them?
  5. Have there been times in your life when you felt a hunger or a thirst that was not about food or drink?
  6. Why would John take the time to note that the Jews quarreled among themselves over Jesus’s teaching?
  7. Are their aspects of God’s relationship with us that you have quarreled about?
  8. What are the things that nourish your soul, and your spirit?
  9. What does this say to you about God’s desire for you?
  10. Can you take some time now or later today to speak to God about what this text is saying to you at this time of your life?

 

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

The Holy Trinity

June 11, 2017
John 3:16-18

Background:

The first verse (Jn 3:16) of the gospel is among the most familiar texts in the Christian Scriptures. One scripture scholar says that it is “a succinct summary of the whole Gospel…” (Reginald H. Fuller http://www.liturgy.slu.edu/TrinityA061117/theword_indepth.html)

John’s gospel was written much later than the other gospels. Many in John’s community would have been familiar with those gospels. Therefore, John’s gospel could begin with John the Baptist testifying to the greatness of Jesus and then move directly to Jesus’ call of the first disciples without describing any of Jesus’ early teaching or healing ministry. The second chapter of John’s gospel describes the wedding feast at Cana and Jesus expelling from the Temple those selling items to pilgrims desiring to offer a sacrifice. Both of these events would have disturbed the peoples’ understanding of their relationship to God.

The third chapter of John’s gospel begins with Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee of the day, coming to Jesus at night to gain a clearer understanding of Jesus and his teaching. Nicodemus asks Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him. “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:2-3) Jesus’ response to Nicodemus uses a word that means both again and above, so that when Jesus tells him that one must be born “again” in order to enter the Kingdom of God, Nicodemus is not sure what he means. It is in the context of this conversation with Nicodemus that the present text appears in John’s gospel.

The text states that God gave his only Son to the world so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. In John’s gospel “the world” is sometimes cast in a positive light, but more often it is cast in a negative light. The early Christians’ experience of the world changed drastically in those years when the texts that became the New Testament were being written. In the years right after the resurrection, the early Christians were part of the Jewish community. They were convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah. They lived by that conviction, and they argued with their contemporaries, but they maintained their status in the community. Gentile conversion to Christianity, some Jewish Christians’ rejection of their new faith, Jews becoming resentful, and eventually excommunication from their synagogues led to a more hostile attitude toward the world. This shift in attitude is also reflected in the New Testament and elsewhere in John’s Gospel.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Complete this sentence. My parents so loved me that they gave me ….
  2. Or if you are a parent yourself, complete this. I so loved my child that I gave her/him …
  3. Can you contemplate what it might have been like for the Father to send the Son to be born into the world?
  4. What comes to mind when you reflect on God’s desire for sending his Son to be born into the world?
  5. Do you see the world primarily as something good, created by God, and a place that reveals the presence of God to you?
  6. What has been your primary experience of the world and society?
  7. Have there been periods in your life when it has been difficult to believe in the goodness of the world, creation, and the people around you? What happens to you when you choose to live out of that attitude?
  8. How is your life different when you live out of a basic reverence, trust, and sense of goodness in others?
  9. God so loved that world that … (How many times could you fill in this sentence?)
  10. The text seems to invite us to contemplate and enter the heart of God. Do you ever pray to know how God feels about you?
  11. What do you think it would be like to see yourself through the eyes and heart of God?

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

Pentecost

June 4, 2017
Vigil: John 7:37-39
Day: John 20:19-23

Vigil: John 7:37-39

Background:

This reading is especially appropriate because Pentecost is the last day of the Easter Season. In the early church, this was the day when those who could not be baptized during the Easter Vigil were baptized. Baptisms were not celebrated throughout the year because the importance of joining a community was an essential part of the early Christian understanding of baptism. 

This Gospel text is very short. The feast that is referred to in the first verse is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. It was the third and the most favored festival that Jewish men were compelled to attend during the year. During the feast, simple structures were built that reminded the people of their dwellings during their shogun in the desert. The roof was typically covered with branches that would block the sun during the day but could be removed so that one could see the stars at night. The feast was celebrated when most of the harvest had been gathered. Each night the people gathered around an altar waving palm branches, and the priest poured water that was brought from the pool of Siloam, thanking God for the rain that produced the harvest and the water that flowed from the rock into the desert. It was on the last day of this festival that Jesus stood and declared that he was the living water, and invited all to come to him.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does creation and the events of nature influence your understanding of how God is present to you? Can you point to a particular recent experience?
  2. Have there been times during this Easter Season when you felt connected to the God who has been unfolding and revealing God’s self throughout time?
  3. What is your experience of coming to the last day of a great celebration?
  4. What is your experience of coming to the last day of the Easter Season? Is it any different this year than in other years?
  5. What hopes do you bring to this day?
  6. How is Jesus standing up before you and the assembly saying, “Let anyone who thirsts, come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says; ‘Rivers of living water will flow from him’”?

What would you like to say to God about the living water flowing from you?

 

Day: John 20:19-23

Background:

The second Gospel text for Pentecost is also from John’s Gospel. The text presents a different kind of experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples than is found in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 (the first reading for Masses during the day). Here in the Gospel, even through the disciples have gathered in fear, they are sent out just as the Father sent Jesus himself. They have real reason to be afraid that those who arrested Jesus, and crucified him, may be plotting to move against them, too. However, the presence of the risen Lord is not impeded by the physical restraint of a locked door, or their fears. The crucified Jesus stands in their midst and greets them with peace. This greeting of peace is also a prayer for health, prosperity, and all good that comes with the end times. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit–an action that mirrors God breathing life into Adam in Genesis. The disciples receive the power to both bind and forgive sins, an expression that names the two extremes but is intended to communicate the full range of power between the two extremes. In John’s Gospel, sin is defined as the refusal to accept Jesus and his teaching. By asking the disciples to be agents of forgiveness, Jesus is commissioning them to be agents to reach out those who have rejected Jesus and his teachings. The text seems to use the energy that is present when two opposites are brought together to describe the new energy that is released by God upon the disciples.

The modern reader may associate the forgiving of sins with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, in the early Church, forgiveness of sin was associated with Baptism. The Reconciliation that Jesus is commissioning the disciples to be about is much larger than the personal forgiveness of individual sins. It would seem to be about the kind of reconciliations that Jesus brought to the ten lepers when he told them to go show themselves to the priest so that they could be reinstated in the community, or when he spoke to the woman at the well and the whole community was transformed by her testimony. Forgiving in this sense seems to be about restoring the fullness of the relationship.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you lock doors? Do you check to make sure they are locked at night or when you leave?
  2. Are there parts of your life that you keep locked away?
  3. Have you or someone you know well had the experience of being refused forgiveness by a parent or by someone they loved?
  4. Where do you encounter your own fears? Which of your fears are you grateful for? Which of your fears would you like to be free of?  Do you fear God?
  5. In the text, the disciples thought that they had gathered in safety behind locked doors, and they discovered that they were leaving empowered by God to act, even though to do so made them more vulnerable. Has God ever worked that way in your life?
  6. When have you been aware of the Jesus who was standing in your midst? How would you recognize him?
  7. How do you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in your own life? Have there been times when the Holy Spirit seemed to be present in a dramatic way, and times when the Spirit has been gently present to you… as gently as your own breath?
  8. In the gospel, Jesus breathed on the disciples the breath of life, and told them they had the power to forgive and to bind sins. Can you take some time to talk to God about God’s desire to give this power to his disciples, and to you?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

Feast of the Ascension

May 28, 2017
Matthew 28:16-20

[Most Dioceses in the Unites States have moved the celebration of The Ascension of the Lord to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Therefore the gospel text here is for that feast.]

Background:

By separating the resurrection from the ascension, the Church gives us the opportunity to pray and reflect on two aspects of a single event, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. For several centuries, the church did not treat the ascension as a separate event that took place 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. The notion of the ascension as a historical event, where Jesus rose from the grave but waited for some time to be with the disciples and teach them a few last things before returning to the Father, is not supported by the scripture texts like the gospel for this feast. Here Jesus says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Verse 19) This kind of proclamation would not occur if Jesus is still in some state of transition between death and full communion with the Father and Holy Spirit.

In Matthew’s gospel, both Mary and Mary Magdalene come to the tomb as dawn arrives on the first day of the week. They witness an earthquake and an angel rolling back the stone of the cave. The angel instructs them to go to the disciples and tell them, “He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (Matthew 28:7) The two Marys leave the tomb fearful yet overjoyed, and run to the disciples. On their way they encounter Jesus, and Jesus himself tells them, “Do not be afraid, go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10)

The gospel text for today demonstrates that the two Marys were faithful to what they were commissioned to do, “Go tell the disciples.” Despite being caught in the two emotions of joy and fear, they acted. The first verse of the text also describes the disciples being faithful to what Jesus asked of them. They were instructed to go to Galilee to meet Jesus. On seeing Jesus, they too were caught between two emotions: doubt and worship. They were commissioned “to make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Jesus’ earlier instruction to the disciples, not to enter a pagan or Samaritan area, is set aside. (Matthew 10:5) With the resurrection, all cultural and ethnic distinctions and boundaries have been breached or dissolved. They are to “baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.” This is not the full expression of a developed Trinitarian theology of God, but it is the beginning. The fact that we, and people of every race, language, orientation, and way of life, are gathering to celebrate this feast is evidence that they, too, and generations after them, have been faithful to what Jesus commissioned all of us to do.

Reflection Questions

  1. Who are some of the people you have had to say good-bye to in recent years?
  2. How did you try to prepare for their departure?
  3. Have you found any unexpected blessings from their leaving?
  4. How do you think the disciples felt about the women telling them that they should go to Galilee? What might Galilee have symbolized for them?
  5. The text says that when the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped and doubted. How you understand them both worshiping and doubting? What does the fact that they worshiped and doubted say about how God is present in your life?
  6. Who were the significant people who taught you about your relationship with God and God’s desire to be in relationship with you? What do you remember about those people? What does that suggest to you about how you are teaching others?
  7. Why do you think Jesus in this text is sending the disciples out to all the nations?
  8. Is there a difference between a community who feels that it is essential that they share the gospel with others and a community that does not take that responsibility seriously?
  9. How do you hear Jesus’ statement at the end of the text: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age?”
  10. As you hear this gospel, what in this text most strikes you? Can you take time to talk to God about whatever that is?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

5th Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2017
John 14:1-12

Background: 

This text is part of a much larger section of John’s Gospel often referred to as “The Last Discourse.” It is the intimate conversation between Jesus and the disciples before the crucifixion. Similar examples of this kind of discourse can be found in the scriptures.  The 49th chapter of Genesis records Jacob’s farewell, Deuteronomy 31 to 33 has Moses’ farewell, and Paul’s farewell is found in chapter 20 of Acts. In general, these discourses begin with a prediction of approaching death, then offer encouragement to the speaker’s disciples, and thirdly give incentive to pass on their instruction to others who will come later.

In the text here, Jesus is reassuring the disciples before his departure. He seeks to calm their fear by encouraging them to trust in themselves and in God. He does not disguise the reality of his impending departure, but frames it in terms of going to prepare a place for them with God. He then tells them that when he returns, they (Jesus, the disciples, and God) will be reunited. It is ambiguous whether this reunion will be at the resurrection or in the final age.

This text, and John’s gospel in general, portrays Thomas as the one who questions Jesus and what he is trying to teach them. Philip, too, has a special relationship with Jesus in John’s gospel. He is one of the disciples that Jesus personally invites to be a follower, and he is the disciple responsible for bringing Nathaniel to Jesus (John 1:43-48). Jesus asked Philip how they might feed the multitude (John 6:5-9). When some Greeks came looking for Jesus, they approached Philip first. He and Andrew then took them to Jesus (John 12:20-22). When Philip asks Jesus to “Show us the Father” in verse 8, the question should be heard as coming from someone who has a special relationship with Jesus.

In verse 11, Jesus makes a rather bold statement that he (Jesus) is in the Father and the Father is in him. After 2,000 years of theological reflection, the contemporary Christian community may not find this kind of statement shocking. But for the early disciples, this was an extraordinary statement. In a kind of recognition of how difficult it may be to grasp what has just been stated, Jesus adds “or else, believe because of the works themselves [that I have performed].”

John’s community would find consolation in this text. Since Jesus’ ascension, they have experienced the death of some of their members. They have been expelled from the synagogue, the place that they believed to be the center of their relationship with God and society. Jesus’ words would help them find a new center of meaning in him, and assure them that they did, indeed, still have a place where they could gather together with him and with God.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What are the separations, losses, or deaths that are part of your life recently?
  2. In verses 2 and 3 of this gospel, Jesus speaks of having prepared a place for you. Do you hear that statement being addressed to you?
  3. Given what you know of both Thomas and Philip, how do you think Thomas and Philip were feeling as they heard Jesus speaking to them? How might their reactions have been both different and alike?
  4. Given Jesus’ relationship with Philip and Thomas, how do you think Jesus felt as they asked their questions?
  5. In verse 9, Jesus says to Philip: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” Read these words out loud until they seem to capture the emotion of Jesus’ response to Philip. What comes across to you?
  6. In verse 5, John tells Jesus, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how we can know the way?” A few verses later Thomas says to Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Why do you think the evangelist chooses to record these statements by these two disciples?
  7. If Jesus is indeed “the way” to return to God, how do you understand this “way” that Jesus has shown us? What does that mean for you?
  8. At the end of this text Jesus says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” Do you believe that what Jesus says here is true? How is it true in your own life?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

May 7, 2017
John 10:1-10

Background:

This text is made up of two parables and an interpretation of those parables that identify Jesus as the gate and the shepherd. The text itself follows John’s account of Jesus’ cure of the man who was born blind. (John 9:1-41) As that text unfolds, the relationship between the Pharisees and Jesus deteriorates, as does the Pharisees’ relationship with the man who was born blind. In a statement addressed to the man who was blind, Jesus says that he came into the world so that those who were blind might see and those who see might become blind. The Pharisees believe that Jesus is talking about them being blind, and they question him about what he meant. He responds, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” (John 9:41) This context for today’s gospel text suggests that the text is not only about the quality of care that Jesus has for his disciples, but also about qualities to be considered necessary in those who assume leadership roles within the Christian community.

In this text Jesus draws on two familiar roles for people of the day–that of shepherd and that of the keeper of the sheep gate. Most of us have seen pictures and movies of large herds of sheep being driven across long stretches to huge ranges of pasturelands. In Jesus’ day, the norm was to have extended families living together. A common pen held each family’s small flock. The gatekeeper knew which sheep were part of each family’s flock.  Sheep were most often driven, with the shepherd bringing up the rear, looking for stragglers. But there were those who would lead their sheep with a kind of whistle or a call that the sheep recognized and followed. Jesus seemed to take this style of shepherding a step further, suggesting that he is a shepherd who calls each of his sheep by name. His sheep know not only the sound of his voice, but perhaps even the sound of his voice as he calls each by its name. Jesus is a shepherd who knows each of this sheep individually and responds to them. They know him personally and respond to the sound of his voice.

The second parable in today’s gospel draws on the role of the one who keeps the sheep while they are held in the pen. He guards the sheep from being taken by someone other than their shepherd, and he protects them as well from wild animals that might take advantage of a young lamb or a weak member of the flock. On occasion, this person might lie down across the opening in the pen so those who desired to enter the pen had to cross over his body, lying across the gate, or the sheep would have to climb over him to leave the pen. This practice was ideal for Jesus to use as an image of how he tends to those within his care. It is also a wonderful image to help us understand the cross and death of Jesus that is the third part of today’s gospel.

Jesus is the good shepherd and the sheep gatekeeper who protects his flock. Jesus is unlike the Pharisees, who were unable to help the man born blind, and then when he was cured they ostracized him from the community. Jesus first responds to the man’s need, and then he seeks him out when he is left to live a life isolated from the religious community and his family. Jesus tends to his disciples like a good shepherd who even lays down this life in order that they may be kept from all who would cause them death or harm.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of sheep and shepherds?
  2. Have there been occasions when it was really important for you to hear the sound of familiar voices?
  3. What do you look for in leaders–in religious, political, and organizational leaders?
  4. How familiar you are with the voice of God in your life?
  • In what ways does God speak to you?
  • When do you listen for the voice of God in your life?
  • How do you recognize the voice of God?
  1. Have there been people who have helped you discern the voice of God from other voices who seemed to be asking you to follow their call? What helped during those times of discernment?
  2. What is the strongest part of this passage for you? What is being said to you?

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel

3rd Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2017
Luke 24:13-35

Background:

Execution by crucifixion was reserved for the most contemptuous of criminals. The early disciples were disappointed and humiliated by the fact that Jesus was crucified. Last Sunday’s gospel also suggests that they were afraid for their own safety. It should be no surprise that some of the disciples gathered behind the locked doors and still others fled the situation. Emmaus was a Roman Spa, a place of physical comfort.

The two that were on the road to Emmaus might have been any of many pilgrims who had been to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and were now returning home. But Luke tells us that these two were disciples. There is some reason to suspect that they were husband and wife. Missionary couples like Aguila and Priscilla were known among the early Christian community (Acts 18:2). John’s gospel mentions the wife of Clopas (possibly Cleopas) at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and Mary of Magdala (John 19:25). Another reason to think they were a couple is that their invitation of hospitality toward Jesus, at the end of the text, seems to have been made together.

   When Jesus joined them, he appeared to them to be a fellow pilgrim returning from the Passover celebration. They were surprised by the fact that he seemed to be unaware of Jesus’ crucifixion. The two disciples explained the events of the crucifixion, and of that Sunday morning, as they knew them. They were aware that some of the women had reported the empty tomb, and that an angel told them that Jesus was alive. Others had verified that the tomb was empty, and they did not find Jesus, nor, apparently, did they find the angel who had appeared to the women. The two also revealed that they were among Jesus’ followers, and that they had hoped that he might be the awaited savior. They told all of this to a person who appeared to be a total stranger! At the same time they are heading out of Jerusalem, away of the other disciples to the Roman Spa City of Emmaus.

  From their perspective, this stranger seemed to be able to reinterpret their religious traditions in such a way that the events of Jesus’ death were the fulfillment of their tradition. Even with this new understanding their tradition they were continuing their journey to Emmaus and unware that the person walking with them was the risen Jesus. They will not rediscover their hope and faith in Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus accepts their invitation to joined them and brakes bread with them. The formula of verse 30 is same as that of the Last supper (Luke 22:19), “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’”

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you faced a life situation that was dreadful or out of control? How do you respond?
  2. Have you ever had sense that God was walking with you? Did have that awareness during that period of your life or later?
  3. Have you ever come to awareness that you had been prevented from recognizing God’s presence in your life? What were some of the things that prevented you form recognizing God’s presence?
  4. On the road, the two disciples told Jesus not only what had happened in Jerusalem, but also how these events had impacted them personally. How easy is it for you to share with others your doubts, fears and disappointments?
  5. What do you think is the emotional state of the two disciples who are on the way to Emmaus? Why would Jesus want to come to these two disciples?
  6. The disciples did not recognized Jesus until the breaking of the bread. Has your participation in the Eucharist brought you to a new awareness of your relationship to God, the church or creation?

 

Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas By: Hendrick ter Brugghen

April 23, 2017
John 20:19-31

 

Background:

Most Westerners have become accustomed to a world of visible information. Educators know that some people learn best when information is presented visually. Some people take pride in wanting to see for themselves–Missouri is known as the “show me state.” However, in the culture in which Jesus lived, many people did not possess the visual capabilities that we take for granted. In order to maintain some sense of privacy in their culture, deception and secrecy were parts of daily survival. Children were used to spying on neighbors, and locked doors were presumed to be hiding covert activity. In this culture, everyone developed a healthy suspicion and doubt about the truthfulness of others. The way people dealt with discerning the truthfulness of a person’s account was to have numerous and notable witnesses.

Unlike the synoptic gospels, John’s gospel does not contain a Last Supper/Passover account. Instead, John precedes the passion and death of Jesus with a farewell address. As part of this address Jesus says, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:27-28) Later in that discourse Jesus again addresses the disciples, “you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything.” (John 16:22-23a) In the text for this Sunday, John describes how Jesus has fulfilled what he said in that farewell address.

This gospel text is composed of two almost identical appearances of the risen Lord. Both appearances take place on the first day of the week. Both times the disciples are gathered, the doors are locked, Jesus appears in their midst, he greets them with the greeting of peace, and he shows them the wounds of the crucifixion. The repetition of these details draws attention to the ways the two appearances are different. First is the absence of Thomas in the first appearance. When he is told by the others that Jesus has appeared to them, he refuses to accept their word as creditable witnesses of the truth of their testimony. If the others have seen the risen Jesus, he will not believe unless he can not only see but touch the wounds. This leads to the second difference in the two accounts–the fact that Thomas is invited by Jesus to touch the wounds of the crucifixion. Another difference is found in the kind of response the disciples and Thomas have to the presence of the risen Christ before them. In the first visit, they are filled with joy. In the second appearance, Thomas responds with a statement of faith in Jesus as his Lord and his God.  The last difference is in the way the appearance impacts those beyond the event itself. In the first incident, Jesus commissions the disciples to be instruments of God’s forgiveness. In the second appearance, Jesus describes those who believe, without the unique experience of Thomas and these disciples, as blessed.

Thomas’ objection to believing the testimony of the apostles would be familiar to many in the early Church for whom John is writing. John’s gospel was the last to be written. Many of those who were now hearing of Jesus had not had a personal experience of Jesus. In fact, even many of those who were now teaching had probably not experienced the Jesus of history either. How could anyone be expected to believe in Jesus if they had no experience of Jesus or the resurrection? The experience of Thomas is one of the ways John is responding to such questions. Thomas first gives voice to their objection. But when he finally comes to faith, it is not because he has seen or even touched the wounds of Jesus, even though he has now had the opportunity. He is brought to faith by accepting the word of Jesus to him, the invitation, and that Jesus desired to seek him out so that he not remain in ignorance.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you presume that most people speak truthfully?
  2. Do you recall an incident when others doubted your truthfulness?
  3. Jesus enters the room where the disciples are gathered and greets them with “Peace be with you.” Who are the people who have brought peace into your life?
  4. Do you bring peace into the life of others?
  5. The gospel text says that Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side, and that the disciples rejoiced when they saw him. It seems to be implied that they rejoiced to see the signs of his passion. How do you make sense of this?
  6. Are there places in your own life where you find meaning and even joy in what you have suffered?
  7. What are some of the things Thomas might have been thinking when he heard the others tell him of Jesus’ appearance to them?
  8. How do you think the disciples felt when Thomas told them that he not only did not believe them, but that he would never believe unless he touched the wounds of Jesus?
  9. Are you surprised that Thomas was still with them a week later when Jesus returned? What do you think that week was like for Thomas, for Peter, and for the other disciples?
  10. How would the Church have been different if Peter had insisted that Thomas either accept their testimony and believe, or separate himself from the group?
  11. How many times in the gospels do people seek to touch Jesus? How many times does Jesus seek to touch another?
  12. How might the church be different without both of these two stories of Jesus coming to the disciples in the midst of their fears and doubts?

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

April 9, 2017
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Background:

The earliest Christian accounts of the death of Jesus are Paul’s simple and direct statements. “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once …” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6) Paul’s statement may seem rather stark compared to Matthew’s passion narrative. Paul’s emphasis is clearly on the resurrection. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst scoundrels and was an embarrassment to the early disciples. It took many years of reflection for the Christian community to make sense of it. Matthew’s community was largely Jewish. They turned to the Hebrew Scriptures that spoke of fulfillment, especially Psalms 22 and 69, and texts from the great prophet Isaiah. (Italics have been added to the gospel text above to highlight those places where Matthew tells his readers that the event fulfills what was written about the Messiah.) Mark’s passion is similar to Matthew’s in focus. Luke and John focus much more on the discourse of Jesus throughout the events. John’s account does not even include a Last Supper narrative, but instead a kind of farewell address that contains instructions for the disciples and a deep, personal prayer.

The manner of Jesus’ death raised difficult questions for the early Christian Community. How could God’s anointed be treated so shamefully? Could God not have done something to prevent this from happening? If God could have done something, why did God not do something to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion? Jesus’ death was a scandal that most Jews could not accept as the way God would chose to act. To seriously consider Jesus as the long-awaited messiah was extremely difficult.

One of the ways Matthew deals with these questions is to make it clear that Jesus, who is the faithful servant of God, had been falsely accused. In the opening verses of today’s text, Jesus’ own disciple, Judas, receives payment to hand Jesus over. Judas next appears accompanied by a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, and he betrays Jesus with a kiss. (Matthew 26:47-50) The third and last time Judas is mentioned, he is back with the chief priests seeking to correct his obvious mistake. When the chief priests refuse to cooperate with his change of heart, Judas hangs himself. Note that the money paid to Judas was blood money, and therefore could not be returned to the temple treasury. (Matthew 27:3-8) The three times that Judas appears in Matthew’s passion highlight the fact that Jesus was falsely accused, showing that there were no valid accusations of any crime, let alone any crime that would merit crucifixion.

Another way that Matthew deals with the questions that arise from Jesus’ crucifixion is to portray him as the one who is completely in control of the situation. Jesus knows what is going to happen beforehand. He predicts that (1) the disciples will go into the crowded city of Jerusalem and find a man who had prepared a room for him and the disciples to celebrate the Passover (Matthew 26:18-19), (2) one of his disciples will betray him (Matthew 26:21), and (3) Peter will deny him (Matthew 26:31). Jesus is also in control of his actions in the way he responds to people in roles of authority and power. Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate all appear to be driven by the situation. At times they even appear to be appealing to Jesus for some insight to make sense of the situation. Matthew also draws on the manly virtue of the day: that of bearing one’s fate in life without complaint. The only hint of complaint comes while Jesus is in prayer in the garden. But, Jesus prays that events unfold according to God’s will and not his own. (Matthew 26:39-42) As the passion narrative unfolds, Matthew reminds his community of references to their sacred tradition that suggest these events are unfolding as they were intended by God.

Matthew’s passion does not portray Jesus’ death as the targeted fate of a naive radical holy man. Rather, Jesus is like every innocent and persecuted Hebrew who has experienced persecution, injustice and misunderstanding. He is one like them. Jesus has taken the very worst treatment upon himself, and he has been totally faithful and completely innocent. The resurrection was a demonstration, once and for all, of the power of God to overcome all evil in the world.

Perhaps the struggle of the Hebrew people to accept Jesus as the Messiah is not so very different from our own. How could a loving God expect his beloved to endure such a painful and humiliating form of death? One problem with this type of question is that it seems to reflect only the perspective of Jesus being a human being. From the perspective of Jesus as God, the question might be asked: what is God revealing to us about his relationship with a world that is composed of people like the disciples, Peter, Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod…?

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your attitude toward suffering and humiliation?
  2. Have you ever taken on suffering or humiliation in order to be true to yourself or to a value you hold deeply?
  3. Have you ever abandoned your values in order to avoid suffering or humiliation? 
  4. When you experience pain or suffering, do you find that your attention and focus turn inward on yourself and your pain? Does it also make you aware of the suffering of others?
  5. In the gospel text, both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus and regretted their actions later. What is the difference in the way that each of them dealt with their sorrow? 
  6. Have you ever wept because of your awareness of your sinfulness?
  7. When Jesus prays that he be spared of the ordeal before him, what is he revealing to you about the nature of his relationship to the Father, and the Father’s relationship to Jesus?
  8. What is Jesus revealing to us about his relationship to the Father when he cries out on the cross? What is the Father revealing to you about the Father’s relationship to Jesus?
  9. Where is God in these moments?
  10. What role does a spirituality that includes surrender to God’s will have in your life? Do you think you will experience blessings without accepting discipline?
  11. As you reflect on this gospel text, what are some of the parts that stand out for you today? What would you like to say to God about what God seems to be saying to you?

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

5th Sunday of Lent

The Raising of Lazarus
Mattia Preti, 1650s, oil on canvas
Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

April 2, 2017
John 11:1-45

Background:

This text is one of the most important texts for the Christian community. It is also one of longest texts that the Church uses for a Sunday gospel. (Only the passion accounts are longer.)

The gospels contain three accounts of Jesus restoring life to the dead. Both Mark and Luke describe the healing of Jairus’ daughter. (Mark 5:22-24, 35-43 and Luke 8:41-42, 49-56) Jairus comes to Jesus while his daughter is still sick and asks Jesus to come and heal her. While they are speaking, the news of death of the young girl arrives. Jesus ignores those who bring the news, as well as those who have already begun to gather to mourn the young girl’s death. He restores the girl to health. The second account of Jesus raising someone to life is only recorded in Luke (7:12-17). In this incident, a widow is leaving the town of Nain to bury her only son who had died sometime during that very day. Jesus encounters the woman and is moved by the situation; he stops the procession and restores life to the woman’s son. Luke does not say how long the man had been dead, but he has certainly been dead longer than Jairus’ daughter. In today’s text, Lazarus has been dead for four days, and the presumption is that the body has already started to decompose to the point that there will be stench if the tomb is unsealed. John wants his community to know the raising of Lazarus is not like the others that are recorded in Mark and Luke. Here Jesus is reinserting the life force back into a body that has stopped functioning.

Another way that John points to the significance of this event is in the way the religious leaders react to what has taken place. In the other gospels, the timing of when the leaders plot ways to kill Jesus is after he goes into the temple and overturns the tables of those selling coins and animals used for making offerings. But in John’s gospel, the Pharisees and high priests come to that decision after Lazarus is raised. The seven verses following the gospel text are:

“But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, ‘What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.’ He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So, from that day on they planned to kill him.” (John 11:46-53)

Lastly, the importance of this text is indicated by the very questions that John states within the text itself and places on the lips of Martha and Mary:

  • Why did Lazarus have to die?
  • If Jesus has the power to cast out demons and cure a man who was born blind, could he not have done something for Lazarus and for all who believe?
  • Why did Jesus have to ascend to heaven and abandon the Christian community?

Both Martha and Mary believed that if Jesus had been there, he would have had the power to do something to prevent Lazarus’ death. (11:21 and 11:32) Both of them, like John’s community, are struggling to understand their faith in Jesus and their experience of death of members of their community who believed that Jesus was the messiah. They struggled to reconcile their faith in Jesus, and what they believed that would mean for them, against their lived experience.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Jesus first speaks of Lazarus as being asleep, rather than saying directly to the disciples that Lazarus had died. Do you ever feel like God is deliberately vague? Does that affect your relationship with God?
  2. The disciples try to deter Jesus from going to Martha and Mary by reminding him that the Jews had recently tried to stone him. How many times in the gospels to recall people trying to kill Jesus? What does this reference to people trying to stone Jesus suggest to you?
  3. When Thomas says to the others, “Let us also go to die with him,” what does it say to you?
  4. Both Martha and Mary say the same thing to Jesus when they encounter him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you hear each one of them saying to Jesus by this statement? How are they saying the same thing? How might their statements be different, given what you know about each them from the gospel?
  5. Have you ever felt like Martha and Mary; that if God wanted to, God could have prevented a death of a friend or some other terrible thing from happening?
  6. Have you started to think about your own death? Do you have any questions or fears about death, dying, and life after death?
  7. What, in this gospel, seems to strike home with you? Why?
  8. Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the tomb of Lazarus, and his own death with a confidence that is different than those around him. Have you known people who approached their own death with an attitude that is similar to that of Jesus’? Do you know how they were able to develop this kind of attitude?
  9. As you listen to this Gospel text, what do you hear God saying to you? Do you find yourself responding with gratitude, questions, or something entirely different? Can you talk to God about what is taking place within you?

 

 

The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.