Questions & Answers

Scripture Readings

Today’s gospel passage is a good one.  Jesus deftly outmaneuvers the wily Sadducees, juking at the last second to deliver a slam dunk answer.  Jesus’ answer was so good that “they no longer dared to ask him anything”… wait, what?

Is that the point?  To scare people into silence.  Was Jesus in the business of shutting down silly questions so people would just leave him alone and give him a moment of peace?  I don’t think so.  I think there is another layer to this story that we can peel back that issues a challenge for us regarding questions & answers.

I never saw this additional layer until a read a book on the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament (the books recognized as scripture by Catholics but not Protestants.)  The book offers an interesting thought regarding this scene that I wish to paraphrase.  It goes something like this.

This passage in Luke can make the Sadducees look a little silly.  They’ve been planning and conniving the ultimate ‘Jesus stumper,’ so they cook up some ridiculous story of 7 male relatives marrying the same woman and all dying without having kids.  This hardly seems like the best option.  Isn’t there a chance that Jesus would just look at them, disregard the whole scenario as ridiculous and say, “Bring me something more realistic next time.”

At this point the author argues that we should give the Sadducees a little more credit.  He proposes that they didn’t make up this scenario but are lifting it straight from the pages of Tobit; a book recognized as scripture by some Jews but not the Sadducees.  Luke only tells us they were trying to trap Jesus regarding the resurrection from the dead, but they were trying to corner him by ensuring that he couldn’t just dismiss the scenario.  They thought they had Jesus in a catch – 22.  If Jesus said the whole scenario was ridiculous they would ask him if He was rejecting Tobit, but if He didn’t dismiss the scenario they thought he would get stuck talking in circles about who would be married to whom, leaving them ample holes to exploit.  Instead he answered so well that, “they no longer dared to ask him anything.”

Why?

Because they weren’t asking to learn, grow, or be challenged but to fight, win, and be right.  They were not asking questions from a position of humility but pride.  Their questions weren’t truly questions at all.  They did not wish to dialogue with Jesus but have him follow their diatribe’s script.

We still struggle with that temptation.  We don’t dialogue well.  We want to tell people why the things that are important to us should be the only things that matter to them.  I want to prove my point not open my conclusion to review.  We have seen this in its full blown reality in the recent election and its aftermath.  There have been so many diatribes, but so few dialogues.

Does this mean that we become conversational doormats?  No.  Jesus in today’s gospel did not shy away from offering the Sadducees a great defense.  We need to have the wisdom to answer questions honestly and without fear of saying what we believe.  But how does Jesus do that?  By quoting the Torah, the portion of the Bible that the Sadducees viewed as Scripture.  He spoke their language.

Jesus invited the Sadducees to dialogue about Eternal Life (and what is Scripture), but they were so diatribe driven that they shut the dialogue down.

As disciples, we strive to talk like Jesus.  We are not afraid to express what we believe, but we try and do it in a language others will understand, for our goal is always an invitation for dialogue.  A dialogue in which we hope the Word of God speaks far louder than any of our own words.

– Spencer Hargadon

Jesus Is

“After [Paul’s] arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace.  He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 18:27b-28).  Those are the closing words of our first reading today.  It captures nicely what this whole section of Acts is all about.  Paul, invigorated by the Holy Spirit, is supporting, nurturing, growing, and defending the primitive church and the disciples it is composed of.  And why do this?  Why does he face persecution, arrest, and beatings?  Why does he stand for people he has never met, even former gentiles?  Why does he stand against his own people?  It really is a tense question.

No, I mean it.  It is a question of tense.  See how the last part of Acts 18 renders it, “the Christ is Jesus.”  This is a present tense statement.  10 times out of 10 you should talk about someone who was crucified in the past tense because they are, well you know, dead.  But Acts doesn’t read, “The Christ was Jesus.”  Instead, it says, “The Christ is Jesus.”  He still lives.

This is why St Paul does what he does the way he does it.  Not because Jesus was merciful, kind, stern, passionate, meek, humble, intense, etc, but because he is those things.  Jesus is.  That changes everything.  Death has lost, good can’t be outmaneuvered by evil, and justice and mercy will have the last word said in unison.

As we close this reflection, I find myself drawn to Matt Maher’s song, “Because He Lives.”  I’ll leave some of the lyrics below, but please, go and find it here if you don’t know it.  As we look at St. Paul, I think the words of this song tell us exactly why he lived, served, and died the way he did.

“…I believe in the risen One
I believe I overcome
By the power of His blood

…I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives…

I was dead in the grave
I was covered in sin and shame
I heard mercy call my name
He rolled the stone away…

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
Every fear is gone
I know He holds my life my future in His hands…”

Jesus, you not only lived, but you live.  You are present.

Amen

What Happened?

Scripture Readings

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles can leave us wondering, “What happened?”  The passage describes an idyllic, utopian community of believers that are single-minded in their wholehearted love for the Lord and His people.  They care for the needs of those around them and trust the Apostles to distribute their earthly goods as justly as possible.  Today, we look around at Christianity and we see divided hearts and minds among the thousands of different denominations.  We hear suspicious accusations cast upon our leaders in the Church as well as upon the needy.  We are compelled to ask, “What in the world happened?”

Fear happened.  Fear crept into the Church as it had crept into the garden and whispered that we should not trust.  This lie, told by the Liar, is a starting point for sin, for instance, when I fear for my happiness I seek fleeting remedies like overindulgence in alcohol, tv, etc.  So many sins can be shown to have a connection to fear: Pride fears that God doesn’t know that He is doing, Envy fears that another’s happiness diminishes mine, Anger fears that justice will never be fulfilled, Sloth fears that I will never have enough time, Greed fears that without possessions I have nothing of value, Gluttony fears that if I don’t get mine now I’ll never have it, and Lust fears that without pleasure there is no fulfillment.  Thus, if we want to be anywhere close to the Church described in Acts we need to become fearless again.  For you see, the prevailing undercurrent of all three readings is that there is a trust in God that overcomes fear and it is these three points I wish to present for our reflection.

In Acts, the power of the Resurrection, and Apostles witness to it, fostered fearless trust.  Would our bishops, priests, and lay leaders be easier to trust if they courageously bore a stronger witness to the resurrection of Christ?  Does the Resurrection of Jesus possess power in our minds and hearts, or has it been relegated to a cultural celebration and religious novelty?  Does it help us overcome the fear of death?

The Psalmist finds great assurance in Gods firm trustworthiness.  Do we share that view?  Do we find firmness and stability with the Lord?  Do we find God’s decrees trustworthy or do we fear that they will impugn upon our freedom?

Finally, in the Gospel, we find Christ prophesying his own death.  He said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  Christ thus shows his trust in the Father’s plan.  Do I trust that my life serves a definite purpose?  Do I fear to die to myself because I do not trust God that there is truly fullness of life available to me, even now?

Lord, give us the grace to trust you in such a radical way that sin diminishes in our lives and that we can reflect the one heart and mind of the Church in its infancy.

Speaking My Language

Reflection based on the Gospel from November 21, 2015

The Sadducees play an important role in today’s passage from Luke.  Scholars tell us that Sadducees rejected all books of the Bible except for the Torah, or the first five.  Nothing outside of these five books was authoritative or doctrinally binding to them.  Thus, believing they couldn’t find the promise of eternal life and resurrection explicitly in the Torah, they rejected those beliefs. Rejecting eternal life is why they were ‘Sad-you-see’ (I can’t take credit for that pun).  Luke also tells us about their denial of the Resurrection, which brings us to their confrontation with Jesus.  After their attempt to trap Jesus by making the Resurrection sound absurd, He responds in a very important way.  He provides evidence from the Torah. Continue reading “Speaking My Language”

Revolution of Grace

Remember, remember the 5th of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I can think of no reason, the gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.

I don’t give weight to the revolutionary that sneaks under the places of authority, but is raised above them.
Nor do I follow a revolutionary that calculates the right time to destroy, instead I follow one who sought the right time to fulfill and restore.
I reject the revolutionary that factors how many to kill, but follow the revolutionary that held back his whole host.
I turn from the revolutionary that views death as an instrument, and pursue the revolutionary that sees death as the enemy.

In remembering the Gunpowder Treason, I don’t see merely Guy Fawkes, but our human revolutions and they stand in stark contrast with the revolution of the Incarnation, Divine Love become Flesh; a revolution not merely from the bottom up, but from the top down to the bottom and back up again.  This was a revolution that didn’t result in victory through death, but victory over death!

There have been so many revolutions in history, many indeed.  Yet none of them has had the force of this revolution that brought Jesus to us: a revolution to transform history, a revolution that changes the human heart in depth.  The revolutions of history have changed political and economic systems, but none has changed the human heart.  True revolution, the revolution that radically transforms life, was brought about by Jesus Christ through his resurrection.  Benedict XVI said of this revolution that “it is the greatest mutation in the history of humanity.” … In this day and age, unless Christians are revolutionaries, they are not Christians.  They must be revolutionaries through grace! (Papa Frank, Address to the Participants in the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, 17 June 2013).

A Loved Sinner; In That Order

A Reflection on the Readings for Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

In Youth Ministry we are always trying to find new ways to present old truths without compromising on integrity.  Some might say it is a byproduct of trying to fit faith into 140 characters and others would s\y it is just part of making faith manageable in our teens’ busy lives.  Whatever the cause might be, it is a challenge of ministry. Continue reading “A Loved Sinner; In That Order”