Monday, September 24, 2012

Luke Chapter 11

Prayer and Confrontation.  The stakes are rising as Jesus confronts the Pharisees more regularly. In fact, in my translation of the Bible, the section that begins at v. 37 is called “Denunciation of the Pharisees and Scribes of the Law.”  Ouch. If you that section, which goes to v. 54, you will read of the rising tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, simmering even to a conspiracy against Jesus.

But the first part of this chapter is about prayer (vv. 1-13). Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer, followed by further teachings on prayer, and concluding with the very famous teaching about answered prayers. The point on which all of this pivots is repeated time and again: the proper disposition to prayer is like that of a child to his/her Father. Jesus teaches that it’s humility and trust that are the starting point of prayers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God makes the first move in prayer. Our first move to prayer is always a response to God’s initiative and invitation. 

There’s a rather complicated episode about Jesus and Beelzebul (vv. 14-23), that, if not read correctly, can leave one guessing about what Jesus is actually saying. Just to help provide some clarity: the strong man in this passage is Beelzebul, or Satan. The ‘stronger man’ that Jesus mentions in v. 22 is Him- Jesus. This is a teaching about conversion and about Jesus rescuing us from the clutches of sin.  There are then four other episodes (vv. 24-26; 27-28; 29-32; 33-36) that happen in quick succession. Luke might be combining four different chronological episodes into this section simply to keep the narrative moving. Regardless, the teachings of Jesus are quick and straightforward. True blessedness, that is happiness on earth and in heaven comes from listening to the Word of God and responding to it- pretty straightforward there. Likewise, remaining vigilant during our conversion so as to reject either one or ten demons is good advice: don’t let your guard down even if it seems you are making progress on the journey to holiness.

The teaching about signs is somewhat complex (vv. 29-32). A little Old Testament knowledge may help: remember Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale after running from God. After three days, he was spit up onto the beach and then did what God commanded him to do. Jonah is a Christ-figure: Jesus will spend three days in the Tomb, after which, he will rise, having accomplished the Father’s Plan for Salvation.

Point for Prayer
“Jesus, teach me to pray just as you did when the apostles asked you for such training. Strengthen my life with the attitudes of the Our Father. Lead me to see that my desire for happiness comes from you and that you are indeed the one who can fulfill that desire”(113).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Luke Chapter 10

Evangelization is the focus of this chapter. The chapter begins with the mission of the 72 disciples (vv. 1-12). Jesus chooses 72 men to go ahead of him to the towns that he would visit. They are to prepare the people for Jesus’s message.  Jesus let’s them know, though, that this mission will not be easy. He reminds them that there will towns (vv. 13-16) that will flat out reject the Gospel message and those that preach it. Sadly, they’re gonna wish they hadn’t rejected that message.

When the 72 return, Jesus takes an opportunity to give a pretty extensive teaching on discipleship (vv.23-42).  Before this teaching he offers a prayer of praise to His Father (vv. 21-22). This sort of prayer is common to ancient Jewish culture- it’s a sort of blessing that one offers in thanksgiving or simple praise.

But for Jesus it set the stage for the teaching that will follow. Notice the way in which Jesus teaches: it very gentle and compassionate and patient. The parable of the Good Samaritan is both a simple lesson in compassion and discipleship, and a sharp critique of ancient Judaism’s disdain for the Samaritan culture. Jesus is not mincing words here: discipleship is costly and has to be unconditional. It’s tied up, intimately, with the Greatest Commandment offered in vv. 25-28. Love of God and Love of Neighbor are nearly equal, if not in priority than certainly in importance. This then is the object lesson of the Good Samaritan parable: love of God and love of neighbor.

Finally the chapter closes with another aspect of discipleship revealed: that of sitting at the feet of the Master and being nourished and rejuvenated by his words (vv. 38-42).  Jesus knows that both Martha and Mary are involved in important things. But the action of discipleship must be balanced by prayer and inaction- call it contemplation or meditation. Prayer and apostolic service: intimacy with God and with neighbor- the two legs of Discipleship.

Point for Prayer
“Jesus, you commissioned me and all the baptized to share our faith in you with others. Even though I know a person-to-person ministry is effective, I still feel shy about it. Grant me the courage and motivation I need to invite people to experience your love and forgiveness and membership in a reconciling community. Amen” (105).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Luke Chapter 9

This chapter can be broken up into three parts: vv. 1-27 is focused on discipleship; vv. 28-50 is about transformation and healing and conversion; vv. 51-62 is about the consequences of discipleship and the transformation and healing and conversion that it brings about. The sayings of Jesus in these verses could strike us as being extremely difficult to live up to. For Jesus, following him as a disciple is an all or nothing decision that requires a nearly daily recommitment to Him.

This chapter contains the first of two miracles that show Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes (vv. 10-17). We know from Matthew’s Gospel of the Eucharistic foreshadowing of this passage as well as the use of numbers to harken back to the Old Testament prefiguring of the Eucharist.

For instance, the use of the number 12. After feeding the multitude, the apostles collect 12 baskets full of leftovers. We remember the number of Jacob’s sons who would lead the 12 tribes of Israel: 12. We remember the number of men that Jesus chose to be his Apostles: 12. We remember the use of numerology in Hebrew culture: 3 is a number of perfection; while 4 is a number representing the directional points on a compass. Multiply those two numbers: 12.  The apostles represent a universal and nearly perfect pronunciation of the Gospel following Jesus’s death and Ascension.

We also have Peter’s confession of faith which we saw back in Mark’s Gospel. Luke’s recounting of this episode is slightly different than Mark’s account. Nevertheless, the point is the same: Peter has had an Epiphany; soon to be followed by a theophany.

Luke’s Gospel also contains the Transfiguration (vv. 28-36): this is a Theophany. A theophany is a revelation of God into the normal course of nature.  The Trinity is revealed here: we have the Son in the person of Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit in the cloud (a common image for the Holy Spirit), and we have the presence of the Father manifested in the Voice from the cloud. In this total revelation of God and sort of final commissioning of Jesus, we then see in vv. 31-62, the proximate journeying of Jesus to his Passion in Jerusalem.

But not before he goes back into healing mode by healing a boy with a demon (vv. 37-43) and another exorcism near the end of the chapter.

Finally, Jesus makes begins to make his way to Jerusalem. The interaction with the Samaritans at the end of the chapter is contrasted with the messages of discipleship that Jesus offered earlier in the chapter. There are two ways for Jesus: you’re either a follower (and this means being behind him and letting him do in front of us), or you’re not. And as Jesus makes abundantly clear to his apostles, we definitely don’t want to be in front of him!

Point for Prayer
“Dear Christ of glory, you enlightened Peter, James and John in your Transfiguration. The experience transformed them. In the cloud of ‘unknowing’, they received insight into the mystery of your love. Bring me to that kind of intimacy that draws me out of my darkness into your enabling light. Amen” (96).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Luke Chapter 8

We’re all over the map in chapter 8. There are two episodes that describe juxtaposed positions of discipleship (vv. 1-3 & 19-21); there are two parables (vv. 4-18); there’s a nature miracle (vv. 22-25) and finally, three healing miracles to close the chapter (vv. 26-56).

There too much here to go into great detail, so let’s tag some highlights.

-First: Jesus’s use of parables is well known. He uses parables in much the same way we use morality tales like Aesop’s Fables to teach kids lessons about moral and ethics. The parables of the sower and the lamp that we have here are well known to us. Nevertheless, Jesus’s explanation of why he uses parables is not exactly the clearest thing he’s ever taught either. The point, however, is simple to invite others to really listen to what Jesus is saying so as to undercover and understand the real meaning of the words he’s using. So, while the parable might be about seeds or a lamp, it’s really about Faith, Hope and Love; it’s really about Service and Sacrifice. Jesus is inviting his listeners, and us as readers, to really pay attention and see and hear what Jesus is really getting at.

-Secondly: Remember what we said about miracles: they are God, who is the Creator of all things, including the Laws of nature, breaking into the Laws, changing them, so as to bring about a good. Notice the episode of Jesus calming the seas in this chapter. It turns out, that another prerequisite to receiving that miracles to have Faith in Jesus. Well, what does that mean?  It’s demonstrated in the healing miracles that follow. Jesus tells Jairus and the woman with the bleeding disease to have a little faith in him: Believe that I can indeed do this for you; believe that I want the best for you; believe that I am who I say I am, and I will change your lot in life.

-Finally, notice again the vast and unconditional compassion and mercy that Jesus shares with those he encounters today: the women who follow him at the beginning of the chapter; his invitation to discipleship and familial intimacy in vv. 19-21; and the healing words of consolation and restoration he uses with Jairus’s daughter, Jairus, and the woman with the bleeding disease. Compassion and mercy are at the very center of Jesus’s personality.

Point for Prayer
“Jesus, Word of love and life, you reach out to me in many different ways. At times I am rocky ground and often I am a thorn bush or a foot path. Enable me to be the good ground that will blossom with love and faith and compassion for others. Amen”(87).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Luke Chapter 7

Again, deepening our understanding of Jesus as Divine Physician, chapter 7 has three healing episodes including one that is a resurrection miracle (vv. 11-17). As we’ve said before, healing is the primary characteristic of Jesus’s ministry. In fact, the preaching of the Gospel is itself designed to heal the wounds that were sustained because of the original sin of Adam and Eve that has then been passed on to us through concupiscence. Concupiscence is the tendency to sin that plagues all of humanity. It is concupiscence that we try to combat when we pray, we when serve, we choose good over evil, when we practice the virtues, etc. And the more we combat concupiscence, the more we are healed and the more we are healed, the more we are restored to communion with God, self and others.

Notice vv. 6 and 7.  These are the words we say before we receive Holy Communion at Mass. They are words of humility, contrition and ultimately, hope. They are words that unite us to the healing ministry of Jesus. They are words that say, loud and clear, “I need to be healed. I need to be restored.”

The other part of this chapter is somewhat difficult to understand. In vv. 18-35 we have Jesus talking about his most immediate past prophet, John the Baptist. It’s interesting, I think, to hear Jesus talk about the credibility of one of the prophets that foretold his own coming. And yet this exchange with the disciples of John the Baptist is designed to fulfill the role of John the Baptist in that even his disciples must move from being disciples of him, to being disciples of Jesus- the Lamb of God.

The chapter closes with Jesus forgiving a sinful woman (vv. 36-50). Tradition holds up for us that this woman is Mary Magdalen, later St. Mary Magdalen. Jesus exchange with both her and Simon (not Simon Peter but Simon the owner of the house) shows the two sides of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus both forgives and challenges us to forgive by avoiding the dangerous sin of passing judgment. This particular episode, among others, makes it clear that Jesus has little tolerance for those who pass judgment on others.  The invitation for us, is to imitate Jesus: forgive all people, forgive them, restore them to God, self and others: this is being like Christ. This is holiness.

Point for Prayer
“Jesus, you cured the slave of the centurion, resurrected the son of the widow of Naim, and forgave a sinful woman. Touch me with the transforming love you exercised in these three events. Move me to be open to your presence and change me into a vital witness of your love. Amen”(78).