Sunday, February 14, 2016
First Sunday of Lent – Luke 4:1-13
In today’s Gospel, Luke writes: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, went into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” During his encounter with the devil, the devil tempted Jesus three times. Each temptation tested Jesus. However, with each temptation, Jesus had a response to the devil. Jesus had the inner strength and wisdom to refuse the earthly temptations that the devil placed before him. Jesus was neither interested in power nor wealth, and he refused to prove who he was to anyone, even the devil. Finally, Jesus bluntly told the devil: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!” Finally, the devil departed.
Today we also encounter these same earthly temptations: having extraordinary abilities, influence, power, and wealth. Do we have the inner strength to refuse these temptations? The world typically applauds those individuals who have power, wealth or extraordinary abilities. Are we content to be satisfied with a normal life, not to be extraordinary?
Jesus wants us to be holy, wise, and discerning individuals. He knew that the temptations of the world are powerful. Jesus also realizes that those same temptations do not necessarily bring happiness and peace. Power is extremely seductive. If we are not discerning, power may tempt us to take a road that might lead to our destruction.
Today, be mindful of the concept of power and its ability to seduce you. Ask Jesus to help you stay alert to these temptations. These temptations may seem insignificant. However, if we give into small temptations, we are more likely to give into more dangerous temptations.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Saturday after Ash Wednesday – Luke 5:27-32
Today we hear the familiar story of the tax collector, Levi. He was sitting at the customs post when Jesus came by and spoke to him. Jesus invited Levi (whom I assume he didn’t really know) to follow him. On the spur of the moment, Levi got up, walked away from the customs post, and followed Jesus!
Levi must have been fairly wealthy. He hosted a great banquet for Jesus at his home. Naturally Levi had invited his friends, many of whom were tax collectors. As they sat at table, the Pharisees and scribes came and complained to Jesus’ followers and asked them why the dined with such sinners.
Jesus overheard them asking the question and responded directly to them.
Jesus bluntly told them that people who are healthy do not need a doctor, but the people who are ill need a doctor to care for them! Then Jesus also tells the Pharisees that he has not come to those who are see themselves as righteous. Rather, he has come to call those who are in need of healing. More specifically, Jesus tells them that he has come to call sinners!
Can you imagine the stir his comment must have made? I assume that the Pharisees were taken aback by Jesus blunt criticism. Were any of them able to own the truth of Jesus’ words or were they simply angry with Jesus’ and his criticism of them? Did one or two of them walk away from Jesus feeling ashamed of their judgment? Were any of them intrigued with Jesus and want to learn more about him? If so, they were people who had open hearts and open minds.
What in this Gospel touches you deeply? Identify a sentence or a few words in this reading that stay with you. Reflect on the reading for a few minutes. What is the message you want to take to heart today? What is Jesus inviting you to today? How will you respond?
Friday, February 12, 2016
Friday after Ash Wednesday – Matthew 9:14-15
This is another very short Gospel reading. Today John’s disciples come to Jesus and ask him why he and his disciples don’t fast as John and the Pharisees do. Jesus does not answer their question directly. Rather he uses the metaphor of a wedding. Jesus tells them that at a wedding, the guests do not mourn will the bridegroom is still in their presence. The time for fasting is when the bridegroom is taken away.
Perhaps Jesus is speaking of fasting as a way of mourning. Most often when we think of fasting, we equate it with giving up something. It might be choosing not to snack during the day or adding a spiritual discipline to our day. Perhaps we take more time for prayer or we strive to be kinder and more loving with everyone we encounter (including those who get on our nerves). Not all of these are ways of mourning but they are good disciplines and perhaps challenges for us.
We all realize that it is easy to make Lenten resolutions, but it is not as easy to keep them. The gift is that each morning we have another day to make the effort. What will we choose today?
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Thursday after Ash Wednesday – Luke: 9:22-25
The beginning of today’s Gospel is stark. Jesus informs his disciples that the Son of Man will undergo great suffering, be rejected by the temple officials, be killed and then be raised up on the third day. Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. What would be your reaction to these words? I assume the disciples were shaken by what Jesus said, yet they also had heard the many complaints and threats against Jesus. They must have known that He was in danger.
Did they realize that they also might be in danger? After all, they were His followers and friends. Were some of them tempted to return home to a normal life, to safety? These thoughts may have flown through their minds, yet they had lived with Jesus. They were his friends. They loved Him and believed in Him, but were they also afraid for themselves and for their families?
Jesus warns the disciples that following Him will not be easy. There will be dangers and threats. If they do choose to follow Him, each day and every day they must take up their crosses and follow in His footsteps. Imagine how sobering it must have been to hear Jesus utter those words. When the disciples initially decided to follow Jesus, they were enthusiastic and eager to learn. They did not realize that following Him might become dangerous!
Jesus also told the disciples that even if they lose their lives for His sake, they will be saved. Jesus promised His disciples that they had much to gain by following Him, however Jesus also wants them to know the risks. How would you or I respond if someone with whom we had lived, journeyed, and become friends, told us that he or she would be rejected, killed, and then raised up?
Jesus needed His disciples to realize that danger and hardship would be in their future. He didn’t want them to assume that life as his disciples would be easy, simple, or glorious, but Jesus also told them that if they were to follow Him, they would gain the whole world. What a powerful statement!
Jesus is telling us the same thing today that he told his disciples thousands of years ago. We also are his disciples in this world of ours – and the dangers are real. If we commit ourselves and follow Jesus, it won’t be an easy path at times. There will be many gifts but there will also be many difficulties. The gift is Jesus promises to be at our side always. He will walk with us, strengthen us, console us, and give us His peace. Is this enough for us? What path will we choose?
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Ash Wednesday – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Today we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a time to step back and examine our lives. Lent is a time to repent. Today is the day we receive ashes on our foreheads. The ashes are a symbol of the reality that we came forth from the earth and that when we die we will return to the earth. The words that accompany that the offering of ashes remind us that we are “dust.” We will have an end. We will die. However, death will not be the end of us. Hopefully, we will live eternally with God.
Jesus’ words in this reading may give us ideas about what we might do during Lent. Jesus warns his disciples not to do good deeds simply so others will think highly of them! Jesus wants his disciples to be aware of their motivation for what they do. He wants them to do what is right or good because they desire to help others, love others, and make the world a better place.
Jesus is not concerned primarily about the actions of his disciples. Rather, He is concerned about their motivations. Jesus hopes their actions and decisions will flow from love of the God, love of the Gospel, love for the people and love for the world. Truly, love is all matters.
How often do we stop and examine our motivations? It is easy to move through the day and simply go about our business. Are we concerned about others or are we too preoccupied even to notice the people around us? I believe that the majority of people in the world want to be good. Most people do care for others and desire to help them.
Our motivations, however, are not always clean and pure. At times, do I choose to do something so the other person will think well of me? Do I go to church because that is where I want to be or do I attend simply because I am supposed to? When I am tired, do I ignore someone who might need some help? If I am in a bad mood, do I take it out on other people?
I assume that all of us have made some of the choices listed above at times in our lives. However, if the majority of our time and attention is focused primarily on ourselves and our own needs, it might be a good idea to reflect on our choices. Most often the source of our happiness is in the people in our lives. Hopefully, most of the people around us bring us joy and love. Yes, there will be difficult times. However if love is present, difficulties can be worked out. In the daily, it is their presence, love and care that is the greatest gift we receive.
Today may we be mindful of our choices and decisions. We all have heard the saying: “What would Jesus do?” Today we might experience a choice or challenge as we go about our day. May we pause for a moment and thoughtfully ask ourselves: What would Jesus do? Listen for Jesus’ answer. He will respond.