Sunday, July 26, 2009

Passing the Test

Reflections on the Readings

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 26, 2009, Year B

The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

...Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?"  This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:5, 6)

"How are we going to feed these folks?" Jesus asked Philip.  "I don't know!" "Let's, even 200 days worth of wages would not buy enough bread to feed all these people."  

This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  The test for Philip and for us is this: Do we know who Jesus is?

From the moment Jesus gives thanks and begins to multiply the barley loaves and fish John anticipates opening our eyes to the miracle of the Eucharist.  The twelve wicker baskets of left over bread and fish reveal to the Apostles the ministry of the Eucharist that they will take into the whole world.  And the people speculate if this is the greater Moses, the prophet who is to come into the world.  What an afternoon it must have been.

John calls this a sign.  There are seven such signs in John's Gospel.  The feeding of the five thousand is the fourth 'sign.'  We are to take note, to soak it in if you will.  It is knowing who Jesus is that concerns John.  

Jesus gently touches the heart of the matter.  Philip, John, Susan, Dennis, "Do you trust me?"  "Do you love me, Peter?"  It's a test.  He wants us to see ourselves, to ask ourselves, "Am I completely head over heels in love with Jesus?"  The challenge that Philip faces will only become more intense throughout this chapter.

I want to think I would have answered the Lord with a spirit of faith and expectation.  "Lord, you can do anything.  Nothing is impossible with you."  And then the Lord would have smiled at me and patted me on the shoulder.  But I'm thinking I may have been more like Philip, getting my calculator out and trying to figure out how I'm going to get this done.  

There is too much reservation in my heart.  Any is too much, I know.  Letting go and letting God have his way is a matter of trust and faith and obedience.  I don't know if I could give up my lunch, even if Jesus said, "I'll give it back to you in a minute, I want to feed these folks over here."  "Don't worry, there'll be enough." 

Jesus is asking Philip, and the little boy, and us, to have a spirit of faith.  What's five loaves and two fish among so many?  Well, let's find out.  Let Jesus bless it and let's see what happens.  Little is much when God is in it.  There must have been a great spirit of trust in that lad that day.  

"What is that again?"  

"Wait a minute, I can't hear him, Jesus is saying something about children and the kingdom."  

"Say it again Lord." 

"Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."   

I have seen the trusting eyes of a child in all four of our children.  It is an amazing thing.  They believed daddy could do anything.  That's what I imagine went through the mind and heart of that lad with the lunch that day.  He believed Jesus could do anything.  All day long he had listened to this man speak of the love of the Father.  Throughout the afternoon his imagination was captured by the gracious words and presence of Jesus the Nazarene.  He had gotten up real close, because that's what children do when they are around someone they can trust.  

I want to be like that.  I want to be real close to our Lord.  I want my heart to be a sacred place.  I want my hands to be gentle, my words healing, my face illumined with his peace.  

The multitude knew something special had happened.  Although they thought Jesus would make a good King, Jesus would not stoop to this aspiration.  Rather he wanted to leave in their minds that he loved them and fed them.

It seems that there is always more than enough of everything we need when Jesus is around.  Rather than exclude Jesus, we need to let him in.  We need to let him put his hands on us and bless us, nurture and feed us at this Table today.  

Let us pass the test and let Jesus have his way.

Let us pray: Dear Father, anoint our hearts with your Spirit that we may ever know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  Amen. 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jesus The Shepherd - Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reflections on the Readings 

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 19, 2009, Year B

The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

...He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

A throng of people sought to join Jesus and his apostles in the deserted place.  It was to be a retreat for only Jesus and his apostles.  Yet something about being alone with Jesus held great attraction for those following him.  Seeing such a gathering, Jesus is moved with compassion.  He looks upon the five thousand or so with deep love, and begins to teach them many things.  Don't you wish you could have been there?

Sheep without a shepherd.  Were they intruding?  Could Jesus have said, "Please, not today.  We're too tired.  Come, come back tomorrow and I will receive you then.  I've got some special things to say to you, but it can wait until tomorrow." No, a thousand times no.  

We learn from today's Gospel there are no intrusions to grace.  "Come unto me all you are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  Every outcast, every broken heart, every sin infested life, has an open door to Jesus.  Jesus looks upon people with compassion.   

It is to the Church, the sheep fold, that all may come.  We the image bearers of the shepherd of souls are to welcome the stranger and treat the unworthy as our brother.  It is here, the place of green pastures where the weary may find refreshment for their soul.  Into the tranquil waters of baptism and to the table of the Lord, may the guilty and sin broken of humanity come and meet Jesus, the lover of souls.

It is to the Church Jesus invites all the weary and worn of the earth, to come and be restored.  It is here, within the Church, where all the broken and battered and bruised of two millennia have found a personal relationship with the God of all love.  It is here where mercy is experienced in the confessional.  It is here where the lepers of Calcutta have found compassion.  It is here where the misfits of society have found true friendship.  It is here where the Mary Magdalenes of the world have found true love.  

Just like the arms of Jesus which always remain open, so do the doors of the Church.  Through them may come the weak, the weary, and the wayward.  All who are lost, or little, or lonely are welcome to the divine embrace.  It is here, within the Church where the saint and the sinner find the same welcome. Here where love is mingled with mercy may the forgotten, the forsaken, and the faithless be anointed with the oil of gladness and be filled with joy unspeakable.

I can hear Jesus teaching this great gathering, telling them the great love the Father has for them.  His voice wafts over the people like an ocean of mercy.  Hearing what is almost too good to be true, they hang on to his every word as if life, their life depends on what he says.  Throughout the whole day, they listened, asked questions, and found real answers about a kingdom not of this world.  Then it got late.  Real late.  Another kind of hunger was setting in.  But that's next week's Gospel. 

Let us pray: Gracious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever loving and merciful, be all glory and praise.  May a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit descend upon us, filling us with a new love and compassion for all the peoples of the world. Amen.    



Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Simplicity of Grace - Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 12, 2009, Year B
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis Hankins

And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

We contemplate today the mission of the twelve.  We are not told their names in this reading.  They are 'the twelve.'  Of course we know who they are, but there is much of the simplicity of the Twelve we can learn from today.  

These men possess within their hearts the simple and profoundly powerful message of grace.  Preaching that men should repent, they cast out demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.  There you have it, preaching, exorcisms, and the miraculous.  

The simplicity of their travel gear is in contrast to the magnitude of the blessing they were.  They took no bread, no baggage, no money in their belts, one tunic and one pair of sandals. Like their Master, they had no where to lay their head, so they relied upon the kindness and generosity of those who received them.  

Much of this sounds unfamiliar and strange to our modern ears.  On any given religious TV channel there is any number of preachers and teachers of the gospel, finely coiffed, groomed, and dressed in the latest and best clothing exhorting the viewer to send them more money.  I suppose that is why today's Gospel is somewhat foreign to us.

If the appearance of the 'Twelve' is startling, their message and ministry is equally so.  Most of today's TV ministries do little in calling men to repentance.  Rather than appealing to the hearts of their listeners to avail themselves of the riches of God's grace, there is the endless appeal for more and more of your money.

My papa Seibert wore glasses.  They were the big thick kind.  Like the end of a Coke bottle.  Papa was very genuine and sincere in his love for Jesus.  He often asked for prayer for his eyesight.  Papa sent his life savings to a certain A. A. Allen, a healing evangelist of some repute, in hope that his eyes would be healed.  I have the same gnawing in the pit of my stomach in remembering this as you do in reading about it.  

Today is the dedication of the new St. John Neumann Church.  As magnificent of a new Church construction as you would want to see.  But as this dedication takes place, may I suggest we rededicate ourselves to the simple story of Salvation described in the myriad windows, the dome, the statues and the words etched in stone.  It is the story of Jesus.  All of it is about Jesus.  Jesus and his love for you and me and our neighbors.  And as we eat and drink together at the Table of the Lord, may we go back out into the world, the place of our mission with a renewed wonder for the simplicity of the message and the wonder of the mystery of our faith.  

Like the Twelve, may the wonder and awe of the riches of his grace be what we talk about.  

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you have blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing and sealed us with the promised Holy Spirit.  Honor and blessing and glory be to thee now and forever and ever.  Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Son of Mary - Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 5, 2009, Year B

The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?"

To the hometown folks, Jesus was just another member of the family.  Although the son of Mary, they saw him in the context of his nieces, nephews, and cousins.  Remember, the term in Scripture for brothers and sisters, is a common Semitic term that applied not only to children of the same parentage, but to other close relatives.  Although filled with astonishment at the gracious words and works of this hometown boy, to them he still was only a carpenter, the kid that grew up among them, Mary's boy.

Now the folks back home knew Mary's secret.  They only talked about the events of thirty years ago behind closed doors.  So when Jesus came back home to preach in the synagogue of his youth, they listened politely.  Still uncomfortable with his divinity, they could only see his humanity, and thus, he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.

The son of Mary.  For two millennia the Church has believed that Mary was Immaculately conceived, that she was free from sin from her conception and remained a Virgin. This was not even disputed by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation.  Neither Luther, Calvin or Zwingli had any qualms about the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her perpetual virginity.  It wasn't until subsequent leaders of the Reformation that resistance to this universally held truth began to emerge.  This resistance is alive and well today. 

Consider this.  It is this high view, this veneration of Mary, that gave the Church its understanding of the Incarnation.  Early Church Councils deliberated about the person of Jesus, whether he was divine only, or human only, or human and divine. It was Mary, and her obedient yes, which gave the Church her understanding of the Incarnation.  Seeing her as the New Ark of the New Covenant, they recognized that as no human hands were allowed to even steady the Ark of the Old Covenant,(1 Chronicles 13) neither Joseph would reach out to touch Mary the way a husband would normally touch his wife.

In an email dated November 30, 2007, our son, Timothy shared some thoughts about this.  I share them with you now in his own words: "I was thinking about this and thought you might enjoy my conclusions...First, Mary is the recipient of the first fruits of Grace through Jesus Christ, not by her own merit, but through the providential election of God the Father.  It is only through Grace that she claims the title, Queen of Heaven.  In honoring Mary, we are, in fact, honoring and acknowledging the Grace of God through Salvation in Jesus Christ.  Second, Because she is the recipient of the first fruits of Grace, Mary becomes a microcosmic representation of the Church.  The Marian dogma proclaims this: in Immaculate Conception, she foreshadows the salvation of all mankind; in the Assumption, she experiences the fulfillment of the promise of the Resurrection of the Body.  Just wanted to share this with you."

Thank you sonshine!  I couldn't have said it better!

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, it was through Mary, a true handmaiden, you revealed to the whole world, the Word made flesh, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.