Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is Not This Joseph's Son?

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 31, 2010, Year C
By Dennis Hankins

He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. (John 1:11)

"Is not this Joseph's son?" Their incredulity hangs thickly in the air! Mark, writing about the same event, states the members of the synagogue 'took offense at him.' Why? Well, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?..."they explained. In other words, many at synagogue that day did not take Jesus or his true origin nor his rag tag disciples who followed him seriously.

Wasting no words, Jesus notes that a 'prophet is not acceptable in his own country.' The hometown folks, wasting no time, set out to prove his words by escorting Jesus to the brow of the hill at the edge of the village. This was to be, to put it bluntly, a long walk on a short pier. Enraged by their offense of him, they wished to be done with this hometown boy. For good.

Perhaps through the years, the villagers discussed behind closed doors their dismay of Mary, and Joseph as well, since he accepted Mary's explanation. They knew all of Jesus' relatives. There were aunts and uncles and several cousins. But they all seemed to be duped by 'the explanation.' So when Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah and stated "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," it was the straw that broke the camel's back. They could take no more. Enough was enough. "Let's throw him over the hill headlong," they said. So they roughed him up a bit and dragged him before all of his relatives, including his mother Mary, and headed for the cliff out side of the village.

But passing through the midst of them he went away. Again they looked at one another in disbelief. Love incarnate rejected.

It is a choice we make, isn't it? I mean, whether we will accept who Jesus is and what he teaches. Like the people of Nazareth, we can choose what we believe about Jesus. We may not reject him outright, but there are any number of things we might think are optional about Jesus. But Jesus is not made up of pieces. He is the love of the Father in the flesh.

Hatred of him is inevitable, I suppose. However, the first reading declares, They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

Love cannot be defeated. Therefore Jesus cannot be defeated. Love can be rejected, but never defeated. If we will receive him he will never leave us nor forsake us. A popular painting of Jesus shows him standing outside and knocking on the door. If we will let him into our heart he will deliver us from all the enemies of our inner self. Jesus cannot be defeated, for love never fails.

Today, at this table we commune with Jesus, and are nourished by the matchless love of his body and blood. And as many as receive him, to them does he give the power to be the children of his Father.

Let us pray: Dear Father, thank you for the gift of love made flesh, even Jesus, whom we receive today in the gifts of bread and wine. By the power of the Holy Spirit perfect us in this love and through us our world. Amen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Work of the Spirit-Free at Last

Reflection on the Readings
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 24, 2010 - Year C
By Dennis Hankins

The Work of the Spirit - Free At Last

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee...He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me..."

He was a promising Pentecostal preacher boy. He was called the walking Bible, given his ability to quote large portions of Scripture from memory as he preached.  My Dad heard the 16 year old Charles Crank preach in Floyd Knobs, Indiana at a Revival meeting.  In later years the Reverend Crank became the Indiana District Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.  Throughout the years he continued to stir congregations with his ability to quote Scripture and preach its meaning. It was liberating preaching.

In Pentecostal circles you were expected to know your Bible, if you were called to be a preacher.  It was a sign of your calling if you knew the Scriptures and could preach them with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  

But love of the Scriptures is found also in the local Catholic parish.  Every Sunday you will hear an Old Testament Reading, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles and then the Gospel reading.  A brief review of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reveals the Church's grasp and love of the Scriptures.  

In the first reading, the renewal of the people of God under Ezra and Nehemiah begins with the reading and the hearing of the Scriptures.  The exiles kept alive the hope of returning to the promised land by keeping as best they could the words of Moses in a strange land.  The folks back home waned in faith without a Temple and Altar around which to hear the word and practice the prescribed rituals of sacrifice.  

It was in this environment the returning exiles and the locals hear again the words of Moses and begin to rebuild the Temple and the Altar and their lives.  This rebuilding process begins with the hearing of the words of Moses found in the Scroll from which Ezra read.  

It is this holy reading to which the people respond as with an oath, raising their hands and shouting, "Amen, Amen," or "let be unto me." 

Just as the exiles discovered their destiny, St. Paul describes the Church and its destiny.  The working of the Spirit reminds us that each of us is important as we take our place in the Temple not made with hands.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jew or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Each one of us finds our own spiritual destiny from the same life giving Spirit.  There are no little 'You's' or big 'I's,' in the body, which is his Church.  We all are made free by the same Spirit.

In today's Gospel, Jesus announces a new time of the Spirit's work.  Isaiah the prophet anticipated this renewal and restoration coming through a person anointed by the Spirit.  And it is in the person of Jesus in whom the Spirit abides without measure, so that it is Jesus who inaugurates a year of jubilee, proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord.

Such a year occurred every 50 years in Israel.  In the year of Jubilee there was the cancellation of debt and servitude.  On the tenth day of the seventh month on the Day of Atonement a loud trumpet blast announced the beginning of a new day of human and spiritual freedom in Israel.  Although you could have heard a pin drop when Jesus read this passage from Isaiah, it was his voice becoming the ancient sound of the trumpet blast announcing the year of the Lord, a new and everlasting Jubilee.

The year of the Lord, a new era of the work of the Spirit continues in the Church lead by apostles, prophets, and teachers. Nothing else can penetrate the world enslaved by sin and guilt.  From the Church come mighty deeds, gifts of healing, administration and varieties of tongues.  For what?  To bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the enslaved and new eyes for the blind and liberty for all those in oppression.

This past MLK day I read again the 'I Have A Dream,' speech Dr. Martin Luther King delivered August 28, 1963 in  Washington, DC.  If you haven't read it recently, read it

The closing words of that speech capture the animation of the Spirit I feel and I hope you feel in the hearing of today's readings, especially the Gospel:

Free at last!  Free at last!  
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Let us pray: Dear Father of all Mercy, give unto thy Church a new vision of the work of the Spirit, and let it begin with a new love for Jesus, who for us and for the life of the world gives to us today his own body and blood.  Amen. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mary Saw A Need - Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reflections on the Readings

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 17, 2010 - Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For Sunday

When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."  

It's a wedding feast and nothing more distressing could occur at such an occasion.   The wine is gone, but the party is not over.  What can be done? What must be done?

It is interesting that Jesus links this occasion with his 'hour.'  His response to his Mother indicates that this need is not his 'hour.'  Addressing his Mother as 'Woman,' was in antiquity an affectionate title of endearment.  I suppose much like what we mean when we say, "Dear or Dearest."  

For John's Gospel, this beginning of miracles is the first sign of seven signs around which his account of our Lord is told.  It is this sign, the changing of the water into wine that demonstrates for John the power of his Master to transform and change coupled with the hint of the last supper transformed into the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, an 'hour' yet to come.  

Mary understood the nature of her son's response: "Dearest mother, What does this need have to do with me or with you?"  In other words, "Mother, I'll take care of it." 

According to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible this is a Hebrew idiom translated into Greek that must be understood within context.  It could be understood as a disagreement of perspective between Jesus and his Mother. On the other hand it can also mean consenting to the will of another without reluctance.  

For us, the context is the latter.  For when Mary says to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you," she knows her son will meet the need she has brought to his attention.  Such is the affection her son has for her; such is the affection the Church has demonstrated for two thousand years for Mary, the Mother of us all.

When Mary, saw a need, she asked Jesus her son to meet it.

And Christ met the need with a miracle of transformation, that speaks of his power to transform us, and all things, for Jesus makes all things new.  

Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.  

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Baptism of the Lord

Reflections on the Readings
The Baptism of the Lord - January 10, 2010 - Year C
By Dennis Hankins

...And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

On August 27, 1967, on a very warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, in Duff, Indiana, we gathered on the bank of the muddy Patoka River where several of us were to be baptized.  

At this same location, known as Kessner's Mill, in the early 1920's, my great-grandfather had also conducted baptisms.  Although we did not hold a sacramental view of baptism, I nevertheless knew, standing there looking at the water, that this was important.

The Scriptures about being buried and raised with Christ through baptism were read, and "Shall We Gather at the River" was sung.  Then one by one we walked into the muddy water to Brother Jesse, my pastor, who with the elders immersed me into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ saying, "Brother Dennis Hankins, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  I felt compelled to record the event in my Bible.

That moment lives in my memory and in my reflections as a Christian.  It still compels me. What occurred in my heart that Sunday afternoon occupies my life and is the foundation of my future, in time and for eternity.  

When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River, he sanctified forever the waters of baptism.  Whether as an infant or as an adult convert, the effect of water baptism is the same.  In those holy waters we enter into communion with the Holy Trinity and in fellowship with the covenantal family of God. Water baptism is the imposition of the mark of God; we are not our own, baptism is the claim of God upon every follower of Christ.  

With that in mind, the Baptism of the Lord was not because Jesus needed it.  But our Lord's baptism did fulfill what it means to be made righteous in God's eyes.  What the blood of the Lamb procures, the waters of covenantal baptism secures.  In many cultures in the world, this understanding prevails.  That is, baptism means that the baptized person has given the allegiance of his heart to another.  This is why it is important that we not only catechize our babies and new born in Christ.  We must also evangelize them as well.  Then, and only then, will those who name the name of Christ know what it means to live up to their baptism.  

John the Baptist associates Jesus' coming not only with the Catechetical meaning of water baptism, but with the evangelical meaning.  John emphasizes this when he says, "He (i.e. Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  The question for the Church is this: Where's the Holy Spirit? Where's the purifying fire?  

The meaning of what happened to me that Sunday afternoon has never left me.  Even before I met Jesus as my Savior (age 9), I was aware of the Lord.  My Dad and Mom and all of us children, loaded up in the Station Wagon and off to Church we went.  And after my salvation experience, I became even more aware of Christ's love, his family, and the things of the Lord. 

Every waking hour of my life for most of my fifty-four years I have walked in the awareness of the presence of the Lord.  Now that doesn't make me perfect. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Just ask my wife and kids.  But I would ask you, 

"What is your passion?"  

"Does you family know that the fulness of your faith issues from your baptism, and that it is sustained by your participation in the body and blood of Jesus - the Eucharist?"

Let us not despise the day of small things.  Little babies placed in the hands of the Priest, symbolic of being offered to the Lord, is more than pretty and cute, it is eternal.  It is no small thing to be marked in baptism by the majestic name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."  For in the waters of baptism we are embraced by the immeasurable love of the Triune God and his family on earth and in heaven.


Friday, January 1, 2010

The Beginning of True Worship

Reflections on the Readings

The Epiphany of the Lord 

January 3, 2010 - Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For Today

The Beginning of True Worship

...Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." 

In the beginning there was light.  We know this because God said, "Let there be light, and there was light."  It is the Psalmist who declares, "In thy light do we see light." (Ps 36:10) And in the fulness of time, it is Jesus who proclaims, "I am the light of the world."  

Light draws attention.  Since the earliest days of creation, humankind has looked up, being captivated by the stars above, imagining and charting the meaning they conveyed.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:2, 3 RSV)

The star in the East certainly captured the attention of the Wise Men from Persia.  The star illuminated both the way they should travel and their hearts, for the Wise men from the East not only followed the star, they also discerned the message of the star.  The heavenly message was clear: the new born child is both King and Priest.  And the gifts they brought with them for this new born King speak of his royalty, his divinity, and his mediation as a priest; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

How we still need the illumination of that ancient star.  It provides us with the meaning and the reason for the season. This star still leads us to a greater light, a light that draws us into the life and love of him who is Emmanuel, which means God is with us!  

During these Twelve days of Christmas we've a story to revisit, a story to retell to the nations.  The Story is that light has come, and that the God who is light received a body from the Holy womb of the Virgin Mary and became man, calling us to his friendship.  Therefore, Jesus is the reason for the season.  A pastor I recently heard preach said, "And the reason for Jesus is you!"  That's right.  And what will you do with this offer of friendship?

Will the light of Christmas be extinguished by meaningless partying and wasteful spending?  Does the darkness between us and God and each other grow darker still because Christ is taken out of Christmas? For Christmas without Christ is darker than a million midnights.  

Let us keep the meaning and the message of Christmas.  May we experience a new encounter with the Light of the world.  Together let us pray for a true and deeper Epiphany.  May the amazement and wonder and awe we sense in the Wise men become our wonder, our amazement, our awe.  For on this Altar today is the glory of the Lord, and if we will gaze upon these gifts with our hearts we shall know again the illuminating truth of his words: "This is my body, this is my blood."  

For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 RSV)

The Epiphany the Wise men experienced, the Epiphany that is ours today, is the beginning of true worship.  

Let us pray: Dear Father, we have come to worship him, thine only Son our Lord, in the power and light of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.