What Would You Give?
In this holy week as we remember the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ,let us spend a little time with Mark's account of these events (Mark 14:1-9). Jesus is having dinner at the home of a friend known as Simon the Leper. Perhaps Simon was one of those healed of leprosy by Jesus and so Simon, with his life restored to him, was now able to host a dinner party.
While Jesus is there, a woman, not named in Mark's Gospel but whom John identifies in his account as Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, brings an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus. Everyone at the dinner party recognizes it as an extravagance. Based on the people we can surmise were present, quite a party is in progress. There are a man healed of leprosy and his family plus a man raised from the dead with his family. Who wouldn't be celebrating? Who wouldn't do what they could to acclaim Jesus? You don't just throw a lavish dinner party with your best wine, but your guests bring presents. Mary brings her most treasured possession - a beautiful jar holding glorious perfume. Indeed it was worth a year's wages.
For Reflection: Some complained that the gift was too lavish. But what is it worth to get your life back? What would you give?
Fill Me Up
"Fill me up, Lord," is a lyric from a song on the radio these days. I woke up with it in my mind this morning, so I went looking for it in the Bible, of course. It's not worded as a plea in the Bible; it's worded as a certainty. Psalm 16:11 reads, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
There is quite a difference between a plea and a declaration. They come from totally different places in our lives. One comes from want, the other from confidence. Neither is wrong. When we ask God to fill us, often we have a list of things we want. We want the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2) - wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, power, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. Or we are asking for the fruits of the Spirit given in Galatians 5:22 - love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
But when we come from a place of confidence we can declare, "You will fill me with joy . . . . " That is where we long to be. We hunger for the place of certainty, knowing that God wants all good things for us, knowing that he would never deny us, knowing that we have the rights of children of God.
For Reflection: Where am I today? Am I asking for or declaring the gifts and the treasures of God?
Let us pray. "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." I thank you, Lord.
Tear This Wall Down?
"Tear down this wall," President Ronald Reagan famously challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with reference to the Berlin Wall. Later the wall, indeed, did come down. But while that physical wall being torn down was a good thing, Paul warns us not to tear down the spiritual walls that we are as the church of Christ.
In the successor to the farming analogy that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 3, he compares disciples of Jesus to a building with Christ as the foundation (vv. 10-17). We are the building blocks forming the walls standing on the foundation of Jesus Christ. As such, we are the temple and no one should tear us down.
Paul wasn't speaking of outsiders tearing down the church when he wrote these words. He was speaking of the fellow members who were tearing each other down with their words, berating and accusing one another. We should not trash each other. Yet often that is what we church members do with our gossip, babble and criticism.
Let us rather, as St. Paul so often exhorts us, build one another up, encourage one another, and pray for our leaders.
For Reflection: How have I spoken of others/the pastor in my church? How have I encouraged them?
Let us pray. Jesus, help me to repair the reputations of those I have trashed. And help me to hold my tongue when a thought is better left unsaid. I want to pray for the people I know rather than criticize them.
We last spoke of growing fruit trees and being thankful to God for the first harvest. God provided the seed, the soil, the sun and the rain to make the fruit trees produce fruit. Paul uses a similar analogy in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 3. Evidently there was some arguing going on in the community about who baptized whom, who was a follower of which apostle, etc. And Paul uses the analogy of farming to make his point.
"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe -- as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor" (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).
Paul's point is that we labor with God to make things grow whether they are crops in the field, trees in the orchard or people in the Kingdom. We play our part, but it is God who gives the growth. Therefore, whatever our role is we should not boast as if we have done it on our own. Whether we see them or not, we have co-laborers in Christ. We may plant a seed one day and water seed sown by someone else the next. We may not even know that we are planting or watering, or nourishing or providing sunshine. Those jobs may go unnoticed and seemingly unrewarded while the one who harvests gets all the credit. But it is God who makes things grow.
For Reflection: Have I taken credit for another's work? Have I been discouraged because I don't see my work as unimportant?
Let us pray. "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24).
For the times when I have taken credit for your work, God;
For the times when I have taken credit for someone else's work, God;
For the times when I have been disappointed and discouraged in my own work, God;
Many of the rules or laws in Leviticus seem rather strange to us today. There are rules about not mixing different types of fibers in clothing, for example. Yet today we have clothing not only made of mixed fibers but no fibers at all. Some of the laws don't seem to apply to everyone, only to specific people. One such is "When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the Lord your God" (Lev 19:23-25).
People who grow fruit trees know that the first several years the tree either produces no fruit or the fruit is small and not tasty. It takes several years for a fruit tree to mature and produce good fruit. So we could see in this law generally good advice about fruit trees. But the other lesson is about who to thank for those fruit trees and their produce. In the first year that the fruit matures the entire crop should be given to God in praise and thanks. The tree has grown; the soil has been fertile; the rainfall and sunshine plentiful; no locusts or birds have eaten the fruit. So in this first good year of harvest, the firstfruits all belong to God (Proverbs 3:9).
We all have first fruits of one kind or another. We earn a college degree and go out for our first year of work in our chosen field. We enter an apprenticeship program, become a journeyman and then a master. We start a new venture and have our first year when we turn a profit.
There's a temptation for many of us, I think, to consider this thanks offering as a tax instead. It is not necessarily freely and gratefully given. But a praise offering needs to be given with thanksgiving in our hearts.
For Reflection: Has there been a time in my life when I did not give all the firstfruits of my labor to God? If so, how can I make up for it? Have I continued to give God thanks through the days and the years for all He has given me?
Let us pray. Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. How priceless is your unfailing love (Psalm 36: 5-6, 7).
"Homemade Rice Bowl" By ParentingPatch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Fun or Sin
Many people consider the 10 commandments and other Christian rules to be things that God said "don't do" or the churches say "don't do" just to keep people from having fun. In reality God has reasons for those rules and the churches are charged with teaching those rules.
The first of God's reasons seems to be "Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy" (Leviticus 19:1; Matthew 5:48). God made us to be like him. He is holy and perfect and he wants us to be holy and perfect. As a father he is holding himself up for his children as an example to be followed. And so his commands are about doing what he would do and not doing what he would not do.
The second reason would seem to be because his commands, his instructions, help us to get along with him, with ourselves and with others. Leviticus 18 - 20 expand on the 10 commandments. These chapters give details and no doubt answer questions that had arisen about following God's rules. They cover participating, or not participating, in the customs of the people around them, e.g., "Do not give your children to be sacrificed to Molech" (Lev 18:21). We mustn't defile ourselves or other people because it also defiles the land. "And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you" (Lev 18:28).
For Reflection: There is nothing like the Bible for vivid imagery. God spoke of our actions defiling the land long before modern man came up with the idea of mankind polluting the land and the seas. Do any of these sins sound like fun? Do being disrespectful to God, ourselves and others sound like fun?
Let us pray. "May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous." (Psalm 119:172).
Photo: "Streamerglass" by Tiffany Studios. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Streamerglass.jpg#/media/File:Streamerglass.jpg
Another of the directives of the moral code in Leviticus 19 concerns the poor, travelers and foreigners. "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God" (Lev 19:9-10). We must not hoard all that God has given us; we must share our bounty with others among us. No matter how we receive our harvest today, whether through a paycheck, commission or self-employment, others must be considered. It does not even say that we should gather it and then parcel it out to the poor and the needy, which is what we tend to do today. The direction is to let people help themselves.
We might also notice that it assumes there will be poor people and travelers or foreigners present. Jesus said, of course, that the poor would always be with us (John 12:8, Matthew 26:11). And on another occasion, when he and the disciples were traveling, they stopped to pick grain in a field (Matthew 12:1). In other words, they helped themselves.
Most of us today are not farmers and the idea of people helping themselves to what we have earned (however we are paid) is foreign to us. Don't we always try to get paid as much as we can (whether we are individuals or corporations)? Of course, we do. We mitigate this by giving to charity, donating our time to non-profits, and various other activities.
But how often do we resent what we tithe? How often do we denigrate the beggar on the corner? How often do we harbor a grudge toward the foreigner among us who is trying to get a leg up?
For Reflection: Does what I earn belong totally to me or should I share it? How much should I share? How should I share it? What is my attitude toward foreigners around me?
Let us pray. Jesus, if I knew that it would be you picking from my fields I don't think I would hesitate to leave some good pickings. But most of the time I don't know exactly where my giving goes. Most of the time I am disdainful of the poor and distrustful of aliens. Help me to not hoard what you have given me and to see you in everyone. Help me to be gracious and give freely.
Rage of the Age
Tattooing is the rage of the age. It used to be that only low-lifes or drunken sailors would get a tattoo because they were a shameful thing. Obviously that is not true in the U.S. today. People proudly display the marks on their bodies. Some even turn their bodies into canvasses for tattooers, becoming living billboards. Even Christians today get tattoos of crosses or Scripture verses.
But as we saw in our last post, the Mosaic law forbids tattoos. Who would have thought that tattoos had been around that long, but they have. Leviticus 19:38 states, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." Some interpreters propose that this only applies to a mourning practice of getting tattoos in memory of a loved one. Others say that it applies to all tattoos. Still others that it has to do with cutting the body and not causing infections. I was taught, as a child, simply not to deface the body that God gave you. Our bodies are beautiful and precious because God made them and they are his gift to us.
When Jesus summarized the law as to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself, he summarized this part of the law also. So cutting our bodies and getting tattoos fall under not loving ourselves. We are God's handiwork. We should be loved and appreciated.
Let us pray. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." (Psalm 1:1-3)
Our God, Our Source
When I was a child, I was taught many things that "Catholics don't do." I didn't know then that these were really things that "Christians don't do." A number of examples come to mind. We didn't participate in non-Christian religions. We didn't join cults, or sects. We didn't join the Masons. We didn't consult any type of fortune teller. We didn't get tattoos.
Although God's laws have not changed, many Christians disregard these prohibitions. But I suspect God had good reasons for telling us, through Moses, not to do these things. Yes, through Moses. The laws are that old. We can find them in Leviticus 19:26-31. Leviticus 19:26b says, "Do not practice divination or sorcery." Verse 31 says, "Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God." This law was to prevent people from looking to other sources than God for guidance. God alone knows the future. So there is no reason to consult the zodiac, astrology, crystal balls, fortune tellers or mediums. We have no need of seances, Ouija boards, witchcraft, spells, or tarot cards. We have God. He is our source. It is he whom we must consult for guidance.
For Reflection: if we have consulted any of these other sources, even if in ignorance, we need to repent. He is the Lord our God. We shall have no other gods.
Let us pray. Father, I repent of looking to any thing or any one other than you as my source, and I ask your forgiveness. You are the only one who knows the future. You are the only one who knows the full truth. You are the Lord, my God. I will not have other gods beside you.
(Photo: 123rf stock photo)
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.