"Who are you?" It's a common enough question, but what is our answer? Is our first answer our name, our position, our job? Most often, I think, we answer who we are in the world's eyes, not in God's eyes, even though we know that God's designation is more important than the world's. The apostle John very clearly states that we are children of God. That is our primary and most important description.
John does not expect that to be our only name though as is clear when he says, "(W)hat we will be has not yet been made known" (1 John 3:2). We are expected to grow in Christ to become more like him until the time when we see him face-to-face. After all, when we face him we don't want to be ashamed (1 John 2:28). We will want to have done something with what God gave us. Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Everything we have comes from God and is to be returned to God in better shape or even multiplied.
So who are we? We are children of God, stewards, anointed ones, blessed, gifted, conquerors, ambassadors. The list goes on and on.
For Reflection: Who am I? How does God see me? What have I done with what God has given me?
Let us pray. "We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face, Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13: 9-10, 12).
Another of the many contrasts John draws in his first letter is that of the old command and the new command. In 1 John 2:7 he says, I'm not writing you a new command but an old one, yet it is a new command. So which is it? New or old?
He means to say it is both old and new. Leviticus 19:18 reads, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (emphasis mine) Jesus said that we should love one another as he loved us, which is more than loving our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34). Loving someone as God loves us goes far beyond loving someone as we love ourselves. In this way, Jesus' teaching is an old teaching with a new twist. It is a command of a greater magnitude. The Jewish hearers of Jesus' teaching would have noticed the change immediately. They had been taught to love only those who did good to them.
But Jesus' teaching specifically went beyond even loving our neighbors when he proclaimed, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). So the teaching of Jesus progressed from the old command to "love your neighbor as yourself" to "love your neighbor as I love you" to "love your enemies". Changing from "love your neighbor" to "love your enemy" indeed makes it a new command. Undoubtedly this is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus to accept and try to practice.
For Reflection: As Christians, how are we doing at loving our neighbors? How are we doing at loving our enemies? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, "Who is my enemy?" Today I hear people in the U.S. speak of "those republicans" or "those democrats" as if they are the enemy. Or we speak of unnamed terrorists or ISIS or Al Quaeda as the enemy. Yet Paul says we wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). So who, indeed, is our enemy?
Let us pray. Jesus, I seek to follow your command to love my enemies and pray for, or do good to, those who persecute me. Who have I been treating as my enemy? I ask you to help me see them through your eyes. I need help praying for them and not against them.
The last of the spiritual works of mercy is controversial to many Christians. Praying for the living is OK with all Christians, but not all believe in praying for the dead. Praying for the dead is too complicated to get into with these short meditations, so let's concentrate on praying for the living.
Most of the time in this blog we pray for ourselves to become better followers of Christ. I think that is the most easily answered prayer. When we pray for ourselves we know that we are doing this of our own free will and we really desire to have that prayer answered. When praying for someone else, we may not know where they stand on the issue about which we are praying. Take for example, praying for someone to be healed of a physical ailment. If we know that the person truly wants healing then we are not praying against that person's free will. But if the person does not want to be healed what would be the point of our prayer? Do we want to ask God to heal the person in spite of what that person wants? And would God do that?
When we want to intercede for someone, it might be best to find out what the person in need really desires. If we can agree with that, a mighty prayer can be offered. "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:19-20).
I think the catch is finding two or more people who really agree in prayer. At times when a group has prayed for one particular person, I have asked the individuals in the group afterward "What specifically did you pray?" It turned out that none of them prayed for the same thing. There was no agreement in prayer.
"To counsel the doubtful" is a lofty-sounding goal that might put most of us off from attempting to do it at all. But I am not one of those who thinks that the spiritual works of mercy apply to some of us and not all of us. All of us, I believe, are called at various times to counsel the doubtful in the same way that we are all called to instruct others in the faith to the best of our abilities.
Who has not been doubtful about their faith at some point in their lives? I certainly have. Satan loves nothing better than to bring doubt to our minds. Isn't that what he tried to do with Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11)? Satan said, "If you are the Son of God, . . ." Starting off with "if" was meant to sow doubt. Obviously Jesus didn't need anyone to counsel him away from doubt, but he had just come off of 40 days of fasting and prayer. Plus Jesus was well versed in the Word of God.
Doubt about our faith does not come from God. When we come across someone who is doubting, what should we do? Let's take them in the reverse order of what Jesus did with Satan's temptation. Remind them of what Scripture says. Pray with and for them. Fast for them. And if we need to refer them to someone who can answer their questions more completely, we can do that too.
The same approach works if we are the one who is doubting. Read Scripture, pray, fast, consult an elder in the faith.
For Reflection: Times of doubt come and go. What do I do when I am doubtful? When I come across someone who is doubtful, what is my response?
Let us pray. "I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues" (Psalm 120: 1-2).
As you may have noticed with the posts on Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and on Judas, I have been thinking about some of the characters who are mentioned in the last days of Jesus' life. Joseph of Arimethea is named as the one who asked Pilate for Jesus' body so that he could be buried quickly. In John's gospel, Nicodemus assists Joseph with the burial rites (John 19:38-42).
It seems to me that Joseph and Nicodemus did this at great risk to themselves as Jews. Jesus had been killed for being a blasphemer and insurrectionist. Stepping up to claim the body closely associates them with Jesus - something none of the remaining apostles were around to do. And so, although hurried, they perform a great act of mercy. Burying the dead is known as one of the Corporal Works of Mercy.
Nowadays most of us don't have the opportunity to physically bury someone. We have funeral homes to handle the preparation of the body and cemeteries to prepare the grave site. Yet from time-to-time we have the opportunity to attend funerals in order to honor the one who has died and to comfort the grieving. It is an act of mercy to do so (Matthew 5:7) and a means of fulfilling the command to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:35-40).
For Reflection: Have I ever thought myself to be too busy to attend a funeral? Have I in any way dishonored the dead? Have I made plans for my own death and funeral? As he was dying, Jesus made arrangements for his mother (John 19:26-27). Perhaps the next time I attend a funeral I will remember Joseph and Nicodemus who gave of themselves in a time of need.
Let us pray. Jesus, may I be as faithful to you and to others as Joseph and Nicodemus were.
If Satan was so bold as to tempt Jesus himself, should we expect to be treated any differently? Jesus was tempted in the desert; he was tempted through Peter; he was tempted in the garden and on the cross. And who knows how many other times he was tempted. In his desire to be fully human, Jesus chose to endure the temptations that we all endure.
If we have chosen, during this time of preparation for celebrating Easter, to follow more closely in Jesus' footsteps by getting rid of bad habits or picking up new, better ones, we should not be surprised that Satan redoubles his efforts to tempt us to return to our old ways. If we have decided not to nag our spouse and to treat him/her more lovingly, it should not surprise us when she/he does something eminently "naggable." If we have decided to pray every morning, small crises will arise to keep us from doing so. It is all too easy to lose sight of the goal of becoming more like Jesus.
The key to overcoming temptation is to fight back. We can quote Scripture as Jesus did (Luke 4). We can tell Satan to go away as Jesus did with Peter's suggestion (Matthew 16:23). We can refuse to argue as Jesus did with Pilate (John 18). We can pray as Jesus did in the garden (Matthew 26:38-44). We can refuse to give up as Jesus did when he was whipped and ridiculed (Matthew 27:26-31).
For Reflection: What is my typical response to temptation?
Let us pray. Father, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation (Luke 11:2-4).
It is hard to imagine living under persecution for being Christian (or any faith belief), but Christians have the words of Jesus who tells us to "fear not." That's much easier said than done; however, I think Jesus meant it.
If we know that when we die we will spend eternity in the Kingdom of God, then we need not fear death. So for Christians fear should not arise from death itself. Many of us, though, may fear what comes before death - suffering or pain. Is Jesus telling us not to fear suffering or pain?
Well, Scripture says that perfect love (God) casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), but it appears to me that verse is meant for the day of judgment. If we consider Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus is concerned about something. But what is it that overwhelms him? Is it death itself? or the pain of the whipping and crucifixion to come? or the weight of the sins of the world?
For reflection: Honestly, I don't know but I don't think it was the prospect of death itself that caused Jesus such anguish. I think it was either the physical pain to come or the weight of the sins of the world. What do you think?
Let us pray. Jesus, only you know what the persecuted Christians around the world are facing. We thank you for being with them in their time of testing and temptation, and we thank you for holding them like the Good Shepherd you are. Strengthen their faith in the face of the enemy. May your Name be always in their minds, and on their lips and in their hearts.
I've been asked to explain why I believe so strongly in Christian healing. There are several reasons. The first, as I've pointed out before, is that Jesus healed everyone who came to him in faith asking for it. There is no record in the Scripture that he turned anyone away. Jesus said that this was part of his mission. In Luke 4:16-21 we have the occasion when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town. He read from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people. Then Jesus proceeds to do just that in his ministry.
The second is that he told his disciples to go and do likewise. Matthew records it as (10:7-8), "Go and preach, 'The Kingdom of heaven is near!' Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, heal those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases, and drive out demons." Luke has Jesus sending the disciples out twice. In Luke 9:1-5, Jesus sends out the 12. Giving them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, he sends them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 more men to do the same.
The third reason is that the disciples were successful in healing people. Mark says, "So they went out and preached that people should turn away from their sins. They drove out many demons and rubbed olive oil and many sick people and healed them." (Mark 6:12-13). Luke tells us about the 12, "The disciples left and traveled through all the villages, preaching the Good News and healing people everywhere." (Luke 9:6) The 72 sent out in chapter 10 return to report (10:17), "Lord, even the demons obeyed us when we gave them a command in your name!" Then Jesus rejoices at their success and gives praise to his Father (Luke 10:18-24).
Three reasons are enough for today, but there are more.
Let us pray with Jesus today the prayer of praise upon the return of the 72 (Luke 10:21). "Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen."
"What Would Jesus Do?" was a catchphrase a while back. It got a lot of people thinking and, sometimes, a lot of people arguing. They argued because they did not agree on what Jesus would do. In certain moral situations it is often difficult to determine what Jesus would do. And in our brief reflections here we can't go into those morally ambiguous debates.
But we can look at what Jesus did. Matthew sums it up nicely when he says, "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness." (Matthew 9:35) Then Jesus gave his followers the authority to do the same. (Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 10) And they did. They did it while he was alive and they did it after he returned to his Father and sent the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they too disagreed over how to go about preaching the kingdom and healing the sick even though they had been with Jesus day after day.
I suspect the disagreements among Christians about how to go about things may not end, but what cannot end is our going out to preach the good news and heal the sick. It's what Jesus did.
For reflection: Am I doing what Jesus did?
Let us pray. Jesus, you set an example it is not always easy to follow. Help me to keep asking myself through the day, "Am I doing what Jesus did?"
How many of us wear glasses? Obviously lots of people wear glasses and we are grateful for them. Think what our lives would be like without them. I, for one, wouldn't be able to drive. Using a computer would be difficult. I would miss the expressions on people's faces when they were talking. For millions of people, glasses are a wonderful benefit today.
In his day, Jesus healed blind people. Matthew 9:27-31 tells us that two blind men followed Jesus. They even followed him from the street into someone's house. Perhaps, since they were able to follow Jesus, they were not completely blind but had suffered severe vision loss. They had heard of Jesus and the miracles he was doing, but they hadn't seen him. How could they? Yet they had faith that he could and would heal them. And he did.
This is one of the occasions when Jesus told the people who were healed not to tell anyone. But you have to wonder, if they had been blind or nearly blind, how could the blind men not go home to their wives and children with a big a smile? How could their family and friends not notice that, all of a sudden, they can see. It's not something you could hide, much less not tell anyone about. So they ignored Jesus' instructions and spread the good news.
For reflection: Do I need physical healing of my eyes? Spiritual healing? Who else do I know who needs to have their eyes opened?
Let us pray. Jesus, I don't know why so many people lose all or part of their eyesight. But I have faith that you are able and willing to heal all of us. Come, Lord Jesus, and heal our eyes both physically and spiritually.
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.