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Thoughts On Hope

I felt really tender when I went to church last night. "Tender" in my parlance usually means that I'm going to cry about the trials and tribulations of fictional characters that I love and appreciate. I'm just really into stories, and I find that the stories I really enjoy are the ones that help me put words to my feelings and experiences. I had it in my head: "We're just here to be memories for our children." That's the sort of climactic line in the beginning part of Interstellar that really resonates with me emotionally. I was thinking of my father, and that most of what I really have from him is a memory of who he was. I suppose that if you are about to make the fitting sacrifice of the new covenant in Jesus, thinking about your dear departed loved ones is proper and good. As I continued to sit there, I realized that I am deeply drawn to all stories of love, reconciliation, and harmony. I think many people in the business of telling stories think

I Am Not In Control, But I Am Safe

 If you spend any amount of time reading the news, you will become aware that human beings live a tenuous and fraught existence. Death is always close at hand, but in our comfort and blessing, we can almost pretend that it is not. When people realize they are not in control, things can go two ways: either a person becomes irretrievably anxious about their lack of control, or they come to know that the One who is in control has them securely. I have been made master of a few things; I have plenty to eat and drink, and I can choose whatever thing I want. I'm quite particular about my clothing, and I have a favorite shirt. I have a pair of "happy pants" that I'm quite fond of. Yet maybe my tendency to become upset at the utterly inconsequential things of life is an occasion to reflect on the ways that I still seek control which I do not have. If we are simply chasing money, or influence, or any number of things, the emptiness of it all is readily apparent, eventually. Th

You Belong Here

 I stopped in the neighborhood church today. Today was the day that they decided to test the fire alarm in my apartment building, so I would rather be in a church. I can't remember what hymn was being played, but as it turns out, the organist likes to practice, when he thinks no one is there. For an entire hour, it was the same hymn. I wish I could remember, but I know it was about the love of Jesus. Then again, aren't they all supposed to be about the love of Jesus? As I sat there, a friend found me, and he said, "Don't you get curious about the hidden places in here?" Or something like that. I said that I did, and that one time years ago, I got to see "in the back", where most ordinary folks don't get to go. I said I had the feeling that I shouldn't be back here, and he said, "You're an institution; you belong here." That was a very kind thing to say, but when did I become an institution? I only know that it was a joy to rest in t

9-11, 20 Years On

 I was in the bathroom of my residence hall in college, brushing my teeth. It was pretty late in the morning, actually. A guy ran in, telling me that 50,000 people probably just died in the World Trade Center, because some terrorists attacked it. I remember saying, "Come on man, don't joke about that. That's not funny." He wasn't joking. I was sort of numb, but I went to the front desk, where I knew we would have news. On the whiteboard which had news every day, there was a little box off to the side, and it said, "In spite of what has happened, we are committed to not judging people based upon religion, or national origin." Today, it is fashionable to bash sentiments on diversity, or even to claim that a certain openness in that regard stifles discussion as to the nature of the truth. That may be true sometimes, but I have never been more proud to have been spoken for in that way. I did truly fix in my mind that the attackers were some sort of radical f

I Have Just One Question About Critical Race Theories

 Is any particular expression of it premised in epistemic skepticism? That is, are we able to reason together, to test particular assertions against evidence, and reach a shared conclusion, or must its claims be accepted on authority? If it cannot be questioned, its assertions collapse into fideism, a kind of dogma without reason. In that way, certain expressions of it may be a "religion," as many critics claim. Notice I said "theories." Every unique expression of a theory that could fit under the umbrella of CRT has aspects that may explain particular observations best, and other aspects that explain what is observed less well. That's the nature of theories. There isn't one Critical Race Theory. I will say that banning CRT because it is Marxist is foolish. You can't avoid the pitfalls of Marxism, if you don't know what it is. I studied Marxism up close; even young people don't automatically become advocates of whatever they are taught. That not

I Do Happen To Be Dogmatic About, Well, Dogma

 I am gratified that I maintain relationships across the Christian world, in spite of the divisions among the Christian people. "In spite of" probably hits some people the wrong way, because I think a lot of times, "ecumenical dialogue" means, "let's get together and celebrate all that we agree on," instead of what it is, which is dialogue concerning the matters of revealed truth, with the express purpose of reaching agreement in that truth. Then again, this is one of the reasons that I don't like debate that much, because I don't enjoy telling people that I love that they are completely wrong, and that their wrongness could have dire eternal consequences. There is a large part of me that is a hippie, who just hopes that all the historic talk of sin, judgment, and wrath--not to mention heresy and schism--will just be wrapped up in a big ball of hugs from the Trinity. I'd like to be a universalist, but I am not. This is a tough balance to st

These Are The People In Your Neighborhood

 Admittedly, I have been spending too much time at the neighborhood McDonald's. It is perhaps a betrayal of a commitment to slow food, healthy eating, and localism, but it's right there, and I don't have to cross any major streets to get there. Anyway, I often see the same man at the neighborhood McDonald's. I'll call him Gabe. He's one of those guys that could be anywhere from 50 to 80, and I can't tell. When I first met him, he seemed solicitous for my well-being. He asked me if I wanted a refill on my drink, and I did not, because even I don't think 32 ounces of Coke should be upgraded to 64. We started talking about kindness--ironically enough--and we both decided that we thought there wasn't enough of it in the world. I decided that Gabe must've been a leader of men at some point, like a coach or in the military. Still sharp, and perfectly able to tell people what to do, if the need should arise. I thanked him for his kindness, and we went o

I'm New Here, But A Few Thoughts On Opinions, Obedience, And Faith

 I will not bore you with arcane discussions of infallibility, or somehow insist that no pastoral decision can ever be questioned. But I must be honest with you: I'm uncomfortable with a great many people who believe that they can dance right up to the line of open rebellion, and as long as they don't cross it, they think they can say whatever they want. I wish I had the grace to "weep with those who weep" over recent decisions, but I don't. People's defensiveness just proves that somebody had a point. I would rather be accused of being a fervent yes-man, than be shown to be the opposite. If what we believe about the Church is true, we cannot openly defy the sacred shepherds, while at the same time insist to the world that we are their only hope of salvation. Something has to give. My favorite Psalm is the 73rd, and one line from it is often translated, "If I would have spoken thus, I would have betrayed the generation of your children." In short, in

St. Peter Asks Jesus About St. John (John 21:20-25)

 In all honesty, St. Peter probably wasn't too thrilled about dying a gruesome death. Rather than think about that, he wanted to change the subject. St. John was standing there when he turned around. Maybe St. John was looking joyful; maybe he was making notes for the Gospel we are reading right now. Who knows? St. John says again that he could write more than he has written, and as we think about it, that makes sense. There is nothing about the "signs" of Jesus that seems normal or ordinary. Even as we know that these are ordinary people caught up in the story of Jesus, Jesus and his story are anything but ordinary. Jesus answers him by saying basically, "Don't you worry about him! You have your own job to do! If I want him to be alive when I come back, what is that to you?" We can see why people might have thought that Jesus meant that St. John wouldn't die. On the one hand, St. John is the only one of the faithful apostles who did not die for his fait

Peter Is Reconciled To Jesus (John 21:15-19)

 Now, the final piece of the puzzle falls into place. St. Peter might have thought that this part of his life was over, since he failed so spectacularly in following Jesus. You can't do much worse than denying Jesus three times. Much has been said in preaching about the wording here, and that Jesus is calling Peter to a deeper love than he is at first willing to give. That is all true. Still, I want to focus on the fact that Jesus asked the question three times, the same number of Peter's denials. Jesus could have said simply, "I forgive you, and I love you." Yet there is something real about each denial that needs to be reconciled. Three denials, three affirmations of love, and three commands from Jesus, which are really one command: to take care of the Church, and all of its members. Peter cannot wallow in self-pity, because Jesus has sent him to do a job. We all need the grace of Christ, and the mercy of Christ, but none of it is simply for us to keep and enjoy. We

"The Train Job," and the Virtue Ethics of Malcolm Reynolds

 As most of you know, I am a board-certified geek. I do believe that science fiction can serve as a kind of parable, a way to talk about contentious things, without raising defenses, before thinking takes place. There was once a little television show called "Firefly," about a ragtag group of misfits on the run from an autocratic government in the far future. They sought mercenary work in space, far from the oppressive government. The protagonist, Malcolm Reynolds, fought in the war against that government, called The Alliance. Malcolm--his closest friends call him, "Mal"--lost that war, and lost his Christian faith, when he prayed to God, and God did not deliver "the Browncoats" out of the hands of the Alliance. In one thought-provoking and moving story within the 13-episode arc which was Firefly, Mal and the gang get a job to steal some sort of crate from a train passing from one town to another on a particular planet. They don't know what's in t

A Large Catch Of Fish, and Jesus Comes To Breakfast (John 21:1-14)

 It's possible the apostles didn't believe what they had already seen, so Jesus comes again to reveal himself. It might've been a kind of hangover for the apostles, because they had such joy when they saw Jesus again, and then they had to go back to regular life. Or so they thought. Several of them went fishing, including St. Peter. They didn't catch anything. It reminds me of when Jesus said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." They thought they saw a man on the beach, and they didn't know it was Jesus. Whether Jesus prevented them from knowing it was him, or whether they couldn't see them because they were a long way off, Jesus wanted to wait until the right moment to let them know it was him. As it turned out, Jesus decided to let the miracle do the talking. They cast their nets on the right side of the boat. St. Peter probably thought he was just being nice to a guy trying to give him advice on fishing. He is a fisherman; I would hope Peter knows

I'm Not A Reluctant Christian

 I don't know how to do anything halfway, unless--let's be honest--I start something, get distracted, and start something else. All of my people with ADHD, where you at? Anyway, there comes a point in the Christian life where we don't have to obey with gritted teeth. Our obedience doesn't come with apologies to the watching world; it just comes quickly, and without struggle. This is joy, and this is the possession of virtue. I'm not saying this to tell you what a great man I am, but to say that, at least as an intellectual matter, I don't ask why things are the way they are. We all slip up sometimes, and it doesn't mean that we never believed in God, or wanted to do His will. And we do need to give grace to one another, for the times when we fail. That's easy for some of us, and harder for others, or harder in particular situations. Human sexuality is a topic that is coming up a lot, not only among Christians, but obviously with everyone. Many people say

St. John, Why Did You Write This? (John 20:30-32)

 St. John tells us that he could tell us a lot more stories about the things Jesus said and did, but these are written so that we might believe in Jesus, and that by believing, we may have (eternal) life in his name. St. John's purpose to convince us about Jesus explains why the book does not tell the stories in exact chronological order. St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke tell us different details, but the theme is the same: Jesus is Lord and God. I suppose St. John could have ended it right here, but God is a God who reconciles, and there is a very important person who needs to be reconciled. If we need to be reconciled, we share it with him.

Jesus and "Doubting Thomas" (John 20:24-29)

 When Jesus came to the apostles, St. Thomas wasn't there. He gets a bad rap here, for wanting proof. If faith is not reasonable, then the God who gives faith as a gift is also not reasonable. On the other hand, there does come a point when questions are not helpful, or sincere from any one person. Jesus is saying that faith is a gift, and the vast majority of us--since we are not apostles--believe because of the testimony of the apostles, not because we have any first-hand proof. Sometimes, people ask for scientific proof of this or that miracle, but remember that even people who witnessed miracles found a way to deny that they were real. We must remember that our faith is a gift of grace, and that by believing, we are blessed. Even though it is easy to be a little rough on "Doubting Thomas," pious tradition holds that he made it all the way to India, and established some of the earliest churches known to exist. Sometimes we might think that we are crazy to have faith in

Jesus Comes to the Apostles (John 20:19-23)

 The apostles weren't necessarily courageous at this time. Hiding behind locked doors is not what we think of when we think of bold leadership. Jesus appears, and gives them his peace. When he was there with them, he showed them his wounds from the crucifixion. A few of them probably would have thought that they were hallucinating. When they saw Jesus, wounded and somehow victorious, they knew they were not imagining things. Jesus sends the apostles out to preach his message of forgiveness of sins through faith in his name. They receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathes on them, and they become true ministers of Jesus and his grace. There is something about the forgiveness of sins in Jesus that needs to be accepted, not only once, but all the time, and throughout life. For the apostles to be able to forgive sins, they must be in some sense Christ Himself. These verses here are very similar to the verses in Matthew 16:18-19. There, Jesus promises to honor the decision of the Churc

Jesus Comes To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

 Whatever the apostles knew, or thought they understood, they didn't share any of it with Mary Magdalene. So for all she knew, Jesus was still dead, and somebody took his body. It's unclear whether she recognized the two men she saw as angels at the time, but St. John is telling us that they were angels. This is another one of those times where St. John and the rest of the disciples understood this better after it happened. When the angels speak to her, you can almost hear the voice of Jesus. Usually, when someone says, "Woman…" in the Scriptures, what follows is an important moment. (See again John 2:1-12) Mary Magdalene still thinks that someone has taken the body of Jesus. She turns and actually sees him standing there, but she doesn't recognize him. I think Jesus kept himself hidden until the right moment, just as he had done with the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, as recorded by St. Luke (see Luke 24:13-35). Although scholars rightly call the

The Resurrection Of Jesus (John 20:1-10)

 I suppose Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early Sunday while it was dark to make sure everything was alright. Or at least as good as it could be, considering your Teacher and friend was dead. Or so she thought. She saw that the stone was rolled away, and she figured quite reasonably that someone must have stolen the body. So she goes and tells St. Peter, and St. John was also there. Those two guys ran to the tomb, and St. John got there first. At a human level, he might be bragging, but considering that this is the word of God, there must be a reason why we are being told that St. John got there first, but he did not go in. He waited for St. Peter, and he let him go in first. Many Church Fathers and teachers see in this a deference to Peter's office as the head of the apostles. Pious tradition holds that a woman named Veronica gave Our Lord the face cloth that St. John finds neatly folded, next to the linens that Jesus was wearing. St. John says that he "saw and believed.&quo

Jesus Is Buried (John 19:38-42)

 After the sad and unjust death of Jesus, his close friends and disciples needed to find a place to bury him. I think they buried him in a tomb close at hand so that they could still eat the Passover, without being ritually unclean. Joseph of Arimathea was the one to pay for the tomb. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night, (John 3) also helped with the burial preparation. It was a fresh tomb, that no one else had ever laid in. And no one ever would again.

Jesus' Side Is Pierced (John 19:31-37)

 It would have been undignified at the very least, to leave the bodies of condemned men hanging on the crosses for the Passover. The Romans consented to breaking the legs of the prisoners, so the men would die if they were still alive. (The only way to keep breathing for at least a time while you are being crucified is to push up on your feet.) The soldiers discovered that Jesus was already dead. Who knows what caused the soldier to stab Jesus in the side with a spear? He did, though, and blood and water came out. St. John says he saw it. This is his way of letting us know that he saw this personally, without drawing attention to himself. He never mentions himself by name anywhere in the Gospel. The quotation referring to broken bones is from Psalm 34, a Psalm of David. It speaks again of the Lord answering the call of those who cry to him. There were also NIV cross-references to the law of Moses relating to the Passover, in the books of Exodus and Numbers. This is St. John's way o

A Note On Catholic Voting (Again)

 A Catholic is only culpable for the grave evils of Catholic politicians, if and only if they vote with the intention of supporting those grave evils. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong, and anyone who persists in saying it is a partisan hack. I don’t care how many Catholic books they write.

The Crucifixion Of Jesus (John 19:17-30)

 They took Jesus out to the place of the skull, which suggests that many people died there. Perhaps it was a common place of execution. They made him carry his own Cross. Three men were executed, with Jesus in the middle. Pontius Pilate made a sign--in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek--which said, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." The Pharisees and other leaders objected, and they wanted Pilate to write that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews. He left the sign the same, probably as a little act of rebellion against the leaders with whom he was tired of arguing. It's a shame he didn't have enough courage to set Jesus free, but in doing what he did, he unintentionally told the deepest truth. Whether he was mocking or not, Jesus is the King, not only in Israel, but over the entire universe. The soldiers who crucified Jesus took his clothes, but they didn't want to tear his tunic, so they cast lots for it, which is a bit like rolling dice. The quotation there c

Pilate: Justice Versus Career (John 19:12-16)

 Pontius Pilate tried to reason with the hostile crowd, but they knew that his political position was dicey. Many scholars seem to think that Pilate would have been removed as governor, and possibly jailed and tortured, if there were another rebellion on his watch. The crowd uses his own motive for self-preservation against him, and he caves. It's possible that in the second part of this section, Pilate believes that he won't be reasoning with the crowd, so when he says, "Here is your King!" he may be trying to antagonize them. "We have no king but Caesar" is somewhat predictable for the chief priests to say, because that particular group was not known for their religious devotion. In fact, they were despised by many Pharisees, because of their willingness to compromise with foreign powers, and to make a lot of money doing so. What makes Pilate so bad is that he was the one with all the power, and he behaved as though he couldn't do anything other than w

The Scourging Of Jesus (John 19:1-11)

 When we start to look closely at the ways of God, we notice that people often think they are shaming God, or making Him small somehow, with their words and actions against Him, when in reality they are glorifying God without realizing it. So it was with the soldiers mocking Jesus: putting the crown of thorns on his head, and dressing him in a royal robe. You can say, "Hail, King of the Jews!" as mockingly as you want, but if Jesus really is the King, the truth is the truth. One of the reasons that the Church puts the words, "Crucify him, crucify him!" on our lips on Palm Sunday is that we don't want to begin to think that we are so much better than these officials. Every time we sin, we are like these leaders, who traded the innocent Jesus for a robber and a murderer. Pilate finally got an answer to his question about what supposedly Jesus had done wrong: they were charging him with blasphemy, because he made himself equal with God. I think this is what made Pi

"What Is Truth?" And Pleading On Behalf Of Jesus (John 18:38-40)

 Whether Pilate didn't believe truth could be found, or he was worried about practical matters as the governor, the certainty of Jesus made him uncomfortable. He could have made a better choice. We don't know how his story ends, but to be mentioned by name in the two ancient creeds--Apostles' and Nicene--is not good. St. Matthew records that his wife warned him to stay away from the case of Jesus. She had a dream about Jesus, and she received insight that he was a righteous man (see Matthew 27:19). Even so, Pilate knew that what was taking place was an injustice. He tried to use a custom he had of pardoning someone around the time of the Passover to get Jesus off the hook. It didn't work. Sometimes, when we have the power to do something, and we don't do it as we should, it is easier to imagine that our hands are tied, rather than take responsibility for the choices we have made. Nobody in this situation has more power than Pontius Pilate, at least from an earthly p

Jesus Comes To Pontius Pilate (John 18:28-37)

 The guards then took Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Jesus met Pilate at his residence. The guards did not go in, because they did not want to be unclean for the Passover. Pilate wanted to know what Jesus had done. At first, they deflected the question, and they suggested that they wouldn't have bothered him with something trivial. But that was not the question that Pilate asked. He told the people to handle it themselves, but they both knew that the people had no authority to execute someone themselves. Jesus had predicted that he would be handed over and killed. St. John sees in the words that Pilate spoke the fulfillment of that prophecy. Pilate wanted to know with what they were charging Jesus. To this point, no one is answering directly. It must have been that Pilate heard people say that Jesus claimed to be a king. He came back in and asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus wants to know where he heard that, but Pilate isn't talking. He

Yeah, I Will Eat "Lab Meat"

 There have been numerous news reports and opinion pieces recently about synthetically created meat that may be available soon. I do not mean plant-based imitation meat, although if they can fool me, more power to them. Anyway, it's being said that we may be able to create animal flesh without killing an animal very soon. The whole thing may be completely contrary to localism, or to a healthy community as I imagine it, but this seems like a great idea, if it is safe. There is nothing in me culturally anymore that has to prove my manliness, or devotion to the truth. Raising animals to feed ourselves is expensive, and fraught with moral ambiguities that we tend to gloss over, for the sake of convenience, or because we don't want to be identified as "those liberal hippies." Sustainability tends to be a buzzword nowadays, but in light of climate change, and the lack of access to basic things of life for many people around the world--food and clean water, for example--thos

Peter Denies Jesus the Second and Third Time (John 18:25-27)

 St. Peter just wants to be left alone. He's probably already embarrassed that he denied Jesus once. The crowd gathered around obviously thinks he looks familiar. Peter denies being a disciple of Jesus again. But the kinsman of Malchus knows he saw Peter in the garden, when Jesus was handed over. The man surely knows that Peter is lying, but Peter denies Jesus again, just as Our Lord said he would. (See Matthew 26:34, Matthew 26:75, Mark 14:72, and Luke 22:61) This is one of the times where St. John doesn't want us to think of his Gospel as something entirely different than the other three, written by St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke. St. Peter's denial is clearly something very important for the leaders of the early Church. We will see that Jesus considers it important as well, and will use it to demonstrate his love to Peter, and to us.

Jesus Appears Before Annas (John 18:19-24)

 The way St. John figures it--and this agrees with the leadership who oppose Jesus--Annas is the authentic high priest. Later, he may have sent him to Caiaphas in order not to anger the Romans, who put Caiaphas in place. Jesus is not willing to answer questions from the high priest, as though the high priest could not have obtained this information another way. The way Jesus answers demonstrates that he is not overly impressed with the high priest, or afraid of his authority. One of the guards noticed this lack of deference to the high priest, and struck Jesus with his hand. When Jesus spoke again, he confronted the farce that is this "trial."Annas then sent him to Caiaphas.

Peter Denies Jesus The First Time (John 18:15-18)

 Peter followed behind, wanting to know what would happen, but not wanting to get too close. The mystery in this section is whether the "another disciple" is St. John himself, or someone else. Another question is whether it is a benefit to the two disciples of Jesus to be known to the high priest. At least to be known as one of the people allows them to confer with him, and at least not have him run away from them as "Gentile sinners." On the other hand, the high priest is one of the architects of the conspiracy against Jesus. St. Peter was obviously afraid that if he named himself as one of the disciples of Jesus, that he would be punished and possibly killed. In the end, he'll get his chance to die, for confessing the name of Jesus. On this occasion, Peter is a coward, afraid of being honest to a servant girl. He warmed himself by the fire that the servants had made, and tried to forget about what was happening.

Jesus Is Taken To The High Priest(s) (John 18:12-14)

 A footnote in the RSV Bible explains that the Romans had removed Annas the high priest almost 20 years earlier. Because that priesthood was supposed to be for life, many of the people continued to recognize Annas as the high priest. Even so, it was Caiaphas who prophesied that a man would die for the people. He could not have known how true his words would be, even if the way it came true was completely unjust. In any case, this is the reason why Jesus appears before two people who were high priests of the people at some point.

Jesus Is Betrayed And Arrested (John 18:1-11)

 St. John says that after they ate the Passover in the Upper Room, they went to the Kidron Valley. It was a familiar place, likely where they would get away to pray. Judas Iscariot knew the place, too. Judas Iscariot brought soldiers and representatives from the chief priests and Pharisees. Apparently, they were expecting a more violent confrontation. Jesus stepped forward, asking the soldiers who they were looking for. Why did they draw back, after Jesus identified himself? Did Jesus knock them over with some sort of power, or did his name somehow carry a special significance? Did some of the soldiers believe in him, or hear stories of his miracles? Based on what we have right here in the text, we don't know. I would like to think that a certain voice of conscience offered the soldiers an opportunity not to participate in this evil betrayal. Eventually, though, they got off the ground and did what they were ordered to do. Jesus bargains for the release of the rest of the apostles,

The High Priestly Prayer, Part Three (John 17:20-26)

 Now Jesus prays for us, because we are the ones who have heard his message through his apostles. Jesus prays that we would be united to the apostles, and to one another, through his saving message. He prays that we would be united in the same way that he is united to the Father, and in the way that both the Father and the Son are united with the Holy Spirit. This is a mystery of deep prayer and contemplation, because he is inviting us to be in the fellowship of God Himself. Even this has a purpose beyond the enjoyment of it, because it will prove that the Father has sent the Son, and loved us to the end through him. There is another mystery here, in the fact that Jesus wants to share the glory of God with us. We don't by nature have the ability to participate in the glory of God, or to share fellowship with Him. God has given us the grace to be friends with him, to be supernatural people. Jesus prays for the apostles to receive the gift of heaven. Heaven will be the place of seein

The High Priestly Prayer, Part Two (John 17:6-19)

 Jesus says that he has made the Father's name known to his apostles, and he says that the Father gave the apostles to him. Jesus also says that the apostles believed what he shared with them, which is probably a generous interpretation of what the apostles said and did. Then again, when God writes our story, he is often more generous to us than we would be to ourselves. Jesus says that everything he has is from the Father, which is what you would expect the obedient Son to say. Jesus also says that all the words he spoke were the words the Father gave him to say. Maybe what we could say is that the apostles had to believe fully in Jesus before Jesus could honestly pray this prayer. There may be many gifts that the Father intends to give us, but we are not yet ready to receive them. Jesus is praying for his apostles, which is truly an amazing thing, and is a great mystery, because true prayer takes humility. And the mystery is that the glorious Son of God would humble himself at al

The High Priestly Prayer, Part One (John 17:1-5)

 When Jesus had finished saying what we have recorded in chapter 16, he began to pray. Jesus is a prophet and the true King of Israel, but he is also the true high priest of the new covenant. This is the prayer that Jesus prays for the apostles, and for all of us. Priests offer prayers and sacrifices to God, and Jesus doesn't see a reason to change what we would expect. He asks the Father to glorify him, so that he may in turn glorify the Father. Jesus tells us through his prayer that receiving eternal life is a matter of believing in the one true God, and in him, whom the Father sent. We see once more that Jesus considers himself to be fundamentally the one who was sent by the Father. What is Jesus praying for, if God has no needs, and God has glory in Himself? Jesus wants the glory of God the Father to be seen in this world. If the goal of our lives is to be in relationship with God forever, then a life well lived will show this glory, the same glory that Jesus is praying for. He

Jesus Has Overcome the World (John 16:25-33)

 There are a lot of different reasons why Jesus would speak in "figures" as he calls them. One is the mysterious plan of the Father, which could include God's knowledge of who would accept him, and why. In various ways, Jesus has taught them about not wasting their breath, or throwing pearls before swine, as it says in another place. Using metaphors also keeps the enemies of Jesus off-balance just a bit, until it is time for the Cross and Jerusalem. But now among his most intimate friends, Jesus makes everything clear. The things he says are not new; he has said that he is going to the Father before, but they didn't understand. Maybe St. John's purpose in this passage is to tell us that this is the moment when they understood what Jesus was saying. Jesus says that they're going to be scattered, and that they will have trial and tribulation. He tells them that they will abandon him, but that he will rely on his relationship with the Father. Jesus tells them and

Joy And Sorrow, Coming and Going (John 16:16-24)

 The disciples didn't get it, that Jesus was talking about his death and resurrection. It's somewhat funny to think about now, because he just said a few verses ago that he was going to the Father. But the apostles are just like us. How often do we miss the most obvious things, and forget things we know? On the other hand, "a little while" in God's time could mean anything. The fact that it turned out to be three days by the Hebrew counting is somewhat of a relief, but we remember how hard it was for Jesus to endure the fact of Lazarus being dead for a couple of days, even knowing that he was going to raise him from the dead. In light of that, I think his sympathy for their sorrow is genuine. Jesus speaks as a prophet next, with the familiar formula. The apostles and the other disciples will have sorrow at the death of Jesus, while the world will rejoice. In this way, Jesus is introducing them and us to the idea of redemptive suffering. There has always been suffe

The Holy Spirit, Guide Into All the Truth (John 16:12-15)

 Jesus says that he could say even more, but the apostles can't bear it now. The Holy Spirit will come, and he will explain everything. The Holy Spirit does not work alone, but he says what the Father and Jesus would also say. As Christians, we believe that nothing new has been revealed in Jesus, since the death of the last apostle, which interestingly enough, was St. John. Yet this seems to say that the Holy Spirit can give us and the whole Church a deeper understanding and clarity about things we already know. In fact, if you look at our history, you will see this. A person from 800 years ago will not have the exact same understanding of the faith as we do today, but the heart of it is the same. Who is Jesus? Who am I? And why does it matter? These are still the questions we ask, in every time and place. Jesus is the faithful Son of the Father, so unlike the younger son in the parable of the prodigal son, (Luke 15:11-32)  Jesus doesn't waste his "inheritance" on him

Be Prepared to Suffer (John 16:1-11)

 Jesus knows that if he tells the apostles all these things, they will have more courage to face the persecution that will come from the authorities. Sometimes, we react poorly in times of struggle because we are surprised. Jesus tells them that they will be kicked out of the synagogues. He is reminding them that faith in him will change the practice of their faith in such a way that it is a new faith. There is a time and place to tell things, and Jesus thought that while he was still there to care for them and teach them, it wouldn't be the best time to tell them everything. Of course, they would be sad; that's only natural. He tells them he needs to go away, so that the Holy Spirit will come to them. It will be the Holy Spirit who now teaches and cares for them, and indeed, the whole Church. The Holy Spirit convicts and convinces, with regard to sin. Jesus says that the leadership has sinned in rejecting him. He will go to the Father to fulfill the Father's plan of righte

It's Not Going to Be Easy (John 15:18-27)

 Any hatred and opposition that we face was first faced by Jesus. We remember that "world" for St. John refers to any and all opponents of God. If we belonged to the sinful world, Jesus says they would love us, and love the apostles. As it is, they have enemies and opponents, and so will we. Later on in the Scriptures, St. Paul will remind us that our struggle is not really against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers opposed to God. When Jesus says that a student is not greater than his master, he is talking about the suffering he faced, and the suffering we will face, but he is also pointing out that every good thing that God could give us as a reward for being faithful belongs to Jesus by right. We will never be greater than him, or outgrow our need for him. Jesus says that opposition to him is rooted in not really knowing the Father who sent him. We will eventually have a chance to realize that suffering like Christ is a great privilege, and it lets us know t

Love One Another, As Jesus Loves Us (John 15:12-17)

 Jesus had already said that the law and the prophets were summed up by the two great commandments: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Now he says to the apostles, "...love one another as I have loved you." Once again, this is not something that we are able to do in our own strength. God must give us the grace to do it, but in light of the fact that he has given that grace, we should do what Jesus is commanding us. Jesus is preparing them for his death on the cross. That is the greater love of which he is speaking. As soon as he mentions laying down his life for his friends, he calls them friends, if they did not know. The apostles are in the inner circle; that's what Jesus means when he's telling them everything. They know the Father's plan, and they will know their part in carrying it out. It was not their superior knowledge or wisdom that caused Jesus to choose any one of them, but it is a mystery of grace. In a sense, we are chosen in a similar way.

Abide In Jesus (John 15:1-11)

 It's common in the older Hebrew Scriptures for God to describe Israel as his vineyard. So when Jesus says that the Father is the vinedresser, he's not reaching too far with the metaphor. Jesus as the true vine is worth some thought. The branches get their life from the root; they have no life in themselves. Jesus had said earlier in chapter 10 that he had come so that we may have life, and have it abundantly. I'm sure none of us is overly excited about being pruned by God, like a diseased branch, but then again, that's better than being thrown away and burned in fire. Jesus reminds us quite directly that we have no life in ourselves when he says, "for apart from me you can do nothing." This spiritual life is not self-help, but is actually rooted in abandoning ourselves to God's loving care. How do we "abide" with Jesus, and in Jesus? Each moment is a chance to reflect upon Jesus, to remember what he has already done for us, and to change directi

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled (John 14:25-31)

 In simple terms, Jesus is saying, "I'm telling you now, so you're not surprised." And these are the final things that Jesus wants to teach them directly. The Holy Spirit will come, and He will teach us the rest. Sometimes, we forget about the Holy Spirit, because we think a lot about the Father, and the Son. This isn't wrong, but we need to embrace the fullness of God. We should also remember that while the Holy Spirit will guide each of us, his main purpose is to guide and protect the Church. When the Holy Spirit reminds us of what Christ taught us, he does this in a special and powerful way. We know that we can trust whatever the Church offers to us as a part of faith, because that's what Jesus promised he would do. (See also Matthew 16:18) The Holy Spirit is carrying out a promise that Jesus made to us. The Holy Spirit is indeed powerful, and he does more than comfort us, as we will see. He helps us to think and to understand. We should seek His wisdom alw

Truly "God With Us" (John 14:18-24)

 Ever since we heard about the Incarnation--Jesus becoming man--we have had the opportunity to consider the prophecy from Isaiah: "and they shall call his name "Immanuel," which means, "God is with us." In some translations, it is simply "God with us." It is an intimate and special thing for Jesus to do this, but this section prepares us for a deeper intimacy with God than simply Jesus sharing our human flesh. Jesus says that God Himself--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--will live within us. The theologians and teachers call this "the divine indwelling." There is still great mystery here that we will not understand in our lifetimes, but apparently sharing in the life of God will not be symbolic or metaphorical. The other Judas asked him how the apostles will know Jesus and his mysteries, without everyone else knowing the mysteries. In a certain way, that question answers for us another question, which is, "Why doesn't Jesus

The Counselor, The Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17)

 At first, the words of Jesus in verse 15 seem much too hard. But if we remember that for St. John, "love" is that supernatural fellowship with God Himself, then we realize that loving God and keeping the commandments are not things that we simply try to do; we let God take control of us, and live through us. Jesus says he will ask the Father, and the Father will give us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. He is God, along with Jesus the Son of God, and of course, God the Father. We remember--as we said before--that "world" for St. John is everyone who is opposed to God's will. So Jesus is telling his apostles that they did receive the Holy Spirit when he washed them. That's why he told Peter, "If I do not wash you, you will have no part with me." Therefore, the foot-washing was the Christian baptism for the apostles. The Holy Spirit lives in all of those who receive Jesus. And as we will see, he guides the apostles, and theref

Greater Works Than These (John 14:12-14)

 Jesus starts speaking here with that familiar, "truly, truly, I say to you…" which reminds us that he intends to teach something new. It's the language of a prophet. Jesus says that those who believe in him will do greater works than he does, and that is truly shocking. Jesus going to the Father will be the reason that we receive this new power to do these greater works. Everything that we are able to do in the spiritual life is somehow connected to the work that Jesus has done to save us. Jesus is not trying to say that God will give us houses, boats, cars, and money in His name; he is trying to encourage us to trust him with everything that we need, especially spiritually. If we want to be more spiritually fruitful, and we ask for those gifts, those are the prayers that are always answered. The great saints in ages past are great not in themselves, but in their willingness to trust Jesus with everything that they are. We can do this, too!

"Show us the Father..." (John 14:8-11)

 St. Philip is the first one to walk right into the teachable moment. Then again, we all know this feeling: How do we believe in Someone we cannot see? I think part of Jesus's surprise at Philip's statement is that Jesus just said that if they have known him, they have known the Father. Later apostles like St. Paul, and the author of the book of Hebrews, will show that they have learned this lesson well. It will take the Church many councils and centuries to understand what Jesus says about his relationship to the Father, and the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In other words, if it seems mysterious, you're in good company. The way Jesus answers makes it seem like they had talked about this before. We shouldn't think that what we get in the Scriptures is the only thing they ever said to each other. The Scriptures are meant for us. Once again, Jesus falls back on the Father's authority. Jesus says that the Father is doing His works in J

Your Trauma Is Not A Free Pass To Believe What Is False

 Yeah, I said it. It needs to be said. I also said this: "Sometimes, hierarchy and patriarchy can be a good thing." That does not mean that it is always a good thing, or that nothing bad has ever happened as a result of abuses by either one. But I'm not an egalitarian. At the moment, I can't figure out how to believe traditional Christian anything, if I actually believe that there are no meaningful differences between men and women. I want to be clear that I don't believe that any woman has to be meek and silent; I like women who are educated, opinionated, and downright spunky. But I think we know the difference between a woman who tells you what she thinks, and a woman who actually believes she'd be better off without you. I'm just generalizing here, but in my experience, men need to feel useful. If you say, "I don't know how you get through life without killing yourself," or, "You'd be dead if I weren't here," well, I woul