Friday, February 26, 2016

The Rich Man And Lazarus

The Rich Man And Lazarus (Luke 16:19)

         Jesus had just given a teaching on the right use of money.  The Pharisees, seething from their exposed hypocrisy, mocked him.  Unable to refute truth, they ridiculed him instead.  Jesus responded with a parable.  St. Luke titled it The Rich Man and Lazarus, but it could just as well have been called The Man Who Would Not Listen to the Voice of God.
          The rich man, who lived a self-centered life, did not earn a name in this story.  In contrast, the poor man -a hungry beggar covered with sores- was knighted “Lazarus”, which means “God is my help”.  His hope had to be in God, for the rich man did not lift a finger to raise him up.  Lazarus’ only solace was the dogs that licked his wounds.  Though he trusted in the God of heaven, he found only misery on earth.  While the rich man, with less love than the dogs, and with no trust in God, was steeped in comfort.
         Indeed, this parable seems to hide the merciful hand of God, while revealing the Sovereignty of his Justice to an unfair world.  It is a story about Eternal Recompense, about the impassable chasm between two destinies waiting to be chosen.
Lazarus’ life was the story of Job minus the happy ending.  Yet, he never stopped hoping in God.  The rich man was flooded with God’s blessings to the end, yet he never turned to their Source.  Lazarus, who clung in faith to his God, found himself in the Bosom of Abraham, the father of his faith –he was found pleasing to God.  The rich man, who sought only to please himself; found himself in the unending torment of eternal poverty -divorced from the Love of God he had spurned.
         Jesus ends his parable with the rich man becoming the beggar: pleading for Lazarus to be sent to warn his five brothers, that they might repent of their selfish ways and avoid the torment of hell.   “Then Abraham said to him, "If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead".
Moses and the prophets are the Voice of God, beckoning from millennia.  If the pursuit of self, so blinds us to God’s Voice, then neither would the miracle of one rising from the dead pierce our darkness.  Our sin, freely chosen, can do what Satan cannot: deny the power of the Cross and Resurrection.
         Not only was the Voice of God’s Word calling the rich man to a life of Love, but God was shouting to him -in the Poverty of Lazarus camped at his door.  The hardened heart can only be unlocked from within.  And the proud, find the key of Repentance, too reviling to pick up.  Pride will choose torment before submission to God.  It will cover its ears, lest it hear the Truth and change.
         This parable, this fiction of Christ, is both truth as well, foretelling a Darkness Yet Born: when the same Pharisees, would later, plot Jesus’ death after witnessing him raise a man from the dead.  The Lazarus of his parable, was the namesake of his beloved friend -the Lazarus he was to call forth from the tomb. This Lazarus fulfilled the wish of the rich man pleading for a resurrection miracle to prove God’s Word to be true.  And true to the Word of Jesus, it did not open their eyes. What pain our Savior must have endured; as he watched the Pharisees blindly cement their own tomb with bitterness, a torment of their own making.
         My Lord Jesus, I pray you will rip from my heart all selfishness and pride.  Its power is so fearsome that I hide it from my sight.  Like a child refusing to look under the bed at night, I am afraid to shine light on my darkness within.  Only you God are my help.
         Lord, do not let me pass by the Lazarus’s you place at my door.  Let me not pretend to not see or hear them.  Let me not turn away my eyes, nor close my heart.  Let me not fail the test.  Lay bare my heart.  Give me the courage to embrace your forsaken -even Lord, if I must let loose of my comfort, if I need to be made humble.
         Holy Spirit, by your grace, make it so.  Bring me into the Bosom of my Father.  Make me into the likeness of his Son.  Give me a listening heart that is drawn to your Poor.  Give me eyes to recognize your Beauty in their face.  Give me ears to hear your Call to Love.
         Father, oh that I might be known in Eternity by a new name: “The Lowly One who Listened to Voice of God”.

Friday, February 19, 2016

He Was Tempted

He Was Tempted (Luke 4:1-13)

          Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordon and was led the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.”  So it was …the Father’s Will led his Son into temptation.  In becoming incarnate, Jesus took on our weakness, and that meant becoming susceptible to temptation, to having to struggle to put his Father’s will before his own desires.  Like all humanity, he had to learn obedience.  Just as muscle cannot grow unless pushed to the point of tearing, so virtue cannot grow unless it is tested.
          Depravity, the absence of virtue, can be achieved by merely giving way to what is easy or expedient.   Virtue though, can only exist as a state of resistance.  Faith cannot exist outside its battle with doubt.  Nor can Hope have meaning, unless despair is tearing at one’s heals.  And love is ever challenged by selfishness.   These virtues are the summit of human potential, the image of God.   But, we are born for virtue, not with it.
          It is the nature of water to run downhill, and it is the fallen nature of man to sin -to give way to the desires of our Self, rather than to the desires of our God.  The End and Source of all virtue is God.  Those who find virtue find God, and so it is that Satan wars against us.  The virtuous then, are warriors: ever engaged against Forces vying for their allegiance, ever saying no to the downward path of least resistance.
These forces are both natural and supernatural.  The natural can be from within, as in sensual needs; or from the world, as in the selling of greed.  The supernatural, as in the Devil testing Jesus, can be direct, as in planting a temptation in the mind; or indirect, as in orchestrating our sinful tendencies with those of others –with a synergistic effect toward evil.  In the end, how we label or diagnosis sin is immaterial.  The heart of the matter is whether we resist sin, or embrace it.
          The Forty Days in the desert wilderness is a snapshot in the life of Jesus, in the life of all humanity.  Every day we are engaged in battle.  Easy Street is no one’s address.  Selfishness, Pride, Fear, Resentment, Suffering, Despair and Doubt –these are the temptations, the gauntlet through which all must pass, by which all must be tested.  We will overcome or be succumbed, pass or fail.  
          Our Forty Days will rage till Judgment Day; seeming to never end, then seeming to have been a thousand days ago; seeming to blot out the sky, then bringing tears of joy with wisdom and light.  It is the Gift of Life, the Mystery of the Cross, the Redemption of Sin, and our Transcendence to God.  
Lord Jesus, that you are my Savior, who is like me in all ways but sin, who intercedes for me On High, is my cause for Hope.  This Hope delivers me into Faith.  And this gift of Faith, opens my heart to know your Love.  Now when I am tempted, like you, I too can cling to the Word of our Father.  I can now, believe the Promise of your Truth, more than the scream of my senses, more than the hunger of my dreams.
Though my eyes may see an abyss waiting to swallow me, I know my feet are planted on Rock.  Though I feel the Suffering of this present mortality, I rest secure in your whispered immortality.  Though my temporal wantings refuse to die, your Mercy calls me to Life.  Your Gift of Peace carries me to Tomorrow.
          Though the Enemy surrounds me, I shall walk through them, as though they are shadows on foggy mist.  For you have born the weight of my sin; your Cross has broken Death’s power.  It is for me, but to follow your footsteps, to learn obedience, to trust only in you.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Unthinkable Love

Unthinkable Love

        If we seemed out of our senses, it was for God; …And this is because the love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.  …And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.  It is all God's work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ … In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men's faults against them, …For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.” (2Cor 5:13-21)
        If I had never heard the Good News of God’s love and mercy, I too would have considered St. Paul to be out of his senses.  It is incomprehensible, that an all Powerful, Holy and Perfect God, who exists in Eternity, whose Presence contains the speck of our Cosmos, would choose to take on our sin –that he would relinquish the Rights of Godhood, that the Immortal would take on immortality, that he would become what he created, and in assuming our humanity, being humbler yet, he would come in the meekness of a servant, a Sacrificial Lamb to take on the Sin of the world.
        Jesus, the Lord God, came to exchange his Pure, Innocent Goodness for the wretchedness of humanity.  The Creator of Fruitfulness submitted himself to the Fruit of Sin.  He took on Death, Depravity, the Dregs of humanity’s attempt to be god.  Jesus, the Pre-Existing Word, foresaw the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sweat drops of Blood, as he bore the foreshadowed consequences of our sin.  Before he willed his conception within the New Eve, he knew the suffering of Calvary, the weight of that Cross, the betrayal, abandonment and desolation -all wrapped in the deepest fear and pain that humanity had to offer its Savior.
        How can anyone believe this fantastical story of fanatical love?  How can anyone believe that our God and Father, would send his Beloved Son, to die for us who were lost in sin, that we might not die in the mess we made of our life, but that we might become a New Creation, destined to live forever in his Love?  How can anyone believe a Redemption so grand, a Love so unthinkable?
        I cannot explain how another Believes.  I can only speak of my own unbelief.  My eyes were opened by an Unstoppable Mercy.  God’s Gentle Love used my sins -the consequences of my selfishness and pride- to reveal the depths of my need …and those Depths of Darkness shown bright the Hand of God.  He took on my sin, that I “might become the goodness of God.”  
        He entered into Death, that I might find Life.  He poured out his Blood, like a mantle it cloaks me.  His Life Given has become my own, his Cup is now the Blood of my blood.  With his eyes I can now see, with his Love I can now love.  “It is all God's work.”

Friday, February 5, 2016

What Is Your Name?

What Is Your Name? (Mark 5:1-25)

    Our name is our fundamental identity.  Evoking it, evokes our very personhood.  In this account by St. Mark, Jesus is disembarking from his boat after having just calmed a storm.  He encounters a man possessed by unclean spirits and asks him that most revealing question: 'What is your name?' …How do you identify yourself?  
    The man responded, 'My name is Legion, …for there are many of us.'  He identified himself as the overwhelming torment his life had become.  A Roman legion consisted of five thousand soldiers. Because of her unfaithfulness, Israel relinquished her sovereignty; she became ruled by Rome’s legion of soldiers.  So too, this man surrendered control of his life to the legion of demons in his world.
He lived among the tombs, howling through the night, inflicting wounds upon himself.  He was tormented by forces so powerful, that chains and shackles could not contain him.  The locals must have, in his earlier life, highly respected him, for why else would they have exposed themselves to the danger of trying to constrain him from hurting himself?
What sinful choices, mental illness, rejection, abuse, or life tragedy that brought this man from innocent baby to wild madman is left unaddressed.  It is ultimately unimportant.  For, as fire attracts a moth to its death, so the fire of Jesus’ Mercy drew the tormenting spirits to him, to be subjugated at his feet -as soon as those feet stepped off the boat.  What chains of steel could not contain, the power of Jesus’ Mercy inevitably quelled, as Light dispels Dark.
As the raging wind and sea was stilled by the Word of Jesus, so the unclean spirits surrendered their Reign of Torment to his Beckoning Mercy.  This tragic man, this creature of God, was not God-Forsaken.  The love of Jesus found him, lost in the Tombs Of Death.  This man, who himself was a living tomb, an Abode To Death, was in the Mystery Of Mercy, driven by Evil’s torment to the feet of Jesus -just as the herd of pigs, carrying the legion of unclean spirits were driven into the Abyss from which they came.
Jesus, I have sinned against you.  My sins, the sins of others, random acts of nature, and Minions of Darkness, in your Mercy, are chasing me to your feet, to the foot of your Cross.  Save me Jesus from my sins, from the grip of the Enemy.  Deliver me in my weakness, from the alluring distractions I find so attractive, from the Hand of Suffering you have allowed to humble me.  For all this, I thank you Lord, as I now have no hope but You!
          You delivered the man called Legion, you gave him a New Name.  You found me, lost in the tombs of my sin.  You have saved me and set me free.  Jesus, you have given me the Name of your Father.  I am driven t0 sing the praises of your Mercy.  Oh, that I could stay here and revel in this moment of Light.  But you refused the man with a New Name to remain in the shadow of your Glory.  You sent him to return home, to where he had become Lost, to give testimony of being Saved, of having a new identity in you.  Lord, as you send me back into the everydayness of life, may the Joy and Peace of your Holy Spirit give witness to my Hope in you.