“Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my savior.” Habakkuk 3: 17-18
Surrounded by violence, cruelty, and signs of coming destruction, Habakkuk trembled with fear. Even so, he chose to trust that God was in charge and would act when the time was right at the time He chose. Habakkuk’s testimony to joy isn’t based on circumstances but on who God is.
Our savior is bigger than any circumstances we face. Like Habakkuk, we can choose to praise God no matter what. While that might not change our circumstances it certainly can change our experience of those circumstances.
Once during an MS attack, physical pain made it impossible for me to function or even think clearly. I felt swamped in misery until a friend suggested spiritual warfare might be tempting me to despair. A new awareness switched on. I began to look at my situation from a different point of view. Alone at home, I turned on the radio. A song came on about praising God whether times were good or bad. “My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name.” I sang along at the top of my lungs. A sense of victory flooded me. I didn’t have to be bullied by my circumstances. I could choose to praise the Lord no matter what. Nothing had changed, but everything had changed. I felt free.
Of course we all feel sad, or frightened, or hurt sometimes. We’re human. God gave us our feelings for a reason. We don’t have to pretend we aren’t in pain when we are. But while happiness is fleeting, joy runs deeper. Good times come and go. Just like Habakkuk, we have the freedom to be joyful anyway because our eternal God and savior remains.
Prayer: I will be joyful because God is bigger than my circumstances.
Reflection: When has God gotten you through a challenge you couldn’t manage on your own? Were you able to see Him working in the situation at the time or only in looking back can you see it? How might that help you in future challenges?
Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:8b NIV
What have you received freely? If you made a list of all the good in your life that you never earned, paid for, or reciprocated, what would it look like? Most of us started receiving freely from the day we were born: someone to fed us, bathed us, changed us, provided us with clothes and a roof over our heads.
What else have you received? Role models? Basic education? Love? Kindness? Forgiveness?
How many of these gifts could we pay back? Why not, as they say, pay it forward? Jesus said it 2000 years ago—if we’ve received freely, why not give freely? When we think about our blessings, we’re inclined to be generous—not as an ego trip, not so we can think of ourselves as magnanimous, but because we have been richly blessed.
It’s so tempting to give with strings attached. We keep mental tabs of the favors we do and who owes us. We feel they’re obliged to reciprocate–or at least think highly of us and appreciate our generosity.
It’s not easy to give freely unless we realize how much we’ve been given freely. Are we in a position to be generous with our money, our time, or our emotional support? Chances are it’s because we’ve been blessed with money, time, or nurturing so we have something to share in the first place.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to all the blessings I’ve been gifted with.
Reflection: Make a list of all the ways you’ve been blessed; then decide how to show your gratitude.
When they had finished breakfast, [the resurrected] Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” he said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate that kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to [Peter], “Follow me.” John 21: 15-19
Peter, the rock on which Jesus built his church, was utterly human. When Jesus first called him, Peter told Jesus to depart from him because he was a sinful man. Peter had a gut-level awareness of his human weaknesses. By the time he had followed Jesus for three years, Peter seemed to have forgotten his imperfections…Jesus was well aware of Peter’s weaknesses, but loved him and chose him anyway.
After Jesus was taken prisoner by the Jewish authorities, Peter denied Jesus three times, as predicted. Peter’s failure is well recorded in the Gospels…Peter could have been crippled easily by the burden of his guilt. He not only denied Jesus, but he failed to live up to his own expectations of himself…How did Peter find the courage to face others after abandoning Jesus in spite of his boast of unwavering faithfulness? Perhaps Peter’s healing of guilt began as he remembered that Jesus had not only predicted his denial but also assured Peter he had prayed for him. More than that, Jesus told Peter there was a job for him to do after he turned back. Jesus wanted Peter to ‘strengthen’ his brothers. He could encourage the others–not because Peter had been a tower of strength–but because he had been all too human.
…With each affirmation [of his love for Jesus] Peter was re-commissioned to feed the Lord’s sheep. This made it clear that Peter could best show his love for Jesus, not by changing the past, but by acting in the present with love.
When we face our flaws and share them with God and with another trusted person, such as we do in the sacrament of reconciliation, we grow spiritually. These are graced opportunities.
If we want a gauge of how faithful to Christ we are, Christ’s interaction with Peter gives us a great tool. Are we feeding his sheep? Are we taking care of the ones he loves? What we do to the least of them, we do to him.
Prayer: Loving Savior, grant me the courage to face my own weaknesses. Help me accept the healing power of your forgiveness. Teach me to forgive myself.
Reflection: What is the biggest challenge in accepting forgiveness as a free gift, rather than something you deserve or have to earn?
“Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament”
Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach
Paulist Press, Inc. Mahwah, N.J. www.paulistpress.com
Used with permission
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this must also say, “Come!” Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it. Revelation 22:17
Are you thirsty?
We’re invited to refresh ourselves. The water of life is a free gift…if we want it. We don’t have to earn it; it’s a gift. The only requirement seems to be that once we’re invited, we invite others, too.
Life-giving water isn’t stagnant. What flows in must also flow out. We can’t hoard the invitation. We’re meant to share it. We’re called to offer the water of life to “whoever wants it.” Not just those we think are suited to it, although that might be comfortable. Not even with those we think need it—people don’t always want what they need.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said prostitutes and tax-collectors would enter God’s kingdom before religious authorities. Being an outcast is likely to make us very thirsty. Whatever we think makes us an outcast, isn’t a barrier to being welcomed by God. It’s almost a pre-requisite. Once we receive our invitation, all we have to do is drink deeply and pass it on to other thirsty outcasts.
Prayer: I accept your invitation, Lord. Thank you.
Reflection: Who in your life is thirsty? How can you share your invitation with them?
The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34 NAB
And [Jesus] did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20 NRSV
We belong to the New Covenant. When our spiritual forefathers broke the Old Covenant, God promised to make a new covenant. More than Ten Commandments on a stone, He promised to write the new law on our hearts. He promised to be our God and all we had to do was be His people, that He would enable all of us to know Him, and that he would forgive our sins.
At the Last Supper, Jesus announced the beginning of this New Covenant instituted with His blood on the cross. He promised that after His death and resurrection, He would send us a Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate. The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to live the New Covenant. When we allow the Spirit to move us, we can live out God’s law of love for God, our neighbor, and ourselves. We can connect with God in our heats, we can accept the priceless gift of forgiveness and know we belong to the Body of Christ.
Prayer: Praise God who does for us what we can never do for ourselves.
Reflection: How can responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings affect your relationship with God, with others, or even with yourself?
I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. Isaiah 50: 6-7
Jesus was beaten, mocked, stripped, and spit on—that sure sounds like being put to shame. Even so, Jesus never lost his dignity.
What is the difference between being a suffering servant and a doormat? Isaiah gives us two answers.
“The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” When we are doing what we believe God would have us do, we’re concerned with what success looks like from God’s point of view, not other people’s opinions. Their words and actions might hurt, but they don’t have the power to make us more or less honorable than we are by our own choices. Other people’s choices reflect on them, not on us.
“I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” Setting our faces “like flint” implies a determination that can’t be swayed by taunts, threats, or circumstances. It is quite the opposite of being a doormat. We might choose to hold our ground no matter what other people’s reactions are. When we exercise our free will, we might endure ridicule or hostility. Not allowing ourselves to be goaded into a snide or hurtful response takes great courage—the kind of courage that only comes when God is our help.
Prayer: Lord, when I’m challenged, help me focus on Your will for me.
Reflection: What can help you maintain your self-respect in the face of insults?
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him…And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Matthew 27:27-31; 35-36
It was now about noon, and darkenss came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the suns’ light fialed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” Luke 23:44-47
Although the centurion had witnessed countless beatings, tortures, and executions, no doubt he had never witnessed someone respond in such a way as Jesus…Jesus reflected God’s incredible love, not only with his life, but also with his dying moments. Betrayal, humiliation, physical pain: none of these could take away Jesus’ free will, his choice to remain faithful to his heavenly Father. They couldn’t prevent him from continuing to love and forgive.
The centurion’s heart, calloused by countless examples of “man’s inhumanity to man” as a way of life, was touched, softened, and quite possible healed, by Jesus’ quiet refusal to respond in kind. Even under dire circumstances, grace melted the hardened heart enough to allow love to enter and bring forth praise. One has to wonder what the centurion did with the rest of his life following that moment of grace.
We might find ourselves hardened by what we’ve seen of needless suffering and senseless cruelty in the worlds. We might even find ourselves contributing to it–perhaps not by overt cruelty, but by silently standing by rather than speaking out. If we do, we don’t have to get caught up in remorse and turn our thoughts inward. Like the centurion, we can keep watch over those in our world who are rising above a culture preoccupied with self-centeredness, greed, and the like. We can lift our minds and hearts to praise God who is bigger than all the cruelty in the world. We can take inspiration from those who light candles in the darkness. We can join our lights–however small they seem to be–to the Light that all the darkness in the world can never put out.
Prayer: When what I’ve seen of suffering and cruelty overwhelms me, Lord, remind me that your love is bigger than all the pain and sorrow in the world.
Reflection: Rather than become immobilized by fear or overwhelmed by guilt when he realized that he had executed the Son of God, the centurion praised God in awe. Why do you think he was able to do that? How can you choose to praise God in the face of your own fear or guilt?
“Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament”
Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach
Paulist Press, Inc. Mahwah, N.J. www.paulistpress.com
Used with permission
If you think you are something when you really are nothing, you are only deceiving yourself. Galatians 6:3
“Relationships are more important than accomplishments.” Great Twitter quote, I thought. How true. I quickly retweeted it, then rushed to get ready for work. A moment later, I barked at my husband because he interrupted my morning schedule while I wanted to get started on my “to do” list. Accomplishments are more important than relationships—at least that’s how I was acting.
Immediately I realized how wrong I was, apologized, and—though still impatient—continued what I hope was a more courteous conversation. Discomfort about my hypocrisy lingered like a hangover all morning. For the past several days I’d been meditating on the bible passage that says, “ I may have the gift of inspired preaching, I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets, I may have the faith needed to move mountains, but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may even give up my body to be burned, but if I have no love, this does me no good.” (1 Cor 13:1-3) The next verse says, “Love is patient and kind.” Whoa. Stop right there.
Hadn’t I been asking God to make me a channel of His love? And in a New York minute, I was snapping at my husband because he interfered with what I wanted to get done. What a slow learner I am! Because of my rudeness and irritability I came face to face with my pride, impatience, and self-centeredness. I wanted to feel God’s love and forgiveness. Instead I felt far away from God. It was a humbling experience and a reminder that any good I may do is all by God’s grace. Any love God has for me is because He is love, not because I am perfect and therefore worthy of love.
It took me until the next day to see that by giving me such clear awareness of my shortcomings, God was answering my prayer to be a channel of His love. Only by being reminded that His love is pure gift—nothing I earn—can I hope to give love as pure gift to others whether I think they are worthy or not. We’re all in the same boat. Freely have I received, so freely give. It’s all about God’s glory, not mine. Thanks for the reminder, Lord.
Prayer: Loving God, help me trust Your love rather than my own merits.
Reflection: How can being honest about your shortcomings free you to love others better?
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for f our days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” John 11:38-44 NAB
Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, but that didn’t protect him from sickness or death. Belonging to God doesn’t exempt us from suffering or any other aspect of the human condition. Jesus himself willingly participated in the world’s pain by allowing himself to be crucified.
Lazarus was dead. He was beyond human help and certainly beyond helping himself. But at Jesus’ call, he was empowered to leave the cold, dark tomb and move into the light of day. Lazrus was helpless to leave the tomb on his own power. On the other hand, Jesus didn’t go in and get Lazarus. He called Lazarus. Lazarus had to respond. It must have been difficult to walk since he was bound up by the burial cloths. Jesus could have unwrapped them but instead he told Lazarus’ friends and loved ones gathered at the tomb to help him out of the trappings of death.
What might be dead in us? What parts of ourselves do we keep locked in the cold, dark parts of our hearts? Desires we’re ashamed of? Regrets we can’t forgive ourselves for? Resentments or fears that keep us isolated? Jesus invites us all to leave behind the emptiness many of us have lived with for far too long. He calls us and empowers us to move toward the light, but he won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. We have to respond. It might seem like more than we can do but we don’t have to do it alone. God will provide all the support and companionship we need to move toward a richer life if we’re willing to do what we can.
Prayer: Lord, empower me to move toward the light of your love.
Reflection: What keeps your heart locked in isolation or darkness? How is Jesus inviting you to leave that behind? Who will support you on your journey?
Suddenly two men were there talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in heavenly glory and talked with Jesus about the way in which he would soon fulfill God’s purpose by dying in Jerusalem. Luke 9: 30
There’s nothing glamorous about death. That includes the little deaths we die before our physical life finally ends: the losses, the hurts, the frustrations. We don’t have much choice about some of these opportunities to die to self. We lose our physical health to illness. We lose our ability to earn a living or we lose a home. We lose a loved one through a broken relationship or through death. We lose our sense of security or peace of mind through the fears, disappointments, setbacks that are a part of the human condition.
There’s nothing joyous about facing our losses. It is intimidating to die to self-will. How do we know what will happen if we aren’t forcing things to go our way? Jesus told us if we lose our lives for His sake, we will save them.
We’re human. If we looked forward to pain and suffering there would be something seriously wrong with us. But we trust that God has a plan for us. Our willingness to die to what we want, when it is part of God’s plan, doesn’t take away the pain, but it can help us accept the suffering that we all have to face and know that pain is not the end of the story.
Moses didn’t want to lead the people out of slavery. He asked God to send someone else, but ultimately he obeyed and God provided him with everything he needed for victory. Elijah didn’t enjoy delivering God’s message of drought and calling the people on their idolatry and the opposition he received for it. When he fled for his life he told God it was too much and he might as well be dead, but God strengthened Elijah for his purpose.
Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering could be taken from Him if it was God’s will. Even though things didn’t go the way Jesus wanted, he relinquished his will and things turned out spectacularly. Jesus doesn’t lead us to the cross; He leads us through the cross.
Moses and Elijah appeared in heavenly glory. More importantly Jesus appeared following his death and resurrection to confirm our hope of heavenly glory.
We can have hope in spite of pain.
Prayer: Thanks and praise to you, Father, for our hope in Christ.
Reflection: When has dying to self led you through to a triumph? How might letting go of self-will today bring you victory?