Wednesday’s Word: Dignity

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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?

Saturday Spotlight: The Cruel Centurion

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallThen 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?

 

Excerpts from:

“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

Wednesday’s Word: Self-deception

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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?

Saturday Spotlight: Lazarus

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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?

Wednesday’s Words: Hope of Glory

iStock_000003550839XSmallSuddenly 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?

Saturday Spotlight: Jesse

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In this way Jesse brought seven of his sons to Samuel. And Samuel said to him, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen any of these.” Then he asked him, “Do you have any more sons?” Jesse answered, “There is still the youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep.”…So Jesse sent for him…The Lord said to Samuel, “This is the one—anoint him!” Samuel took the olive oil and anointed David in front of his brothers. 1 Samuel 16: 10-13a

 

Jesse brought his older, stronger sons to the prophet Samuel, the most likely prospects to be anointed as the next king. It never occurred to Jesse that his youngest son David—relegated to humble shepherd duty—was even worth consideration. It’s understandable, though. Jesse wanted to offer to God what he thought was his best and brightest. One by one, God eliminated what human nature thought was the “cream of the crop” and chose the least likely candidate for his purposes.

 

God surely deserves the best we have to offer but what we think is our best isn’t necessarily what God wants from us. God is truth and values authentic hearts, not outward perfection. That’s why in the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee, God chose the heart of the tax collector-smudged and flawed, but sincere. (Luke 18:8-13)

 

It can be tempting to put our best foot forward when we talk to God. We dress up our prayers in their Sunday best and say the things we think are worthy of God when what He really wants is the unvarnished truth of who we are, warts and all. We can offer God our best, but let’s not hold back the rest. The parts within us that we overlook, neglect, forget about, or think aren’t good enough just might be the parts God is longing for us to share with him for his purposes. After all, God made Jesse’s son David, the runt of the litter, not just a king, but the triumphant king through whom the promised Messiah was to come.(Isaiah 11:1)

 

We never know what great things God wants to do through our brokenness. Lent is a great time to look within and offer God all that we find.

 

Prayer: Lord, I open my heart to you.

 

Reflection: What have you been overlooking that you can offer to God today?

Wednesday’s Words: Judging Others

iStock_000003550839XSmallWho do you think you are, to judge someone else? James 4:12b

 

Well, when you put it like that, there’s really no good answer. Why do we judge others? It’s such an easy pattern to fall into. It happens almost automatically.We know right from wrong, don’t we? Why shouldn’t we judge?

 

Yes, we need to distinguish right from wrong, but judging behavior isn’t the same as judging the person. We can’t have all the information about another person’s motives, capabilities and circumstances. Only God has that. That’s probably why James starts the above-quoted passage by saying, “God is the only lawgiver and judge. He alone can save and destroy.” That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their behaviors. Actions have consequences.

 

Perhaps we hear about someone on the news who has done something unspeakable. Maybe it’s someone closer to home who does something clearly offensive, dishonest, or hurtful. It’s so easy to think, “Oh, I would never do that…not in a million years.” Of course we wouldn’t. We aren’t them.  Maybe in their shoes, we might have done the same thing or worse. Again, that doesn’t mean excusing people when they hurt others or cause damage, but it does mean not taking an ego trip so we can feel superior.

 

We have enough on our hands to figure out our own motivations and reasons for the things we do—and even with our “inside” knowledge, sometimes we can’t figure it out. So why do we feel equipped to judge someone else? Do we need to boost our self-esteem by comparing ourselves to those we feel we can look down on? Where does that leave us with regard to those who lead exemplary lives or who do noble things we wouldn’t dream of tackling? We are so much better off when we don’t compare ourselves with others for better or worse.

 

When we focus on what we’re doing we can improve ourselves by understanding our own failings with the eye of compassion we hope God has for us. Although we can probably offer excuses and explanations for our own transgressions or the times we’ve hurt others—if we think of them at all–won’t we be better off if we pay make amends for the times we’ve hurt others? Wouldn’t our time be better spent doing things that make us feel good about ourselves and our choices? Then we wouldn’t have to look down on others to feel good about ourselves.

 

Recognizing our need for compassion and mercy will help us have a view to compassion for others, too. God has all the information. Let’s let him worry about judging and pray for His mercy for all of us, since we all need it.

 

Prayer: Lord, have mercy. Help me see with the eyes of compassion.

 

Reflection: Who am I judging today? Can I look on the situation with understanding—even if the person I am judging is myself?

Saturday Spotlight: Malchus, the High Priest’s Slave

 

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallWhile [Jesus] was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Luke 22:47-51

 

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. John 18:10

 

Why Malchus? Was he somehow more threatening than armed soldiers? More likely, he just happened to be standing in the wrong place–an arm’s length away from panicky Peter–at the wrong time.

 

Maybe Malchus secretly sympathized with Jesus. Maybe, like his master, Malchus condemned Jesus. It didn’t seem to matter. Jesus healed him anyway. Once healed, it seems unlikely that a hardened attitude toward Jesus could have remained unchanged. Jesus often told people, “Listen, then, if you have ears to hear.” Jesus had literally given Malchus and ear with which to receive the truth.

 

Jesus reached out to undo the harm Peter caused to the injured slave. If we have ever been on the receiving end of a sincere apology from someone who has hurt us, we know its healing power. Extending our own sincere apologies and appropriate changes in behavior, we can do the same. Even if our apology is not accepted, reaching out has healing power. Unlike Jesus, who did not need healing of his own heart, we may have yet to experience the peace of extending our hands to heal the hurts our words or actions have caused…May God’s healing touch open the ears of our hearts to a new attitude toward those who disagree with us.

 

Prayer:  Prince of Peace, it’s easy to lash out when I feel threatened. Teach my heart to treat with patience and respect those who oppose me.

 

Reflection:  Have you ever been on the receiving end of a heartfelt apology from someone who hurt you? How did it feel? How might that experience make it easier for you to make amends for the hurts you’ve caused others?

 

Excerpts from:

“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

Wednesday’s Words: Barriers to Peace of Mind

iStock_000003550839XSmall[Jesus] came closer to the city, and when he saw it, he wept over it, saying, “If only you knew today what is needed for peace! But now you cannot see it!” Luke 20:41-42

 

Are we longing for peace in our own lives but can’t see what is needed?

 

Pain and sorrow may come from sources outside ourselves, but what goes on within us contributes to our unrest. We bury old wounds, hoping they’ll never see the light of day. We think covering up old hurts will bring contentment. Instead they fester within us and impact our lives—sometimes without our even being aware it. We find ourselves repeating negative, self-destructive patterns again and again. We wonder why we always end up in relationships with emotionally unavailable people, working for a boss that’s hard to please, or always being the one people lean on and never having anyone to lean on ourselves.

 

There’s no need to wallow in self-pity but sometimes we need to let the hurts of the past see the light of day in order to deal with them and move on. How can we let go of the resentments, shame, or anxieties that plague us unless we first admit that they’re there?

 

As he wept over Jerusalem, Jesus said her enemies would close in on her from every side because she didn’t recognize the time when God came to save her. Are we being blocked in from living a fuller, richer life by enemies of denial, blaming others, self-righteousness, or a need to control? Is Jesus weeping over us?

 

Prayer: Lord, guide me to see what is needed for peace within my heart and in my relationships.

 

Reflection: How might your attitudes and behaviors be blocking serenity in your life?

Saturday Spotlight: The Man Born Blind

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallAs Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth…Jesus [said] “…As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he has said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” John 9: 1-12

 

After identifying himself s “the light of the world,” Jesus blocked the man’s vision even more. He made mud by spitting in the dirt and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. Sometimes it really is darkest before the dawn. One would think that healing would involve removing obstacles from the man’s vision, not adding more. Now, mud covered the man’s eyes, but the process didn’t end there. Jesus sent the man to wash away the mud…The man obeyed and was able to see. In dealing with the additional problem of mud on his eyes, the underlying cause of the man’s blindness was healed.

 

So often, things have to get worse before they get better. In our times of darkness, we may not be able to see how God can help. We blindly grope for solutions that don’t come. We want to see the answers before we let go of our control. We don’t understand that our own lack of vision can prevent us from finding the solutions we seek. Sometimes only a turn for the worse makes us willing.

 

We may need outside help but be reluctant to pursue it because we think things aren’t that bad…Then a crisis comes–a heart attack, a serious rift in our marriage, a drunk-driving arrest. We may be more willing to seek help once the situation worsens. We go to the doctor or the marriage counselor, or the support group. They can help, but only to the extent that we follow their instructions. We may need to take actions that will not only help us through the immediate crisis but also address the underlying causes…We can’t do it alone, but we can’t be passive recipients, either. Healing may well be a gift, but we must unwrap the gift and use it.

 

Prayer:  Jesus, Light of the World, sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn. Help me cooperate with the healing process as I place my trust in you.

 

Reflection:  Although Jesus healed the man by putting mud on his eyes, the man had to do his part by following instructions and washing. What in you needs healing? What is your part in cooperating with the healing you seek?

 

Excerpts from:

“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

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Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament explores what happened when Jesus healed, what it might have been like for the people involved, and what it means for us today.

Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes” takes a down to earth look at the diverse assortment of biblical characters called by God.

Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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