Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself. John 6:15
When people reject or criticize us, it’s natural for us to go off by ourselves to sulk or lick our wounds. But what about when people rave about us? Who wouldn’t want more of that? It’s pretty heady stuff. Of course, we all need a pat on the back sometimes. Positive feedback is important encouragement for us to keep growing. But it’s easy to let too much praise go to our heads.
The people were wowed by Jesus’ miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed 5000. They were awed by his power. Making him king seemed like a good thing to them. But they didn’t truly know who Jesus was or what he was about. They wanted “to make him king by force.” Ruling by force had nothing to do with Jesus or his mission. Whether they meant well or their motives were a self-serving attempt to guarantee a never-ending supply of free bread, the people’s goal was to make Jesus into something he was not.
How do we respond when people try to make us into something we’re not? It’s easy to be swayed by flattery. It’s tempting to try and live up to other people’s expectations, or to give them what they want so they’ll like us. We may not want to ruffle their feathers, but peace at any price isn’t always worth it.
Jesus had no interest in living up to the people’s expectations. He went off to the hills by himself. Why? That’s where he went to be alone with His Father.
When we feel pressured by others to take an action, they may or may not have our best interests at heart. By taking time to be alone, to talk to God and listen in the quiet of our own heart for His response, we can discern what His will is for us. Then the choices we make will be in everyone’s best interests whether it’s apparent to them or not.
Prayer: Lord, help me listen to Your voice above the clamor of other voices.
Reflection for sharing: When are you most vulnerable to outside influence? What helps you discern God’s will for you?
Even shackles and chains couldn’t restrain the madman who lived among the tombs, “howling and brusing himself with stones,” according to the Gospel of Mark. Yet when he saw Jesus from a distance, the man ran and bowed down before Jesus, shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus…Do not torment me.” When Jesus asked his name, the man replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The demonic spirits within the man begged Jesus not to be sent into the abyss, but into a nearby herd of pigs. With Jesus’ permission, they entered the pigs and the herd rushed off a cliff and drowned.
When the townspeople heard, they came and saw the madman clothed and in his right mind. They were afraid and asked Jesus to leave their territory. As he was leaving, the former madman begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him to his home to tell his friends how much God had done for him.
Isn’t it curious that the madman took the initiative and approached Jesus, but then asked him, “What do you want with me?” He also begged not to be tormented. Since the man saw Jesus from a distance, couldn’t he have avoided Jesus if he didn’t want to be healed? It seems like the better part of him wanted change, but dreaded what it might involve. The man feared life without his demons even though they caused him anguish. He was strong enough to go wherever he wanted–who could stop him? Neverthless he lived among the tombs, punishing himself with self-destructive behavior. What a miserable existence!
Desperation may have given him just enough courage to approach Jesus. He referred to himself as “Legion,” or “Mob.” Sometimes, it certainly seems as if the forces of chaos and negativity gang up on us. The man yearned for a better life but feared letting go of the only existence he knew. This story parallels the story of recovery from addiction and other self-destructive behaviors for many of us today. Under the false hope of short-term happiness, many remain bullied by their out-of-control feelings and self-will. Isolation further entrenches self-defeating behaviors.
Pain becomes an ally when it drives people to seek healing from a source outside themselves and turn–however doubtfully, reluctantly, or fearfully–to God. It’s easy to fear punishment for wrong choices made in the past. It’s easy to fear the prospect of a future without a familiar crutch. But healing is a package deal. Once the madman became willing to let go of the demons, he saw that he had a choice. He dared to believe that although the demons were stronger than he was, they were not stronger than God. That left him free to remain at Jesus’ feet, and made room for peace in his heart. Jesus met him there and did the rest.
Before his healing, the madman seemed to want what Jesus offered while resisting it at the same time. When have you felt drawn by and resistant to what Jesus offered you? What happened?
The man referred to himself as “Legion” because he felt many demons within him. have you ever felt like the forces of negativity–discouragement, resentment, and the like–where ganging up on you? What helped you get through it?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes”
Nathan answered [King David], “Do whatever you have in mind, because God is with you.” But that night God said to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David that I say to him, ‘You are not the one to build a temple for me to live in…’” 1 Chronicles 17: 2-4
“I was wrong.” Why are those words so hard to say? Even the great prophet Nathan got it wrong sometimes. David wanted to build a temple for God. That sounds like a good thing, right? It’s understandable that Nathan thought it was God’s will, but God had to set him straight…and then Nathan had to go and tell David that he was wrong.
I’m guessing Nathan didn’t kick himself for making a mistake, or question his fitness to continue being a prophet. Instead, we’re told that Nathan went back to David and told him “everything that God had revealed to him.” (1 Chron. 17:15)
Why is it so hard for us to admit it when we’ve made a mistake? Are our egos so fragile they can’t bear to acknowledge we aren’t perfect? We got it wrong. So what? All that means is that we’re human. It’s been said that acknowledging we were wrong is just another way of saying we’re a little smarter today than we were yesterday. We don’t have to wallow in our imperfections. Becoming aware of a mistake is an opportunity to correct it, to make amends if need be, and to get on with moving ahead.
Why are we reluctant to tell others we were wrong? Are we afraid they’ll find out we’re human? Are we afraid they’ll think less of us? Let’s think about it from the other side. When someone tells us they were wrong, do we think less of them? (If we do, that’s our problem, not theirs.) The times I can remember people telling me they were wrong, all I remember feeling grateful and admiring their honesty and courage.
Finding out we were wrong gives us the opportunity to feel good about ourselves and demonstrate our own honesty and courage. Let’s go for it.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage and humility to be honest about my mistakes.
Reflection for sharing: How can admitting a mistake set you free?
Anna didn’t start out to live the life of a contemplative. She was probably married at an early age, as was the custom at that time. Perhaps as a child, she imagined what her wedding day would be like. She may have daydreamed about married life and having children of her own. But after only seven years of marriage, she became a widow. She then spent her life fasting and praying in the Temple.
Perhaps as a young widow, Anna had opportunities to remarry but chose to remain single. Maybe her husband left her financially secure so that she could afford to spend her time in God’s praise. On the other hand, maybe she had no offers of marriage, no money, and fasted initially out of necessity. Living off the alms of others and God’s providence, she might have learned to trust that same providence. In any event, at age 84, she persevered in following what had sustained her throughout most of her life. Her husband had been taken away. If she had children, they grew to live their own lives. Lack of status, security and close family ties might have deepened Anna’s union with the one thing that could not be taken away from her: God’s love.
Anna was present when Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus for presentation at the Temple. Both Anna and Simeon, another devout believer, began praising God when they saw the child and recognized, in Jesus, the salvation of mankind.
It’s quite possible that the religious officials in the Temple looked on Anna with disdain. The Lord had condemned religious leaders for taking advantage of widows. If so, Anna’s testimony about the baby Jesus, along with Simeon’s, was all the more remarkable. As often happened throughout Christ’s minsitry, the respected religious leaders missed the significance of Jesus’ presence. The task of spreading the Good News fell to the humble faithful who were open to recieve it.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan it. Accepting circumstances beyond our control frees us to focus on the opportunities we find in our reality. People can be drawn to a contemplative lifestyle by vocation, nature, or circumstance. Some may find themselves isolated or homebound, if only temporarily, by physical challenges, or because they care for others with special needs. My own health problems left me homebound for months at a time more than once in my life. I’ve also found myself isolated in the middle of the night by insomnia. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to use these times alone for increased spiritual reading and prayer. Though initially force by circumstances, I came to appreciate, more often than not, these opportunities for time apart with God.
Even those of us with busy lifestyles do well to interrupt our demanding schedules periodically for times of rest and reflection. Whether we accept opportunities for quiet prayer or create our own, these times renew us. More than that, they can eequip us, like Anna, to share the good news with those still waiting to be set free.
Reflection: Widowed after seven years of marriage, Anna spent her life worshipping God in the Temple. When have you experienced, or observed in others, abrupt and unplanned changes in circumstances? what oppoortunities for spiritual growth were present in those times?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes”
Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. 1 Peter 4: 10
What’s your special gift? Don’t think you have one? Think again. Special doesn’t necessarily mean spectacular. It also means “of a particular kind; for a particular purpose” according to the Oxford American Dictionary.
There is only one you. Who you are is no accident. Your individuality is as unique as your fingerprint. If God wanted us all to be identical, He wouldn’t have created us with such diversity. What are your gifts? Take some time today to think about the things you enjoy doing. Those are usually the things we do well. Don’t worry about how important they seem to be. Every ability can serve a purpose in God’s loving plan—if we aren’t afraid to use it. I was once told I have a “brownie ministry.” Seemingly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, my home-baked brownies were a tangible sign of hospitality that added warmth to a faith-sharing session.
We’re all gifted and our abilities can help others, whether or not we’re called to be in the spotlight. We can feed the hungry whether we organize a fund-raising event, volunteer at a food bank, or simply prepare dinner for our children. A warm smile can help a newcomer feel at ease and welcome. A gift of patience might enable us to listen to someone who needs to talk when we’d rather not. The blessing of financial security might enable us to donate generously to one or more worthy causes.
We never have to do what we can’t do, but we all can do something to help others. Let’s start by exploring and appreciating our own God-given gifts.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts you’ve given me. Show me how you want me to use them.
Reflection for sharing: What gifts of yours have you been overlooking? How can you make use of them today?
Namaan had wealth, power, and friends in high places. This foreign commander conquered Israel, but then developed leprosy. He was told that Elisha, a prophet of the land he had conquered, could heal him. Namaan took a cavalcade of gold, silver, and precious gifts to Elisha’s humble home. Elisha didn’t bother to come to the door but told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River.
Namaan balked until his servants convinced him to obey. How could Naaman not be arrogant? He was used to being respected. People begged him for favors, not the other way around. How humbling it must have been for him to ask for help–especially from someone he had conquered! Brought to his knees by his affliction, however, Naaman finally obeyed and once healed, his attitude changed.
He returned to Elisha and offered him a gift in gratitude, but Elisha wouldn’t accept any payment. To do so might have jeopardized Naaman’s newfound sense of having been given something freely. If he reciprocated, he might have felt again that he was indebted to no one for his blessings. Instead, Naaman returned home determined to worship the One True God of Israel, healed not only of his leprosy, but of the soul-sickness of arrogance that eats at a person’s relationship with God, with others, and with a sense of true self.
Most of us have balked at doing things that felt demeaning or contrary to our will. Most of us have felt uncomfortable asking for help. It often feels easier to be the giver, than to receive without reciprocating. But we are all indebted to God for every breath we take. Gratitude keeps us humble in a healthy way. Our spiritual journey is an ongoing process. Like Naaman, we can go forward in peace.
Naaman wanted–or at least expected–to merit and somehow reciprocate the help he hoped to receive. When have you received assistance with no strings attached? What was that like? How might this awareness influence your interactions with others?
We are loved eternally. Eternal love—what does that even mean? Eternal doesn’t mean an endless extension of time. It means being beyond time, and yet it includes this present moment.
Eternal love means we are loved right now, no matter what is happening in our lives. “This moment is as perfect as it can be.” That’s a mantra Fr. Richard Rohr shared in a recent meditation. * Some moments do seem perfect, but what about those other moments, the hard and painful moments? Love doesn’t exempt us from hurts and challenges, but then again, those hurts and challenges can’t extinguish love. In fact, sometimes, the support and love of those around us is the only thing that shines in our dark times and helps us endure.
Eternal love means we are loved right now, whether or not we feel worthy of love. I remember feeling crushed with regret over a poor choice I’d made and was beating myself up for it. When I shared this with a friend she said, “Be gentle with yourself, Sweetie.” “Even when I screw up?” I asked. “Especially when you screw up,” she answered. That, to me, is a taste of eternal love.
We are loved right now, whether we feel like it or not. Our feelings aren’t big enough to push God’s love away. Nothing is. God is eternal and so is His love for us. Let’s give Him thanks.
Prayer: Lord, we thank You because You are good and Your love is eternal.
Reflection for sharing: How does it feel to be loved by God right now?
Those of us who are practical and detail-oriented probably sympathize with Martha. She couldn’t sit still. When Jesus visited her home, Martha bustled around the house, while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. When Martha complained to Jesus, he told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and dstracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10)
Jesus didn’t say, “Martha, Martha, stop being a hard worker.” He said that she was “worried and dstracted by many things.” Anxiety fueled by perfectionism may have driven Martha to needless busywork. Could her anxiousness–not her activity level–have been the problem?
Martha’s faith is not in question. She affiremed her faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God–despite the pain and confusion she felt following the death of her brother Lazarus. (John 11: 26-27) Jesus loved both Martha and Mary. When he said, “Martha, Martha,” it’s easy to picture him gently shaing his head with loving concern. As he invited Martha, Jesus invites the rest of us to let go of habits that take on a life of their own.
Compulsive activity can lure us into setting standards we can’t meet without distoring the balance in our lives. We lose perspective. When we try to impose those standards on others, it creats tension. Some of us are laid back; others are more active. Some of us may find we have both Martha and Mary tendencies within us. While basking in Scripture and contemplating the eternal are unquestionably rewarding, they are not passports to procrastination or inertia. There are tasks that need to be done in the real world. On the other hand, the times we feel most driven are the times we most need–and are least inclined–to pause and breathe in the presence of the Holy Sprit. When we’re tired or frantic, it’s hard to see clearly what really needs to be done now and what can be postponed until tomorrow–or even indefinitely.
Balance and freedom from obsessive worry is the goal. May we find that balance by God’s grace.
Reflection: What might have driven Martha to be “worried and troubled over so many things?” What might have helped her let go? What might help you?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”