The Lamb

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John the Baptist is an interesting character for certain. He stood away from the crowds, in rough clothing, baptized and preached repentance. What the Baptist said counted for something and his opinions mattered.

Proof of that is John’s interactions with King Herod. John the Baptist was regarded as prophet. Many people sought him. These little details are important to remember when John calls Jesus “the Lamb of GOD.” Jn 1:29-34

That title, Lamb of God, had biblical significance and it caused people to pause and think. The first thought likely would be from Passover as the blood of the Lamb was sprinkled on the doors as a sign the chosen people were to be saved from the wrath of GOD. It marks their salvation, but it is a bloody sight. The lamb also was used often in temple worship, it was an offering to GOD. The lamb was an offering that was slaughtered. At celebrations it was a common custom to slaughter the finest lamb to serve at the feast. The lamb was often present at celebrations, but after it was slaughtered. It is food. The image is a celebration at a price. Look at the crucifix. The Lamb of GOD. The lamb is a feast, a meal, and a sacrifice.

I wonder what those present thought when John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God? I wonder how many wished instead they proclaimed Him King. John was a prophet, declaring Jesus Lamb of God is prophetic. Proclaiming Him a lamb that takes away sins proclaims death. I wonder how many looked toward the ground.

One thing to remember is that John did not simply declare who Jesus was, John stood in the desert or by the river Jordan screaming “The Kingdom of GOD is at hand.” How easier would it have been for people to understand Jesus as King or military leader or rebel? That they could comprehend, but to follow someone to slaughter? The Lamb of God? Their journey had yet to begin. They had yet to be nourished by His word or know the depths of the Passion of the Christ, the love of GOD. They had yet to be nourished by the Lamb of God as the bread from heaven, the bread of life. They had yet to be nourished by the Lamb, through the Eucharist. Sacrifice, salvation, and nourishment. The Lamb of God. A Lamb that comes down from heaven. John the Baptist wasn’t wrong in giving Jesus this title but it does leave room for explanation.

There were many in that day that declared divine intervention, John was not alone. Many preachers or prophets had their followers. Many declared divine salvation according to their own formulas, a certain date or time or phase of the moon. An eclipse was a sign from GOD. Their views of that divine salvation was often dramatic, majestic, sudden and apocalyptic.

People often thought the divine would intervene in ways that escaped human logic. Many wandered into the desert expecting Gods intervention only to be slaughtered by the Roman armies. The people expected divine intervention, the Romans expected a rebellion. No one expected the Lamb of God. A rebel was easy to understand, even an apocalypse was within their understanding. A failed harvest is a sign from God. But a Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? I add this only to give insight to those that first heard this phrase uttered. To understand their questions and their wonder.

Grasping humility isn’t the easiest thing to do. How easy is it to grasp a Shepherd from heaven coming down to mingle with His sheep. The Lamb of God. Is it easy to grasp that the Baptist points to the divine? That title is revealed in scripture, and it is those scriptures the Lamb will unlock, revealing to those that listen the LORDS divine plan. Through that Gospel the Lamb of God feeds His flock becoming for them food that comes from heaven. Through His death and resurrection the Lamb of God becomes that paschal lamb of sacrifice ransomed for the forgiveness of sins. This is the Lamb that the Holy Mass celebrates, and the one present in the Eucharist. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

second Sunday of ordinary time A

 

a scholar asks a few questions about the Samaritan.

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The good Samaritan, if one looks at today’s gospel Lk 10:25-37 that is what you would see. Eyes and ears might be drawn to the recognizable story, and the conclusions might be rapidly made. The moral of the story can be recited with little thought, it is all so very familiar. The problem is that is not the purpose of that story , it is  intended to be mulled over,  to be examined from every angle. To be questioned.

One angle is to begin not by dissecting the story, but looking at why it was told. The man talking to Jesus is inquiring about obtaining eternal life. That man is a scholar, an intellectual, an academic. He asks a question and fully expects to argue the response, members of academia are critical thinkers. Jesus knows this, and so inquires what the law states. The man responds with the appropriate laws, love of God and of neighbor. He wishes to justify himself, and wishes to delve into the specifics.  In justifying himself , maneuvers towards a legality.

He (I suspect) wishes to know who his neighbor is, in the eyes of God. He seeks legally defined duties and responsibilities. He is into complexities. Its a complex world, at least to some. This smart-man can differentiate between many different types of men, how many different types of humans did God create? The question is not directed at the twenty first century anthropologist. God created man in His own image. Man is singular, not plural; just as God is singular and not the plural gods of the pagans.One species and two sexes. I hope I don’t get into trouble saying that.

Jesus’s story, and in that story Jesus presents evidence that all men are neighbors, it is not simply that the one that responds with kindness is a neighbor. We are all neighbors, we simply are not all good neighbors. Simple point. The priest was the neighbor of the attacked man, and so was the Levites, and even the robber was a neighbor. The Samaritan simply was the neighbor that loved his neighbors as himself. He acted with mercy and compassion, he fulfilled the second law. Did he fulfill the law regarding love of God? Who has the right to ask that question. Even “the good neighbor” has their flaws. Forgiveness anyone? Not then, how about now? Take a look at that very same mideastern neighborhood today. How much different world politics would be today if we recognized each human being as a neighbor of equal stature as ourselves. As I read this story of “The Good Samaritan” I also realize that the Apostles also had read it, and look at what Saint Paul accomplished with the lessons of this short tale! He became the Apostle to the Gentiles, he recognized those pagans as neighbors, and repeated the story to them. Love your enemy, love the sinner, love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as God loves you, and He so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son.

In thinking about neighbors, is it wrong to ask who created neighbors? We know from Genesis that God created man. We know that God created man in his image and likeness, and saw that man was good. Neighbors ‘sort of’ enter into creation at the tower of Babylon, when man begins to act as if they were god. In that account God scatters man, and confuses their tongues. Neighborhoods are created, and at least bad neighbors are created through mans own fault. The good neighbor, any good neighbor,  tries to correct that fault by entering back into the grace of God. To think of that Samaritan’s actions, one has to think that his good actions were carried out with the full knowledge that they would be unreciprocated. Hostilities run deep. It seems that every sinister move man makes creates a new ghetto. Ghettos and slums are wretched and decrepit neighborhoods. God is a benevolent landlord, man tends to be greedy hoarding slumlords. And who is my neighbor?

If the intellectual-man that asked the question of Jesus wished for a justification, does anyone think he put himself in the injured persons shoes? What would his response be if a Samaritan had tended to him? Would he be merciful in return even though that would go against his culture? If that Samaritan offered him something, would he accept the offering? I think the word I am hinting at is dialogue. The Samaritan healed physical wounds, could cultural wounds be healed in the same manner? It takes two to Tango! The man talking to Jesus asked questions, shouldn’t we do the same ? What does it take to be  good  a neighbor? What does it take to be good neighbors? Notice the plural. Is that a tough question, as tough as sending a satellite across the universe? We did one, why cant we do the other? “And who is my neighbor” is a question asked over two thousand years ago, why is there so much trouble in answering this riddle today? Its not a brainteaser, its the simplest and most basic of questions. The one and only correct response is fundamental to civilization. The question was asked, why so much avoidance in giving an answer?

This is much of the mission of Jesus, to bring neighbors together. His mission was to go after the lost sheep of Israel, and they were the Samaritan’s. They are the people who were led astray by King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel. A Jewish King and a pagan Queen who encouraged worship of the pagan god Baal. As the Samaritan showed mercy and compassion, Jesus is the mercy and compassion of God that binds wounds, he reaches out and will be crucified for it. Our God is a merciful God, and a God of compassion; sadly man is not.

I wonder how many other questions that academic had for Jesus? He asked good questions.

 

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

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He eats with tax collectors and sinners,  that is something the Pharisees do not understand. Pope Francis said you must get among the flock, smell the sheep. The Good Shepherd tells the parable of the prodigal son. That prodigal  son did not get among the sheep, he wallowed with the swine, the unclean. The horror of the Pharisee. Emphasize horror and emphasize unclean. Cultural relevance.Exclamation point.  That son, covered in the dung of the swine, welcomed by the father yet belittled by his brother. Is that brother the Pharisee, the one who wishes to remain clean?

Jesus got close to the sinner, not to be like them, but to heal. To heal required He draw them in close. The Shepherds crook, that is precisely its purpose. To hook around them so that one might pull a member of the flock close, especially a member that might tend to run the other way. To remove some burs, a splinter, or salve a wound. To shepherd, to walk where they walk, to guide, and to bandage some wounds. A sin is a wound, and often a sinner is lost. That’s why He eats with tax collectors and sinners. Proclamation point. Proclaim the gospel, even to the taxman. Even to the sinner. The Father calls out to the prodigal son . But He does more that call, He sends His Son. The Good Shepherd to gather those wallowing in the swine’s mud.The Pharisees though had a different plan, and they did not care to use that crook. For them they used the other end of the cane. The spiked end designed to prod, poke, protect and also to to drive away. One waddles in mud and the other slings it. Prodigal Sons. Plural. He dines with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisee was there too.

Mi 7:14-15, 18-20

Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

the shepherds and stephen.

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In that nativity scene stand the shepherds who visit the new born Christ Child. What is their importance, and where do they stand. For one, they share something in common with that Child as he is to be known as “the Good Shepherd.” They are shepherds and tend to the needs of their flock, they are attentive and attendants. They care for life. By trade they are humble, they care for life independent of worldly gain. Their clothing is coarse, and their approach is different from those in finer robes. Independent from a kings court or agenda, they can reach out to those in need without concern for political retribution. They maintain the ability to do what is right. In the war ravaged crèche mentioned before, the humble shepherds might be inclined to bring relief to a young family in desperate need. A bit of food, some shelter from the elements for traveling refugees struggling for life.

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The Christmas narrative takes a dramatic turn today, it leaves the nativity story and drastically commemorates the first Christian martyr. Saint Stephen who defends Christ. Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 Saint Stephen, a deacon who was to bring charitable aid to the flock, stoned for challenging those of authority.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.

The nativity starts in conflict, and that conflict continues today. To protect new and innocent life some offer assistance quietly, though frequently by placing themselves in harms way. Not the soldier, but the shepherd. The peasant accustomed to a daily struggle who watches out for another in need. In Syria today? I think so. That was Saint Stephens responsibility, as a deacon to bring care to those Christians in need. The Child in the manger, the Christ Child, needs care to live. The infant son of God is human too, in need of a humans care. Yesterday and today.

Good Shepherd Sunday, 4th Sunday of Easter

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If a person looks at Jesus ministry it is not hard to see the good shepherd at work. To Jesus, His flock was scattered from Jericho through Tyra, and into Samaria, and the collapsed Kingdom of Israel, and the regions surrounding the Sea of Galilee, and the occupied land of Judea, including its capital of Jerusalem. Identical to the way a shepherd guides his flock through a mountain pasture, Jesus herded His flock of the lands once occupied and surrounding Gods Chosen people. Within that flock, Jesus has those that responded readily to His call, He had those that had strayed, and those that were in great peril. His flock contained those blinded and crippled by culture, and those in mortal danger for the same reason. There were the Samaritans led astray by a bad Shepherd, that king that led his flock towards paganism. There were those around Galilee that had been under such Hellenic influence that they were losing much of their cultural identity. There was the people that became isolated from temple worship due to exile, and those that wished to promulgate laws to increase a Nationalistic identity. There were those that starved through cultural injustice, those that were forced to submit to an invading army. Jesus, the good shepherd, dealt with some very real cultural, political, and theological problems that plagued His society. A good shepherd was not a pleasant phrase, it was something people of that era truly prayed for. Though they prayed earnestly for a good shepherd, more times than not they were delivered quite the opposite. To Jesus disciples He indeed was The Good Shepherd, Jesus resurrection is proof of that.

I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

I write of that as I think of the shepherds of today, both those that wish to guide Jesus’s flock, and those that do their best to pillage from it. History allows me to study the times of Jesus, and take an objective look at the Shepherds that influenced the people of that time. As I look at what those people were shepherded into, both good and bad, I can also look at the pastures today, and look at all of those shepherds that are calling. It might seem cliché to call Jesus the Good Shepherd, but is it a cliché to call the President of the USA a shepherd, is it difficult to call the leading democratic and republican candidates shepherds. It then cannot be a cliché, today we do not refer to our world leaders as shepherds. They are though, and perhaps people would do better to think of them that way. A person doesn’t have to only use that title for elected leaders though, celebrities also shepherd their flock. Is it a cliché to call a television celebrity a shepherd? They also call their flock, and they have many resources to call people to their flock. Jesus shepherded by foot and on a hillside. Today’s shepherds have focus groups, political scientists, lobbyists, advertising campaigns, and a worldwide reach through modern communications. They have agendas, all shepherds do, but are they good shepherds? Sometimes it is important to realize how many shepherds are calling for a flock, and to recognize the sounds of their calls. Which Shepherds do I hear the call of, and how do I respond? Do I recognize both the pastures they wish to lead me to, and the thickets they wish to ensnare me by? Are they the Good Shepherds, are they out to protect or exploit me. Jesus says I am the good shepherd, and somehow I believe him. We need a good shepherd to guide us through these perilous times.