Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reflections for the 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Keep Still

Can you really blame the Israelites for panicking? They've just fled Egypt, seemingly with the permission of Pharaoh, who just wants to get rid of them, and all of a sudden things change. Pharaoh has a “What did I just do!?!” moment, and he sets off after his former slaves with a whole army of chariots. That's enough to terrify anyone.

In their fear, the Israelites start to whine and complain, which is a very normal human response. They turn on Moses with quite a tirade: “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” 

Moses is very patient with the people. He understands their fear (after all, he was pretty scared when God called him out of his comfort zone), but he knows that he is following God's will and that God will defend His chosen ones. “Fear not!” he tells the frightened people. “Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today....The Lord himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”

Keep still? That is probably the last thing the Israelites expect to hear at this moment. Shouldn't Moses be telling them to pick up whatever weapons they might find and attack or, better yet, run in the opposite direction as fast as they can or, perhaps even better, surrender to the Egyptians? But instead, Moses instructs them to stand still and let God take care of them. God does just that. He wins their victory for them at the Red Sea.

There's an important lesson for us in this story. How often do we panic when things don't go right? We might try our best to fix the problem, or we might run in the other direction, but do we bring our fears to God? Do we stay still and listen to Him and let Him show us what He wants us to do? Do we let Him fight our battles? Of course, we must also cooperate with God, sometimes very actively. The Israelites did that, too. But sometimes He wants us to merely keep still so He can act without us getting in the way. In those cases, we need to trust that God has our best interests in His hand and in His heart.

Tuesday – Jesus' Mother

Today's Gospel from Matthew 12 often trips up our Protestant brothers and sisters who struggle to understand the role of Mary in the Christian faith and life. Jesus is speaking to a group of people when His mother and brothers show up and stand outside, waiting to speak to Him. Jesus seems to blow them off, indicating that His mother and brothers are those who do His Father's will.

First off, the brothers mentioned here aren't Jesus' siblings. He doesn't have any. The word “brother” had a broad meaning in the ancient world and often referred to kinsmen or friends or even members of a particular social group. The “brothers” who come to visit here are probably cousins. In fact, they are mentioned later as the sons of another Mary. Protestants who try to use this passage and similar ones to argue against the Catholic dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity aren't examining the broader context of the word and the passage. 

Second, Jesus isn't being rude to His family here. He is using their arrival to make a point. Biological ties aren't what count any more in the Kingdom that Jesus has brought to earth. The spiritual family growing up around Jesus is a covenant family tied together by a commitment to worship and obey God. Jesus does not, by any means, exclude His mother and kinsmen from this new family. In fact (and He knows this very well), Mary obeys God perfectly. She said yes to being the Mother of the Messiah. She accepted the trials and sorrows that accompanied her role. She would stand at the foot of Jesus' cross, offering her beloved Son to His Father even as her own heart was breaking. 

Jesus is not insulting His mother in this passage. Rather, He is pointing to her as an example of what His spiritual family should look like. Her arrival has given Him the perfect opportunity to explain that biological ties aren't enough. His family is something more. His family, especially His own dear Mother, honors God, trusts God, and obeys God with great faith, great hope, and great love.

Wednesday – Recognizing Jesus

Mary Magdalene doesn't recognize Jesus at first. She knows that His tomb is empty, but she doesn't understand what has happened. She thinks that perhaps someone has taken His body, and her only focus is on getting Him back. She loves Him that much. 

Then she sees Jesus, but she doesn't recognize Him. Blinded by her grief and panic, she begs this newcomer to tell her where He has put Jesus' body so she could take Him away and care for Him. 

Imagine Jesus' tender smile as He reaches out to the upset woman before Him with a single word, her name, “Mary.” 

Something within Mary snaps to attention. Suddenly she knows. She turns to Jesus and answers a single word in return, “Rabbouni” or “Teacher.” She recognizes Him now, and all she wants to do is hold onto Him. Jesus gently tells her to let go. He must ascend to their Father. Things are going to change, and Mary will have to get used to the changes. She will have to learn to recognize Him in new situations, in the Eucharist, for instance, and in the Church that will soon grow and flourish. 

Mary seems to get the message. She dashes back to the apostles, announces that she has seen the Lord, and reports His words. 

Mary's experience should make us think about if and how we recognize Jesus. Do we believe in His Real Presence in the Eucharist? Can we hear Him speaking to us in the Scriptures? Do we receive His mercy in the sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we recognize Him in the people around us? Do we listen for His voice when we pray? Do we accept His teaching given by the Church's Magisterium? Do we recognize Jesus in the many ways we encounter Him every day? He is there waiting for us to open our eyes and our hearts.

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