April 7, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Caught-brought-made to stand there. Caught-brought-made to stand there. These are verbs of power and control and dominance. What the Pharisees and the scribes are about is finding people in sin and holding them there. In particular, the picture of the woman “made to stand in the middle” conveys this holding action.
They are staring at her. The stare is the special tool of the self-righteous. The stare turns the person being stared at into an object, holding them in the mistake in which they have been caught. Jesus never stares at people—he gazes at them with wonder and merciful love.
The scribes and the Pharisees also want to trap Jesus so that they can hold him in sin. That’s what they do, their “modus-operandi.” The Pharisees and scribes hold people in sin for a living, so they ask Jesus a tricky question to trap him.
But their deceitful question gives Jesus the raw material for his response. Moses/stones/the-very-act-of-adultery stirs up the founding events of Israel in the desert. The question which the scribes and the Pharisees use to try and trap Jesus gives him an opportunity to reveal the God of forgiveness and mercy who is at the heart of the Law.
Jesus does not respond at first to their question about whether this adulterous woman deserves to be stoned to death. Instead he bends down to write on the ground with his finger.
People get all caught up in trying to guess what Jesus wrote, when that is not really the important point. Rather, the important point is he writes on ground hard as rock with his finger, calling to mind the almighty God on Mt. Sinai using his finger to write on stone the 10 commandments. The other important detail is that Jesus does this twice. He writes on the ground 2 times, calling to mind the foundational event in the history of God’s chosen people, when God wedded himself to Israel by giving them the 10 commandments on 2 separate occasions.
When Moses brings the 2 tablets of the commandments down the mountain the first time, he catches the people in the very act of adultery, worshipping a golden calf. So soon after being freed from slavery in Egypt by God’s mighty deeds, & experiencing the Red-Sea-rescue, they have turned away from God to worship an idol. In his anger, Moses smashes the 2 tablets of the 10 commandments, Then later Moses goes back up the mountain with a new set of stone tablets for God to use.
But before God stretches out his finger to etch again into stone the law, he tells Moses who He is: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6) The God who is the giver of the Law is patient, kind, and always faithful.
The history of God’s relationship with the people whom he weds by this covenant is that time and time again they will break the covenant and will be unfaithful. But God will remain faithful, forgiving adulterous Israel over and over again, and calling them back to His side.
It is very significant that Jesus’ answer (“Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”) is given between the two times he writes on the stone-hard ground with his finger. For just as God had revealed to Moses who He is between the 1st and 2nd giving of the commandments, so Jesus reveals who the people are to be for each other. FORGIVING! Forgiving as God is forgiving.
There are no sinless ones. Israel herself is only alive because God has forgiven her many adulteries. No one can cast the first stone for everyone lives by the grace of a forgiving God. Holding people in their sins while holding yourself innocent is delusional. The question is not the condemnation of adultery but the continuing blindness of people to the universal necessity of forgiveness. This is the heart of the Law of Moses— it reveals that all are sinners, all have fallen short of the glory of God, and all are in need of the forgiveness of God.
The woman, who alone stays by Jesus’ side, experiences this forgiveness and begins life anew. She is sent by Jesus into a new life—he does not hold her in her sin, but simply invites her to go and sin no more. She who had been standing on the very precipice of death is given new life.
As Jesus is, so we are to be toward each other, with his help—forgiving to set others free. Forgiving for life, instead of condemning to death.
The God of second chances, by his forgiveness, gives us a new lease on life. The God who is a Merciful Father grants us his wayward sons and daughters forgiveness, raising us from the death of sin to new life. The God who Jesus reveals is a God who frees us from sin and gives us a fresh start.
Jesus is accused over and over again by the self-righteous ones of eating with sinners. The self-righteous, who define others by their sin and hold them in their sin, cannot see others beyond their sin. Jesus sees the person beneath the sin, sees that a human being is always more than their greatest sin, and sets them free to grow into their dignity as a son or daughter of God.
St. Paul experiences this freeing forgiveness of the Risen Jesus, even though he is the greatest of sinners. Paul comes to know Christ Jesus as the one who sets him free from his sinful past as a persecutor of Jesus and his followers. Paul knows Jesus as the one who invites him to forget what lies behind, who does not hold him in his sin, but invites him into a new life, and a future full of hope and new life. So, Paul counts everything else as rubbish when compared to knowing Christ Jesus and the power of his death and resurrection, which has set Paul free.
We are invited to be “forgiving for life” instead of condemning and being condemned to death. With Jesus’ help we are invited to offer the gift of forgiveness which sets others free.
Holding people in their sin is not the “special gift” of the scribes and the Pharisees. Holding people in their mistakes is a popular pastime. Few can resist it—it is an all too common procedure. In fact, it is so common it is taken for granted. We do not consciously choose to do it, we just mindlessly engage in it. We read an obituary of someone we know well and fill in the blanks with all the sins they committed in their lifetime. We unreflectively remark that she is doing quite well for an ex-addict, thereby using addiction as the permanent reference point for her life. Prison sentences are never over.
Instead of forgiving for life, we hold others in their sin and kill any chance they have for a new life. A spouse holds their spouse in the sin of an affair forever, not forgiving the adulterous spouse, but punishing the one who has sinned over and over again.
But when we hold people in their sins, it affects not only them but us, because we hold onto their sin and the hurt it caused us. This becomes like stones in our soul, slowly crushing the life out of us. We live in the past, giving over our present peace and future happiness to the one who has hurt us. When we forgive, with the Lord’s help, we are set free for life.
March 24, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The people asking Jesus questions in today’s Gospel have an image of God as a vengeful, punishing God.
That group from Galilee must have been terrible sinners for God to punish them in that massacre in the temple. Those who died from that tower tumbling down upon them surely had it coming because of some terrible sins they committed.
Jesus reply not only forces those asking questions to remember the shortness of their own lives and the limited time for repentance from sin, but also invites them to metanioa, a more meaningful repentance—to change the way they think about God. Those massacred in the temple were killed by Pilate, not by God. Those whose life was crushed out of them died by accident, not by God’s hand. God did not push the tower over upon them, but it tumbled down because man did a poor job building it.
The God Jesus reveals is not a vengeful God who punishes terrible sinners. Rather, all of us are sinners, and all of us need to change the way we think about God. All of us need to repent, to experience metanioa. All of us need to come to know the God who the Psalmist sings of today, a “God who is slow to anger, and abounding in kindness.”
But some of us struggle to let go of a false image of a God who is out to get us, for when an accident happens or tragedy strikes or sickness invades our bodies, we cry: “O God, what have I done to deserve this?!?”
Jesus constantly communicates by word and deed this message: “The Lord is kind and merciful. The Lord is kind and merciful.”
So, in the parable, Jesus is the patient gardener who sees the possibility of new life where others see only death. Others see failure, Jesus sees potential for success. Others see barrenness, he sees the hidden capacity for producing fruit. So Jesus will cultivate and fertilize.
Jesus fully understands the human condition: that you can work and work and things fall apart. You do your best day after day and things collapse in an instant. You give something your last best effort, and see it all fail in spite of trying so hard.
As the divine gardener, Jesus is not suggesting we take our time or do nothing at all, but rather cooperate with the working of grace. Jesus constantly cultivates our lives, even during times of collapse, and fertilizes our lives, even during times of failure. He can bring the green buds of new life from the barren branches of our life. Remember that as the Risen Lord, Jesus was mistaken by Mary Magdalene as the gardener on the day of His Resurrection, and he continues to work the soil of our lives even when we do not realize he is doing so.
Today’s parable helps us live in the midst of human shortcomings, sinfulness, and inadequacies and not be cut down by despair, because Jesus will continue to work with us. For He is Mercy Enfleshed. Mercy is Jesus’ middle name: “Jesus Mercy Christ.” He comes to reveal the God of mercy, the God who IS MERCY!
Moses comes to know the God who is Mercy by God’s call to set His people free. For God’s call of Moses through the burning bush is an unlikely call of an unworthy person. Remember, Moses had fled Egypt because he had murdered an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew slave.
God had prepared Moses from the beginning of his life to be the instrument to set God’s people free from slavery in Egypt— when the daughter of Pharoah found him as a babe in the basket in the river, and raised him as a prince of the royal court in Egypt, where he could have used his power to help his enslaved Hebrew kin. But Moses seems to ruin everything in one moment of white-hot murderous anger. So, Moses is in exile in the country of Midian, a complete failure. But he is the one God calls to go back to Egypt to set the Hebrew free from slavery. Moses is given another chance by God. He is sent back to a place where he experienced failure and the falling apart of his world, a fugitive from Pharoah who will courageously confront Pharaoh and set his people free.
Then Moses will return with the Hebrew slaves now freed to this same mountain where he received God’s merciful call, the Mt. of Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai, to receive a powerful sign of God’s mercy— the 10 Commandments.
Remember, though, what happened the 1st time Moses was given the 10 commandments, inscribed on 2 stone tablets? He comes down the mountain only to find that in his absence the people have made a golden calf and are worshipping this lifeless object. In his anger, he smashes the 2 tables with the 10 commandments to smithereens.
He later returns to the top of Mt. Horeb, with 2 newly fashioned stone tablets, to receive the 10 commandments again. In this encounter with God, God passes by Moses and God cries out: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity….” (Exodus 34:6)
The people of Israel, like Moses, are given a 2nd chance, a 2nd set of the 10 commandments.
This faithful God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is on the move with the people, acting with mercy, loving and loving some more. This is who God is! The God beyond our understanding who cannot be confined by our understanding of mercy, nor limited by our understanding of love. He is the God of the living who loves us into new life! Who sees us in our suffering, who hears our cries for help!
This message of mercy, lifting us up from the desert of discouragement, will be poured like living water into our lives in the Gospel passages for the upcoming Sundays of Lent.
In the the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is really the Parable of the Merciful Father, who seeks out and finds both of his wayward sons.
Then there is the woman caught in adultery who deserves death but who Jesus saves from a murderous mob of men.
Then on Palm Sunday we will hear Jesus from the cross speak merciful words to a dying criminal, who begs Jesus to remember him when He comes into His Kingdom. Jesus assures him:“This day you will be with me in paradise.” As we stand in the bright shadow of the cross and gaze upon the broken body of the Son of God, we realize what Mercy looks like. Not just what Mercy is, but what Mercy looks like. Jesus, without speaking a word from the cross, shouts out: “I will die in your place so you might live. You, who deserve to die because of your sins, will instead receive the gift of life.” This is what Mercy looks like!
March 17, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
From last Sunday’s struggle in the desert with the Tempter, we go up the mountain of glory with Jesus. From wrestling with temptations in the drabness of the desert, we climb the mountain with Jesus in order to see Him as He is in glory and know our destiny as glorious.
The Gospel of the Transfiguration, proclaimed every year on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, reminds us that our Lenten penances are not ends in themselves but are meant to lead us deeper into the mystery of Risen Life with the Lord Jesus. Every year without fail on the Mount of the Transfiguration, we see Jesus as the Father sees him. Why? So we might see ourselves as the Father sees us, for when he looks at his fully human and glorified Son, he sees us.
The most common way the devil attacks disciples of Jesus is to discourage them. For example, many people come to Confession and say, “Father, I keep struggling with the same sins. I seem to take 2 steps forward and 1 step back.” They are being discouraged by the enemy, and I remind them they are not in the same place they were before, because 2 steps forward and 1 step back equals 1 step forward.
The Spirit of God encourages us to move forward along the way of discipleship, while the evil spirit always tempts us to give up hope. That’s why every so often, by God’s grace, we have these mountaintop experiences, which remind us of our destiny with the Lord Jesus. Glory is our destiny for baptism has made us citizens of heaven. That’s right, we are citizens of heaven, and each day need to recall this marvelous truth.
But earth and heaven are not completely separate realities. Why is that? The God of heaven and earth created the earth and all living things, including human beings, out of love. Then Love, which is who God is, propelled the 2nd person of the Divine Trinity to become human in Jesus, uniting heaven to earth. Then, out of love for humanity, this God-man died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into glory to unlock the gates of heaven. So that heaven’s gifts, namely divine life in and with the Trinity, could flow from heaven to earth by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning notes: “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush aflame with God …” The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, speaks of this mystery in a similar way: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God …” One of the many paradoxes of our faith is that as we experience life on earth, we come in touch with the things of heaven. In the Sacraments, the Church uses the stuff of earth to bring us heavenly realities. However, it takes a new way of seeing, a walking by the light of faith, in order to receive these divine gifts wrapped in the stuff of earth.
The saints walked by the bright light of faith and saw the presence of the divine surrounding them. St. Patrick speaks of it this way:
Christ before me, Christ be after me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.
The One who is the Light of the World deeply desires that we see His divine presence in our world, so he might lead us from this world to the next. But we only see with the eyes of faith when we listen to what Jesus has to say. So the Father’s voice on the Mt. of Transfiguration commands us to “Listen to Him.” For Jesus will teach us “how to see” if we but have ears to listen to Him.
One of the truths he longs to teach us, if we are willing to let go of the deafening lies we live by, is that suffering love is the only way to glory. Loving as Jesus loves means giving of ourselves, what we have and what we are, to others freely and generously. The glory of God shines forth in those who give of themselves in love of others.
This kind of love is costly—it demands something of us, it causes us to suffer. Jesus invites us to come down the mountain with Him to die with Him, for dying with Him is the only way to rise with Him. Dying and rising with Jesus is the central mystery of our life, a mystery hidden in the waters of our baptism, a mystery hidden in blessed bread and wine, a mystery hidden in ordinary acts of love.
So Jesus invites us to enter more profoundly into the Paschal Mystery with him: By letting go of the life we know in order to receive new life from the giver of all good gifts, the Father of all. By emptying our lives of the things we hang onto in order to receive the gifts the Risen Lord longs to give us. By being open to the liberating movement of the Spirit in our lives, a Spirit which purifies us & prunes us and makes us even more fruitful for the Kingdom.
It is significant that Jesus invites us up the mountain of Transfiguration to pray with Him. For he invites us this mountaintop of the Holy Eucharist to pray with Him today, that we might be transfigured and transformed with Him. So we might remember where we are going – our citizenship is in heaven. So we might remember who we are going with – the One who has the Words of Eternal Life, the One who is life itself.
Here we listen to his words once again—
Take and eat, this is my body given up for you.
Take and drink, this is my blood poured out for you.
Share in my life that has no end or limit. Share in my death by giving of yourself with me, all that you have and are, to the Father. Here, on this mountaintop, we are all transfigured, shining like the sun with the Son, radiant in glory as the Body of Christ.
March 10, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Always remember what God has done for you & give thanks by sharing your gifts. This sacred remembering which leads to thanksgiving and sharing is a golden thread woven throughout the entire Old Testament.
On this 1st Sunday of Lent we hear from the book of Deuteronomy a concrete example of thanksgiving and generosity rooted in remembering God’s saving deeds. Each year, during the Feast of Weeks (also called Pentecost), the Hebrew farmer offered to God the firstfruits of the harvest in thanksgiving for the gift of the land. As he offered this gift to God, the first part of his harvest, he recalled all that God had done for him and his ancestors.
How his “father” had fled famine in his homeland and had to live as an alien in a foreign land in order to survive. There in Egypt God provided food & saved Jacob and his sons from certain death. In Egypt, the Hebrew people multiplied and became a great nation, only to be oppressed and enslaved by the Egyptians. God heard their cries for help and by the great wonders of the 10 plagues set them free from the violence of Pharaoh’s power. Then God by Moses hand parted the Red Sea, saving the people from certain death at the hands of Pharaoh’s chariots and charioteers. This same faithful God provided food from heaven in the desert (manna) and water from the rock and led them eventually into the Promised Land, a land of abundance.
By remembering all that God had done for his ancestors, the Hebrew farmer’s heart would overflow with gratitude, leading to a generous sharing of the first fruits of his harvest. In doing so, he would acknowledge that his entire harvest was a gift from God who had given him and his ancestors the land and done great things to save them. Ultimately, the gifts he has do not belong to him, but to God.
The temptation underlying the 3 temptations of Jesus in the desert is the temptation to use his God-given gifts for himself. He is tempted by the evil one to use his gifts to take care of himself, for his own self-gain. But Jesus remembers where he came from and all that God the Father has done for him, and in doing so rejects the Tempter.
“You are my beloved Son on whom my favor rests.”
Jesus’ baptism is fresh in his mind as he enters the desert to be tested by Satan. After all, it is the same Spirit which had descended on him in the form of a dove that propels him into the desert. The voice of His Father at his baptism still rings in his ears: “You are my beloved Son on whom my favor rests.” Remembering who He is as beloved Son of the Father, a Father who has provided for Him all his life-long, Jesus rejects the temptations of the enemy. Remembering all that God the Father has done for Him, Jesus chooses to place his gifts at the feet of the Father and in service of others. Ultimately, he will choose to reject the Tempter by offering the gift of his life for others.
Jesus rejects the temptation to use his divine power to feed himself. Instead, he will use that gift to feed others, multiplying a few loaves and fish to feed the hungry thousands.
He rejects the Tempter’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus will not choose power over others for self-gain or self-exaltation. He chooses to use the gift of the power of divine love given to him in service of others. His power will flow from his humble, generous service of others as the Father has called him to do.
Jesus rejects the temptation to grandstand, to take a death-defying leap from that temple top in order to force His Father to prove His love for Jesus. Jesus knows how much He is loved by His Father. So at the end of his life, he will not yield to the temptation to leap down from the pinnacle of the cross, but will stay there, sustained by His Father’s love, offering His life as a gift to save all people.
Because Jesus, fully human like us in all things but sin, has been victorious over the Tempter, so we can be victorious as well. Joining our lives to his, turning to him in every temptation, we can reject Satan and his lies.
With Jesus, we can remember where we came from— the waters of baptism where we were filled with the Spirit and transformed into sons and daughters of God with him. With Jesus, we can give thanks to the Father for all that the Father has done for us, and use our gifts, not for ourselves or for our own self gain, but in service to others. With Jesus, we can bow down and worship the Father, from whom all good things come.
In Jesus, we can choose our relationship with the Father as the top priority in our life. We can seek the Father’s will in all things, through Jesus’ saving help. We can order all of our life rightly by seeking first the Kingdom of God and knowing that everything else will fall into its proper place.
So, we bring the first fruits as an offering to be placed before this altar. In doing so, we acknowledge that all we have and all we are, is a gift from God.
But even more, the monetary gifts brought to this altar represent the gift of our life given back to God. We join our lives to the Son of God at this Eucharistic sacrifice, and with him offer our lives to the Father in adoration and praise and thanksgiving.
Joined to Christ Jesus, we can overcome any temptation, especially the temptation to think God has abandoned us in time of difficulty.
March 6, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
One Lent a faithful Catholic decided to give up coffee completely. So, he did. And everyone else suffered with him! He was irritable and short-tempered, so not only was he miserable without his daily caffeine fix, but he made everyone else miserable.
Now if God is calling you to give up coffee this Lent, and you discern that this is truly from God, then go for it. But know this — Lent is about something much more than giving up coffee or candy or soft drinks or alcohol. The Holy Season of Lent invites us to conversion, in the Greek sense of that word — metanoia. Which means a change of mind, which leads to a change of heart, which leads to a change in the way we live and love.
When we change our ingrained patterns of thinking, which are not attuned to the mind of Christ, then we can love others more like he loves. Thinking with Him, using the Gospels as our guide, we can then love one another as He loves us.
So Lent is not so much about changing what we eat or drink— the exterior stuff— as it is a change from the inside out. Changing the way we think, so that we might rend our hearts, and in breaking them open, be stretched to love even more, so that we might return to God and to one another.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are ancient practices, which transform our way of thinking and seeing the world, which in turn expands our heart to love as we’ve been made to love. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are three interconnected penitential practices which become the energy of ongoing conversion, a dying to all in our life which is not of Christ.
Would that this Lent we would fast from judging and condemning others! When we give up looking for the splinter in our brother’s eye, then we can see more clearly the log in our own. When we pay close attention to our thoughts, we see how quickly we jump to judgment. The call of God in Lent is to pay attention to our own blindness, to those ways of thinking which blind us to the image of God reflected in the face of the other.
The invitation is to humility, to honestly recognize that we are no more holy or less holy than anyone else, that we are all sinners in need of God’s saving mercy in Christ. Humility kills hypocrisy and propels us to do good, not so others may think good of us, but because this is what God commands us to do.
Would that during these 40 days we would grow in our relationship with God through prayer! Many people say “I don’t have time for prayer.” Well, this is where fasting feeds a life of prayer, as we give up some of the wasted time we spend on Facebook or other social media, or the wasted time we spend vegging in front of our TV or other mind-numbing entertainment devices.
The prayer we all need to grow in is LISTENING to God. Too often we think of prayer as giving God a to-do list and then becoming upset with God, because God did not do everything we told God to do. This Lent listen to God by making the daily Mass Scriptures your daily food. Listen to what God is saying each day in His Holy Word that you might hear what God hears—the cry of the poor and the brokenhearted, the weeping of those crushed in body and spirit.
Would that during these 40 days we would give alms by giving of ourselves more fully in love of others! It is a good thing to give monetary gifts to help the poor, but Lent invites us to a more profound giving of alms, and that is the gift of our very self to others. We do this best when we put ourselves in the shoes of others.
Can we feel-with the homeless mother on the streets of Oklahoma City who is worried sick about how to provide for her child?
Can we empathize with the parents fleeing violence in Guatemala to make the long trek to the US border? Can we taste their fear and feel their terror and know how much they love the children they are trying to save?
Can we place ourselves in the shoes of a husband and father, who because of an accident and lack of health insurance, has lost his job?
Can we, with the Spirit’s help, break out of our own little self-centered world and enter the world of a family member or co-worker or fellow parishioner, and just for a moment see what they see and feel what they feel?
When we put ourselves in the shoes of the “other”, everything changes. Then any alms we give them come not from a place of pity but of compassion. The gift of oneself to another human being is what Christian hospitality is all about, because then we welcome and love the suffering Christ in them.
The cold ashes we will soon receive on our foreheads remind us that now is the time to be reconciled to God and to others. Soon these bodies of ours will turn back to dust, so now is the time for Metanoia.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving lead us to reconcile us to God and to others. These three Lenten practices bring us closer to God and to others.
They produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives for others to feast on, the fruit of love and joy and peace, the fruit of generosity and goodness and gentleness, the fruit patience and kindness and faithfulness.
Then when this Lenten journey leads us to the doorstep of the Easter Triduum on Holy Thursday evening we will have been transformed more fully into the Body of Christ. We will be living a more abundant life, united more closely to the Lord of the Life, the Conqueror of Sin and Death, the Risen Lord Jesus, who is the reason for this season.