Archive for March, 2012

(There will be no Sunday Scripture Preview for Easter Sunday)

Blessing of Palms, Mark 11:1-10  Bethany, a town on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives about 1.75 miles from Bethany, was familiar territory to Jesus.  Among his friends there we know most about Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, at whose home Jesus was a familiar guest.  The night before his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was feted at a dinner at the home of Simon the leper.  Many people in Jerusalem heard that Jesus would be there and went out to see both him and Lazarus, quite the celebrity since having been raised from the dead (John 12:9-11). 

At the time, hundreds of people from among upwards of 100,000 pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration were camped out in the Kidron Valley to the east of the temple and on the route between Jerusalem and Bethany.  I’m sure that people returning from the gathering at Bethany spread the news among the visitors camped out in the valley that Jesus would pass that way in a triumphal entry into Jerusalem the next morning.  The visitors had undoubtedly all heard about Jesus.  Whether out of mere curiosity or deeper Messianic hopes, they and hundreds more from Jerusalem would crowd the roadside the next day to catch a glimpse of Jesus. 

Leaving Bethany on the east slope of the Mount of Olives, the road passed through the village of Bethphage just before coming to the crest of the hill.  From there the road wound down the western slope into the Kidron Valley, passing the garden of Gethsemane on the way.  There were no other villages along the way, so we can assume the colt came from Bethphage.  Jesus had likely arranged the use of the colt beforehand, thus explaining why it had been left tethered outside on the street (people would usually keep their animals within the walls surrounding their property). 

The crowds shouting “hosanna” used the word in a different sense than we do today.  The Hebrew word “hoshana” actually means “Save (us), we beseech (you).”  They were shouting out their hope that Jesus was coming as the Savior Messiah.  Since we Christians believe that Jesus is the Savior, our “hoshana” plea is converted into a word of praise. 

Reading 1, Isaiah 50:4-7  This is the third of four Servant oracles in Isaiah, generally believed to be the work of an anonymous author who wrote chapters 40 through 55 (Deutero-Isaiah) in the middle of the 6th century before Christ.  The Servant suffers for being true to God but will be vindicated.  Bearing the sins of his generation, he will be the instrument of God’s ultimate plan for all peoples.  The image of the Servant became associated with a personal Messiah whom God would send to renew the Jewish people and their nation.  We Christians see the fulfillment of the Servant in the person of Jesus Christ and relate those Isaiah texts to Jesus’ passion and death. 

Reading II, Philippians 2:6-11  In this text, possibly an early Christian hymn quoted by Paul in his letter, we have a beautiful statement of the double nature of Jesus as both God and man.  The Second Person of the Trinity, while retaining his divine nature, “emptied himself” of the marvelous qualities and abilities attached to that divine nature (all-knowing, omnipresent, all powerful, etc.) and took on our human nature, as expressed in the old Eucharistic Prayer IV, “a man like us in all things but sin”.  In this total self-giving, Jesus both expresses the depth of God’s love for us and calls us to glory with him by a similar detachment of self out of love for God and others.

Gospel, Mark 14:1-15:47 (The Passion of our Lord – no commentary due to length of the reading)

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In response to Anne’s comment regarding 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, I think the ending comment from Jeff Cavins is on the mark: “God’s will is that we be thankful in every circumstance not that every circumstance is God’s will.”  Obviously not everything that happens in life is God’s will.  If such were the case, God would be the author of sin.  No, God gave us free will to choose for or against God’s will.  So much suffering in the world exists because people choose away from God’s will.  It affects not only themselves but, in ripple effect, can horribly impact the lives of others, sometimes thousands or millions of other people.  Now, does the text cited mean we should be “thankful” and praise God for rape and murder and abuses of every kind?  Of course not.  Read through the gospels and you’ll find that Jesus never once thanked the Father for the effects of sin.  Likewise, the prophets in the Old Testament spoke of the effects of sin as a scourge, not something for which we should be thankful. 

One of my favorite scripture texts comes from Romans 12:21 “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”  It is so tempting to resond to evil in kind, to respond to being victimized by the sins of others by storing up hatred and resentment with desire for vengeance.  God created us to experience anger at injustice and whatever is out of God’s will…so it was taht Jesus experienced such emotions.  Jesus then acted to put things right.  If anger and resentment  are left to fester, they become a mire in which the person is caught.  Simply calling to mind past hurts is like putting sticks on the embers, feeding the fire of resentment in one’s heart.  At that point, the individual is being conquered by evil.  Forgiveness and acceptance of the givens of one’s situation in life are essential if one is to move forward in any positive way.  We don’t forget past hurts, but it is possible to move them from the context of resentment to that of compassion, of a drive to help others in their suffering, to turn to God for healing…and thus transform the context of how we remember.  The Beatitudes are a good indication of seeing things fro the bigger, broader picture beyond the immediate moment in which hungering and thirsting and being persecuted are definitely not seen as blessings. 

And so, I believe the call to “rejoice always” and “in all circumstances give thanks” is the call to choose not to be controlled by evil or lack of material blessings or a less than perfect situation in life.  Rather, to ask God to transform even such things into the means that drive us to overcome, to transform, to let God’s grace move in our lives and, through us, for others as well.

Fr. Denny Dempsey

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I am thinking of proposing a poetry writing workshop here at Highview Hills.  I thought I should make an attempt first.  Here it is:


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Gospel, John 12:20-33   If men of non-Jewish background wished to become members of the Jewish religion, they were required to undergo circumcision.  Short of that, they could be “God-fearing” associates (also referred to as proselytes) who could then participate in synagogue services and some festivities.  By the apostolic period, it is believed the number of God-fearers was significant, particularly in Jewish communities outside the Holy Land.  Paul and fellow Christian evangelists generally brought their message first to people in the synagogues of towns they visited.  It is very possible that the majority of their initial converts came from the ranks of the God-fearers, for it was to present their case for full inclusion in the Christian community that Paul contacted the leaders of the church in Jerusalem who then called the Council of Jerusalem (c. 46 AD) to address the issue.  Can uncircumcised non-Jewish God-fearing people be full members of the Church? The decision of the council was in their favor.  They could be full members of the Christian community without being circumcised and following the details of the Mosaic law. 

The “Greeks” referred to in this reading may have been proselytes or “God-fearing”, but they might have simply been Greek visitors or tourists in Jerusalem out of curiosity.  “We would like to see Jesus”.  The Gospels speak of only two other people “wanting to see” Jesus during his years of ministry: Zacchaeus (Luke 19:3) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:8).  Philip, to whom these Greeks come, will make a somewhat similar request at the Last Supper: “Lord, show us the Father (John 14:8-9)”.  Perhaps Philip had pondered over the request brought to him by these Greeks. 

Why did they come to Philip?  Perhaps Philip was part Greek.  He at least had a Greek name (Philip =lover of horses).  Philip was from Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee to the east of the upper Jordan River just outside of Galilee, not in Galilee as indicated here.  John would certainly have known the geography of the region. This small error supports the theory that the final format of John’s gospel was written by one of his disciples after John’s death.

Why did Philip go to Andrew? John 1:44 says that Peter and Andrew were also from Bethsaida initially.  By the time of Jesus’ ministry, they had moved to Capernaum in Galilee, perhaps to take advantage of the better fishing on the Galilee side of the lake or to avoid additional taxes they would have to pay as “out-of-state” at the major fish processing station which was at Magdala in Galilean territory.  Additionally, I like to think of Andrew as a kind of father figure for many of the apostles, the quiet dependable go-to fellow whom Jesus left in charge when he would take Peter, James and John (Andrew being the fourth member of that initial group) with him as at the Transfiguration, going to raise Jairus’ daughter, and at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Why does the request evoke Jesus’ response that his “hour” had come?  Note that no conversation between Jesus and the Greeks follows.  Isaiah 2:2-4 (echoed in Micah 4:1-3) speaks of the mountain of the Lord’s house (the temple) being established as the highest mountain…”all nations shall stream to it.”  Jesus must have had a sense that, through his disciples, his mission would be expanded beyond the Jewish people to the Gentiles, particularly the Greeks.  Transition into that next stage would only come through his death on the cross.  Could Jesus have interpreted the request from Greeks as the signal that the hour of transition had come?

As he had done so previously, Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man”.  This phrase comes primarily from the book of Ezekiel in which God addresses the prophet as “Son of Man” well over 100 times.  It was also used, among other instances, in Job (25:6) and Psalms (8:4, 80:17, 144:3),but took on special meaning in Daniel 7:13 referring to: “One like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven…received dominion, glory and kingship, nations and peoples of every language serve him”.  By the time of Jesus “Son of Man” had commonly come to be understood as referring to the Messiah.

 Jesus’ referring to himself as “Son of God” fell short of actually claiming divinity or Messianic identity while engendering the antagonism of Jewish authorities who realized what Jesus was insinuating.  The following selections indicate Jesus’ use of the phrase as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, that most oriented to people of Jewish background: the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (8:20), the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins(9:6), the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (12:8), the Son of Man will send out his angels (13:41), the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels (16:27),  when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne (19:28), they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (24:30). 

“Whoever loves his life loses it.”  The word for love here is “philos”, love based on attraction and attachment.  We are to love our life, but strive for “agape” love, the unattached perfection of divine love.  Is it bad to feel an attachment to life in this world?  Of course not.  That was part of the battle that caused Jesus’ spirit to be so troubled. 

The voice of God, heard previously at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, once again encourages Jesus toward the completion of his mission.  The voice is also for Jesus’ disciples to know that glory awaits those who, like Jesus, pass through the martyr’s suffering and death.

Reading 1, Jeremiah 13:31-34    Jeremiah prophesied in Judah in the late 7th and early 6th centuries BC during the period leading up to the Babylonian Captivity.  As it became obvious that people were not going to heed God’s warnings and that disaster was imminent, he began to give messages of hope to sustain people in their upcoming time of exile.  This text is one such prophecy.  Unlike the old covenant written on stone (the commandments Moses received on Mt. Sinai), the new one will be written in the hearts of believers.  The word translated as “covenant” can also be translated as “testament”.  So it is that the Bible is divided into the Old Testament, the covenant between God and his people expressed through obedience to the Mosaic law, and the New Testament, the covenant founded on a relationship of faith through Jesus Christ written in the hearts of believers. The passage begins with the words “the days are coming”, commonly used in many a prophetic statement.  In the gospel Jesus states that “the hour has come”.  The time of the new covenant had arrived. 

Reading II, Hebrews 5:7-9  At first reading, this text seems problematic.  How can the author say Jesus’ supplication “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” was heard when he ended up “drinking” the cup of suffering and crucifixion?  Furthermore, what can it mean that Jesus “learned obedience” and “was made perfect”?  He was the Son of God.  In what way could he be considered “imperfect”?

We tend to think of obedience as the action of “being obedient” or doing what one is told.  However, that’s not the core meaning of the word.  “Obedience” is a combination of two Latin words: “ob” meaning “under” (in this case not referring to location but being “under” another’s authority) + “audire” meaning “to hear” (think of “audio”).  The word in the Greek text, “hupakoen”, has the exact same meaning (“hupo” = under, “akouo” = to hear….”acoustics”).  Obedience begins with attentive listening.  Through his prayer Jesus learned to listen attentively to the voice of God the Father, to discern the will of God and then carry it out.

As to Jesus being “made perfect”, the Greek word here refers not to perfection in contrast  with imperfection, but rather to being finished as compared to still leaving something to be accomplished.  Jesus’ mission was not complete until his saving death and resurrection through which he became the source of eternal salvation.

In what sense did God hear Jesus’ supplications?  God didn’t save Jesus from dying but he did save him from death.  Jesus’ ultimate prayer was that the will of God be done, and in this he was heard.  God used his Son’s earthly life to show the world the depth of his love for us…and the victory over death in which we, too, will have a share.

 Teach me, Lord, to listen intently to you in prayer, that I might accomplish all that you desire of me, bearing the crosses you want me to carry on the path you have prepared for me.  When the day comes that, like Jesus, I must bear the ultimate cross of dying, let me share in his victory over death and in his resurrection for all eternity.

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Gospel, John 3:14-21   During the Exodus the people complained about the food.  To help them develop a deeper appreciation for God’s blessings, God led them into an area infested with a type of venomous snake whose bite caused a severe burning sensation.  For some the bite resulted in death.  People realized there were worse things than bad food and asked God’s forgiveness for their complaining.  God told Moses to “make a seraph and mount it on a pole.  If anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover (Numbers 21:8).”  The instrument of suffering was converted into the sign of healing grace.

The image of Jesus suffering on the cross is converted into the ultimate sign of healing grace.  The cross was the instrument of Jesus’ death.  Since his physical death without having once succumbed to temptation was actually the moment of greatest victory, the cross on which Jesus died is transformed into a sign of that victory.  Looking to Jesus on the cross brings us the healing and saving grace of God.  That is why we Catholics generally prefer the crucifix with the image of Jesus present.

“Whoever believes in him will not be condemned.”  Is there a difference between “believing” and “putting faith” in God?  Most people think of “believing” as an act of intellectual acceptance.  By contrast, “putting one’s faith” in God requires a deeper commitment of the whole person.  Consider the use of the word “faith” in such texts as Paul writing about the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) or “the just person shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) or James writing that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  Here’s the catch…the English words “believe” and “have faith” are two different translations of the exact same word in Greek.  In other words, Jesus is not saying in John 3 that all you need to give God is an intellectual assent but something much deeper.  A Jewish commentary on the Hebrew scriptures which I consulted says “in the Hebrew bible ‘faith’ does not mean belief in a doctrine or a creed.  It refers to trust and loyalty expressed through commitment and obedience.”  That would surely have been the understanding in John’s Jewish mind as he wrote the Greek text of his gospel: “Whoever obediently entrusts their life to God will not be condemned.”

“This is the verdict.”  The Greek word “krisis” means “judgment”, or “verdict” as translated here.  Still, I think just leaving it as “crisis” adds extra meaning.  A verdict is given when the challenge is over, but a crisis is an ongoing challenge in focus like the energy crisis and the financial crisis.  Here is the faith crisis: the light of God is here but people are preferring the darkness of their ungodly lifestyles and choices.  The way out of the crisis is to recognize the crisis, make a decision for the light of God, and then live by that decision. 

Reading 1, 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23  The Greek title for the two books of Chronicles is “paraleipomena”, meaning “things omitted” with reference to the histories recounted in the books of Samuel and Kings.  The underlying history is the same, but the chronicler brings a specific focus which affects both his selection of material and his retrospect evaluation of his nation’s history.  The temple of Jerusalem and the worship at the temple were of utmost importance to the chronicler, undoubtedly a member of the priestly class.  It is interesting to note that all of Solomon’s serious defects and sins highlighted in Kings are completed glossed over in Chronicles.  As the builder of the temple, Solomon is afforded a status of greatness surpassed only by his father David.  Judah’s kings (no history is given regarding the kings of Judah’s sister nation of Israel) are all judged by their attitudes toward the temple and its worship. The books are thought to have been written toward the end of the 5th century before the birth of Christ.  A political realist, the chronicler realizes his little nation would never be a world power but it could still be great as a people of God, focused on the temple and the temple worship of God. 

The books of Chronicles end with this passage which recounts the destruction of the Jerusalem’s first temple and the hope for purity of temple worship in the new one, financially backed by the Persian government and endorsed by the decree of Cyrus.  With a few brief periods of reform, worship of foreign gods had continued in the hills around Jerusalem and in other localities in the country throughout Jewish history until the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC.  The land would “retrieve its lost Sabbaths” with 70 years of exile in Babylonia until the time that Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonian empire and allowed captive peoples to return to their homelands.  Cyrus established the enlightened policy of supporting small independent nations on his fringes and giving them reason to be his allies rather than dominating them under a harsh hand as had the Babylonians. 

Reading II, Ephesians 2:4-10  Note how many times the word “grace” appears in this reading.  There is a tendency to think of grace as some kind of spiritual currency as people may speak of “receiving the grace of a sacrament” or “storing up grace” as though putting money in a bank account.  Theologians have analyzed and dissected grace into actual grace, supernatural grace, sanctifying grace, sacramental grace, etc.  Back in high school biology we dissected frogs to identify their organs and other parts.  One thing about a dissected frog, however…it is dead.  All those organs and parts are meaningless to the frog if they are not functioning parts of a living organism.

So it is with grace.  The one thing that gives the different dimensions of grace meaning is a living relationship with God.  The word “grace” from the Latin “gratia” shares a common root with the words “gratis” (free) and “gratuity” (free gift or tip).  So, grace is a sharing in the life and blessings of God…a freely given gift…a statement of the strength of one’s relationship with God.  May we always live in God’s good graces.  The last sentence of the reading emphasizes that our response to God is to be more than intellectual acknowledgement of God’s greatness. God shares his grace with us that we might live and carry out the good works God has prepared for us to accomplish.

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Gospel, John 2:13-25   The first temple of Jerusalem was built by Solomon  on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the highest part of the hill of Ophel, where David had constructed an altar.  That temple had been despoiled by the Egyptians shortly after Solomon’s death, later plundered by Joash of Israel around 800 BC, and again in 597 BC by Nebuchadnezzar who had the temple burned and torn down prior to leading the Jewish people into captivity in 587 BC.  That temple was rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah in the post-exilic period, finally completed and re-dedicated in 515 BC.  The process of reconstruction was slow due to lack of funds and opposition from the Samaritans who had not been exiled but rather had remained as residents of the region during the exile.  The nation later came under the domination of Alexander the Great whose successors sought to maintain control by imposing Greek culture on all the residents.  As part of that effort, the Jerusalem temple was turned into a temple for worship of Greek gods in 167 BC which led to a successful revolt and establishment of Jewish independence as recounted in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.  The temple was purified and rededicated by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 BC, an event celebrated annually with the feast of Hanukkah.  By the time of King Herod the Great, the temple mount (about 81,000 sq. ft.) was too small for the throngs of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for major celebrations.  In 19 BC Herod began a major reconstruction of the temple and surrounding courts and colonnades.  He more than doubled the temple platform area with an extensive series of supporting arches to 1.55 million sq. feet (35.5 acres).  Compare that to the 415,000 sq. feet of the field and stands at the Metrodome, and you can get some idea of how many people would fit in the temple area at one time.  As with some highway projects today, temple services continued throughout the reconstruction.   The major portion of the project was completed in ten years, but the final details were not finished until 64 AD…only six years before it was destroyed by the Roman armies following a Jewish uprising.  The temple has never been rebuilt since.  The outer walls of Herod’s temple still exist today.  The famous western or “Wailing Wall” is part of Herod’s construction.  The top of the mount, however, is under Moslem control with two mosques, al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, situated there.

The largest area of the platform was called the Court of the Gentiles.  Anyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, could enter that space.  Successive areas became more restrictive.  Only Jews could enter the Court of Women, only Jewish men were allowed in the Court of Israel, only the priests could pass into the Sanctuary building, and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies (just once a year).  The Court of the Gentiles was comprised of open and roofed areas where groups of people could gather to pray or receive instruction from rabbis.  Animal sellers and money changers were permitted in this area during major celebrations.  It was from this space that Jesus cleared the animals and where he overturned the tables.  Here he would take his place, without the competition of marketplace noise, to preach and teach the crowds during Passover week. 

Jerusalem and its temple might have received upwards of 100,000 visitors during Passover week.  Figure the approximate number of families represented, all needing lambs for their Paschal meal…well over 1,000 sacrificed each day by the temple priests.  In addition, many visitors were also making other kinds of sacrificial offerings of grains and animals.  Imagine the demand for and the volume of animals moving through the temple area each day. 

All Jewish males were to pay an annual temple tax of a half-shekel.  In addition, most people gave additional contributions for temple upkeep and support of widows, orphans and the poor.  Few Jewish people living any distance from the Holy Land could return to Jerusalem more than once a year, for some once every ten years, for others only once in a lifetime.  Many brought contributions collected from other families from their Jewish community.  If you think Christian churches depend on and receive major contributions at Christmas and Easter, imagine the money that came in to the Jerusalem temple during Passover week!  Most of the coins they brought, however, could not be donated at the temple since they bore images of Caesar or some other king or god.  Those coins had to be exchanged for coins without such images.  There was, of course, a charge for doing so. 

Now, imagine what it would be worth for you as a visitor to be able to exchange money and purchase animals right there rather than bringing them through the crowds from the markets in the city.  The chief priests undoubtedly received a kick-back from the merchants who, because of their location, overcharged (like food and beverages at the Metrodome).  The synoptic gospels make reference to this with Jesus accusing them of turning the temple into a “den of thieves” (Mt. 21:13/Mk. 11:17/Lk .19:46).  

Challenged by angry priests as to his authority to act as he did (“what sign can you give us?”), Jesus turns the discussion to himself as the temple of God that will be torn down and rebuilt in three days.  The English word “temple” used throughout this section is actually used to translate two different Greek words.  In the part in which Jesus clears the temple, the word is “heiron” which refers to the general area of the temple mount.  In the discussion about Jesus as the temple, the word is “naos” which refers more specifically to the sanctuary.  Jesus is not just a place where God is present in a general way…he is the sanctuary where the presence of God resides.

Jesus clears the temple area to restore it to its true purpose.  Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)”, and again, “We are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16)”.  In both instances Paul uses the word “naos”.  We are the sanctuary where Jesus has chosen to reside.  As Jesus comes into this temple, will he find it oriented to the purpose for which God has created you and me?  Will he find cause to do some clearing and cleaning?  Jesus, cleanse us as your temple and restore us to the purpose for which you created us.

Reading 1, Exodus 20:1-17   The commandments are listed in this text from Exodus and again in Deuteronomy 5:6-21.  In neither text is the number of commandments indicated.  Reference to there being “ten commandments” comes from Deuteronomy 4:13  (repeated in Deuteronomy 10:4): “He proclaimed to you his covenant which he commanded you to keep, the ten commandments which he wrote on tablets of stone.”  The number thus being determined, how do we divide them up into ten specific commandments?  There are actually four different lists of the Ten Commandments.  The Jewish, Orthodox and general Protestant lists are the same for commandments three through ten but differ on which statements make up the first two commandments.  Catholics and Lutherans number the commandments in a different manner, putting the first two from the other lists together as the first commandment, then offsetting the number designated for the following commandments by one (for example, The 5th commandment in the other lists is the 4th in the Catholic-Lutheran list).  The 10th commandment from the other lists is divided into two to complete the list of ten. 

In the Hebrew text the words “you” and “your” are always in the second person singular indicating that the commandments, while being God’s covenant with the full Israelite community, are meant for every individual person.  The list not only teaches us how to live in community with God and one another.  It also indicates that how we treat one another is of concern to God.   Where our translation describes God as “jealous”, the Jewish translation uses the word “impassioned”.  Whichever word is used, God is not indifferent.  The marriage bond is the implied metaphor for the covenant of God with Israel to which God demands our loyalty and fidelity which pledging the same to us.

Does God “inflict punishment for their fathers’ wickedness” on their descendants “down to the third and fourth generation”?  As far as moral guilt, through Jeremiah 31:29-30 God limits the punishment to the one sinning.  Nevertheless, an individual’s conduct can have a significant effect on succeeding generations.  Children are affected and shaped by parents’ habits, way of life, education, place of living, how they handle stress or quarrels, etc.  Various forms of abuse, be it alcohol, verbal or sexual abuse, are all too often “learned” and passed from parents to children.  How else could people from centuries past interpret such things as other than God punishing descendants for the sins of their ancestors? 

“Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”  Many years ago I was blessed to be in Jerusalem where, on a Sabbath evening, I spent a couple hours walking through the Orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim.  The streets into the neighborhood were barricaded to prevent people from driving on the Sabbath.  It was a warm evening, and windows of houses were open.  I heard no radios, TV’s or other electronic devices…just the sounds from house after house of people eating, conversing, singing and praying.  Jesus said (Mark 2:27), “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  What a blessing for those families to spend such quality time together for a full day each week.  The Sabbath rest was an amazing proclamation of worker’s rights.  No other society during biblical times mandated a day of rest for everyone from the wealthiest down to the lowest employees and slaves.  The Sabbath rest called them to remember that whatever we achieve through our own efforts is secondary to the saving word of God.

Reading II, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25  Paul comments on the cultural differences between Jews and Greeks regarding what might help them believe in something.  “Jews demand signs”.  In today’s gospel the temple priests ask Jesus what sign he can give them proving his authority to drive the animals and moneychangers out (John 2:18).  Later in the Bread of Life discourse, people ask Jesus (John 6:30), “What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you?”  This was after he had healed many people and brought about the multiplication of loaves and fishes.  The Greeks, on the other hand, “look for wisdom”.  They loved philosophy and debate.  The message of Jesus was a stumbling block for people from both cultures…neither the sign the Jews wanted nor the logic that made sense to the Greeks.  What do we seek today as sufficient proof to believe and entrust our lives to God through Jesus Christ and not relegate God to the sidelines of our lives as a lower priority?

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