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Janet D'Souza

September 20, 2019 - Jesus’ Merry Band - A Reflection on Luke 8:1-3

I have loved the idea of time travel and if I had a machine that allowed me to do that, I know exactly the time and place I would want to travel to. It would be about AD2, the second year of Christ’s ministry. I would, of course, want to be among his merry band of followers moving through cities and villages, as he proclaimed and brought the good news of the kingdom of God.

Can you imagine what that would been like? Marching into a town and watching the farmers leave their fields, the women leave their daily chores, the children leave their play to come to listen to this man from Galilee that they had all heard about and hoped to see. And here he was, talking to them on the shores of a river, or on a hill side, or in a meadow. And the way he spoke, filling their hearts with hope and joy, as he spoke about heaven and all that awaited them there. 

And it wasn’t just what he said; it was what he did as well. People who were crippled and bedridden were walking again. People who were oppressed and demonized were set free. How amazing he was. And how amazing to be with him. And who were with him. So many. We often don’t realize that there was a huge entourage that followed Jesus. There were the twelve apostles, of course: Peter, and James, and John, and the other nine. But there were a whole lot of women too.

We hear about them today. There was Mary Magdalene. There was Joanna, who was the wife of Chuza, who was Herod’s steward. There was Susanna. And many others. It is astounding that Jesus allowed women to travel as a part of this team. This is unheard of in ancient history, and undoubtedly scandalized everybody. There was never any hint of sexual immorality in his team, however, and Jesus would have ensured it remained so by his constant denunciations of such immorality.

And these women, not only served Jesus—I am guessing they generally managed to keep everything in order; most men are terrible at that—but they also provided monetary assistance to his ministry. I am certain that they also served in various other capacities, especially ministering to the women who came to Jesus, counseling them, and encouraging them. The men would not have been permitted to do that.

Well, there isn’t a time travel machine to let us go back and walk with Jesus through the Galilean countryside, but we can still follow Jesus today. Let’s go!

September 19, 2019 - How Much Do You Owe? - A Reflection on Luke 7:36-50

This was a rather long passage so I’d like to draw your attention to the subject that I would like us to reflect upon today. So, let me tell you the story that Jesus told the Pharisee, but let me get you in it. You are a creditor and there are two people who owe you money. One owes you fifty dollars; the other five thousand dollars. Feeling very benevolent one morning, you wipe out both their debts. Now, which of the two will love you more. Quite obviously the man who owes you the greater sum of money.

I have realized this principle is true when it comes to loving God. I take a look at the men through history who have had a deep love for Christ, and these are invariably men (not always, but most of the time) people who have been great sinners who feel forgiven for a lot. Quite naturally I relate this to my own life, and away from Jesus for twenty-five years, there was a lot of sinning. And, consequently, a lot of forgiving needed. This resulted in a lot of love.

When I look at people who have a very lukewarm attitude towards God I have noticed that they are not big sinners. They are good people, for the most part, who don’t do really, really bad things. Consequently, they don’t sense that they need too much of forgiveness. But here is the thing: they do! And they need a lot of it.

Let me put this in a way that’s easy to understand. Let us look at our lives for a moment. Let us examine a typical day. There’s no adultery in it; there’s no violence; there’s no murder. But there has been the odd lie told; the little bit of gossip; the little flare of irritation. Now multiply that by the number of days there are in a year. Multiply that by the number of years you have been alive. And now see the debt that you owe.

It is not only the really “bad” people who owe God a lot; everybody does. And realizing that helps us to love him, because that forgiveness of our debt that we often take for granted, cost somebody his life. And every drop of his blood. When we realize that, I think we will all love God deeply and greatly. But that realization comes only by thinking about it.

So, let’s think about this today.

September 18, 2019 - Murder with Words - A Reflection on Luke 7:31-35

I often find myself bemused when people start talking about preachers they know, because no matter how favorably they start off talking about them, eventually there will be a “but” thrown in and then it descends into slander. It doesn’t take too much imagination to guess what they might have said about John the Baptist and Jesus. “Oh, John the Baptist. He’s doing amazing things in the desert, but he’s weird. Have you seen the way he dresses? And the stuff he eats? Really gross, man! He must have a demon in him!”

And about Jesus. “He’s a really amazing preacher, but he can’t be from God really. Look at the people he hangs around with. They’re dirty fishermen for the most part. And the one feller who doesn’t stink of fish, stinks of tax money! And the places he hangs about in. Brothels and bars! And he claims to be the Son of God! Such blasphemy I tell you!”

Sounds familiar? Many of us have a habit of judging people, often on their personal style or demeanor. We judge our church leaders the same way, and are quick to accuse and/or condemn when they don’t match our criteria for holiness. For those who are not really rooted in Christ, this can be very frightening. To know that you are at the mercy of such a people.

Neither John the Baptist nor Jesus took it quietly. John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” (see Matthew 3:7). A “brood of vipers” is a “family of snakes.” Because vipers are venomous, John was essentially calling the religious leaders “poisonous sons of snakes.” It’s quite a denunciation—and one that Jesus would repeated to the Pharisees not much later (see Matthew 12:34).

It made them furious, of course, and they moved from slander to murder. This is, by the way the natural progression of things. After all, slander is murder with words. We need to be careful about what we say, because as Jesus says, “By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).

And if you are the one being slandered, remember that wisdom is vindicated by all her children. You will be shown to be right one day. In the meantime, hang in there.

September 17, 2019 - Comfort in Pain - A Reflection on Luke 7:11-17

A couple of years ago I met a man who had just lost his son. As he wept bitterly, I remember thinking that no parent should have to bury their child. In a fair world, if death did hold sway, the passing of people would be orderly. They would grow up to a healthy old age, and then die in their sleep, peacefully and painlessly. Their children would consign them to the dust of earth as they produced children of their own and the cycle of life would go on. But life is not fair, is it? People die all the time, sometimes when they are very, very young and parents have to bury them. 

The story we just heard has a happy ending, with a dead boy brought back to life by Jesus. I presume he went on to bury his mother. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this particular story, but we have reflected upon some of them before. (See September 18, 2018 - Mourning to Dancing: https://youtu.be/arS4VelqOFs).  I want to talk about something a little more practical; how we might possibly deal with the loss of someone we love.

There are no quick fixes, no tablets we can take to dull the pain. The heart will hurt. The tears will flow. It is the price we pay for love. But there is comfort to be found in the arms of our Father, and in the words of his Son which tell us that for the believer death is only a steppingstone to our permanent residence in heaven, where there will be no more tears and no more pain. Everyone I have known who has sought this comfort has found it easier to deal with their loss, and although life will never be the same again, it is without the bitterness and anger that is often the residue of pain.

And, because of this comfort, they are able to comfort others. As Paul says (I paraphrase), “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Father of compassion. He is the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles, so that we, in turn, can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

I have experienced a lot of wonderful things through my life. But I have also gone through a lot of pain, much of it a consequence of my own foolishness, some of it just because life is what it is. Although there have been lessons learned from joy, it is the lessons learned from pain that help people more. Had I not gone through these experiences, I wouldn’t be in a position to help those struggling through so many things.

And that makes the pain worthwhile. Mostly.

September 16, 2019 - Great Faith - A Reflection on Luke 7:1-10

Over the last several years I have noticed that there are occasions when those who are not Christian seem to show more faith in Jesus than those who profess to know him. I am not surprised. We tend to get jaded about everything, and we get pretty blasé about Jesus too. He ceases to impress us anymore, and we have difficulty believing the testimonies that people tell about his great deeds. Many times these testimonies are met with a sneer, not always concealed.

Jesus seems to arrive at the same conclusion. There are only two people in the entire gospel whom he praises for great faith. One is a Syrophoenician woman whose daughter he delivered (see Matthew 15:28), and the other is this centurion that we just read about. One is a woman, the other is man, but both are Gentiles (non-Jews). Both exhibit extraordinary faith, and Jesus is pleasantly astonished.

He makes a great deal about their faith, because it stands in sharp contrast to the faith of the Jews. But didn’t they have faith, you might ask. After all, they came to Jesus for healing in great numbers. Yes, they did, but that is because they looked upon him like a magic genie; not as God. People will flock to just about anybody for healing. You would surely have noticed that. But both these Gentiles understood that he was able to do miracles BECAUSE he was God.

The Jews, on the other hand, who should have known that he was God, if not by the prophecies about him contained in the Old Testament, then by the things that he did, which nobody had done before. But they kept asking him for signs that he was God, until he told them that there would be no more signs except the sign of Jonah. He was, of course, referring to his death and resurrection. But as we know, that didn’t convince most of them either.

Do you believe that Jesus is God? A simple test of your faith is the answer to a question: do you worry? The more you worry, the lesser your faith. And vice versa. Because if you believe Jesus is God, then you have to believe that he is great. And that he is good. If your God is both great and good, then what is the reason to worry? Know what I’m saying?

Think about it and, who knows. Jesus might say that you have great faith. Now wouldn’t that be something.

1) Opening prayer
Father,
You call Your children
to walk in the light of Christ.
Free us from darkness
and keep us in the radiance of Your truth.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."

3) Reflection
• The Sermon on the Mountain takes chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The purpose of the narrative part of chapters 8 and 9 is to show how Jesus put into practice what He had just taught. In the Sermon on the Mountain, He teaches acceptance (Mt 5:23-25. 38-42.43). Now He puts it into practice accepting the lepers (Mt 8:1-4), the foreigners (Mt 8:5-13), the women (Mt 8:14-15), the sick (Mt 8:16-17), the possessed (Mt 8:28-34), the paralytics (Mt 9:1-8), the tax collectors (Mt 9:9-13), the unclean persons (Mt 9:20-22), etc. Jesus breaks the norms and the customs which excluded and divided persons, that is with the fear and the lack of faith (Mt 8:23-27) the laws on purity (9:14-17), and He clearly says which are the requirements for those who want to follow Him. They should have the courage to abandon many things (Mt 8:18-22). In the same way in the attitudes and in the practice of Jesus we see in what the Kingdom and the perfect observance of the Law of God consists.
• Matthew 9:9: The call to follow Jesus. The first people called to follow Jesus are four fishermen, all Jewish (Mt 4:18-22). Now Jesus calls a tax collector, considered a sinner and treated as an unclean person by the community of the most observant of the Pharisees. In the other Gospels, this tax collector is called Levi. Here, his name is Matthew, which means gift of God or given by God. The communities, instead of excluding the tax collector and of considering him unclean, should consider him a Gift of God for the community, because his presence makes the community become a sign of salvation for all! Like the first four who were called, in the same way also Matthew, the tax collector, leaves everything that he has and follows Jesus. The following of Jesus requires breaking away from many things. Matthew leaves the tax office, his source of revenue and follows Jesus!
• Matthew 9:10: Jesus sits at table with sinners and tax collectors. At that time the Jews lived separated from the tax collectors and sinners and they did not eat with them at the same table. The Christian Jews should break away from this isolation and sit at table with the tax collectors and with the unclean, according to the teaching given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mountain, the expression of the universal love of God the Father (Mt 5:44-48). The mission of the communities was that of offering a place to those who did not have it. But this new law was not accepted by all. In some communities, persons coming from paganism, even if they were Christians, were not accepted around the same table (cf. Ac 10:28; 11:3; Ga 2:12). The text of today’s Gospel shows us Jesus who sits at table with tax collectors and sinners in the same house, around the same table.
• Matthew 9:11: The question of the Pharisees. Jews were forbidden to sit at table with the tax collectors and with sinners, but Jesus does not follow this prohibition. Rather He becomes a friend to them. The Pharisees seeing the attitude of Jesus, ask the disciples: “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” This question may be interpreted as an expression of their desire to know why Jesus acts in that way. Others interpret the question like a criticism of Jesus’ behavior, because for over five hundred years, from the time of the slavery in Babylon until the time of Jesus, the Jews had observed the laws of purity. This secular observance became a strong sign of identity. At the same time it was a factor of their separation in the midst of other peoples. Thus, because of the laws on purity, they could not nor did they succeed to sit around the same table to eat with tax collectors. To eat with tax collectors meant to get contaminated, to become unclean. The precepts of legal purity were rigorously observed, in Palestine as well as in the Jewish communities of the Diaspora. At the time of Jesus, there were more than five hundred precepts to keep purity. In the years 70’s, at the time when Matthew wrote, this conflict was very actual.
• Matthew 9:12-13: “Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice. Jesus hears the question of the Pharisees to the disciples and He answers with two clarifications: the first one is taken from common sense: “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick”. The second one is taken from the Bible: “Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases Me, not sacrifice”. Through these clarifications, Jesus makes explicit and clarifies His mission among the people: “I have not come to call the upright but sinners”. Jesus denies the criticism of the Pharisees; He does not accept their arguments, because they came from a false idea of the Law of God. He Himself invokes the Bible: “Mercy is what pleases Me, not sacrifice”. For Jesus, mercy is more important than legal purity. He refers to the prophetic tradition to say that mercy has greater value for God than all sacrifices (Ho 6:6; Is 1:10-17). God has profound mercy, and is moved before the failures of His people (Ho 11:8-9).

4) Personal questions
• Today, in our society, who is marginalized and excluded? Why? In our community, do we have preconceptions or prejudices? Which? Which is the challenge which the words of Jesus present to our community?
• Jesus asks the people to read and to understand the Old Testament which says: “Mercy is what pleases Me and not sacrifice”. What does Jesus want to tell us with this today?

5) Concluding Prayer
Blessed are those who observe His instructions,
Blessed are those who observe His instructions,
who seek Him with all their hearts,
and, doing no evil, who walk in His ways. (Ps 119:2-3)

1) Opening prayer
Almighty God,
our creator and guide,
may we serve You with all our hearts
and know Your forgiveness in our lives.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Luke 8:1-3
Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.

3) Reflection
• In today’s Gospel we have the continuation of yesterday’s episode which spoke of the surprising attitude of Jesus with regard to women, when He defends the woman who was known in the town as a sinner, against the criticism of the Pharisee. Now at the beginning of chapter 8, Luke describes Jesus who goes through the villages and towns of Galilee, and the novelty is that He was not only accompanied by the disciples, but also by the women disciples.
• Luke 8:1: The Twelve who follow Jesus. In one phrase alone, Luke describes the situation: Jesus goes through towns and villages preaching and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God and the Twelve are with Him. The expression “to follow Jesus” (cf. Mk 1:18; 15:41) indicates the condition of the disciple who follows the Master, twenty-four hours a day, trying to imitate His example and to participate in His destiny.
• Luke 8:2-3: The women follow Jesus. What surprises is that along with the men there are also women “together with Jesus”. Luke places both the men and the women disciples at the same level because all of them follow Jesus. Luke has also kept some of the names of some of these women disciples: Mary Magdalene, born in the town of Magdala. She had been cured and delivered from seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, steward of Herod Antipas, who was Governor of Galilee; Suzanne and several others. It is said that they “served Jesus with their own goods” Jesus allows a group of women “to follow” Him (Lk 8:2-3; 23:49; Mk 15:41). The Gospel of Mark when speaking about the women at the moment of Jesus’ death says, “There were some women who were observing at a distance and among them Mary of Magdala, Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome, who followed Him and served Him when he was still in Galilee, and many others who had gone up with Him to Jerusalem (Mk 15:40-41). Mark defines their attitude with three words: to follow, to serve, to go up to Jerusalem. The first Christians did not draw up a list of these women disciples who followed Jesus as they had done with the twelve disciples. But, in the pages of the Gospel of Luke the name of seven of these women disciples are mentioned: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, wife of Chuza, Suzanne (Lk 8:3), Martha and Mary (Lk 10:38), Mary, the mother of James (Lk 24:10) and Anna, the prophetess (Lk 2:36), who was eighty-four years old. Number eighty-four is seven times twelve: the perfect age! The later Ecclesiastical tradition does not value this fact about the discipleship of women with the same importance with which it values the following of Jesus on the part of men. It is also important to remember that women held a particular discipleship apart from the men chosen by Jesus for the Twelve.
The Gospel of Luke has always been considered as the Gospel of women. In fact, Luke is the Evangelist who presents the largest number of episodes in which he underlines the relationship of Jesus with the women, and the novelty is not only in the presence of the women around Jesus, but also and, above all, in the attitude of Jesus in relation to them. Jesus touches them and allows them to touch Him without fear of being contaminated (Lk 7:39; 8:44-45,54). This was different from the teachers of that time, Jesus accepts women who follow Him and who are His disciples (Lk 8:2-3; 10: 39). The liberating force of God, which acts in Jesus, allows women to rise and to assume their dignity (Lk 13:13). Jesus is sensitive to the suffering of the widow and is in solidarity with her sorrow (Lk 7:13). The work of the woman who prepares the meal is considered by Jesus like a sign of the Kingdom (Lk 13:20-21). The insistent widow who struggles for her rights is considered the model of prayer (Lk 18:1-8), and the poor widow who shares the little that she has with others is the model of dedication and donation (Lk 21:1-4). At a time when the witness of women is not accepted as something valid, Jesus accepts women and considers them witnesses of His death (Lk 23:49), of His burial (Lk 22:55-56) and of His resurrection (Lk 24:1-11, 22-24).

4) Personal questions
• How are women considered in your community, in your country, in your Church?
• Does this consider the unique gifts each gender is given, or does it treat each as just a "plug-in-replacement" for the other?
• Compare the attitude of our Church with the attitude of Jesus, but not in a superficial or politically motivated way.

5) Concluding Prayer
God, examine me and know my heart,
test me and know my concerns.
Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin,
and guide me on the road of eternity. (Ps 139:23-24)

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