Lenten Reflections

Go! for Lent is a series of reflections on scripture passages that include the word “go.” The many uses and meanings of “go” throughout scripture provide rich sources of contemplation for this Lenten season.

Tagged in: Lent

There is a common saying in Tamil (a South Indian language) that it is alright to pardon an enemy or an oppressor, but one should never forgive a betrayer. I think that this proverb makes sense as it is indeed very difficult to accept betrayal, especially as betrayal fundamentally means that it comes from a friend or a trusted person, rather than a stranger or a foe. Few experiences in life could be more hurting or traumatic as to come face to face with a betrayer, even more so with the awareness of what the person has done or is doing.

In a way, this is how Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. Let us try to imagine and re-visualize the situation Jesus was in. With his now-unavoidable death looming around the corner, and the humiliating nature of that death, having to meet this brutal end through the betrayal of his close follower – his disciple – could have only increased the hurt and pain of Jesus. In other words, I believe that Jesus’ suffering was not limited to the actual act of crucifixion, but also included the pain of being betrayed. Remember that Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ, according to the gospels was the one who had the money bag; he was the group’s ‘Treasurer,’ a job normally given to a trustworthy person! And yet, it is this trusted person who decided to switch sides for the sake of ‘money,’ or perhaps more money, to be precise. And the means of his betrayal is equally interesting, a kiss which is a common sign of love! It seems ironical that Judas chose a sign of friendship as his signal for the armed crowd (meaning the state police machinery) to capture Jesus. In such circumstances, given Jesus’ emphasis on love and his closeness with his disciples and his followers, we can understand the unbearable sorrow Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. No wonder that he desperately calls upon his closer circle (or possibly the remnant) of disciples to stay awake and pray!

The disciples though, were too tired to stay awake and Jesus had to rely on his Father for comfort and strength. In fact, the synoptic gospel writers mention that he prayed thrice – numerically signifying perfection of his prayers. And each time, despite his prayer pleading for the possibility of avoiding the cross, the scripture is clear that Jesus did not seek to escape the impending suffering.  Rather, Jesus’ prayer was of total surrender to God the Father, completely trusting and depending on his Father’s love and support. After the prayer(s) we can see that there is a marked and significant change in the attitude of Jesus, from the “distressed and troubled,” “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mark 14: 33 – 34; NRSV) to “Look the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14: 41 – 42; NRSV). It appears that his sincere and self–surrendering prayer had a profound effect on Jesus, so that he was able to ‘go’ and meet the realities of life, notwithstanding their painfulness.

I believe that these words of Jesus Christ continue to speak to us today as we often come across the reality of betrayals, of being stabbed by those whom we consider as friends, abandonment and so on in our lives. Amidst these realities, Christ’s courage inspires us to rise up and say to ourselves and others, “Let’s go!” But as we see in Jesus, such courage and strength is not possible without prayer. We are reminded of this truth especially during the season of lent, that spending time in the presence of God and praying is imperative for us to face the struggles of life. Too often for many of us, prayer is a pile of words that is uttered mechanically without paying attention to the content. During this lent, may we make a commitment to say our prayers consciously, entrusting our lives in the hands of God. And on occasions when we don’t find words to pray, we may just remain silent and quietly rest in God assured of his ever enduring grace that – in the words of St. Paul – it would be sufficient for us and God’s strength would empower us in our weaknesses. In prayer, may we receive courage and determination like Christ, to ‘arise and go’ and take on the challenges of life!

There is a common saying in Tamil (a South Indian language) that it is alright to pardon an enemy or an oppressor, but one should never forgive a betrayer. I think that this proverb makes sense as it is indeed very difficult to accept betrayal,...
Tagged in: Lent

“Go.”

“Go into the city.”

“Go into the city to a certain man.”

Go into the city to a certain man, and say.”

Jesus sent two of his disciples into the city with clear instructions to seek a certain man that goes un-named but who both Jesus and the disciples knew. The purpose was to give this certain man a message from Jesus – that his time was near and that he and his disciples would be observing the Passover at his house.  The verbs in this passage are “go” and “say”.

As you consider this powerful biblical verse ask yourself: where does Jesus call me to go and what does Jesus call me to say?

“Go.” “Go into the city.” “Go into the city to a certain man.” Go into the city to a certain man, and say.” Jesus sent two of his disciples into the city with clear instructions to seek a certain man that goes un-named but who both Jesus and the...
Tagged in: Lent

Jesus covers a lot of ground in the gospels, but who determined where he went? 

Matthew, the gospel writer, tells us that the infant Jesus was carried by Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem to Egypt, to avoid Herod’s wrath.  Mark tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness after his baptism in the River Jordan.  All the gospel writers describe Jesus’ capture in Jerusalem. 

Indeed, Jesus is pushed and shoved and chased and led and sent out all throughout the gospels.  The gospels are filled with characters who change Jesus’s course, even if only for a brief moment. 

Jesus, of course, determined a great deal of this too.  It is Jesus who took Matthew, James, and John up the mountain to experience his transfiguration.  It is Jesus who, at the age of 12, sneaked off to spend time in the temple.  It is Jesus who led Peter, James, and John into the Garden of Gethsemane.  And what did he do there?

He prayed. 

I’m no biblical scholar (I wish I was!) but it does seem that more often than not, when Jesus was driving the action, it was to be with his Father, in prayer.  Jesus retreated from the world to reconnect with the Father who sent him, and then when the moment was right, he returned, and allowed himself to be open to the needs and actions of those around him.  He is willfully vulnerable, and then he returns to the Father, then more vulnerability, then more of the Father.  It is a pattern:  openness, prayer, openness, prayer. 

And in this season of Lent, it can become for us a pattern for our lives, for we too are called to be open to the world, vulnerable to the concerns of those we love and those we’ve never met—to allow the weight of the human experience to rest on our chests, even if just for the day—and then we are called to take all that weight and worry to Jesus Christ, our mediator and advocate, who redeems all wounds and injustices, and who makes broken things new. 

Jesus covers a lot of ground in the gospels, but who determined where he went?  Matthew, the gospel writer, tells us that the infant Jesus was carried by Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem to Egypt, to avoid Herod’s wrath.  Mark tells us that the...
Tagged in: Lent

Each Holy Week,  as I read the scriptures leading to Gethsemane, the Last Supper, and inevitably the cross,  I am aware of Jesus’ care for those who have been with him along the way:  The disciples who left everything, the women who learned and  traveled with him,  and the many who joined  him as he prayed and healed and spoke out against corrupt authority.   They  were a motley crew,  folks of every sort  drawn by Jesus’  transforming life and message.  As the end drew near,  the comforting words from John’s gospel assure  that his presence among them ( and us)  does not end with his death.   He is going to prepare a place….  But also coming back !   And in his presence there is room for everyone.   

In the  small southern town where I grew up,  there was a ministry center called Many Mansions.  It’s name was taken from John 14, the King James Version translation for”dwelling places”.  Many Mansions provided drop in child care,  job training, food, clothing, housing assistance, or just  a cup of coffee,  air conditioning in summer and chairs for resting tired bones.   My mother was a volunteer  and brought me along from time to time.  In my child’s  eye view, this work was what Sunday church people did during the week.    If Jesus was going to  prepare a place for everyone in heaven,  I thought,   then we had to follow along and make sure that we fulfilled that same purpose here on earth.

Funded by  all the churches,  Many Mansions  exhibited  Christian unity that often was not  seen  in the denominational and racial segregation of Sunday morning.   All were welcome  whatever  their faith or need.   And Jesus’  life and teaching  made it so.

These days, we often hear John’s comforting  words  at funerals,  assuring us that Jesus  has gone before to prepare the way  at the end of life.   But it is also a text for living  here and now.   The promise of Jesus’ words are of his comforting presence in our living as well as in our dying.    The place where Jesus dwells  assures  us  there is room for all  sorts and conditions of  folk  ….. including me.

Each Holy Week,  as I read the scriptures leading to Gethsemane, the Last Supper, and inevitably the cross,  I am aware of Jesus’ care for those who have been with him along the way:  The disciples who left everything, the women who learned and ...
Tagged in: Lent

Betrayal is a breakdown in trust. In my experience it represents the worst kind of pain. I think of three particular instances in my life in which I have felt betrayed. All three of these instances changed my life and left their own individual scars that caused me to be more cautious in my steps toward similar circumstances. Feeling less willing to trust wore me down. But, stopping has never been an option for me.  I do not stop because my example is Jesus Christ.

That night in the Garden he knew what was ahead of him.  Even though he may have felt the sting of betrayal by a friend, he walked toward his betrayer knowing it would lead to his own arrest, torture, and  death.

In a Lenten series years ago I heard the question “Why do you follow Jesus?” At the table discussion my answer was “I follow Him because I figure He knows more than I do about the plan, and if I’m going to be a part of that I have to keep going”. This journey has not led me in the directions I expected or even hoped for. I am not without questions.  I do know I will learn the answers as I keep going on the way with him.

Against the fear and pain in a world that is increasingly distrustful, I keep my eyes on him. I reach out and touch the scars left by the thorns and nails and know that they are there because he died for me and rose in glory so that my scars are just temporary nuisances, and reminders of his healing.

Betrayal is a breakdown in trust. In my experience it represents the worst kind of pain. I think of three particular instances in my life in which I have felt betrayed. All three of these instances changed my life and left their own individual...
Tagged in: Lent

The parable of the Good Samaritan is surely one of Jesus’ Top 10. People who know nothing of Christianity still recognize the story: the three religious leaders, each of whom encounters the wounded man on the Jericho Road; the priest and the Levite who walk on by; the Samaritan who takes pity, draws near, bandages his wounds, books him a room at an inn, and even promises to return to make sure he’s okay.

Most of the time, I focus on the Samaritan and the way God selects outsiders to embody holiness, and thus flips our ideas about who is “other” or worthy or useful to God’s restoration project.

This Lent, I’m drawn to a different point in the passage: Jesus’ final words to the legal expert whose question inspired the whole parable. Jesus asked, “Who was a neighbor here?” The expert said, “Of course, the one who had mercy.” And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

I wonder if the same words don’t belong at the end of every parable. Go and do likewise. Jesus tells us the story of the Samaritan, not only so we can admire the virtue that surfaces in unlikely people and places, but so we will be driven out to live like that, too. Go and draw near the one whose gaping wounds require your compassion. Go and receive the unforgivable, as in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 25:11-32). Go and give up what you wanted most in order to gain the only thing worth having, as in the parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44).

I wonder if the same words belong at the end of Jesus’ own story of birth, life, death and resurrection. In Jesus, God showed up in an unlikely person and an unlikely place, to make vivid that this is what holiness and divinity and love incarnate look like. Now go and do likewise. Go and love God, love each other, teach, hope, risk, speak truth, face powers, suffer, love some more, lose your life and then discover a whole new life. What you read in scripture, what you see in Jesus, what you admire in the saints … filled with the power of the Spirit, go and do likewise.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is surely one of Jesus’ Top 10. People who know nothing of Christianity still recognize the story: the three religious leaders, each of whom encounters the wounded man on the Jericho Road; the priest and the...
Tagged in: Lent

In today’s scripture passage, Paul gives one of his accounts of his encounter with Jesus. He was on his way to Damascus when a heavenly light shone on him. He fell to the ground and heard Jesus calling him. It’s a dramatic moment. “Saul,” Jesus says, “why are you persecuting me?” It is striking that Jesus’ first words to Paul (Saul would later be known as Paul) are in the form of a question.

This moment of questioning reminds me of when God asked Adam a question in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had disobeyed God by eating from the tree of life, and when they heard God approaching for what had become their evening stroll through the garden, they hid themselves. God then calls out to Adam: “Where are you?”

Although Jesus’ question to Saul was phrased differently, I believe its essence was the same question God put to Adam: Where are you in relation to me? It’s like God is saying I know who you are and what you are trying to do. I see how you are spending your life, pushing ahead with what you think your life is about. But, where are you in relation to me? Have you thought about how you might be missing me in your life, even in the midst of your pursuit of me?

Then we get a question from Saul: “What am I to do, Lord?” “Get up and go to Damascus,” God says. “There you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.”

What is interesting to note is that Saul is speaking to the risen Christ, but he doesn’t get all the information he seeks. He’s told to go to Damascus where he will be told everything assigned to him. Would it be another revelatory encounter with a blinding light and a voice from heaven? Would Saul be thrown down to the ground by the overwhelming presence of God? The answer is no. God would speak in a much more ordinary way than that. The voice of God comes in the form of a fellow follower of Jesus - Ananias’ knocking on Saul’s door and asking to come in to talk. It is the voice of God speaking through Ananias that tells Saul who he is in relation to God. 

We are approaching the end of our Lenten journey. It has been a time to reflect on the question of our relation to God. But we can’t find the answer within ourselves. That is not how the risen Christ speaks to us. Our answer to God’s question of where we are in relation to God is tied up with the community that forms around Jesus. The life of Jesus is speaking to us through the community that makes up the body of Christ, our Damascus where we can hear Ananias speak to us. In the community that gathers around Christ in the Eucharist. In the shared life of your local church community and beyond. In the communion of saints.

Where are you? Get up and go to Damascus where your sisters and brothers are. They will speak the words of the risen Jesus to you, calling your name in love.

In today’s scripture passage, Paul gives one of his accounts of his encounter with Jesus. He was on his way to Damascus when a heavenly light shone on him. He fell to the ground and heard Jesus calling him. It’s a dramatic moment. “Saul,” Jesus...
Tagged in: Lent

One of the gifts of pondering my discipleship as part of the Jesus Movement is the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which I move in Jesus’ name.

To whom do I go and why? Might it be to one in the margins who seeks friendship. Might it be to the imprisoned who need a loving companion. Might it be to an estranged relation with whom I seek forgiveness. And how do I move about a regular, uneventful day? Might I walk lightly and simply so as to better care for our earth. In which direction, for example, do I move my money? Might it be toward that which eases hunger, abject loneliness, and the abuses that are rampant in our world. And movements  of the heart? Might they be toward confession, reconciliation, and courage.

Yet there is one essential, foundational movement. A movement from which flows our being and which gives meaning and insight to all of our doings. It is the movement evocative of Jesus’ words in John 16:28. Do we go to the Father in Jesus’ name? Do we go continually? Do we go in all things, seeking God’s will for us? We are always in God’s presence, to be sure. Some might wonder how we “go” to a God that is nearer than even our own breath. And yet Jesus’ life, as well as our Christian tradition, teaches us that intentional movement toward God shapes us.

Prayerfully, we discern God’s will for the smallest and largest incidents in our lives. In worship, we ask for and receive the food and teaching for faithful living. In every person, we seek Christ. These are movements of our very selves toward God through Christ. As the Psalms witness, the people of God have a long history of going to Him in all manner of states and intention. Whether we go in supplication, joy, thanksgiving, anger, dejectedness, perplexity, curiosity, insatiability, weariness, resentment, reluctance, or hopefulness, disciples are those who go first, continually, and for all things to God in Jesus’ name.

One of the gifts of pondering my discipleship as part of the Jesus Movement is the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which I move in Jesus’ name. To whom do I go and why? Might it be to one in the margins who seeks friendship. Might it be to...
Tagged in: Lent

“It is good for me to go away.”

We so often want Jesus to stay with us, right here and now. We are comfortable in familiar places with the familiar people, but Jesus says, “I must go away so that the Holy Spirit can come.” He must go away so we can be sent.

Rob Bell, the former pastor and author, recently said, “The ‘temple’ can be a place where we hide out from doing the real work in the world that we are called to do.” He went on to say, “Really, the whole thing is a temple.”

Churches exist to refresh and equip people to go out into the world and serve God’s mission and yet we have shifted our focus and made the church building the main event.

When we gather in our sanctuaries, we should really say, “We’re so glad you’re here, but this isn’t really the point. Now go!”

“It is good for me to go away.”

Jesus came to show us the Way and he left us with the responsibility to follow that Way in our own context. He did not leave us comfortless, but instead sent the Comforter - the Holy Spirit - to guide our feet.

Too often we think of the church building as a place of comfort, especially in youth ministry. We treat youth ministry like a fortress from the big bad world where we gather the youth together within our walls to keep them safe.

Instead, Jesus seems to call us to teach our young people (and not so young people) that the Holy Spirit - the Comforter - will keep us safe wherever we are. With that in mind, we should show our young people that God wants them to go out into the world to proclaim the Good News of Christ by word and deed. We are all called to go into the world to flourish and help those around us flourish.

In this new missional moment, let us remember that we are a sent people, called to leave the temple and go forth into the hurting streets. We are not called to comfort, but are instead, guided by the Comforter. God is not confined to the temple or to the four walls of our churches. God is our in the streets with the broken and the lost. The world is in desperate need of some Good News and if we don’t go and tell it, who will?

“It is good for me to go away.” We so often want Jesus to stay with us, right here and now. We are comfortable in familiar places with the familiar people, but Jesus says, “I must go away so that the Holy Spirit can come.” He must go away so we...
Tagged in: Lent

Bartimaeus, the blind man of Jericho, had an incredible faith in Jesus and what He could do for him.  Imagine this man sitting on the floor, begging for help, money, food, etc., you get the picture, right?  Well, this is the same man that had an amazing opportunity and, without hesitation, did everything he could to get Jesus attention.  The scripture says that Bartimaeus shouted and called Jesus, but many people discouraged him and even told him to be quiet.  They did not succeed: Bartimaeus kept calling the Son of David until Jesus Himself called for him.  Also in our lives we have people close to us that dishearten us, instead of helping us.

Moved by his desire and faith to be healed, Bartimaeus jumped and went to Jesus.  He was so confident that Jesus was going to hear his request that he didn’t hesitate to stand up and go to Him.  How many times do we need God’s help but are so focused on our problems, that we miss including Him in our situations and asking for His Help and guidance?  When we include Him in everything that is important to us, He will act and hear what we want to say.  If it is important to us, it is important to Him.

Now this is where things get even better because Jesus goes straight to the point and ask Bartimaeus,  “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus’ answer was “let me see again,” and Jesus acknowledged the faith of this man and said to him “Go, your faith has saved you.” For me that represents the verbal expression of His love to us.  He cares that much for us, and I believe that every day He asks each of us this same question.  What do you want me to do for you?  Imagine that, think about it for a minute.  Imagine listening to Him asking you that question right now.  What would you say?  What would you ask from Him?

Bartimaeus’ request was heard and answered by Jesus, because he believed in the Son of David, in His power, and love.  Lent is a time of reflection, to believe in Jesus and His sacrifice, to become true believers of His love and mercy.  Let’s do as Bartimaeus!  Go, call Jesus and ask Him for your miracle, no matter what it is.  He cares about it; He cares about you.  He will say to you like He said to that blind man of Jericho: “Go, your faith has saved you”.

Bartimaeus, the blind man of Jericho, had an incredible faith in Jesus and what He could do for him.  Imagine this man sitting on the floor, begging for help, money, food, etc., you get the picture, right?  Well, this is the same man that had an...