March Gospel Thoughts

14 March, Parable of the Prodigal Son

Today’s Gospel Story is the Parable known as the Prodigal Son. Since it speaks of Infinite Truth, there is not only one way to interpret it for everybody all the time everywhere. When we let it, it speaks to each of us in the setting of whatever is going on in our life as we read or hear it.

Among other things, the Parable suggests the importance of the journey. At some point, or perhaps many points, in our life, we have to journey from what is familiar and safe to what is unknown and dangerous. As the younger son does, we have to take what we have and go where we have to go. Where that is is something we have to learn for ourselves. It might be, but is not always, geographical. It may concern beliefs and values, attitudes, relationships. In the matter of prayer, it may be a journey from our head to our heart. It is both different for each of us, and the same for all of us. It may happen any number of times in our life, since when we are comfortable with where we are on our journey, we want to stay there. The Spirit might have other plans for us.

Our journey in some way involves laying aside values, beliefs, ideas that have been given us by others as we search for those we will make our own. We may find ourselves thinking outside “established norms”. We are on a journey from God, with God, to God, and no one can make it for us. On our journey, we will probably be seen as a threat to people who have not yet made their own journey. We might find ourselves laying aside or even rebelling against the notion of God that has been presented to us by others, to include the Church. This is a good thing, because we are beginning to take responsibility for our own life. As does the younger son, we return to where we came from with a newer and richer sense and experience of who we are in relation to the goodness of God who is all us. What were once just ideas and beliefs that we had to consent to, have become descriptions of what is going on in our own life, of experiences and deepening awareness of God loving us always. We are learning to think and act, all the while taking full responsibility for how we think and what we do. We have come to know that no one has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, who, by the way, is very real.

On our journey one constant has to be our prayer, our time with Jesus who, while on this earth, made his own journey. We cannot make this journey alone. We have to be making it with Jesus, letting him lead us. We do not set up defensive positions with perimeter security, but are constantly on the move, following one who has made his journey before us and who calls us to “Follow me”.

Unlike the younger son, the older son had chosen to remain safe at home, doing what he has always done. He has not come to know the richness of his Father’s love for both the sons. He resented what his younger brother had done, and how he had grown. And so it will be for all who make their own journey. Probably they will find themselves deviating from established norms of custom and belief. And because such adventures are in an area fraught with emotion, persons on the journey can expect a lot of attention, not all of it pleasant.  And so, as is obvious today, people whose journey takes them in different directions become targets. However, there is no restraining the work of the Spirit. When we take the chance and open ourselves to the Spirit, we have no idea where this will take us. All we know is that it will be exciting, and it will be good.

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21 March, the Woman Caught in Adultery

Today’s Gospel Story (John 8:1-11) is the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees, members of the established religion, had condemned her and were all for stoning her. Jesus, on the other hand, said to her, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more”. He took time with her, named the sin, and told her not to do this anymore. Unlike the Pharisees in the Story, he was kind with her. Undoubtedly the Pharisees were good men, trying to follow the Law as they knew it. Jesus was suggesting another approach – instead of just condemning evil, work to promote good. Instead of judging and condemning persons who are doing wrong, take time to encourage them to look at what they are doing and move towards doing good. In no way does this mean just accepting evil.

Life is a journey and we are all journeying together. None of us is better than anyone else. In the words of Benedict XVI, “Each of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God; each of us is important, each of us is necessary, none of us is a mistake”. We do more good by accepting and encouraging each other than by judging and condemning each other. There is no doubt about evil. It is real. Persons do evil. While we might have to condemn people’s actions, we cannot condemn the people themselves. When we condemn, we become what we condemn. Our focus has to be on our prayer life, our time with the Lord, and we have to be willing to go where this takes us, and do what we have to do. Jesus’ attitude of not judging got him into trouble with religious and political authorities of his day. We can expect no different.

When it comes to ideas or thoughts which we are not comfortable with, the initial tendency is to attack somehow. The internet is filled with web pages which do just that. It is dangerous to think that a person’s particular brand of orthodoxy is the only way for everybody everywhere always. Jesus reached out to everybody. The tendency today seems to be to draw boundaries to keep people who disagree with us outside our circle, whatever that circle may be. In condemning those who disagree with us on just about anything we seem to be trying to make ourselves feel safe and in control. There is the danger that, as we draw our boundaries, we are keeping out the same people Jesus was reaching out to and trying to include among his disciples. We might learn from him. Then again, we might not.

Jesus did not tell us to worship him, but to follow him, to imitate him, to live as he lived, and treat people as he treated them. He calls us to accept people as they are, which is how he accepts us, and to let him move us towards loving them. He does not call us ever to overlook evil, but to condemn and work against evil, all the while begging the grace to love those who are doing evil. Condemning others does not bring us together. Working together to combat evil does. In the Opening Prayer we ask God to, “Help us to embrace the world you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter”.  As soldiers we know better than many others the darkness and pain all around us. We also have a hint of the good we do when we work together. Working together to promote good makes us whole. Condemning those who disagree with us drives us apart and so it continues. The basis for how we live and what we do has to be our time with Jesus. It can never be our own interest or convenience. Our real battle is with ourselves, and we cannot let it be with others.  “Neither do I condemn you . . .”

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