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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Catholic Schools in Financial Difficulty

The US Dept. of Education’s “Financial Responsibility Test” was recently announced. This test indicates that according to certain ratios, a private higher education institution may be at risk for failure. These schools are subject to extra monitoring on their use of federal student aid funds.

114 private, nonprofit, degree-granting institutions scored below 1.5, the passing level, and are thus in financial jeapardy. There are a number of Catholic institutions on the list as having financial difficulties:

Please note that Dominican College of Blauvelt (New York) which also scored a low 0.9 is no longer a Catholic institution. The college is very clear that it is an independent school with only a Catholic “heritage” or “origin”. I suppose schools like people can forfeit their souls.

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All private colleges that award federal student aid must participate in the Department of Education’s financial-responsibility test, which is based on information from their audited financial statements. The department develops a composite score on a scale of 3.0 to minus 1.0, based on financial ratios that measure factors such as net worth, operating losses, and the relationship of assets to liabilities. Institutions with scores of 1.5 to 3 pass. In addition to extra monitoring for all institutions that “fail,” those with scores below 1.0 are required to post a letter of credit with the department equal to 10 percent of the federal student aid that goes to their students annually.

Where Have the Churches Gone?

Bill and Susan are both baptized Catholics. But they rarely went to Mass. You might see them in the pews at Christmas and Easter, but that is about it. One Easter they came to Mass and had the surprise of their lives. The parking lot was empty. Going up to the church doors, they discovered that everything was locked. Confused, they almost decided just go home but it was Easter so they drove a little further to another church. Again, they were shocked. There was no one there, either. Now the mystery was intriguing them. What had happened? Had there been a revolution and the churches forcibly closed? Were the Protestants right and all the good Christians taken away by the rapture? They traveled outside of town to a third church. Here they found cars but services were ending. Although they had missed Mass, they entered the church for a quick visit and to find reassurance that nothing else had suddenly changed. Everything appeared to be in place, although the congregation seemed a bit small from the celebrations remembered in the past. They saw the priest and approached him with their puzzlement.

Susan spoke first, “Father, we are sorry about missing Mass but we had trouble finding an open church.”

Father Flynn responded, “I take it that you are new to the area. We would love to have you register here. We can always use new members.”

“No Father,” said Susan, “we have lived here all our lives. We were married at St. Margaret’s.”

“Oh my,” responded the priest, looking somewhat disturbed and maybe upset.

Bill entered the conversation, “We went to St. Margaret’s this morning and finding no one there went over to Holy Spirit. Both places were empty.”

“Yes,” lamented the priest, “I guess you both feel inconvenienced.”

“It certainly ruined Easter, what is going on Father?” asked Susan.

“You won’t like my answer. It might even make you angry,” added the priest.

The priest motioned for them to sit in a pew next to him.

“What is it, Father?” asked Bill.

“I will tell you,” said the priest, “it is your fault.”

Taken aback by the answer, they immediately insisted that he explain.

“You and so many people like you, killed St. Margaret, Holy Spirit, and almost a hundred other churches in the diocese. You want the church for a wedding, as if the building is only a decoration on a cake. You might ask for a baby’s baptism, when grandparents nag you. But then we have trouble finding a godparent who is not in mortal sin. Everyone who comes is a stranger. No one is practicing his or her faith. You come to Mass a couple times a year, throw a few dollars in the basket and expect the church to still be here waiting for you when you feel like coming back. Some only come to church twice in a lifetime, the day of baptism and the day of final repose. You did not know about those churches because they were not a part of your life. You did not support your parish through donations. You did not add to the parish life by your participation at Mass and in the various volunteer opportunities. You did not have children or if you did, you did not encourage vocations. How did you expect us to keep the churches open when we have no priests and empty pews? You broke the hearts of your priests who gave up the possibility of spouse and children to take care of the family of God. Priests weep over their people who neglect Confession and the Mass. Priests yearn to forgive your sins. You became comfortable with sin and made excuses. You said by your neglect that our sacrifices did not matter. Some of you were even vocal in arguing for married priests and condemning all celibate men as deviates and predators. In essence, your dissent and absence told the priests that we were wasting our time. Worst of all, you were saying that you did not need the Church. You forced God to the periphery of your lives, if he were there at all. The churches closed were wonderful places once. God lived in those houses and in the hearts and souls of the people. But when you stopped coming, things began to run down. Where there were once three priests, now there was one. Eventually even that one was shared between parishes. Many young people stopped coming. The congregations got older. The average parishioner age at Holy Spirit was around eighty! God called the faithful remnant home. Grandparents tried to give the faith to their grandchildren, but sometimes with opposition from their own children. They suffered terrible guilt. What had they done wrong? Why did their children stray? Bills started to grow and resources were strained. The new Bishop had to take action. Critics hated him and spouted condemnations when he closed beautiful old churches. Many of these same voices were those of fallen-away Catholics. They still had sentiment about their childhood parishes, but nothing of a deeper or lasting value. Catholics today are twice as populous as in the old days, but less than 15 to 20% go to weekly Mass. Back in 1960, that figure was 90 to 95%. Our schools are dying and increasingly expensive. Our churches are relegated to the status of museums instead of as places of worship and community life. You did not pray— you did not pay— and now you are upset that the churches did not stay. We are drowning in a sea of hypocrisy. A housing developer will be bull-dozing Holy Spirit within the month. Who knows what shall become of St. Margaret Catholic Church? There is talk that a Baptist group might buy it. Some of the churches have become condominiums with the guts torn out. What the enemies of the Church could not do, we have done to ourselves.”

The couple was silent. The priest reached into his pocket and pulled out a broken piece or marble or plaster made out as marble.

“See this,” said the priest, “this is a fragment from the altar at Holy Spirit. I was pastor there. On the morning I came by to pay my final respects, demolition men were hacking the altar to pieces. It was on that altar that bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus. It was from that altar that the faithful received the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation. I did everything I could think of to save the church. I went door-to-door in an attempt at outreach. But there was a bigger Catholic church down the road and we had no school. Even they were struggling. Most people of faith in the area were Protestants. Others spurned all religion. Many Catholics had moved away and those who remained did not come, except for my small faithful remnant. I buried most of them.”

Staring straight into the faces of the couple, he lamented, “I cried and cried after seeing that altar destroyed. Here, take this,” offering the altar fragment.

“It means too much to you Father, no, we couldn’t take that,” returned Bill.

Not taking no for an answer, the priest forced the fragment into his hand, and said, “It is okay, I really want you to have it. You are right, it meant a lot to me, but it is my hope that someday it might come to mean something to you and your wife.”

The Doctrine on the Trinity

God makes himself known, as a Trinity, in the revelatory message of Jesus Christ. This truth is not simply academic, but relational. Despite our unworthiness, the eternal Son of God offers his Father to us as “our” Father. In contrast to the Cosmic Watchmaker of philosophical Deists, the Judeo-Christian God called a people to himself and established covenants with them. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation would overshadow a Virgin in Nazareth and bring forth forgiveness, healing, and life in the ministry and life of Christ. God delivered his people from political oppression and slavery. He gave them both the Prophets and his Law. Finally, he gave them his Son. Ours is a God who never forgets us. This abiding reality is most forcibly expressed in the saving mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is sent into the world as one of us. He comes to rescue us from the sin and death, which was of our own making. God the Creator offers us the opportunity of a re-creation and of a new life in Christ.

God is the Father of us all. He calls us into union with him. He is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, and the maker of all things, keeping them in existence. Created things reflect the glory of God, their Creator. As the source of all goodness, God willed certain things into existence so that they might enjoy his benefits and participate in his goodness. His infinite power brought all things out of nothingness into being and he keeps them in being. Otherwise, and it is against the divine economy, they would sink once more into nothingness. Above all creatures, he is self-existing; indeed, he is existence, itself. He is an infinitely perfect Spirit. All perfections find their eminent degree in him. All the goodness, beauty, truth, and power we appreciate in created things are but the merest shadows of the perfections found in their source, almighty God.

God is revealed through the laws of nature and, in a more personal way, through his revelation as assembled in God’s Word. Because of the limitations of human knowledge, many of the ways we know and speak about God are through analogies and stories. God identifies himself with Truth and with Love. He is all-good. He is mercy itself and ever forgiving. His is all-knowing. He is just. He is without limit. He is perfect and therefore, unchangeable. He is omnipotent (all-powerful) and present everywhere. He has no need of anything or anyone outside of himself. He creates freely, to give glory to himself, to share his life with his creatures, and to have them return thanks and praise to him. While there is ONE God, his identity is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three Persons of the Trinity are not “persons” in the sense of contemporary usage dealing with psychology. Rather, it implies a sort of divine dynamism wherein there are three mysterious interlocked equal cores of God’s identity. The Scriptures never use the word “Trinity,” but the doctrine resonates there clearly in the New Testament.

Jesus calls upon God as Father. Jesus does the things that only God can do, like forgiving sins and making atonement. The Holy Spirit is experienced as God, giving life to the community just as he breathed life back into the crucified Christ. The Lord gives the command to go out to all nations and to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism in the name of a creature would be meaningless, thus all three Persons constitute the one God of faith.

We give thanks and glory to God in response to his gift of creation and the act of re-creation wrought by his Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. A sin offering had to be made and only one who was sinless could offer it. It is the teaching of the Church that the Lord’s human origin was the work of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Jesus’ conception, unlike our own, is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and is untouched by original sin. The Holy Spirit can directly create nothing sinful. Further, the fact that Jesus is God would make the presence of sin an inner contradiction. Jesus is viewed in the incarnation as the eternal Son of God born in the flesh of Mary. This revelation of Christ’s identity is derived from a comprehensive look at the details of the Gospels. The early centuries of the Church was a pivotal time for debate and reflection where a precise appreciation of Christ’s identity emerged under the light of God’s guiding Spirit. A formula was issued which still applies today: Jesus is one divine Person, existing fully in two natures, divine and human.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

God Reveals Himself

Proverbs 8:22-31 personifies Wisdom as begotten from God before all ages. Wisdom was one with God when he created the universe and established his wondrous order. This text foreshadows the later revelation of a plurality of divine Persons in the Godhead. Wisdom, literally the Word of God, will become incarnate in Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1-5 speaks of the experience of the Trinity by early Christians. Faith in Jesus Christ has justified them before God the Father. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit upon them so that divine love now flows through human hearts. We are literally invited into the inner divine and Trinitarian life. The Gospel has Jesus assuring his disciples that the Holy Spirit will make the significance of his mission and teaching clear to them. Something of the intimacy in the Trinity is hinted when Jesus says, “All that the Father has belongs to me” (John 16:15). The Spirit will draw them into this intimacy and saving truth.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

God’s Fatherly Concern

Luke 11:5-13 has Jesus pointing toward the natural relationship of fatherhood as self-reflective of the Heavenly Father’s love. It begins by speaking of the Christian’s obligation to be charitable, even when it is inconvenient and difficult to do so. However, it then switches gears somewhat and refers to the kindness of earthly fathers to their children. This passage ends with the sentence, “If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Throughout the long history of the Church, it may be that we sometimes took the analogy too far in imaging God above as a stern, vengeful, and punishing Father. It is true that while he is a just Father, he is also merciful. There is something self-reflective about this most special Fatherhood. In his love we see something of who we are to be as fathers (and mothers) to one another. Conversely, in our love as Christians we need to find something of God’s fatherly concern for us. It is interesting to note that Christ uses the most familiar of relationships to reveal something of the God we follow. In the order of grace, Christ makes us adopted sons and daughters to the Father and shows us that he cares about us. In Christ’s relationship to us, we are reminded of the analogy of Christ as the groom and the Church as his bride. Between the pages of these two relationships, the whole story of salvation is written.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Reform & Believe

“The Reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!” (Mk 1:14-15). The cry for men and women to reform their lives had long been one echoed in the history of God dealing with his people. With the coming of Christ, we for the first time can fully respond to this admonition.

In the days of Noah the people were also called to faithfulness and yet they remained in their debauchery. I recall a reproduction of a painting my parents used to have of the deluge. A young beautiful woman with long hair clung to a jagged rock while surrounded by heavy winds and thrashing tides. I recall staring at the picture and feeling deeply sorry for her. She was so beautiful. How could God be so cruel? As I have gotten older and hopefully wiser, still sometimes the actions of God in the Old Testament seem like such over-reactions to me. I suppose what we forget is that the more primitive the people, the less sophisticated had to be the ways to keep them in line and to guide them. The story of the flood is not one simply about destruction and disobedience; in Noah and his companions we see an image of God’s steadfast fidelity and love for mankind, despite our disobedience. God sets up a covenant with Noah and promises never to flood the world again; he even sets the rainbow in the sky as a sign of his promise. The words of Genesis convey here the deep love of God. Because of our sins, we deserved death. However, not only are a remnant rescued but later God would send us his Messiah to save us from our sins and eternal death.

I would probably be negligent if I failed to say a few words about the kind of literature which this text in Genesis represents (see Genesis 9:8-15). It is linked with the story of creation, even though there was no scribe or news reporter taking notes in the first days of humanity. It is a later reflection. When the Jewish people were in Babylonian exile surrounded by a people who followed false Gods, the story of the flood reaffirmed to them how much God loved them; and that no matter how desperate their situation became, God would not abandon them.

The story of creation and the flood also made up a kind of satire against the Babylonian gods. Much of the linguistic allusion is lost in English. The particular story which parallels ours is called the Gilgamish epic. In it, the hero is not Noah but Ut-napishtim. When the gods, notice the horrendous plural, decree the deluge, the pagan god Ea reveals their designs to Ut-napishtim by speaking secretly through a reed wall. You see, Ea did not want to let the other gods, who wanted to get rid of mankind, know what was coming. He is urged to build a cubical boat of ten cubits. This is not like the rectangular boat of Genesis, just a box. He is warned to take ample provisions, as well as a sampling of the beasts of the field and the wild creatures. This is like Genesis. However, he is also told to take craftsmen lest their skills be lost. For six days and nights the storm persists. Finally, the ark comes to rest on Mount Nisir. Like Noah, he sends forth a dove, a swallow, and a raven, leaving the boat when the raven fails to come back. Ut-napishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods who cluster around him like flies. Instead of a covenant as we see in our story today, there follows an angry dispute among the gods. Enlil, angry about the remnant which has escaped, inquires as to who leaked the secret of the flood. Ea confesses but questions the prudence of Enlil in sending the storm. Upon the sinner, he says, should be imposed his sin, and on the transgressor, his disobedience. Instead of a universal disaster, Enlil, he complains, should have simply sent a wolf or a lion or a famine or a pestilence which would not have wiped out the entire race. Because Ut-napishtim and his wife escaped destruction, they must now be given immortality and transplanted so that they would not mingle with mortals. This and similar stories question the wisdom and goodness of the providence of the gods. The Jewish people believed in one God who was all knowing and all good. The destruction is then not seen as the act of a whimsical god but rather was something which a disobedient people brought upon themselves. God’s response is to save a remnant from further depravity and have them start brand new. You can see from these two stories the resemblance. Father John McKenzie, a Scripture scholar, tells us that “The differences between the Mesopotamian and the biblical stories show how the Hebrews took a piece of ancient tradition and retold it in order to make it a vehicle of their own distinctive religious beliefs, in particular their conception of divine justice and providence” (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 189). Although this flood may not have actually wiped clean our planet, it could well be that both stories emerge from some common memory of a disastrous flood of prehistoric times — a recollection which has grown out of all proportions.

Having said this, theologically, the wisdom and faith of righteous man was praised for having followed God who saved humanity from his folly. Noah listened and obeyed God. This is the key. In 1 Peter 3:18-22, the deluge is reckoned an example of God’s patience and is compared to the waters of baptism. Water for us thus becomes a symbol of both life and death. In the history of salvation, it meant death to the peoples around Noah — it meant death to the Egyptians who chased the Jews across the Red Sea — and it even meant death for Jesus who once baptized by John would engage in a ministry which would demand the highest cost. It also meant life — it meant life and a second chance for Noah — it meant life and freedom for those fleeing Egyptian slavery — it meant life in the natural processes of the world where plants and animals perish without water. In baptism, by submerging and dying with Christ in those waters of regeneration, we are promised to rise with him. Like a seed which has flowered, we are born again and made brand new. Our sins are forgiven and we are made members of a new People of God.

Recall your baptismal promises often and allow Christ to live in you. Have Noah’s kind of faith. He trusted God even in the absurd task of building an ark. Living out our Christianity will sometimes seem absurd to others, but do not allow the storm of sin and death to drown you. Christ has given us a fine ship called the Church and if we remain faithful, it will take this Pilgrim People to the Promised Shore.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

How Do We Understand Christ as King?

Every year we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. But, what does this feast mean to modern men and women? Contemporary civilization has largely rid itself of kings. It is true that the English and a few other nations maintain royalty, but the world democracies have reduced them to cosmetic and ceremonial roles. They are the subject of gossip and romantic fascination, not the masters of lives or the sources of true power. Americans fought a revolution, precisely to shed any allegiance to a king. Our corporate psyche has an inherent distrust in positing too much authority and power in any individual man or woman. We would rather reward ingenuity and ability with a leadership role than to grant it blindly because of an accident of birth and so-called noble blood. Checks and balances are incorporated into the system of government to insure that no individual becomes too strong. Indeed, the powers of the executive branch are constantly debated because of concerns that the presidency may become too independent and/or that its war powers are too great a responsibility for one man. Having said this, we acknowledge the strength of the individual and have a preoccupation with the so-called self-made man and the hero. Our politicians are often successful lawyers, businessmen, and veterans, even professional football players and wrestlers. We are also a people in love with the realization of a myth that the poorest person, subject to tremendous difficulties, can rise to prominence and even to the greatest office in this land of opportunity.

2 Samuel 5:1-3 presents us with the ultimate hero, David. The tragic power struggle with Saul is over. He was the great warrior who had saved Israel from her enemies. The elders anoint him as the king of Israel. It will be from his line that the Messiah will emerge. Generations to come will acclaim him as the model of a great king. Nevertheless, he made terrible mistakes and committed horrendous sins. He would take to himself the wife of one of his generals and then insure that the poor man would be killed in battle. When confronted with his sin and facing the judgment of God, he repents in sackcloth and ashes. The entire land does penance. David is acclaimed as the king who is willing to bend the knee to the true God and lay claim to his personal faults.

It may be useful for the Christian to appreciate that most earthly kings have been relegated to history. While there were saints among them; they were more often the worse of sinners. The image of Christ the King often had little in common with their abuse of power and their political intrigue. A British king took much of the English world out of the true Church. Many among the German nobility and princes divided the Church between Luther and Rome. When the King of Savoy sought the unification of the Italian peninsula, he confiscated the Papal States from the Church. Kings and emperors often had to validate bishop candidates. There are countless other examples that might be given. While it was traditionally argued that the ideal situation was a union of the Church and State, it must be acknowledged that the Church has thrived in the United States with its constitutional separation of the two entities. Of course, while no national church was recognized, we still maintained a real religiosity as “one nation under God.” Meanwhile, largely Catholic nations have often been the sources of the most severe persecution of the Church. This has usually occurred after bad governments, albeit somewhat sympathetic to the Church, have been overturned in elections or revolution. Mexico enforced abusive anti-clerical laws for many years. The French revolution secularized a nation with an accompanying bloodlust that cost thousands of priests and religious their lives.

Colossians 1:12-20 sounds like a creed. The divinity of Christ is proclaimed. Jesus is the kingdom. Since Jesus is also “head of the body, the church,” then by extension something of the kingdom is breaking into the world through the Church. His is a kingdom of light. Jesus is the Light of the World. He has “rescued us from the power of darkness.” We owe Christ everything. He redeems us and forgives our sins. The attributes of Christ’s kingship are narrated. He is the revelation of the Father, making visible that, which is invisible. Everything was created through him, the divine plan of creation. He is at the source of all that exists, “whether thrones or dominations, principalities or powers.” While his kingdom is not of this world, all earthly kings receive their authority from him. While used to defend the divine right of kings, it is also applied to modern democracies like ours. We even say as much on our money: “In God we trust.” The Christian sees this truth fully residing in Jesus Christ. Reconciliation is made possible through the blood of his cross. No one else can save us. His is the name that saves.

If the kingship of Christ is just window dressing with pretty crowned statues and empty words of praise, then we are wasting our time. Jesus does not want our flattery; he desires our humble submission. This feast and title of Christ the King reminds us that ours is a jealous God. We may be both citizens of a nation and subjects of a kingdom, but the claim of Christ must come first in our lives. When Jesus was asked as to whether it was legitimate to pay a tax, he requested a coin. He asked, whose head is on it? The answer came back, Caesar. Jesus answered, then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s. This response is often misinterpreted. His answer was really no answer, but a way to get around the trap that was being made for him. If he said not to pay the tax, he could immediately be arrested as an enemy of Rome. If he said, pay it, than those who looked to him as the Messiah might reject him as a crony of the occupying government. If we think about his response, the believer becomes alert to the fact that everything belongs to God. All that we have and everything that we are is a divine gift. This puts to shame the many politicians, and dare we say voters, who claim they can be Christian while advocating as public policy the murder of the unborn and the expansion of moral depravity. The suggestion that one can personally support the Gospel of Life while civilly aligning oneself with the constituents for the Culture of Death is a lie that strips one of genuine Christian discipleship. We either belong to the kingdom of God or we do not. The kingdom is in constant tension with the world and challenges business as usual.

Who is the master of our lives? The Lord, himself, says that we cannot serve two masters. Those who have sought to do so either compromise the demands of Christ or they ignore them completely. Dissenters against the truths of Scripture and the living Church often develop a rebellious spirit to authority. They purport to love Jesus but discount as historically conditioned or misconstrued anything he has to say that challenges them. Like any nation, the kingdom has its own laws. These laws run against the grain of what might be caricaturized as “normal thinking”. Only men are chosen as apostles and later as bishops and priests. This is rejected as patriarchal and opposed to equal rights for women. Jesus says that we must eat his body and drink his blood if we want a share in him and in his life. This is rejected as the peculiar cannibalistic thinking of the Roman Church. Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery that she is forgiven, but warns her to avoid this sin in the future. He also challenges the fornication of the Samaritan woman. This is rejected as the antiquated morality of right-wing extremists. Jesus says, if someone strikes you, turn and offer the other cheek. The world responds with petty wars. Three thousand people are killed every day by small arms fire alone. Jesus says, give without expecting repayment. The richer nations of the world retain a crushing debt against the poorer nations. A deaf ear has been given the Pope’s plea for debt forgiveness that would restore hope to the Third World and set the new millennium apart from past history. Jesus says love your enemies; forgive those who do you injury. The world executes them. The Chinese even resort to massive orchestrations of public rebuke and shaming prior to killing those ruled as criminals, especially those from the political opposition. During one three month period, they executed 1,751 people; that is 30 more than all the rest of the world over the past three years. Nevertheless, they are rewarded with “most favored nation” trade status and courted by world businesses. How can the demarcation between the world and the kingdom be any clearer?

Why are we afraid to speak out? Why are we so willing to accept excuses for the state of the world and our part in it? The prophets of the kingdom seem few in number and their message ignored. There are enough baptized believers in the world to change things if they wanted to do so. The trouble is that we have become complacent with the way things are. The problems around the world seem remote from our own lives. As for the society we live in, there is an unconverted part of us that secretly relishes in the new materialism and hedonism. Spiritually we have one foot in the kingdom and the rest is still in the world. Are we entering Christ’s kingdom or stepping out? Are we being converted or is our faith being corrupted?

Luke 23:35-43 gives us the scene at the cross. Jesus is mocked. The Jews are upset because he was not the kind of Messiah they wanted. He has let them down. The Romans mock him also, although they never placed faith in him initially. All they know is the sword and blood. This is what translates as power to them. The Jews are a beaten people. Perhaps some of their mockery was for the Jews who rebuked Jesus? They were all fools, as far as they were concerned, a defeated people. Pilate’s inscription rests above our Lord’s head: “This is the King of the Jews.”

While one criminal blasphemed against him; the other thief crucified with Jesus acknowledges his guilt and then professes his faith by asking Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. Although it is the darkest hour of the Gospel, Jesus comforts the good thief with the most wonderful words ever spoken to another: “I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.” What a strange king Jesus is. He gathers coarse fishermen and traitorous tax collectors to himself; he speaks with women of poor reputation and touches the unclean and leper. Now, at the cross, he tells an insurrectionist and true criminal that he should be with him in heaven, the capital of Christ’s kingdom. Even the devil with his vast but dark spiritual intelligence could not figure him out. He tempted Jesus with all that the world had to offer; but, to no avail. The cross should have been the devil’s shinning hour; however, even this will be turned into a parable, placing worldly wisdom on its head. A sign of defeat will be translated for all time as the symbol of victory. That, which previously ushered only death, will merit us a share in eternal life. Yes, what a peculiar king we have in Jesus; and yet how thankful we are for his infinite mercy.

All the parables speak about a kingdom that the world still does not understand. We are unwilling to sell everything for the treasure hidden in a field or the pearl of great price. We are unwilling to abandon a flock of concerns, to search out the one lamb that is lost and afraid. The treasure beyond measure is Jesus. We are called to serve him in heart-felt imitation. The kingdom of God has only two laws and yet they impact upon everything: love of God and love of neighbor. When will we learn?

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.