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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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Share Your Bread with the Hungry

“Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; Clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed” (see Isaiah 58:7-10).

“You are the light of the world” (see Matthew 5:13-16).

These passages are very meaningful and challenging, maybe more so than is immediately evident. In the seminary I was a member of a social justice committee and such passages as found in Isaiah inspired us. We really are called to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and homeless, to clothe the naked, and definitely NOT to turn our back on our own. But even if we were to be advocates of all the social justice platforms offered today, this alone would not make us faithful to this passage or a true light to the world.

Jesus and Jesus alone is the true light. Apart from him any flicker of light we might offer to others would be swallowed by the shadows. Sharing your bread with the hungry is a noble task, but the trouble is, the one given bread today will be hungry again tomorrow. We have many good-natured fellows who make others dependent upon them, unable to stand up for themselves with full human dignity. Or, we have just the opposite, those who feed their brothers and sisters once and feel no further obligation. And, on top of all this, we can forget the real hunger that is out there– that needs to be fed– that can only be satisfied in Christ. Christ comes to us in the bread of life, the Eucharist; he transforms us into himself, a bread which must be broken if it is to be given to others. It is not enough simply to care for the hungry; we have to LOVE them– some of whom are in our very families or groups of friends. Not all the hungry are on the street. They know who they are. Some may be in our midst right now. Do any of you sense it? Is there emptiness inside you? Is the belly of your soul crying out for nourishment? Don’t be afraid to ask for help, come– be fed– there are priests and other Catholics waiting to hear from you– to help you, come. Christ is waiting.

Isaiah also speaks of sheltering the oppressed and homeless. That is what the house of God is about. Sometimes when I am in church, I imagine I can feel an external oppression. I envision it pressing upon the outer walls. When our values of action and of belief are openly ridiculed and distorted, then we are oppressed.

Our Church is a shelter from all the wiles of a world intent upon our destruction. There are hurts out there– come in and be healed. There are lies out there– come in and hear the truth. There is violence out there– come in and receive peace. There is coldness out there– come in and be warmed by the flame of Christ’s love. There is darkness out there– come in and become a part of that light which is the Lord.

It is sad when someone hears the call of Christ and misinterprets it or only goes part way. There was a man in Washington, DC, who generously devoted his life to the care of the homeless. That is to be applauded. But, like so many, I have to wonder if he heard the call clearly. Why? He sold all he had, gave up his job, and did things reminiscent of what our Lord asked of the rich man in the Gospel. However, he also abandoned his wife and family to enter upon his crusade. He was my friend, but this always bothered me. Can we renounce one responsibility for another? Can we exchange one set of mouths to be fed for others? Can we cause homelessness in order to give a home for others? I do not want to judge anyone, but the very Scriptures which speak of so many deeds of mercy also remind us not to turn our back on our own. In Christ, and only in Christ, you are the light of the world. When does this light shine? It shines when a husband and wife love each other unselfishly, open to the gift of new life. It shines when a brother tells his sister, “I’m sorry, forgive me.” It shines when a father welcomes his alienated son back home. It shines when a couple loves each other so much that they discipline their love in chaste giving. It even shines when one friend gives another a scarf or sweater for Christmas. Done in Christ, all things great and small make the light of Christ shine all the brighter.

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

How Can We Answer God?

Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5 focuses on how small we are in comparison to the glory of God. Job is almost shamed by God who in rhetorical question after question asks if he could possibly be as great as him. Have you commanded the morning? Have you entered the sources of the sea or its abyss? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? “Tell me, if you know all,” God challenges him. Job, a mere human being like ourselves, came to his senses and responded, “Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you?”

In our own words and deeds, we also need to pay homage to God who is the source of everything which exists. How often have we cast God’s help aside, believing that we could handle our lives fine enough without him? And, how often has this strategy failed? How often have we allowed our words, or those of others, to pamper us and bloat us in prestige, while forgetting also to use our lips in prayer? The trouble with us who have been wondrously made, only a little less than the angels, is that we tend to think of ourselves too much and of God too little. Unless we are going through trial, as Job would, we tend to shove God into a corner of our lives. And like children, we not only hesitate to thank our heavenly Father for the gifts he gives us; we make our love conditional, and curse him when things fail to go our way.

As followers of Christ, our faithfulness and praise of God must transcend all our personal wants and desires and egos. Hearing Jesus, and following him, where ever he goes, has to be the posture of our lives. Loving and praising the glory of God, in thought, word, and deed, summarizes the very reason for our existence and now our rebirth in Christ.

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

Happy Advent!

The Spirit and the Church’s Mission

The annual commemoration of Pentecost is to the Church what Christmas is to Jesus, the celebration of a birthday. Our Lord had compared the Church to a grain of mustard-seed, among the smallest of seeds. But, it grows into a great tree in which the birds of the air build their nests. Imbued with the hidden and fertile presence of God, what seems dead, little more than bothersome dust, blossoms into the mystical vine and branches of God’s holy people. Christ is the vine– we are the branches. What God initiates by the power of his Spirit, he joins to himself in permanent and life-giving intimacy. Watered by the blood of the martyrs, the Spirit of God continues to minister to the Church, preserving us in the truth of the Gospel and giving efficacy to the sacraments.

Christ sets down the foundations for his Church during his preaching and in his drawing to himself a number of apostles and disciples. On Pentecost, some three thousand people were baptized, and later, two thousand more. Such was the power of the Spirit to instill faith. Christ chose twelve apostles to preside over the rest and one to be the head of all. The descent of the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to preach the Gospel throughout the world, in accordance with Christ’s command, and gave legitimacy to the many Christian communities they established.

Acts 2:1-11 tells us that the believers in Christ had an experience of the power of the Spirit. It seemed to overwhelm them. They spoke ecstatically in a multitude of languages. This gift of tongues was very much coveted. Scholars dispute whether or not these languages were always intelligible. However, it may be that Luke, in stressing that each person heard his own tongue, was trying to emphasize that the Holy Spirit and the Good News were offered to all, regardless of race or place of origin.

1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13 offers the early battle cry of the Church; “Jesus is Lord.” In the life of the follower, to call Jesus “Lord,” meant to give Christ one’s complete loyalty in life and to worship him from the innermost depths of the heart. This sacred phrase of faith with its intense meaning could not possibly be said with sincerity without God’s grace. This gift of faith is the most fundamental. Apart from the gift of saving faith, the lesser gifts would be meaningless. Having said this, we are all given different gifts. Paul stresses that we are to use what we have for the sake of the whole, the Body of Christ. All that we have– all that we are– is not simply for our own sake or pleasure, but for all in the service of God. Selflessness rather than selfishness is the proper way or disposition for glorifying God. When we think of gifts, they need not be spectacular, like prophecy and faith healing. A person might be a good carpenter, an electrician, a painter, a secretary, or whatever. All these talents and more are also gifts from God that we need to perfect and use wisely.

John 20:19-23 intimates that the apostles continued to meet in the upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper. However, can you imagine the fearfulness that has now replaced the intimacy and peace they knew there with Jesus? The authorities have killed Christ. Maybe they are next? They lock the doors. What do they do now? Suddenly, as out of air, Jesus appears to them and restores to them his peace. Jesus comes to commission the Church. He has defeated death. There is nothing of which to be afraid. God is on our side. Jesus, himself, is the message of hope– he is the living embodiment of the Gospel. After the bitterness of men had done all it could to him, convicting him as a criminal and a liar; after they had tortured and executed him as the least of men– the verdict of men is overturned by the almighty Father. The Father’s love for his Son and the Son’s love for the Father proved stronger than death. This LOVE, that is itself God the Holy Spirit is now shared with us that we might also participate in eternal life.

Jesus breathed on his disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. The calling of the Spirit is linked to the power of creation when God formed men and women from the dust of the ground and breathed life into them. The Holy Spirit awakens the world from the slumber of death back to life. Sometimes we experience something similar to it when we are released from the death-grasp of sin back into a life of divine grace– through prayer, the liturgy, and especially the sacrament of reconciliation. Seen in light of the keys of the kingdom given to Peter, the Church is given something of Christ’s authority and power. This mandate from Christ is not simply for the Church’s glory, but to give God glory in saving souls and forgiving sins.

God conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the same Spirit conceives the Church. The Spirit in the Church offers us truth and consolation. Do we take ample advantage of the gifts of the Spirit? Do we embrace as our own the teachings of the Magisterium, trusting that God’s Spirit preserves the Church in the truth? Do we listen attentively to the inner voice of Christ in prayer and Scripture study? Do we discern the powerful action and presence of the Spirit in Catholic worship? Do we find confidence in God, believing that his Spirit will guide and watch over us? We are sorely tempted to trust in our own meager powers, despite the anxiety and fear. We should surrender everything to the Lord who loves us so much that he has counted the hairs on our heads and would keep us in the palm of his hand.

As Christians, we claim that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Faith is one of the prime gifts of the Spirit. By its very nature as our treasure, saving faith is a gift that we are compelled to share with others. A faith unshared withers and dies. If something great has happened in your life– someone has proposed marriage, or you have won a car, or a new baby is born– you want to shout it out from the rooftops; such is your happiness and joy. Similarly, if our faith is our most precious and undeserved gift, ought we not to share this wonder with others? Indeed, we should share it with conviction and enthusiasm. Although faith is a gift of the Spirit, we are instruments of Jesus in the world. In our talk and service we should not be timid about extending God’s offer of love to others.

You might think that you are unworthy or incapable of really fervently sharing God’s Good News. This may to some extent be accurate. The Holy Spirit works in us as rational men and women, not as things that can simply be impressed upon. We need to make as many avenues for the prompting of the Spirit as possible in study and prayer. Otherwise, we will have a hard time sharing what we do not fully possess. Worse yet, we might loose our grasp of the truth or be seduced by the arguments of others. God wants us to be the best of tools in his service of evangelization. Keep in mind, however, that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. Only God can change a wicked man into a saintly man. By our care for the poor, the sick, our families, and our neighbors– we preach the mission commissioned by Jesus. This mission is a constitutive element of the Church’s identity. It still goes on.

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

Do Not Let Sinful Men Drive You Away

It happens that sometimes people leave the Catholic Church because of issues of divergent faith. I still find this sad but can respect the integrity of such people who do not want to live a lie like so many dissenters who remain to tear down the Church from within.

However, I frequently caution my congregation not to allow the weakness and/or foolishness of the preacher to drive them away. I am not about making converts to me but to Jesus Christ. If we believe in the promises of Christ and the sacraments of the Church, then we should remain steadfast.

We can cooperate with God’s grace by studying the Catechism and the Bible. We should not leave the Church because of sinful men. This includes both among the shepherds and the sheep. I am often reminded of Peter’s response to Jesus when so many mumbled and walked away (over the issue of the Eucharist). Our Lord asked if his apostles would abandon him, too. Peter answered for the Church of the ages, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the Church is to spread the Gospel and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are sent on mission at the end of Sunday worship each week: “The Mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We must take our role as missionary seriously. Where is our passion for the Gospel? Why are we not on fire telling people about it?

Certainly, we all relate to our brothers and sisters in different ways. But what does it matter? Everyone has something to contribute. Because of in-depth knowledge of our teachings and the Scriptures, some may be called to add apologetics to the work of winning converts. Others might find themselves in jeopardy if they walked that route, but be exceptional in helping people with their hurts and in touching others through personal charity. Some may relate well with young people who often look for answers in the wrong places. Still others may be able to reveal in ecumenical prayer and service the fraternity of Catholics with other believers in the Lord. We need to bring the Gospel to our homes, to our neighbors, and to our workplaces.

However, if we are going to share our faith, we had best make sure that we are Christians and good Catholics first. We need to nurture a determination to stick with the Church no matter what disappointments may come our way. Some do not do this and the results can be tragic for all. I recall a woman who studied at a Catholic college for four years and was certified to do parochial work. When the new pastor was assigned, he failed to keep a position for her. Along with this disappointment, the Pope reaffirmed that women could never be priests. Well, that was the last straw for her and she left the Church. What is sadder is that she took a few others with her. There are only so many clergy and most of the outreach into the community must be done by the laity. We have to be flexible enough to bounce with the bumps in the road. Doors close and other doors open. We have to be receptive to God’s will, even when we do not entirely understand it. The work is not so much ours, as it is the Lord’s. Some are given the gift of Holy Orders, but there are other gifts, particularly given to the laity, that facilitate the expansion of the Church and the proclamation of the Good News. Married couples are missionaries to their children. Many non-Catholic spouses embrace the faith of their Catholic partner. Single people have the gift of time and availability to help in youth groups, bible study programs, prayer circles, charity endeavors, etc. With the loss of sisters and religious brothers, the laity teach in Catholic schools, CCD and RCIA programs, etc. There are even parishioners that go door-to-door with the invitation to explore the faith and their parishes.

Spreading the faith requires that we grow in the faith, ourselves. We should search in ourselves and with others for a stronger faith and then share it, loving and caring for those with whom we come into contact– keeping in mind that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. God changes a wicked person into a saintly one. Our care for the poor, the sick, our families, our neighbors, by our pursuit of social justice, for peace, etc., in all these things we witness for the Gospel.

Souls are not simply converted by highly educated or witty missionaries; rather, they are brought to the Lord through the work of Christ in holy men and women inspired and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Look at Peter, he was an ignorant fisherman! Neither Mary nor Joseph was ordained a priest; and yet, who could estimate the enormous spiritual benefits that both of them have exerted for our well being? The Holy Spirit is the Divine Counselor, who like Father and Son, makes use of frail instruments to achieve his purposes.

While the kingdom of Christ will be realized in God’s good time, the laity and clergy work together for this eventuality. Having spoken about our universal call as missionaries, I would like to say a few words about priestly ministry. Have you ever wondered what it must be like as a priest? He knows the dark secrets of people’s lives and weeps over their sins and the sheep that go astray. He sees more than his share of sickness and dying, particularly those with a regular hospital ministry. Yes, he knows the joy of witnessing marriages; but he also feels the arrogance of those who violate the commandments in dating promiscuity and cohabitation. He sometimes wonders if the young even listen to him. The happiest times are when he baptizes a child; and yet, he can never forget the babies he could not save from abortion. When things go right, God gets the praise and when they go wrong, the priest gets the blame.

People angry with the Church see him as an icon for the institution and assault him for things he had no part in, possibly going back to before he was born. This often happens when priests wearing clerics are recognized in public. When I was a young associate, I recall one fellow on the subway who sat next to me and without any introduction, shouted, “I left the Church thirty years ago, and let me tell you why!” In such situations, the priest wants to get away or argue in return, but he just sits back and listens. “A priest yelled at me in the confessional,” the man says, although he cannot recall what it was about. Such a little thing, and for all we know the poor priest probably had his own demons plaguing him at the time or was maybe just not feeling well. In any case, it was enough to make this man leave the Church. I explained how sorry I was that it happened, and the tone of the conversation changes. I miss my metro stop, but it is okay. His wife recently passed away and he had a bad heart. His mind often went back to his childhood days. Eventually, he asks, “Father, how do I come back to the Church?” What happened? I could not recall saying anything particularly moving. It must have been God’s grace. I take out my purple stole. His eyes open wide. We move to a vacant section of the train, he falls to his knees, and says, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” When I leave the train a prodigal son is back home. I catch a subway car going in the opposite direction, back to my exit which I missed. When I enter the rectory, I am chastised for my tardiness. I say nothing.

As a sign of contradiction in our culture, the priesthood can be difficult. However, there is also a deep consolation in being an instrument of God’s mercy in a sometimes cold world. The same difficulty should be a daily element in the lives of all Christian believers. Evangelization is not just the business of professional religious people. It is an indispensable part of our baptismal call. We can work together to make the Church a more heart-warming place for all those wounded and searching.

When it comes to Christology, the theological study of Jesus, there are some theologians who seem heavily orientated toward Christmas (the incarnation) and others who branch out from Easter (the resurrection). These are the poles of Christ’s earthly life and both have essential importance. If we are to share Jesus, we must know him.

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

Bringing in the Harvest

While the Scriptures are composed over an extended expanse of time, I am often quite awestruck over how the theme of salvation is interweaved through so many settings and types of literature. They speak of creation, growth, and re-creation. In Isaiah 55:10-11, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of rain making the earth fertile to illustrate how his words are also to bear fruit in the faithfulness of the chosen people. Psalm 65:10,11,12-13.14 paints the picture of a teeming agricultural paradise where God’s blessing causes the seed which falls on good ground to produce a rich harvest. Romans 8:18-23 offers the testimony of Paul who views all of creation groaning and in agony as it experiences its growth pains from the old to the new order. And Matthew 13:1-23, has Jesus using the tensive language of parable to speak about the seed of faith.

Throughout most ages there has been a preoccupation with the seed. It has only been since the days of the Industrial Revolution and the modern distribution of labor, that many of us have lost sight of some of the natural necessities like seed and its symbolic significance. We buy bread at the store; we don’t have to grow wheat. We purchase most if not all of our vegetables from others; I wonder how much thought have we ever given to its planting and harvesting? It can become easy for us to forget the importance of the seed. Without it, plants would cease to be. Without it, the life-cycle would be so disrupted that even animal life on this planet would eventual exhaust itself. And yet, in the depths of who we are, we all began as no more than a seed, a tiny little treasure-house, bursting with life.

In the days long gone, there was a reverence for the seed which approached worship and awe. To the superstitious, it was a magical thing; to the religious, it was among the most miraculous of God’s gifts. The people of Jesus’ time lived close to the earth; they had to in order to survive. The seed and water and good soil meant the difference between life and death. The prophets, including Jesus, were well aware of this. The Gospel celebrates this understanding. The Scriptures return to this theme again and again, like in the story of the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed, becoming a great bush or tree. We need to recover something of their sense for the natural if we are really going to appreciate such teachings. Just imagine, locked away in the most meager seed, hidden behind its shell, is a life organized in such a way that a fully mature plant can come from it. The colossal redwood forests, some of which go back before the incarnation of Christ into our world; they all began as seeds. The grass in our lawns, all began as seeds. Much of the food we eat, began as seeds. Could you create a tree or even a blade of grass from scratch? No. None of us could. And yet, this insignificant thing, maybe the size of a piece of dust, can be filled with information and life to do all these things; indeed, in doing so, it makes possible a whole new generation of seeds. I recall in school, some years past, that we got into a fairly academic and maybe nonsensical argument related to this very point. The question was, did the plant live for the seed, or the seed for the plant? We never really answered it. Only eggheads could get into a debate like that. A good farmer would simply take that seed, plant it, and take pride in being a steward in God’s creation. He would harvest it for the many who would otherwise be hungry.

In Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus tells us a story about the mysterious seed, something to which all his listeners could relate, so that they might catch a glimmer of what the gift of faith means. It is an awkward tale he tells. A farmer went sowing. He was definitely clumsy. He dropped some seed on the footpath and birds ate it up. He dropped some of it on rocky ground and it immediately sprouted with anemic roots and shriveled away. Again, he was a poor farmer. However, there is an interesting detail here we might miss. Jesus says the seed grew at once. A farming friend of mind told me a few years ago that Jesus would have gotten a few chuckles in his parts, because saying that seed immediately sprouts is a tall tale. And it is true, Jesus is stretching his image here to fit what he wants to say about faith. The farmer goes on to drop seed among thorns where it was choked to death. Either this was one accident-prone farmer or he was very dumb. But finally, maybe despite himself, some seed is dropped upon good ground. But, what luck this stupid farmer had! What a tall-tale my farmer friend from Iowa would yell — this grain yielded a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold! You can almost hear Jesus’ audience respond with a shuddered hush.

Jesus later goes on to explain his parable to his disciples. The seed eaten by birds on the path represents the man who hears the Good News, but he fails to really understand what Christ and his kingdom is about. He is easily misled, and the evil one may steal what little he has. Sometimes we may find these kind of people in our own midst, who say they believe, but who all too readily follow the fads of the day, even to the point of forsaking the message of Jesus and his Church. The seed that shriveled on rock was like a man filled with the satisfaction which comes with conversion, but when the excitement has passed, he quickly falls away. His roots only reached to the pleasures and gratification which come with faith; his roots did not pierce to a love of God, simply for being God. This is important, because we can confuse God for the gifts he gives us. When those gifts and satisfactions, even from prayer, are not what we want them to be, we might fall away. Remaining steadfast, we should find them as occasions for further growth in holiness. Sometimes you must pass through “the dark night of the soul” so that you can reach the bright new day offered by the kingdom. I guess what I mean to say is that the seed lost on rocky ground represented the person more in love with himself than God. It is no wonder that added to this, any kind of persecution or bigotry, whether it is explicit or hidden may cause these rootless seeds to fall by the wayside all the sooner. The seed among thorns is choked, just as fears and greed may choke the life of God in us. Who is our God? Is it Wealth? Is it Power? Is it Prestige? And most terribly, is it Fear? That must be the most terrible of all the contenders against God! Fear — anxiety — it can choke God’s grace in us; we need to make Christ the Master of our lives — not Fear — never Fear. As hard as it might be, we need to trust him no matter what. If not, then we will never totally become the disciples we were called to be.

Like the seed in good soil, we need to allow the seed of faith — of God’s grace — to take root and grow in us. In the waters of our baptism it was planted with our dying in Christ; in those same waters it is to rise and bloom. Our faith cannot be stagnant, if so, it drowns. A hundred-fold it has to reach out and embrace others. In the way we live our lives and in what we say, we witness and throw off further seed to be planted and to grow.

I would like to ask two questions. First, ask yourself, what have you done to help allow God to grant you an ever greater share of faith and holiness? Make a list. Second, ask yourself, how many people during your lifetime have you helped to receive the gift of faith and to become a Catholic Christian? How many? Make a list. And if you should be a little disappointed, then start anew in allowing God’s love and life to touch you and through you, others. Please do this. The harvest is ready; workers are needed to bring it in.

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

Make Disciples of the Whole World

Mark has Jesus appearing to his friends at table in Mark 16:9-15 and takes note of the fact that they were at first hesitant to believe that he had risen from the dead. Mark says that Jesus “took them to task for their disbelief and their stubbornness, since they had put no faith in those who had seen him after he had been raised.” Remember, all except for John, had fled into hiding and Peter had denied ever knowing him. They had practically given up on Jesus. His resurrection was now an occasion for Jesus to call them back to faithfulness — to call them back to life.

Acts 4:13-21, shows us just how very successful Jesus was. Peter and John answered the priests and elders with courage and honesty: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight for us to obey you rather than God. Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen.” There is no way under God’s heaven that they can keep quiet now. Just as Jesus aided them to make a huge catch; now he will fulfill his promise to make them fishers of men. He tells them to go out and to make disciples of the whole world.

We also need to be so enthusiastic with the message of Easter that we have to proclaim it to everyone we meet. Jesus is alive! And, what’s more, he wants all of us to have a share in his life. In a world steeped in sin, suffering, and death, this message is as vital today as ever before. In our prayer, our witness, and our proclamation we must bring this to people still blinded by the darkness of oppression and suffering. Just as the disciples were able to cure the lame man which incited an interrogation; we too can offer healing to others, if not always in body, then at least in spirit. We are the hands and feet and mouths of the risen Christ in the world — he lives in us!

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

Out of Prison

Imagine that you are in prison. You are afraid. You have been whipped and mocked. Your feet are bound down in chains. A guard is at the door and there seems no way of escape. Who knows, maybe they will beat you more tomorrow? Maybe they will go even further? Can you imagine how desperately you might want to escape and run away?

Paul and Silas find themselves in this situation (Acts 16:22-34). However, instead of betraying their cause or crying out in despair and fear — they sing songs. They pray and sing hymns to God. The other prisoners listen and maybe find some consolation in their hymns. Suddenly, there is an earthquake. The guard is asleep. The doors fly open. The chains are pulled loose. Run! Run! This is the natural human sentiment. It is probably what most of us would do. Get out of there quick! Hide! Escape! Freedom!

The guard awakens and thinking that the prisoners have escaped, he draws his sword to commit suicide. He is like us. He feels that he has run out of options. If he takes his life, the authorities may spare his family. However, Paul shouts out, “Do not harm yourself! We are still here.” The jailer cannot believe it. He calls for a light, and there in the shadows are Paul and Silas. He falls at their feet. Why did they not escape? They speak to him and he asks them what he would have to do to be saved. Their action is changing him.

Suddenly he is more concerned about the salvation offered from God then simply avoiding the punishment from his superiors. His fear evaporates. He himself takes them out of the prison and to his household. He bathes their wounds and then Paul bathes him and his family in the waters of baptism. With a table spread out, they all then celebrate the newfound faith.

A jailor, whom many of us would have thought about murdering, was himself saved by God. There have been similar stories during our own age, where the witness of Christians in prison has lead to the conversion of their persecutors. We may not find ourselves behind bars for our faith, but we may sometimes be prisoners nonetheless. We can hide our faith behind the bars of indifference, prejudice, or even just laziness. We often fail to try to move people we love to greater faith in Jesus and we practically forget about those we dislike. Indeed, instead of praying and working for the conversion of all, we might be very selective in whom we choose to confide about Christ. Paul was not. Friend or foe, male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, ugly or beautiful— the Gospel is meant for all.

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

Demonstration of Faith

The mission to bring the Good News of God transcended the rules of a society which were often unjust. At the Council of Jerusalem, Peter sided with Paul in that circumcision would not be required of Gentile men who converted. This legislation also had much to offer women. In the order of grace they would be equal to men in dignity. Baptism would be the great rite of initiation for all. Jesus in his own ministry did not hesitate to speak and deal with women, even when there were taboos against doing so. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He allowed himself to be anointed by the sinner woman. Although he had nothing, there were holy women who followed and supported him from their purses. He spoke with Martha and Mary as friends, dealing with them on the level of true disciples.

In Acts 16:11-15, Paul is seeking a place to pray. At the bank of a river they find several women and speak to them. However, listen to what the Scriptures have to say about one of them: “One who listened was a woman named Lydia, . . . She already reverenced God, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying.” The message of Christ was offered to many, but unlike Lydia, they heard without listening. Like Paul himself some time earlier, her heart already belonged to God; now, she would know personally the one to whom her heart belonged. Notice also that her whole household was converted. From Paul’s lips to those of Lydia, we find the proclamation of disciples. To demonstrate the reality of her newfound faith she invited Paul and his company to stay at her house.

The Lord offers his message to us as well. We cannot simply allow the words to passively pass through our ears. We need to hold the Good News in our hearts and wonder at its meaning for us. And, if the Word of God is alive in us, then like Paul and Lydia, we can offer it to others whom we meet.

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