“What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
It can be tempting to pick up the proverbial stick, rather than thoughtfully and lovingly, resolving our differences. All parties involved will end up happier though, if we can calm our tempers and approach one another without allowing anger to influence our interaction. (If ever I’ve written anything as a reminder to myself, this is it.)
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
No matter when our life in faith begins, whether it’s when we’re children or in our old age, we’re never too late to receive God’s generous, love and mercy.
I prayed with my whole heart, as one would for a friend or a brother; I behaved like one who mourns for his mother, bowed down and grieving.
Every person has their own special relationship with their mother and so in that way we are all the same and yet we are unique. Even within our own families if we, as I, were lucky enough to have siblings our relationships with our mothers are different from our sibling’s relationships with our mothers and so although we all knew and loved the same wonderful woman we each did that in our own way.
My relationship with my mother was almost never difficult and in that way I know that I was blessed. Of course there were times while I was growing up that I wished my mom could be different in some way, but there was never a time that I didn’t love her and there was never a time that I didn’t feel loved by her. My only window into the amount of worry I have caused my mom has been during the times that I have worried about her. I don’t know if it’s natural to think that our mom’s are immortal, but I always felt that somehow mine would be. That may be because my mom was the most stoic person I have ever met and so I assumed that she could conquer anything facing her, even death itself. Now I am faced with a future without our daily talks and without her loving guidance and without the simple joy of spending time with her. I’m glad that I was able to be there for her as she bravely fought the cancer that killed her and I am privileged to have three wonderful siblings who were there for her and who wanted more than anything to help her in any way possible. I’m very lucky to have been born into family whose love comes easily and whose loyalty to one another can be counted on without a doubt ever.
During her last days I learned a lot about my mom through conversations that my siblings and I had with friends and family and even relative strangers. I discovered that many more people than I’d ever realized have come to consider her a surrogate mother, either because they had lost their own mom or because their moms weren’t as loving or concerned as my mom. Mom had an incredible ability to make people feel important and loved. She listened to people and treated everyone with great respect. She always managed to turn conversation away from herself, not because she was secretive in any way, but because she wanted to hear what people had to say. Even while she was at the cancer treatment center for an infusion, when the nurses asked her how she was doing she would say, “very well thank you.” and then she would ask them about the problems which they had shared with her previously. We managed to hear the life stories of several of the nurses. Even from a treatment chair my mom gave sage advice to those who were wise enough to seek it.
Now on this second anniversary of my mother’s death I am grieving less intensely, but I’m still easily moved to tears by a memory. The tears now aren’t as bitter; they’re more wistful. I am filled with gratitude for the time that our lives overlapped and I know that I was lucky to have a mother who was loving and smart and funny and wise and wonderful. I miss her.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed are those who resist tyranny and kleptocracy, for they will save our system of government. Blessed are those who stand up for the marginalized and persecuted, for they will be counted among the righteous. Blessed are those who are fighting for universal health coverage, for they will create a merciful healthcare system. Blessed are the whistleblowers, for they will expose corruption and deception.
O God, grant us all the courage and motivation to resist injustice and inequality, peacefully and effectively.
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
When I think of light dawning on those who have sat in the shadow of death, it brings to mind all people who have been liberated from captivity or danger. I think of the emaciated, inmates of concentration camps liberated by allied forces, and of refugees who have at long last come ashore to safety. I think about people who have been freed from slavery and human trafficking. There are many people still sitting in the shadow of death and for them the light that has dawned may still not be visible. It is hard to focus on one’s spirit when one’s physical survival is at risk.
“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to
them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” James 2:15-17
After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
None of us will ever experience temptation of the sort to which Jesus was subjected, and in all honesty I would have failed the first test. I would have turned the stones into bread after one day of hunger. The temptations we face are less dramatic, but of real consequence. We might be tempted to disengage when being present in our troubled world becomes exhausting. We might be tempted to do nothing when our help might make a difference. Allowing ourselves time for rest and retreat can help us to maintain the spiritual strength we need to live compassionately and effectively in the world during the rest of the week.
Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
For all of the many ways it is spelled out for us in scripture, it seems that passing judgement on one another is a vice that is hard for us to give up. As far back as Paul’s time, Christians were in need of constant reminding not to judge. Here we are two thousand years later and judging is still a favorite pastime for many.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Jesus
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Many of us pray for peace. If we cannot learn gentleness and humility we will never have the tools we need to create peace, either within ourselves or in the world.