Thursday, March 26, 2015

Triumphant Entry, Then Crucifixion

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday.  It is the day Christians celebrate the story of Christ’s triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem in the days leading up to the observance of the Jewish Passover and the fascinating recounting of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord in the year 33 AD.  It is indeed a triumphant entry, complete with a large crowd of Christ’s followers shouting "Hosanna in the highest" (giving the highest praise to God) and laying palm branches on the ground in front of him as he rode along on the back of a donkey.  This is another one of those times when I wish I were there in order to observe first-hand this awesome spectacle.   How many followers were there?  How loud were they?  How many non-believers were there and what were they thinking?  We’ve all heard this Gospel story.  The tide turns and in just a couple of days, the crowds were yelling “Crucify him.”  And then this latter crowd wins out.  Christ is crucified.  What happened?

Let’s look at the “How many …?” questions posed above.  I’ve researched this and found that the apparent prevailing opinion among the historians is that there were between 300,000 and 500,000 people in Jerusalem and the surrounding territory for the Passover.  My reaction was one of extreme disbelief.  How could there be that many people in one place at one time back in the first century?  And how many believers?  The largest crowd of the followers of Jesus I’ve ever seen mentioned in the Scriptures was a crowd of 5,000, which was at the multiplication of the loaves and fish.  I’m thinking that the believers were outnumbered by as much as one hundred to one at the Passover.  It would seem that the Scribes and the Pharisees probably didn’t have to work very hard to incite a fairly large crowd to oppose the believers!  But all is well that ends well.  Yes, Christ was crucified, but the gates of heaven were opened; he rose from the dead as he had promised; and his church lives on 2000 years later.

I’ve had just one other Thursday Thought today.  Where did 500,000 people spend the night?  I’m currently reading the classic book “The Day Christ Died” by Jim Bishop.  He speculates early-on in the book that the countryside around Jerusalem was covered with tents that week.  Where did all the tents come from?  Well, Saul of Tarsus was a tentmaker, was he not?  And St. Peter was a fisherman.  Besides perhaps shepherding, wheat farming and wine making, I’m thinking that those two occupations were very lucrative, especially around the time of the Passover.

My prayer today:  Dear Lord, help me to carry my cross without complaining as you did all those years ago on the road to Calvary.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Two False Conjectures

I’ve heard it said that Judas Iscariot was condemned to hell because he betrayed Jesus.  I’ve also heard it said that Christians harbor resentment against the Jewish people because they blame the Jewish people for the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  I have some thoughts on both of these conjectures.

First, Judas.  It is true that Jesus, in reference to Judas, said:  “It is better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24).  Okay, so he was condemned to hell.  But I believe it may have been for a different reason than that stated above.  Betraying the Son of God (resulting in His death) is obviously very serious indeed.  However, in reference to Judas, the Gospels say He “ ….went out and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5).  To me, that was his sin – the sin of despair.  I can’t help but think that if he would have come back to Jesus and begged forgiveness (ie., repented), he would have won heaven.

Second, the Jewish people.  If some Christians harbor resentment against the Jewish people for the reason stated, then I say that those Christians are wrong.  My thought on this is that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and die because that was what saved mankind from their sins.  And that was Jesus’ purpose in becoming man.  Regardless of the role anyone played in the crucifixion and death, it had to happen.  By the way, this applies to Judas as well.  Someone had to betray Christ, or mankind would not have been saved from their sinfulness.  In my opinion, if Judas had only repented, we would be calling him St. Judas.

My prayer today is this:  Lord, please give me the grace to always repent of serious sin and the humility to never to harbor resentment against anyone.  Amen.

The photo is of a large cross seen alongside a hiking trail on the campus of the International Schoenstatt Center in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spying on Jesus?

Today, I’m thinking of the agony felt by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is a story recounted in three of the four gospels, those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and showcased by the Catholic Church as the first sorrowful mystery of the rosary.  It takes place immediately after Jesus institutes the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the upper room and immediately before he is betrayed by Judas and arrested in this same garden.  Aside from the obvious (the sins of mankind weighing on him), it is interesting to me for two reasons:  1) Jesus is totally alone when he experienced the agony, and 2) Jesus gives us another lesson in prayer. 

According to Matthew, Jesus asks his apostles to “wait here while I go over there and pray.”  According to Luke, he separates from them by “about a stone’s throw.”  So he is alone while he kneels and prays, asking the Father to, according to Luke, “… take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”  Luke says that “He was in such agony and prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.”  It seems to me that there might have been a witness to this agony, since such details were recorded by the evangelists despite Jesus’ solitude.  Perhaps one or more of the apostles (that didn’t fall asleep), perhaps Matthew himself, spied on Jesus during this agony.  Of course, there are alternative explanations:  a supernatural inspiration by the Holy Spirit or a maybe when they met up again before the arrest there was some blood on Jesus’ face and the apostles asked him what had happened. 

But the most intriguing revelation in the story may be Jesus’ prayer.  It seems to match up with a phrase from Lord’s Prayer:  “… thy will be done.”  I’m talking about the phrase “… not my will but yours be done.”  I’m inclined to think that a consideration of the Father’s will is important in any prayer we pray.  I’m inclined to think that if we don’t get what we want in prayer, maybe what we ask for is not according to the Father’s will.  In any case, I think it is important to utter “Thy will be done” whenever we pray for something.  After all, Jesus taught us to say that (the Lord’s Prayer) and even used the phrase himself (during the agony in the garden).

The photo is of a monolith found on the grounds of the Trinity Heights Center in Sioux City, Iowa, dedicated to this first sorrowful mystery of the rosary.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Sacrament of Confirmation

Today I’m thinking about the sacrament of Confirmation.  Through the laying on of hands, anointing with chrism (oil) and prayer, the faith that a person has been given in Baptism is confirmed, meaning that the grace obtained in Baptism is completed and a person’s faith is strengthened by the Holy Spirit such that he/she is able to publicly profess the faith and live up to the role as an apostle for Christ.  We say that, in effect, the person has become a soldier for Christ.

Given the definition of “sacrament” (an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace), you might wonder, as I did, what Christ said or did that instituted this sacrament.  I did a little research.  Since it is so closely related to Baptism, passages supporting Baptism are the ones instituting Confirmation.  For example, we have Matthew 3:13-17 and John 1: 33-34, i.e., the gospel accounts of the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.  These include the coming of the Holy Spirit (like a dove) and the voice from heaven:  “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”  The early Christians apparently believed from this that, though someone was baptized, the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon the person.  See Acts 8: 14-17 and Acts 10:37-38.  Apparently, in order to complete and confirm the coming of the Holy Spirit, the anointing with oil and the laying on of the hands was understood to be required.  Jesus’ words in Matthew’s account were:  “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” 

Just as the apostles and the Blessed Mother received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost, Catholics today receive the Holy Spirit at their Confirmation.  In the Catholic Church today, most members are baptized as infants and then, after they have received rudimentary education in Church teachings, usually in the teenage years, they receive this beautiful sacrament.  For those who join the Church as adults, Baptism and Confirmation are usually conferred together.

The photo (courtesy of Kevin Clark) shows Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln recently administering Confirmation to a young Catholic at St. Therese Parish in Lincoln.