These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
Jesus entered the synagogue.
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
Today is Inauguration Day. Last night for the first time during this pandemic, there was a memorial service on the Mall in Washington for the 400,000 from the United States who have died from coronavirus. The service was lead by the president-elect, Joe Biden, and the vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, and the new archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory. Joe Biden said, "To heal we must remember." Today we pray for the new president and the new vice-president. May God bless them in their new positions of service to the country. And may God bring an end to the pandemic and heal the wounds of the country!
Jesus said to them: “The sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the sabbath.
That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Wow! So much for “law & order.” If the sabbath (which is the law) is for us, then perhaps its purpose is not simply to “be obeyed,” but to make us more human. The temple police must be pulling their hair out.
Brothers and sisters:
It was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.
When we reflect on the church in the past 20 years, the problem of clericalism has come to the fore. Among seminarians you can tell which ones are going to become a problem. Just check out the size of their Roman collars, the size “pontiff #3” (1.5 inch high collar) is a dead giveaway as well as ordination holy cards with “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” imprinted on them. It’s always good to remember that those words are addressed only to Jesus in the New Testament, our great high priest. By baptism we have ALL become the priestly people of God. Those in the church that we call “priests” today . . . are not priests, they are actually presbyters (elders). In English, when we use the term “priest” for them, it’s only in a secondary sense. The early Christian communities knew the word “priest” but they never used it for their ministers. The words bishop, presbyter, deacon are not from the religious sphere, rather from everyday life. Bishop means overseer (manager), as on a farm or a business. Presbyter means elder. Deacon means table waiter (or server). The words describe functions—not some ontological difference. Ministry for Jesus is not about being “set apart,” but rather of solidarity, becoming one with us, which is why “he is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring.”
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
(1 Sm 3:3b-10,19)
When you grow up in the Baptist tradition, Sunday School is an essential part of life. I remember my first Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Strong. This elderly lady gathered us children around her and told us the most wonderful Bible stories. Her story of the young boy Samuel sleeping in the temple and hearing the voice of the Lord stays with me always.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples;
for there were many who followed him.
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
The oldest memory of the Eucharist is the eating and drinking with sinners. As my old homiletics professor used to say about this passage, “If you’re not a ‘sicko,’ you don’t get Jesus.”
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
As a child, I loved this passage. I remember our Sunday School lesson with the picture of the four men on the torn up roof lowering their friend on the mat and Jesus looking up and seeing their faith.
A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched the leper, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
The late congressman John Lewis always talked about “good trouble,” by which he meant that change sometimes requires a little trouble. Pope Francis has a similar phrase when he says, “Hagan lío,” which is a nice Argentine way to say, “Shake things up!” Jesus was always making “good trouble.” Jesus was always “shaking things up” especially when it came to the lepers and all those that good church folks would avoid like the plague. In fact, when Jesus has encounters with the lepers, he’s usually alone. I guess it was bad enough for the disciples when Jesus sat down with the prostitutes and tax collectors, but when the lepers showed up, the disciples disappeared.