Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter

What is wrong with me?

What is wrong with you?

What is wrong with us?

All of us sense that there is something wrong either with ourselves as individuals or with the society as a whole. We feel that something is missing or that we are going in the wrong direction. Even when things are going well we are haunted by the fear that our happiness is only temporary, that it will all be taken away from us. Or, when we have reached the level of success and prosperity we have worked so hard to achieve, we all of a sudden wonder if that's all there is. No one has a permanent answer or remedy for this unease which every human experiences. Politicians can offer us rules and regulations. Psychologists can encourage us to improve our self-esteem. The television tries to convince us that all we need is the latest fashion or gadget. But we end up in the same place, wondering what that "something more" is that our hearts are longing for.

The Bible has a different perspective on our problem and a certain answer. God's word teaches us that what is wrong with us and with the world is that our relationship with God is broken. Because we have sinned, the God who created us for himself is now a stranger. Our hearts ache for him, yet he is out of our reach. We spend much of our lives seeking a substitute for his love and mercy, but nothing else can take the place of an Almighty and Infinite God. And so we feel lost, unable to experience the fullness of joy and peace which our hearts were created to contain.

The Bible teaches us that what we need is salvation which is the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our relationship with God. Salvation is not just something we receive after we die and go to heaven, but a power already at work in our lives to transform our hearts. The Bible also teaches us that there is no other way to achieve that salvation than through Jesus Christ. Peter proclaims this boldly and clearly in today's first reading: "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." When we turn to Jesus and welcome him into our lives, the anxiety which burdens our hearts gives way to confidence and joy because in him we find the meaning of our lives and the pathway we are to follow. How does Jesus go about the transformation of our hearts and our lives?

First of all, Jesus gives us a sense of identity. In him we learn that we are daughters and sons of God. This is the wonderful truth which Saint John proclaims in today's second reading: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are." Because of God's great love, we grow in the sense of our personal dignity and worth. We no longer allow people to use us. We no longer accept cheap substitutes for God and his love. Only the real thing is good enough for us. We no longer accept the world's standard of worth and importance. We do not measure our value by how much we make, by how many possessions we have or by what neighborhood we live in. Rather, our sense of worth comes from knowing that we are loved by God, that we are his sons and daughters.

Not only does Jesus give us a sense of identity, he also gives us a sense of direction. There is a reason that Christians are called "followers of Christ." When we have an active, loving relationship with Jesus he becomes our leader. Accepting Jesus into our lives means surrendering ourselves and our future into his hands. Jesus becomes our shepherd. We listen for his voice to direct us. We are no longer trying to do things "our way", but we look to Jesus and his word to guide our choices.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd and that we are his sheep. Unlike other shepherds who watch the sheep just to earn a day's pay, Jesus loves the sheep and is willing to give his life for them. He does not run away when the wolf or the thief appears. Rather, he will fight to protect them even if it means losing his life. That is why we are willing to entrust our lives to him. Even when the way he is calling us to follow is difficult. Even when the choices he is asking us to make do not seem to make any sense. At those times we remember the great love he showed us by accepting death on the cross to free us from our sins. We know that he will make everything work out for our good and that he will always protect us come what may. There are times when we feel lost. There are times when we realize that the choices we have made have only brought us misery and pain. There are times that we just don't know what to do. At those times we must turn to Jesus with confidence and entrust our lives to him. Only by following in the way of love he marks out for us can we hope to achieve any measure of serenity and fulfillment in our lives.

Our Risen Lord and Good Shepherd will once again give himself to us in the form of bread and wine as food for our journey. At every Mass he never fails to offer himself to us just as he did when he offered his life for us on the cross. As we receive the Eucharist today, let us surrender control of our lives to him and ask him to teach us to listen for his voice. Let us ask him for the faith to leave behind the cheap substitutes for love we have been clinging to even though they have only brought us failure and disappointment. Finally, let us ask him to give us the courage to lay down our lives for others so that they too can know the joy of being counted among the sons and daughters of a loving God.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Risen in the Flesh

A man learned that he had cancer. As you can imagine, he was afraid and distraught. Before starting his treatment, he decided that he would take his mind off his sickness by renting a hotel room and watching re-runs of the Three Stooges. Since he was a kid, he had always enjoyed watching Moe poke Curly in the eyes or pull a fistful of hair from Larry's head. As it turned out, all the laughter somehow triggered his immune system to fight the cancerous tumor. By his next check-up, the doctors were unable to find a trace of cancer in his body.

While this is not a common occurrence, it does point to a truth that scientists are coming to realize more and more. Our emotional and spiritual health has an effect on the health of our bodies. Stress, frustration, anger and resentment eat away not only at our spirits but at our bodies increasing our blood pressure and shortening our lives. At the same time, happiness, optimism and laughter boosts our immune systems and helps us to live longer. God created us with both a body and a soul. Though they are distinct, they both effect each other. What is good for the body is also good for the soul. And what is good for the soul is also good for the body.

Today's second reading from the First Letter of John gives us some further insight into the truth of the unity of our bodies and souls. Like today, the early Christian community had to deal with a lot of bizarre philosophies that threatened the preaching of the gospel. One such idea was that the body was evil and only the soul was good. Because the body was evil, it did not matter what you did with it. You could get drunk, cheat on your husband or wife, even commit suicide. None of it was sinful because it did not affect your soul. As long as you knew and loved God, your body was yours to do with as you pleased.

Saint John immediately debunks this idea by clearly stating: "Those who say, 'I know him,' but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them." Any action which goes against God's word and commandment is a sin whether it is a sin of the body such as lust or drunkenness or a sin of the soul such as pride or anger. Both our bodies and our souls are good in God's eyes and destined for eternal life with him in heaven. So we must glorify God with our bodies. We must keep our bodies pure just as we seek to keep our souls pure.

Another proof of the goodness of our bodies is the fact that the Son of God took on a human body in the womb of Mary. If the body was evil, Jesus would never have taken on our flesh. It would have been incompatible with his absolute holiness and goodness. By becoming fully human, Jesus proves to us that our bodies are good and meant to give praise to God.

Today's gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke makes it plain that Jesus, now risen from the dead, still has a body. It is not a mortal body as we now have, but a resurrected one. We know that there has been some change in Jesus because the disciples have difficulty recognizing him. Unlike our bodies, Jesus' resurrected body is not limited by time and space. He can appear out of nowhere, even when the doors are locked.

At the same time, it is a real body. It is made of flesh and bones as he tells them, "Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." Furthermore, his body still bears the wounds from the crucifixion on his hands, feet and side. Though the disciples have difficulty recognizing him, they can tell that it must be Jesus because of the wounds. And, finally, Jesus was still able to eat as he demonstrated to them by consuming a piece of fish in their presence. After the resurrection, Jesus still has a body, but it is a glorified body.

What does this mean for us? It means that, thanks to Jesus' death and resurrection, we too will have a resurrected, glorified body. It is true that when we die our soul continues to live while our body is buried in the ground. Our soul goes either to heaven, purgatory or hell as we await the final judgment at the end of the world. At that time, when God's victory over sin and evil is finally and definitively established, we will be reunited with our bodies at the resurrection of the dead. This new body will not grow old or experience pain. It will live forever to praise the God of goodness who saved us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It also means that it is a good and holy thing to take care of our physical selves. A healthy diet, exercise and rest will benefit our souls as well as our bodies. When we are worn out or under stress, we can find it difficult to focus and to meditate. If we over-eat or drink to excess, it will be difficult for us to slow our minds down enough to pray. And when we indulge in sexual sins such as pornography or sex outside of marriage, shame builds up within us which causes us to shrink from the embrace of our loving God. Any sin we commit makes it impossible to the live with the abundance of joy and peace that God has planned for us. If we are still under the grip of any of these sins, we can go to God with confidence and seek his forgiveness by bringing our bodies to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God is merciful, and he wants us to experience both in our bodies and in our souls the gift of everlasting life.

Jesus is risen! He is alive so that we might have life, both our bodies and our souls. He is here among us as he opens our minds to the Scriptures. He will share a meal with us as he did with the apostles. The meal is his very self - the Eucharist - which is the body, soul and divinity of Jesus. With a renewed spirit and a sanctified body, let us continue to give him praise through a holy life as we look forward to our own resurrection.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter

Over the past few years, more and more books have come out promoting atheism, that is, the belief that God does not exist. For us who have an active faith life, it can seem impossible that anyone could possibly deny God's existence. However, the numbers of those who are unwilling or unable to believe in God are growing in size and influence.

Atheists are a small part of the overall population. Most people are searchers. They are not sure what or who to believe. They see the problems facing our world and wonder why a good God could allow so much injustice and suffering. At the same time, they see the beauty of nature and the basic goodness in people and can't help but believe that a good God must be responsible for it all. Their heart tells them that there must be something more to this world than what their eyes can see and what science can explain. They are ready to embrace the truth. They just are not sure where to find it.

That is where we come in. God has called each of us here for a reason. He has given us an active faith and a relationship with him so that we can reach out to those who are searching with the good news of Jesus' resurrection.

Today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the first community of believers. They are really the first parish founded by the apostles. As Saint Luke describes it, it is a community marked by deep love for one another. They shared everything they had so that none of them went hungry or homeless. Though the community of believers was experiencing rapid growth, no one was lost in the crowd or left out. All shared a sense of belonging and friendship because of their common faith in the Risen Lord.

In today's world, people long for community and to belong. Many of us live far from our extended families and childhood friends. Our work schedules and the technologies that surround us increasingly isolate us. We do not want to be another face in the crowd. We want to belong. We want to be missed when we don't show up. We want to be known and loved. This lonely world so often makes it difficult for people to believe and trust in a good God.

If we, as disciples of Christ, are going to effectively spread the good news of his resurrection, then we must be a people marked by love as were the first community of believers. As a parish united by faith, we are called to welcome each other, to take care of each other and to testify to one another about the power of God at work in our lives. Most people come to know and believe in God by meeting someone who is filled with God's love. God wants to make this parish a family where people encounter his love and become convinced that he is real because of the goodness of our lives.

Up to this point we have been discussing those who are searching for God who do not come to Mass. But what about those here today who are themselves searching? What about us when we have doubts and question our faith? For those of us who continue to question and even doubt, we have a great friend in Saint Thomas. As the gospel tells us, Thomas was not present the first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples. When the disciples told him that the Lord was alive, he refused to believe. Thomas could have left the other disciples to head back to his hometown to resume the life he had before Jesus called him. Believing that Jesus was dead, he could have abandoned his faith altogether. But despite his doubts, Thomas continued to stay with the other apostles. And because he decided to stay rather than to leave, he was able to see the Risen Lord for himself.

Thomas has much to teach us. There are times when we doubt and question our faith. At those times we are tempted to stop going to Mass or to leave the Church altogether. We might say to ourselves, "What's the use? I'm not being fed, and my prayers are not being answered." But we need to keep showing up to the Eucharist just as Thomas kept showing up at the upper room. It might not be today, it might not be next week, but when Jesus is ready, he is going to reveal himself to us as he revealed himself to Thomas. We are going to hear the word which will answer the questions we have. In a time of quiet, something we have been struggling with will all of a sudden make sense. If we are going to find the answers we are searching for, then it will be here, in this place, among God's people and at the altar where bread and wine will become for us the Body and Blood of Christ.

Asking questions and looking for answers are part of what it means to be human. God created us to be individuals who seek meaning and truth. While he put the questions in our hearts, he also provided an answer in his Son. Whatever it is we may seek - love, truth, meaning, purpose - it can all be found in Christ. And Christ can be found here. As it turns out, he is seeking us. No matter how tightly we may have closed the doors of our minds and hearts out of fear and doubt, he will reveal himself to us and offer us his gift of peace. Then we will know why we have been created and what our purpose on this earth is - to live with him forever in heaven.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Mysteries of the Rosary

Traditionally, there are three groupings of mysteries for praying the Rosary: the Joyous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries. In his Apostolic Letter, The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries. And, recently, I discovered mysteries surrounding the life of Saint Joseph. The Rosary can help us to ponder any mysteries of Christian revelation, not just those which are widely known and practiced. Therefore, to add some life and variety to my own prayer, I have developed a set of mysteries based on Jesus’ appearances after the Resurrection. Hopefully you will find them as helpful in deepening your own sense of awe and wonder at Christ’s victory over death as I have.

1) The appearance to Mary Magdalen (Jn. 20: 11-18)
2) The appearance to the disciples (Jn 20: 19-23 & Lk.24: 36-49)
3) The appearance to Thomas (Jn.20: 24-29)
4) The appearance on the road to Emmaus (Lk.24: 13-35)
5) The appearance at the Sea of Galilee (Jn. 21: 1-23)

(image by Yuri Kuznetsov

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Joy of the Resurrection Renews the Whole World

Today is the holiest of all days. No other celebration matches it for sheer joy and wonder, for on this day we proclaim that Jesus has risen from the dead! Today we celebrate his victory over sin and death.

Because of the festivities surrounding Christmas in our culture, we can sometimes mistake it as the most important of Church feasts. Though Jesus' birth is an important event, it was only the beginning of the saving work of God had planned for us in his Son. Even Christmas does not outshine the brilliance of Easter, because it was to rise from the dead that Christ was born.

Even the events we have celebrated over the past week - Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday - are only steps along the way to this great day of rejoicing.

Today, we remember how the disciples, devastated by the cruel suffering their master underwent and fearing for their own safety, discovered that the tomb in which he had been lain was now empty. At first, they were confused. Had someone stolen the body? Who could have taken it? Then the angel appeared to declare to them that Jesus was now alive. He was not to be found among the tombs of the dead, but he now walked among them. In fact, after passing through death, he was now even more alive than they were and would appear to them so changed in appearance that they would barely recognize him.

Why is this day so much more important than all the other feasts we celebrate? Among every event of human history, why does it have such a prominent place? Because it is the fulfillment of the purpose for which we were created.

Each of us was created with an insatiable desire for God. We live our lives with a sense that there is something more than what the world can offer us. Sometimes we try to satisfy ourselves with food, alcohol or empty entertainment thinking they can quiet the hunger of our spirit. But they inevitably leave us feeling even emptier than before. Even noble pursuits such as friendship, education, the fine arts and athletics give us only temporary fulfillment. We wake up the next day with the feeling that there must be something more. That "something more" is God himself.

And so we measure the value and purpose of our lives not in dollars, not in trophies and not in possessions, but in faith, hope and love. Outside of the love and knowledge of God, nothing has meaning.

At the same time, we have pushed God away. Since the first day of creation, we have settled for cheap substitutes of the glory he has prepared for us. And so we have been subjected to the power of sin and death. The deepest desire of our hearts - everlasting life with God - was taken away from us. But the Father promised that he would send a Messiah to save us - someone who would deliver us from death and restore our relationship to God.

That someone is Jesus. By dying on the cross, he took upon himself the punishment we deserved for our sins. By rising from the dead, he offered us the hope of everlasting life. Now we no longer need to live lives of frustration chasing temporary and fleeting pleasures. Now we can welcome the desire of our hearts - Christ, who is risen from the dead. And we no longer need to live in the fear of death, because God holds out for us the hope of everlasting life through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

That gift of faith is already ours in baptism. Baptism seals our heart with the gift of the Holy Spirit and floods our soul with the new resurrected life of Jesus. If that hope seems far away, all we need do is ask Jesus to reawaken within us the power of our baptism. If our hearts feel like an empty tomb, all we need do is ask Jesus to fill them with his life and joy. The God who suffered a shameful death to save us will not deny us the joy of his victory if we ask him with sincerity and faith.

Baptism is the gateway to this everlasting life and joy that Jesus' won for us through his cross and resurrection. And so, on this holiest of days, we now turn to the waters of the baptismal font. Some of us were baptized as babies and others as adults. But we all need to be reminded of the promises we made that day - to reject sin and to believe in Jesus. Embraced by the wonder and glory of this day, let us renew our baptismal vows with deep meaning and ask God to bring to perfection in our lives the power of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

He Loved His Own to the End

A friend told me that he was surprised that Jesus was not the only person ever crucified. To him, the value of Jesus’ sacrifice was that he suffered more than anyone else ever had. But the saving power of Jesus’ death was not in how much he suffered but in how much he loved. We cannot know whether anyone ever suffered as much as Jesus. But we do know that no one was ever as innocent as he and no one ever embraced suffering with as much love as he did. It is suffering accepted in love that saves us.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Life Given Out of Love

This homily originally appeared in Connect! Magazine

It is for this week that we have prepared over the past forty days of Lent. It is for this celebration of our Lord's passion and death that we have readied our hearts through prayer and sacrifice. We have disciplined our minds and bodies, turned away from sin and performed good works so that our spirits may be lifted up to contemplate in wonder the love of God for us that drove his Son to accept the humiliation of the cross.

Every year on this day we read together the harrowing account of the Lord's passion from the gospel of John and have to ask ourselves, "why?". How could anyone find such a good man as Jesus guilty of any crime? Why would anyone want to torture and kill him? He came to preach the love of God but encountered such hate. He came to heal but was stripped, beaten and scourged. Why?

It was for our sins that he died. He took upon himself the sentence that should have been handed down to us. When it was time for us to be judged, he stood in our place.

He gave his life out of love for us.

And so, it is not only the people of Jesus' day who are responsible for his suffering and death. It was not only the religious leaders who handed him over, the apostles who abandoned him or the imperial authorities who killed him. Each of us who has ever sinned is to blame just as surely as those who betrayed him, those who beat him, those who nailed him to the cross and those who looked on and said nothing. I am the reason Jesus died on the cross. You are the reason Jesus died on the cross.

Did it have to be this way? Couldn't the Father find some other way to forgive our sins and restore our relationship with him? Why the gruesome spectacle of the cross?

Because God is all-powerful he certainly could have dismissed our sins by snapping his fingers or by the power of his divine command. Then why submit his Son to so much pain and cruelty? The simple answer is that the Father wanted us to know how deep his love for the people he created is. He wished to hold nothing of himself back. He spent himself totally and utterly by enduring the most horrific suffering and death imaginable so that we might know the passion he has for each of us. None of us can look at the cross and honestly say to Jesus, "There's more you could have done." The cross convinces us that God's love for us has no limits. If he is willing to endure so much to save us, then we can trust that he will provide us with whatever we need to speed our steps along our way to him.

The cross also convinces us how offensive our sins are to God. If our reconciliation with the Father required his Son to take on flesh and die for us then how far must our sins drive us from God? If our sins caused Jesus to die, then can there be any such thing as a harmless or victimless sin? The cross not only teaches us about the love of God, but it also teaches us something about ourselves. It convinces us that we are sinners in need of mercy and forgiveness. And it teaches us to fly to the cross for strength in temptation and for mercy when we have sinned. As today's reading from the letter to the Hebrews assures us, we can go confidently to the throne of grace and expect to be made whole again.

Finally, the cross begins to answer for us the most heart-wrenching question that every human being faces, "If God is good and all-powerful, why is there so much suffering in the world?" When we look upon the cross, we do not see a God who keeps himself at a safe distance from the anguish of the people he created. We see instead a God who is with us in our trials, who feels every pain we feel and who carries us in our affliction. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, suffering takes on a whole new meaning. By accepting our pains and difficulties and offering them to God together with Jesus, we participate in the mystery of salvation. The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered and was thus perfected to become a means of salvation for the world. God wants to use our suffering to bring forgiveness of sins to the world. Without the cross, our suffering would be meaningless and would drive us to despair. Now in the light of Jesus' sacrifice, our pains and difficulties do not separate us from the Father but help us to grow closer to him.

Now that we have reflected on the words of the gospel recounting for us the suffering and death of our Savior, we will offer some intercessory prayers for the world and its peoples. Then a bare, wooden cross will be carried into the church with the words, "This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the World". And we will respond, "Come, let us worship." Then we will each be invited to approach the cross, genuflect before it and kiss it. Let us not lose sight of what we are doing by this simple act! We are venerating the device which was used to torture and kill Jesus! We are recognizing that it is now transformed from a means of death to a source of salvation. We are also laying claim to the promise that through love the cross that each of us must shoulder in our daily lives may become a source of life, grace and even joy for us and for those whose crosses we help bear. As we approach it, let us bring with us the burdens we carry and pledge to bear them patiently with the strength that God provides. Let us pledge to help carry the burdens of our neighbors. And let us promise to keep the cross ever before us as the sign of God's unfailing love.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday

Memory is an important part of what it means to be human. We understand so much about who we are by looking back on our past. That is why we take pictures, scrapbook and write in diaries. We want to remember what happened, who was with us and how we felt. Our memory has the power to take us back in time. How often have we heard a song or smelled a fragrance that took us right back to an event of our past? Immediately we begin to relive that moment, remembering the feelings we had and seeing it all before us as if it had just happened. Our memory not only reminds us of who we were yesterday but helps us to understand who we are today.

For the Jewish people, memory is an important part of what it means to be religious. Many of the commandments of the Old Testament begin with the word "remember". Through the prophets, God is always calling his people to remember the mighty deeds he performed to save them. For the Jewish people remembering means much more than commemorating an event of the past. It means bringing that past event into the present.

In this evening's first reading, God commands the Israelite people to remember how he saved them from Pharaoh and delivered them from slavery by slaughtering the first born of the Egyptians but sparing the children of the Israelites. Every year they were to slaughter a lamb, sprinkle its blood on their doorposts and eat its roasted flesh with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. The blood reminds them of how they were delivered from the power of Pharaoh. The bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness of slavery, and the unleavened bread represents the bricks they were commanded by Pharaoh to make out of mud. Any Jew who participates in this ritual meal, even all these centuries after the actual events, understands that it is he or she who is being delivered from slavery and spared death. They understand that they are not just reenacting an historic event but participating in a saving reality.

Though the word, "remember", appears frequently in the Old Testament, we only hear Jesus use the word during the Last Supper. It is not his miracles or his parables that Jesus tells his disciples to remember. Rather, it is the gift of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist that he wishes to leave as an everlasting legacy to his followers. As a good Jew, when Jesus says to his disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me", he is not asking them to reenact the Last Supper the way we might reenact a play. Instead, he wants his Body and Blood to be given to believers to sustain them throughout the centuries. What we celebrate is not just a commemoration of what Jesus did. It is the real thing. Whenever we celebrate Mass, we are at the foot of the cross where Jesus' body is offered and his blood spilled for us. It is what Saint Paul describes so clearly for us in this evening's second reading: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes."

One of the most powerful and moving Negro spirituals is "Were You There." In beautiful simplicity, the song asks us if we were there when they crucified our Lord and invites us to tremble at the thought of our Savior's death. We were not there. We were not in the upper room at the Last Supper to share a meal with Jesus and have our feet washed by him. We were not in the garden when Jesus was undergoing his agony. We were not at the foot of the cross when he suffered and died. Nor were we at the tomb when the women discovered that it was empty and that Jesus was alive. Yet at every Mass we are brought there through the power of memory and the mystery of faith. Jesus comes to us in the form of bread and wine just as surely as he was present to the apostles. It is the same flesh crucified to the cross and the same blood which was spilled which we receive. Our sins are truly forgiven and we are empowered to live a new life in the Spirit.

With this evening's liturgy, Lent officially comes to an end and the great feast we call the "Holy Triduum" begins. During these three days - Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil - we relive the events of Jesus' life which won for us the forgiveness of sins and the promise of everlasting life. These days mark our passover from the slavery of sin and death to the freedom of the children of God. Through our commemoration of these saving events, we are brought "there" - to Jerusalem, to the upper room, to Golgotha - so that we may bring Jesus and his saving power "here" - "here" to our homes, "here" to our schools, "here" to our places of business, and "here" to our hearts.

The thought of it should cause us to tremble.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

Holy Week is prime time for TV shows purporting to offer historical and unbiased documentaries on the life of Jesus. Such is, “Jesus the Man” which is playing on the Discovery Channel. Unfortunately, like most of their programming there is a heavy bias against orthodox Christian teaching.

It was only about three minutes into the program when this claim was made - there is indisputable Biblical and archaeological evidence that Jesus had brothers and sisters and that they were not just half-brothers or half-sisters but full siblings.

The supposed archaeological evidence was never offered, but the supposed Biblical evidence comes from this passage from Mark 6:3: “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, a brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters our neighbors here?”

This passage seems straightforward enough. These people are clearly identified as the brothers and sisters of Jesus. However, does that mean that they are his literally his brothers and sisters, that is, that they could also be identified as the sons and daughters of both Mary and Joseph? Hardly. In fact, in the case of James and Joses, there is Biblical evidence that they are not the sons of Mary.

In Mark’s account of the crucifixion (Mark 16:40) we read: “There were also women present looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome.” This “Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses” is obviously a different woman than Mary, the mother of Jesus, otherwise Mark would have identified her as such. Also, in John’s account of the crucifixion (John 19: 25), another Mary is mentioned who is identified as the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Though she is not explicitly called the mother of James and Joses, it is reasonable to believe she is the same woman as she is mentioned in both accounts.

So if James and Joses have a different mother than Mary, they cannot be the literal brothers of Jesus. So to identify them as such clearly contradicts the Biblical evidence. Therefore it is pure speculation - not an objective reading of the text - to claim that any of those named as brothers or sisters of Jesus are full siblings as we understand it today.

Furthermore, the Biblical evidence states that Jesus is the Son of God, not the biological son of Joseph. So unless these other brothers and sisters were virginally conceived as Jesus was by the Holy Spirit, then they could not be his full brothers. They could at best be his half-brothers through Mary.

However, nowhere in Scripture is anyone except Jesus identified as the son of Mary.

We have to be careful. Though these channels may claim to be offering unbiased, historical data, they are about as reliable as “The National Enquirer”. Their programs may be entertaining but they are hardly informative and certainly not objective.