Tag Archives: Gospels

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 1

This is the first post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditation, 1

Why was Mary Magdalene the first disciple Jesus entrusted with the message of His resurrection? A brief meditation on her life points to intimacy with Jesus as the basis for her unique authority. His gift to her was Mercy, a free gift that nevertheless demands a response. She surrendered all to Him; her gift to Jesus was herself. His life became hers.

More than not, the Gospels describe her weeping and lingering in His Presence. That was her authority, this evidence of intimacy with Jesus. For what else better defines intimate reliance upon another but weeping and lingering? Love alone provokes tears for another; love alone compels us to wait, to abide, to linger. These simple expressions of intimacy—tears and lingering—are the basis for Mary’s authority.

Intimacy with Jesus made an ex-prostitute the bearer of the most important event in human history. No wonder the Roman Catholic Church names Mary Magdalene the ‘Apostle of the Apostles.’

Mary’s life demonstrates how Jesus exchanges false attachments for His faithful, unfailing love. False intimacy is no match for His Mercy.

Mary knew all about false intimacy. She had been a prostitute; she gave herself to others in exchange for money. The most exquisite and life-giving part of her became the site of her greatest degradation. One thing abides—the pervasive shame over treating one’s precious self as worthless.

No amount of familiarity or mental gymnastics can remove that shame. The law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Conscience can be numbed but not killed. In the still of the night, after each fall, the soul longs for the imprint of strange flesh to be erased. Jesus heard Mary’s cry. He hears ours today.

Mercy alone frees us to recognize the falsehood which has entrapped us. Mercy alone liberates our repentance. Mary personifies this recognition of falsehood and repentance.

The Pharisees mirrored the truth of her falsehood; in her, they would have been the face of God: righteous, serious, scorning her degradation. One critical gaze from a religious man might have withered her, confirming her shame. The law can cause us to weep and to linger in our regret, but it cannot heal us.

Mary saw another face in the crowd, this Jesus who gathered the lost and the least in order to heal and deliver them. He looked at her too, with eyes that seemed to know all about her but did not scorn her; in truth, they seemed to be pleading for something more, something better for her…

When Mary saw Jesus eating with a Pharisee, she wanted to run over and surrender all to Him, to offer her devotion as best as she could. But she had to risk the rejection of the Pharisee—the old face of God—in order to surrender to Jesus.

And she did. She crashed the party and flung herself at Jesus’ feet. At His feet she wept tears of gratitude and repentance, repentance from her life of degradation, gratitude for the Mercy He embodied. She lingered there. Mercy washed her, its levels rose around her releasing more tears, regret and release combined. She in turn washed His feet with her offering.

She was oblivious to the heady discussion in which the Pharisee had engaged Jesus. ‘Deep calls to deep, in the roar of Your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have washed over me…’ (PS 42:7)

Immersed in Mercy, she barely recognized the disgust of the Pharisee toward this embarrassing display.

Her courageous devotion is our first glimpse of the intimacy that made her great. Weeping and lingering in His Presence; this was the beginning of her authority. Deeper than her sin and shame was an awareness Jesus alone could set her free. She risked everything to be where He was.

Jesus explained to the agitated, dry-eyed Pharisee why Mary wept and lingered. ‘(S)he who has been forgiven of much will love Me much; (s)he who is forgiven of little will love Me little.’ (Lk 7:47)

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Deep Wells of Mercy

Day 24 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Deep Wells of Mercy

‘He brought me into such close intimacy with Himself that my heart was espoused to His heart in a loving union; I could feel the faintest stir of His heart and He of mine. The fire of my created love was joined to the ardor of His eternal love.’ (1056)

Why are the sexually broken so often the recipients of Jesus’ Mercy in the Gospels?

To answer this, one must first consider the depth and power of human sexuality. God made each of us a deep well of desire for love—our very bodies, yearning to cast off their solitude, are inspired by the Creator to merge with others. Out of loving commitment to another, we then become creators of new life.

John Paul ll describes this as ‘the spousal meaning’ of our bodies; they are intended for the love of a good man or woman, and to be fruitful!

Sexuality has deep spiritual meaning as well. St. Paul likens the marital bond as the living witness on earth of Jesus’ spousal love for His bride, the Church. Each of us, single or married, compose His bride who awaits final consummation in union with Himself. Pointing to this greater spiritual goal to which our sexuality points, Christopher West writes, ‘Our bodies have theological meaning.’

Sexual love involves a necessary boundary that hides it from all but the bride and groom. Something so powerful and creative requires such protection; it is the only way we can experience nakedness without shame.

When sexuality is good, it is very, very good. And when it is bad, it is awful. Our sinful world breaks sacred boundaries and exposes sexuality to all manner of indignities. As fallen members of this world, we all perpetuate these crimes of passion and are victimized by them. Our shame is as deep as our sexuality is powerful. Yet deeper still is the longing for nakedness without shame, self-giving without blame.

Jesus knows the power of man for woman, woman for man, and the sinful oppression that hangs over this most powerful of unions. Such brokenness betrays His very image. So He acts quickly and decisively in Mercy to reclaim that image by restoring broken ones to His original intention for them.

He does so in the most tender, intimate ways possible: the generous father kissing his prodigal, gentle Jesus receiving the washing of the prostitute, the friend of the Samaritan, the just God who stands in solidarity with the adulteress.

He stoops down to the sexually broken and washes their feet. Perfect in love, He fears no contamination from the defiled. He hears those who cry out for Mercy from that deepest wellspring of desire. His intimate Presence converts them.

Jesus loves and cleanses these ones in the depths of their truest selves. No stone is unturned: every motive, affection, memory, lover is yielded to the One who has won their hearts. Desire is His domain! Thus the surrendered homosexual/prostitute/fornicator bears Life in his/her depths boundlessly. More are the children of the desolate woman (Is 54:1) than of a faithfully married Pharisee!

Amid all the sexual scandals in the Church today, we cannot lose sight of the quiet majority who has exchanged silent, cancerous sin for trustful surrender to Jesus. Just last week, I met with a group of Living Waters leaders who began the gathering by confessing sin. One admitted a disturbing erotic dream, another, the temptation of Internet porn, yet another, the need for limits in an overly dependent friendship, another still the over-identification with her children.

I felt proud to be among them; lovers of Jesus so inclined to His Mercy they cannot tolerate unspoken temptations! What may seem a threat to the integrity of the body of Christ becomes through Mercy the very antidote to the mess we are in. He is intent on transforming polluted wells into deep reservoirs of Mercy.

‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have washed over me.’ (Ps. 42:1, 7)

‘Spring up, oh wells, and restore the Bride. Let not former sin prevent you from embracing your merciful call. Let Mercy strike down shame and raise you up gloriously in this hour. His Body needs the testimony of Mercy in yours.’

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote or simply a page number in parenthesis. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com.

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Mercy, not Sacrifice

Day 12 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘I am more generous towards sinners than to the just. It was for their sake that I came down from heaven; it was for their sake that My blood was spilled. Let them not fear to approach Me; they are most in need of My Mercy.’ (1275)

Jesus sought out those with hearts hungry for the reign of His Kingdom. He describes that Kingdom in Luke 4:18 as good news for the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed. Missing from that Kingdom ‘call’ were dutiful members of the religious establishment.

Jesus describes the ‘just’ throughout the Gospels as those fixed on religious sacrifices—tithing scrupulously, praying punctually, splitting moral hairs continuously. What most seemed to lack was a need to be saved. Maybe their spiritual disciplines satisfied their hunger for God. Maybe their place of honor in the culture eased their shame so that a Savior seemed irrelevant.

Jesus gravitated toward the sin-sick, those without shelter for their shame. Some were oppressed by their own greed and lusts, like the sexually immoral; some, like Matthew the tax-collector, oppressed others with their greed. Jesus’ Mercy was magnetic for both groups. He realized that these were sheep without a Shepherd (Matt. 9:36), those most subject to harassment (literally, ‘without skin’) in a cruel and critical land.

He sought them out, and they sought Him out, because Jesus mirrored to them both the truth of sin’s oppression as well as its Merciful cure. Jesus hung out with the sinners who knew they were sinners. He did not wink at human bondage, nor is there any evidence that He tolerated those who did. Rather, He broke the yoke of such bondage through the rule of Love.

That is a vital point. Some progressive thinkers employ Jesus’ love for the underdog as proof that Jesus was pro-prostitute and pro-gay, as if Mercy rendered sexual sin a moot point in the Gospels. That is nonsensical. Jesus came for those sick of their sin; implicit here is a recognition of one’s sin and its destructiveness, two confessions you would never hear from a sex activist.

Theologian Dr. Robert Gagnon says it best : ‘Jesus balanced the Father’s ethical demands with His self-sacrificing outreach to transform sinners…He regarded sexual activity in thought and deed outside of lifelong marriage to the opposite sex as capable of jeopardizing one’s entrance into the Kingdom of God. What was distinctive about Jesus was His incredibly generous Spirit toward those who had lived in gross disobedience to God for years. He expended enormous effort and exhibited great compassion in His search for the lost.’ (The Bible and Homosexual Practice)

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:12)

‘Jesus, grant us Your heart for the lost. May the harassed and helpless find shelter with us. May we refuse the post-modern heresy of equating Jesus’ love for sinners with His tolerance of sexual sin. Grant us the power of Your Mercy, its energy and availability. May we be a window in which broken ones discover unfailing love. ’

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Turning for Good (Friday and Beyond)

We might receive foot-washing and communion and yet still not grasp the cross. Perhaps our need for that cross is not yet clear. We may still believe in our own capacity to follow Him, the self-inspired power of allegiance to Jesus.

Peter the ‘Rock,’ full of bluster and unrefined zeal, helps us here. He believed himself to be among the most radical followers of Jesus. Pride came before his fall on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Until the midnight hour, Peter continued to be stumbled by the prospect of Christ’s humiliation.

He still did not grasp the cross. First he had to suffer the humiliation of his own infidelity.

How often have we seen this before? Many of us have followed Christian leaders whom we granted ‘Rock-like” status, only to be devastated when they fell. How could they? How could men or women espousing, say, ‘traditional values,’ prostitute themselves and so breach trust with us? (Not to mention with their families, their churches, and the greater Christian community?)

Easily. We can preach the cross and its merits for everyone else yet avoid it entirely when it comes to our own need for the cross. We can live in that divide as long as our weaknesses are kept in check. But seasons change, and under the stress of real life, weaknesses become wickedness.

God exposes us as the cross-‘dodgers’ that we are. Such exposure breaks ground in us for mercy.

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