Disturbing the Peace
Before the king of Israel is nailed to the cross, he enters the town ceremoniously. He is riding, so he can appear as a king.
However, on a donkey, so he cannot be mistaken for one of the great men of the world. When he was born, heavenly choirs sang of peace on earth, now his disciples on earth sing of the heavenly king’s arrival to Jerusalem, who brings this peace. It does not stay peaceful though. The pious ones accurately recognize that the Messiah disturbs the religious peace. The image of the crying stones shows: God’s loyalty is stronger. tac
He proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’” So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?” They answered, “The Master has need of it.” So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”
This 5th Sunday in Lent gets its name from the beginning of the opening psalm: Judica “Grant me justice”. It points to the domain of justice and reaching a just verdict.
It forges a link with the tale of “Jesus and the adulteress” through association more than anything else. In the tradition of the prophets there is a lot of talk about adultery. It is another word for the fragile, always endangered, but intimate relationship of Israel to its God. This connection is also implied here. Augustine comments on Jesus’ reaction with the following: “The one who sinned shall be punished, but not by sinners” (Puniatur peccatrix, sed non a peccatoribus). Currently people everywhere are picking up stones to throw at the Church and the many sinners within. In 1971 Gertraud Wallbrecher wrote to a friendly Franciscan: “It is our wish that one may only criticize the Church if one simultaneously risks one’s life for her renewal.” ars
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
It depends on the perspective. That is why this Sunday’s gospel plays with terms of kinship and descriptions of ways of life.
The father and servant commend the runaway to the older one, who stayed at home, as “your brother”. But he rebuffs them. For him the washed-up bon vivant is just “your son”. He could not be more distant. The servant states matter-of-factly that the lost one has returned home safe and sound. But the father calls him dead and returned to life. The short novella is a lesson on life in community. It depends on the perspective, on where I am standing: If I keep my distance to the shared history because it is full of mistakes and failure, then everything becomes foreign and distant, even the neighbor. If I know myself to be someone that is of no use, but still needed, then “your son” turns back into “my brother”. acb
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
“I have seen”
Today people search for visions of the future of the Church – and yet, mostly the classic issues are discussed.
Israel’s approach is different. It knows God’s vision and that He does His utmost to make it come true. Through Moses the people are represented as God’s partner. His eyes are watchful and so he hears: God knows about the misery of his people and wants to remedy it. That is why he “came down”. In other words: He needs those who share his view and let themselves be sent, so they can do what has to be done: to find an alternative and pave the way out of the enslavement to foreign powers. It is about a shared chance of life in freedom in the face of God, in the land of milk and honey. hak
In good company
The three disciples who were on Mount Tabor with Jesus realized something that determines the Church’s path to this day: Jesus was no lone wolf.
He did not fall from the sky like a meteorite, but rather he stands in the tradition of Israel. It shaped him and with that also the Church. Two figures appear next to Jesus, with everything they stand for: Moses, whose instructions form the basis of our life together to this day. Elijah, who did not yield to the overpowering zeitgeist of his days and thus set the standard for all further prophets. In this company the disciples realize who Jesus actually is. Jesus and his message are part of this fellowship once and for all. ruk
About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
A question of power
Jesus can’t do magic? Can’t jump from the temple battlement without hurting himself? No, he can’t.
Because he is no mythical demigod. He is a human being through and through like each one of us. And along with that a Jew, who knows exactly whom alone worship is due. But he is also a free human being and has to make the decision himself, a decision of faith. The most severe of the three challenges the devil puts to Jesus is central: Worship me! It is about the question of power: who ultimately calls the shots? It is not enough for the evil one to have power and glory over the kingdoms of earth, but rather he wants to be worshipped. His goal would have been, with the help of Jesus, to climb to the position of him as the Most High. To this day, history shows signs of the reign of the devil through hate and destruction. Jesus knows himself to be son of the Jewish people and of his God, whose power is called love and service. That is why he can keep the world in the balance of powers. And everyone who believes helps him with that. bek
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.’” Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and: ‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
Man needs a good master
The good tree bears good fruit. When talking about the world with man in it, God explicitly says in the beginning that it was good.
Since then the creator has justifiably expected good fruit from his great tree. Man’s fruit, however, is not determined by his genes, but he bears his fruit in the manner of his master. The fruit ripens through learning and imitation: “But when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher”. Throughout history and since Abraham God has provided a good master, who can rightly say, follow me! tac
And Jesus told them a parable: Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye. A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?
What you like
The first reading tells of how David spares Saul. Combined with Jesus’ words from the so-called Sermon on the Plain the topic of loving one’s enemies is emphasized.
The commandment to love one’s enemies appears in many places in the Tora and Jesus perpetuates it when he says: “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well”. But he does not do this at all when the high priest’s servant slaps him in the face during trial. “Why do you strike me?”, he asks. The biblical love of one’s enemies is often understood as pacifism today. The Church has not been this naïve as of yet. Just war and tyrannicide were never seen as contrasts to the commanded love of one’s enemies. The Church could also learn this from the Greeks, who always portrayed their goddess Athena, a symbol of wisdom, with a helmet. In the opening prayer those who pray it are called “those who always think about what is wise, what you like: semper rationabilia meditantes, quae tibi sunt placita“. It is an invitation. ars
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.
Theology of drought or dry swimming in the zeitgeist-desert
The newest flyer of the catholic publishing house lands in my mailbox. It lists all “the current topics in theology”:
climate change, responsibility for creation, post-growth economics, social justice through sustainability. The prophet Jeremiah, more than 2600 years earlier, already writes of drought, expansion of the desert and heat waves. If the people of God do not count solely on God and His guidance anymore, they are like a dried-out forest. If they rely on diplomatic skills for their survival and growth and if they comfortably fall in line with the zeitgeist, they live as on sour ground. If they trust only in him, their leaves stay green. Looking at it that way, maybe the newly published titles are “the current topics” after all. acb
Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a barren bush in the wasteland that enjoys no change of season, but stands in lava beds in the wilderness, a land, salty and uninhabited. Blessed are those who trust in the LORD; the LORD will be their trust. They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.
Put out into the deep water
Sometimes it happens: meeting a person changes everything.
Simon knows Jesus from the synagogue in Capharnaum. He has even received him as a guest in his house and witnessed that through him the mother of his wife regained her strength. Now Jesus is sitting in his boat and Simon listens to him with the people. Then, unexpectedly, he is addressed directly. It is the advice of a non-expert to lower the nets again after an unsuccessful night of work. Simon trusts in the word and acts accordingly. Otherwise, nothing would have happened. This way however, they make a copious catch that the nets and boats can barely hold. The only way they can retrieve the catch is with the companions’ cooperation; and thus, and abundance is given to many. Through this process Simon turns into Peter because his eyes are opened. And from this moment on he offers more than his boat: his life. hak
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.