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Reflections on the Sunday readings

Relationships! Isaiah 62:1-5 • Psalm 36:5-10 • 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 • John 2:1-11

While John the Baptist was a desert ascetic, Jesus fully engaged in both time alone and time with others. Here we see him at a wedding, apparently celebrating a couple's beginning of their life together. We also see him in a bit of a tiff with his mother. Perhaps the happy couple will, sooner or later, also develop some conflict. But today the tension is between Jesus and his mother. She sees a problem at the party and pressures Jesus to do something about it. He responds in the negative. The he stops and thinks about. Later, he changes his mind and does what she had asked, thereby beginning his public ministry.

A friend once told me that she saw this as the mother bird pushing the baby bird out of the nest, knowing that the baby was ready to fly. Maybe. The larger point is that even Jesus needed other people to become fully himself. It is in relationships that each of us become who we are.

To ponder: What are the relationships that have been the most important in growing you up?

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Looking for redemption: Isaiah 43:1-7 • Psalm 29 • Acts 8:14-17 • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Today's readings begin with Isaiah's report of God's message: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. Wouldn't it be nice if the message were a little different? Something more like this: do not fear, for I have made sure that nothing will go wrong. Or, do not fear, for I have made sure that nothing will hurt you and those you love. However, life offers none of these assurances. As we all know, things can go wrong, very wrong. On top of that, it can hurt, and hurt more than one ever dreamed possible. Somehow, we are not to be afraid of these things, not because they won't happened, but because they will be redeemed.

Redemption can mean a lot of things. One trivial example: green stamps. Green stamps, an early version of frequent flier miles, were stamps received during the grocery store checkout which could be redeemed for what were, at the time, small but somewhat extravagant gift items. Enough trips to the grocery store, giving the time and energy and money it took to go with three kids in tow, and she would not only have enough food to feed her family, she would have sufficient stamps for something special. Along the way, all of us learned many life lessons, about making choices, waiting in line, and other challenges of ordinary life which grow a person towards adulthood. Maybe, in addition to the green stamp gifts, these developing character traits in the family eventually redeemed the drudgery of those days.

The analogy between green stamps and the plenteous redemption of our faith won't stretch far. But in a sense, all redemption is like this. People spend time and energy at a task, and in the end, whether it is successful or not, in spite of the mistakes made along the way, and often building on those mistakes somehow, an unexpected bonus occurs. In today's gospel reading, Jesus, obediently following his growing sense of purpose by embracing baptism, finds that with it comes a surprising heavenly blessing, complete with a dove!

Anyone who is figuring out what she wants to do with her life, and is doing the best she can with it, can count on difficulties and pain, but also on redemption. And there is more good news, for somehow, when a person or group of people is dedicated to a purpose greater than self, they are less subject to fear.  In focusing on purpose or task, a person can stop attending to fear and worry, while providing a place for redemption to abide.

To ponder: When have you seen something redeemed in your world?

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Missing the party

Today’s gospel features an astrological sign, foreign dignitaries from a different culture, political intrigue in the suggestion of a new ruler to rival Herod someday, and all Jerusalem joining with their king in worry over these events. It is the human condition to worry, to be anxious, about the unknown. Surely there is much to worry about in our world,  Read More 
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Mary, Joseph and Jesus see a therapist

It took only one week in the church year for Jesus to jump from a baby in a manger to a twelve-year-old adolescent boy, asserting himself. One wonders what happened next. If the story were happening today, one can picture Mary going home and immediately calling her therapist for a family session.  Read More 
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