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Source: Bread In The Wilderness

Source: Bread In The Wilderness

Bread In The Wilderness
Fr. Carl Diederichs
Parish Priest

The Love of the Forgiving Victim

Those of us fortunate enough to be baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, have just completed the holy season of Lent, the Death and Resurrection of Christ at Easter, and the bestowing of the Holy Spirit upon our ancestors at Pentecost. Is all this just theological mumbo jumbo or are these “life changing” events in the life of Jesus and His disciples real for us?

The God and Father of us all, at one point in history blessed us with Jesus Christ, who came to us to fulfill the prophetic messages of the prophets and to “reinterpret” the scripture with Himself as the pivotal point in the history of salvation. He did something no other god of any religion up until then and even until now has done: He suffered death at the hands of the state and of His own religion and He rose not to condemn or retaliate for the lynching, but to offer His followers and the whole world “Peace.” He is the Forgiving Victim. Unheard of!

On Pentecost Sunday we proclaimed from John’s Gospel that after He died and was buried He came back to his disciples who were gathered in a room with the door locked for fear. He did not condemn them for abandoning Him and denying Him. He offered them “Peace.” He offered them “Shalom” which means that He offered them absolute forgiveness of all their sins and fullness of life and happiness.

The Forgiving Victim, who still carried the scars of crucifixion, gave them peace! No judgment, no recriminations, but peace! Remember when Jesus walked with the two after they left Jerusalem dejected and sad? He walked with them and “reinterpreted” all of scripture for them. He now showed them in fact that to follow Him we would also need to be forgiving and slow to anger and hatred, since we too have received the “Peace” of Christ. The days of our thinking that our God is an angry God just waiting to even the score, should be over. Any references to a wrathful God in scripture have been reinterpreted by the way Jesus lived and died and came back as a Forgiving Victim not to even the score.

I think this “Forgiving Victim” theology is life giving. Our ancestors were gathered in that upper room with the door locked for fear. I think they were afraid that the forces that took Jesus’ life were coming for them. I also think they were deeply sad because they had abandoned Him. They must have felt so guilty and hopeless. But Jesus came back into their lives not as judge and condemner but as Forgiving Victim.

And we, who have been forgiven with the “Shalom” that Jesus gave to his disciples, are now empowered to forgive others with the same “shalom.” No more tooth for tooth, eye for an eye, no more death for a death. “Peace be with you.”

Mercy and Justice

A Few months ago I wrote this blog on mercy and Justice. I am posting it again because we are in the great season of Easter.  This coming Sunday we will hear about the two disciples who had given up on Jesus and were returning to their old way of life.  Jesus appears to them and among other things, He reinterprets the whole of scripture.  And that is where this blog comes in. I think that Jesus  reminded them that He was the Forgiving Victim and all of scripture must now be read with that in mind. No more punishment , no more eye for and eye. This is hard for us who want people to get the punishment they deserve. This , of course, seems never to include ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mercy of God is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But God is also a God of justice. The most profound paradox is of a God who is merciful and forgiving on the one hand and ultimately just on the other.

The debate goes on; a God of Mercy or a God who, in the end will be a “Just Judge.” I am convinced that the right relationship between these two apparent sides of God, is lived out from our earliest days on earth, how we are “grounded” in love and mercy or guilt and judgment. There are those who see God as the Just Judge waiting for us to screw up. And when we speak about “justice” in this vein, we are not speaking about “racial or social justice,” which is a direct result of compassion and mercy.

The only way for us to live, as Jesus wants is for us to practice mercy. Justice can be discussed theoretically, I suppose if we simply say that if there is any getting even it belongs to God alone. And since we need to sift the Hebrew Scripture through the heart of Jesus, our God is a God of Mercy and Compassion. We see none of the anthropomorphic designations of God as a just judge in the words of Jesus.

But we still hold on to the anthropomorphic definition of God as a Just Judge, many times. We look to God to make things “right.” We say out loud or to ourselves that we are waiting for God to punish those we select as needing punishment.

We, “the righteous” are quick to wish for God to beat the crap out of those we consider objects of our wrath. Those of us who “play by the rules” cannot abide those who we see flaunting God’s commandments and getting away with it. The sad thing is that if our faithfulness to God is motivated by our fear of judgment, there is not much love and mercy there. Our love for God should flow from our deep appreciation of us being loved in spite of our sinful selves. But that presumes we have the insight to see ourselves as sinners and not persons who don’t need to be forgiven, like the Pharisees of old. None of us gets what we deserve, thanks be to God!

If our faithfulness to God is motivated by our fear of judgment and not out of a love that comes from our being forgiven, our lives are pretty hollow.

Mercy is God’s name. And the Blood of the Lamb, in spite of our sinful selves, has purchased our lives. And our response to God’s love and mercy for us—even before we sin—is to love and have mercy on all others. We are the Church of Mercy, as we hear Pope Francis say all the time.

“True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice; it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer.”

So, God is not a Just Judge but a merciful and compassionate Father who wants all of us to know we are loved in spite of ourselves and then to bring that mercy and compassion to others, especially the poor and the powerless.

This is the Year of Mercy. Let’s not squander it. Let us pray and work for peace and justice and receive the mercy and compassion of a loving Father, slow to anger and rich in mercy.

Bread In The Wilderness

Father Carl Diederichs

Jesus: Pierced and Killed

 

The readings from sacred scripture that we will read and pray over are: Zechariah 12: 10-11; 13:1, Galatians 3: 26-29 and Luke 9: 18-24.

 

Zechariah gives us a message of pain and suffering leading to purification and cleansing from sin. One person suffered and was mourned by the people. We who live now can readily apply these painful, yet life-giving words, to Jesus. A fountain of cleansing water will wash over us after much pain and suffering.

 

Paul grasps that wonderful insight that now all those who are baptized into Christ are “clothed” in Christ. We are now all one! No more Jew or Greek, slave or free, no more male or female, no more gay or straight, for “all are one in Christ Jesus”.

 

Luke gives us that scene where Jesus, after private prayer, asks His disciples who people, and then they, say He is. Peter gives the answer: “the Christ of God.” Jesus tells them to be quiet on this one. Why? The Christ of God was to come and drive the enemies of God’s people out; he was to restore the beautiful kingdom they remember from the stories told by their ancestors.

 

No, the “Christ of God” was not destined for the restoration of an earthly kingdom. He says that He would suffer and die and after that be raised from the dead. And His followers, too, were to suffer the same fate if they were to truly “follow” Him.

 

So, we don’t follow the preaching of those who say we will somehow avoid suffering if we just trust enough, or give them money enough. Our baptism empowers us to “take up our cross daily”. That means, as it did for Jesus that our lives must be poured out for others. And this is often real suffering.

 

What is our “Cross”? I cannot speak for you, but certainly as we read the signs of the times and observe the death and destruction going on around the world, our response must be to step up in whatever way we can to bring the love and peace of Jesus to all. For me, at this time, I am urged to speak up forcefully for the abolition of military style guns. I am urged to speak up about the sin of homophobia and race hate. I am compelled to not stay quiet about the destitution and hunger of so many of God’s children. I must spend myself for others if I am to take up my cross daily.

 

And we will find joy in our taking up the cross. “You are my help, in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Ps 63)

 

The great paradox: In the Cross we find Joy.

Bread In The Wilderness

Father Carl Diederichs

Parish Priest

 

 

Pentecost Sunday

 

My Sisters and Brothers, the scripture readings assigned for Pentecost this year are: Acts 2: 1-11, Romans 8: 8-17, and John 14: 15-16, 23b-26. The message of all three readings is clear: The Holy Spirit fills all Christians and all become children of God and the same Holy Spirit teaches all. We often call this Feast the Birthday of the Church. We no longer hide behind locked doors, but we boldly preach Good News to the people.

 

The reading from Acts shows us the reversal of the story of Babel in Genesis, when the building of the stairway to heaven was thwarted by causing people to no longer understand each other. The building stopped. Here, in Acts, the fact that people spoke different languages didn’t thwart the preaching of Good News to every language, every people. The whole world could now understand the preaching of Good News of salvation.

 

Paul reminds us that the gift of the Holy Spirit gives us life. “If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

 

John has Jesus say that the Father will give us an “Advocate” once He leaves us. And that Spirit will be with us forever.

 

To do what? Certainly the Spirit is not for our own keeping. The “Jesus and me forever and ever” fallacy is not why Jesus came into this world. Yes, personal devotion is necessary and helps deepen our love of Jesus. But the only way we can truly love, however, is to give it away. The more we really believe we are loved by God, the more we will be urged to share that love.

 

I think one of the best representatives of how God’s love works is Pope Francis. You can tell that he knows deep down that a merciful and forgiving God loves him. And he is forced then to give that love away, especially to the poor and those now displaced from their homeland by war and genocide. Pope Francis gets it after a life of trying to figure it out, just as we have to do.

 

Since this blog is written for the Milwaukee Community Journal, let me speak to my sisters and brothers in Milwaukee. You have your work cut out for you. The amount of violent crime, the amount of poverty and lack of hope that exists sometimes not too far from your own home, needs the love of God as only you can deliver it. Get involved. The issue of police-community relations, unbelievable numbers of African Americans still in Wisconsin prisons, Black Lives Matter, failing schools, and just huge numbers of poor and homeless people, all come under the urgent call to love and help make things right.

 

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the great gift given to us at our Baptism and Confirmation, we are equipped to bring Good News to those who now seem to have none.

 

Happy Birthday Church!

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