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Bible Reflections View Comments

Pushing the Boundaries
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013
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For Holy Thursday this year, newly elected Pope Francis announced his decision to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a juvenile correctional facility, where he washed the feet of twelve young offenders: male and female, black and white, Christian and Muslim. He emphasized again and again that this action was a sign of humility and service, a reminder of Christ’s example. Above all, he wanted to convey to these young people (and through his actions, to us) the importance of mercy and of hope.

Many people were shocked by this departure from tradition by the pope. Some went so far as to call it a bad example for a pope to set. Others were delighted at the pope’s willingness to reach beyond categories and expectations. His behavior certainly wasn’t without precedent.

In our Gospel for this Sunday, we hear of the woman who was a known sinner in the town lavishing both perfume and affection on Jesus. She had no need to hide the sins in her past because she knew the grace and forgiveness of God’s greater love. People in the town saw only her sin. Jesus saw beyond the sin to a potential for healing and redemption.

Simon the Pharisee, in whose house this display took place, was shocked, dismayed, and disapproving. He saw only what he wanted to see. He didn’t see his own failure to provide basic hospitality to his guest. He didn’t see how much he was reserving judgment on Jesus until he was sure he was backing the right man. That kind of caution is not always a virtue.

Part of the problem that some of the Pharisees had was that they had come to believe in their own reputation for perfection. Our first reading reminds us of the dangers of that attitude.

David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. He was a celebrity par excellence. And, like so many of the celebrities in our own time, he had flaws that could not remain hidden forever. The Scriptures hold up David as a model not only of leadership but of penitence. How sincere he was in his sorrow is for God, not us, to judge. But we can learn an important lesson from the scene in today’s first reading.

Today’s first reading outlines David’s notorious sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed through a military ruse. David admits to his sin and receives God’s forgiveness through Nathan.

Too often we do everything we can to avoid admitting our sins, even our mistakes. We blame other people. We make excuses. We find ways to justify our actions. We have come to believe that the appearance of perfection is more important than honesty and integrity. Looking good has become more important than doing the right thing. It’s become nearly impossible for people to say, “I was wrong. I made a mistake. I sinned.” It’s easy to talk about the bad thing someone else has done. It’s much more difficult to admit personal responsibility.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins. There’s no real shame in that. Jesus came to show us that not having the courage to admit our mistakes and move on is the greater fault. His example, held up to us again by Pope Francis, challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of decorum to the wonder of unbounded grace.


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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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