Suffering and God’s Rest

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 

Reflection: Peter sees the whole global Christian community suffering through unjust mistreatment, violence, lack of access to food, health care, housing, and the basic human freedoms and necessities of life. He sees his community restless, on the verge of despair and hopelessness, tempted to abandon their faith. 

Peter tells the Christian community that they, like all other Christians throughout the world, are all simultaneously experiencing suffering of one sort or another. Their experience of suffering is not unique to their particular community, although they may believe that it is. He says, “for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering (1 Peter 5:9).” 

Peter does not minimize or romanticize suffering or the pathema (Gk) that the community is experiencing. Peter understands that suffering is real, brutal, and deadly because he has seen his Lord Jesus Christ suffer from rejection and ridicule and he has seen his Lord suffer and die on a torturous cross. Suffering for Peter is not an abstraction or a topic of detached conversation. Suffering is visceral. It takes a toll on the body, mind, and soul. Peter knows suffering firsthand (Acts 5:17-42). 

He encourages his community by reminding them that in their suffering, they are blessed because the Spirit of God rests on them. It is the spirit of God that leads them to seek the grace of God with humility so they can be strong in God’s strength to endure. The Spirit generates their trust in God with their troubles and cares. The Spirit sustains them through the discipline of prayer, fasting, study, worship and gathering as a community of faith. The Spirit keeps them alert to new possibilities God opens. And, the Spirit uses the pain of shared suffering to unite the community, producing the collective resolve to resist the pressures to abandon their hope. Finally, the Spirit and power of God restores, supports, strengthens, and establishes them in their nowness and temporality of their suffering and forever. 

Peter’s words of encouragement to his suffering community are timely for us now, not only as a Christian community experiencing the devastating impacts of the coronavirus at local levels, but for all of the suffering and quarantined human community throughout the world. As a global community, we are all in this together as we collectively face this coronavirus pandemic that has caused human suffering of various kinds. The whole human race is all in need of God’s Spirit of rest and blessings for strength to endure, care for our anxious souls, nearness, unity, resolve to resist despair, and confidence in a future with hope and faith.

Prayer: Shelter Me by Michael Joncas 

1. Shepherd and sheep, my God and I:
          to fresh green fields you led my steps in days gone by.
          You gave me rest by quiet springs
          And filled my soul with peace your loving presence brings.
 
Refrain:  O shelter me, O shelter me: the way ahead is dark and difficult to see.
               O shelter me, O shelter me: all will be well if only you will shelter me.
 
     2. Yet now I tread a different way:
         Death dogs my path with stealthy steps from day to day.
         I cannot find your peaceful place,
         but dwell in dreary darkness longing for your face.  (Refrain)
 
    3.  I will look back in days to come,
         and realize your faithfulness has led me home.
         Within your house I’ll find my peace,
         trusting that in your mercy you have sheltered me.  (Refrain)

Stay on the Way

ScriptureJohn 14:1-6 (NRSV) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Reflection: With our belongings tightly packed into a 17′ U-Haul and our car hitched to the back of the truck, I followed dad, mom, and Maye as they drove ahead of me in the lead car. We were heading from Nacogdoches in northeast Texas southward toward the Rio Grande Valley after my graduation from college. The plan was simple. I was to keep dad’s car within my sight for ten long hours until we arrived at our destination. Nine of the ten hours would be relatively easy following. It was the hour following dad through Houston that caused the most concern. 

I knew that driving a slow 17′ moving truck with a car hitched to the back of it would not be easy to maneuver in fast-moving five-lane Houston traffic filled with anxious and impatient drivers. Just as I had anticipated, I quickly began to lose sight of dad’s car when we reached the north side of Houston as faster and more nimble vehicles merged into my lane. Within a few minutes, I had completely lost sight of dad’s car. Cell phones were nonexistent, so communication was not possible. Although I lost sight of the lead car, I was not lost. I stayed and kept following south Highway 59 until I drove past the south side of Houston and, seven hours later, to my destination. 

Jesus promises his disciples that he is going ahead of them to prepare a place for them so they can be with him where he is. Thomas quickly reacts with concern. He wonders how he can continue to follow Jesus and get to the place Jesus promises if he does not know where Jesus is going. He says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus promises Thomas that those who acknowledge his claim upon their lives as Lord, stay on and walk in his ways will find their way to God, their ultimate destination. He reminds Thomas that to know him is to know and see God. 

It’s easy to lose sight of God and where we are ultimately headed when life gets chaotic and crowded with concerns, when it slows down to a crawl, and when we’re pulling heavy loads that weigh us down. We tend to get so focused on all that is going on around us that we lose vison of where we are ultimately going. It is in times of disorientation and distraction that the promises of Christ are like signposts along our journey, keeping us stayed on the road of faith, continuously leading us to know and see God, our ultimate destination.   

This Mother’s Day, we remember and are grateful for all the ways our mothers and mother figures in our lives cared for, guided, and encouraged us to stay on the good way and keep moving forward in life when we lost sight of where we were heading. We realize when we get to our destination and look back, that our mothers and mother figures have accompanied us along life’s journey through their teachings, prayers for us, and love. 

Take some time today and give thanks to God for all the mothers and mother figures that have helped you stay on the way, and that have guided and blessed your life with their teachings, their prayers, and their love. 

Prayer: Christ our way, our truth, our life, and our faithful keeper of ultimate promises, we thank you that you never lose sight of us, even when we lose sight of you. Amen.

The Voice of Life

Scripture: John 10:3-4The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Reflection: I saw young Beaudoin shepherds tending their flocks on the hillsides of the Judean wilderness during my two trips to Israel. The shepherds were present with the sheep, sometimes walking with the sheep, and sometimes riding a donkey alongside the sheep as the sheep grazed on the stumps of hillside grass. The shepherd and the sheep were together in tranquility, each aware of and comfortable in the other’s presence. A relationship of trust and care between the two was evident. 

Sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd.  The shepherd uses his voice to call the sheep out of their holding pen in the morning, direct them throughout the day to pasture, and to call them back into a safe place for the evening. Whenever a shepherd calls out to his sheep, the sheep that belong to the shepherd know their shepherd’s unique sound and follow wherever the shepherd leads them throughout the day.

The sound of a shepherd’s voice to the sheep is like the sound of a mother’s voice to her child. A Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences research study found that a variety of brain circuits are engaged when children hear their mother’s voice. Whenever a child hears a mother’s voice, brain regions involving emotion and reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant, and face recognition are powerfully activated.  Researches verified that the echo of a mother’s voice has quick access to a child’s many brain systems that bring them emotional comfort.

Jesus says in today’s passage that he is in a life-giving relationship with us and knows us by name.  We are able, through spiritual birth, to hear his unique voice and follow him out to wherever he leads. The voice of Jesus has quick access to our thinking, our sensing, and our will. His voice calls us from chaos to order, from darkness to light, from death to life, from fear to faith, for ourselves and whosoever comes to him. His voice calls us to abundant joy and abundant hope.

It takes a mindful intentionality and spiritual sensitivity to hear our Good Shepherd’s voice amid so many competing voices in our world. God has provided us with the means to hear Christ’s voice through worship, prayer, acts of compassionate generosity, mercy, justice, and witness.

We do not always know where Christ our good shepherd will lead us through the promptings and proddings of his life-giving voice, but we know we can trust him, and so we follow with assurance in the comfort of his love and care for us and all.

Prayer – Christ our good shepherd, we pray for a discerning spirit to hear your voice and a will to do what we listen to you say to us amid so many competing voices that seek to have access to our minds, hearts, and will. Enable us with your Spirit to hear your voice and do your will in whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, and in whatever is excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Amen.

Genuine Faith

Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3-9 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

Reflection: Maye and I owned and operated a jewelry store for nine years before entering into ordained ministry. 

We bought and sold 10K and 14K gold, and on occasion, 18K gold. 

Customers would often bring pieces of jewelry they would buy from someone – often at a very reasonable price – for an appraisal. I could usually tell by the color of the piece or its weight if the article was genuine precious gold or some other gold-plated non-precious metal.  

When in doubt, I had other ways to test for the genuineness of the piece. I would look for a manufacturer’s stamp, signs of flaking, and color variations.

If I still had questions, I would use a sulfuric acid test. The test works by lightly scratching a particular stone with the item, then putting a small drop of acid on the gold streak and watch for a reaction. If the streak bubbles or starts to turn green, it is not gold. 

The customers rejoiced when the item they brought for appraisal was found to be genuine precious gold, having more value than what they paid for it. They were distraught if they learned that their item was not precious gold, and they had been fooled.

Peter is encouraging his church to hold on to their present and precious eternal hope in Jesus Christ. He comforts a newly formed church that is undergoing the acid test of suffering for their faith. Peter assures them that God is protecting them through all their distress. 

He strengthens them by reminding them that God vindicated Jesus through the resurrection. He tells them of their love for Jesus, their indescribable and glorious joy when they first came to believe in Jesus, and of the eternal value of their souls. 

Sulfuric acid is caustic and highly corrosive. It causes severe skin burns, difficulty breathing, can cause blindness, and burn a hole through the stomach if swallowed. Yet, it cannot corrode pure gold. 

Peter recognizes that suffering, like sulfuric acid, is highly corrosive to our wellbeing and our faith. Distress causes favorable or unfavorable reactions to God and our faith. Troubles and dissappointment can turn us away from faith or lead our faith to become more dependent on the mercy and grace of God for persevering strength to endure trials.  He asserts that no amount of tribulation can corrode a genuine faith protected by the power of God to be revealed in the last time. 

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, protect the faith, and establish the living hope of those that are suffering from various trials this day who have believed in and love Jesus. Keep their hope alive, focused on the imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance that is ours through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tomorrow

Scripture – Matthew 28:1-10 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him, the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 

Meditation: Christ, our Lord, is risen today! Amen! Glory to God!

Dream Works Studio released the animated film, The Croods, in 2013. The film is about a Neanderthal family that hides in the darkness of a cave. Grug, the father, protects the family by the rules he has learned to survive in a dangerous world. One day, a sudden earthquake collapses their cave. 

When the family climbs over the wreckage, they discover a land with lush vegetation, much different from their usual surrounding of rocky terrain. As they head out into this new world, all Grug cares about is finding a new cave to hide his family to keep them safe from a dangerous world. 

Along the way, they are joined by Guy, a young man with bright ideas, who accompanies them on their trip. 

One day, Guy tells the family a story about a girl who was told she could go anywhere she wanted, but never to go near the cliff. But when no one was looking, she’d go near the cliff for the closer she came to the edge, the more she could hear, the more she could see, the more she could feel. Finally, she stood at the very edge. She saw light. She leaned out to touch it, and she slipped … and instead of falling into an abyss, she flew to a place called “Tomorrow.” A place with more suns in the sky than one can count. A bright place. A place not like today or yesterday, a place where things are better.

Grug rejects the notion of a bright place because he can’t see it. Guy reassures him that Tomorrow is real and that Tomorrow is the place where he is going. 

Just before reaching their destination, an earthquake opens a deep ravine in their path. The group must get across because the ground beneath them is crumbling under their feet. The land across the chasm is not fully visible, but a glimmer of light peeks through the thick cloud of dust, and Grug sees the light for the first time and believes in Tomorrow. Ugga, Grug’s wife, panics and says to Grug, “Listen to me. We’ve got to get back to a cave.” 

Grug’s heart is now transformed. He sees and believes the light of Tomorrow exists. He is no longer afraid. Turning to Ugga, he resolutely says, “No more darkness. No more hiding. No more caves. What’s the point of all this? To follow the light. Right now, that’s all you need.”

Grug throws each of his family members across the ravine and eventually gets himself to the other side. The family discovers an ocean-like area where the sun goes down over the sea. They settle down in this safe paradise-like environment. There is no more need to be overprotective; the family can now live with freedom and adventure.  

Friends, Easter is a story of Tomorrow that makes us alive with God’s resurrection power to live with freedom and hope today. Jesus announced Tomorrow (the Kingdom of God) was to come, and, he said, Tomorrow is already at hand, already operative in our hearts. Tomorrow is a compelling vision that empowers us to live today free from the dark caves of sorrow, despair, fear, and sin we hide in. Tomorrow is a compelling vision that invites us to go the edge of what we know, where we see Christ’s light, step out with faith and fly. Tomorrow is so exciting that we can’t stop ourselves from helping others to see it for themselves, inviting them to join us in walking toward the glimmering light of Tomorrow, today.

Jesus Christ, Our Lord, is risen today! He waits for us Tomorrow … and walks with us today until we get there!

He is risen, indeed!  

Legacy

Lectio: John 19:29-30A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Contemplation: “It is finished.”

Meditation: Jesus prays for his disciples after the Passover meal was observed in the upper room in Jerusalem. In his prayer, he says that he has glorified God on earth by finishing the work God gave him to do. The work of God is to provide all that was needed through time and space so that whosoever believes in Jesus, as the Son of God, the Messiah sent by God, shall not perish but have abundant and eternal life. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit act in unity to finish the work. God Sends the Son. The Son sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit draws people to Christ through the conviction of sin, and through Christ, into God’s abundant and eternal love and life. Now that the work was finished, Jesus prays for the reestablishment of the glory he had together with God before the world existed (John 17:1-5). 

On the cross, Jesus again says his work is finished so that the world may know. Christ’s finishing work is now perfect, complete, and whole.  His life, death, and coming resurrection can now begin to yield lives that are now able to receive as a gift of God’s life that is abundant and never-ending. Christ’s finishing work is not static; it is perpetual and transcends time and space and is available to “whosoever believes in him.” His finished saving work has left a priceless and limitless legacy that all people in all times have access to and are invited to receive.

Today, I meditate on the finished work of Christ that continues to bless generations upon generations and produces the fruit of abundant and eternal faith in people of all ages, nations, and races in all times and places. I am grateful for the gift of sharing with others, past, present, and to come in Christ’s inexhaustible legacy. 

Prayer: I pray for the grace to leave a legacy that blesses generations to come.

Thirst for Life

Lectio: John 19:28 – After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”

Contemplation: “I am, thirsty.” 

Meditation: The use of imagery and metaphors by John in his gospel is central and essential to communicate the truths about the nature, person, and work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God as well as the hidden inward dispositions of the human condition. 

The purpose of John’s gospel is to present Jesus as the truth, the Son of God, sent by God into the world so that whosoever believes in him shall receive life. This new life is a different dimension that is present and abundant but invisible. Those that believe in Jesus can perceive the new reality through divine revelation, which then redefines them and radically re-orients their lives, their thinking, their values, their hopes, and their worldview.

This takes us to the first of Jesus’ sayings in the gospel of John, “I am thirsty.” 

On one level, Jesus was physically thirsty. A human being can go for more than 21 days without food. As a general rule of thumb, a person can survive without water for about three days. By this time in the crucifixion process, Jesus’ state of dehydration is such that his kidney function is shut down. His tongue is swollen in his mouth. His nose is bleeding. He is beginning to hallucinate, soon to pass into a coma and die. So, of course, Jesus would be physically thirsty.

But, the word “thirst” as a metaphor, also implies a desire for a more profound and life-giving faith. For example, the woman at the well in chapter four of John’s gospel is thirsty for living water. The living water Christ offers is a life-giving and abundant faith. When she sets down the water jar, she sets down her old life and runs to share the good news that Jesus sees and receives her then sends her out to bear witness of God’s love in Christ by telling the world. 

At the festival of booths, or the Festival of Joy, Jesus invites all that are thirsty for God’s provision to come to him and “drink” from him. 

As Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he is drawing all people unto him. The sacrificial self-giving of his life on the cross is an expression of his love for us. His “thirst” is his desire that the world comes to him and drink from the life he gives: a life abundant that begins at the moment of belief, knows no end, an eternal life. 

Prayer: I pray for the grace to thirst for the abundant and eternal life Christ offers.

Nightfall

Lectio: Mark 15:33-34 (NRSV) When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Contemplation: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Meditation: Mark notes that it was three o’clock in the afternoon, and the whole land was under the shroud of darkness. This is important because Jewish law made it the duty for all Jews to pray three times daily: in the morning, the afternoon, and at nightfall. The pattern for praying three times a day is based on the prayer practices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israel’s three patriarchs. Abraham prayed in the morning, Isaac, at noon, and Jacob in the evening. The darkness of the day and the nearness of his death made this moment Jesus’ nightfall prayer time.

Prayer acknowledges an intimate spiritual attachment and interdependency between the person praying and God. It is a pathway into God’s presence that includes praise and thanksgiving for God’s goodness and greatness, acts of penitence, followed by confidence and boldness to approach God with one’s petitions to receive mercy and find grace in time of need.

When Jesus prayed at three o’clock on that dark afternoon, he experienced forsakenness and a sense of being left exposed, unguarded, forgotten, ignored, and deserted. The schemes and plots of his enemies have succeeded. His appearance is beyond human semblance. His strength is failing. Trouble surrounds him. God is silent, far from helping him. His bones are out of joint. His heart is weak. He is afflicted and crushed with pain. He cries out to God for deliverance and salvation from the hands of his enemies. His prayer, while painfully honest, also expresses faith that God will respond, will deliver, and will rescue him from the hands of his enemies.

Today I meditate on the many people in our world, our nation, and in our communities that are lifting up nightfall prayers. The nightfall prayers express their exposure and seeming forgotten and desertion by God at a time when life has become unrecognizable, fear and doubt overwhelm, their vision dims, and their energy is drained. Their cries and prayers are signs of trust and hope in God who delivers from the darkness that shrouds and the troubles that surround.

Prayer: For the grace to trust in the deliverance of God during nightfalls.

New Beginnings

Lectio: John 19:25-27 (NRSV)Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Contemplation: “When Jesus saw his mother whom he loved.”

Meditation: The image of a mother standing by her crucified son is a dramatic yet tender scene from a human perspective. Jesus sees and attends to his grieving and panging mother, who is close enough to hear his last dying words. He ensures that she is taken in and cared for by John, his beloved disciple, when he says to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

The gospel of John does not record the infancy narratives of Jesus, like the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In John, the mother of Jesus is not mentioned by name only as “the mother of Jesus.” The mother of Jesus is a person of initiative; she makes things happen. On both the wedding at Cana and now the cross, she mediates between endings to new beginnings. At the wedding, the wine runs out, and the celebration is threatened to end. The mother of Jesus intercedes, new wine is generated, and the wedding feast continues. At the cross, the dark hour of Jesus’ death has arrived. The mother of Jesus stands there, mediating, anguishing, laboring to do her part in bringing for the birth to the new life waiting to burst forth through the resurrection. On both occasions in John’s gospel, the mother of Jesus is compassionate, present, mediating between endings and the birth of new beginnings.  

Today I meditate on all the nameless women of initiative that intercede and panged to help birth new and promising beginnings through others and on behalf of others. I give thanks to my mother Olga, who I love, and who is still alive. I also give thanks to Maye’s mother, Maria Luisa, who is now with the Lord. Both of these women stood by Maye and me, mediating the endings and new beginnings of the different phases of our lives. I also give thanks to Maye, my life-long friend, and spouse. I continue to see her intervene and mediate when our children, and now our grandchildren, move through endings and new beginnings in their lives. 

Prayer: I pray for the grace to be a ready and willing mediator that pangs for necessary endings and new beginnings.

Who Is This?

Lectio: Matthew 21:1-11 (NRSV) When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Contemplation: “Who is this?”

Meditation: Bethphage, “house of unripe figs,” is a small village on the eastern slope of the Mt. of Olives, two miles away from the city of Jerusalem. Bethphage is the place where Jesus cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit, where he met Martha after Lazarus died, and where the disciples found the donkey required for his entry into Jerusalem.

A procession from the Bethphage Church to Jerusalem, reenacting Jesus’ last entry into Jerusalem, is held every year for Christian pilgrims that travel to Israel during Easter. The Holy Land tours I have been on the last two years include a reenactment of the procession from the top of the eastern slope down to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives. The hill sharply declines and passes by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cemeteries that sit directly across from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. 

During Jesus’ time, the cemetery would have already been 1,000 years old and contained the graves of the greatest leaders, rabbis, and prophets. From the cemetery, you can look across the Kidron Valley to a grand view of the whole city of Jerusalem. It is possible to believe that when Jesus got to this point in his Palm Sunday journey to Jerusalem that he paused, and beholding the city, wept over it. He then said,  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! You do not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Lk. 19:41,44). The tears of Jesus demonstrate great love for the city and its people. They also reflect a deep sorrow because he knew that, like many of the prophets before him sent by God to Jerusalem to bring them back into a covenant relationship, he too would be rejected and killed. And he shed tears because he could envision the violence and destruction the city would undergo by Rome. 

The multitude that accompanies the Lord to Jerusalem was composed of two groups of people that converged somewhere between Bethphage and Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, those gathered in the eastern villages the night before and those that came out from Jerusalem to meet Jesus waving palm branches to welcome him (John 12:13). 

Jesus receives the accolades and Kingly acclamations from the crowd that follow him from the Mt. of Olives into the city through the Golden Gate, a gate associated with the approach of the coming Messiah. But once in the city, turmoil begins. The Judean residents in Jerusalem for the Passover, ask, “Who is this? 

The question about Jesus’ identity from the Judeans is important because most of Jesus’ ministry occurred in the northern part of Israel around the region of Galilee. Jesus only came to Jerusalem for the Passover three or four times during his ministry.  While he was well known in the northern part of Israel for his teachings, healings, and miracles, Jesus was not well known in the southern part of Israel, or the region of Judea. 

The Galileans and other northerners accompanying Jesus, answer the question, “Who is this?,” by showing pride in Him as from Galilee, their own prophet. They proudly proclaim, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

That answer was later adopted to set the people of Judea against him resulting in his rejection and crucifixion (John 7:52).

I meditate today on how our conscious and unconscious biases about people based on the group they belong to can lead to rash decisions and discriminatory practices that have harmful outcomes.

Prayer: I pray for the grace to be self-aware of my biases so that I may do no harm.