Wait, there were 2 Judases?

Or should that be Judai?

At any rate, how long have I been in this Church and only today do I read the gospel and find that Jesus had two apostles named Judas? Can you imagine being the other Judas? “Oh, no, I’m not the one who took the coins. I’m the good Judas.” You might have a hard time shaking off the perceived reputation of being a traitor.

Today’s gospel tells the story of how Jesus came down from prayer and named the twelve. I would love to know how each of them made the cut. Were there several rounds, like a draft? Were some of the also-ran disciples annoyed? “That Simon Peter is such a kiss-up. He gets picked for everything.” Or perhaps, “I think that Judas Iscariot is a bad choice. I never trusted him.”

Well, everything works out for a reason, including everything related to the story of Jesus.

Everything’s Coming up Mary

I look forward all year to a few of my favorite gospel passages. Imagine my joy this past Sunday when the story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary was featured.

Modern interpretation: Jesus goes to visit sisters Martha and Mary (Lazarus is their brother), and Martha is slaving over a hot kettle while Mary is sitting cross-legged listening to Jesus just like a little kid at story time. Martha is perturbed. “Jesus,” she basically whines, “look at me working so hard to make you a wonderful meal. Tell my lazy sister Mary to get up and help me!”

Jesus, not one to coddle complainers, tells her very nicely, “Thank you for your hospitality, Martha, but you’re always worked up about something, while your sister is calmly learning from me.”

“Hello? Jesus? Look at all this work I’m doing while my sister Mary is sitting at your feet.”

As a true Italian-American, I always imagine Martha, short and stocky with cherubic cheeks, standing in front of a cauldron of boiling hot water as she stirs limp spaghetti strands. Never mind that pasta would not have been on the menu; it helps me to better understand the scripture if I can picture a little old Italian lady worrying more about spaghetti and meatballs than what the guest has come to share.

Mary, of course, is the thinner, more classically beautiful sister, often dismissed as lazy or simple-minded but really she is just totally in tune with her spirituality. She is soaking up her time with the Lord and enjoying what he has to say. That doesn’t make Martha a bad person. If she didn’t stir the sauce and knead the dough, who would feed this man? It’s just that Mary has the opportunity to take full advantage of why Jesus is there: not necessarily to eat but rather to reveal his wisdom.

Martha could have been paying attention to Jesus while she was preparing the meal, just like I could be strengthening myself spiritually while I’m doing laundry or making dinner for my family. Why does it often seem easier to take the woe-is-me attitude? In all honesty, no one really cares. You’re cooking for Jesus? That’s fantastic! You should be so proud. You’re doing 11 loads of laundry? You’re so fortunate to have a family! Sadly, it’s hard to think of your good fortune when you’re busy feeling sorry for yourself.

Martha’s sister Mary doesn’t feel sorry for herself — or for Martha, for that matter. Jesus isn’t throwing Martha a pity party either. As he tells her, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

Yesterday’s gospel featured yet another Mary; this time it’s Mary Magdalene. News flash for Catholics who have been out of the loop for some time: Mary Magdalene is no longer considered to have been a prostitute. Apparently, that was a story grown out of the preaching of a long-ago pope. In fact, Mary Magdalene is right up there with all of the apostles.

She is the one present at the resurrection of Jesus. As one of his most ardent disciples, Mary Magdalene rushes to the tomb to find the stone has been rolled away. And what transpires next is nothing short of awe-inspiring:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo’ni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Mag’dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:11-18

As magnificent as this story is, we are left with questions, the most obvious being: Since Mary Magdalene was so important to Jesus and followed him so closely, why isn’t she traditionally considered among the apostles? Why doesn’t she have the same clout as, say, Peter? (And, hello? Peter denied Jesus 3 times the night before he died. You don’t hear of Mary doing that.)

My only guess is that, as much as early Christians embraced the teachings of Jesus, they were either unable or unwilling to give equal billing to a woman. We don’t hear about Mary going out and proclaiming the gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection; yet, she is now getting more and more attention as someone who helped found the early Church.

As a notoriously old-fashioned Catholic, I’m hesitant to rework the history of the Church; however, as a fellow female, I like the idea of Mary Magdalene being right up there with Peter, James, Timothy and the rest. (We will save the discussion of whether this means women should be priests for another time.) At the same time, I rather enjoy the idea of women being the unsung heroes in the Bible. It may seem like men are doing all the work, but in the background are women carrying a lot of the heavy lifting.

Here’s to the Marys of the Bible for carrying the faith. And let’s not forget the Marthas, who are always making sure that no one preaches on an empty stomach.

June 17: No Resistance

How pertinent today’s gospel is, and how quickly it is to forget:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You have heard that it was said,

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.

When someone strikes you on your right cheek,

turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,

hand him your cloak as well.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,

go with him for two miles.

Give to the one who asks of you,

and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Matthew 5:38-42

Thursday, April 18: Crazy

We’re about halfway through the Latin Mass on Holy Thursday when it dawns on me: Jesus did some pretty out-there stuff. On Palm Sunday, he tells his disciples to go fetch him a donkey, then he rides it into town. This is to fulfill a prophesy, sure, but was anyone expecting it at that moment?

A few days later, during their Passover meal, Jesus just starts washing his disciples’ feet. Peter is rather appalled. Why in the world is the Lord washing my feet? Then, he does something even more cray-cray: He breaks the bread and calls it his body; he lifts the chalice of wine and calls it his blood.

At this point, the disciples are in a little too deep to just walk away. I wonder if any of them thought of it, though. “You know, Jesus over here is exhibiting some strange tendencies. I may have to cut out of this dinner early.” Everyone stays, though, including that scoundrel Judas, who’s about to turn in Jesus for some silver.

The point is, the disciples have followed Jesus all this time, and they’ve witnessed some unusual activity. Turning a loaf of bread and two fish into enough food to feed thousands of people, for example. By the end of the Passover with Jesus, they must think they’ve seen it all.

That is until days later, after he’s crucified, when he leaves the tomb and walks among them. Hold onto your hats, disciples!

Tuesday, March 26th: 77 Times

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:22-35

Sometimes Jesus says stuff that can really bug you. You mean to tell me that I have to forgive someone a bazillion times, even if they are not sorry? This does not sit well with my ability to hold a grudge! Strong words for today, and something to think about in this day and age when we can be so easily hurt.

March 11-16: So Much to Say

What a great week for the Gospels. All week, Jesus is giving some of his greatest advice to those who will listen. Nothing here for me to add.

Monday, March 11:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him. 
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you? 
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

Tuesday, March 12:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Matthew 6:7-15

Wednesday, March 13:

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah. 
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment 
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation 
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here. 
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Luke 11:29-32

Thursday, March 14:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. 
This is the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 7:7-12

Friday, March 15:

Jesus said to his disciples: 
“I tell you, 
unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, 
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 5:20-26

Day 27: A House Divided

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas. This morning, the priest gave a very nice homily about him. But there’s something else that feels very pressing at the moment.

Every morning, I am greeted by an email from Bishop Robert Barron’s. I mentioned him in a previous post. In these emails, Bishop Barron recounts the day’s gospel and then expounds on its meaning. His words are always very proactive and inspirational, and sometimes they feel eerily timely.

In today’s gospel, some scribes are in a lather because Jesus is casting out demons. (Mark 3:22-30) “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” one of them says.
“By the prince of demons he drives out demons,” says another. Naturally, Jesus aims to explain to them that he’s actually working with the faith, not against it.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand,” Jesus replies to the scribes. “And if a house is divided against itself, 
that house will not be able to stand.”

As Bishop Barron explains it, while satanic demons try to break up good things, Jesus’ aim is to put things back together.

It really feels these days like we’re trying to divide ourselves into groups, create division and focus on the negative. If you don’t feel that way, you’re probably staying away from social media and the news, and good for you!

A house divided cannot stand. We really should get back to being a united front. That doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything. That’s never going to happen. But we can respect each other’s opinions and maybe even find common ground.

It’s times like these when the gospel provides especially great guidance, and Bishop Barron helps to drive that home. And, if I may quote one more inspirational person: In the immortal words of the late Rodney King (and I apologize for taking them out of their original context), “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all just get along?”

Day 13: The Pains of Parenting

It’s Sunday, and we’re back at the MAC (Immaculate Conception) for the 8 AM Latin Low Mass. The church is still decorated with wreaths and Christmas trees as today marks the end of Christmastide. I guess I don’t have to feel bad that our tree and outdoor decorations are still up at home.

Today at the Latin Mass, the gospel is about the finding of Jesus in the temple. Here’s a story that horrifies parents. Your family is traveling in a large group from Jerusalem back to your home village after Passover. At some point, you realize your child isn’t with you. Not with your relatives, not with your friends. He simply is not in the group. So you trek back to Jerusalem to find him. You spend three days running around Jerusalem looking for your child until you eventually find him in the temple talking with the rabbis. And here’s the kicker. You approach him and ask, rightfully so, why he basically gave you a heart attack. And he says you should have known he’d be doing his father’s business.

So what do you do if your Mary and Joseph? Grab him by the ear and scold him all the way back to the caravan? Ground him when you get back to Nazareth? Tell him he has to spend some extra hours working in his father’s carpentry shop to make up for the time you’ve lost? Or just thank the rabbis for keeping him all this time and quietly head back home?

Parenting is tough, but imagine parenting Jesus.

This is one of the only stories about Jesus as a child. I want to know more. Did he have friends? Did he like to play outside? Did he ever refuse to eat something Mary made for dinner? Did he ever have a temper tantrum? Was he always very Jesus-like, or was he for the most part your average child?

Nazareth. A few years ago, archaeologists found a structure in the city that they say might have been the home of the young Jesus and his family.

Maybe Jesus’ childhood was really ordinary. Perhaps the temple story is the only extraordinary detail of his formative years. I suppose, but the writer and editor in me find this story incomplete. With such a compelling character at the heart of the tale, how could you not be curious about his early life, and how his parents handled raising such an important child? I want to know the whole story. Details, please!

Day 5: What’s So Bad About Nazareth?

The Bible is not a barrel full of laughs. There are floods, plagues, murders and, of course, a crucifixion. Every once in a while, though, you find a nugget of humor.

Today, Philip meets Jesus (yes, the grownup version) and excitedly runs to tell his friend Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s reply? “Can any good come out of Nazareth?”

Now that’s funny. I sort of imagine Nathaniel looking at his fingernails while Philip is bursting at the seams with excitement. And when he hears Philip say, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” I picture Nathaniel looking up, rolling his eyes, and making a crack about Jesus’ hometown.

I appreciate Nathaniel’s droll sense of humor; however, I’m not quite sure why he’s so down on Nazareth.

The site israelbiblicalstudies.com offers two possible options. Nazareth was a tiny town with probably no more than 150 residents and was overshadowed by the larger neighboring city of Sepphoris. So it’s possible that Nathaniel’s comment is a slam at what he considers to be a podunk kind of town. Option 2 suggests that Nazareth was under the religious influence of Jerusalem, which apparently didn’t sit well with the anti-Jerusalem folks. I’m not sure which one is more likely, but I still like Nathaniel’s sense of humor.

And then Jesus comes back with a zinger. When he meets Nathaniel for the first time, He says, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.” Basic translation: “You’re a straight-shooter, Nate. We’ll get along just fine.”

Religion can be so solemn. We need to lighten the mood now and then.
Even Jesus did it, so it can’t be a bad thing.