Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

There is something forlorn about Halloween decorations still hanging around in December. We look at such a place and can only wonder if the owner left town hurriedly. Or that he or she turned seriously ill, and may be lying in a hospital somewhere. Or perhaps the owner is just lazy and out of touch.

For sure, their once proud décor is not in the spirit of the season. That last instance is precisely what the Church looks like every Advent, when she directs the priest to wear purple, and use the same color for the sanctuary adornment. Then there is the recommended absence of flowers. “What is going on?” we might ask, as we see the rest of the world is festooned with red and green, and is “jingle belling” itself into a shopping spree and a partying marathon?

The simple answer is that the Church believes in a period of penance and fasting before the feast. Those are too ancient and time-tested ways to get ready for a major religious celebration. The people of Italian descent among us try to do the same with their “Feast of the Seven Fishes” but it strikes me that they have waited too long and try to condense a whole month of prep into one evening of December 24.

Obviously, as a Church founded by a Person who was from childhood a “Sign of Contradiction,” she will reflect the Founder in her liturgy and customs. We Catholics are more and more conscious of the conflict we have with our present society when we see so many former aberrations that have been adopted and labelled “the new normal.” Just think of the crazy things our legislators have done in the matter of public restrooms.

During these early weeks of Advent, the Church asks us to think forward and consider the Second Coming of Christ. That is when this world, as we know it, will come to an end and then each of us will be judged. Judged on how much we loved God and neighbor. This is a serious matter because it involves our eternal future. Eternity, they have told me, is a very long time! Let’s face it. We would rather not think about such things.

We’d rather turn our attention instead to cozy thoughts of the Babe in the manger. Those many artists employed by the Christmas card makers have given us the bluish moonlight shining on a Nativity scene. Or, that inviting den with a fire glowing and stockings hung on the mantle. Sometimes a cute kitten playing with ribbon gets added. “So nice!” we think. But Advent doesn’t leave us alone with our sweet reveries.

It shakes our shoulders and says: “Wake up Christian! Don’t you realize that this place isn’t your real home and that someday you’ll have to leave here to go there? So you better watch out and you better not pout because He’s coming to town. I mean Jesus of course.

There’s a Second Coming of Christ and you’d better live rightly and justly. As you celebrate the anniversary of the First Coming, which is a fine thing to do because it reminds us of God’s great love for us, just keep in mind that Second One!

Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ

History has no favorites when it comes to kings. She lets us learn about both the good and the bad among them. There is Saint Louis IX of France who, among other good works, gifted the world with the magnificent Saint-Chapelle in Paris built to house relics of the true Cross. Contrast him with Henry VIII of England, who only built pleasure palaces for himself, and left the Catholic Church just so that he could divorce his legitimate wife and satisfy his lust for another woman.

While most freedom-loving Americans are distrustful of the whole idea of monarchs and majesties, there are still a great many of us who remain fascinated by their mischief and mayhem. Consider the size of the American TV audience for their weddings and funerals. These folks seem to have forgotten what our Revolutionary War was all about. But we have to forget all that when it comes time to celebrate this Sunday.

Each November we honor and celebrate Christ our King, and close out the Liturgical Year. We know we’re in a different realm of history when we call Jesus “King of the Universe” in the formal name of this feast. That brings an added dimension to our reflections. We are still in the category of history, but now we are considering the Person whose coming divided it into “before and after Him.” He is at its center, as He ought to be. He in fact never wanted to be a king. Only in His last hours on earth, when He was put on a sham trial, and a certain Pontius Pilate asked Him “Are you a king?” Jesus quickly answered “You say so,” which can be interpreted “That’s your word. (For My part,) I came to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.” To which cynical Pilate quickly asked, “What is truth?” Unfortunately for Pilate, and ourselves, he never got a direct answer from Jesus. But we readers of Scripture remember when Christ said: “I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life.”

Such a deep, bold and royal answer! It’s up to us to remember that. The whole matter of truth becomes problematic for us in the unique time and place we find ourselves occupying. Let’s face it: lies are all around us. They emanate from all the usual suspects, and even a few we never would have expected, like some of our bishops and cardinals. Did truth flee our world, only to orbit another planet? Not at all, for Jesus also told us “I am with you all days even to the end of the age.” He is here with us, dwelling first of all in the Eucharistic presence, and also in the hearts of men and women who exemplify what He stood for when

He was personally present here on earth. Fortunately we have both a Book and a Body to remind us of all that, the former being the bible and the latter being this Catholic Church He founded. While His truth always offers a criterion to decide by, there is now a problem we have to deal with. We, who are so concerned about speaking in politically correct terms, have to remember that the Truth of our King does not always resonate with an idea that is current or popular. Our Lord really doesn’t care if someone is made uncomfortable by hearing His truth spoken. Our King also despises the timid. Ultimately believing the Truth leads us to the Way, and the Life. ‘

Our King in fact demanded as much. This is the practical way to make our response to His ineffable love. Otherwise we’re just playing games. The worst pretender is, of course, the devil, who as father of lies uses every clever disguise he can to trick us into accepting his truth which leads to us bowing before him. That is precisely why I always love hearing stories of saints who beat the devil at his own game, who accepted our true King and how He thinks about things.

One famous story you may know is that of a reporter who watched Mother Saint Teresa of Calcutta as she cleaned the maggot-infested wound of a man on the street. All he could say to Mother was, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother is supposed to have replied immediately, with a bit of a wry smile, “I wouldn’t either.”

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Labeling something “an uphill battle” finds us using a well known English idiom. We know that the phrase denotes some type of task, some struggle that is difficult. Why so? Because the job in question involves all sorts of obstacles, not the least of which is opposition from other people. Playwright Jean Paul Sartre’s famous quote “Hell is other people” often fits the bill. There are uphill battles everywhere. One example would be for a budding entrepreneur who tries to get a permit to open a bar.

Unless he or she knows someone on the town or city council, that is. Another would be for a job seeker who is in his/her 60’s. Most companies want youth, not experience. (That is not the case when it comes to our Church, by the way. Two of our country’s bishops began new assignments this past summer at age 71!) Now in this discussion one major truth about uphill battles that emerges does not require much research. That is the matter of living the Christian life, day in and day out. Mark that as definite. One reason for this is that the opposition is everywhere, often from unsuspected sources, and the news headlines indicate that it’s winning.

There was a time when it was fair to assume that America was a largely Christian country, always tolerant of other faiths, but respecting God and the ways of living taught in the gospels. Today we’re becoming recognized as “the home of the nones.” Who are they?

People having no affiliation with a Church or religious body. The majority are ex-Catholics. Then we have the rise of secularism, where God is nowhere to be found in its tenets and practice. Many of them, some from among our own families, don’t accept Christ for who He said He was: the Son of the living God. His teachings are notably ideal but mean little for everyday life. They might accept Him as a learned teacher, a good man well-intentioned, but certainly not a divine person and largely irrelevant. They see no link between Jesus and the Catholic Church, even though He identified Himself with it.

Here is where we need to recall the defining question St. Paul faced when he was still called Saul, and was an avid persecutor of Christians. Enroute to one of his roundup missions, he was knocked to the ground only to hear the voice of Jesus ask: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” To all this we must add the social environment we live in. I found this alliterative analysis of it in a Time magazine essay, which said in part: “Ours is a huckstering, show-bizzy world, jangling with hype, hullabaloo, and hooey; bull, baloney, and bamboozlement.” (Admittedly I like the funny alliteration. But there is no humor in that summation.)

Even more sadly is the fact that even our children have already acquired the cynical assumption that lying is the normal tack for television advertisers. Standing ever tall amid this mess is Jesus, “the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” He has always been truthful, as He is in this Scripture passage today, where He promises His followers they will be persecuted as was He. It seems to be God the Father’s way of sifting out the gold from the dross among those who claim allegiance to His Son. It involves us having the will to see things through until the end, in spite of fear, obstacles, discouragement and opposition.

With it, we can accomplish the whole purpose of our existence, which is be worthy of our true home, where we will enjoy an indescribable bliss after this earthly time of trial. Is perseverance easy? Not by a long shot! But deep down I think we all know that. All we need do is read the biography of our favorite saint to see an example. It seems to me that perseverance involves an antipathy toward defeat. St. Patrick, who converted the people of Ireland to Christianity, faced frequent obstacles in his missionary work including false imprisonment, certainly knew where His strength was.

Here is part of his poem aptly titled “God’s Strength to Comfort Me”: I gird myself today with the power of God: God’s strength to comfort me, God’s might to uphold me; God’s wisdom to guide me; God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me; God’s hand to lead me; God’s way to lie before me; God’s shield to protect me; God’s angels to save me from the snares of the devil; from the temptations to sin, from all who wish me ill, both far and near, both alone and with others.

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

It became perennial. I am referring to each new batch of high school sophomores I had to teach, with their innate ability to be, shall I say, ever so politely, “unpleasantly lacking in self-control?”

For some eight years of my 17 teaching high school, I was their Religion teacher. It’s a form of “dry martyrdom” worthy at least of a dented halo. I remember particularly how they would try to take advantage of my decision to offer a relaxed Friday “Q & A” session most weeks. What they would do frequently enough was to pose questions unrelated to the subject matter, or else ask those akin to what the Sadducees asked Jesus. For example, “Can God make a square circle?”

Both types of questions are unworthy of a serious answer. The questioner is mainly interested in annoying the teacher, or at least usher him/her into an embarrassing position. Of course, the Sadducees were confronting the greatest Teacher who ever lived with their trick question. They weren’t really interested in the whole matter of whose wife a woman of multiple husbands would be in the resurrected life. To begin with, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

We know that the gospels are replete with incidents that are like mirrors held up to us. The stories lead us to a little self-examination. For example, have you or I ever questioned God? Demanded answers of Him about one of life’s persistent questions? Or challenged Him to defend one of His decisions involving you? Let me be clear from the outset: to question God respectfully is not in itself wrong.

Many questions, for example, are put to God in the Psalms (Psalm 10, 44, 74 and 77). People asked questions of Jesus that were natural and spontaneous. St. Luke gives us a sampling. Early on, His disciples ate grain from a wheat field on a sabbath. Some Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what our Law says you cannot do on a sabbath?” (Luke 6:2) Later on, some of the Baptist’s disciples asked Him: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20)

After a parable about a sower “His disciples asked Jesus what this parable meant?” (Luke 8: 9) Before a spectacular miracle: “All we have are five loaves and two fish. Do you want us to go and buy food for this whole crowd? There were about five thousand men there.” (Luke 9:13) The list goes on. In short, an honest question is not a sin, but a bitter, untrusting or rebellious heart is. At a certain age in life it is out of place to be sophomoric in our questions to the Lord.

Allow me to add two corollaries: 1. It is not every question that deserves an answer. 2. When somebody says “That’s a good question,” you can be pretty sure it’s a lot better than the answer you’re going to get. Over and above all this is the ever-consoling truth that God loves each of us, by name and forever, unless we turn away from Him. The Bible, the Church, and my faith tell me that’s really and truly…unquestionable.

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

“Popular wisdom” is often an oxymoron. Such is the case with something called “Short man syndrome.” There is no medical or psychological foundation for the term, but it’s used a lot. Sometimes it gets an historical nod, being called “Napoleon complex.”

The stereotypical “victims” of the condition are the short people among us, whom in today’s lingo might be called “vertically challenged.” Because of their missing height, such people are said to be overly aggressive and are likely to do a lot of shouting and loud talking. They do this allegedly to seek attention. They often maintain strong opinions about things, so eager are they to prove themselves. You get the idea. You may even know somebody like that.

We know nothing of the famous short fellow Zacchaeus other than what St. Luke tells us, so we cannot categorize him as one of the above. We do know he held the worst job in town. He made his money working for the hated Romans as one of their tax collectors. We can be sure that he was ostracized by the Jewish townspeople. He was likely often alone at night when others might be dining out, or otherwise socializing. Today we might call him “marginalized.” That would be enough right there to have him show up on Our Lord’s “radar.” So Jesus does spot Zacchaeus, half hiding up there in that sycamore tree just waiting for a glance of the Man of wonder that he might not otherwise have the chance to see, much less meet.

But is he ever in for the surprise of his life! For the Lord looks up, likely with a kind smile on His handsome face, and with a wave of His strong arm, urges Zacchaeus to come on down. Not only that, He tells the poor little rich man that He’d like to dine that evening at his home! Was there a word equivalent to “Wow” that Zacchaeus said? We can only guess. Obviously we have no video of this scene, but you have to imagine the looks of shock on the faces of the townspeople gathered around who heard the rabbi, the one they call “Master,” just say that He is going to “that one’s” house to eat? Unbelievable!!”

Of course, that’s precisely Jesus’ point. God can be unbelievable at times with His decisions. Here Jesus, the “sign of contradiction” chooses to reach out to this little social leper who had climbed up so that Jesus could reach out.

Come to think of it, that is precisely what Jesus is always doing to us: reaching out. No matter our bodily height. He came among us to end this separation from our best self, the one attuned to God. Alienation from God takes many forms. Not always dramatic, much less the stuff of novels. Sometimes it is so subtle that we miss it. Or we catch what’s happening but refuse to admit there is a problem.

For example, take the use of coarse language. It is disrespectful of the person(s) who hear it. That is to say also that it is irreverent of a part of God’s creation It may even give scandal to “little ones,” by that I mean children. Such speech can also be a thinly veiled form of violence. And certainly it would make us most uncomfortable in the presence of Jesus. The same holds true for racial slurs. Or deliberately ignoring the speed limit on the road. Having little tolerance for another’s unintentional mistake. A little too much to drink too often. Little lies now and then. None of these are earth-shaking, but each tears down the ideals set for us at Baptism, and the promises we made at our Confirmation.

We don’t know whether or not Zacchaeus bragged about his visitor and that wonderful supper he enjoyed with Him. But boasting is one of those forms of pride that not only violates humility but also can backfire on us.

A newly promoted Army colonel moved into his new and impressive office. As he sat behind his new big desk, a private knocked at his door. “Just a minute,” the colonel said, “I’m on the phone.” He picked up the phone and said loudly, ”Yes sir, General, I’ll call the President this afternoon. No sir, I won’t forget.” Then he hung up the phone and told the private to come in. “What can I help you with?” the colonel asked. “Well, sir, the private replied, “I’ve come to hook up your phone.”

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

I was once asked to teach a college semester course on prayer. That sounds simple enough a request to make of a priest. After all, we’re supposed to be the “pros”, experts in all things Catholic, veritable “answer machines” when it comes to most questions the average Catholic might ask.

Well, to be honest, that request to teach prayer was akin to asking me to teach higher math. I was never much good in any math past addition and subtraction. Nonetheless, as anything but an expert, I delved into the subject, with books galore and saints aplenty. Ultimately I chose the one perfect prayer my students and I could analyze: The Lord’s Prayer. Would you believe, we never quite finished that analysis when the semester ended?

This weekend features a gospel passage in which Jesus tells another one of His matchless parables that includes a key element in all real prayer: humility. The story includes an indictment of those who were “self-righteous.” That word describes a person who is “smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” I dislike that definition, not because of any inaccuracy, but because it accurately describes me at times. Not something to brag about at all. I have this pet description of myself and most people, as having in our minds, an imaginary courtroom where we are both prosecutor and judge. We diagnose the failure of someone we know, for example, to be Christlike. Then we “pounce and pronounce” on them with a clear and harsh verdict of “guilty,” all the while hinting quite broadly that we never act that way ourselves.

This applies to celebrities, well-known politicians and their political parties, our fellow family members, the hierarchy of the Church, our pastors, and nearly anybody we care to name. And then along comes Our Lord with a devastating parable featuring a man much like ourselves who is obviously so wrong, so full of pride as to be disgusting. To top it off, he is contrasted with his opposite, a virtuous and humble man who mouths a heartfelt request of his God. Obviously, we know which man Our Lord the Storyteller favors. Listen again to that tax collector in the back of the room that could well teach a college course in prayer. He says “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Just eight words. But worth more than eighteen or eighty in describing a perfect attitude when addressing our all-holy God.

We know of the greedy practice of many a Jewish tax collector in those days, ostensibly working for the Romans but secretly working for themselves by overcharging taxpayers. The man in the parable is a wonderful exception. We admire him. We want to be like him. He would know the truth of today’s Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” In the meantime, we trust in God to help us improve each day to be more like the person He had in mind when He created us. Of course, we have to live with people who are the opposite of that taxpayer, who seem to be everywhere.

Sometimes we delight when they get their comeuppance. Like the man in this story published in “The Los Angeles Times.” A flight cancellation had resulted in a long line of travelers trying to get booked on another flight. One man in the line grew increasingly impatient with the slow-moving line. Suddenly, he pushed his way to the front and angrily demanded a first-class ticket on the next available flight. “I’m sorry,” said the ticket agent, “but I’ll have to first take care of the people who were ahead of you in the line.” The irate man then pounded his fist on the ticket counter, saying, “Do you have any idea who I am?” Whereupon the ticket agent picked up the public address microphone and said, “Attention please! There is a gentleman at the ticket counter who does not know who he is. If there is anyone in the airport who can identify him, please come to the counter.” Hearing this, the man retreated, and the people waiting in line burst into applause.


You’ve seen them on their TV shows.  The judges in official black robes, complete with the courtroom set, adjudicating cases of all kinds, and banging their gavels with authority.  Add to them the various judges brought in by the cable news outlets to lend their expertise in comments on any number of headline-making stories.  Audiences give these last special attention even if they show up without the robes and the courtroom benches.

We know from Scripture that Our Lord Jesus did not have much time for judges and even lawyers.  It seems that the ones He met were either shysters or hypocrites.  Naturally, His disdain does not permit us to generalize negatively all our present-day judges and lawyers, although often enough the lesser members of their group generate negative headlines of their own.

This weekend’s Gospel selection finds Jesus telling His own parable that features an unjust judge who nonetheless renders a just decision in a case brought by a widow.  Bear in mind that such a woman was rather powerless in the patriarchal society Jesus inhabited.  What makes the judge step out of character?  The persistence of the widow.  Jesus goes on to say that very quality should mark our prayer.

The First Reading from Exodus puts Moses’ persistence on display, in his persistence in holding up the rod of God over his army to encourage them, even though as a “senior citizen” he needed youthful help in keeping his arms lifted.

We can be sure that people in Our Lord’s time were as impatient with God’s timetable as we are.  The big difference is that in our so-called “First World” culture, life moves at a near breakneck pace thanks to our computerized gadgets.  But then we also have our methods of weight loss that guarantee we will “lose 18 pounds in a month,” or medicine that allegedly brings relief immediately; instant coffee and quick mortgages,” ET cetera, et cetera.”  The problem of impatience easily spills over into the spiritual realm and has its effects on our prayer.

Some Christians become doubtful, Christians or even former Christians, when their prayer needs are seemingly unmet.  Some Catholic Christians are the same way when they grow impatient with the pace of the Vatican.  Yet I believe we all know deep down that persistence in prayer is the only way to go.  And when our good God happens to answer “no” we have to accept that because in faith we believe He knows best.  The good news is that He really does.

History endorses persistence, indirectly voting for it as a quality of good prayer.  Once upon a time a teenager had decided to quit high school, saying he was just fed up with it all.  His father was trying to convince him to stay with it. “Son,” he said, you just can’t quit.  All the people who are remembered in history didn’t quit.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t quit.  Thomas Edison, he didn’t quit.  Douglas MacArthur, he didn’t quit.  Elmo Mc Cringle….”

“Who?” the son burst in.  “Who’s Elmo Mc Cringle?”  “See,” the father replied, “you don’t remember him.  He quit!”



Our grandchildren teach us a host of lessons.  So do the tots who are our nieces and nephews.  One of those is the notion that any reward they deserve for doing something well should be instant.  Whether it’s the right answer to our question; or the clever rick they have mastered; or even for the proper response to their potty training.  Any reward will do, including applause, a piece of chocolate, or a sticker depicting Big Bird.  If that reward does not come right away, then we grown ups have to risk seeing their tears or a disappointed expression on their cute little faces.

But here’s a question.  Are we anything like self-centered children when we do something good for God?  Do we use our talent for subtlety by mentioning what we did to friends or family, hoping that God overhears us?  Something like this comes through the prophet Habakkuk’s rant: “How long O Lord?  I cry for help and You do not listen?”

We know that Habakkuk did hear back from God “Wait for it (the vision of the future) will not be late.”  That tells us for sure that God’s timing is quite different from our own.  He notices whatever we do.  If a reward is due, let Him decide when.

In addition to a timing lesson, we find in the Gospel selection from Luke another facet of God’s way of handing out rewards.  “When you have done all that you have been commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”  That is the uncomfortable truth. Jesus is so right, but we think otherwise sometimes.  All of our prayers and good works are basically what we owe to the Lord in the first place.  So don’t act the hero when you’re just fulfilling your duty. But in the face of so many others who don’t obey the Lord, shouldn’t we get some recognition?

Of course, He regularly does that for us in the graces He sends our way.  And in the great Sacrament of Reconciliation He restores our place of honor in His kingdom when we have not done anything good by sending us the graces of forgiveness and healing.

Instead of living for Christ with an eye to potential reward, the gospels, the great saints of our Church, and the truly good people all around us give an unflagging example of how to do it the right way.  They show us what love and loyalty to Christ look like. It is in all those little things like daily rosary, regular courtesies and manners, together with a warm smile that together make for the building blocks of holiness.  And by truly knowing and believing the doctrines of our Church to buttress their practice, like that of Christ’s true Presence in the Holy Eucharist, they evangelize.  They spread the gospel.

A teacher had just finished putting the last pair of galoshes on her first-graders—thirty-two pairs in all.  The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren’t my galoshes.”  The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet.  “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.”  The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil.  Now that’s patience!   A largely unnoticed quiet decision, except by that little girl. Just a tiny analogy  depicting how God is with us, and what He expects.


Visit Hershey, Pennsylvania and you know you’re going to experience chocolate “up close and personal.” The town makes that easy for you by providing a large emporium called simply “Hershey’s Chocolate World.” The first time I walked into that place I was amazed by the variety of ways the company packages the delightful brown confection. Its website simply declares the whole truth by saying this store “stocks a huge selection of chocolate.” I would add that the challenge is to make your choice and stick with it.

Today’s Gospel selection, which is the entire 15th chapter of Luke, also invites preachers to make a choice. Which of the three parables of Jesus would he or she prefer to reflect on and apply to the congregation? All three have a lot to say. But the third and most famous one almost shouts from the page: “Preach about me!” Yes, it’s the “Prodigal Son.”

By serious reflection, we soon realize that we should be calling the story that of “The Loving Father.” That makes a better fit with the other two illustrations Our Lord uses. Dare I say that the ensemble makes for a “sweet” relief for our troubled consciences and the guilt that comes with our sinning? Jesus is telling us that “God’s mercy breaks through all the restrictions we come up with about how God should act toward sinners.”

In ascending order of creation, Jesus offers us the stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost younger son. He is telling us of the fact that God’s mercy may look foolish at first glance. As foolish as a woman who turns her little house upside down to recover a near worthless coin like our penny. As foolish as a shepherd who abandons 99 valuable sheep to potential predators just to save one. Or as foolish as a Jewish father who joyfully welcomes home a prodigal younger son who has abandoned his faith and becomes a Gentile. If you look again, Jesus is telling us that His Father is no fool, and He loves us the most.

The well-known Protestant scholar William Barclay offers his own take on the matter. No matter which of the three parables we choose to remember, we will understand them more fully if we remember that the strict Jews, namely the Pharisees and scribes at that dinner where Jesus spoke, held not that there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, but over one sinner who is obliterated before God. Jesus’ whole new outlook was a challenge to that bitter way of thinking.

When you’re preparing for your next confession, it is always a good thing to recall these parables, especially the third, and that loving Father. I like to picture him at twilight each day, watching for that familiar silhouette of his lost son against the setting sun, with that recognizable way he walked, and his father’s heart filling with joy as he ran to hug him.

Barclay presents a more modern story to complement the Lord’s. Once Abraham Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners when they had finally been defeated and had returned to the Union. The questioner most likely expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance. Instead the great man replied “I will treat them as if they had never been away.” It is the wonder of the love of God that He treats us like that! As our young people might react with their slang: “Sweet!” I would hasten to add: “Yes, sweet! Like chocolate –but much, much better!”

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

People who change the world aren’t always who you expect. They are housewives, repairmen, teachers, and the military to name a few. Ordinary people who believe in a better world.
Readers’ Digest magazine recently chose what they called “15 people who changed history.” Among them were Rosa Parks, who wouldn’t give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus on December 1, 1955. Todd Beamer and the passengers on Flight 93 who fought back against the 9/11 terrorists and crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA instead of slamming into our nation’s capital. And then there was Candy Lightner, who stood up against drunk driving after her 13 year old daughter was killed by a repeat DWI offender. She founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in her home on March 7, 1980.

Yes, such people aren’t always who you expect. Such of course is the case of God’s only Son, that most extraordinary Person of all, who made Himself ordinary when He came to visit this planet in person some twenty plus centuries ago. He did that to save all of us from being forever locked out of His high heaven. Jesus was a handsome man for sure, a bit taller than the males of His time if the Shroud of Turin is authentic. Attractive to all whom He met in His travels not only by His appearance but also by His demeanor, which sprang from His hidden divinity. He demanded that people change their way of living. He wanted them to shun sin.

People of every age are much the same, and sin can be such an attractive proposition at times even for the best of us. So because of His demands about avoiding sin, Jesus was never universally popular. He even puzzled His closest friends. But He knew, and tried to get them to know also, that if their human weakness held them down, His strength would lift them up. If asked, they would agree that He was truly a “man on fire.” We agree, do we not?

We His present day followers would also have to admit that Jesus was not what we would expect of a Divine Redeemer. He really was the prophet’s “sign of contradiction.” He began His public life as a young man amid a culture that thought wisdom was only in the old. His enemies mocked Him with saying “Thou art not yet fifty years old…” He was uneducated in the formal sense, having had only the usual synagogue syllabus. “Where did He get all this? Is He not the carpenter’s son?” His was born into poverty when only the rich were greatly esteemed. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He hailed from a dusty nearly forgotten village named Nazareth when the sophisticated people only came from
the great cities. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Despite this, Jesus was also magnetic and majestic in His preaching and example. An unusually confident Person, only angry when He had to be, especially when He clashed with those in authority. “You hypocrites! He shouted.” But in the end, He suffered the usual fate of the prophets like Jeremiah. “’Crucify Him!’ they shouted.”

There are some conclusions we can draw from this brief recall, if we want to be authentic followers of the Nazarene. First of all, we have to remember our general ordinariness. This despite the fact that in God’s eyes each of us is special.

We also must recognize that belief in Jesus always implies a call to action. And then, in this society of ours, with it’s warped sense of priorities and its tendency to discount God’s very existence, we must realize that we will remain unpopular for our beliefs. Mocked sometimes by our own families. But we can lean on that great consolation we have that God is always with us, no matter what. That’s how we know for sure that we each have the power to change the world.

Not by putting it down, but by lifting it up.