Palm Sunday

Imagine that today’s Gospel text, that accompanies the blessing and procession of palms (Lk. 19: 28 – 40) the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem was adapted as a stage show, or perhaps even a full-length movie; the spotlight would most certainly be directed onto the person of Jesus. He is the central figure, he has the starring role; however, in directing the spotlight onto Jesus, another figure is illumined – the donkey! In fact, the donkey and Jesus share the limelight, and I would like to focus on the donkey. Certainly, Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem today, however it may not have been the first time he was on a donkey. Christmas images in art have a pregnant Mary riding on a donkey as she and her husband Joseph make their way to Bethlehem. Similarly, these images have Mary (holding the newborn child) riding on a donkey as she and Joseph make a hurried escape to Egypt. And we might well imagine that there was a ride on a donkey when the family made their return from exile. Donkeys carrying Jesus appear to be a theme.

In Orthodox Christianity there is a special title given to Mary – that title is Theotokos. The title is what we in the English language would call a portmanteau, that is a new word formed by fusing together parts of existing words, in this instance the Greek word “theo” meaning God and the word “tokos” meaning to bear or to carry. Mary is the “God-bearer”. However maybe the donkey is also – the God-carrier.

Maybe that is our privilege and responsibility as baptized women, men, and children – to become a donkey! To carry Jesus wherever we go! There is, however, one important element which is sometimes overlooked, the bearer at times tries to become the one who is being carried. A genuine donkey will stand and wait with patience until the Master has need – and we have no better example there than the original ‘Theotokos’, who carried when carrying was necessary, who let the Word go when the Word chose, and who in the end was ready to hold when the Word could go no further, known as the Pieta.

The Pulitzer prize winning American poet ( 1935 – 2019 ) wrote a thought-provoking poem with the title, “The Poet Thinks About The Donkey”

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
     leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
     clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

+ Mary Oliver


Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Gospel story about an encounter between Jesus and those accusing a woman of adultery, (John 8: 2 – 11) is not about the rights and wrongs of the woman’s behaviour.

The Pharisees use Moses and his law as their point of validation. So let us go to the law of Moses.

In the Book of Leviticus we read, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 20:10).

Did you spot the word ”both”?

I would hazard a guess that few persons who read that Gospel passage have bothered to look at the law of Moses. According to the Law of Moses, King David ought to have been put to death!

The Gospel is about finger-pointing.

I have said on many occasions when you point a finger at an individual you are, in fact, pointing three at yourself!

What we accuse others of is more often than not what we ourselves are guilty of, or have difficulty in accepting a part of who we are.

Have you ever given consideration to the possibility that the adulterer was one of the group who brought the woman to Jesus?

The following is a reflective poem written as a response to the Gospel passage. The author, Irene Zimmerman OSF. A School Sister of St. Joseph.

From the angry crunch of their sandaled feet
as they left the courtyard, Jesus knew,
without looking up from his writing on the ground,
that the Pharisees and scribes still carried their stones.

The woman stood where they’d shoved her,
her hair hanging loose over neck and face,
her hands still shielding her head
from the stones she awaited.

“Woman,” he asked, “has no one condemned you?”

The heap of woman shuddered, unfolded.
She viewed the courtyard — empty now —
with wild, glazed eyes and turned back to him.
“No one, Sir,” she said, unsurely.

Compassion flooded him like a wadi after rain.

He thought of his own mother — had she known such fear? —
and of the gentle man whom he had called Abba.
Only when Joseph lay dying had he confided
his secret anguish on seeing his betrothed
swelling up with seed not his own.

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said.
“Go your way and sin no more.”

Black eyes looked out from an ashen face,
empty, uncomprehending.
Then life rushed back.
She stood before him like a blossoming tree.

“Go in peace and sin no more,”
Jesus called again as she left the courtyard.

He had bought her at a price, he knew.

The stony hearts of her judges
would soon hurl their hatred at him.
His own death was a mere stone’s throw away.

– From Woman Un-Bent, Irene Zimmerman, St. Mary’s Press, Winona, MN. 1999

4th Sunday Lent

The Prodigal Son

Our Gospel this week is one of the most recognized of all Gospel stories; The Prodigal Son ( Luke 15: 11 – 32).

In most print editions of the Gospels, the story is headed that way, some add ‘his older brother’ to the mix.

None, I have read and/or made use of has mentioned the father.

New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright in his commentary on this story has the title ‘The Running Father’.

Wright explains that what instantly caught the attention of the hearers of the story were the words, “but while he was still far off his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him . . .” (Lk. 15:20).

“He ran;” a seemingly incidental phrase in the helter-skelter lifestyle of today.

We run for the bus, to the train, out of the rain, and on occasions to the clothesline as the heavens open on our almost dried washing!

In the culture of Jesus, grown men did not run!

Another point we may well overlook when we spend too much time on the younger son is found in the line, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again!”

While the phrase is about the younger son being dead, it is equally true of the father himself.

Again within the culture of the time, the younger son asking for his share, ‘give me the share of the property that will belong to me’ (v.12) is wishing that his father is dead!

The personal and social shame for the father is extreme.

With the return of the younger son to the family home, indeed the father can exclaim with equal veracity for himself, “I was dead and am alive again.”

Maybe, that is at the heart of our Sacrament of Reconciliation, not my/our returning, rather my God exclaiming, “I was dead and am alive again!”

The painting is The Prodigal Son by Gely Korzhev (1925 – 2012).

Third Sunday of Lent

“God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ and he said, ‘Here I am.’’

Then the Lord said, ‘come no closer!

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Ex. 3: 5)

Remember those summer days of childhood when shoes were an accessory?

Whether it was grass filled with prickles, the road with its tar melting, the sand at the beach too hot to run on (unless you ran really, really fast, heading for the sea and yelped at the top of your voice!).

On those days we felt the ground, the ground was holy!

Then there were those wet, muddy days when it was hilarious to stand among the mud and feel the sensation as it squeezed between your toes.

On those days we felt the ground, and the ground was holy!

Today, the grass still has prickles!

The tar carry’s on to melt under the summer sun! the sand continues to bake red hot under the summer furnace! The mud still squelches when it is wet! “Nor can foot feel being shod” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, from God’s Grandeur)

The Irish author and poet, John O’Donohue speaking  in a radio interview shortly before his death commented, “I think it makes a huge difference, when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you, but in a totally different form, and if you go towards it with an open heart and a real, watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you.”

A part of the Celtic imagination that John O’Donohue had come to intuit was that landscape wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive.

The Jesuit poet puts Gerard Manley Hopkins had a similar intuition and he captures this in his poem “God’s Grandeur “

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

“Nor can foot feel, being shod” writes Hopkins.

O’Donohue asks the question, “What gives the person the right to intrude on this place?”

If I take ‘remove your sandals’ as a metaphor, the obvious question is (and so obvious we dare not ask it, because then it will persist until we, stumbling, attempt an answer!) – the question is ‘what do I need take off to meet my God?’

Do I dare take off that protective shield that ‘foot can feel again’? And feeling, experience my God?