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“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.’ So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:1-9).
 
Every canonical Gospel makes it clear that the empty tomb was discovered by women, and in each account, Mary of Magdala is among them. In John’s Gospel, she is the only one to discover the empty tomb. She runs to tell Simon Peter and “the other disciple,” and they set out for the tomb. When they arrive and enter, it is the other disciple who “saw and believed.” Peter does not yet believe. Both, however, “did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
 
It is indeed a dark moment for them. Mary, already overcome with grief, finds that her beloved teacher has been taken from his resting place. She runs to her companions, but they too don’t understand what has happened and offer no comfort. The empty tomb is the bridge between Jesus’ earthly ministry and his resurrection. It is through this dark moment of unknowing that the disciples must pass to encounter the risen Jesus, the life that will come from death.
 
It is ironic that on this day, the summit of our Christian celebration, we are presented with an account of the confusion, uncertainty, and sorrow of that first Easter. This gospel reading speaks to our own experiences of sadness, grief, and death. Often, we don’t understand, we don’t see how or where God is working in these situations. We want to trust, but we find ourselves lost in the darkness, hoping to find a light. In the readings that follow Easter we are given the hope that ultimately light and life will have the final word.
 
– How have you been able to find God at a time of darkness or grief?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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We are given the Eucharist, and we must journey with Jesus to the cross.
 
Lord Jesus,
You loved us so deeply that you were
willing to love us unto death, death on a cross.
When we see brothers and sisters
who are suffering and afflicted,
let us see you, and let us respond
with a love “surpassing all understanding”—
your love. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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“The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest’” (Matthew 21: 8-9)
 
“They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him” (Matthew 27: 30-31).
 
Holy Week is a week of paradox. It begins with the triumph of waving palms and shouting hosanna to the son of David. But it soon becomes a very sad scene. The same king whom the crowds glorified is betrayed with a kiss, arrested, tortured, and finally crucified. Triumph is quickly transformed into tragedy.
 
How do we understand this paradox of the Lord’s Passion? The names “Palm” Sunday and “Passion” Narrative are not contradictory terms but rather are melded together in the Paschal Mystery which inseparably unites the dying and rising of Jesus. It weds tragedy to triumph, shame to glory, sorrow to joy.
 
It is here that the Paschal Mystery has a connection to our lives. We cannot wait for all our crosses to be lifted so that we can experience only complete joy. For us, joy comes mixed with sorrows; roses bloom, but the thorns remain.
 
Through the Passion readings we see that Jesus lived the full gamut of human reality. He expressed happiness with his family and friends, satisfaction in accomplishing his mission, fulfillment from seeing the fruits of his labor. Jesus also experienced the pain of disappointment, anger, betrayal, rejection, and both physical and mental torture. By walking closely with Jesus in these days of Holy Week, we remind ourselves that he is walking closely with us through every step of our sorrow and joy.
 
– What lesson does the suffering of Jesus teach you about your own suffering?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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As for his beloved friend, Lazarus, Jesus is our resurrection and life.
 
God of freedom, you loose all bonds
that hold us in darkness and sin.
Heal the places where our wounds and pride
have kept us distant from you
and one another.
Free us from our tombs, O Christ. Amen.

 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’
Martha said, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’ He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Sir, come and see.’ And Jesus wept.
Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, ‘Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.’ And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him and let him go’” (John 11:17, 21-27, 33b-35, 39-44).
 
When Lazarus first fell ill, Mary and Martha probably became pretty worried. Then again, they were good friends of Jesus of Nazareth, the one sent by God, who had cured so many people. They believed that all they had to do was let Jesus know and he would come heal their brother. Imagine their disappointment, their feelings of betrayal, when Jesus did not come soon enough, and Lazarus died.
 
When Jesus finally arrived, Martha and Mary each greeted him with the same accusation, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
 
Jesus accompanied both sisters in their own experience of grief, confirming the faith that Martha spoke aloud and joining in Mary’s tears. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus encounters people in dark moments and invites them into a new fullness of life through physical and spiritual healing. His journey through death to resurrection offers us hope in new life no matter what darkness may come. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said.
 
“Lazarus, come out! … Untie him and let him go.” These words carry meaning for us, too. We may be living in the dark, dank, dreary tombs of our bad habits and wrong choices, bound by prejudices, desires, attachments, and addictions. Even when we become dead to the fullness of life or to the needs and feelings of others, Jesus can resurrect us. The witness of history is that he has resurrected millions from sin, from inertia, from insensitivity, from selfishness, and his touch has not lost its ancient power.
 
– When have you experienced resurrection, or new life, coming from an experience of death or darkness?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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If we are receptive, Christ will heal our blindness.
 
Jesus, Son of Man,
your light shines into human life
and illuminates the places where we are blind and resistant.
Bathe us in the glow of your healing love
and free us from the darkness
that impedes us from seeing and following you. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Blind_Man“They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them, ‘He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.’ So some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a sinful man do such signs?’ And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, ‘What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
They answered and said to him, ‘You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?’ Then they threw him out.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him” (John 13-17, 34-38).
 
Jesus was a busy person. Crowds thronged around him, and people constantly demanded his attention. And yet standing in the midst of a big crowd around the Pool of Siloam, Jesus gave his undivided attention to one blind man. This man was important enough for Jesus to give his time and complete attention to helping him. Jesus not only cured him but also gave him new hope and a new purpose in life. Jesus teaches us that each person has dignity and must be respected no matter what his or her condition. Measuring or judging others by achievements, good looks, success stories, wealth, talents—whatever—is not fitting for children of God. In doing that, we too are blind, without real sight. We need insight to see the worth and dignity of every human being. Without insight, we stay enclosed in our comfort zones with those whose presence puts us at ease. Jesus challenges us to move out of our safe harbor, to be “uncomfortable,” and include the excluded.
 
The blind man in the story went through a process to come to an understanding of who Jesus was. First, he saw Jesus as a man who did something wonderful for him. Then, he called Jesus a “prophet”—someone called by God to carry a divine message and who works for God’s vision on earth. Finally, the man came to confess that Jesus was the Son of God. He realized that Jesus was not someone who could be explained in human terms. In his closeness to God, his unfaltering love and care for others, Jesus lived more faithfully our human nature than any other human being ever has. He remains not only our greatest model but our greatest support as we strive to live as “more than human.”
 
– How can I overcome my own “blindness” to see the worth of others?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Jesus is the source of new life for the Samaritan woman and for each of us.
 
Lord Jesus, you stopped because you were thirsty
and yet we were the ones who were refreshed.
You are the living water who brings us new life.
Pour your grace into us,
and let it overflow from our cup to others
who need to be restored in your love. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Samaritan_Woman“A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?’—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go call your husband and come back.’ The woman answered and said to him, ‘I do not have a husband.’ Jesus answered her, ‘You are right in saying, “I do not have a husband.” For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one speaking with you.’
The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and came to him.
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.’ When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world’” (John 4:7, 9–18, 25-26, 28-30, 39-42).
 
The enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews was centuries old. Communication or contact with Samaritans was totally unacceptable to the Jews. And a strict Jewish man did not speak to a woman in public, lest it be misinterpreted and ruin his reputation.
 
This woman Jesus met at the well was not merely a Samaritan and a woman, but a woman of “ill repute.” So it is no wonder she was surprised that Jesus, a Jew, would speak to her, never mind request water from her.
 
Jesus tossed aside the conventions of the day to engage her, to draw her out until she admitted her own sinfulness. But rather than judge or condemn, Jesus treated her with the understanding and compassion central to God’s universal love.
 
Through this encounter, this transformative experience, this woman became the first person in the Gospel to recognize Jesus for who he truly was. She became not only a disciple but an evangelizer inspiring others to become his followers.
 
The Samaritan woman had a thirst to understand the meaning of her own life, to be treated with dignity, to feel love, to find inner peace. All these and more were quenched by that chance encounter at the well where she came to understand that Jesus is the only one who can truly satisfy all our inner thirsts.
 
– Where do you go to draw water to quench your inner thirsts?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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God calls us to listen to and believe in his Son.
 
Lord, you are with us on the mountaintops of life.
In those moments,
we glimpse the grandeur of your presence
and the splendor of your promise.
Let us hold these experiences in our hearts
even as we return to our everyday lives.
Let our sight be pure
and our hearts filled with hope this Lenten season
as we await the promised glory of your resurrection. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Transfiguration“Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, ‘Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’
(Matthew 17:1–9).”
 
Theologians have tried to explain the context of the Transfiguration—the meaning of Elijah and Moses appearing on either side of Jesus, the meaning of the clouds, the shining light, and so forth. Although we still do not fully understand what happened, we do know what effect it had on Jesus and his disciples.
 
First, for Jesus, it was a moment of great consolation. He had already begun his mission of bringing God’s message to the people, and his preaching and miracles drew great crowds. Many praised him, and a handful joined him as followers. But he also had enemies who tried to discredit him. As the opposition mounted, anyone could foresee that it was going to end in a violent confrontation. For Jesus, it was not easy to accept rejection by the very people he came to save, and he needed reassurance. The Transfiguration experience gave him exactly that — a boost to his soul. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” Words of affirmation and encouragement from his heavenly Father.
 
The Transfiguration helps us to realize that we need the comforting presence of God just as Jesus did. We need to be assured that our actions are right, that we are on the right track. The good news is that if we listen to God, we can hear those words, too. God speaks in many ways, and we need to be attentive. And we need to trust enough to bring our plans, our dreams, and our desires to God and then listen patiently. We will hear those encouraging and consoling words.
 
Second, the Transfiguration did something precious for Jesus’ disciples. They were shattered by Jesus’ statement that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. That was not what they hoped for in a messiah. They were experiencing doubt, bewilderment, and incomprehension about their leader. This moment of his glory on the mount of the Transfiguration reassured them as well, so much that they wanted to stay there.
 
This is our story too. Most of us want to stay in the place where we feel safe, secure, and happy. We don’t like to leave people we love and with whom we are comfortable. We want to hold on to times of great joy and do not want to experience pain and hardship. The Transfiguration shows us that life is not static but is constantly moving forward. While we will experience moments of beauty and reassurance, life comes with thorns, too. As the disciples had to leave the mountaintop and face what was to come, we must also be ready to confront the challenges that each day brings us.
 
– Where do you look for affirmation and assurance in your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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In the “wilderness times” of our lives, our recourse is to God.
 
Lord Jesus, when I experience wilderness times,
let me never forget God’s unqualified mercy.
As I face times of testing,
give me the grace to choose life.
Guide me through this Lenten season
with a renewed desire to entrust my life into your hands. Amen.
 
LiveLent
 
 
Excerpted from
Live Lent! Year A by Sr. Theresa Rickard, OP, available from RENEW International.

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Jesus temptation“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.’ He said in reply, ‘It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’ At this, Jesus said to him, ‘Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’
Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Matthew 4:1–11).
 
We all know temptation. Temptations to be less than we were created to be, to take the easy way, surround us. If we believe that Jesus is not only fully divine but also fully human, we should not be shocked that even he was tempted. He knew what it meant to live on this earth, to eat and drink, to feel excitement and joy, frustration and fatigue. He knew what it was to love and be loved and to lose people for whom he cared. He experienced temptations to be less than who he was being called to be, and he was free to say yes or no, just as we are.
 
Jesus, like all of us, was tempted throughout his life. We see him being tempted, after the multiplication of the loaves, by the peoples’ acclaim and their determination to make him king, but he escaped from the applauding crowd. Later, he refused to play the magician for King Herod when Herod demanded miraculous acts. And in his agony in the garden, we see him confront and resist the temptation to run away from pain and suffering. We have in Jesus someone who was tempted like us in many different ways. And how did he respond?
 
Throughout his life, Jesus showed himself to be rooted in prayer, turning to the God the Father who was constantly with him. We see him throughout his ministry, especially in times of temptation, withdraw to pray on the mountaintop—to be in the presence of God, and to take time to reflect. But afterward, he returned to his community, to the people who accompanied and supported him in ministry. It was the support of prayer and community that gave him strength in the face of temptation.
 
Throughout our lives we are confronted with temptations to do such things as mistreating a sibling, lying about who broke the vase, plagiarizing someone else’s work, demeaning others to make ourselves look better. Maybe we are tempted to abuse alcohol or drugs to escape an unpleasant reality. If we look to the example of Jesus who rooted himself in prayer and drew strength from a supportive community we, like him, can overcome temptation.
 
– How does Jesus’ response to temptation present a model for your response to temptation?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides’” (Matthew 6:25-33).
 
At some point in our lives, we all go through periods of worry-filled hysteria. If it’s not about work or school, it’s about money or family. We are people who are constantly concerned with our future comfort and contentment. Where will I live? What kind of job will I have? Will it be fulfilling? Will I make enough money? Is there someone out there for me? We believe our future happiness depends on getting the “right” answers to these questions.
 
In this gospel passage, the response is the simple and sometimes annoying catchphrase, “Don’t worry. Stop and smell the roses.”
 
Jesus is not simply saying, “Don’t worry.” He explains that worry is meaningless and will get us nowhere. Worry will not provide food or clothing; it will not add a single day to our lives. He asks us to question the value of the things about which we go crazy with worry. Essentially, he asks, “What is really important?” Jesus does not tell us to ignore our responsibilities; rather, he tells us to get our priorities in order.
 
“First, seek the kingdom of God…” This may seem like a very abstract concept that has nothing to do with our practical concerns; but if we are to take Jesus seriously, we must see his teaching about the kingdom of God as real and relevant in everything we do.
 
The Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx described the kingdom—or reign—of God as a time and place where love, equity, and justice prevail in a reconciling and peaceful society and all beings live to the potential that the Creator has instilled in them. When striving for such a world becomes our first priority, schoolwork, jobs, and financial security diminish in prominence. Loving our neighbor, respecting others, and showing kindness to the stranger, these are the most important things we will ever do.
 
– How do your worries keep you from living as God intends?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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extra mile“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 as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants
to borrow.
 
‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust'” (Matthew 5:38-45).
 
By following literally Jesus’ words in the first part of the passage, we will live a Christian life by not seeking retribution, by giving to those in need, by helping others, and by loving everyone—our friends and enemies alike. But the point Jesus makes is that we should not just do the minimum but go beyond it.
 
It’s easy to interpret the part of this passage that speaks of “going the extra mile”—the origin of that oft-used phrase—to mean that, with a gracious spirit, we should do more than is required, but it would have have had a particular context for someone of Jesus’ time. A Roman soldier could compel a person in an occupied country to carry a load for a mile. The service was compulsory, but the distance was limited. Jesus tells his followers to go two miles—to give much more than what was required.
 
What Jesus suggests here is a method of pointing out the injustice of the required mile. The willingly-served second mile would draw attention to the unjust nature of the first. In the same way, acts of nonviolent civil disobedience by people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. exposed, and eventually changed, unjust societal structures.
 
Although it is impractical, if not impossible, to give to all who beg from us, if we recognize the needs of the desperately poor and work to correct the underlying systemic problems that lead to poverty, we are doing what Jesus instructs.
 
By asking us to love our enemies, Jesus challenges us to love others as completely as we are able, believing the best about their motives, wanting good things for them, recognizing that they are also loved by God, treating them with respect. We don’t have to like them, only love them.
 
How does this Gospel passage challenge you in regard to loving your enemies?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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