Saturday, March 30, 2013


Quote for today - March 30, 2013

"In nature there are few sharp lines."

A.R. Ammons [1926-2001]

There's life,
there's death,
why not the twist
and the turn
in the story,
called "Resurrection"?

Friday, March 29, 2013


[I don't have to preach this Good Friday so I checked out what I preached on in the past. Here is a long sermon - a bit wordy and a bit heady. It was given to a small group of Redemptorist novices and Redemptoristine Nuns. Did I put whoever was there asleep?]


Good Friday 1988.

Good Afternoon

This afternoon I would like to present some vignettes, some examples, some stories, and some quotes on the Cross. My hope would be to provide some thoughts and feelings for meditation and prayer. It will be sort of like a kaleidoscope of colors and images. If they help, good; if not, bad Friday. 

Good Friday has a space of its own. It doesn’t need words. In fact, the Cross, the central symbol of our life as Christians, is wordless. So we have our own meanings and feelings and sometimes, words, about the Cross. 

We wear the cross around our necks and we put it on our walls. Why? What meanings do we give to Christ on the Cross?

Christ on the Cross speaks to us on Good Friday or Bad Fridays or any day or any night of the week. 

Stop! Look! Listen!

Having said that I will try to put together some words about the Cross.


I’ll put my reflections and stories under 4 headings -- like the four arms of the cross: Sin, Silence, Love and Understanding. 

1) SIN

When we look at the Cross, we see SIN.

We see evil. We see cruelty.

The cross is not only the tree of the knowledge of good. It’s also the tree of the knowledge of evil. It  shows how cruel people can be to people.

Pierre Benoit in his book, The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, says that in the time of Jesus, the worst way to be killed was to be burnt alive. (Cf. p. 166) After that was crucifixion.

So the cross represents horror and hurt - especially towards one another. The Cross represents all the sins of the world. It represents all the evil that people inflict on each other. Loud and clear, we see Jesus as a victim of sin.

The questions that hit me when I reflect upon the cross this way are these: Why did they kill Jesus? Why did they do it ? And why do we crucify each other? Why do we hurt one another?

But, let’s stick with Jesus. Why did they hate him? What did he do to deserve this? Why was Jesus killed?

I found a sermon by Edward Schillebeeckx entitled, “God as a Loud Cry” (Mark 15. 37; Matt 27.50)  It’s in his book, God Among Us (N.Y. Crossroad, 1983), pp. 73 - 77.

It’s worth reflecting upon. It's worth asking: why did they kill Jesus?

Schillebeeckx answers, “Jesus died because of his radical respect for human life which is not reconciled and needs to be reconciled.” (p. 77.) 

Why did they kill Jesus? Jesus treated people with respect. That was radical. Jesus refused to treat people as anonymous. He would not play society’s games, when and where human beings were treated as things or as less than human. He went against the Master/Servant system. He spoke out for the oppressed. His life style was one that excluded no one. He cared about people - all people. He went against classes and caste - such as:

                    male / female,
                    rich / poor,
                    leper / clean,
                    the elite religious people / the slobs,
                    etc. / etc.

He was against using people or ripping people off, especially in the marketplace or the synagogue. He was with the suffering and those who were treated unjustly by others. He spoke to all, but he seems to have had a preference for the outcast. He went against privilege. His was for radical love. He was radical. He put his ax, his words, his questions and his actions to the roots of things.

According to Jesus, the purpose of life here on earth is  to create. From all appearances that seems to be why God started it all. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). 

Read the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John. The purpose of life is to be fruitful and not to be a withered branch that is useless. Our glory and the Father is “glorified in our bearing much fruit and becoming his disciples” (John 15:8). Life continues and life goes on when we are doing the Father’s will. When we live life to the full, we bring about the kingdom. (Cf. John 10:10). Everything is to be as the Father planned and created it. When it’s not taking place there is a need for re-planning. There is the need for creative ways to bring about universal reconciliation.

So Jesus was creative. He worked to bring about the Kingdom, the vision, the plan, the dream of the Father. This was the reason why God created the world in the first place.

As Jesus walked around, he noticed that too often people looked like lost sheep without a shepherd. People were being fed to the wolves or led to the slaughter. Too many people were sleep walking.

Life was not to be lived by fate or games or compulsion or by dominating other people. 

People are not to be valued by prestige, productivity and success. If we take that position, we can devalue those who are not productive or successful. Someone who is labeled, "sick" or "handicapped" can be also labeled as "usless" or a "drain". Will we get to the day when someone advocates killing them? Will people want to abort and terminate the retarded, the ugly or the unwanted? 

Questions: do we label people as replaceable or irreplaceable? If we do that,  then when they are replaceable, do we see people as disposable? Do we see some people as waste products? When we hold that “progress is our most important product”, then those who are not progressing can be dumped as an “anonymous, replaceable pawn” in the words of Schillebeeckx.

Why was Jesus killed? He didn’t see the Kingdom happening. In the fullness of time, he saw the kingdom as God's Dream and God's Will and tried to bring it about by word and action. He started to make demands, and he demanded too much. 

Whenever we become prophetic about how people treat others wrongly or unfairly,  the crowd screams, "Crucify him or her!"

Or as Schillebeeckx puts it, “Thus Good Friday points to the unconditional character of Jesus’ message and his life-style of universal reconciliation, excluding no one. This message, as an element of Jesus’ action, was closer to his heart than the consequences of it for his own life. This of itself points to the definitive validity of any praxis of life. This of itself is valid in and of itself, and not on the basis of any subsequent success that it may have. Without the radicalism of this message and this action, Jesus’ death would not have become inevitable. His death is therefore neither a tragic coincidence nor a sorry combination of circumstances.” (p. 75)

Schillebeeckx goes on, “Not that Jesus sought his death. But where the radicalism of his caring identification with the suffering and the wrong inflicted on others knows no bounds and will not be deterred in any way, this world is dealt a fatal blow. In that case the world adopts even more radical opposition to the threat posed by love and the one posing the threat is immediately put out of the way.” (p. 75).

Why was Jesus killed? Sin kills people and speaking out against it also kills people. Sin is a vicious circle. Conversion means yelling out: “Stop the merry-go-round, actually, the killing-go-round, I want to get off.”

Now, as Schillebeeckx puts it, it wasn’t till afterwards, well after their Easter experience, that the disciples recognized all this. It took time. 

How about us? Have we yet got a glimpse on what Jesus was about?

This was his Father business. Jesus said it when he was 12 in the temple at Jerusalem. He said it on the cross when he put all into his Father’s hands,

And when he died, he cried loud cries. Sin causes screams like that!

2)  LOVE

The second reflection on the cross that I would like to offer is that of love. This is what I hear as the main message of Saint Alphonsus about the cross. He keeps repeating himself and the saints when he tells us to study the cross. Read the cross as you would read  a book, and you’ll hear God say to you loud and clear, “I love you.”

Look at a cross and you’ll hear Jesus saying, “Take a look at me here dying for you and you will hear me loving you.”

We all know the words of Jesus, “Greater love than this no one has than that they lay down their life for their friends.” The other day, we might have heard in the news the story about an old man in New York who jumped in front of a bus to try to save 2 boys. They were hurt, but lived because of the action of the man. He was killed. “Greater love than this, no one has, that they lay down their life for their friends.”

When we love others we give them our life. “This is my body given to you. This is my blood which is being poured out for you.”

When I teach about Carl Jung’s personality types, I like to use the following story to explain the difference between a feeler and a thinker. A thinker would never use this story when he or she was preaching or teaching. A feeler might. However, the story is kind of smushy.

Story: A little girl was sitting on her front porch one summer morning. She was all by herself and wished some friends were around. Not having any she wrote a letter with crayons on a piece of paper. When she finished it, she folded the note neatly and went and put it in the arm of a tree. Now a mailman was coming up the block, so maybe it was a game she played with him. His job was to give out mail. Now he was about to receive a letter. Well, he went up and took the letter from the tree. He opened it and read, “To anyone, I love you.”

Now that is smushy. But Jesus from the tree of the cross has been saying for 2,000 years. “To anyone, to everyone, I love you.”

We look at the cross and discover how much God loves us.

In preparing for this homily, I read several Good Friday homilies. In one of them I found a “smushy” story that hit me. I am a feeler. It’s from the life of Elizabeth and Robert Browning.

Story: One morning after breakfast, Elizabeth Barrett Browning left her husband in the dining room and went upstairs. A servant cleared the table where he expected to work. After the servant had left, soft footsteps sounded behind him and his wife’s hand on his shoulder kept him from turning so he could see her face. She slipped a manuscript into his pocket saying, “Please read this, and if you do not like it, tear it up.” Then she fled back upstairs while Robert read this beautiful love poem by a woman to the man of her choice. In it are the lines,

                  “The face of all the world
                    is changed, I think,
                    since first I heard
                    the footstep of thy soul.”

Critics of her poetry say that most of her poetry, except her love poems to her husband, are stiff, mechanical and without life. Somebody had told her to write about what’s in her life, in her heart, her experiences, and not about ancient history and stuff out there. The result were the great poems, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.”

Well, I tell that story to say that the cross is a poem that Jesus hands to us. Hopefully we won’t tear it up or find it without life. It’s a great love poem that says over and over. “How do I love you?  Jesus is saying, "Take some time to read my love poem over and over again and count all the ways I’m saying to you over and over again. 'I love you.'"

For us here this afternoon, Jesus is the one we love. He is the one whom we decided to leave home and let go of our fishing nets for and follow. Can we say with Elizabeth Barrett Browning,

                   “The face of all the world
                   is changed,  I think,
                   since first I heard
                   the footsteps of thy soul.”

In a season like Lent, in a week like Holy Week, on a day like today, we look to Jesus, the center and core of our life, the person we are willing to live and die for. We entered this life in love with him, we continue in this life in love with him, and we hope to die in this life in love with him.

So we are here today looking at the cross, looking at the one we love and who loves us.

                   “The face of all the world
                   is changed, I think,
                   since first I heard
                   the footsteps of thy soul.”


And besides SIN and LOVE, the third thing we feel when we look at the cross is silence. I cannot but think that there was a lot of silence at Calvary.

Yesterday, Holy Thursday, we sat around the altar. We were close together. It was a celebration, the Passover Meal, the Last Supper. We want to be together in celebration when we eat, and not scattered all over the place.

Today, Good Friday, is a different feeling and experience. We are not in a dining room. It’s as if we are in a Funeral Parlor. And when we go into a funeral parlor, we become quiet. We walk in and look for a seat to be quiet and silent with our own thoughts and feelings about the person in the coffin, who has died. So that was why we set up the chairs in the chapel rather close together yesterday and with plenty of space today.

It must have been quiet at Calvary

When we watch the evening news and see some kid in Palestine who was shot and killed or some woman being beaten with clubs, we say, “Oh no!” We put our hand to our mouth. Our jaw becomes tight. Violence brings on silence. Stunned. Quiet. Numb. Frozen. 

Think of any tragedy. Think of any death. We walk into a funeral parlor. We say a few things. If it was a tragic death, we might say something like, “I don’ t know what to say.” We hope our flowers or card, but especially our presence makes up what we lack in words.

S I L E N C E ............

S I L E N C E ............

S I L E N C E ............


And the fourth and last message that I would like to reflect upon about the cross is that Jesus not only says from the cross, “I love you”, but he also says, “I understand.” We have to stand under the cross and hear Jesus say to us, “I understand.” When we are in pain, stand under the cross till you hear the words, “I understand.” Jesus has been there for centuries saying just that. Our God understands.

I was reading a sermon for Good Friday by a Rev. Marie Fortune. It is entitled, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” It’s in a collection of sermons by women, SPINNING A SACRED YARN, (Pilgrim Press, N.Y. 1982). And in that sermon she says that there are countless women who feel like Christ felt as he was abandoned on the cross. There are so many women who are screaming out, “My God, My Friends, My Clergymen, My Counselors, Why have you forsaken me?” Try to understand what has happened to me.

Her experience was with sexual and domestic violence in the United States. Her experience was that churches so often minimized family violence. “It’s not a big deal - it doesn’t happen that often.”

Then she makes this comment, “Particularly since the Second World War, theologians have addressed at great length the issues of violence and nonviolence: the theory of a ‘just’ war; the question of whether Hitler should have been assassinated in order to stop his violence; the civil rights movement and the practice of nonviolence as a strategy for change; the debate over whether or not violence can be justified to resist political and economic oppression in the Third World; and now, how to counter the unimaginable violence of nuclear arms. All very serious and pressing questions for us to ponder as Christians.”

She goes on, “Yet nowhere do I find an attempt to theologize about the experience of personal violence in our lives here and now, today. My hunch is that this is because most contemporary American (male) theologians have never been mugged, have not been taught to fear rape as a daily threat, and do not acknowledge the fact that 60 percent of couples will experience physical violence at some point in their relationship and that the family is the most violent institution in the United States. Thus, for them violence is an academic, societal issue for debate, rather than a personal human experience known to many in our society.” (pp. 67 - 68).

Well, having read that, and being male, and living here in this granite castle with a tower, and never having been mugged, I felt guilt. I felt that I don’t understand.

So I need to listen more, pray more, theologize more. And hopefully, I will be more aware of domestic violence in our land or better, in individuals here in our lives.

Then a sentence in Marie Fortune’s sermon jumped off the page and into my brain. Perhaps it was because I was in a car accident once where the windshield was smashed. She quotes a Marge Pierce who describes the experience of rape this way, “There is no difference between being raped and going head first through a windshield except that afterwards you are afraid not of cars but half the human race.” (p.69)

I understand. Do I? 

Do I understand you? Do you understand me? Do you understand what it is to be me? Do I understand what it is to be you. To be standing up here on Good Friday and babbling out words, when I rather be quiet and alone and have someone else preach and hopefully reach me with a sentence or a story or two, so that I will be closer to the person that I think my God wants me to be.

And In that loneliness, and in that wanting to be alone, I sit under the twelfth station or in my room or in the chapel here and look up at the cross and hopefully will hear from Jesus, “I understand.” And hopefully, having been understood, I will understand others better. And maybe someday, some Good Friday afternoon, I’ll be able to grasp a little bit more what Jesus went through and I too will be able to say to him, “ I understand.”


Good afternoon. Good Friday. Thank you for listening and for trying to understand some of things that I was trying to say. Thank you.

O  O  O 

Picture on top: Crucifix in St. Stephan's Church in Vienna, Austria.

Quote for Today - Good Friday - March 29, 2013

"Ever since I could remember
I'd wished I'd be lucky enough

to be alive at that great time -
when something big was going on,
like the Crucifixion. And suddenly
I realized I was. Here I was
living through another crucifixion.
Here was something to paint."

Ben Shahn [1898-1969]
On painting a gouache:
Bartolomeo Vanzetti 
and Nicola Sacco [1932]

To find out a lot about Sacco and Vanzetti type into Google, Sacco and Vanzetti and read from there.  Fascinating ...

Thursday, March 28, 2013


The title of my thoughts for this Holy Thursday morning is, “Eucharist: Simple Logic.”

No bread; no wine; no Eucharist.

Simple logic.

No Christ; no disciples; no Eucharist.

Simple logic.

No slavery; no sin; no Exodus; no Escape from Egypt to the Promised Land; no Passover; no reason for celebration: no Eucharist.

Simple logic.

Christianity without Judaism before it and essential to it; no Eucharist.

Simple logic.

No priests; no parish; no people; no faith; no hope; no charity; no Eucharist.

Simple logic.

It takes time to work the fields and work the vines to get wheat and to get grapes.  It takes work and time - sweat and muscle - to make and bake bread - to crush and create and come up with a great wine - from grapes.

Eucharist: Simple Logic.

It takes time and work to organize a great meal - to do the shopping - to do the chopping - to set the tables - to prepare the lamb - to prepare an inviting table and stage a delicious meal.

Eucharist: Simple Logic.

The reading we heard in this Holy Thursday Morning Prayer from Hebrews 2: 9b-10 - just now - told us that “because he suffered death”, Jesus was crowned with glory and honor.  The reading we just heard from Hebrews told us that Jesus tasted death - so that we could taste salvation. That night - when he tasted the Passover Bread and Wine - looking ahead to the next day - Good Friday - Jesus tasted death in that upper room; when we taste the bread and the wine, we are tasting our life - birth till death - and hopefully our salvation through the death of Jesus.

Eucharist: Simple Logic.

No pain, no gain. No cross, no crown. No suffering, no resurrection. No Good Friday, no Easter Sunday.

Eucharist: Simple Logic.

This Passover Night, this Holy Thursday night, tonight - is different from all other nights

This Holy Thursday night we are going to celebrate a Meal that is different from all other meals and all other nights.

People gather in memory of others. People do things in memory of others. Jesus gathered one last time - for one Last Supper - with his disciples. We all remember people’s last words - last behaviors - last moments.

We all repeat, re-enact, remember - what others did for us. We Christians do this - this week.

Why is this week different from all other weeks? This week - this day - Holy Thursday -  we remember to celebrate Jesus’ Last Supper - which becomes the Eternal Banquet. This week - tomorrow - Good Friday - we celebrate Jesus’ Death on the Cross for our Redemption. This week - this Sunday - Easter Sunday - we experience Christ’s resurrection from the Dead. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia - but not yet! 

Eucharist: Simple Logic. 

O  O  O  O  O  O  O

© Andy Costello, Reflections, 2013

Quote for Today - March 28,  2013

"Better is poverty in the hand of a god,
Than wealth in a storehouse;
Better is bread with a happy heart
Than wealth with vexation."

Amenomope [c. 11th Century B.C.]  The Instruction of Amenemope, Chapter 6, translated by Miriam Lichtheim

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Quote for Today  March 27, 2013

        " - O remember
In your narrowing dark hours
That more things move
Than blood in the heart."

Louise Bogan [1897-1970], Night, Stanza 4

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


“It was night!”

If you hear those three words be scared -
be scared of that echo in your soul.

“It was night!”

That night - that Last Supper night -
Jesus said to Judas,
“What you are going to do, do quickly.”

“It was night!”

What was Judas going to do?
He was going to betray Jesus.
He did it for money - for 30 pieces of silver.
He did it because the reason he joined Jesus
had become unglued - unhinged - unconnected.
So that night Judas ran out into the night 
to get his silver coins

“It was night!”

Judas had heard and had seen
in the light of the lamps in the Upper Room -
Jesus washing his disciples feet - 
telling us this was an example - 
that we should wash each other’s feet.
He saw Jesus feeding his disciples 
with bread and wine
- with the last ounce of his body and his blood -
trying to be in communion with them 
in his whole being.
He might have missed Jesus last announcements
to love one another as he had loved them.

“It was night!

And after that meal 

Jesus stepped out into the night,
into the darkness - into a dark garden
where he made a last ditch plea to his Father,
“If it is possible, let this cup of suffering
slip away from me - but not my will, 
but your will be done.”

“It was night!”

And his disciples could not even spend 
one hour in prayer with him.
Then Judas came in the night 
with a band of soldiers and guards 
from the chief priests and Pharisees.
He brought them to the garden 
telling them the signal was a kiss -
- the kiss that he used to betray Jesus.

“It was night!”

And Judas fell down into a spiral 

of even deeper darkness.
He had become a petty thief 
silently stealing money -
money that was for the poor. 
His eyes slowly closed
out Jesus - the Light of the World. 
Instead he became night.
His soul became shut. 
He no longer was hearing
the story of the Prodigal Son
and the Lost Sheep
and the call to Lazarus 
to come forth alive from the grave.

He went back and threw the money 
that had clung to his hands 
for a few moments. 
They spilled - they crashed -
they rolled along on the stone floors - 
back at the Pharisees
and then Judas went out and hung himself.

“It was night!”

And Jesus felt that tragedy - 
that scream of Judas in the night.
Is that why Jesus vented those horrible words 
he once said, “It would have been better
if he had never been born.”

“It was night!”

It is night when we think that way,
when  we feel that way,
when we experience that kind of giving up -
that giving up of all hope

And hopefully when we feel that way -
that night we’ll drop that suicide rope
at the trunk of the Judas tree
and crawl our way to the Jesus Tree,
to Calvary and hold on for dear life
to feet of Jesus on the Tree of Life.

He is Light.


© Andy Costello Reflections 2013

This Reflection comes out of the gospel for today - Tuesday in Holy Week. It is the simple Greek text, "EN DE NUX " - "And it was night" John 13:30 b.

Quote for Today - March 26,  2013

"No matter how fair the sun shines,
Still it must set."

Ferdinand Raimund [1790-1836] Das Madchen aus der Feenwelt [The Maiden from Fairyland (1826)]

Monday, March 25, 2013



The title of my homily for this Monday in Holy Week is, “Sniff, Sniff, Scent, Scent, Hint, Hint.”

Could you all right now go, Sniff, Sniff?  _____ Thank you.


God has blessed us with a nose - a gift - for our protection and our safety.

As we age, we’re aware of the loss of some of our hearing -  but usually in those around us - more than ourselves.

As we age, we’re aware of the loss of some of our seeing ability - usually more in ourselves than those around us.

I was wondering as I began working on this homily this morning: “What about our sense of smell?”

I sense we’re more aware of size and shape of noses more than the sense of smell - but I really am not too sure about all of this - because I never thought about this before - well maybe about gradual hearing loss in those around me.


Today’s readings use the image of scent. It can get us thinking about air, breathing, the Spirit.

Today’s Gospel has the story of Mary - the sister of Martha and Lazarus - using a liter of costly perfume oil - made from genuine aromatic nard. She anoints the feet of Jesus and dries his feet with her hair.

You can almost smell the next line from the Gospel of John, “the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” [12:3]


The title of my homily is, “Sniff, Sniff, Scent, Scent, Hint, Hint.”


If I were a perfume or an after shave lotion, what name would I give myself?

If I were a perfume or an after shave lotion, what name would I give myself?
  • Lilac,
  • Joy,
  • A  Breath of Fresh Air,
  • Sweetness,
  • Spring?

If we were a scent, how would those who are in the rooms we enter each day label us?

Would their labels for us be positive or negative?

If positive would they be one of those I already mentioned - like “Joy” or “A Breath of Fresh Air?”

If negative would the scent I give off be called,

  • Anger,
  • Grumpy,
  • Complaints,
  • Negativity,
  • Crush,
  • Downer,
  • Pessimist,
  • Hurting,
  • Draining?


Today’s first reading - Isaiah 42: 1-7 -  talks about God’s Servant?

It talks about having the Spirit of God.

It talks about bringing justice to the nations.

It talks about not crying, not shouting, not making noise.

It talks about opening eyes

It talks about bringing comfort to those who are imprisoned.

It talks about bringing light to those in darkness.

Now those are great strategies, methods, ways to become a breath of fresh air, joy, to our world, how to become a welcoming sight in all the rooms we enter.


In today’s gospel - John 12: 1-11 - we have Mary, the sister of Martha, bringing a sweet aroma to the whole house and we have Judas bringing a negative scent and spin to the scene.

Judas says that the perfume is being wasted on Jesus and it could have been sold and used for the poor.  But John tells us that’s a lie. Judas is being dishonest. He was stealing from the group's money bag. I’ve often wondered what it was like to travel with Judas. Was he Mister Negative? Was he a drain or a pain?  Was he stale air?  Was he a morose dark cloud that hung over the whole group or was all that within and he never told anyone what he was really feeling?


The title of my homily was, “Sniff, Sniff, Scent, Scent, Hint, Hint.” We can think about others, but the best thing to do would be to take some time to be with ourselves, and take a big sniff of who we are? Sniff, Sniff, Scent, Scent, Hint, Hint.

I remember reading a quote from a writer named, “Ben Amin” who talked about being, “The person whose perfume is Jesus”.

Wouldn’t that be a great scent to have? Amen.

Quote for Today - March 25, 2013

"Let everyone praise the bridge they go over."

English Proverb

Sunday, March 24, 2013


My grandfather was a centurion - in charge of a 100 soldiers.

He was stationed in Africa, Gaul and Israel.

In the evenings - after a little wine - he loved to tell stories - about all the different places he was stationed - and all the different things that he saw - as a soldier and then as a centurion in the Roman army.

Now he told these stories over and over again - and I noticed that nobody liked to listen to them. They heard them all before.

But I loved to hear my grandfather’s stories.  Whenever it started to get dark and the friends whom I was playing with in our garden behind our house - had to get home, I loved to go over to where my grandpa was sitting and sit with him. It’s one of the best memories a person can have - but they won’t know this till they are old and he is gone - and now they are a grandfather or a grandmother.

My grandfather loved to look out into the western sky. He loved to watch the sun setting. He loved to watch the dark night creep up the canvas of the sky. Another day …..

I loved to look at his face - thanks to the light from an oil lamp. I loved to wonder where he was and what story he was telling himself at the moment.  I’d love to say, “Grandpa tell me one of your stories.”

The story that intrigued me the most was the story he told about what happened one week - many years ago - in Palestine - in Israel - in Jerusalem.

“One day,” that’s how he usually began, “One day there was this rabbi - this teacher - who came into Jerusalem on a donkey. Everyone was singing. Everyone was  praising him. I didn’t know who he was - but I knew he was well known amongst the Jews. Some people seemed to like him; some seemed to be nervous about him; some seemed to want him killed.

“Whatever. Our job was to be part of crowd control that day. The only damage that could have happened was a fight or two erupting because the crowds were cutting palm branches off other people’s trees and waving them at this man on the donkey - or throwing them as well as their cloaks on the ground. I guess so his donkey could have a soften step. Those stone steps on the way in and out and all around Jerusalem could be tough on one’s feet.

“This would probably be something I'd forget. However, I remember it because a few days later some of these same people were screaming for the death of this man who had arrived in town on a donkey. In fact when my boss Pilate asked the crowd if they wanted this man or a well known thief and murderer named Barabbas killed, they screamed for the release of Barabbas.

“Strange. I just couldn't understand what was going on. 

"In the meanwhile I was watching everything. That was my job. That was why I was getting paid my pieces of silver.

“I heard from other soldiers that one of his disciples - Judas - his own friend - betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver.  I found out this man’s name was Jesus. He was from Nazareth - up in the north - not a bad place to be stationed. It’s cooler up there and they have a lake there - which has had various names. It seems that big shots like to have big spots named after them. In my time Roman soldiers in Palestine called it the Sea of Tiberius. They better have called it that. It was renamed after the Roman emperor - Tiberius Caesar.

“Anyway that night of his arrest some of our soldiers made fun of this man named Jesus and some even beat him. They had heard he talked about founding a kingdom, so they crowned him with thorns.

“The next day - the day Pilate offered the crazy crowd - the choice of releasing Barabbas or Jesus - I was standing there - watching faces. I saw a surprise, ‘What?’ in both the faces of Pilate and Barabbas - but nothing going on in the face of Jesus - just blood - just a silent,  battered face - of a desecrated human being.

“I began wondering, ‘Who is this man? Who is this Jesus?’

“It was my 100 men - who marched him to his execution on Calvary - the place of death - just outside the city of Jerusalem.

“On the way to the cross - a cross which they made him carry - I could see all kinds of faces. Some crying…. Some spitting ….  Some screaming …. Some in shock…. Some silent…. One his mother….

“’Who is this man?’ that became my constant question.

“I had seen death - executions - before - but this was different.

“We got him to Calvary. We nailed him to a cross - along with two other criminals. We planted him in the ground - and he hung there for a few hours and then he died.

“His disciples - had all fled. I know I would have. But his mother was there. She wasn’t afraid - along with a few other women - and someone named John. I heard he was very close to Jesus.

“Anyway it got dark - like the evening sky - but it was still early afternoon. I always think of that day as I watch the sun set every evening.

“It was a scene of horror - like any execution.

“That day - that Jesus - that wounded man on the cross - said some powerful things from that cross. The one that grabbed me was his forgiveness to us who were doing this. I didn’t understand that at the time - but I have understood it ever since.

“Then my grandfather said to me, ‘When you get to be an old man like me - you’ll look back on your life - and if you have done the things I have done, you’ll need to know forgiveness is possible.

He paused and then said, “I tasted it that dark afternoon - and I’ve tasted it ever since - just remembering that moment.’

“He promised one of the other thieves who died on a cross near him that day - he promised him - ‘Today you’ll be with me in paradise.’ I’ve often wondered what that meant. I’ve often wondered what that meant’.

“The weather got worse. Thunder and lightning had some of the few folks there running for the way back to the city. I guess the skies wanted to wash with rain - the blood of this man - that could be seen on those stones on that same way to the cross to this place called Calvary.

“I figured I had to say something. So I said, “This man was innocent beyond all doubt.’

“But I don’t know if anyone heard me …. but I heard me.”


My grandfather was a centurion. He died as grandfathers do - but of all the stories he told me, I remembered that story the most.

Years later I told some Christians that story my grandfather told me.

Surprise those words my grandfather said that day made it into print - in the Gospel of Luke, “This man was innocent beyond all doubt” but I also heard there’s another version in a Gospel story by a man named Mark, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

As I said my grandfather told many stories - and he often repeated himself - so maybe he had many versions of what he said that day - don’t we all? Don’t we all? 

Quote for Today: March 24,  2013

                   THE DONKEY 

When fishes flew and forests walked   
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton [1874-1936], from The Collected poems of G. K. Chesteron (Dodd Mead and Company, 1927, The Donkey