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Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

A critical reading of Scripture shows us that we profess a constantly evolving faith. It’s always on the move. Just when we think we’ve nailed it down, we read the next author and discover it’s shifted once again. Because our sacred authors are committed to sharing their ever-changing insights with us, we have no choice but to accompany them on their unique faith journey. Nowhere is this movement clearer than in today’s well-known gospel pericope.

Though I learned very early in my grade school religion classes what exactly was going to happen to me when I took my last mortal breath, our Christian sacred authors never attended those classes. We know from I Thessalonians 4 - the earliest Christian writing we possess – that Paul thought Christians who had the misfortune to die before Jesus’ Second Coming would simply have to spend time in their graves awaiting that event. They would rise only when he/she returned.

The first two evangelists – Mark and Matthew – never say anything which would contradict Paul’s theology. But by the mid-80s when Luke writes his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, faith in the risen Jesus’ imminent return is beginning to wane. We hear in Luke’s narrative of Stephen’s martyrdom that Jesus comes for him at the moment of death; he doesn’t have to wait for the Parousia to have that glorious experience. In some sense, Christians can now expect to have their “personal Parousia” when they die.

John takes Luke’s theology one step further when he writes his gospel in the mid-90s. He uses Jesus’ raising of Lazarus as the vehicle to convey it. In her conversation with Jesus, Mary gives the “old” theology. “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” John’s Jesus then provides us with the “new and improved” theology: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

All who study John know about his knack for pushing “realized eschatology.” In other words, what we expect to happen only at the end of time – the “eschaton” – John presumes is already happening right here and now. In regards to the afterlife, he’s convinced such an existence is already part of our lives even before we breathe our last. In this particular passage, he demonstrates his belief with a sign: Lazarus is alive though he physically died.

Our sacred authors have come a long way from the 6th century BCE days of Ezekiel when there was no belief in an afterlife as we know it. For Yahweh to return all the exiled Chosen People to the Promised Land, he’ll have to actually open up some graves, pull them out and bring them back. But this will be a unique resuscitation; only these particular Jews will experience it. Everyone else’s life will still definitely end with their physical deaths.

Yet even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, now that all people have a chance to achieve eternal life, we’re still not 100% certain in what that life consists. Paul can assure the church in Rome, “. . . The one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” But we know from his I Thessalonians theology that, unlike Luke and John, he doesn’t expect that life to begin until after the Parousia.

Knowing the biblical history revolving around faith in an afterlife, why would we believe that John has provided us with the last word on the subject? Presuming the topic is still evolving, this is one case in which we can validly ask, “What do you think?”


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Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

Though I enjoyed reading Dava Sobel’s best-selling book Galileo’s Daughter, I was deeply disturbed by what happened in the early life of the title character: Galileo’s oldest child, Virginia. Because she and her younger sister, Livia, were “illegitimate,” their father felt forced to put them – for the rest of their lives - into a cloistered convent when they were only twelve and thirteen years old. He reasoned, because of the circumstances of their birth, they’d have almost no chance of ever being married. The renowned scientist’s early 17th century Italian culture simply took such disturbing actions for granted. That’s just the way it was back then.

People rarely dare to question the restrictions culture impose on them. We often put them on the same level as “divine commands.” That seems to be one of the reasons Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. This upstart first century CE itinerant preacher actually expected people to change their culture. We especially see him carrying out this demand in the event we commemorate today.

Jewish culture in this former carpenter’s day and age expected the Messiah to be someone who would deliver the Chosen People from Rome’s 90-year occupation of their country. To fulfill his mission, Yahweh’s anointed one would have to be a military leader, a person who could lead others into battle against Israel’s formidable foe. Among other things, such a person would logically ride a horse: a military weapon.

When Jesus comes into Jerusalem on this day, people simultaneously would have heard good news and bad news. The good news: the Messiah has finally arrived! The bad news: he’s riding a donkey! He seems to have deliberately chosen this humble mode of transportation to challenge his Jewish culture’s long standing concepts of Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah, he’s certainly not the Messiah his fellow Jews are expecting.

It appears the gospel Jesus is deeply committed not just to changing our personal morality, but also in changing the culture within which we live that morality. He perfectly embodies the Scriptural definition of the ideal follower of Yahweh contained in our first reading. “Morning after morning,” Deutero-Isaiah tells us, “Yahweh opens my ear that I may hear.” True disciples aren’t content just to follow religious rules and regulations. They listen to what God and God’s Spirit is encouraging them to do. They’re convinced that they’re being daily called to hear a gentle, disturbing voice leading them to go beyond rules and regulations, a voice constantly demanding they challenge even their culture.

Of course, as Paul reminds the Philippians community in today’s second reading, they’re to hear this voice in the midst of imitating Jesus’ emptying himself for others. It’s only in the middle of such unselfish giving that the Spirit’s voice becomes clearer and louder, and the consequences of carrying out the demands of that voice become more painful. We only have to listen to Matthew’s Passion Narrative to discover the latter.

As with all gospel Passion Narratives, Matthew mentions practically nothing about Jesus’ physical suffering. (He doesn’t even say Jesus was nailed to the cross.) He’s much more interested in his psychological suffering and pain. His Jesus is misunderstood, rejected, and deserted by those for whom he gives himself.

Matthew knew practically no one in his Jewish/Christian community would ever be called upon to physically suffer as the historical Jesus suffered. But all of them would be expected to identify with his psychological suffering, something which always happens when people empty themselves for others.

Fortunately in our current culture “illegitimate” girls no longer have to worry about being sent to a cloistered convent. But who else is being hurt today? Perhaps all of us should be listening more intently to the real “listeners.”


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
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Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

It’s more than interesting that the problem which triggered tonight’s I Corinthians pericope was still around at least 35 years later and also triggered our Johannine passage. Writing as a frequent Eucharistic presider, I guarantee the same problem is still front and center today; it’s never gone away.

Someone recently complained to me that the new priest in their parish habitually celebrates a “robotic Mass.” He simply rattles off the prayers and performs the required actions. There’s almost no eye contact with the participants, no spontaneity in the celebration. The church building itself is configured in the usual “hallway pattern:” altar in front, pews tightly positioned on either side of the center aisle. We’re so accustomed to that configuration and that kind of Mass that most of us find it hard to imagine the ideals that prompted Paul and John to compose today’s second and third readings.

Early Christian Eucharists were thought to be the central place in which people of faith encountered the risen Jesus. Among other biblical passages, Luke’s chapter 24 story of the disciples Easter Sunday chance meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus provides us a prime example of that theology. “They recognized him in the ‘breaking of the bread.’”

None of our ancestors in the faith believed that the risen Jesus appeared magically, just because someone said the right words or employed the correct gestures. They were convinced that just as Jesus died prior to his resurrection, so they had to die prior to experiencing him. As always, their death revolved around giving themselves to others – in this case, in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

It’s clear in the second half of I Corinthians 11 that Paul is more than uptight about some in the community who are refusing to wholeheartedly include the poor in their celebrations. That’s why he reminds them not only of what Jesus said and did during his Last Supper, but also of their obligation in their recreations of that meal to “ . . . proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

The problem of Eucharistic giving of oneself for others is also a problem for John’s community. That’s why the evangelist brings up the foot washing during his account of Jesus’ Last Supper. His Jesus not only shows the depth of his giving by engaging in this menial action, but through his confrontation with Peter, he also shows that he expects his followers to be just as giving. Peter is basically saying, “If I were in your place, I wouldn’t do this.” Jesus, on the other hand, informs him, “It’s my way or the highway!” (I often remind my communities of something a friend once mentioned: “It’s pretty nigh impossible to wash someone’s feet when you’re standing on a pedestal.”)

Just as our Jewish ancestors were expected to recreate the particulars of the Exodus in their Passover celebrations, so we Christians are expected to recreate the particulars of Jesus’ giving of himself in our Eucharistic celebrations. Difficult to do given some of our church’s liturgical restrictions.

I’ll never forget the comment one of our parishioners made during our first celebration of the Lord’s Supper after we replaced our pews with chairs and set them up in a semi-circle around the altar. “This is the first time I’ve actually seen people’s faces during Mass,” she remarked. “Usually I just saw the backs of their heads.”

Perhaps tonight of all nights, we might at least make a special attempt to look people in the eye during the celebration. After all, if we’re serious about giving ourselves for them, we’re actually looking into the eyes of the risen Jesus in our midst.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222

04/16/2017 (Vigil, evening of 04/15)


Genesis 1:1-2:2; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Isaiah 55:1-11; Matthew 28:1-10

(Ideally all nine readings should be proclaimed tonight. But space limits me to commenting on just four.)

It’s interesting to discover that one biblical author often depends on another biblical author. That’s the case with the inspired person who penned tonight’s first reading (the “priestly” author). Scholars agree he read and was influenced by Deutero-Isaiah – Isaiah 40-55 – the prophet responsible for tonight’s fourth and fifth readings. He seems to have been particularly moved by Deutero-Isaiah’s theology of the power of Yahweh’s word.

Pay special attention to this unnamed prophet’s fascinating reflection on that word: “For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful . . . so shall my (Yahweh’s) word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” In other words, when Yahweh says something, it happens!

It’s important to note that, unlike the Bible’s prior myth of creation (Genesis 2), Yahweh doesn’t break a sweat in the priestly author’s account. Yahweh simply says, “Let there be!” and “So there was!” Yahweh creates only by employing Yahweh’s word.

Deutero-Isaiah constantly falls back on the force of Yahweh’s word; he has no other security during the Babylonian Exile. Either people believe Yahweh’s pledge to return them to the Promised Land, or they continue to give in to the depression which has haunted them for over 50 years.

From tonight’s Exodus reading, it’s also clear that the Israelites fleeing Egypt seven centuries before the exile likewise had nothing to go on except Yahweh’s word when they faced the sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them. God’s command to Moses couldn’t be simpler or more disturbing: “Tell the Israelites to go forward!” In their minds, they’re to go forward into certain death.

Of course, we’re hearing these readings against the background of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The parallel is evident. From our gospel pericope, we realize that neither could his disciples see a path through the death he had just endured. It was the end; not the beginning. Yet, as the angel reminds the women at the tomb, “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

That word of God keeps popping up everywhere, so often it would seem our faith depends on it.

Tonight’s sacred authors agree: it does.

We live our daily lives based on God’s word. If we’re determined to be people of faith, we have no other choice. Especially at this time, in this country, we’re lost if we don’t fall back on God’s word and go forward. We, like the 6th century BCE Jewish exiles, could easily give ourselves over to depression. “Things” simply haven’t turned out the way we expected. Most of us never signed on for this kind of existence.

Though I often give into the temptation not even to watch the evening news, in my saner moments I realize that “bailing out” is never the proper course of action for someone committed to carrying on the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. No matter what’s happening around us, God’s word is still at the heart of our faith. The priestly author of Genesis experienced creation in that word. Deutero-Isaiah was convinced it could bring growth. And Jesus trusted that it would eventually bring him life.

Perhaps the only thing we can hope for God’s word to bring us is just hope itself; something that will never happen if we just stay put and wait for the “enemy” to annihilate us.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Acts 2:42-47; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Today’s second reading tells it like it is. The unknown author of I Peter accurately describes the situation in which followers of Jesus find themselves after his resurrection and before our physical deaths. “. . . Now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith . . . may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” According to the writer, we’re not just treading water here on earth; day by day we’re trying to be more and more genuine people of faith. Carrying on the risen Jesus’ ministry is an ongoing process. It doesn’t happen at a specific place and time. It’s something we achieve every day of our lives, in different places, in different ways, and in our relationships with different people.

Scholars maintain that Luke, in today’s Acts passage, is probably painting a picture of a future, ideal Christian community, and not describing the actual first generation Jerusalem church. (The city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans at least 15 years before he penned Luke/Acts.) Luke uses his well-known “summaries” in Acts to simply provide his third-generation Christian community with a goal toward which they should be aiming. Convinced that a true disciple’s life should revolve around the “breaking of bread and the prayers,” he shows how being faithful to these two essentials of the faith leads to “. . . the Lord (adding) to their number those who were being saved.” Luke’s message is clear: if you do it “right,” people will come.

Perhaps the practice most attracting others to the faith was the ideal community’s habit of “. . . selling their property and possessions and dividing them among all according to each one’s need;” a primitive form of Christian communism. No wonder Pope Francis’ attempts to return Catholicism to a biblical faith recently prompted some of his detractors to label him a “socialist!” Given his scriptural orientation, Francis has no other choice but to remind us that capitalism isn’t a biblically-sanctioned economic system. The problem we face is that the system of sharing which our sacred authors do sanction isn’t very acceptable to many of Jesus’ modern followers.

Neither is the condition John’s Jesus attaches to receiving the Holy Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he tells his Easter Sunday disciples. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Scripture scholars don’t regard this verse to be a proof-text for the church’s power to control the sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s much more a reflection on the power all of us share because we’re Spirit-filled other Christs. On one hand, when we forgive anyone, he or she is really forgiven on a community level; on the other hand, when we refuse to forgive, they’re not forgiven on that same level. Notice the risen Jesus doesn’t say anything about God’s forgiveness. He seems to take that for granted. He simply wants to make us aware of the power we have over others right here and now. I presume he never wants us to “retain” anyone’s sins – especially since God’s already forgiven all our sins on all levels.

It’s significant that the Thomas part of our gospel pericope revolves around the risen Jesus’ wounds. If we really are committed to being other Christs, I presume we’ll also share the risen Jesus’ wounds. Can’t think of more painful wounds than those caused by our forgiveness of others. Being aware of Jesus’ wounds should make us more conscious and more accepting of our own wounds. If we don’t have any wounds to show, maybe we should be questioning the genuineness of our faith.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
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Acts 2:14, 22-33; I Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

Many of us are so accustomed to relating only to the institutional church that we can’t appreciate the early church’s quest to relate to the risen Jesus. The first followers of Jesus presumed he/she was with them as a “new creation,” a unique individual. As Paul reminded his Galatian community in chapter 3 of his letter to them, the risen Jesus is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.

There’s a huge difference between biblical resurrection and resuscitation. Technically speaking, Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son and Jesus’ friend Lazarus weren’t raised from the dead; they were resuscitated. Though clinically dead, when Jesus brings them back to life, they’re basically the same persons they were before they died. When Jesus, for instance, tells Mr. and Mrs. Jairus to give their resuscitated daughter something to eat, I take for granted if the girl like pepperoni pizzas before she died, they’d naturally pop a pepperoni pizza into the microwave for her now.

On the other hand, someone raised from the dead is a completely new person. He or she is no longer subject to the restrictions that limit you and me: constraints like culture, genetics, and gender. Resurrection breaks down all those barriers. In Scripture, only Jesus is raised from the dead; everyone else who comes back to life is simply resuscitated. This is the one of a kind person biblical Christians expect to surface in their everyday lives.

In doing so, they’re simply replicating the experience of Jesus’ first followers. As Peter states in today’s Acts passage: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” Somehow, somewhere they came face to face with this new creation.

The big question is, “How did they do this? How does one encounter such a unique individual?”

Between the time Jesus rose from the dead (ca. 30 CE) and Luke composed his double volume work (ca. 85 CE) the Christian community had about 55 years to hone the process, to work on developing the details of today’s gospel pericope – the first time in Luke’s gospel that someone actually recognizes the risen Jesus.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t meet the pair head on; coming from Jerusalem, he overtakes them. He’d warned his disciples not to leave the city until after they’d received the Holy Spirit. These two (probably Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas) are disobeying his orders. In his conversation with them, he first insists they appreciate the necessity of his dying before he could rise. Then he “opens” the Scriptures, demonstrating how he’s mirrored in those sacred writings. Eventually agreeing to stay with them, he finally makes himself known to the couple “in the breaking of bread.”

Scholars point out that, in this encounter, Luke is describing a Eucharist: initially depicting the liturgy of the word, then the liturgy of the bread. In his theology, it was during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper – in the “breaking of bread” - that Christians should most expect to encounter the risen Jesus. He clearly puts that theology on the lips of the out-of-breath couple when they return to Jerusalem.

Luke isn’t just talking about “going to Mass.” Agreeing with Paul’s I Corinthians 11 reflection on the Eucharist, he’s convinced the Lord’s Supper provides us the best opportunity to die to ourselves, become one with all those around us, and actually “recognize the body” of Christ present in our midst. Any other frame of mind during the Eucharist is what the author of I Peter calls “futile conduct.”

If we don’t know how to die right here and now by correctly participating in the Eucharist, we’ll probably have to wait until after our physical deaths to encounter the risen Jesus. What a waste of a life-time!


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Acts 2:14a, 36-41; I Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10

There’s no more important question in all of Scripture than which comes from the Pentecost crowd in today’s first reading: “What are we to do, my brothers?” In other words, “How, in the biblical sense, are we to be saved?”

Most of us aren’t familiar with the “biblical” concept of salvation. As the late Marcus Borg points out in his 2011 book Speaking Christian, we hear the term today within a heaven-hell framework. Salvation for most of us simply means we eventually get into heaven instead of being sent to hell. As a Scripture scholar, Borg clearly demonstrates that our sacred authors’ concept of being “saved” is much broader than the simple heaven-hell framework in which we modern Christians place it. Among other things, the biblical quest for salvation implies we live a meaningful, rewarding life right here and now, long before we actually go through those pearly gates.

It’s within that traditional biblical framework that we must hear Peter’s response: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Notice he doesn’t say anything about getting into heaven or going to hell. He’s concerned only with the here and now.

“Repent,” in this context, seems to be an invitation to change one’s value system; to judge people and situations from a totally new perspective – to acquire Jesus Christ’s point of view, the individual in whose name they’re to be baptized. This 180-degree change of moral positioning results in our becoming a totally new person, someone no longer responsible for the sins the old, dead person committed. It’s also at this point that we receive Jesus’ Spirit, the force that not only points us in the right direction, but also provides us with the determination and power to achieve the goals that new orientation uncovers for us. What more fulfilling, meaningful life could a person experience? That’s how our sacred authors looked at salvation.

Our early Christian writers would have been befuddled by our kowtowing to an institutional authority structure, and relying on obedience to rules and regulations to get us into heaven. The unknown author of I Peter tells us the only thing we other Christs are obligated to do: “. . . follow in his footsteps.”

That’s why John takes the shepherd parables found in other gospels and applies the concept personally to Jesus. Only John’s Jesus speaks about being the “good shepherd,” and goes even further by reminding his community that he’s the “gate for the sheep.” Everything in a Christian’s life revolves around his or her relationship with the risen Christ. That’s the perspective from which we view everyone we meet, every situation we encounter. We’re to filter our relationships through his/her frame of mind.

No wonder the earliest Christians believed the Holy Spirit was essential to their salvation. Only she could mesh the risen Jesus into their everyday lives, making this new creation’s priorities their priorities.

I presume by submitting to an authority system and obeying all its rules and regulations, most of us will probably get into heaven one day. But I also presume a lot of first century CE Jews also were content to take that path of least resistance. They simply did what the priests and proto-rabbis told them to do and were content with their lives.

Then one day a carpenter from Capernaum visits their synagogues and offers them a new path to travel, one demanding a core change in their personalities. They’re to put people and their needs at the center of their lives, and shove rules and regulations into the background.

I imagine many of them were happy to see him leave town.


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Acts 6:1-7; I Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-11

Serious students of Luke/Acts realize how exceptional today’s first reading is. Usually, in depicting the early Christian community, Luke assures us that everything is going along hunky-dory. Jesus’ first followers are living an ideal existence: constantly loving one another, always sharing their belonging and property with the needy, and continually growing in number. That’s why today’s “bump in the road” demands some explanation.

It’s logical that communities made up of different cultural groups, each with their own languages, will eventually develop snags in their relationships. In this case, Greek-speaking Hellenists are having problems with Aramaic-speaking Hebrews. The issue revolves around the daily distribution of food to the community’s widows.

The Twelve’s way of resolving the conflict is actually more important for today’s church than the solution itself. “Select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task . . . .” The seven chosen men are then listed. Except for providing a pronunciation obstacle for lectors, the names don’t mean a lot to us. We might recognize Stephen and Philip, who will appear later in Acts, but the other five are easily forgotten.

I guarantee none of the seven would have been forgotten in the Jerusalem community. Each man is a Hellenist! If Greek-speaking Christians are having a problem, then Greek-speaking Christians are expected to solve their problem. Christian problems are solved from within, not from outside the community.

Growing up in a pre-Vatican II church, I presumed our revered pastor would have the answer to any parish crisis. I certainly wasn’t alone in that belief. Remember the old story of the pastor who calls a parish meeting to discuss a pressing issue facing the parishioners? After announcing, “We have a problem,” he’s immediately challenged by a parishioner who reminds him, “The only way we could be having a problem, Father, is if you’ve got a mouse in your pocket.”

The recent establishment of parish councils has given the “laity” some say in what happens in their faith community. But some priests (and bishops) are quick to remind the various council members that they’re purely “advisory.” The pastor (and bishop) still retain veto power over any of their suggestions. A far cry from the high esteem Luke, the author of I Peter and John’s Jesus hold the Christian community.

“You are a chosen race,” the writer of I Peter reminds his newly baptized catechumens, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his (God’s) own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into this wonderful light.” How do one or two individuals wield veto power over such a prestigious group?

John’s Jesus carries respect for the community even further. “”Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these . . . .” The risen Jesus trusts all of us not just to carry on his/her ministry, but to go beyond what the historical Jesus was able to do between 6 BCE and 30 CE.

Ignoring Jesus’ teachings, we eventually divided Christians into clergy and laity. One group became superior, the other subservient. One group called the shots, the other took the blows. We 21st century Catholics are witnesses of this; still suffering moral consequences 50 years after the church’s hierarchical decision on birth control and today being forced to deal with ever-dwindling Eucharistic celebrations due to the artificial shortage of male, celibate priests.

The early followers of Jesus believed he left them a way to deal with such problems. But unless we dare to be committed to that way, our problems will certainly remain and increase.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222