Sunday, March 26, 2017

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017 (Laetare Sunday): john 9:1-41.  In today’s Gospel John takes us into the great city of Jerusalem and has us participate in one of the most intriguing stories found in the New Testament. John wants us to enter into the story so that it can become for us a symbol of growing in our understanding of and relationship with Jesus, or as John loves to put it, of gradually going from darkness into the light. 

We see that first of all the man begins his relationship with Jesus by washing in the pool of Siloam and so that we do not miss the connection between washing and beginning the journey, John tells us that the word Siloam means “sent”.  He wants us to see that our relationship with Jesus, the beginning of being sent on our spiritual journey from darkness to light, begins with the washing we all receive that heals us: baptism.

And then John shows us that this spiritual journey with Jesus begun at baptism progresses farther and deeper each time that we have to witness to Jesus, to testify as to what he means to us and what difference he has made in our lives. And he reminds us that people will have various reactions to our testimony. Some will rejoice and believe. Others will ignore it and ignore us. And there will be those who persecute us because of it. But John shows us that each time we have to stand up for our friendship with Jesus, the bond of our relationship with Him becomes clearer and stronger.

At first, all that the Man Born Blind simply says that he was healed by “that man called Jesus.” His understanding of Jesus is very basic. He reports on his healing as a kind of matter of fact re-telling of events: “he put mud on my eyes, told me to wash and now I can see.” He is speaking with his friends and neighbors and so there is no threat to him at all. No need to defend or witness to Jesus. He is still spiritually in the dark but the first rays of light are beginning to rise.

But then the Man is brought before the influential Jewish leaders who do not like the fact that Jesus broke the Sabbath law and they are out to get him. Apparently, the law was more important to them than mercy and they wanted blood. For the first time the Man faces social pressure for his testimony about Jesus.  He has to make a conscious choice about his Healer. This leads him to take a step deeper into who Jesus is and he proclaims, “He is a prophet…he is devout…he does God’s will…God is with him!”  The light is getting brighter for the Man Born Blind. At this point he sees him on the same level as Moses or John the Baptist. He still has a way to go in grasping just who Jesus really is, but the light is really starting to shine.

Finally, the man is excommunicated because he has come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, which is what the title he uses “Son of Man” means. His faith and his loyalty under pressure and persecution have cost him something but in return, Jesus himself seeks the man out in a very personal encounter. The light is shining so brilliantly upon the Man Born Blind that he exclaims, “I do believe, Lord!” and he worships Jesus right then and there. His journey has finally brought him fully out of the darkness and into the light that gives life.

John would like us to honestly ask ourselves: have we reached this level of friendship with Jesus in our own lives? Have we decided once for all to choose sides and become an intentional mindful disciple of Jesus, no matter what the cost?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

3rd Sun. of Lent: Thirsting for Love & Acceptance

From the Catholic Liturgy for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2017 - John 4:5-42. The Samaritan Woman at the Well. John takes us to the land of Samaria, a land despised by the Jews as morally unclean and spiritually unworthy of God’s presence. And he introduces us to a Samaritan Woman, who because of her lifestyle, is considered even by her townsfolk to be unclean and unworthy.  So, we have in this woman an Outcast who is shunned by the people who are Outcasts. You cannot get much lower than that in the mind of 1st century Jews who are the original hearers of this story.

And we see in this story that the woman is coming to a well at noontime. This would strike the hearers of the story as extremely odd because they all knew that the women go to wells early in the morning or late in the evening so that they can escape the intense heat of the sun.  There is only one reason why the Woman would go to the well at noon: to avoid her neighbors. She did not want to encounter yet again their condemning stares nor the screaming silence of their shunning. Again, we encounter the Outcast rejected by Outcasts.

To round out the picture of this Woman John tells us that she was living with a man who was 5th in a string of lovers who had replaced her original husband. John lets us in on this aspect of her life so that we can understand that she is someone who desperately needs to be in a relationship, someone who is desirous of being loved, wanted, accepted. Someone whose need for this belonging is so great she is willing to compromise herself in a lifestyle and behavior that actually works against her desire to be loved and accepted by others.

And in all this John is saying to us: this woman in YOU.  This woman is each of you who encounter this story. For we all Outcasts in one way or another in our own minds. We all try to numb or fill up the deep need within us with people or places or things that will make us feel loved and accepted. But these things, are like ordinary water that we drink and still become thirsty again.  These distractions quench our desire for a temporary time, but cannot truly satisfy our thirst.
As the story moves on, John tells us that like the Woman, we are about to meet the One who can satisfy our deepest longing and desire for this acceptance and love. When we seek to satisfy our thirst with ordinary water, it requires a lot of hard work on our part and we are never fully successful. But in Jesus we will find the one who provides fresh living water that bubbles up and never runs dry. And we do not have to do hard labor to attain this water as the woman would have to do with her jar on a rope lowering it into a well!

Finally, notice that John makes a point of telling us that once the Woman spent time with and listened to Jesus, she runs away and forgets all about her water jar. In other words, she received even more than what she came to the well to get, and no longer needs to satisfy her human thirst for love with ordinary water, that is, with the usual ways in which we try to do so. All we have to do is listen to Jesus, spend time with him, believe in him and this Living Water, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s love and grace, will be ours!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Is God Your Genie in a Bottle?

FROM THE CATHOLIC LITURGY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT- MARCH 12, 2017 - Matthew 17:1-9. On this Second Sunday of Lent we hear and reflect on the Transfiguration of Jesus, which took place soon after he informed his disciples that he was going to be arrested and crucified. Tradition says it took place on Mount Tabor, which was a symbol of great military victory for the Jewish people about 2,500 years before Jesus. These two events - the prophecy of the Passion and the military victory are important to understanding today's Gospel - because the many of the Jews of this time believed that the Messiah-Savior promised by God would come among them as a great Warrior-King who would free them from Roman tyranny and establish the Kingdom of God in this world.

That this Messiah would be captured by the Romans and be shamelessly put to death was the polar opposite of their expectations. That his liberation would be from sin and death, and his kingdom not of this world, didn't even enter their minds.  And it was because of this understandable but erroneous political-military image of the Messiah that the Transfiguration took place.  Jesus intentionally gave the grace of the Transfiguration to these disciples because he wanted to strengthen their faith in him and who he truly was. And God the Father wanted to assure them of who Jesus was by thundering his declaration, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

We all have ideas about who God is and our own expectation of what we want him to do in our lives. And so often, if we are honest with ourselves, I think we might discover that one of our images of God is oftentimes much like that of a magic genie, and our expectation is that he will grant us our wishes and make our lives perfect, according to our definition of perfection. And when this false image and expectation fail us, we run the risk of shaking a fist at God and can easily fall into the temptation to think that he has no real care or concern for our lives. 

In order to help us avoid this danger to our faith and to transfigure our self-centered very human idea of who God is, Jesus intentionally left behind him on earth a living Church that would continue to be his voice and mystical presence in the world. And of course, he remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle, always available to us. And when we come before the tabernacle to spend time with him, to hear his voice in our hearts, we can then experience for ourselves what Peter exclaimed in today's gospel, "Lord, it is good that we are here!"