“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. “~ John 12:1-3
Yesterday we found Jesus mobbed but probably exhilarated by the crowds as he made his entry into the great holy city of Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
This day, Monday, weary from all the excitement and eager once again to be welcomed by his beloved friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he makes the short trip to Bethany with his disciples.
Apparently he was expected; a dinner party had been arranged and Jesus was to have quite an intimate surprise ~ right there in front of God and everybody. Martha and Mary were sisters; Martha was the practical one; she was always busy in the kitchen preparing the meals. Mary loved Jesus in a special way; she was often at his feet listening to his wonderful words.
This day, in front of the guests, she got down, washed Jesus dusty, tired, weary bare feet and massaged, soothed, and caressed them.
Suddenly she got up, went to a nearby shelf and got a beautiful alabaster bottle filled with the finest aromatic spikenard. She broke it open! and the whole house was instantly transformed by its wonderful aroma.
She poured it liberally over the Master’s feet. (And as we know Judas objected strenuously ~ but let’s not go there for the moment.
(Permit me this Ignatian-style reflection ~ a bit R-rated.)
A sensual woman caresses a 33-year old man with perfumed oil. The oil squishes down between his toes; it soothes his weary feet. She rubs it in circular motions around the ankles.
Then Mary teases him dripping some, drop ~ drop on his shins, watching the glistening oil slither down his feet.
She leans back on her haunches and waits to get his reaction.
He grins, and raises his eyeballs toward the ceiling.
Then she pounces on him and rubs his feet firmly and furiously and backs away again, then just looks at him and smiles.
He returns the gaze, obviously, very pleased, very delighted, very relaxed.
Then she leans forward and begins to dry his feet with her hair!
This process takes a long time.
Oil takes a long time to come out, just being dried by hair, as lovely as Mary’s is.
Now, dear friends, you can’t get more sensuous than that!
I wonder what the Lord of the universe was thinking and feeling during this most intimate of male / female encounters? Would this most unusual, very creative experience be as intimate, as soul-connecting as intercourse itself?
I wouldn’t even dare to imagine. Take a moment of silence right now and ponder those thoughts and let him have his own thoughts and feelings in your own mind and heart. (That is what Ignatian imaginative Scriptural prayer is: You reflect on the Scripture in your imagination and see how the Lord speaks to you; try reading this passage again and see what turns up for you.)
The sacred text doesn’t say, but we can intimate from what we already know that Jesus is already very comfortable with Mary who used to sit gaga-eyed at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42.)
Was it sexual? No. But it sure as h- was sensual!
Did he enjoy the experience?
You bet he did!
Jesus was a whole, integrated man.
Was he embarrassed to have that happen in front of the others? Quite sure not.
He was with people he could “let his hair down” with, although Mary probably got a good talkin’ to by her sister in the bedroom later! Jesus, unlike many of us, was not afraid to be himself, no matter what.
That Monday of that of Holy Week two Millennia ago was a day of relaxation for our Lord. He seemed to have the ability to be able to make the present moment a sacrament as he put aside concern about the events that lie ahead.
In William Barclay’s commentary on this passage, he has a series of little character sketches.
First, Martha. She loved Jesus, but she was a practical woman and the only way she could show her love was by working with her hands by cooking and serving. She always gave what she could.
Then there’s Mary. We see three things about her love in this story. We see love’s extravagance. She took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. We see love’s humility.It was a sign of honor to anoint someone’s head, but she anointed Jesus’ feet. And then we see love’s unselfconsciousness. Mary wiped his feet with her hair. In Palestine no woman would appear in public with her hair unbound But That was a sign of an immoral woman.Mary never even thought of that. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what the guests might have thought.
But there’s something else here. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Many Fathers of the Church have seen a double meaning here. That the whole Church was filled with the sweet memory of Mary’s action.
Then there’s the character of Judas. We see Jesus’ trust in Judas. As early as John 6:70, John shows us Jesus was well aware that there was a traitor within the ranks. It may be that he tried to touch Judas’ heart by making him treasurer. And here, in the house of Jesus’ friends, he had just seen an action of surpassing loveliness and he called it extravagant waste. Judas was an embittered man and took the embittered view of things.
And the scene ends with the mob coming to see Lazarus and the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus.
But Barclay doesn’t end here. He tells us that there’s one great truth about life here. Some things we can do almost any time, but some things we will never do, unless we grasp the chance when it comes. We are seized with something that seems important to do, but if we put it off, we say, Oh I’ll do it tomorrow and it never gets done.
This Holy Week resolve to do something that you have put off doing for someone~ an act of kindness or forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness.
help us, too, to live in the present moment as Jesus did
~ not thinking about what comes next.
Help us to fully give ourselves to the moment we are in,
embracing it, with eyes and ears wide open to it,
putting all other concerns aside.
For that moment is where life happens;
we may not get another!
And now before you go, here’s the beautiful hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975 / pp. 108-112.
You might like to know that the sourceof spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas. It is a source of a type of intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, spikenard.
All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus. The drama of the Paschal Mystery will be re-enacted once again in parishes throughout the world. I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you. We’ll go deep here. Please take time to reflect. Come with me now, won’t you? But STOP!
The coronavirus, has nearly brought to a halt the wonder and enjoyment we have always had with Holy Week liturgies. Gone are are the Palm Sunday processions. Gone is the Washing of the Feet at the Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Gone is the Veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Gone is the Blessing of the new fire and procession with the new Easter Candle and the singing of the Exultet on Holy Saturday night. And the baptisms and the welcoming of new candidates into the Church will have to wait until “the All Clear Signal” is promulgated, whenever that will be (and you’ll get your palms then too ~ never fear!) This is all unprecedented, maybe since Wartime or even the Plagues of the Middle Ages and it’s world-wide. Nevertheless, we still have the events, in Jesus’ life to commemorate and this is what this blog is about.
So please join me reverently here and enter into Jesus’s last days as best we can . . . .
Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world, Here’s the Gospel story (from Matthew 21:1-11) that (normally precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .
When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply,
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them,
and he sat upon them.
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.”
And when he entered Jerusalem
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied,
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, notes, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part: this would begin the last act in the drama of his life.
This was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.
The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment. Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!
The crowd receives Jesus like a king. They spread their cloaks in front of him. They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)
They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”
They shouted, “Hosanna!” The word means, “Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god. (Interesting ~ I didn’t know that!)
So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand. Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.
To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .
+ It shows Jesus’ courage. He knew he was entering a hostile city. All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance” –“a flinging down the gauntlet.”
+ It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.
+ It shows us his appeal–not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.
In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this year from the Gospel of Matthew, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices. But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .
Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?
Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .
His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.
He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.
[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”
Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our own poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Joneses. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.
“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth,
the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other,
the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”
And now, here’s my prayer . . . .
Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.
We can’t raise our palms this year,
But we’re here, trying to be faithful to you as best we can.
We will try to read the story of your sacred passion and death so that we can understand and accept more fully how much you loved us
And now we learn that You really meant it!
You weren’t just pretending to be human;
You immersed Yourself in our misery,
You got down in the muck with us
~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.
Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,
our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.
May this Holy Week truly be holy for us even if we can’t be there in church this year but that we too will rise again with You to new life
and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.
To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.
Before you go, dear friends, here is a beautiful song, The Power of the Cross. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen.
Have a fruitful Holy Week. I will publish again throughout the week.
Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. To get back to this page, go to the top left corner of your computer screen, click on the < back arrow, and you’ll be right back here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Matthew. I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.
Acknowledgements Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998
William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Matthew- Volume 2 The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent ~ March 29, 2020
John the Evangelist has still another incredible story of a three-part series used by the church to show us how Jesus wants to be for us: He is the One who unbinds our shackles ~ calls us forth from the tombs of our lives and offers us new and risen life! When? For all eternity – Yes! But also right here, right now ~ especially when all of us are affected by this terrible coronavirus crisis!
(Also see the two previous posts for the first two stories “A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman (John, Chapter 4) and “You light up my life” John, Chapter 9). There are marvelous lessons for believers and unbelievers alike here. You’ll find them on the top right column of the blog.) The images I use here are of a statue interpreting the unbinding of Lazarus on the grounds of the Diocese of Lake Charles Retreat Center in Lake Charles, LA. I title them: “Addictions.”
Before I offer my own reflections on this precious Gospel text of St. John, I’d like to begin, as I usually do with some notes by our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay . . . .
Jesus often went to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha at Bethany to rest from the tensions of his life—to “hang out” with them and just relax for a while. (You might note that the word ‘Bethany’ is often used for Retreat Centers for that reason.)
The sisters sent a note to Jesus that simply was a request to come to Bethany, knowing he would come. Barclay notes that the word Lazarus means God is my help.
The sisters sent a note to Jesus that simply was a request to come to Bethany, knowing he would come. Barclay notes that the word Lazarus means God is my help.
But he stayed away several days before going up to Bethany.
Martha was the first to go out to meet him, but Mary lingered behind. Martha spoke half with reproach that she could not keep back, and half with a faith that nothing could shake. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And Jesus, replied, “Your brother will rise again.”
Barclay tells us that one of the strangest things in scripture is the fact the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good or bad alike went to Sheol. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of shades. All alike went there and they lived in a vague, shadowy, joyless ghostlike kind of life. “In death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give you praise? (Psalm 6:5)
In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees and the majority of Jews did believe in some kind of afterlife, but the Sadducees refused to do so.
Then our Scripture scholar comments on Jesus’ display of emotion at the tomb of Lazarus.
“When he saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit, so that an involuntary groan burst from him, and he trembled with deep emotion.”
Barclay says this one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into people’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.
John was writing in Greek for Greeks for whom the primary characteristic of god was what they called apatheia, which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever.
They argued that if we can feel sorrow are joy, then that person can have an effect on us. Now, if that person can have an effect on us, that means for the moment that they can have power over us.. No one can have power over God, and that means that means that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.
What a different picture Jesus gives us. The greatest thing that Jesus did was to bring us the news of a God who cares.
But there’s a problem . . .
In the other three gospels there are stories of Jesus raising people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The raising of the widow’s son at Nain in Luke. In both cases, the raising occurred immediately after death, suggesting that they could have been in a coma.
Secondly, in the other three gospels, there is no account, not even a mention on the raising of Lazarus. If it actually happened how could they possibly omit it? Barclay goes on to elucidate this problem thoroughly.
But then he resolves it by telling a story of a young marine who came to faith after living a life of sin and nearly despairing, he read this story, and it brought him back to Christ.
And now, it’s time for my own reflections, dear reader . . .
As you read this story, picture it. Get into it. And I will add a few reflections of my own along the way. Here’s an edited version of the NRSV version. Cf. the following link for the complete text: John 11:1-45.
NOW a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”
I can muse that You, Jesus often went to the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. You probably went there to “let your hair down.” To get away from the crowds — even Your chosen and sometimes unruly band of Twelve who often didn’t “get” what You were about. I muse that You sometimes felt quite alone even among them. But You really seem to enjoy the three siblings’ company. You could be who You were, without pressure, without demand. You could simply “be.” And Your three friends were very comfortable with You as well. (Remember the story in Luke 10:38-42 when he came for dinner?)
Lord, help us to find friends who accept us as we are — warts and all — with whom we don’t have to pretend to be someone / something we’re not. Where we can learn and be encouraged to bind our wounds and become whole. I thank you for the people in my life who are “there” for me when I need them.
But when Jesus got the note from Martha, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.
Lord, You have enabled me to realize, that illness and difficult times can end in glory for those who persevere ~ who trust ~ who are willing to understand what such crosses will teach us.
Lord, help us to see the glory hiding in the dark places of our lives. . . .
Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Lord, help us to grow into patience — to wait. To wait for God’s time for things.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” [ . . . . ] “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
How many of us have fallen asleep to the reality of our lives? Jesus, help me to WAKE UP! and really see and accept the reality of my life — both the good and the bad. And the reality of what’s going on in our nation and our world.
[. . . .] When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Lord Jesus, I hear you saying this to ME. As a priest I have consoled many who wept at the death of their own loved ones. And throughout my own long years of illness, these words consoled me. Somehow, I realized that, even on this side of the grave, You have granted me new and risen life again and again.
She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Yes, Lord, You are the One who is my Friend / my Beloved / my Redeemer / my Shepherd and Companion on my life’s journey!
When Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
In those few words I feel her grief, Lord . . . and a bit of a reprimand: “Why weren’t You here?”
How often as a priest have I heard people say that!
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
Jesus, as I (we) reflect on this story, help us to feel / to sense / to realize that it is your humanness / Your humanity that saves us: You are one like us!
He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to weep.
Lord, You always weep with and for Your friends . . . and the folks who do not know You are waiting for the touch of your friendship.
You cry — even now — over the state of our world. I know. I often cry with you!
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Jesus, I praise You that You were not afraid to express Your love to other men, especially to the young beloved disciple who leaned on Your breast at the Last Supper (John 21:20).
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, You always worked in an atmosphere of hostility. There were always people around who hated You because you loved. And teach others to do the same. In these later days of Lent as we approach the celebration of Your passion, death and resurrection — this year — may we be soberly aware that it was the religious leaders who had you killed. Something for us to ponder even today. Are we for You or against You? Are we on the side of Love or Hate?
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus, I know many who have heavy stones laying across devastated lives. Particularly my friends who have lain in the tomb of addiction. I know families who weep and worry over the death of the spirits of their loved ones.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
There are always consequences to devastated lives. They’re always hard to repair.
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
. . . . but Jesus reminds us to always to have hope in the ones we love — even when matters seem hopeless.
So they took away the stone. And Jesus [. . . . .] cried with a loud voice, “LAZARUS COME OUT!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said to them,
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
I have come to realize, Lord, that coming out of our tombs is only the beginning of recovery. Resurrection takes a long time.We need others to unbind us. And I thank you for the people who have helped to unbind me ~ especially You, Lord!
May we come to deepen OUR faith in You, Lord, and realize that as we stay close to You, You will unbind us and let us go free to new and risen life and love!
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved. From the oremus Bible Browser http://bible.oremus.org v2.2.5 2 March 2008.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 80 – 103.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent
The story of the man born blind
(Sunday, March 22nd, 2020)
John the Evangelist is inviting us to ask ourselves: Who are the blind ones? Who are those who see?
This story is amazing. William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar, comments that “there’s no more vivid character drawing in all of literature than this. With deft and revealing touches John causes the people to come alive for us.
He says this is the only story in which the sufferer was blind from birth. The Jews had this strange notion that one could have sin in them before one was born. They also believed that the sins of their fathers are visited upon their children.
And there’s something interesting about the pool of Siloam he mentions. When Hezekiah realized Sennacherib was going to invade Palestine, he had a tunnel cut through solid rock from the spring into the city of Jerusalem. It was two ft. wide and six ft. high. They had to zigzag it around sacred sites so it was 583 yards long. The engineers began cutting from both ends and met in the middle ~ truly an amazing feat for that time. The pool of Siloam was where the stream entered into the city. Siloam means “sent” because the water had to be sent through the city. Jesus sent the blind there for his cure.
John causes the people to come alive for us. First, there’s the blind man himself. He began to be irritated by the Pharisees persistence. He himself was persistent that the man who put mud on his eyes had cured him of his blindness. Period! He would not change his story, no matter how many times the Pharisees questioned him. He was a brave man because he was certain to be excommunicated.
Second, there were his parents. They were uncooperative with the Pharisees, but they were also afraid. The authorities had a powerful weapon. They could excommunicate them as well, whereby they could be shut off from God’s people and their property could be forfeited as well.
Third, there were the Pharisees. At first, they didn’t believe the man was cured. And then they were annoyed they could not meet the man’s argument that was based on scripture: “Jesus has done a wonderful thing; the fact that he has done it means that God hears him; now God never hears the prayers of a bad man; therefore Jesus could not be a bad man.”
The consequence of this for the man was that the authorities cast him out of the temple. But Jesus, the Lord of the Temple,went looking for him. Jesus is always true to the one who is true to him.
And secondly, to this man Jesus revealed himself intimately. Jesus asked the man if he believed in the Son of God. The man asked who that was. And Jesus said it was He.
And so, this man, who is not given a name in this story, progresses in his perception and understanding of Jesus and so should we.At first, he says, “the man they call Jesus opened my eyes.”
Then when he was asked his opinion of Jesus in view of the fact that he had given him his sight, his answer was, “He is a prophet.” Finally, he came to confess that Jesus is the Son of God.
Before we leave this wonderful story, I want you to take note of the final line that surely sounded Jesus death knell and is a warning to us all.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
So in our world today, we ask, “Who are the blind ones?” “Who are those who see? We’re dealing with the reality or rather the unreality of “fake news” these days. As a consequence, it’s hard to know whom to believe these days, where to find and sort out the truth from the falsehood or the lies.
When we ~ um ~ “converse” with people online, we often don’t really know whether they’re presenting themselves for who they are or giving a false persona; we probably don’t get to know them very well.
Some people only see the appearances of things. Many of us don’t have the eyes to see the unseen and the unknowable.
A lot of advertising today only shows handsome young men and women.
What do you see when you wander around town?
Are you on the lookout for the truly beautiful?
Like Cindy, the bag lady I found sitting in the park knitting one day next to the main library in downtown Lauderdale.
A while back I took a double take when I noticed her on a cold morning just outside the door. She caught my eye because she was polishing her nails a luminous pink. She had on a fuzzy cardigan to match. I backed up ten steps to say hello.
What impressed me the most was the twinkle in her eye, her cheerful demeanor and her ready smile.
I wasn’t nearly as self-possessed when I was homeless for a short time in the early Eighties. It ain’t pretty. I was scared to death.
What do you See with those eyes of yours, my friend?
Are you able to see the truly Beautiful People, like Cindy?
Can you distinguish between the real and the unreal / the true and the false ~ the True Self from the false self .
In the first reading the Lord teaches Samuel, his prophet not to judge by appearances, but to see beyond ~ to see into.
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance
but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:10.)
We must not allow the hypocrites — or as I call them the “lipocrites” — to blind us from the beauty that is available to anyone who does have eyes to see.
No! Don’t excuse yourself from finding God or love or a loving community of faith just because there are some who don’t get it.
Jesus healed the blind man;
he let the sensuous woman wash his feet with her hair;
hung out with sinners and the tax collectors;
told people to “Love one another as I have loved you”;
let the youngest disciple lean on his breast during the last supper;
kept his mouth shut when he was accused;
and, most importantly, simply did what his Father told him to do: be obedient (stay on message) until the very end.
And . . . and they killed him for that.
Just remember, if you choose to preach this gospel,
if you tell people to see the beauty — the Christ — in the person in front of you,
whether that one be a bag lady / homosexual / fallen down drunk / drug addict /
mentally ill, crazy man / Muslim / Republican / Democrat / Jew / Catholic / atheist
they may well crucify you too or cast you out of their life,
or stop their ears to anything you say or do —
just as they did with the blind man in this Gospel story John tells so dramatically today.
God sees differently, you know. He does not divide. God unifies.
God made us all as his children. God sustains all of us in the present moment.
God loves us all. No matter what!
Can you see yourself with God’s eyes, my friend?
Many people think they’re a piece of junk and so they pretend to be somebody else.
But God made you just-as-you-are.
He wants you to see yourself as he sees you.
When you can do that, then you will change.
The good in you will increase; the not-so-good will fall away because God himself will do the transforming.
The man who was blind was able to see that.
That was the second gift of sight Jesus gave him –not just the ability to see trees and people and flowers but to See with the eyes of the heart.
Why? Because Jesus did more than give him his sight.
He Touched him!
He drew him close!
He treated the man as a person!
And that, very simply, is all Jesus wants US to do:
Treat one another as PERSONS! Someone just like you.
Try it today. With your honey who treated you like vinegar this morning.
Your hyper kids. Your nasty neighbor. Your lousy boss. A bedraggled stranger on the street.
That’s the message of this gospel story.
You are truly My Light.
You help me see the beauty in myself and all around me.
My life and my world are very different because of You!
You have given me true sight,
the ability to see into things.
To have the courage to look at My Reality — good and not-so-good.
To see the beauty in the people in my life instead of their faults.
I want to help people see their own beauty!
To call it forth from them.
To walk around this world and See the beauty our Father has created all around us.
I love You, Lord.
You are My Light!
I believe that You truly are the Light of the World!
And St. Paul in today’s second reading sums it up:
“Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:8-14.)
Now here’s the song “You light up my life. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings that accompany this Gospel.
The Story of the John 9 was taken excerpted from William Barclay’s the Gospel of John ~ Volume 2 / Revised Edition
The Westminster Press / Philadelphia, PA 1975 / pp. 37 – 52.
The Third Sunday of Lent (March 22, 2020
We’re in an important series of Sunday scriptures used to help catechumens (those preparing to meet the Lord in baptism). In using this series of three stories (1st) The Woman at the Well, (2nd) The Man Born Blind (next Sunday) and (3rd) The Raising of Lazarus, the Church has asked John the Evangelist all through its history to interpret for us how he sees Jesus and his significance for us.
This Sunday’s gospel has Jesus and his buddies passing through Samaritan territory.
Here are a few notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay once again. Jesus was on his way to Galilee in the north of Palestine from Judaea in the south. But he had to pass through Samaria, unless he took the long way across the Jordan River. Jacob’s well stands at the fork of the road in Samaria, one branch going northeast, the other going west. This place has many memories for Jews as Jacob bought this ground and bequeathed it to Joseph who had his bones brought back here for burial. The well itself is more than 100 feet deep. You also need to know the Jews and Samaritans had a feud that had lasted for centuries.
William Barclay tells us that this story shows us a great deal about the character of Jesus.
~ It shows us his real humanity. He was weary from the journey and he sat by the side of the well tired and trying to relax a little.
~ I shows us the warmth of his sympathy. From an ordinary religious leader, from one of the orthodox church leaders of the day the Samaritan woman would have fled in embarrassment. She at last had met someone who was not a critic but a friend; it seemed the most natural thing in the world for her to talk with him.
~ It shows that Jesus is one who breaks down barriers. The quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans was an old, old story, going back to 720 B.C. when the Assyrians that invaded the northern kingdom and captured it. The Samaritans lost their racial purity and therefore lost their right to be called Jews. Jesus wades into the middle of this controversy.
~ And there is still another way Jesus was taking down barriers. The Samaritan was a woman. The strict Rabbis forbade Rabbis to greet a woman in public, not even their own wife or daughter. And not only that, she was also a woman of notorious character. No decent man, let alone a Rabbi, would have been seen in her company, or even exchanging a word with her, and yet Jesus entered into conversation with her.
And now here’s my telling of the story . . . .
Jesus and his buddies came to the well and his buddies went off to the nearby town of Sychar. The hour’s about noon and Jesus is weary, hot, dusty, sweaty (I presume) and thirsty.
He sits down by Jacob’s well but has no bucket; the cool stuff is right down there but he can’t access it.
Along comes a woman with a bucket and he’s about to break all kinds of taboos: One, Jews don’t associate with Samaritans as I said. Second, men don’t speak to women in public. She is shocked by his shattering both of these impenetrable barriers and is quite flustered. And third, she’s not exactly a woman of high moral standing.
He soon puts her at ease by asking her for a drink. As the great Teacher he is, he reverses the symbol and says he will give her “living waters so she will never be thirsty again.”
She’s intrigued and begins to relax into his accepting, easy manner. (We forget that He was probably a handsome 31-year-old.) In fact, she quickly feels such total acceptance that she trusts him to touch her ~ on the inside.At some point, I realized that I had to learn how to proclaim (share ) the Good News not over the heads of masses of people but to share it as Jesus did here in a stranger’s town ~ one person at a time.
I ache inside when I realize so many have turned a deaf ear to the church because we priests and bishops often do not match our words with the lives we lead or because we use harsh and condemning words that push people away and sting their souls instead of drawing them close. Pope Francis is showing us that too.
In my videographer’s eye I can see the two of them sitting close to each other on the wall of the well, gently conversing as Jesus listens to the story of her brokenness. I’ve learned that the only legitimate way to preach the gospel is to do so in mutual regard and respect and in mutual vulnerability.
If we keep yelling at people in harsh words we will be justifiably tuned out. St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said, “Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”
I look to Pope Francis and am in awe of this holy man at eighty years old with his youthful vigor and eternal smile and his message of “mercy upon mercy upon mercy.” Oh! How I wish I could serve again like that. I pray that in some small way that it would be so.
The story of the woman at the well ends by telling us that this wonderful human being in Whom-God-shown-through (Gospel of the Transfiguration — Second Sunday of Lent) broke down the wall of prejudice and hostility between Jews and Samaritans so dramatically that the whole town welcomed him; and he and his buddies stayed for two days.
And there you have it, dear friends. This is the Jesus I know and love. And desire so much to be like.
I give thanks that I have had mentors who drew me close
in whose loving embrace I received non-judgmental loving
and through whose example I myself desire to love without judgment.
In my own thirst to receive the faith of those I meet and care for
may I always bring them to You, the spring of living water
so that the water you give them “will become IN THEM
a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”
So be it! AMEN!
Here’s Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Waters Click here.
Years ago when I first heard this song, I thought Jesus was / is the bridge!
And here are all of the Mass readings that accompany this story, that is with catechumens or candidates for the sacraments of Initiation present, Click here.
William Barclay: the Gospel of John – Volume 1 Revised Edition pp. 146 – 151. / The Daily Study Bible Series The Westminster Press – Philadelphia 1975
The Second Sunday of Lent ~ March 8th, 2020
Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
It’s the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in which he takes his favorite companions, Peter, James and John up a high mountain to pray. And there they experience something really amazing!
I’d like to begin once again with some notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay. He says that tradition has it that this event took place on Mount Tabor but it’s no more than 1,000 feet high. Barclay suggests it’s more likely, that the transfiguration event took place on snow-covered Mount Hermon that’s 9,400 feet high where there would be more solitude.
He also explains the significance of the cloud. In Jewish thought, God’s presence is regularly connected with the cloud. It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the tabernacle. Here, the descent of the cloud was a way of saying the Messiah had come. All the gospel writers speak of the luminous cloud which overshadowed them on the mountain. All through history the luminous cloud stood for the shechinah, which was nothing less than the glory of the Almighty God. In Exodus, we read of the pillar of fire that was to lead the people away from their slavery. “And the cloud covered the tent of meeting and glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)
The transfiguration has a two-fold significance.
First, it did something significant for Jesus. In the desert, he had made the decision to go to Jerusalem, which meant facing the Cross and his death. On the mountain he received the approval of Moses and Elijah. They basically said, “Go on!” And he received the wonderful affirmation of his Father, who basically said, “You are acting as my own beloved Son should and must act. Go on!”
Secondly, it did something significant for the disciples. They were shattered that he was going to Jerusalem to die. Things were happening that were breaking their heart. What they experienced with Jesus on the mountain, even though they didn’t understand, gave them something to hold on to. It made them witnesses to the glory of Christ; they had a story they could hold in their hearts until the time came when they could share it. (Barclay / Matthew /Volume 2 pp. 156-162.)
Now here are my reflections . . . . .
It’s a great story. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert when he was tempted by the devil. Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.
Peter, James and John are genuinely high in this morning’s gospel story. First, they’re on a mountain – that’s exhilarating already, and secondly, they see Jesus transfigured before them in dazzling glory. This is a wonderful spiritual high, lest you get the wrong idea. For Peter, James and John, this is as good a high as it gets – seeing the Son of God in his true glory. They’re blown away.
Peter, speaking for all of them; he wants to stay there, at least, a while longer. But it doesn’t happen. They have to come back down from the mountain. We might say they had to return to reality, but that’s not accurate. The vision of Jesus in brilliant light was reality too. It wasn’t imaginary. It wasn’t an illusion. It was a real moment in their lives.
We experience wholesome highs, too. A particularly rewarding achievement, an especially fulfilling moment in a relationship ~ a time when, for whatever reason, the world is bright, life makes sense, and most of the pieces of our lives fit together.
Such a moment can happen in our spiritual life, too. A retreat or some other spiritual experience can send us soaring. At such moments, we may feel the immense joy of God’s love and an intense personal affirmation . But the experience inevitably fades. We “come back to reality.” But, again, that’s not accurate. The spiritual high was also reality; it becomes folded into the rest of our life, like salt that gives zests to the taste of food.
Just for a moment, imagine that you are in Jesus’ company, along with Peter James and John as they are climbing the mountain. You are about to have your own mountain top experience.
Perhaps you’ve lived in a valley all your life or are pretty much confined to the view that four walls bring you.
In the valleys, your view is limited; you cannot see either the sunrise or the sunset. On a mountain top, your horizon gets expanded. You can look far into the distance and see the sunrise if you look east, or the sunset if you look west. Life in a valley can be boring, dull, monotonous. Life as viewed from a mountain top can be exhilarating and engaging.
You may never have a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had. Even ONE mountain top experience ~ one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.
Any close encounter with God can be life-changing. I remember one I had in 1976.
I was making a private retreat. My retreat director assigned me a scripture on which to meditate. I was to take a full hour to reflect on the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert from the gospel of Mark. Nothing came the first time. Nor the second. The third one connected. One brief experience (it lasted only about 15 minutes) has changed my relationship with Jesus forever.
I had the experience that Jesus was quite close to me; in the meditation I got close enough to wrestle with him. Yes, wrestle with him! If that happened in my mind’s eye, then it was and is possible to think of myself very often as that close to Jesus. (I felt quite certain that I did not conjured it up because I never would have dreamed of myself in that situation with our Lord.)
How about you ~ have you ever had a peak experience? Have you had more than one? Then you understand what I am talking about. You know that such moments can be life-changing.
What does it take to have a peak experience?
It can happen just in the faculty of our imagination ~ that special place inside us where we can be led to new and wonderful things, things never seen before.
It requires openness ~ a sense of adventure, a willingness to leave our comfortable place to climb a mountain, or go visit the neighbor across the street we’ve never talked to.
Now imagine that you are accompanying Jesus and Peter, James and John as they climb the mountain . . . . And you see Jesus become radiant. Dazzling. Incredibly beautiful in his appearance ~ his face, his hands his hair, his robe.
And then hear the Voice from above proclaim to you and the others:
“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
How would you feel? Would you be afraid? Would you be filled with joy? Would you fall to the ground in worship?
Let’s focus on one point of the story.
Jesus received a tremendous affirmation from his heavenly Father who was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
How about you — how often do you receive affirmation?
How often does your spouse or a friend or your boss praise you for something that you did or for who you are? Probably not very often. How often do you sense God is affirming you?
Affirmation is important. It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me.
Athletes get lots of affirmation and praise especially the ones who get gold medals but maybe not so often for the rest of us.
I used to receive a lot of affirmation when I was in a parish. These days my dog Shoney gets all the praise and attention.
As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come. When they come, embrace them ~ accept them. Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do. Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.
I pray for God’s affirmation for each of you. Hear him say: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.
Now give someone a really good affirmation before the day is over. And, before you go, here’s a song ”This is my beloved son” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
the Gospel of Matthew Revised Edition Volume 2 / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975