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!
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
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 Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!
Now here is the song “He will raise you up on eagle’s wings” Click here. by Michael Joncas sung at my parents’ funeral and so many others I had the honor of presiding at. We Catholics truly believe that we will live forever!
This post is dedicated to the young men for whom I’ve prayed and their parents: May they be unbound from the shackles of their addictions and have a new and risen life.
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
( March 26th, 2017)
John the Evangelist is inviting us to ask ourselves: Who are theblind 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.”
But before we get into the story itself, I’d like to give you some notes from William Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of John. 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 ~ “in a sin-affected universe!” They also believed that the sins of their fathers are visited upon their children.
But there is 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 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. 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 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; or 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 need to realize that “t’is ever thus!” 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 /
pro-lifer / pro-choicer / Martian / immigrant / anybody who thinks differently than you,
they may well crucify you too or cast you out of their life,
stop their ears to anything you say or do —
just as 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 SO different because of You!
I love You. I delight in You.
I never know what to expect when You’re around. I can SEE!
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.
And I praise You for you have given me the ability to use the awesome gifts
our heavenly Father has granted me so that I may help others see beauty as well.
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 me.
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. Click here.
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.
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 all through its history has asked John the Evangelist 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 so much 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 exhausted.
~ 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 the breaker down of 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.
~ 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. Two, men don’t speak to women in public. She is shocked by his shattering both of these impenetrable barriers and is quite flustered. And three, 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.
The conversation cuts to the quick very quickly. Jesus says she has had “five husbands and the one she’s living with now is not her husband.”
Jesus has a true pastoral manner that, very sadly, so many of my friends who have left the church did not receive from a priest or their family or a community when they needed it the most.
One of the new “Mysteries of Light” of the Rosary has us meditate on “the proclamation of the kingdom.” At some point, I realized that I must 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 singe their souls instead of drawing them close. Pope Francis is showing us that too.
Through my own life experience I have learned to do as Jesus did with the woman at the well. He befriended her first. He treated her as a person. He spoke kindly. He did not condemn her but in revealing his own vulnerability (his own thirst,) he brought her up to his own level.
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, in my eyes — is to preach the gospel — in mutual regard and respect and in mutual vulnerability.
If we keep yelling at people in harsh words we will be just tuned out. St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said, “Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”
We have a beautiful truth to share — the sacredness of all life and the sacredness, the holiness of the ground beneath our feet — but we can only get that message across when we be with people’s where they hurt and need, without judging; to cry with them and hug them instead of yelling at them or talking over them. Jesus would never do that! The only people he yelled at where the people who justified themselves and condemned others.
I repent of the times that I have been harsh with others. And those times have been many. And I pray that, day by day by day, Jesus, the gentle One, would help me to be more and more gentle and nurturing and respectful to those I meet whose lifestyles and values are different from mine. For I know that if I want to have any influence on them, I need to let them get close to me and let them know that, despite everything, they have a place in my heart.
I look at Pope Francis and am in awe of this holy man at eighty years old with his youthful vigor and eternal smile and his 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 want 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.
If you go to a Mass that uses the regular readings for which is the Feast of St Joseph. 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
Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
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.
Then he 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 luminous cloud which overshadowed them. 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. 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, 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.
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 are looking east, or the sunset if you are looking 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 conjure 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.
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.”
This was a moment of affirmation for Jesus. Surely he needed it; he could feel the weight of his mission upon his shoulders. He had an intuition that his life would enter upon tremendous suffering and death. He also received affirmation from Moses and Elijah and then, Peter, James and John, in turn, were affirmed that their choice to follow him was essentially correct.
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 very 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 our traditional Catholic hymn Holy God We Praise Thy Name as you’ve never heard it before. 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
TheFirst Sunday of Lent ~The Fidelity of Jesus ~ March 5th, 2017
This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.
This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.
Before I get into my own thoughts on this important opening story in the life of our Lord, I’d like to share some notes from our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay.
He says that the word to tempt in Greek peirazein has a different emphasis than its English counterpart. We always think of tempting as something bad. But peirazein has a different emphasis; it means to test.
One of the great Old Testament stories makes this clear. Remember how Abraham narrowly escaped sacrificing his only son Isaac? God was testing him, not tempting him!
So, with Jesus, this whole incident was not so much a tempting as the testing of Jesus.
We have to note further where this test took place. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine. Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles. It was called Jeshimmon, which means “the Devastation.” The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestones looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted or rather the Father was shaping him ~ testing his mettle ~ for his mission.
Then there are these other points to take note . . . .
First, all three gospel writers seem to stress the immediacy with which the temptations follow the baptism. As Mark has it, “The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12). Barclay suggests to us that we do well to be on guard when life brings us to the heights that that’s when we’re in the gravest danger of a fall.
Second, we should not regard this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. It was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul. The proof is that there is no possible mountain from which all the mountains of the earth could be seen. This is an inner struggle.
It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. His attack can be so real that we almost see the devil.
(Pope Francis in the meditation on today’s gospel in the Magnificat liturgical magazine was saying that Christian life is a battle. And then cautioned when someone said “you’re so old-fashioned; the devil doesn’t exist, “Watch out! The devil exists. We must learn how to battle him in the 21st Century. And must not be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle him.”)
Three, Barclay goes on, we must not think that Jesus conquered the tempter and that the tempter never came to him again.
Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. In Christian warfare, says Barclay as well as Pope Francis, there is no release. Some people think they should get beyond that stage; Jesus himself never did, even in his last hour in Gethsemane.
Four, one thing stands out about this story—these temptations could only come to a person who had special powers and knew he had them. We are always tempted through our gifts. We can use our gifts for selfish purposes or we can use them in the service of others.
Five, the source must have been Jesus himself. He was alone in the wilderness. No one was with him in his struggle, so he must have told his men about it.
We must always approach this story with unique and utmost reverence, for it is laying bare his inmost heart and soul. And that is what I’ve always done in the following presentation written many a year ago . . .
THIS IS A STORY about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a father/God who loves us with an everlasting love.
This is a story of confrontation and testing.
Dramatic confrontation with the elements–blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and fast.
There, he would shape his mission. He was searching for the answer of the question: What kind of spiritual leader would he be?
There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.
First, a harsh voice prompted Jesus to turn stones into bread as a way of manipulating others to get them to follow him. Jesus could have made people dependent on him; instead, he shared with them what he realized: Our common dependence on the Father of all, who gives us our daily bre
Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple and have his angels come and raise him up. He could put together a traveling road show of clever signs and wonders. Things would be easier that way. People would easily follow a clever magician. But this would draw people away from the Father, not toward him.
The soft voice was simply asking Jesus to reveal the real order of the Father’s kingdom.
Jesus realized his mission in life was to reveal Abba’s love as Father of all.Jesus was to let the world know that there was a soft voice within us all, who is there to affirm and to love, to test and to guide.
A third harsh voice promised Jesus the whole world, saying: “You’ve got the power to gain the whole world. You can be king of this world.
And Jesus sadly realized that many of his followers, even in the Church, would succumb to greed of every form. They would kill in Crusades and Inquisitions in the name of love.
As he was tempted, he was led into a soul-embracing love of the One he was to reveal. In the desert, Jesus must have knelt down and promised in all simplicity to seek and to do the will of the Father from moment to moment. And in that act of fidelity, in that decision, the new covenant surely was sealed in Jesus’ heart.
In the desert and its temptations, the whole of humanity was drawn into the possibility of intimate experience of the divine. Because one person was willing to be led into the holy of holies, we all can go with him. We can go–provided that we–like Jesus, are willing to be tested and cleansed, strengthened and purified.
In this story, at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, is the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?
The answer was:
To surrender himself into the hands of evil people was the only way Jesus could be faithful. God could have intervened on behalf of his own Son. But that was out of the question.
The world could not accept God as a gentle Father. They found his message of love much too demanding. And since the authorities could not and would not accept him and his message, the only recourse left to him was simply to give witness to that message–even to the end.
He chose to be faithful to the soft Voice of the Father, not compromise the message, even if it led to his death.
Jesus had to suffer and die because, because tragically, that was the only way the world would allow him to be faithful to the Word he heard ~ and preached.
The Father was more pleased with the fidelity of one son than he would have been with the spread of a message that did not reveal his love.
This is a powerful lesson for those among us who would COERCE others into being good.
The false voices which Jesus tamed and quieted ~the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.
The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear.
And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the Jesus I know and love.
And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father. Through Jesus, may we be faithful too.
And now, before you go, here’s a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ On Eales’ Wings. Click here. It’s the text of Psalm 91 that says, “For He will give His angels charge over you, To guard you in all your ways.” Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Matthew ~ Volume 1 revised edition Westminster Press Philadelphia / 1975 / pp. 62 -66.
“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
Now here are my thoughts on Moses’ address to his people. One often hears the words Choose Life as a Pro-Life message. That’s important, but each of us are invited to choose life again and again, every day. This Lent is an acceptable time to choose the life that affirms and nourishes us and to extricate ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within the walls of our own home that cauterise the souls of our spouses and our children. Let’s choose Life this day in the way we speak to and about the folks we meet today.
Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person. We ought to choose our words carefully. To preside over ~ take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths. And to realize our words create life or death.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? (Luke 9: 22-25)
My reflection: Jesus gives us a koan ~ a Zen word that denotes a riddle that often takes a long time for us to get it.
Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Repeat it often until you get it.
It’s So counter-cultural. In our society people do everything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. There are even numbing pads so that you don’t feel it when you prick your finger for the Accu-check for diabetes. And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. We might be tempted to do this by running away by getting a hasty divorce or by dumping a girl friend who no longer suits us via way of a cruel text message.
The Cross of Jesus is about commitment. Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face a lot of suffering on his journey. He knew he would make people angry by telling the truth he saw in his heart. He knew that it would lead him to death, but he kept heading on his way up to Jerusalem. The issue is Acceptance of whatever life calls us to. Jesus accepted the Cross because he chose to be faithful to his mission.
Jesus did a brand new thing. His message was that his Father-God embraces every person without exception. His message was that He, Jesus, transcended the Law; that the only law was to love. This went against the grain of those who saw him as a threat to all they knew.
In the desert, Jesus made a firm commitment to BE the truth that he saw in his heart no matter what. Jesus embodied that highest moral standard: to commit his life to justice and love, no matter what it cost him. His mission was very simple: Stay on message, no matter what. He was a person of absolute integrity. No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.
Very sadly, many in the church say that they believe in Jesus but are quick to condemn, quick to hate. If you are one who has been condemned by the church or treated hatefully, I, for one, ask forgiveness from you for I know Jesus would never want that for you. And I ask for forgiveness and change of heart for those who do the condemning and the hating.
Finally, I would like to be in solidarity with so many of us these days who have crosses to face that are profoundly difficult. Let us help each other to bear the crosses we must carry. But remember, the key is acceptance. Acceptance ~ the willingness to be nailed ~ is the secret to yours and my recovery.
This is the Jesus I know and love: The one who has the strength to love, no matter what. He’s my hero. I would like very much to be like that. How ’bout you?
Tomorrow we begin to reflect on Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the desert, (the Mass text for this coming Sunday) to prepare for his mission. Now before you go, here’s a concert version of the old hymn “Jesus walked the lonesome valley” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.