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.
A spring in North Florida / Bob Traupman
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