God so loved the world . . . (John 3:16) Do you believe?

The Fourth Sunday of Lent 2018 

We’re half-way through Lent now and traditional this is known as Laetare Sunday ~ Laetare in Latin, meaning “Rejoice!”  However, today’s readings don’t seem to have that kind of flavor.

The Responsorial Psalm has us sing: “Let my tongue be silenced if ever I forget you, Zion!”

The priests’ and deacon’s vestments’ and perhaps the sanctuary decoration probably will be of a rose color, rather than that of violet or purple for the rest of Lent.

But today’s readings are a reflection on God’s generosity, God’s forgiveness. God’s constant, loving care of his people.

The first reading from Chronicles 36:14-23 outlines the infidelity, the sins of Judah and even the priests; they polluted the temple.

But early and often did God send messengers and prophets to try to get them to turn from their evil ways. Then they were carried off in captivity to Babylon.

But even then the Lord had mercy. A new King came to Persia—Cyrus—and he let the Jewish people return to their homes and actually helped them rebuild their temple.

The message of this first reading is renewal and forgiveness. God will continue making loving, merciful overtures toward sinners early and often in our own time—toward those who are responsible for the evil the world is presently experiencing—toward those who cooperate in that evil in the hope of metanoia ~ real change of mind and heart.

We realize that God has made the ultimate overture in Jesus, incarnate, crucified and risen, in victory over sin and death.

In the Gospel from John 3: 14-21—our Scripture Scholar-friend William Barclay tell us that John goes back to a strange story in Numbers 21:4-9. On their journey through the wilderness the people murmured and complained and regretted that they had left Egypt. To punish them God sent them a plague of deadly fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and to hold it up and those who looked at it would be healed.

John took the old story and used it as a kind of parable for Jesus. He says, “The serpent was lifted up; men looked at; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of that God in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so Jesus must be lifted up; and when people turn their thoughts to him, and believe in him, they too will find eternal life.”

Barclay goes on—there’s a wonderful suggestive thing here: The verb to lift up is hupsuon. The strange thing is that it’s used of Jesus in two senses. It’s used of his being lifted up upon the Cross; and it’s used of his being lifted up into glory at the time of his ascension into heaven. It’s also used in Philippians 2:9. The lifting on the Cross and the lifting into glory are inextricably connected. It’s an unalterable law of life that if there’s no cross, there’s no crown.

In this opening sentence of today’s gospel, there’s the phrase “believes in Jesus.” Barclay suggests it means at least three things . . .

First. It means believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us, that God cares for us and wants nothing more than to forgive us.

It was not easy for a Jew to believe that. Jewish people looked on God as one who imposed laws upon their people and punished them if they broke them. They looked on God as a judge and on man as a criminal at his judgment seat. (In fact, I have known Catholics who have thought the same way! That they were going to hell for the even small peccadillos. I knew a lady once who thought her flatulence was a sin!) Jewish people looked on God as one who demanded sacrifices and offerings.

Second. How can we be sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about? What guarantee is there that this wonderful good news is true? We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he knew God so well, was so close to God, was so one with God that he could tell us the absolute truth about him.

And Third. We believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and whatever he says about God is true. We must stake everything on the fact that what Jesus say is true and that whatever he commands we must do. When he tell us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God unreservedly that we must do.

The second phrase is eternal life. We have already seen that eternal life is the very life of God himself. So, if we possess eternal life, what do we have?

First, we have the peace of God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical judge. We are at home with our Father.

Second, it gives us peace with our fellow human beings. If we have been forgiven, we must be forgiving. It enables us to see others as God sees them. We become on human family.

Third, it gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good. This a friendly universe!

Fourth, it gives us peace with ourselves. We are most afraid of what’s inside of us than anything else, it seems. We know our weaknesses, the force of our temptations, the tasks and demands of our own life. But now we know we are facing them with God and with his Son Jesus.

And finally, it makes us certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace that is to come.

And so we come to probably the most quoted scripture passage in the world—John 3:16 in today’s gospel.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life.

All great men have had their favorite texts, but this has been called “Everybody’s text.” It contains the essence of the gospel. Barclay says it tells us certain great things . . . .

First. It tell us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes preachers draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle loving Jesus. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son and he sent him because he loved humankind.

Second. It tells us that the root of God’s being is love. It’s easy to think of God as looking at us humans in our disobedience and rebellion and saying: “I’ll break them: I’ll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back as in the Old Testament. It’s easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of his subjects to satisfy his own desire for power. The tremendous thing about this text is it shows us God acting not for his own sake, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring the universe to heal, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch, (as many despotic government rulers today are) who treats each person as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not batter or bully them into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.

Third. It tells of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the person who loves God and the one who never thinks of God, the person who rests in the love of God and the one who spurns it—all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine put it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”

And now before you go, here’s a hymn sung in many churches that extols God’s love for us. Click here..

 And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here. 

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – volume 1  revised edition /                                                   Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975 /pp.134-138.

I can see! You light up my life!

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 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.”

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.

Lord Jesus,

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.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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.