The Gospel for Sunday, March 26th, 2017

The Gospel for March 26th 2017: “The Man Born Blind”

John 9: 1-41

Reflection: Is Knowledge Power?

The gospel of “The Man Born Blind” is a long narrative with several significant turns. Let’s review some of those key moments in attempt to understand what this gospel is saying to us in our lives today.

First Jesus and disciples pass the blind man on the street prompting His followers to ask Him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (2). Jesus answers, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (3). This suggests we need not search for blame or reason in the sufferings and afflictions of this life; rather, we must see them as opportunities to serve God.

But his answer does not end there. Jesus continues by saying, “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (4-5). Jesus follows this answer by healing the man. Despite His poetic language, this statement is defined by Jesus’ action. I think Jesus means He is here with the blind man at this moment and will heal him now rather than later. If we consider all the saving that needs to be done in Jesus’ mission, this is an important point for us. Instead of abstractly concerning ourselves with the salvation of the world, we should simply act by helping those right in front of us. As my parish priest has said in one his homilies, “Do what is right there.” If we strive to serve God by helping those who cross our paths each day—whether friend or foe, family member or stranger–God’s will is being done.

The next part of the narrative I will call the great debate. Once the man is healed, we see the community struggle with the meaning of this unprecedented event. Some question if it is even the same man. They take the man to the Pharisees who wonder if this miracle comes from God because Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath. They investigate further by asking his parents if they man was actually born blind. Clearly, they suspect Jesus is either a charlatan or an agent of Satan (13-19).

After the parents claim not to understand the nature of the healing and tell the Pharisees to ask their son, the Pharisees confront the blind man with their suspicions. They command him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner” (24). The arrogance of the Pharisees becomes the real blindness in this narrative. Despite their education in the holy scriptures, they cannot see the holiness of Jesus’ miracle because it threatens their own status as holy men. As the former blind man defends Jesus, the reasoning of the proud Pharisees presses on into the realm of the absurd. Notice how they speak at act toward this poor man whose life-long suffering has been ended by Jesus. The Pharisees rail at him:

It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” (32-34)

Their final act would be utterly comic if it was not also so sad. “Then they threw him out” (34).

The Pharisees reject Jesus and His miracle. They let knowledge replace faith in their lives, which is the ultimate blindness; for they could not see the true light of the world. As I write this, it is Saturday, the feast of the Annunciation where Mary accepts the angel Gabriel’s message that she has been chosen to mother the incarnate savior. Her faithful openness to the unfathomable mystery of God’s love is in stark contrast to the cynical arrogance of the Pharisees. To me, this is a cautionary tale. We are surrounded by information that passes itself off as knowledge. If we allow the acquisition of knowledge to become a prideful pursuit that closes our hearts to the presence of God’s love around us, we risk missing the coming of our savior, Jesus.

Easter is coming. Let us open our hearts to mystery of God’s love.

The Gospel for Sunday, March 19th, 2017

The Gospel for March 18th, 2017: “The Samaritan Woman”

John 4: 5-42

Reflection: Dialogue and Evangelization as Ways for Encountering God

This week’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is a rich and nuanced narrative, offering fertile ground for deep and thoughtful reflection. I choose to focus my reflection on its similarities and differences with last week’s gospel, which tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain with Peter, James, and John. Both stories describe encounters with Christ that explicitly reveal to others his divine role as Messiah. In the transfiguration, God the Father speaks from Heaven and tells the trio of disciples in their confusion and fear, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him” (Matthew 17: 5). In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, a non-disciple encounters Jesus and is told by Him, “I am [the Messiah], the one speaking with you” (John 4: 26).

The juxtaposition of these two encounters allows for reflection on how different spiritual experiences and practice can facilitate closeness with Jesus. The transfiguration experience is marked by a journey with Jesus up a mountain, a pilgrimage, by disciples who know Him already. Their relationship with Christ is deepened when they see a glimpse of His divinity in the transfiguration itself. When Peter’s first reaction is to impetuously interrupt this experience by building tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to honor this experience through some sort of traditional practice, God the Father intervenes and commands the disciples to listen to Jesus. In short, the characteristics of this experience are marked by pilgrimage and silently listening to Jesus.

In contrast, the woman at the well has not set out to seek Jesus in an unfamiliar place, nor is she quiet in the presence of Jesus. Instead, Jesus finds her in an ordinary routine of gathering water. Unaware of whom He is, she engages with Him in earnest, unguarded conversation. As the conversation progresses from the strangeness of a Jew’s request of a Samaritan woman for water to the distinction between liquid water for thirst and “living water” for salvation, the woman expresses her desire for the latter saying, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4: 9-15).

In hearing the woman’s petition for salvation, Jesus sends her on a mission to tell her husband to call her husband and return, in other words to bring another to Christ the Savior. During this shift in the conversation, Jesus demonstrates He knows who she is and reveals to her that He is the Messiah, about whom she has heard tell. Now fully aware, she obeys Jesus’ command, going to tell other Samaritans she has found the Messiah and returns with those who will follow. They invite Jesus to stay with them, and he does so for two more days (John 4: 16-40).

This encounter with Jesus is marked by different characteristics than the transfiguration. Instead of on a journey, it occurs in the context of the familiar, a daily routine. Instead of an awesome experience where silence is called for, it occurs in an open dialogue, first between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and later between her and her friends and family. Finally, we must not overlook the woman’s call to evangelization of those close to her when she meets her Savior and finds His “living water.”

I was once asked by a wise YMCA camp director, “Where are the places you find God?” This was a startling question that prompted me to think about the possibility that we may encounter and deepen our relationship with our Creator and Savior in many ways. In light of these two gospels, I think, on the one hand, we may find Jesus through our Lenten journey, which forces us beyond the familiar and calls us to silently listen for what Jesus is saying to us in this experience. On the other hand, we also need to seek Jesus in dialogue, first with Him in prayer, asking the questions we need to ask, and then with others, talking about the answers we are finding in Him. He is calling us to bring others to Him, like the woman at the well, and we will grow closer to Him in that effort, which is often marked by honest dialogue with those who do not necessarily share our beliefs. And what do we have to gain by our obedience to this call? It is certainty in our salvation that the world cannot provide. Like those Samaritans who came to the well to meet Jesus, we can say with confidence, “[W]e know that this is truly the savior of the world” (John 4: 42).

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, March 12th, 2017

The Gospel for March 12th, 2017: The Transfiguration

Matthew 17: 1-9

Reflection: Rest on Faith and Listen

The Transfiguration gospel speaks to my need for control and familiar routines. I have spent years trying to strategically respond to and ultimately control the circumstances of my life with a highly self-centered focus. When the unfamiliar comes, do I see God’s gentle hands at work? No, I am terrified by that which I don’t understand and desperately try to first, wrap my mind around it, and second, wrap my arms around it to hold and control.

I see Peter react similarly at first in his experience with Jesus, James, and John high on the mountain. In this rarified air, Jesus reveals more of His divine presence than Peter is ready to understand based on his previous experience. Jesus’ appearance is magnified by a brilliant light, and He manifests His fulfillment of Old Testament law and prophecy by appearing to converse with Moses and Elijah (2-3).

Peter, in his disorientation, grasps on to this glimmer of recognition and tries to react with a familiar plan. He suggests to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (4). There is nothing wrong with this plan from a logical standpoint. It is rooted in tradition. His intentions are honorable and respectful. And yet, it is not God’s will that he try to tame this moment within the limits of tradition. Peter, James, and John are in the midst of genuine encounter with their God in the person of a fully divine Jesus the Son. If they watch and listen, they will grow closer to their salvation.

So God the Father intervenes and tells them, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to [H]im” (5). Now if the transfiguration of Jesus was overwhelming, a direct encounter with God in heaven is even more terrifying.  They “fell prostrate and were very much afraid” (7). In this moment of distress, Jesus comforts them, and when they look up, “[T]hey saw no one else but Jesus alone” (8).

Just like the Transfiguration, our encounters with God may manifest themselves as disorienting, frightening experiences, ones we mistakenly try to avoid or end quickly. If we let go of the natural desire to control these experiences—and instead try “to listen—“we too may hear God and be comforted by Jesus in those moments. May the deprivation of comforts of Lenten fasting and almsgiving open our hearts to such experiences, instead of  trying to fear and control them. It may be that deliverance from sin and death lies in resting on faith and listening for the voice of Jesus.

The Gospel for Sunday, March 5th, 2017

The Gospel for March 5th, 2017: First Sunday of Lent

Matthew 4: 1-11

Rather than write my own reflection today, I would like to invite readers to checkout the Lenten reflective prompts provided by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website for this season. These materials invite a personal reflection on the meaning of the gospels in our lives as we attempt to grow closer to the Lord during Lent in 2017.

Enjoy.