Saturday, March 25, 2017

Separated at Birth

It is so that the glory of God might be made manifest through him.

Ordinarily the first reading and the Gospel text connect with one another with relative ease, but this week the readings seem disconnected.  What does the anointing of David as king have to do with the healing of the man born blind?  In both cases we have parents who do not see their sons as having any significance at all.  In fact, both David and the blind man are written off by their parents as of no value or as cursed by God.

In fact, the disciples of Jesus think this way too.  Jesus, however, does not.  Where human beings see insignificance and sin, Jesus sees potential.  The condition of David and the blind man have nothing to do with sin, but instead it is so that God can work through this person in powerful and unexpected ways.  No one thought much of David, but he became Israel’s greatest king.  No one thought much of this blind man, but Jesus did and this miracle of sight leads to growth and glory for the kingdom of God.

In being called by God, David and the blind man encounter hostility and resistance for their newfound relationship with God.  David will incur the wrath of Saul, while the blind man is expelled from the synagogue.  But his hostility does not diminish their faith and joy in walking with God – a walk that necessarily involves the cross, a sign they, and we, are near the reign of God.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

On the Margins

The woman left her water jar…

Imagine the life of this Samaritan woman.  She goes out to draw water at midday because none of the other women, who draw their water early in the morning, will have nothing to do with her.  Her life has been a scandal – five husbands and now living with another man to whom she is not married.  In her culture she will always be on the margins, an outcast, on the outside of her village.

It is here that Jesus finds her, and in this marginal place he restores her and makes her whole.  And by the end of the story we find her not an outcast but rather a missionary who has led this entire village to a relationship with Jesus the Messiah, Prophet, and Savior of the World.  And while the disciples of Jesus struggle to understand, this unnamed woman leaves behind her water jar to arrive at a profound understanding of Jesus and of herself.

This is what accompaniment means.  This is the fundamental mission of our faith – to find pathways of reconciliation for others in a world where such restoration is closed.  As in the days of Jesus our own day finds disciples not understanding, forgetting this is what Jesus did in their own lives – in all of our lives.  He finds us at the margins, accompanies us, and leads us to the reign of God.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Accompaniment - The Woman at the Well

Imagine being the Samaritan woman at the well...  It is noon and you are heading to the well to draw water from the well for the first time in the day.  All the other women have already drawn their water at the dawn of the day.  You are here at this time because you have been shunned by all the other women.  It has been this way for a long time, and it will always be this way.  After all, you've been married five times and you're now living with a man who is not your husband.

It is a lonely life - no friends, few people who will associate with you at all.  You're dealt with hastily at market, and the temple is not a friendly building in the village.  So many mistakes in life, so many disappointments and broken relationships.  Some of these are your fault, others are not.  How will you ever regain some dignity and respect again?  How to right the wrongs of life?  It is impossible for you.  These are the thoughts that are going through your mind as you make the walk to the well in order to get the water you and your household need for the day.

As you arrive at the well, you come upon a Jewish man who asks him for a drink of water.  Is this a joke?  Is someone taunting you?  So your initial reaction is harsh - how can a Jewish man ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water?

And it is this first encounter and reaction that forms the basis for your life changing in a remarkable way.  This cultural and social affront of this Jewish man makes it all possible, for you are unable to restore yourself.  Someone had to break into your life and your culture to overcome all the human obstacles.  That initial social shock is followed by subsequent astonishments - what is this living water?  Is this man a prophet? - he told me all about my life!  Could he be the Messiah?  In your astonishment you leave behind your water jar to go and tell everyone what you've discovered at the well.  You don't even know the Jewish man's name, but unwittingly you also left behind all the barriers of being an outcast among your people to tell others about this man.

And your people saw the change in you, which enabled them to overcomes their prejudices against you.  You brought them to Jesus!  Your example, your conversion brings them to their own encounter with Jesus.  And that encounter has confirmed for them what they saw in you - they no longer believe because of your word and your example.  They have now seen for themselves that Jesus is the savior of the world.

So all the worries you had as you walked to the well - the isolation, ostracism, vulnerability - are not only overcome, but also transformed into the opposite in your life.  Instead of an outcast you are a heroine, a disciple, an evangelist.  What seemed impossible in your life has now been realized and exceeded in abundance, just like the wine at Cana.

And in all this we never know your name.  But you are all women, all outsiders, all sinners.  You are all of us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Going and Staying

Rise, and do not be afraid.

Today’s readings challenge us to go places we do not wish to go.  Imagine being Abraham and Sarah – two people advanced in years who have lived in the same place their entire life.  God tells them to move to a foreign land where they will most certainly face opposition and discrimination.  Everything in their bodies says no to this request, but they go.  God’s invitation melts away their fears.

Similarly, Peter, James, and John experience the splendor of the Transfiguration – and Peter’s response is a natural one:  let us stay here and erect three tents to honor the event.  But Jesus leads them where they do not wish to go – back down the mountain to serve the needs of others.  Moments of intimate prayer are not designed for us to remain in, but rather they are an impetus to return to our ministry with greater love and vision.

Lent is designed for us to move forward on our pilgrimage of faith, and so the invitation to Abraham should lead us to consider what uncomfortable God might be calling us to go, just as Jesus’ invitation to the disciples is a call for us to take our prayer experiences down from the mountain to serve others, to accompany others on the pilgrimage to the reign of God.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Temptation and Tonic

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

What an odd verse of Scripture!  The Spirit led Jesus into the desert in order to be tempted by the devil.  Why on earth would the Spirit do such a thing?  In the Gospel of Matthew, the temptation of Jesus is seen as a foil, i.e. that Jesus would relive the experience of Israel in the desert and succeed against sin where Israel failed.  And in Jesus’ success we find our example to follow in our own temptations by the devil.

The desert itself can provide a solution to the challenge of temptation, for the desert reminds us of the reality of this world.  The shifting sands remind us that this world is ever changing, impermanent, and barren.  The harsh conditions remind us of the fragility of life and our entire dependence remains in God alone.  The frustrations encountered in the desert remind us not to trust the world - that it leads us only to despair. 

Jesus remained faithful to God in the midst of the temptations, showing us how to focus on God’s word.  The devil would have us focus on our own self-interest, but Jesus returns to dependence on God.  Israel went to the Promised Land by way of the desert, a desert filled with sin and failure that foreshadowed Israel’s experience in the Promised Land.  The Lord Jesus leads us through the desert of sin, but now the desert is not filled with sin and failure.  It is filled with success in overcoming sin, a road map to the reign of God.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pagans and Christians

Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice…

At a recent interfaith faith sharing we were discussing different religions and their attitudes toward war and violence.  Our Catholic tradition has over the past fifty years grown ever closer to the original ideal of non-violence and aversion toward warfare, reflecting the teachings of Jesus we have seen over the past several weeks in the Sermon on the Mount.  In today’s Gospel we are called to not worry about that which warfare is based – possessions, power, esteem. 

The pagan representative at the interfaith sharing talked about how each person is called to decide in their own conscience regarding war and violence.  So, according to this reasoning, one person could find that recourse to total war is just as legitimate as one who concludes that pacifism is the proper course, or that warfare must have limits of some sort.  When conscience has no parameters at all, anything goes.

And herein lies the difference regarding conscience between pagans and Christians.  The Lord Jesus provides the conscience with a guide both in his teaching and his example, while the pagan is left to their own devices and susceptible to horrific acts and consequences.  So we who follow the Lord Jesus hear the call of nonviolence, the call to renounce worldly cares, the call to the kingdom of peace – the reign of God.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Virtue is its own Reward

…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

How often do we see people looking for the payoff, or what’s in it for them, when it comes to ethical decision making.  How often do we see this way of thinking in our own discernment and thoughts?  In a culture that relies upon contractarianism and utilitarianism to determine ethical behavior, we are vulnerable to such poisons.

In the Catholic tradition it has always been maintained that virtue is its own reward, that we perform the good deed solely because it is good and for no other reason – “we are useless servants.  We are merely doing our duty.”  A servant does not expect recompense nor even praise for doing their duty, and we likewise see the ethical life in similar terms. 

There is no reward for loving our enemies or praying for them, but such behavior is certainly good in its own right and far superior to the revenge our world seeks, or even following Jesus’ command for some benefit or reward for ourselves.  Our lot is to do the good as Jesus did, a good that leads to the cross – and to the reign of God.