Fourth Sunday of Lent
Reading 1 1 SM 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A
Reading 2 EPH 5:8-14
Gospel JN 9:1-41
"Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart."
'Never judge a book by its cover'; I've heard this so many times and said it almost as much and yet I need the reminder that God has to give Samuel: the Lord looks into the heart.
What does a king, an emperor, a president look like? We all have our opinions and we make judgements based on what we see or hear and maybe what we like about them is a reflection of what is in our heart.
Today's Gospel gives us the account of the man born blind. All the readings speak today of vision: sight, insight and foresight or the lack thereof: blindness. Jesus had to add to address blindness and it is important to notice the order in which he does it.
The first is blindness due to ignorance. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" It was the prevailing thought at the time. His blindness or any such afflictions were a sign of sinfulness. But St. Paul tells us in the second reading that Christ, the Light will give you light. Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. And he heals the man with clay made of the earth and spittle. A new creation for Genesis tells us that God formed man from the clay. The man sees and he gains his sight and now he also gains insight; his testimony grows from 'the man, Jesus' to 'prophet' to 'Son of Man' to 'Lord'.
He also gained foresight; "He said, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him. Yes he worshipped the Son of God even before the glory of the resurrection.
And then there is blindness due to deliberate stubbornness. Not just a lack of sight but a total lack of vision: no sight, insight or foresight. The disciples believed, the healed man worshipped, his parents saw as did the people of the town. All believed except the Pharisees: there are none so blind as those who will not see. How can you be blinded by the Law when it was given in anticipation of the coming of the Son of Man?
They still saw only a man born "totally in sin" , threw him out of the synagogue and in doing so rejected the son of man in their midst. Eyes open but heart closed.
And so to them Jesus could only answer "but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains."
Are our eyes open and our hearts closed? This Lent let us pray the words of a popular song:
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see you.
To see you high and lifted up
Shining in the light of your Glory
Pour out your power and love
As we sing 'holy, holy holy'
When God looks into our heart does he see the reflection of his Son?
Saturday of the third week of Lent
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Reading 1 Is 7:10-14; 8:10
Reading 2 Heb 10:4-10
Gospel Lk 1:26-38
"The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary."
Mark your calendars, today March 25th, we are exactly 9 months from Christmas. Christmas? We haven't even celebrated Easter yet, so why bring that up, Deacon, you may ask? It's because today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation.
We all know the story: The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of the "Son of God".
This news would be terrifying, head-spinning, earth moving for anyone, much more so for a teenaged maiden already betrothed to a man named Joseph. It flooded her mind with questions and concerns; after all this was a potential life threatening decision: for this scandal she could be stoned to death.
But after listening with mind, and heart and spirit, Mary said: “ I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say. “
Can you and I respond like Mary: "Let it be done to me as you say"? Do we trust God to bring good when all we can see ahead is bad? Lord I believe, help my unbelief (Mk. 9:24)
Remember the angel's greeting: "Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you" and "Do not fear".
THE LORD IS WITH YOU.
DO NOT FEAR.
Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Reading 1 Hos 14:2-10
Gospel Mk 12:28-34
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
So near and yet so far: this kingdom of God. The scribe understood the spirit of the law, the foundation of the Shema, which is love not just obedient acquiescence.
We touched on the Shema briefly in a prior meditation this week and it stands as the centerpiece of today's gospel:
"Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. ... And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
Love of God and love of neighbor. Can I love my neighbor if I don't love God or can I love God without loving my neighbor?
Lent calls us to examine our inability to love. At it's root is selfishness which acts like a dam or prison wall that prevents the love from flowing outward and instead leads us to sin.
In the first reading God speaks to us through the prophet Hosea:
"Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them."
So near and yet so far. The path of the Lord is the path of love. Hear O Israel. Peace.
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Reading 1 Jer 7:23-28
Gospel Lk 11:14-23
"Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."
We like to hedge our bets, play it safe and try to have one foot on each side of the line: "if it is A then I could do so and so, but if it ends up B then I will do so and so..." Shrewd, make everything to our advantage.
Even in matters of faith I want to be both religious and secular, whichever gives me greater advantage at the moment. I am willing to separate church and state or join church and state when it suits me.
You want a simple test? What if all malls, restaurants, supermarkets, sports and sport bars were closed on Sundays in honor of the Sabbath, only churches open? Would you holler for God's way or the American way? And this is the simplest of test.
But Jesus draws a 'line in the sand' today:
"Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."
Choose. Stop playing games. Peace.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Reading 1 Dt 4:1, 5-9
Gospel Mt 5:17-19
"Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place."
I have often wondered if Jesus said he had not come to abolish the law, why then did he encounter such opposition from the Pharisees and scribes?
The answer can be found in the second part of the statement "but to fulfill it". God's law was born out of a covenant relationship: you will be my people, and I will be your God. Love is the foundation of the law.
Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. ... And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Dt. 6:4-5)
This is the cornerstone of the law: love of God and Jesus would emphasize a second piece in its fulfilment: "The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." (Mt. 22:39-40)
So this was a challenge to the Jewish leaders, hence the opposition, and to some of us today, who tend to be so legalistic when interpreting God's laws that we impose burdens on the people. God's law was meant for freedom.
True obedience of all the commandments requires loving God with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. That is freedom. Legalism is not complete obedience, and obeying God because we're afraid of punishment is not an obedience that's motivated by love. That is fear.
This Lent let us move from fear into freedom. Peace.
Tuesday of the third week of Lent
Reading 1 Dn 3:25, 34-43
Gospel Mt 18:21-35
"Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."
"Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?"
Peter's question on forgiveness led to the parable of the unforgiving steward and its stern warning at the end. I must admit that there are times that I've found Peter's offering of seven times to be actually generous. Sometimes even once is hard.
Shaquille O'Neal has told a story that Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley once held his breath in a bucket of water for 8 minutes in a motivational demonstration. Fantastic it may be but in reality it is child's play.
Let me ask this question: how long can you hold a grudge? I salute you if your answer ends in 'minutes' or even 'hour's. We are capable of holding grudges for days, weeks, months, years, decades or even more tragically, lifetimes.
Peter, perhaps felt especially benevolent, in offering forgiveness seven times, after all, Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone was limited to three times, citing Amos 1:3-13 where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times, then punished them. Three strikes and you're out. So Peter was offering forgiveness more than double that of the Old Testament example.
There for when Jesus responded that forgiveness should be offered far beyond that which Peter was proposing to 'seventy times seven', it must have stunned the disciples who were listening. Jesus used the opportunity to teach them that they were still thinking in the terms of the limits of the law and not in the terms of unlimited grace.
I admit it's a hard lesson and for this deacon it is 'back to the drawing board', but isn't that the purpose of Lent?
The cross becomes heavier with each step in this Lenten journey but if Jesus did it then we must also. Lord I pray for the grace of not only seven times but seventy times seven. Peace.
Monday of the third week of Lent
Reading 1 2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16
The LORD spoke to Nathan and said: "Go, tell my servant David, 'When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.'"
Today the church celebrates the solemnity of St Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not much is said of him in the gospels other than in accounts of Jesus birth and infancy.
I remember my primary (elementary) school of St. Joseph's Boys R.C. next to the catholic church where this day would mean a special treat for us (after Mass of course). That was so many, many years ago. Distant memory.
I wonder if God's words to Nathan concerning David centuries before, as recorded in the Hebrew scriptures, were fresh in Joseph's mind at the time of Jesus's birth or were they, too, distant memory. After all, Joseph was of the house of David but he certainly had no pretensions to the throne, or wealth or prestige as a carpenter. Israel was far removed from its 'glory days' of powerful kings and now under the heel of Roman oppressors. Distant memory.
But God did not forget, he never does:
"Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.'"
The promise was fulfilled in Jesus, this little child that brought Joseph pain, doubt, and no little confusion and anxiety while yet fostering hope and trust in God's fidelity.
Lent calls us to 'go beyond' like Joseph, to take Christ into our heart and home without fear or doubt but rather in complete trust in God's fidelity.
St. Joseph pray for us. Peace.
Third Sunday of Lent
Reading 1 EX 17:3-7
Reading 2 ROM 5:1-2, 5-8
Gospel JN 4:5-42
"If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink, 'you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
"Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink" wrote the poet Samuel Coleridge in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, whose ship is now afloat in a windless sea and they are dying of thirst despite the abundance of water surrounding them.
The image of water is powerfully demonstrated in our Scriptures today in its association with thirst.
In the 1st reading from the book of Exodus as they journey through the reset wilderness:
"In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?"
Their thirst was a real need but they failed to trust in the providence of God, the very God who led them out of Egypt through the waters of the Sea of Reeds. How quickly they forget, how quickly we forget! Even with God we adopt a 'what-have-you-done-for-me-lately' attitude. We read that God brought water from the rock. More than enough to satisfy their needs as well as their children's and their livestock's. God indeed fulfilled his promise to bring them into the promised land.
In the Gospel it is Jesus who thirsts and initially asks the Samaritan women for a drink. It was noon, and It was against all societal protocols to speak directly to a woman and worse a Samaritan at that. Yet after the opening discourse it is the woman who asks for the living water that Jesus speaks of. What is it that she thirsts for: love, acceptance, forgiveness, redemption? What are we thirsting for? Nothing we try seems to satisfy, we are always left wanting in our pursuit of happiness in love, power, riches or fame.
But like the Samaritan woman we will find living water only in Jesus. Notice how she immediately goes to give witness and as a result how many came to believe in Him.
Come satisfy your thirst once and for all in the living water that Jesus offers: He is both our rock and our wellspring.
In the poem by Coleridge, the ancient mariner, driven by guilt, and as penance for shooting the albatross, is forced to wander the earth, telling his story over and over, in order to teach this lesson to those he meets:
"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."
Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
Reading 1 Mi 7:14-15, 18-20
Gospel Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
"Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.Then the celebration began."
Where did the image of the 'Angry God' come from? By this I mean the perpetually scowling, always-looking-to-damn-you God, whom the Pharisees and scribes would never and could never see dining with tax collectors and sinners as in today's Gospel.
Perhaps it comes from a faulty theology that places rules above love or a patriarchal world view with an insistence on domination or whatever reasons beyond my mortal understanding.
Nevertheless in response to Pharisees and scribes Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son which I'm sure we know very well. But let us shift focus from the son or rather, sons and look at the father.
Jesus says: "He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." Does that sound angry to you? Maybe you, like the second son, are angry but the father certainly isn't. All he cares about was that his 'lost' son has been found, his 'dead' son is now alive!
The father Jesus reveals is one whose eyes are always searching the horizons in hope of seeing us returning, whose feet are always shod, ready to run to meet us less we turn away again, whose arms are always ready to embrace, to hug, to hold us close to himself, whose mouth is prepared not to utter condemnation but to seal his mercy with a kiss.
Even the Old Testament reading from the prophet Micah does not support the image of the 'angry God' who only desires our condemnation.
"Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, And will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins"
God is just and we will get what we deserve, but God is merciful and we will get what we don't deserve if we repent.
This Lent is a good opportunity to reflect on our image of God and reconcile to the image revealed by his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This Lent is an opportunity to return to him: repent and find life.
Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Reading 1 Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a
Gospel Mt 21:33-43, 45-46
"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?"
The cornerstone is important because all other stones will be set in reference to it, thus determining the position of the entire structure. It had to be plumb in its height, width and length to be accepted by the builder. Anything else was rejected.
The scriptures speak to us of rejected stones becoming cornerstones both in the OT story of Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt by envious brothers and in the gospel, Jesus who was rejected by the Pharisees and scribes.
Rejected by men, they never the less became cornerstones: Joseph would rise in political power in Egypt to become the savior of the very brothers who rejected him and Jesus would rise in Glory to become the savior of the whole world; their humility, fidelity and steadfastness enabled God to turn them into cornerstones of faith.
Maybe you think because you’re not 'good' enough, smart enough, or rich enough that God can't use you but you don’t need to be rich, powerful or famous to serve God. He isn't looking for perfection in length, width and height but rather humility, faithfulness and steadfastness.
Lent asks "are you ready to become a cornerstone? Peace.
The Season of Lent is a special time for us to slow down, look inward and make the necessary changes to truly become an Easter people.