Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jesus is the Light of the World

Fourth Sunday in Lent - Scrutiny (Year A)
1. I am the light of the World (John 9:5), says the Lord. Like any physical problem, people want to understand why it happened - what was the cause of this form of suffering. Sometimes, the cause of blindness was easier to determine- an accident, illness, or battle injury. But when someone was born blind, it was more difficult. In the time in which Jesus lived, many people considered blindness and other physical defects to be a sign of sin. That is, if someone or their parents did not live right before God, their sin might result in a physical affliction. For this reason, they are speculating as to the cause of the man’s blindness (which further caused him to have to beg instead of work).
2. Before we judge those people as primitive of superstitious, we have to consider that we ourselves often have the same kind of speculation. When we get ill or injured, or there is a great disaster, such as the earthquakes in Haiti or Chile, many people speculate as to why God would permit such a thing. We might even ask God what did I do to deserve this? Be honest, some people even wonder what sin God must be punishing. Some sins do result in a consequence of personal suffering. For example, if you kill someone, that other person is dead, and sooner or later you will have to grieve. If a couple uses contraceptives, they can become sterile. If you cause scandal, you can lose your good name or significant income- just ask Tiger Woods.
3. Anyway in this particular situation, Jesus responded by saying that it was not sin that caused this man’s blindness. Rather, God permitted it in order to show His glory. That is, Jesus intended to heal the man all along. Healing someone born blind was not just a great miracle for the benefit of the recipient- it was a sign of who Jesus is. Only God could restore the sight of someone born blind (without use of surgery or lasers or microscopes etc).
4. The healing is also a symbol for Baptism. In the physical world, light is necessary to see anything. But even if there is light all around us, we will only see to the extent that the light can reach inside of us. Furthermore, the light has to be focused or likewise we will not see clearly. To be able to see is to receive light- illumination within us. When we were baptized, either we or our parents and godparents received a lighted candle with this command to receive the light of Christ. That is, we received illumination from Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. At baptism, His light began to shine in us. Of course, our parents and godparents were admonished to keep the flame of faith alive- that is, to keep the light of Jesus Christ burning inside, growing stronger, shining the light of Christ to guide us on our pilgrimage through life.
5. Being able to see the world, however, is not enough- our minds must be able to interpret the images. So sight is also a metaphor for understanding. When we explain, we say do you see what I am saying? And when we understand, we say yes, I see it now. It is not unusual then, that the man born blind begins to see, not only the physical world around him, but who and what Jesus is. That is what the illumination of Baptism is for- to help us see things as God sees them.
6. Through the story of the Gospel we heard today, the man born blind grows in this understanding of Jesus. He first calls Jesus, “a man,” then “a prophet,” then “from God,” then “Lord,” and finally he bows down an worships Jesus.
7. Sin has the opposite effect, however. Those who oppose Jesus and His words cannot understand the sign of His divinity. They are blinded by their own opinions. In First Samuel, Samuel at first is sure of who should be anointed king based on the human judgement. But God teaches him to wait because God sees things differently. What is really sad is that many of those who rejected Jesus had the benefit of being able to study the Bible. They should have recognized the signs. In any event they should have turned to God in humility for help in determining what should be done. But they did not. Even some of the people who followed Jesus and listened to Him were more concerned about what they believed to be an insult than in learning the truth. That is, if we recognize our sins, our weaknesses, our ignorance, our need for God, then the Lord can and will work to heal us and give us understanding hearts. But if in our pride we will not see our need for healing, then we will stumble about in blindness.
8. If we do not want to be like those who rejected Jesus, we had better face the facts. We need Jesus- not just to heal us from sin, but for every aspect of our lives. Only by exposing our own sinfulness and letting the light of Christ shine even in the hidden recesses of our souls, can we hope to see and reflect that light in the Glory of Heaven.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Living Water

Third Sunday in Lent Scrutiny (Year A) - The Woman at the Well
1. 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 (John 4:10). It would seem that going to the well to draw water for the day was an activity that would be best done in the cool of the morning. Such an activity would also have been a chance for social interaction with the other women of the village. So why did the woman come at noontime? Maybe there was an emergency in the house and she was delayed. Most likely she deliberately came to the well when she thought no one else would be there. Her multiple marriages and living with a man without being married to him would have met with disapproval in the community. To permit a man to treat her in such a way endangered all the women in the town, as well as the rest of society. So the woman came to draw her water in the heat of the day.
2. Little did she know that Jesus would be waiting for her. I do not think it was accidental that Jesus was waiting for her. If Jesus had gone into the town with the others, he would have missed her. Even if she had stayed in town, she would have never heard Him speak. But our Lord wanted to have an encounter with her, so that she could be healed. He did not approve of her sins, that was clear from His many teachings on the permanence of marriage and the evil of divorce. But Jesus did love her, as He loves all sinners. So in spite of the cultural custom of men not talking to women who were not their relatives and of Jews and Samaritans ignoring each other in most circumstances, Jesus asked her for a drink of water.
3. Really His plan all along was to give her the Living Water which He spoke of- the Water which would be a fountain within her always springing up to refresh her from inside. Such a fountain would have sounded very good to someone who lived in a time and place in which no one had running water. But we know that Jesus is not talking about regular water. And soon the woman would realize that also.
4. The Water which Jesus speaks of is the gift of the Holy Spirit which we receive in Holy Baptism. To receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit refreshes the individual so gifted because it is the Spirit of God who created us out of love and who has saved us from our sins. God alone can fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart. Other things, whether they are food or drink or clothes or sex or money or power or human comforts or even scientific knowledge and understanding, will not be able to fill our desires because we have been made for eternity with God. The woman at the well herself stated that they were looking forward to the Messiah who would guide them in the ways of God.
5. When the Samaritan woman expressed the desire to receive the living water, Jesus asked her to bring her husband. Jesus already knew that the woman was in an adulterous relationship, He knew everything about her. And yet He offered the gift of the Living Water. Of course, a gift is only ours to the extent that we are open to receiving it. The Holy Spirit is not going to dwell somewhere unwelcoming. Sin is incompatible with the presence of God. As Jesus has said you cannot serve two masters. You will end up hating one and loving the other. God will always love us, but He will not stay where He is not wanted. So although Jesus did not condemn her, His bringing up the problem with her life was a way of letting her know that it was time to change.
6. She brought up the differences between Jews and Samaritans- which among other things were the modes of worship. The Samaritans accepted the first five books of the Bible and they too were awaiting the Messiah. And Jesus told her that He is the one. He used the phrase I am he... That is, Jesus used the Divine Name to identify Himself as not only the Messiah, but God Himself.
7. Because of her encounter with Jesus, the woman’s heart was changed. She lost her fear of the other townspeople, proclaimed what He did for her, and invited them to meet Jesus aslo. They would have never listened if she had not changed her life. But they could see that she had been transformed and left sin behind.
8. This event in Jesus’ life is meant to instruct us in the reality of Baptism. In the living waters, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which is God Himself. The Spirit will transform us. It will destroy sin and enable us to live in accord with the will of God, if our hearts are committed to the Lord.
9. Someone who really encounters Jesus in this personal way in which He gives His Spirit as a gift will not be able to keep it to themselves. If God shows such love and mercy to you, you just have to tell others about it. But to bring them to the Lord also requires a radical change of heart away from sin and toward Jesus as Lord. Otherwise it will simply not convince. Of course, what really convinces is not our words, or even our actions, as holy as they may be. The convincing power is the Lord Himself. To know God, to Love God, to receive God’s Spirit within us is the way to fulfillment. And it comes from Jesus. 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 (John 4:10).