Today we hear the very familiair story where Jesus raises Lazarus from the death. We can find this story only in the Gospel of John, though other Gospels show Jesus raising people from the death (Jairus’s daughter, the daughter of the widow). But this story in the Gospel of John we can call the seventh climax or the seventh sign if you want:
John wrote it into a living and dramatic narrative. In a very human way he is deepening the teachings about Jesus and the resurrection. This is the last and most significant image in the fourth Gospel. Outside of the resurrection from Jesus himself of course. John explores in this way the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus for his community of believers. It is the climax of the 7 signs which leads to the heart of this Gospel’s teaching. In comparison with the New Testament, the Old Testament does not talk too much, with a few exceptions, about life after death. There is not a real conviction about life after death in general. The exceptions are in Ezekiel that speaks methaphorically about the future restoration. Also the Book of Daniel and 2 Maccabees teaches the resurrection. The context there is martyrdom.
In that context it is a question about Gods faithfulness of those whom were faithful to death. In that context it is an urgent question for the people then. In order to speak about God as just, a teaching about reward and resurrection in the next life emerged. The driving force was not the frailty of the human condition but the need to speak about God as just. And finally in the psalms we find also some pointing to the possibility of something more. When you read the Gospel of John carefully you notice that the Gospel puts many “I Am” sentences on the lips of Jesus.
Today we hear one : "I Am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die’. These I AM sentences in particular aggrevate the Jewish authorities of course. And that is for a good reason. These are intentional echoes of Gods self-revelation to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3).
It feels odd to talk about this story today and especially when so many are anxious about the COVID-19 emergency and so many people worldwide lost their lives as a result of the illness. It is beyond doubt that it has made us more aware of our own mortality and the fragility of life. This Lazarus Story is linked to the resurrection but we still need to get to Good Friday before we arrive at the triumph from Easter. As hard as it is: we cannot get to Easter without Good Friday. Or in other words we cannot reach the triumph without suffering. It might look that the reading is too soon talking about resurrection isn’t? But in reality that is not really the case. Because the Gospel narrative is more about death than resurrection. After all, logically, after his rising up again Lazarus still had to face death a second time. This story wants to be more about our mortal condition here and now than the resurrection. We will have time enough to consider the Easter mystery when we get to Easter Sunday.
When I was in theology school I studied Biblical drama and meditation. In these classes you do a lot of exercises where you try to put yourself in the story (Ignatius of Loyola). You should try to put yourself in the place of each character in turn and imagine how it makes you feel. This can be a challenging exercise. Can I try to put myself in the place of a character of the story: Mary, Martha, one of the disciples, Lazarus, maybe Jesus himself? Imagining ourselves in the place of a Gospel character can bring us fresh insights. This story features here in Lent to help us live life to the full. A close encounter with death can shock us into appreciating life. A loss or bereavement shows again what makes life worth living. Perhaps even the oppressive nearness of COVID-19 has made us re-assess our priorities and renew our trust in divine providence. Jesus was a close friend to the two sisters and their brother. They always made him welcome in their home in Bethany, whenever he passed by on his way to Jerusalem. One day the sisters notified him, “Our brother Lazarus, your friend, is sick” but he delayed before setting out to visit them. When he got there, Lazarus was already dead. When the younger sister, Mary, saw Jesus she cried out in grief.
When Jesus saw her terrible sorrow he was deeply moved and broke down in tears so that people remarked: “See how much he loved him!.” He did not just cry for the death of a close friend. He shared in the anguish of everyone in the face of death. We have the tendency to say that God wants our suffering. But in fact He doesn’t! The Gospel of today shows that He is a compassionated God who suffers when His people suffer! He is there to support them and to lift them up but He certainly does not like the situation they are in. That is a result of the human condition and frailty.
Human beings have an insatiable will to live. Like the two sisters of Lazarus, we also wonder why do we have to die? We too, like people in the time of Christ, feel in our hearts that burning question that is hardest to answer: what’s going to happen when we die? What can we do in the face of death? Most of the time we forget about that question and “get on with living. Concerning our final destiny neither science nor philosophy are of much help. We see that in the Covid 19 crisis. Doctors and nurses can take care of a suffering body but not of a suffering soul. That is why there are other professionals. I like the view of one writer who said: “Concerning death, reason tells me that it is final. But then, I guess that my reason is limited.”
We Christians don’t literally know any more about the afterlife than anyone else. Like all others, we are humbled by the inevitability of death. But we trust in the goodness of God, demonstrated in the life and words of Jesus. He is the Lord whom we love, and whom we trust with our very lives. Like Martha, we respond with simple faith to our Lord Jesus who says: “I am the resurrection and the life.” The Swiss theologian Hans Kung memorably said: “dying means resting in the mystery of God’s mercy.” In the meantime we are called to live our lives to the full. Amen.
We celebrate the Annunciation to Mary and the start of her divine pregnancy. We can also today, that in 9 months it will be Christmas. Today, as a church we remember how the joyful promise of her conceiving the Messiah was announced to Mary, at her home in Nazareth. The Lord sent Gabriel, whose name means means Power of God, with a message that would launch a new Covenant between our Maker and mankind, based on the union of the divine and human in the person of Jesus Christ. How then can she become a mother, here and now? The angel promises, that “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” This is the key that allows Mary to understand that the all-powerful love of God will make her the Mother of the Messiah.
The Son of God enters this lowly world. He comes down from heaven, yet does not separate himself from the Father’s glory. He is born in a new condition, by a new birth and born in a new condition. Invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. The Lord of the universe, hid his glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he became a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.” The Blessed mother stands out as a prime example of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father. She did not trusted in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger.” Today we celebrate not only her belief and obedience, but the shining grace of God that makes her mother to us all.
There are some specific details in this morning’s gospel: Galilee, Nazareth, Joseph of the house of David, Mary. It happens a very particular place, Nazareth in Galilee, and to a very particular couple in that place, Joseph who was betrothed to Mary. It was that particular couple in that particular place at a particular moment in time whom God chose in a special way for the sake of all of humanity. It was to that couple in that place at that time that God’s Son was entrusted for all of us. God’s purpose for our lives was dependent on the consent of this particular woman (and man) in this particular place at a particular time.
Mary’s consent to God’s messenger allowed God’s purpose to come to pass for all of us. In a certain sense, at the moment of the annunciation, Mary represented us all; we all waited for her to say “yes” to God on all our behalves. At the annunciation, God’s call met with the complete human response, “Let what you have said be done to me.” Luke is presenting Mary here as the exemplary disciple, the one who hears the word of God and keeps it. Because of her response to God, she became a source of blessing for all of humanity. If we response in such a way to God’s call, we too will be a source of blessing for others. Amen.
In the midst of the Corona Crisis the Gospel gives us this story about healing. Not only about physical healing but also about spiritual healing. The Gospel invites us to on the physical and spiritual aspects of sight and light. We hear about Jesus’ response to a prevalent belief of his time: that misfortune and disability were the result of sin. That belief is why his disciples ask Jesus who has sinned-he himself of his parents. Jesus does not gives a straight answer but gives it a new dimension. Through this man’s disability, God’s power will be made manifest. Jesus then heals the man.
The healing is controversial because Jesus heals on the Sabbath. The religious authorities of Jesus’ time, argue that it is against the law of Moses. They also don’t believe that Jesus performed a miracle. They are the sceptics of their time. We still have these sceptics that don’t believe God can heal, only the medical professionals can. To determine whether the man was really born blind, the Pharisees question him and his parents. The man then challenges their believes and their assessment of the good that Jesus has done. But they don’t except it and kick him out for questioning their judgment.
We may wonder why Jesus used ritual signs (spittle, mud and water,) in order to heal the man who had been blind from birth. Other people were healed by his touch, or simply by his word. I imagine this is how Jesus heals many of us. We ask for a blessing, and nothing seems to happen immediately. Maybe, after asking to be blessed we should simply let the healing come gradually, in the Lord’s own time.
As the story unfolds, the man’s eyes were fully opened, including the eyes of his mind. Jesus was intent on healing the whole person, body and soul. When the man in today’s gospel knew how fully he was healed, he fell on his knees, full of worship and joy. We can only hope that Jesus heals us in such a way as well. Besides the physical blindness there is a second dimension to blindness. The individual cares only about his or her own survival, shuts the door and lets the others die outside. Or one generation, feeling itself immune, despises the old and weak, even rejoicing to get rid of them maybe. The blind egoism shown up in the crisis was present all along, as an inborn darkening of the intellect. The pharisees claim that God does not listen to sinners. That is contrary on the vision of Jesus himself. Rather he answers: , “neither he nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God would appear in him”. He remains, even in darkest physical and moral circumstance, a fount of compassion, an agent of healing, and “the light of the world”. And we are called to do the same.
The moment of enlightenment for the man comes when he encounters Jesus again. Having heard how the pharisees treated the man, Jesus reveals born blind shows himself as a man of faith and brings worship to Jesus. Jesus then identifies the problem in the world: himself to him as the Son of Man. He then replies by identifying the problem in the world, that of spiritual blindness: Those who are blind will now see, and those who think they now see will be found to be blind”.
Today's readings refers to our Baptism in Christ. The washing of the man in the pool of Siloam is a prototype for Christian Baptism. Through the man’s encounter with Jesus, the man born blind is healed, his sight is restored, and his conversion to discipleship begins. The man born blind gradually comes to a greater understanding about who Jesus is how to be his disciple. He gradually understand what it takes to be Jesus’s disciple, while the Pharisees (those who should see) are the ones who remain blind.
Jesus is in our midst, even in times of crisis, as the supreme healer. He is always there to touch us, to take away our spiritual blindness and free us from our impaired vision. His church too has a healing mission. We are all sent to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” as He is. Let’s not think about our own survival but how we can be “salt and light”? How we can be a part of the Church’s mission of healing the wounded, consoling the dying, witnessing to human dignity and divine goodness?” May the Holy Spirit help us to be a real follower of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Saint Joseph was named Patron of the Universal Church, the worldwide family that continues Christ’s mission in the world. He is also honored as patron of families, foster and adopted children. Foster & adoption fathers, expectant mothers, fathers. explorers, pilgrims, travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general.
Very little is known about him, apart from a couple of events in the early life of Jesus. The Gospels do not record a single one of Joseph’s words. While he surely could speak Aramaic, we could say that his main language was fidelity and service. On several occasions he listened to the guiding voice spoken to him. This quiet man earned his living by manual labor, so that Jesus was later known as the son of the carpenter. Joseph lived a hidden life of duty and service. But that humble man was so near to Jesus and Mary that he is now regarded as one of the highest of the saints.
The Gospel calls Joseph a just man. He was honest and reliable, perhaps even a introverted man, but deeply spiritual. He trusted his family under the loving care of God. He accepted the responsibilities and burdens of family life. Saint Joseph “sacrificed himself to the demands of raising the Messiah. He acknowledged the authority of God's Holy Spirit in this. Joseph was a fully committed man. He bore the burdens and responsibilities of caring for the Holy Family. He carried out the service that Christians admire in him, which makes him such a patron for family life. Many artists have portrayed Joseph as an older widower, which is not really in line with the way the Gospels portray him. One exception is a painting by El Greco, who shows Joseph as a working carpenter, strong and protective. This is closer to the figure of Saint Joseph in the gospels than the alternative tradition.
But while he shared with Mary in bringing up the boy he must have struggled at times, just like any parent. He must also have struggled to understand Jesus, just like Mary. After looking for him for three days, they found him in the Jerusalem temple. And then hear that he was busy with his Father’s affairs. By now Joseph sensed that there was someone else whom Jesus called “Father”. However Jesus had two fathers, just like many adopted and foster children. And if you know a little about these children you know they have no trouble to acknowledge more than one person as their father. In the same breath they call their biological and their foster (or adoption) father their dad or father, often even when they are in the same room. Joseph got used to the situation. And Jesus obeyed his earthy father and mother (in line with the 4th commandment) and was obedient to them. His parents prepared him for the higher purpose the Lord God planned for him. As such, Saint Joseph serves as an inspirational patron for all parents who rear their offspring and then have to set them free to live their own lives. Amen.
The scripture readings for today fit very well, especially this weekend as we hold a national day of prayer to put an end to the Corona Virus crisis. We need to turn to God who is the source of living water. In today’s Gospel, the dialogue between Jesus and a woman from Samaria is among the most lengthy and most theological found in Scripture. The most startling aspect of the conversation is that it happens at all. Jesus, an observant Jew of that time, was expected to avoid conversation with women in public. The animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans should have prevented the conversation as well. The woman herself alludes to the break from tradition: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Yet Jesus not only converses with the woman, he also asks to share her drinking vessel, an action that makes him unclean according to Jewish law.
Without a constant water-supply our life would be impossible since our bodies need constant hydration. We also need it to wash ourselves. And in this time of crisis we need not only soap, but also water to clean ourselves. The initial conversation between Jesus and the woman is better understood if we consider the importance of water, especially in the climate of Israel. At first, the woman understands Jesus’ promise of “living water” in a literal sense: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” With no running water, the daily trip to the well by the women of the community was of paramount importance. The women of the town would have traveled to the well in the early morning, but this woman came to the well at noon, the hottest time of the day. The timing of her visit is a clear sign that she is an outcast within the Samaritan community. We learn in her conversation with Jesus that she is an outcast because of her “many husbands.”
Not so obvious is the soul’s thirst for meaning, for vision and purpose in life. We can be so taken up with surface concerns as to neglect our spirit’s longing for God. Like the Israelites, we focus upon our physical needs, but are often unmindful of our Creator who supplies them. The Jews just came from Egypt where they had witnessed Gods miracles. Many times we are just like them. Complaining and mumbling about the suffering, the famines, the tribulation that hits us and forget easily the thingsGod did for us in the past. If we only turn to God He would shows again his might and power. It is Jesus who offers us the reviving water of eternal life, an ability for union with God, which is our deepest need. In today’s Gospel he satisfies a thirsting soul. When water is brought to it, how the desert can blossom. The miracle of growth can take place in the parched soul, if God lets his Spirit flow over us. All doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.
Behind the conversation lies the animosity and rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans. Samaritans shared Jewish ancestry, but Samaritans had intermarried with foreigners when they lived under the rule of the Assyrians. Samaritan religion included worship of Yahweh, but was also influenced by the worship of other gods. When the Jews refused Samaritan help in the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, the Samaritans eventually built a temple for themselves at Mt. Gerizim (the same mountain mentioned by the woman at the well). Like the Jews, the Samaritans believed that a Messiah would come.
Our baptism, the sacrament of our washing with the water of Christian faith was a priveleged contact with the grace of Christ. By it we were planted in the garden of God, with room to put down roots, and draw vital nourishment from the living spring of the Saviour. Yet we need continuing help, to keep spiritually alive and pleasing to God as life goes on. Like the desert-wandering Jews, we suffer from thirst; we grow weary in confronting problems and temptations (sketch examples — ) Jesus guarantees the “living water” we need. His own Spirit is always at hand to give courage and fidelity.
“To dwell in the house of the Lord.” This desire is shared by the mystic tradition in other religions: namely, a yearning to be in the presence of God, and be welcomed by God. All people are called to drink from that fountain that bubbles with life. In times of widespread religious scepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often rejected as wishful thinking. But we cling to this hope, relying on the word of Jesus. The early Christians drew hope and joy from this prospect of eternal life. They persevered until death for the sake of “the glory that will be revealed in us.” We too are asked to to live the values of the Gospel, in hope of finally taking our place at the fountain of life.
The significance of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman has many levels. The first is personal: The woman is herself converted to belief in Jesus as Messiah because he knows her sin but speaks with her just the same. The second is social: Having come to know Jesus as the Messiah, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist to her own people. The third level of the story is educational: Jesus uses his encounter with the Samaritan woman to teach his disciples that God’s mercy is without limit. The disciples return from their shopping quite confused to find Je sus talking with a Samaritan, and a woman at that! But the conversion of the Samaritan townspeople is a foretaste of the kind of open community that will be created among those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Amen
We human beings have the tendency to try to shrink even our faith to a manageable size so it fits our boxes of religious imagination. Some have boiled the Christian faith down to slogans and reduced them to bumper stickers. And often these slogans truly miss the point of our faith. We are very familiar with today’s Gospel text. And we often presume that, since we have heard it before, we already know what it means. And yet, I try to take a new look at these texts, in the hope that they might give me new insight. We have to forget what we thought of it before and ask good for a new spiritual insight. That is where we might enter our Gospel lesson for this morning. God’s Spirit is continually challenging us to expand our presumed understanding of Scripture and help us grow in faith.
We might want to consider how we identify with Nicodemus. Here was a man who had a highly knowledge of the verses of Scripture. He was a leader of the Jews and the Sanhedrin. They were suppose to lead the faith for the people of Israel. But though Nicodemus can quote scripture, like many in our days, it does not mean he understands. Not yet! Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, and says to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God’ for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
Nicodemus wants to keep the conversation on safe ground. As He starts it as a conversation between established authorities. He gives Jesus the title “rabbi…teacher.” But he speaks also as one who has power and tradition on his side. “We know…” he says. He brings to the conversation a fixed understanding of what can and what cannot happen. Nicodemus is presented as the spokesperson of a fixed world. A world confident of its own knowledge and closed to the surprising and new movement of the creator God. But Jesus confronts Nicodemus’ close minded view of reality.” He tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus responds to Jesus by asking, “How can one be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be reborn? Nicodemus, it seems, is totally confused by what Jesus says. But we cannot really blame him. We don’t even fully understand Jesus’s meaning. Besides that the The Greek word that John records Jesus using here, “anothen,” can have two connotations. One means “from above.” The other temporal, meaning “again.” Thus, Nicodemus probably took Jesus’s words in earthly terms, instead of heavenly terms. Nevertheless, his box of preconceived ideas was shaken and eventually he would come to faith. Later he will be one of the two men that bury Jesus.
Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemusses. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. Our Savior spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character.
We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. As St. Paul says, in Christ we become a new creation. We become a spirit lived person that will be “born from above”. Amen.
One can take a moral view of life as an interplay of sin and grace, selfishness and love. Our life will be successful in the measure that we reject the lure of sin and opt to live under the will of God. Today’s Scriptures contrast two responses to temptation. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, preferred their own inclinations to the will of God. Jesus, on the contrary resisted temptation and wanted only what the Father of all life required of him. St Paul reflects on how those radically different options affect ourselves. Adam’s sin brought trouble on all, but we are offered a new kind of life by the fidelity of Christ.
Temptation in one form or another is unavoidable. Honestly examining our daily experience will reveal many hints of temptation. We can recognise impulses and tendencies contrary to our conscience. To justify these temptations and make them socially acceptable and politically correct — is itself an insidious temptation. We claim the right to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, to draw new boundaries of acceptable behaviour, setting aside what God may want of us. This is like Adam wanting to eat the forbidden fruit. Our growth to Christian maturity calls for some moral struggling, to follow the path of Jesus.
The story of his temptations is full of symbolism, but not to be taken lightly. It’s a warning that we can lose our way if we stray from what God wills for us. The first temptation was about hunger. On the surface the tempter’s question was quite reasonable. Why not call on God power to satisfy our hunger. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread,” the tempter says to Jesus. His reply is surprising: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” We must always seek God’s will above all. At every moment we must listen to God’s Word, seek God’s will.
Since he was alone in the desert, only Jesus knew what he felt. But the clear implication is that he had to struggle to find the best way to live his life for God. Jesus seems to toy with the possibility of providing a limitless supply of bread for people, like the daily dole-out of food by which Roman emperors won popularity with their followers. But Jesus saw how a focus on food and drink can lead to forgetting spiritual values. “Man does not live on bread alone.” Our deeper needs are for more than food and drink. Humans need something else as well. We hunger for meaning and for spiritual nurture. To play our part towards our fellow-men, we need to listen to God our Father, who awakens in our conscience a hunger for justice and solidarity.
There is a tendency to reduce our desires to what we can control. But there are things that are of our control. We live in a world that surrounds around money and consumerism. But a consumerist society breeds emptiness and discontent. The suicides keep on rising despite the prosperity. We have the tendency to barricade ourselves within gated communities, And we stop hungry and homeless people from sharing in our prosperity. Often they disturb our peace of mind and we want to ignore it. Jesus tells us that we do not live on bread alone. We need to feed the spirit and develop solidarity with those in need. We need to listen to our conscience and be open to God. A second instinct is that we want to be in power. We want those in power to do what we want and if not we reject them. It happened to Jesus, during his public years people kept asking Jesus for signs and wonders and if he did not said or act as they wanted they rejected him. In a way they wanted him “to leap from the highest point of the wall around Temple and be unharmed”. But such a thing would not win hearts to conversion. He answered, “You must not put the Lord your God to the test!”
For us it is a warning not to be rash and superficial. Finally, in the scene on the mountain-top, seeing all the kingdoms of the world, suggests a temptation to become a political messiah. He dismisses this notion too, since we can be united with God only if we are drawn to it in spirit. The Temptations warn us not to let selfishness rule us. Instead, we listen to the Spirit, who leads our conscience. We imitate Christ by making an honest response to life and accept what God gives us, for good and for bad. Let us pray that the Spirit may be a major influence in our lives and keep us close to the God who made us. Amen.