Is your word – my word? Let’s see if it is. . .
Jesus stands outside the stone-cold tomb where Lazarus’ body has been lying for four days.
And in spite of the warnings there will be a stench – and the affirmation of the fact that Lazarus has been dead for four days – significant – because the Jews thought the Spirit of a person hovered over them for 3 days after their death – the indication being Lazarus’ was REALLY dead - -and his spirit is long gone. . .
In spite of this – Jesus boldly cries out in a loud voice: “Lazarus: come out!” And Lazarus did come out of the tomb - still tied hand and foot with burial cloths – and Jesus says to those standing around: “Untie him and let him go.”
Jesus called Lazarus forth to NEW LIFE - which gives me my word, or rather words for the week: NEW LIFE.
Because not only does Jesus call Lazarus forth to new life - -he continually calls us – not just during these 40 days of Lent - -and the 50 days of Easter – isn’t nice that Easter lasts longer than Lent? That the feasting lasts longer than the fasting??
Jesus calls us forth to new life now – and throughout our lives.
We are constantly called through the process of conversion - day after day - week after week - year after year – over a lifetime – to always be willing to embrace NEW LIFE – to leave the past behind and commit ourselves to becoming more and more like Jesus.
It is a calling – we have to be willing and able to hear Jesus say: come out! So we have to be listening – the word for the first Sunday of Lent.
And then we have to be open to the help and support of others as “Jesus said to them: Untie him, and let him go” - the word for the 2nd Sunday of Lent = support: who is going to help unbind us as we come out of the tomb??
So through the support of others and quite possibly through the challenges of those we may not alway agree with or be friends with – the Samaritans we meet along our journey of life – so the word for the 3rd Sunday of Lent = engagement.
Even by our engagement with – and quite possibly the engagement we NEED with those who are different from us - who stretch us a bit, who get us out of our comfort zones – we have to be unbound – we have to release our former ways of thinking, acting, judging, criticizing, being and behaving – not because we want to – but because we have to – if we want to enjoy NEW LIFE.
And of course we have to be willing to affirm the fact that Jesus, the one we worship – actually achieves these things within us through the power of the Holy Spirit: not us doing these things on our own.
And so here is the picture for the week: NEW LIFE! Which is about to burst forth for us as we move into spring.
And here are some things to reflect on:
Are we always ready to be drawn to something bigger than ourselves – or are we content to stay in our set ways – the confines of our dark tombs?
How is Christ calling each of us to “come out” to new life?
And what do we need to let go of in order to enjoy the new life Christ is offering us?
Who is Christ placing in our lives to “untie us and let us go?” Or would we rather hang out with those who bind us with their prejudices, hates, misunderstandings, and cruel words often coming in forms of jokes?
How are we different now than when we began this Lenten journey?
And how can we all be a little different by the time Pentecost rolls around – and what will we need to do to get there?
NEW LIFE – isn’t something we all want?? And eventually, through the grace and mercy of God - we will all one day enjoy new life which will last for all eternity.
As Jesus passed by – he saw a man blind from birth.
Jesus smeared clay on the blind man’s eyes and said to him, “go and wash in the pool of Siloam–” where the sick of Jerusalem often bathed, hoping for a cure.
So at this point, after his engagement with Jesus – the man was still blind. It wasn’t until he DID wash in the pool of Siloam that he was, indeed, able to see.
I think it is interesting to note the man did not attribute his cure to the healing waters of Siloam – but he attributes his cure to Jesus: “he put clay on my eyes, and now I see.”
And the blind man who could not see – continues to give credit to Jesus – as the source of his cure – even though his neighbors and the Pharisees tried to criticize Jesus and to discredit the man’s testimony about Jesus.
No this nameless man – remained faithful to Jesus and says at the very end of the Gospel, “I do believe Lord,” and he WORSHIPED Jesus.
And that’s my word for the week [which may not be your word] WORSHIP: the act of ardent, humble devotion.
And this is the picture. [Woman with upraised arms in prayer]
And this is what I want you to reflect on:
Who or what do we worship in life?? Now of course we all want to say – why of course, Jesus – or we would not be here right?
But is that truly the case?? Could someone watch to see how we spend our time, our talent, and our treasure – and say, yes – that person has Christ as the center of their lives. . .
Worshiping Jesus – is a fine answer – as long as what we see, hear, and do HERE - does effect what we do and say the rest of the week – how we live our lives, how we make our decisions, how we spend our time, talent, and treasure. . . we can’t put in the time on Sunday – and not walk the walk the rest of the week — and say that we truly worship Jesus!
When we are somewhat successful in our professions, our relationships, our life in general – do we always give the credit to God – or do we think we do these things completely on our own??
Are we pulled away from focussing on Jesus by our neighbors, our work, our other commitments in life??
Who – or what – do we worship in life?
Ponder these things – and then read the Gospel for next Sunday to discover your word that may – or may not – be my word for next Sunday. . .
What’s your word for today which captures the meaning of the Gospel for you?? And then see if we are anywhere close when I get around to telling you my word for the day. . .
Once upon a time, in one of my former parishes, which will remain anonymous to protect the innocent. . . There was a couple that I just did not see eye to eye with.
Politically, we were at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Theologically, we were totally different.
Socially, we would never move in the same circles.
As far as I knew, we had no common interests whatsoever – except our faith.
But, lo and behold, one day - an invitation for dinner was extended by them – and I thought – why not?
I had no idea how we were going to keep a conversation going through the evening. And I thought I would be miserable – and kicking myself for being so crazy as to accept this invitation. But at the time, I was willing to try.
And at the end of that evening we spent together – I was actually surprised that I had somewhat of a pleasant time!
Oh, I knew better than to think we would now be close friends – or even that I would ever want to repeat the experience – but at least we got to know each other better – I would like to think we understood each other a little more –
And each of us could have a little less animosity – and a little more respect for each other.
At the end of the evening – I still knew Jesus’ command of loving even your enemies was a tough nut to crack — but I at least knew for sure it’s possible to dislike your enemies a little less – without too much difficulty.
And this all came about because of a conversation – an interaction – an engagement.
In our Gospel today – Jesus had all the reasons in the world not to converse with this woman at the well – and she had just as many reasons not to talk to him either.
Morally – they were certainly at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Socially – well, in their patriarchal society – a man would never speak to a woman – especially when they were alone in a public place.
They were certainly pushing the boundaries!
Religiously – Jesus was a Jew and she was a Samaritan – and there was mutual animosity between these two groups which went back 100s of years – for on their release from the Babylonian Captivity – the Jews rebuilt the holy Temple in Jerusalem without inviting the Samaritans to help –
and so not feeling welcome in Jerusalem – the Samaritans built their own places of worship – and were shunned ever since.
So a woman who comes to perform an ordinary task on an ordinary day – soon finds herself in an extraordinary conversation – one which would change her life.
For Jesus wants something more than water. Jesus wants this woman’s faith. So he probes and questions, demonstrating his prophetic knowledge of her life and his willingness to satisfy the deepest thirst in her heart.
Jesus offers her LIVING WATER. He is that water, the one who can so fill those who receive him – that they will never be thirsty, lifeless, or aimless again. Jesus wants her to drink him in.
And she does – and soon – she acts just like a disciple – carrying the good news of what happened to her to others – and inviting them to come and see this man called Jesus.
An ordinary task, on an ordinary day – leads to an extraordinary conversation which changed more than just two people’s lives — all because two people were willing to let their guard down – and have a conversation – an interaction – and engagement. . .
And that is my word for the week: ENGAGEMENT– the act of entering into conversation with another.
And this is the picture.
[Young couple sitting on a railroad tracks facing each other - talking]
So who do you most need to have a conversation with this Lent?
Who are you at opposite ends of the political /religious/ social /economic spectrum with –
Who do you continue to judge or avoid – that if you just let your guard down and have a conversation / an interaction / an engagement with — you might come to understand each other a little more – and each of you could have a little less animosity – and a little more respect for each other??
This person could be someone in your family, someone you work with, someone in the neighborhood, someone you meet on the street or in the grocery store – maybe even someone at Church . . .
Who do you most need to have an engagement with – a conversation with – this Lent?
Then make the call. Have the conversation. Engage one another in dialogue – and make the world just a little less hostile and a little more pleasant place. . .
Darren Poke writes a blog called “Better Life Coaching” which I follow. Here’s Darren’s take on this. He writes:
The world seems very angry at the moment.
People are angry at each other.
They’re angry and suspicious, fearful and distrusting.
Let’s change that. Let’s build bridges and not walls.
Let’s engage with those who are different from us. Let’s forgive those who have hurt us.
Let’s take an interest in the perspective of others. Let’s laugh with others — not at them.
Let’s soften our tone with those who disagree with us. Let’s open our arms to those who have been hurt.
Let’s encourage those who have lost hope.
Let’s change the world and make it a nicer place for everyone. . . one conversation at a time.
I think Jesus would agree.
So I hope you did your homework. I hope you read the readings for today – especially the Gospel – and have found your one word description for this week. Now let’s see if we agree on the choice. . .
At this point of our reading from St. Matthew's Gospel today -- chapter 17 (??) Jesus and his disciples have been through a lot together.
1st of all, Jesus has called each of them by name to come and follow after him. They listened – and responded to the call.
And Jesus has told them several times about the demands of being a disciple -- usually tough stuff - like even loving your enemies!
And Jesus has tried to teach them how to pray, how to put others first, and how they must keep God at the center of their lives.
And the disciples have seen Jesus cure lots of people, calm a storm, and confront the Scribes and Pharisees in their hypocrisy.
And Jesus has even given the disciples a trial run to go out on their own -- to proclaim the kingdom of God -- and they did all right, coming back to him with great success stories.
But even though Jesus and the disciples have already been through a lot together -- it pales in comparison to what is to come.
For after this transfiguration moment – Jesus sets his eyes on Jerusalem – and it is one fast journey to the cross.
IF Jesus can stay focused on what he needs to do, and hopefully get the disciples to stay focused on what they need to do -- they will be able to get through inconveniences, set-backs, road blocks, pain & suffering -- on the road to eternal life.
So in order to stay focused -- Jesus chooses NOT to spend time alone -- as he did last week in the desert --but he chooses to take his three closest disciples: Peter, James, and John -- up the mountain with him.
And there they encounter, actually converse with, the Gospel tells us -- with Moses and Elijah --meaning they spend time interacting with the law and the prophets -- that is, the Jewish Scriptures.
So Jesus knows what awaits him -- suffering and death. He knows it’s not going to be easy. And so this time on the mountain is an intense period of preparing for things to come -- and hopefully a time to dispel the worries and fears of Peter, James, and John --and further prepare them for what they will have to face.
We know this was time well spent for Jesus -- for as the Eucharistic prayer will say today: "he did disdain, that is reject,
to be nailed for our sake to the wood of the cross."
And it must have worked somewhat for Peter, James, and John --for right before going up the mountain, Jesus tells the disciples what was coming down the pike -- his suffering and death -- and all of them protested, especially Peter, who said: "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
But shortly after this mountaintop experience -- Jesus tells them a second time what is coming, and although this time they were "overwhelmed with grief" -- there were no cries of protest, no out-right denials of the possibilities --
so the disciples are at least beginning to wrap their minds and hearts around the future -- although all but John will scatter and hide when the time of crucifixion comes.
So that brings me to my word for the week -- which may not necessarily be your word. My word is SUPPORT.
Jesus went to the mountaintop with Peter, James, and John – to soak up their SUPPORT --and the support of the Jewish Scriptures -- the law and the prophets, and ultimately the support of God ----- so that he would not disdain the wood of the cross.
The desert is a place for quiet -- a place for listening. . . But the mountaintop, accompanied by your closest friends -- is a place for SUPPORT.
And here is the picture --
And -- this is what I leave you to reflect on:
Who do we soak up support from -- especially when we have something difficult to face?
Do we spend any time with the law and the prophets -- that is the scriptures -- before we make a major decision --or even a minor one -- in our lives?
Who walks with us on our journey of life?
Who do we hang out with -- people who lift us up - or people who drag us down?
Who holds our hand, gives us comfort or encouragement - helps us to choose the right path – and helps steer us in the right direction?
As one author said: find a group of people who challenge and inspire you and support you. Spend as much time as you can with them – and it will change your life.
So ponder these things – and then be sure to spend some time with Moses and Elijah – that is the Scriptures for next Sunday – and find your word.
So here we are: the 1st Sunday of Lent. And this will be our plan for today and the next 4 Sundays.
Several weeks ago, I began reading and reflecting and praying about the Gospel Readings for this season.
After letting things percolate for a few days - I went back and read the Gospels again - this time looking for just one word that I thought captured the meaning or lesson for each Sunday.
So part one of the Lenten plan is to present one word -- for each Sunday. One word for YOU to reflect and pray about for the week.
Part two of the plan was to look for a picture that gave an image of that one word -- an additional thing for you to reflect and pray about for the week -- just in case you are a visual person rather than an audible person.
So one word -- one picture for each Sunday of Lent. . .
So that's the plan. The process for every Sunday will be for me to tell you how I arrived at my word.
Then to show you the picture that captured the essence of that word for me. For like they say: a picture is worth a 1,000 words. . .
And then I will leave you with a couple of things to reflect upon for the coming week: all so that we can get through this season of change and conversion and growth – through its roadblocks, set –backs, hardships and distractions – because change is never easy --- all so that we can have new life as we celebrate the great feast of Easter.
Now my word -- may not be your word. So feel free – and in fact feel challenged – to read the Gospel before you come to Mass next Sunday – the Gospel as well as the other two reading are always listed on the front of the bulletin --- and see if you can come up with just one word that captures the meaning of the Gospel for you –
or try to guess what my word will be. . . See how many times, if any -- we can land on the same the word. . .
So -- the first Sunday of Lent - as always we go to the desert with Jesus.
The desert is a very quiet place. It's one of those places that are so quiet -- you can hear your own heartbeat and detect your own breathing.
And the desert can be a very lonely place -- there's nobody else there but you. And so you have to learn how to be comfortable with just being by yourself -- a hard thing for many people to do: being by oneself:
with no distractions, no noise, no sounds -- just the quiet-- and then //// then in that quiet - the voice of God can speak to you.
The psychologist Carl Jung said years ago: "noise, busyness, and the crowds in our life -- are not the work of the devil --- they ARE the devil --
And I add – they are the devil -- tempting us, just as the devil tempted Jesus -- to NOT pay attention to what God may be trying to tell us and call us to be.
Yes all of those things: noise, busyness, crowds -- that is always being with someone and never being alone -- keep us from nurturing the quiet we need in our lives -- and keep us from becoming comfortable with just being by ourselves –
with no distractions – all of which can keep us from listening to God.
So, I think to have a productive Lent -- one that can inflame us with new hope.
-one that can purify our hearts and minds.
-one that can dispel the darkness of our hearts -- and bring us new life in the light of Jesus Christ --
we have to deal with the noise, the busyness, the crowds in our lives -- so we can LISTEN to the voice of God speaking to us.
We can't have a productive Lent without going to the desert. And we can't have a productive Lent without creating moments of quiet in our lives so that we can LISTEN to where God wants to lead us.
And so the word of the week is LISTEN -- and here is the picture --
And here is what are offer you to reflect upon this week: What are you going to do this LENT - to enter into the desert -- so that you can listen to the voice of God. . .?
How are you going to control the noise --- lessen the busyness -- and avoid the crowds -- so that you can better listen to God – so you can discern where God wants to lead you and what God is calling you to do ???
Remember: noise, busyness, and the crowds in our life are not the work of the devil: they ARE the devil – the devil tempting us, just as Christ was tempted in the desert.
The devil is tempted us to pay attention to the world, or what we want – keeping us from listening to God: So how are you going to change that this Lent?
Moments in time...