Friday 29 April 2011

Will you communicate Jesus’ healing touch to someone like he has communicated it to you? Acts 4:13-21; Mk 16:9-15

Most scholars today regard Mk 16:9-20 as an addition to the original ending of Mark at 16:8. A number of reasons are put forward for this view. The first is that Mary Magdalene is introduced in 16:9 as if she is being mentioned for the first time. However, Mark has mentioned her before (15:47; 16:1). Second, there is no mention of a Galilean apparition in these verses, though one is explicitly promised in 16:7. Third, these verses are a combination, in summary form, of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus in the other Synoptic Gospels, in John, and in the Acts of the Apostles.

The text of today begins by narrating the appearance of the risen Lord to Mary Magdalene. Her witness is not believed by those to whom she communicates this news. The next to witness the risen Lord are two disciples as they were walking into the country. These, too, were not believed. Jesus then appears to the eleven while they are at table and first, upbraids them for their stubbornness and lack of faith and then, makes them messengers and apostles of the good news to the whole world.

Even in the longer ending, one of the main themes is the lack of faith on the part of the disciples. Because of what they witnessed at the crucifixion, they had given up and felt defeated. They had lost all hope and could not get themselves to believe that God could make all things new. Yet, as he did in his life time, Jesus reaches out to them even in their weakness and fear. Since he was able to accomplish all that God wanted him to even when on the cross, he knew that God could continue to accomplish his will even in his weak and frightened disciples. Thus, while they are made aware of their fear, they are also challenged to go beyond it, confident in the knowledge that Jesus himself would be with them.

Doubt is the friend of faith; the enemy of faith is fear. However imperfect our faith, and however many times we remain silent when we should testify to the gospel, we can always return to the Lord. None of us can get so far away from Jesus that we cannot be touched by God’s healing presence. Jesus continues to use each of us even in our weakness to be his messengers of the good news that, in him, God loves everyone.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Do you prefer to sit on the fence or do you take a stand on issues? Acts 4:1-12; Jn 21:1-14

Most scholars today see Jn 21:1-25 as a later addition to the Gospel of John. It is not clear whether this material was added by the Evangelist or added later by another redactor or editor. It is true that the language of Chapter 21 differs from the rest of John’s Gospel but, it is also true that all existing manuscripts of John contain Chapter 21. The difference in language is explained as being conditioned by the content and not because someone other than the Evangelist wrote it. Yet, some are clear that, because of the ecclesial concerns which are at the forefront in Chapter 21, and which are not the focuses of the Gospel until Chapter 20, it was added later. Others see the ecclesial concerns as essential to the ending of the Gospel and so, regard Chapter 21 as an integral part of the Gospel. Be that as it may, Chapter 21 is now part of the Gospel and so must be interpreted within the framework of the whole Gospel of John.

There are two parts to this post resurrection story. The first deals with the miraculous catch of fish and the second with the recognition of the risen Lord.

The text begins by informing the reader that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples and then goes on to narrate how this revelation took place. The story is thus to be interpreted as an epiphany. Seven disciples are mentioned, of which only three are named. The beloved disciple, who is mentioned later in the narrative, is one of the seven. The activity of fishing on the part of the disciples, even after they had received the commission from the risen Lord in Chapter 20, may be seen as a sign that they had not obeyed the command. It might be seen as a sign that they had given up and returned to their former way of life or even as an indication of their aimlessness. This means that an appearance of the risen Lord, and even a command from him, is not enough to cause a transformation in one’s outlook to life. One must be willing to take risks and believe.

The response of the other six to Peter’s statement that he is going fishing is to go with him. This indicates a sense of community and oneness. Though they may not be able to fully understand the significance of going fishing at this crucial time, they will collaborate with Peter. They will pull together. However, despite all their efforts, they are not able to achieve anything. Jesus appears unobtrusively when it is light, and asks a question about the catch. They respond that they have caught nothing. They obey Jesus’ command to cast the net on the right side and are successful. The quantity of fish is so great that they struggle to haul in the net.

The second part of the story narrates the recognition of the risen Lord. The miraculous catch seems to be the reason why the beloved disciple is able to recognize that it is the Lord. Here, too, like at the empty tomb (20:8), he is able to recognize through his intuition. Peter responds to this statement with alacrity, though his desire to be clothed and therefore, respectful, restrains him. The other disciples respond soberly.

The enormity of the catch is detailed in the number of fish caught, namely one hundred fifty three. A variety of interpretations have been offered to explain this number. St. Augustine proposed a mathematical way of reading this number which is regarded even today as plausible. His explanation was that the number 153 is obtained when all of the integers from 1 to 17 are added together; this mathematical fact thus suggests the completeness of the number 153. Others regard the number as clearly indicating that the narration of this event is an eyewitness account of what actually happened. This is why the number is not a round number, but 153. Still another interpretation is that 153 was the number of species of fish known to Greek zoologists of that time and thus, it signifies that every kind or species of fish was caught in the net. This symbolizes that no one is excluded. That the net did not break, despite the fact that there were so many fish, is an indication of unity even in diversity. That this seems to be the best explanation is confirmed by the fact that the verb “to haul” used here of Peter’s hauling the net ashore is the same verb used to describe those who come to Jesus from God (6:44). It is the same verb that is used to describe the salvific effect of Jesus’ death when he will “draw’ (haul) all people to himself (12:32). Thus, the disciples continue the mission of Jesus even when they fish, by drawing all to him.

Since the disciples “know’ it is the Lord they do not ask him his identity. Jesus plays the host and invites them to dine with him.

At least three significant points are made by this text. The first is that there is no guarantee that, just because a person has “seen” and “heard” Jesus, he/she will obey his commands or continue his mission. It is possible that, even after such an experience, one will continue in the old ways.

Second, any mission that is undertaken without the help of the Lord will rarely meet with success as is evident in the disciples’ failure to catch anything, even after all their strenuous efforts. Sometimes, it is the words of a stranger that result in the transformation of a situation. To hear these words, it is important to be as open and receptive as the disciples were though they did not know who that stranger was. If the disciples, instead of listening to what the stranger was saying, had acted arrogantly and with pride, they would never have made the miraculous catch and may never have encountered Jesus.

Third, exclusivity has no place in any mission that has its roots in Jesus’ mission. All are included and all are welcome. Even more, each retains his/her identity and is still very much a part of the whole. There is no need for uniformity in the family of Jesus, but unity is very much a core value.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Have you received the forgiveness that Jesus proclaimed? How will you preach this forgiveness today? Acts 3:11-26; Lk 24:35-48

These verses contain the appearance of the risen Jesus to the eleven and their companions. Luke’s account has parallels with the accounts found in Matthew, Mark, and John. Here, too, like in the Emmaus story, the disciples are unable to recognize Jesus. When Jesus appears to them and greets them with a wish of peace, they think they are seeing a ghost and so, are frightened and terrified. Jesus’ response to these emotions is to ask why they are frightened and why doubts must arise. In order to prove to them that it is indeed he, Jesus shows them his hands and feet and invites them to touch him. This is to prove that he is not a spirit which has no flesh and bones. Despite this invitation, they continue to doubt. Jesus then asks them for something to eat. He eats what they give him, in front of them. This gesture results in portraying the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Yet, Luke does not explicitly state that the disciples believed, even after seeing Jesus eat.

Jesus does something more. He explains to them, like he did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the scriptures and the things concerning him that the scriptures had foretold. Scripture could only be fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. After this, he commissions them to be witnesses of this fact and through it, the gift of forgiveness of sins to all nations, which will begin in Jerusalem.

Thus, the text which began with the doubt and confusion of the disciples ends with them being made witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They are witnesses that his death and resurrection have resulted in salvation and forgiveness of sins for all humankind.

The points that Luke seems to want to make here are first, that Jesus has indeed been raised, and bodily, and second, that the disciples who will proclaim this fact were eye witnesses to this event. It was not simply an event that took place beyond history (though the resurrection, as such, is a meta-historical event) but happened in space and in time, was real, and witnessed by the disciples who saw the risen Lord.

The hands and feet that Jesus showed his disciples are visible today in each of us who claim to be his disciples. These are to be shown to the world as “proof” not only of the fact that Jesus is alive, but that in his name, forgiveness is even now being preached. It is significant that the content of the preaching, even after the resurrection of Jesus, is to be forgiveness, because that is why Jesus came into the world; to save people from their sins. This forgiveness can be preached and made real only if we bear witness to it through our lives.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

What is it that keeps you from recognizing Jesus? Is it your focus on the negative? Are you not able to see God because he does not reveal himself or because you do not open wide your heart?

“That very day” – This phrase refers to the immediately preceding scene in which the women who saw the empty tomb return and narrate to the eleven and to all the rest what they had witnessed. The response of those who heard about the empty tomb from the women interpreted it as an “idle tale and they did not believe them” (24:11).
“two of them” – these are not identified, though later we are told that one of them is Cleopas (24:18). Luke could be intending that the reader place him/herself in the position of the ones who are travelling.
“all these things that had happened” – This phrase refers to all that has happened in the passion and death of Jesus.
“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” – They are discussing the things that happened to Jesus when Jesus himself approaches them. These verses also make us wonder how and when they will recognize him. While the use of the passive tense “were kept” may indicate that God prevented them from recognizing him, it may also indicate that their closed attitude or their despondency kept them from recognizing Jesus.
“What is this conversation…? And they stood looking sad.” – The question of Jesus takes them by surprise so that they have to stop their walking.
“Cleophas” – now we are given the name of one of the travelers. The fact that Cleopas was not well known in the early Christian community, and is not in any lists of the Twelve, adds credibility to the story.
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” – the irony is that, whereas the question assumes Jesus is the only one who does not know of these earth-shattering events, he is the only one who does know the meaning of all that has taken place.
“What things?” – Jesus feigns ignorance. This simple question of Jesus leads to a lengthy explanation.
Cleopas summarizes the events of Jesus’ life, leading to his death. The death of Jesus, which was indeed the fulfillment of all hope, is seen by Cleophas as the frustration of their hope. He also narrates the report of the women, and concludes with an emphatic statement, “But him they did not see.”
“O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe…” - Jesus brings the irony to an end and reveals himself and the meaning of the resurrection to them. In his explanation, Jesus insists that suffering was a necessary condition for the resurrection.
“He appeared to be going further” – While on the surface, it seems that Jesus did not want to intrude on their plans. On a deeper level, it reinforces the idea that Jesus never forces himself on others. Jesus always leaves the other free. Faith must be a response to God’s constant revelation and grace.
“Stay with us. So he went in to stay with them” - Jesus accepts the invitation offered by the two disciples.
“took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.” – These are the same verbs that are used at the feeding (9:16) and at the last supper (22:19). Jesus the guest becomes the host.
“And their eyes were opened and they recognized him” – At table they saw who the stranger was. Sharing bread with a stranger makes the Lord present.
“and he vanished from their sight” – God cannot be captured only by the external senses. We need to encounter him also in our hearts.
“Did not our hearts burn within us..?” – Any encounter with Jesus cannot leave one untouched.
“And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem...” – The Gospel of Luke begins and ends in Jerusalem, and the journey to Jerusalem dominates the ministry of Jesus. The return journey is narrated very briefly. This could also indicate the urgency of the disciples in wanting to communicate to the others their experience of Jesus. It was an experience that they could not contain in their hearts, but had to share with others.
Only after the two hear of the appearance to Simon do they get a chance to share their own experience. The words “what had happened on the road” signifies the conversation that took place between them and Jesus, in which Jesus opened the scriptures to them. “how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” signifies the meal that Jesus shared with them.

This story of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, which is found only in the Gospel of Luke, speaks about the failure of two disciples to recognize their fellow traveler. The moment they recognize the Lord, he disappears from their sight. The story is for the sake of those who will believe without seeing. It tells us that the presence of the Lord can be known in experiences that transcend the events of the resurrection appearances. It tells us that, even in the darkest moments of our lives, when we are tempted to throw up our hands in despair, when we are tempted to give up, the Lord is walking by our side. We have only to “open” our eyes to see. Emmaus is not simply a geographical location. It is a place to which we go to escape from the realities of life when we find them too hard or harsh to bear. This may be an external place (a movie theatre, out of the home, somewhere on the road) or a habit (excessive drinking) or even an internal disposition that we may adopt (giving into frustration, despair, despondency, depression, etc). Emmaus may be a feeling that life is not worth living; that everything is in vain, that it is of no use to anyone whatsoever. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die, that even noble and pure ideals like love, fellowship, and freedom, have been twisted by people for selfish ends. The risen Lord meets us on this, our road to Emmaus, and assures us of his presence. He invites us not to give up or give in. He tells us that we must continue despite all evidence to the contrary, and that we must keep on keeping on. The story also warns us that the Lord will not always come in the manner in which we expect him to come and, that he may come when we least expect him.

Have your “tears” come in the way of your encountering the Lord? Will you stop crying today? Acts 2:36-41; Jn 20:11-18

Mary Magdalene had seen the empty tomb and went and told Peter and the beloved disciple about it. They, too, go to the tomb and find it empty. While Peter and the beloved disciple return home (20:1-10), Mary returns to the tomb. Though John does not give any reason why Mary returns to the tomb, he, also, of all the evangelists, tells us that she stood outside the tomb weeping. This detail sets the stage for the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus that the sorrow of the disciples will turn to joy (16:20, 22). Mary sees the angels who make no pronouncement of the resurrection. In John, the pronouncement of the resurrection and ascension comes only through Jesus. The angels only draw attention to Mary’s present state. Mary’s response to the question of the angels is a plaintive cry for her “lost” Lord.

Immediately after she makes this statement, Jesus himself appears to her but, because of her tears, she cannot recognize him. While Jesus repeats the question of the angels and thus, draws renewed attention to Mary’s present state, he asks a second and more important question: “Whom are you looking for?” This, or a similar question, is asked three times in the Gospel of John. The first time Jesus asks such a question is to the two disciples who follow him (1:38). These are the first words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John and so, carry added significance. The question here is “What do you seek?” The second time, the question is asked of those who come to arrest Jesus in the garden (18:4). The question in all three instances, while courteous, is a deep and penetrating question. It requires the one of whom it is asked to go deep into him/herself to search for the response. The disciples are seeking for the residence of Jesus but encounter the Messiah. Those who come to arrest Jesus are seeking for “Jesus of Nazareth” and so are thrown to the ground. Mary Magdalene is seeking for the dead Jesus, but finds the risen Lord.

Yet, this recognition of the risen Lord is not easy for Mary to make. While in many instances in Jesus’ life, the metaphors he used were misunderstood, here it is Jesus himself. Mary is so caught up in her own desire for the dead Jesus and for what she wants that she cannot recognize his voice when he asks her two pertinent questions. It is only when Jesus calls her name that she is awakened. Though some spiritualize this scene by stating that Mary recognized Jesus since only he called her in this manner, it is not plausible, since John does not speak of the intonation or inflection in the voice of Jesus. Others interpret this scene as a revelation of Jesus as the good shepherd who knows his sheep by name. The sheep respond to his voice, when he calls to them, as Mary does here. Though this is more plausible, it must also be noted that Mary does not recognize Jesus’ voice before he calls her name, although he has asked two questions of her. It thus seems that the main reason Mary was able to recognize Jesus when her name was called was because, being so caught up in herself, only calling her by name would have awakened her from her stupor. That this seems to be the best explanation is also evident in the response of Mary on hearing her name. After addressing Jesus as “Rabbouni”, which is an endearing term, she wants to cling to Jesus. Though the text does not explicitly state that Mary held on to Jesus, his words indicate that either she was about to do so or had already done so. Jesus will not allow this. Mary has to go beyond her selfish interests and get used to the presence of the Lord in a new way. She need not hold onto a memory since Jesus is and continues to be.

Despite this self absorption, Jesus commands Mary to be an apostle, not merely of the resurrection but of the ascension. For the first time in the Gospel of John, the Father becomes the Father of the disciples also. A new family is created. This means that the disciples and Jesus are related. Jesus is the brother of all disciples and the disciples share the same relationship with God that Jesus shares.

Mary does what Jesus commanded. She has indeed seen the risen Lord. This return makes new life possible for the believing community, because Jesus’ ascent to God renders permanent that which was revealed about God during the incarnation. The love of God, embodied in Jesus, was not of temporary duration, lasting only as long as the incarnation. Rather, the truth of Jesus’ revelation of God receives its final seal in his return to God.

Self pity, uncontrollable grief, and self absorption can all prevent us from encountering Jesus in the challenging situations of life just as they did Mary Magdalene. These emotions take hold of us when we misunderstand the promises of God or, when we do not take them as seriously as we ought. They arise when we give up, even before we begin, or when we prefer to be negative rather than positive about life. It is at times like these that Jesus comes to us, like he came to Mary Magdalene, and asks us to open our eyes and see that he is still with us and alive. He asks us to get used to his presence in all things, in all persons, and in all events. He asks us to be able to see him in the bad times and in the good, in sickness and in health, and in all the days of our lives. We need only open our hearts wide enough to see.

Has Jesus risen in your heart? How will you show this today? Acts 2:14, 22-33; Mt 28:8-15

The scene which forms the text for today is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. Immediately after the women leave the empty tomb, to obey the command of the angel to tell Jesus’ disciples about his resurrection, Jesus himself meets them and thus, they are the first to see the risen Christ. Through this appearance of the risen Christ, Matthew stresses a point he made earlier through the Emmanuel prophecy (1:23) in the Mission Discourse (10:40) and in other parts of his Gospel, that Jesus would accompany his disciples on Mission. His presence with them would be a constant presence. The risen Christ, who is simply Jesus, thus stressing the continuity with the crucified Jesus, repeats the command of the angel. However, in Jesus’ command, the disciples become “brothers,” indicating that they now belong to the family of Jesus and that all the past has been forgiven. Thus, the women, besides being communicators of the good news of the resurrection, are also commanded to communicate reconciliation. Though Jesus appears as he would have in his life time, he is, nevertheless, the risen Lord as is evident in the response of the women who take hold of his feet and worship him. The risen Jesus is real but he is also new.
The second part of the text (28:11-15) narrates the bribing of the guards and interrupts the flow of the story. However, it also completes the story begun in 27:62-66 in which the chief priests and Pharisees ask Pilate to make the tomb secure and Pilate responds to their request by asking them to place their own guards, which they do. Though the guards had seen the same events as the women, they do not come to faith. They narrate to the chief priests “everything that had happened.” The height of the irony is that the chief priests and elders become the perpetrators of the very story that they accused the disciples of Jesus of possibly fabricating. The soldiers are instructed to fall in line with the story fabricated by the chief priests and elders and money is used as the lure.

The presence of Jesus is an eternal presence. It is a presence that is always there even when we try to deny it like the Pharisees did or even when we cannot feel is as tangibly as we would like. This is not only because of the promise of Jesus to his disciples and us, but also because of the fact that whenever love is made present Jesus is, whenever concern for another is shown, Jesus is and whenever we reach out in love and forgiveness, optimism and hope, Jesus is and continues to be.

The Easter Season

It is fitting and appropriate that the First Week of Easter should concentrate on the resurrection appearances of Jesus. This it does by drawing our attention to the resurrection appearances of Jesus as narrated by the different Evangelists. The variety of appearances and manner in which Jesus appears indicates that the resurrection is an event that cannot be captured in words. We have to read, reflect, pray and also wonder.
From the beginning of the Second Week till the end of the Seventh Week of Easter, all the readings are taken from the Gospel of John. In the Second Week part of the focus is on the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus and the correction of Nicodemus’ misunderstanding about below and above and the other part focuses on Jesus as satisfying the physical need of people by feeding the five thousand and then revealing himself as Son of God to his disciples by walking on water.
The Third Week is dedicated exclusively to Jesus as the Bread of Life. In these readings Jesus explicates how as Bread, he is not only available to all but is also able to satisfy the hunger of people more fully than any manna from heaven could ever do.
In the Fourth Week, Jesus is revealed as the Good Shepherd and the Sheep Gate. He comes across as one who knows the sheep by name and cares for them. Others who try to enter by other gates are impostors and the sheep will not listen to their voice. They will hear only the voice of the true and Good Shepherd.
The Fifth Week of Easter concentrates on the Vine and the Branches where the invitation is to be part of the vine. If a branch remains on its own, it will only wither and die. If it remains part of the vine then it will bear much fruit, fruit that will last.
The Sixth Week already begins the preparation for the departure of Jesus by focusing our attention on the Advocate whom Jesus gifts as his gift to the disciples and the whole world. The Advocate will not give a new teaching but will only explicate what Jesus has already taught. It will be with the disciples, guiding their way and lighting their path.
In the Seventh and Final week before Pentecost, Jesus prays in thanksgiving to the Father for all that the Father has accomplished in and through him. He also prays for the disciples who will continue to be in the world, that they may have the courage to witness to that love which Jesus manifested on the cross. Finally, he prays for all those who will believe because of the proclamation that the disciples make.
In the last two days before Pentecost, we read about the commission to Peter to be Shepherd of the flock that Jesus leaves behind and that a beloved disciple must remain until Jesus comes again.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Every Area Starts To Enter Renewal

The story is told of a child who began to read the Gospels. Like billions before her. She quickly became charmed by Jesus. Suddenly, she ran out of her room crying hysterically. She ran into the arms of her alarmed mother. She cried: "They killed him. They killed him." Her mother comforted her and then whispered to her, "Now go back and finish the story."
Death is not the end of the story. After Jesus it can never be the end. There is one more chapter. This is the most important chapter because, as the saying goes, they who laugh last laugh best. And in the last chapter of the story of Jesus we see him rise from the dead in all glory and majesty. He is vindicated. His enemies are shamed and confused. Jesus regains his eternal glory with the Father. He is the Lord, who will prevail over all humankind, his enemies included. For us his followers this is good news. The story of the suffering and death of Jesus on Good Friday seems at first glance to be the story of the triumph of falsity over truth, of injustice over justice, of evil over goodness. Easter turns the tables. Really truth has triumphed over falsity, justice over injustice and goodness over evil. Death has been conquered. Life now triumphs even over death.
This is why Peter advised his Gentile audience that the message that God sent is characterized by radical inclusion, for God is a God of the living not of the dead. He is a God of acceptance and not favoritism or partiality. The Easter message is also unapologetically comprehensive and universal: Jesus is "Lord of all". Finally, according to Peter, the message that God sent is good news about peace, not violence, and forgiveness of sin, not its condemnation.
This is also why the text from the letter to the Colossians exhorts the Colossians and us who are an Easter people to focus not on the negatives and narrow parochialism but universality as God himself has revealed in Christ. Our focus and thoughts ought to be on things which enhance and build up, things which give life and unity not which cause death and division. By looking in love upon the one who is truly good and radiant with every grace and virtue we come by this grace to be re-fashioned in his likeness.
This positive focus was not easy to have especially when Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled back and not only decided that the tomb was empty but even that the body of Jesus had been taken out of the tomb. It is a picture of dismay and loss of hope. Peter and the beloved disciple go to the tomb not knowing what to expect, but surely not expecting the resurrection. However, even as the beloved disciple sees the linen wrappings from outside the tomb and as Peter sees these as well as the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, faith dawns.
In presenting the disciples and not the risen Christ in this scene, John gives us a picture of the Church which is struggling to come to hope even in her despair, to come to trust in her doubt and to come to life even in her death. It is important to note here that this change of heart is communicated from one to another and even as this communication is taking place faith is increasing and light is being shed on the mystery. We have each a part to play in the dawning of faith for those with whom we live and converse, by what we say, the faith we profess, but also by how we attend to each other, treat each other. The life of faith is necessarily collaborative. The Good News of the resurrection is not something discovered and proclaimed by only one of the disciples, by Peter, by the beloved disciple or by Mary. But the experiences of each together give rise to the common faith of the Church.
The collateral implications of this basic message are radical and comprehensive. Anticipation displaces dread. Regret gives way to equanimity. Cynicism vanishes before creativity. Self-control conquers addiction. Purpose usurps futility. Reconciliation overtakes estrangement. Inner peace calms disquiet and distraction. Creativity banishes boredom. Darkness has turned to light, fear to confidence, anxiety to calm, and despair to hope and death has indeed turned to life in all its fullness. These collateral implications are something like the fulfillment of one’s deepest desires, one’s wildest dreams, one’s fondest hopes, and one’s secret wishes, only in this scenario one’s desires, dreams hopes, and wishes originate from the heart of God rather than from the human heart curved in on itself. The Easter message shatters and subverts conventional human wisdom. We will, in fact, cheat death. The physical, material world is not all that exists, which is to say that spirit transcends matter, and that for all the many gifts that science has given us, it is not always the best way to know or the only way to know. Knowledge is a gift and a pleasure, but love is more powerful still. Despite the shadows of death that darken our world, if we look carefully we see Easter resurrection breaking out everywhere. When we see a tree in full blossom and hear the laughter of a child. When we give and share and live in communion with each other. In our reaching out to those who have lost hope and communicating hope to them. In the self-sacrificial goodness of so many people the world over. Then Easter happens again and again. Magic is in the air. Easter joy, hope, peace and life are for all.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Good Friday

We celebrate today my dear brothers and sisters, what is traditionally known as Good Friday. And it would seem strange first of all that we celebrate the day on which Jesus died, and stranger still that we consider such a day Good. What really is the reason why we celebrate? And why is the day on which Jesus died called “Good”? The answer to both these questions can only be found if we focus as all the Evangelists and especially John has done on the Passion and death of our Lord from the perspective of the Resurrection. Because if Christ were not resurrected, if he were not raised from the dead, his death would have no meaning, his death would have been the end. But it is only because he rose again, that his death took on a new meaning, a meaning that death never possessed before. It is in the light of the resurrection therefore that we must look at the death of Christ and what it means for us today … and yet, we must remember that the Passion and Death of Jesus were indeed historical events, that Jesus had to suffer and die. That Jesus had to go through the ignominy of the cross before his resurrection.
In yesterday’s liturgy, the Eucharist of Maundy Thursday, we witnessed how in a very symbolic way Jesus brought his whole life together by giving to his disciples two important symbols – the washing of the feet and the breaking and sharing of bread and wine. These two powerful symbols were his way of showing them that on the one hand their lives too had to be lives of service and reaching out just as his life had been, and on the other hand that they must be lives in community, lives in union with each other, lives not as individuals, but as a group of people all moving toward God. And on the day on which he died, the day following the last supper, Jesus made those symbols a reality. He not only symbolically washed his disciples’ feet and shared not just bread and wine, but rather his very self, his very being, his very life. And what is more important is that he gave his life willingly. This going to his death willingly, was in a way a summary of his whole life, a bringing together of his whole life, a life which had always been a life of giving, a life of sharing, a life for others, a life of love. Besides being narrated so beautifully for us in the Gospel of John that we just heard, it is also narrated equally beautifully in the Song of the Suffering Servant from the book of Isaiah that we heard as our first reading. This song though written 550 years before Jesus was never really understood till the Passion and Death of Jesus. When Isaiah uses the double expression, “that which has not been told” and “which they have never heard”, he is not repeating himself, but rather intends to bring to our attention how incredible, how incomprehensible the whole mystery is. The whole thought of the people of that time, their world would have been turned upside down. He was a man of sorrows and grief because he bore our own sorrows and grief. In the face of violence from those who despised him, he submitted willingly. Not only did people pay no attention to him, they positively despised him, rejected him and yet the man to whom they refused fellowship was truly one of them. We are told my dear brothers and sisters, through the Song of the Suffering Servant that God protects and saves not through war like aggressiveness, but through humility. Redemption is through the mystery of suffering. We must be confident therefore even in the midst of suffering because Jesus himself experienced trials and tribulations, suffering and ignominy, and is thus able to share with us our own. The priest of the Old Testament, as we heard in the letter to the Hebrews offers sacrifices other than himself for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus offers his very self. Jesus became the High priest through the mystery of his Passion, Death, Resurrection and Exaltation. Since he gave his life for others, his Father gave him back his own life. Jesus died believing that the Father would raise him on the third day and He did.
And this is why we celebrate today, and this is why the day on which Jesus died is called Good.
In view of all this what is the relevance for me today? What does Good Friday mean for me now, here, in my situation? In answering these questions I must point out first of all how difficult it is to understand how we can be so moved at the Passion of our Lord, and oblivious to the Passion of our next door neighbour. It is difficult to understand how we can shed tears at the suffering and death of Jesus, and not be moved one bit at the anguish and suffering of our brothers and sisters around us. It is difficult to understand how we can look up at the cross of Christ and be overcome with pity and shame, but untouched by the numerous crosses that we see people carrying everyday. The relevance of Good Friday lies in being able to see Christ crucified today. We can only do this if our lives are modelled on the life of Christ, lives that are lived for others. To live for others means first of all that we have to forget ourselves, that we have to get rid of the Ego, the I, that we have to think of others before we think of ourselves. The Israelites of old were called as we heard yesterday to be a contrast community, a chosen people, a nation set apart. We are called to be that contrast community today, not in the way that we dress, in the food that we eat or in the language we speak, but rather through our way of proceeding, in our way of behaving, in our way of being, in our way of love. Christ is calling us today not so much to die for him, but to live for him. Are you willing to live for Christ?
Let us pray then as we unveil the cross of Christ in a few moments from now that our celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus will transform our lives into lives that resemble his, so that like Jesus, we too in our own ways may be men and women for others. It is only in this context that suffering and pain and death take on a new meaning as they did in the life of Christ. Amen.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Do you often blame God and others when things do not go the way you want them to go? Will you grow up and accept responsibility for your actions today? Do you often play “the blame game”? Do you not realize that when you point one finger at someone there are three pointing back at you?

The text on the day before Maundy Thursday invites us to reflect on the initiative taken by Judas in going to the chief priests and agreeing to betray Jesus, the preparation for the Passover and the prediction of Judas’ betrayal.
Matthew’s reason for the betrayal by Judas is greed. Judas wants something if he agrees to betray Jesus and agrees to the thirty pieces of silver offered to him, a detail mentioned only by Matthew. Unlike in Mark where the money is promised, in Matthew Judas is paid on the spot. Some see the reference to the thirty silver pieces as taken by Matthew from Zech 11:12-13 in which there is an obscure reference to the wages of a shepherd, who puts money back into the treasury. In Exod 21:32 thirty silver pieces is the price of an injured slave.
According to Exod 12:1-20, the Passover lambs were to be killed on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, and the festival itself began with the ritual meal on the evening that began the 15th of Nisan. The Festival of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th and continued for seven days, during which no leaven should be found in the house. By the first century, the two festivals had merged and their names were used interchangeably. In addition, the pious practice of removing leaven one day early, the 14th, had become common.
Preparation for the Passover involved (1) locating an appropriate place within the city walls of Jerusalem, the only legitimate location for eating the Passover meal; (2) searching the room for leaven and removing any items that might contain yeast (bread crumbs, etc.); (3) obtaining a lamb and having it ritually slaughtered by the priests in the Temple; (4) roasting the lamb and preparing it with the other necessary items for the meal in the place previously arranged. While it is important to Matthew for theological reasons that the last supper was a Passover, he narrates none of the details associated with the Passover meal and ritual, concentrating his interest on the meal of the new covenant to be celebrated.
While Judas’ question to the chief priests focuses on himself and what he can gain, the disciples question to Jesus focuses on Jesus and what he wants them to do.
After Jesus takes his place at the table, he announces the fact of his betrayal by one of the Twelve. This announcement leads to distress on the part of the disciples. Each asks in turn whether he is the one. Jesus responds by indicating that one of those who eat with him will betray him, but does not explicitly identify Judas. Judas’ question is left till after Jesus’ response.
The dialectic of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the passion is brought out strongly in Jesus’ comment that it would be better for the betrayer if he had not been born. Jesus is fully aware of who it is that will betray him. God is not taken by surprise in the betrayal that leads to crucifixion; it goes according to the divine plan expressed in Scripture. But this does not relieve the burden of human responsibility. God is fully sovereign, humanity is fully responsible.
Judas who is in the process of betraying Jesus asks if he is the one. Unlike the other disciples who address Jesus as Lord, Judas addresses him as Rabbi indicating that he is not an insider but an outsider. Jesus’ response “You said it” is a clear affirmation that Judas is indeed the one.

There are some, who because they find it easier, prefer to lay the blame at God’s door for their “misfortune”. These are people who have not yet grown up. If children blame others for the mistakes they make or refuse to accept responsibility it can be understood, but when adults do that it is a sign of not having grown up. While it is true that God remains sovereign, it is also true that we as humans have total freedom and thus must accept responsibility for our actions. We are always free to act as we see fit, but we must also realize that our every action has consequences which we must be willing to accept.

Monday 18 April 2011

When things do not go the way you plan do you throw in the towel too quickly? Has your arrogance sometimes led to your downfall?

The text of today begins after the action of the washing of the feet of his disciples by Jesus and the words that he speaks explaining the meaning of the event. Thus this text must be read with that background in view.
It begins by an announcement of the betrayal in the context of Jesus’ emotional distress. This announcement is greeted with confusion on the part of the disciples. This confusion is an indication that betrayal can lie in the heart of any disciple and that no one is really exempt or can take for granted his/ her fidelity. This confusion leads to questioning on the part of the disciples. Each wants to know who Jesus meant. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” is introduced for the first time in the Gospel and plays a prominent role from now on. The fact that the disciple is not named points to the fact that it is not so much the person, but his relationship to Jesus that defines and determines who he is. Like the Son who is in the bosom of the Father (1:18) so this disciple reclines in the bosom of Jesus. Prompted by Simon Peter’s nod, the beloved disciple asks Jesus who the betrayer is. Through the gesture of giving the morsel to Judas and his words, the contrast between the intimacy of the meal on the one hand and the betrayal by Judas on the other is brought into sharp relief. Even as he is offered a sign of friendship, intimacy and fidelity, Judas chooses distance, betrayal and infidelity. Though Jesus “knows” who will betray him, he still reaches out in love and friendship.
The mention of Satan entering Jesus indicates that the real battle is not between Jesus and Judas but between Jesus and the powers’ of evil, between light and darkness, and between falsehood and truth. Jesus is willing to face head on and immediately the powers’ of evil and so instructs Judas to act quickly. Jesus alone understands the significance of the hour. The disciples remain ignorant and even misunderstand. That Judas leaves immediately is an indication that his commands are followed even as he is going to be betrayed. Jesus remains in control of all the events of his “hour”. The phrase “and it was night” can mean on the surface level a chronological notation. However, it has a much deeper meaning in John. On the deeper level it means that Judas has cut himself off from Jesus who alone is the light and also that he has sided with the darkness which tries to overcome the light.
The verses which follow and complete the reading of today can either be seen as a conclusion to the previous episodes of the washing of the feet and the prediction of the betrayal or as an introduction to the Farewell Discourse. They speak of the glorification of Jesus as Son of Man and also of the glorification of the Father. While it is true that the mutual glorification began when the father was manifested through the Son at the incarnation and continued in the words and works of Jesus, it will be completed and reach its fulfillment in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the Father. This final departure from the world and return to the Father is here seen as a seal of the disciples’ new relationship with God, with him and with one another. Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s question about his final destination by predicting Peter’s denial of him. Though Peter protests by offering his life to Jesus in keeping with the command to lay down one’s life for one’s friend, he speaks more from a misplaced enthusiasm than from the reality of the situation. When confronted with reality, Peter will in fact deny Jesus three times.

There are numerous times in our lives when things do not go the way we plan. It is as times like these that we tempted to throw in the towel like Judas and Peter did. However, the challenge is that even at times like these to continue to trust and believe that even though we may not fully understand why things happen the way they do, that God is still in control and will never let anything happen to is that is not for our good and for his glory.
Remaining with Jesus, following his commands and living the life that he demands is thus not an easy task. The numerous laws, rules and regulations of the Jews have been summarized into one command which is to love God by loving neighbour. This reduction of the numerous into one does not mean that the one is easier; it means that the focus has changed from external observance to internal disposition and from personal achievement to grace. That grace is at the heart of the command is made evident in the cases of Judas and Peter who both fail in keeping it. While Judas’ betrayal may be seen as a dramatic and extreme case of refusing to remain with Jesus and follow his commands, the denials by Peter indicate that every disciple is at risk of failure if he/ she depends on his/her own strength and not enough on the Lord.

Sunday 17 April 2011

How will you make the unconditional love of Jesus tangible for at least one person today? Will you respond to the unconditional love of God like Mary or like Judas?

The story of the anointing of Jesus is found in all four Gospels. Yet, the manner of the anointing, the reason for the anointing and the anointing on the head as mentioned by Mark and Matthew and the feet as mentioned by Luke and John indicate that each evangelist interprets the anointing differently. While in Mark and Matthew the anointing is as a preparation for the burial of Jesus’ body and is thus just before the Passion, in Luke the anointing of the feet of Jesus by a sinful woman is an explication of her love and respect for Jesus and his love for her shown in the forgiveness of her sins. The woman is named only in the Gospel of John and is not Mary Magdalene. In John, she is Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Though it is not the head but the feet of Jesus which Mary anoints, the focus of the anointing here is the “hour” of Jesus. The dinner that Jesus is attending here is an anticipation of the last dinner that he will have with his disciples soon.
The story begins with the dinner given for Jesus by Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. The anointing by Mary is narrated immediately after this. Though Mark also points to the quality of the ointment, only John mentions the quantity. By wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair, Mary anticipates the wiping of the disciples’ feet by Jesus at the last supper. The anointing here therefore points to the washing and wiping of the feet of the disciples by Jesus. The protest about the extravagance of the gesture is voiced in John by Judas alone. This is already an anticipation of the betrayer’s role that Judas will play later in the garden. The protest of Judas is not genuine, because his concern stems from his own desire to steal. Jesus’ response to Judas is to point to the revelatory significance of Mary’s act. It is an anticipation of the final anointing after the death of Jesus and thus confirms that it will take place. Jesus also reminds his disciples of the limited time before his “hour” and invites them to recognize it like Mary did. They need to respond like her.
Since many of the Jews were going to Jesus and began to believe in him, the chief priests make plans to kill Jesus. They also plan to kill Lazarus so as not to leave any trace of the miraculous powers of Jesus and also to stop people from believing in him.
The contrast between the insight of Mary and the blindness of Judas is brought out powerfully in this story. She recognizes who Jesus is and the fate that awaits him and so acts accordingly. Judas on the other hand has closed himself to the revelation of God in Jesus and thus can only act to suit his selfish interests. The anointing of the feet by Mary and the wiping them with her hair is also an indication of the action of a true disciple of Jesus. She anticipates what her master and Lord will do and does it. She does not need to be taught it like the other disciples at the last supper. She has learnt it by observing the actions of the Lord. Judas on the other has shown that he is not a true disciple because he is able to see only the negative in the loving action of service and reaching out. His only response is therefore to protest.

The love command was not only spoken of by Jesus but lived out by him throughout his life. The best manner in which that love command was manifested was not only in the washing of the feet of his disciples, but in the spreading out of his arms in total surrender and unconditional love. This is the love to which we as disciples are challenged today. We can decide to respond like Mary because we are convinced and have experienced the unconditional love of God ourselves, or we can be like Judas who focus on our own selfish interests and so miss out on the beauty and reality of unconditional love.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Passion/Palm Sunday - Isa 50;4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66

In the past, the fifth Sunday of Lent (the Sunday before Palm Sunday) was known as Passion Sunday. However, following Vatican II, the sixth Sunday of Lent was officially re-named Passion Sunday. This Sunday is also called Palm Sunday, since palm branches are still distributed but the focus is on the betrayal, arrest, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus rather than on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before his death. Passion/Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week in which the Church commemorates the Last Supper and the first Eucharist on Holy Thursday and Christ's death on Good Friday. What Jesus experiences for us is a manifestation of God's overwhelming love for each one of us. Further, by our identifying ourselves with the 'mystery' of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection we ourselves experience a great liberation, a ‘Passover' from various forms of sin and enslavement to a life of joy and freedom.
Today's liturgy combines both a sense of “triumph” and “tragedy”. At the beginning, we commemorate the triumph of Christ our King. This is done through the blessing of palms, the procession and the singing. In the liturgy of the word, we hear the story of the sufferings and indignities to which Jesus was subjected. However, we keep in mind that even in this “tragedy” there is “triumph”. Even in his Passion the Palms continue to be present. This is because Christ came for precisely this purpose, to save in and through his death.

The first reading for the liturgy of the Eucharist is from the prophet Isaiah. The part of Isaiah written in exile (Chapters 40-55) contains four servant songs, sections that interrupt the flow of the book but have a unity within themselves. The first (42:1-7) which begins “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen ...”; introduces the suffering servant of Yahweh, in the second (49:1-7) the servant, abused and humiliated, is commissioned anew; in the third (our first reading) he is disciplined and strengthened by suffering; and in the fourth that will be read on Good Friday (52:17-53:12), even the Gentiles are in awesome contemplation before the suffering and rejected servant. In late Judaism, the suffering servant of Yahweh was seen as the perfect Israelite, one of supreme holiness, a messiah. In the gospels, Jesus identifies himself with and is identified as the servant, the one who frees all people. He will accept like the servant of Isaiah without rebellion and in total obedience God’s will for him. Even in his suffering and ignominy, he is confident that God will vindicate him.
This vindication and exaltation forms the last part of the kenosis hymn of Paul. The hymn summarizes the whole of salvation history succinctly. It begins with the pre existence of Christ, moves on to the incarnation and mission and then narrates his passion and death on the cross before speaking of his resurrection and exaltation. However, there is no room for any kind of triumphalism here! There is no room for a feel-good religion that does not take its servant role seriously. There is no room for a victory that does not first know the "fellowship of His sufferings" on behalf of others; no room for piety that does not pour out, yes, even totally empty, itself for the interests of others.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who poured out his own life at the hands of the Nazis because he refused to allow the church to be the tool of oppression, wrote: “The church is the church only when it exists for others. . . . The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. . . . It must not underestimate the importance of human example which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus.”
We who profess holiness need the unity of mind and purpose to which Paul is calling the Philippians. We need to see ourselves in terms of our obligations to the community of those "in Christ" of which we claim to be a part. Maybe we need to see ourselves less in terms of "those who never sin" and more in terms of "those who serve”. Maybe we need to see ourselves in terms of the Servant-Christ, the "man for others" who bends himself to struggle for the wholeness and healing of a wounded world. Maybe we need to reexamine our own value structures that have been so subtly shaped by the success-oriented society around us. We need to see if we are acting in a manner worthy of the heavenly citizenship we claim. For Paul, to claim that citizenship meant to have a mind-set different from others. It meant a commitment to servanthood, a life poured out in service to others, totally emptied of self.
The passion story as told by Matthew arrests us because in it we find God coming to us in utter vulnerability. The Father seems absent and silent. He does not act in might, power and vengeance to stop sinful people from doing their worst to Jesus his Son. It looks as if the Father has abandoned his own beloved Son. Why doesn't he do something? Where is God when a righteous Son is gasping for air on a Roman cross? Why is he silent? Why does he not send ten thousand angels and save his son? God remains silent until the fury of human defiance and sin carries out to the fullest extent its gruesome imaginations. When the life of the Son of God is snuffed out, it is then that God speaks. He speaks loud and clear. He speaks not in vengeance, counter-attack and destruction. God does not kill Pilate, the Roman soldiers, the high priests and the passers-by. Instead, he splits a curtain and makes himself open and available by abandoning the temple and teaching through this sign that true worship is now no longer in the Temple or sanctuary, but on the cross. It is at that point that the Roman soldiers realize how pitiful and puny they are and all their bravado melts and the Centurion proclaims, "Truly this man was God’s Son!" God acts in strange ways.
Jesus "emptied himself" totally and in so doing became filled with the Spirit of his Father. He clung to nothing; he let go of everything. Do we have the courage to do likewise?

Friday 15 April 2011

Impatience is trying to go faster than the Holy Spirit. Are you by nature impatient?

The first two verses of today can be seen as the conclusion of the miracle story of the raising of Lazarus. While some of those who witnessed the miracle respond positively, others do not. However, the number of those who believe is more than that of those who do not as is evident in the use of “many” for those who believed and “some” for those who did not. The chief priests and Pharisees respond to the information they receive about the miracle by calling a meeting during which they discuss the fate of Jesus. Their main concern seems to be their own loss of power. They do not seem really interested in the destruction of the temple or even Jerusalem but with the effect that Jesus’ popularity will have on their own selfish interests.
Caiaphas who was high priest speaks on behalf of all of them. Even as he wants Jesus to die so that greater trouble can be avoided, he is in fact unknowingly prophesying about the true meaning of the death of Jesus. Though his sole aim is political expediency, he is collaborating in God’s plan of salvation for the whole of the human race. He uses his power to suppress God’s word but in effect witnesses to him. In his death Jesus would gather together all the scattered people of God to bring them to a union and unity never witnessed before.
Jesus retreats to Ephraim after the Sanhedrin’s decision. This retreat, however, is not to escape death but to control its time. Jesus will not go to his death until his hour arrives. It is God who decides that hour and no amount of human plotting or planning can hasten its arrival.
Even as the Passover draws near, questions remain about whether Jesus will come to the feast or not. It is not clear whether those who are looking for him have a positive or malicious intent. The question, however, reinforces the idea that Jesus acts not according to the will of human beings but of God and if God so ordains then no matter what the threat or consequence, Jesus will do what is required.

God’s ways are not our ways. As high as the heavens are from the earth so are God’s ways different from ours. It is not always possible to accept this simple truth and there are times when we try to go faster than the Holy Spirit because of our impatience. We are reminded as we reflect on today’s readings that there will be numerous times when we will knowingly or unknowingly try to upset the plans of God because they do not fit in with what we think is good for us. At times like these we too behave like the adversaries of Jesus. We have to realize that no matter how much we try we will never be able to upset God’s will for the world though it might seem sometimes that we have and can. When we witness evil overpowering good, selfishness dominating selflessness or fear overtaking love, then it might seem that we have done so. However, these “victories’ are only temporary as was the victory of the ones who crucified Jesus on the cross. In the final race it is always God who wins, it is always selflessness that come first and it is always love that will overcome.

Thursday 14 April 2011

How will you make Jesus visible today?

The text of today begins with the Jews picking up stones to stone Jesus. While the immediate context is the last words of Jesus in his response to who he is, namely “The Father and I are one”, this reaction must also be seen in the larger context of the revelations that Jesus has been making. Jesus’ question to the Jews immediately after their attempt to stone him is indicative of this. He asks them for which of his good works they want to stone him. In response they accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Though it is true that Jesus is equal to God, they do not realize that it is not he who makes such a claim on his own accord. It is God who confirms him. Jesus uses “their” law to prove his claims and disprove theirs. He begins by citing the first half of Ps 82:6 in which human beings are regarded as “gods” because they receive the Word of God and then goes on to prove from the lesser to the greater, that thus it cannot be blasphemy if Jesus speaks of himself as God’s Son. It is the Father who sanctified and thus set apart Jesus and sent him into the world and thus he always does what the Father commands him to do.
Jesus goes on to appeal to his works as a proof of the fact that he has indeed been sent by God. His works, which are in keeping with God’s plan for the world, are clear indication that he and the Father are one. He is in the Father and the Father is in him. To be able to recognize this is to come to faith. These words do not go down well with the listeners who try to arrest him. Again as in the past Jesus escapes because his hour had not yet come.
The last three verses of the text look back to 1:28 and to John’s witness of Jesus at Bethany. John’s witness and then truth of that witness manifested in Jesus leads people to believe in Jesus.

In these verses, Jesus does not claim to be another God or to replace God or even make himself equal to God. He claims to make God known as never before. He reveals God as loving Father and as one whose only will for the world is its salvation. This is evident in the works that he performs, which are works of unconditional and redeeming love.
Jesus’ offer of recognizing him in the world is an offer that is relevant and available even today. The “good works” he inaugurated are on view whenever one goes beyond oneself and reaches out in love and compassion. They are continued when one speaks an enhancing word or performs a loving action. There are visible in selfless service and forgiveness. They are visible when love is made real.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Will you look for the revelation of God in everything that happens to you today?

The consequence of keeping Jesus’ word is the destruction of death itself, since his word is a life giving word and can only result in life. This promise of Jesus is misunderstood by the listeners. They attack Jesus’ identity by appealing to Abraham and the fact that he died. Since Abraham died, the words of Jesus cannot be true. They thus accuse Jesus of being possessed by a demon. They keep challenging Jesus by asking him whether he is greater than Abraham. While the question here assumes a negative response, for the one who has accepted Jesus, the response can only be positive. Jesus is indeed greater than Abraham and all the prophets. The reason for this is that Jesus does not glorify himself. It is the Father himself who glorifies Jesus. It is the God in whom the Jews believe who glorifies Jesus. The Jews claim to “know” him, but in reality do not. It is Jesus who knows and reveals the Father and so anyone who refuses to believe in this revelation is shutting him/herself out from the truth and so indulging in lies and falsehood.
For the first time here Jesus himself appeals to Abraham to prove his claims. However, by the use of the distancing “your ancestor Abraham” Jesus indicates on the one hand that there is a distance between him and his listeners and on the other that while they may have Abraham as their ancestor (father) he has only God as his. Even so it is Abraham their father who also testified to Jesus when the grace was given to him by God to “see” Jesus’ day. He did see it and rejoiced in it. Here too the Jews misunderstand Jesus. They appeal to chronology, not realizing that Jesus goes beyond time and space. The double “Amen” with which Jesus responds is an indication on the one had of a new teaching and on the other of a deep revelation. While on the one hand there is a contrast of tenses: the past (Abraham was) and the present (I am), on the other hand the “I am” saying is used here in the absolute sense indicating that Jesus identifies himself with God. Jesus is infinitely greater than Abraham since Jesus is one with God.
The Jews respond to this revelation by wanting to stone Jesus because they consider it blasphemy. However, since his hour had not yet come, Jesus cannot be touched.

As human beings we often set limits on ourselves. While this is bad enough, we often also go further and set limits on God. We decide in advance what God can and cannot do and so miss out on mystery and miracle. Our stereotypes and closed minds result in our missing out on the revelation that God continues to make to us. In our understanding of who God is or how he reveals himself, it is important for us to note that with our finite minds we will never be able to totally fathom the depths of this mystery. We are limited by space and time, but God is not. Thus, it is important to open our minds as fully as we can and even after we have done this to know that there will still be much that we do not and can never know.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

What is the falsehood that is binding you? Will you let go of it and allow the truth to set you free?

The verses which form the text for today contain what may be seen as the fundamental lines of debate and disagreement between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. In these verses the succeeding verse builds up on the preceding one and thus intensifies the debate. The sayings are addressed to the Jews who “believed in him”. Though these do, their faith seems inadequate as is seen in their response to Jesus to come to the truth. The truth that Jesus refers to here is not an abstract principle but the presence of God in Jesus. The recognition of this truth results in a person’s being set free. The words “will make you free’ result in upsetting the listeners who protest that since they are Abraham’s descendants they are naturally free. However, they do not realize that in rejecting Jesus they are also rejecting Abraham and so are not really his descendants and consequently not free. Since freedom is a gift, it cannot be earned or acquired through one’s antecedents. It is made visible in the actions that one performs. If one performs sinful actions, then one is a slave and so not free. Though the Jews claim to be descendents of Abraham, their actions do not correspond to their claim. They are guilty of the sinful action of trying to kill Jesus. Freedom is possible only through the Son who alone can make free because he is the Truth. In order to receive this freedom one must be able to recognize the truth of who Jesus is. This they cannot do.

Monday 11 April 2011

Are you able to experience like Jesus joy even in the midst of your pain?

The words which begin today’s text continue the theme of Jesus’ departure begun in 8:14. Here, it is his death, resurrection and ascension which will be the focus. Though God has revealed himself in Jesus, the Jewish leaders have refused to recognize him. This is the sin in which they will die. When Jesus speaks of his departure, he is misunderstood. The Jewish leaders think of suicide, but Jesus speaks of laying down his life of his own accord for the salvation of all. The reason why they misunderstand is because they and Jesus stand on opposite sides. They are from below and of this world, Jesus is from above and not of this world. If they want to change their position, they can only do so by recognizing in Jesus, God. The leaders are not able to do this and show that they have completely misunderstood Jesus in the question they ask. Jesus affirms that he has told them from the beginning who he is. He is the one sent by God and it is God who affirms and confirms him.
When they “lift up” Jesus on the Cross (which can also be translated as “exalt” and so mean resurrection and ascension) then they will recognize him. This statement of being “lifted up” or “exalted’ is the second of the three such statements in the Gospel of John. The first appears in 3:14 and the third in 12:32-34. In these two cases because of the use of the passive voice, the suggestion is that God will do the exalting. It is only here that the responsibility for the “lifting up” is thrust on the people. Thus, even as they crucify him, they will also exalt him and in this act recognize him as the one who is. Even when on the cross Jesus will not be alone because the Father will be with him.
Jesus’ words touch the hearts of many who hear him and they come to believe.

Jesus’ coming into the world was not primarily to die but to save. Yet, if this salvation could only be achieved through his death on a cross, then so be it. Jesus was willing for it if this was to be the only way. He was also aware that because of his faith, trust and confidence in the Father that his crucifixion or being lifted up on the cross would also be his resurrection and ascension, his being exalted. Even as he is crucified, the very ones who crucify him realize that what they have done is nailed love incarnate to the cross. This love accepts, forgives and continues to love even from the cross.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Do you “feel” forgiven by God? If No, why not?

Most scholars today are of the opinion that this text did nor originally belong to the Gospel of John and was added later. Numerous reasons are put forward to support this view. One is that the term “scribes” used here is the only time in the Gospel that it is used. John does not use “scribes” anywhere else in his Gospel. Another reason is that while in the rest of the Gospel of John the debates with the Jewish leaders are long, here it is brief. This fits in better with the controversy stories of the Synoptic Gospels. Also the Mount of Olives is mentioned only here in the Gospel of John, though in the Synoptic Gospels it is frequently mentioned. Jesus is addressed as “teacher” only here in John. Be that as it may, the text is now part of John’s Gospel and we have to interpret it within the Gospel.
This event takes place in the Temple. Though the law commanded that both the man and woman who engaged in adultery would be put to death (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), the scribes and Pharisees accuse the woman alone and do not provide the necessary witnesses who had “caught” the woman in the very act of committing adultery. The intention of the scribes seems clear: it is to trap Jesus. Initially, Jesus does not want to engage the question and so bends down and writes with his finger on the ground. The point here is not what Jesus was writing but the distancing gesture that he performs. Since the scribes persist in the question, Jesus straightens up and addresses the scribes directly. The statement that he makes takes them beyond the question that they ask to a self examination and introspection. Once he has raised the issue, Jesus bends down again and writes with his finger. This time, the intention of writing is to show that he has said all that he has to say and wants them to decide what they have to do. They do not answer in words, but through their action of leaving the place. That all of them leave beginning with the elders is an indication that no one is without sin. When Jesus straightens up the second time he addresses the woman who is alone with him since all others have gone away. The woman who is addressed directly for the first time confirms that no one is left to condemn her. Jesus responds by not condemning her, but also challenging her to receive the new life that forgiveness brings.

The attitude of Jesus to people, whether those who engaged in condemnation or the condemned seems to be the focus of the story. The questions of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees and the woman allows them equal opportunity to part with old ways after having received forgiveness. Jesus condemns no one, not even those who condemn. However, while the woman accepts the gift of new life, the scribes and Pharisees show their non-acceptance through their actions of going away. It is thus a story of grace and mercy freely given by God in Jesus which when received results in a radical transformation of a person and the challenge of a new life.

While it is true that this story may be seen as a moral lesson informing us that we are not to judge rashly or point fingers at others since when we do, there will be three fingers pointing back at us, it is also a story that goes beyond this moral lesson to the core of the revelation that God makes in Jesus. The God revealed in Jesus is a God who does not condemn, a God who accepts each of us as we are and a God who even when we find it difficult to forgive ourselves, keeps forgiving and accepting us.

Death to new Life!!!

Why do we keep visiting the old and infirm and those in hospitals when we have no miracle drug to take away their pain? Why do we commit ourselves to the political process when there is so much cynicism and a malaise of despair in politics today? Why does the Church through her priests, religious and laity continue to reach out to those in need despite the tremendous opposition by vested interests and the attempts at destruction of those works by those who cannot bear to see the poor get their due and rights? The prime reason is because we continue to believe that God is still in charge, that he is still in control and that with his help and hope in him we will overcome.
“The smell of death is everywhere. The pictures you see on TV do not tell the whole story. You only see the devastation in those pictures. But when you are here, you not only see the devastation, but you smell it, no matter where you go or what you do.” Those who visited the tsunami disaster areas described the scene in this way time after time. The very smell of death permeated the air. This could also be a description of what Ezekiel may have felt when the Lord challenged him to see that he would open the graves of the dead of Israel and restore them to life again. Yet, the Lord did indeed act in accord with his word and life was restored. Death which is the absence of the breath of God’s spirit was transformed to life by the life giving spirit of God. Ezekiel realized that there was no limit to God’s power to save and that everything was possible for God. He continued to hope and communicated this hope to all of Israel. Even in exile in Babylon, Israel must not give in to despair, but hope. The Psalmist expresses this hope in the Lord. He is so confident of the mercy of God and his power to redeem that even from the depths of despair he knows that the Lord will hear his cry for help.
Martha, the sister of Lazarus, despite her verbal acceptance of Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, did not expect that her brother would be raised and brought back to life again. This is why when Jesus asks for the stone to be removed from the tomb, her focus is the smell of death. The reason for Jesus’ great distress was not because of the insincerity of the mourners, nor because the people did not believe that he was the source of life and stood among them, not even because he was forced to perform a miracle in public with the crowd present, but in all probability because of what sin and death had done to humanity. They had succeeded in robbing humanity of hope. The tears that Jesus sheds, while being an acknowledgement of what sin and death are capable of doing, are not tears of despair. Physical death is indeed difficult to accept, but it surely is not the end. Thus, we are not asked not to weep, but only not to give in to despair, not to lose hope.
However tempting it might be, however human, however understandable, hopeless despair is not a Christian way of living. However painful our current circumstances, and however agonizing our honest questions—about job loss, wayward children, financial disaster, chronic sickness, destruction of works and institutions that have been painstakingly built, false allegations made by vested interests—ultimately things will get worse, for nothing can compare to the horrible specter of death that awaits us all. But Christian faith believes that God in Christ will conquer and transform even that ultimate enemy death.

Paul’s letter to the Romans talks about the same Spirit of God that gives life. He explains that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us and is responsible for giving us life.

As we near the end of Lent, we are being reminded that God’s Spirit is the source of our life as a community. We are not only being prepared for Christ’s resurrection but our own.

We can make some choices about how we get to Easter. We can choose not to focus on the things of the world that distract us and drain our life from us. We can choose to resist loving or accepting some more than others because they are different or think differently. We can deny those things that satisfy a sense of artificial power based on material things. We can choose to nurture a sense that we are individually more important than who we are together, as a family.
Or we can be restored by allowing the Spirit of God to give us life. We can choose to live as Jesus lived. We can live our call to be a community of faith focused on the strength of our unity. We can give ourselves over to be restored by letting those things that separate us from God and each other die and be resurrected in Spirit to life as faithful believers. The choice rests with us.

Friday 8 April 2011

Will you understand that God will reveal himself to you in ways you never even considered? Will you find him in everything that happens today?

The invitation of Jesus to the thirsty to come and drink from the living water that he will give leads to the discussion among the people which begins the text for today. While those who come on hearing this invitation regard Jesus as “the” prophet, others explicitly call him the Messiah. Still others question whether Jesus could really be the Messiah because of the popular belief that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Yet it was also true that some believed that the origins of the Messiah would be a mystery and no one would know where he would come from. These contrary views lead to a difference of opinion and though some want to arrest Jesus they do not lay hands on him.
When the police return to inform their masters that they could not arrest Jesus because they had never heard anyone speak like him, they are accused of having also been deceived by Jesus and taken in by his sophistry.
Nicodemus who is also one of the Jewish authorities speaks on behalf of Jesus and reminds his companions of the law and a hearing that was required before judgement. His question is ironic and seems intended to bring out that his companions knowledge of the law is a matter of doubt. They respond to Nicodemus in the same way in which they respond to the temple police. They deride him and assert their seemingly superior knowledge of scripture. Though they are emphatic that no prophet is to arise from Galilee, this knowledge is faulty, because the scriptures do speak of the Galilean origins of the prophet Jonah. John intends to convey through this assertion on the part of the Pharisees that they had misunderstood both the origins of the Messiah and who he is. Traditional messianic categories are inadequate because they rely on prior assumptions and expectations rather than judging Jesus on the basis of what he reveals about himself: that he is the one sent from God.

Jesus will always remain bigger than anything that we can ever imagine. Our most intimate encounters with him must make us realize this. He cannot be captured by the concepts, words or images that we use and while these help us to get to know his better, they will always be inadequate. Yet, this does not mean that we cannot know him as intimately as we want to. He reveals himself to each of us according to the level of openness we possess.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Cricket continues to fool those who are willing to let themselves be fooled

I am not sure how many of you have noticed that the so called "World Cup" was over on Saturday and even today (Thursday) cricket continues to hog the limelight not only of the Sports page but also of some front pages. It will soon be the IPL another money spinner and it will go on and on.

Will you open your eyes, ears and heart and SEE that God is present in our world even today?

The feast of the tabernacles was originally a harvest festival and was linked to the journey of Israel in the desert after the exodus when they stayed in tents or booths. It was a seven day festival that brought great joy and during this festival people lived in booths to remember their sojourn and God’s graciousness to them. The liturgical rites performed during this festival, included water libation and torch-lit processions. These form the background for the discourse of Jesus during this festival.
The crowds are surprised to see Jesus teaching in public despite the death threats and so wonder if he could indeed be the Messiah. They also wonder if the authorities know that Jesus is the Messiah but are denying it for some reason. Soon, “reasonableness” gives way to insight and intuition when the crowds go back to their stereotypes. They “know” where Jesus comes from and since no one will know where the Messiah comes from, Jesus cannot be the Messiah. The fact is that the crowds know only one aspect of Jesus’ antecedents. Jesus informs them that they are not aware that his real origin is in God. One will only be able to recognize and know Jesus when one realizes that he comes from God and has been sent by him. This upsets the listeners and though they try to arrest him, they cannot do so, because the ordained hour set by God has not yet come.

The crucial question here is whether or not one perceives Jesus as having been sent by God. The answer to this question determines whether one is on the right track or engaged in only superficial reflection. One reason why the authorities’ could not recognize Jesus as having been sent by God was because they had made up their minds already. They refused to let God work in the way he wanted. They decided how God must work and how the Messiah would come. They “knew”. This “knowledge” led to their being closed to the revelation that God made, so that even after he came, they continued to look for another.

God continues to come to us in various disguises and forms. He comes in persons, events and situations. If we decide in advance how he must come, then there is the danger that we too might continue to miss him and not be aware of his presence. The way to be able to find him in all things and all things in him is to be open and receptive and let God be God. It is to open our eyes, ears and every fiber of our being to the revelation that he will make and to be prepared for that revelation in the most unexpected persons, places and events.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Do you believe in Jesus? How will you show that you are a “believer”?

The text of today contains the second part of the discourse of Jesus in response to the outrage of the Jewish leaders because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. It can be seen to be divided into two parts. The first part speaks about the witnesses John and the Father who testify to Jesus’ claims and the second part about the rejection of Jesus and the unbelief of the leaders.
The witness that Jesus offers is not his own since no one can legitimately or validly bear witness on his own behalf. The first witness Jesus mentions here is John the Baptist who in the Gospel of John is portrayed more as a witness rather than as a precursor or Baptist as he is in the Synoptic Gospels. In witnessing to the truth John witnessed to Jesus since Jesus is the truth. However, John was a mere lamp and not the light so though his testimony is true there is another witness far greater than John and that is the works that Jesus has accomplished after being sent by the Father. “Works’ here seems to refer not just to the miracles that Jesus worked but to the whole of his ministry. These works are the works of the Father and so bear witness to him and to the relationship that Jesus shares with him as Son. Since Jesus as Son does what God as father commands him to do, Jesus completes the Father’s own works. The third witness is the Father himself. God himself cannot be seen, yet, he has been made visible in Jesus and the Jewish leaders have refused to believe the God made so visible.
The scriptures also testify on behalf of Jesus and though the leaders search and study the scriptures because they seek life, they refuse to believe what they learn there, namely that Jesus is the one who gives life and life in abundance. This is because they are unable to distinguish truth from falsehood. It is not Jesus but Moses himself who will accuse them of unbelief. This is because Moses also testified to Jesus and despite his testimony, they have refused to believe. If one believes what Moses wrote, one has to believe in Jesus, there is no middle ground here.
It is not easy to believe in Jesus, because such a belief calls for a radical change in one’s life’s orientation. Belief in Jesus will mean a movement from selfishness to selfless, domination to service and fear to love and not many are inclined to make this change. Most of us are content to live our lives insulated from others and preferring to live as islands rather than as community. We pretend not to know who we are and what our calling is. It seems easier this way. However, as the Gospel text makes clear there is no middle ground and if one is not willing to live the kind of life that Jesus invites us to as his disciples, then one is a non-believer.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Jesus revealed the Father through all that he said and did. Will you reveal Jesus by what you say and do today?

These verses contain the first discourse in the Gospel of John. It is made up of many closely related themes. The Jews are outraged that Jesus has healed on the Sabbath and in answer to this outrage Jesus answers them in the following verses. To the charge that Jesus was making himself equal to God, Jesus answers that he as Son can do nothing apart from the Father. He is completely dependent on the Father and merely does the Father’s work. The Father reveals all that he does to his Son including raising the dead and giving them life. Thus the Son shares in the life giving work of the Father. The Son has also been given the power and authority to judge. This implies that everyone is under the Son’s reign and rule, and thus must confer on him the same honour that is conferred on the Father. The one who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father since it is the Father who has sent the Son.
To hear the Son’s word and believe in God opens the gift of eternal life. The alternative is judgment. This judgement will be based on the response to the Son in the present. Those who accept him and do good will be granted the resurrection of life whereas those who reject the Son and thus do evil will go to the resurrection of condemnation. The now will determine the later, the present will determine the future. This part of the pericope ends with an idea expressed earlier namely that the Son can do nothing on his own and will do nothing on his own, because he seeks only to do the will of his Father.

Monday 4 April 2011

Do you want to be made well?

The miracle of the healing of the paralytic is exclusive to the Gospel of John. The story is set in Jerusalem and the miracle occurs during one of the Jewish festivals though John does not specify which one. Later in the narrative we are told that the day of the festival was also the Sabbath and this adds to the significance of both the festival and the Sabbath and thus the miracle and the controversy that follows. Festivals in John are used as a platform for a deep revelation of the person of Jesus and this festival is no exception.
John gives a detailed description of the place where the miracle was performed as if encouraging the reader to place him/herself in that place. Three kinds of invalids are mentioned: the blind, the lame and the paralyzed. These are at the pool waiting for the stirring of the water. Popular belief was that an angel was responsible for the stirring of the water and thus for the inexplicable bubbling at the surface. Of these one is singled out. He is a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years, which symbolizes that his illness is almost permanent. At this point the text does not tell us what his illness is. Jesus picks out this man and again we are not given a reason. Did he come across to Jesus as the one most in need? Was he the only one who did not have someone to help him? We are only told that Jesus “knew that he had been there a long time”. Jesus initiates the miracle by approaching the man. Yet, he does not force his healing on the man as is evident in the question that he asks him; “Do you want to be made well?” The man does not answer the question but begins his litany of complaints. He has already set limits to what he believes can be done for him. He does not expect the impossible. Jesus responds to the man’s complaints with three imperatives: “stand up, take your mat and walk”. That Jesus’ words are effective and transformative is evident in the fact that the man was made well. He obeys Jesus’ commands to the letter: “He took up his mat and walked”.
Immediately after the miracle, there is an objection on the part of “the Jews” (which here refers to the Jewish authorities who oppose Jesus and not the Jewish people in general) because the man was carrying his mat on the Sabbath and this constituted work which was not allowed on the Sabbath. The man responds that he is simply obeying what Jesus asked him to do. The Jewish leaders prefer to focus not on the fact that he had been made well, but on the one who told him to violate the Sabbath. The man cannot respond to the question of the Jewish leaders about who Jesus is, since he does not know Jesus.
At this point Jesus reenters the story and finds the man in the temple confirming that he has been made well and speaks to him about sin. He invites the man to move from the mere physical healing to spiritual healing. The man on encountering Jesus again, announces to the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well. While some see these words of the man as pointing Jesus out to the Jewish leaders, others interpret them as an announcement of the man about who Jesus is. Again the leaders refuse to focus on the positive action of the man being made well and focus instead on the violation of the Sabbath. This is why they decide to persecute him.

Two issues are brought out in this story. The first is that of illness. While we may be able to see with the eyes of our head, it is possible that we too like many of those who were at the pool may be psychologically or spiritually blind. We may not be able to see another person’s point of view and imagine sometimes that ours is the only correct viewpoint. We may also be blind to the sufferings of the numerous people around us and close ourselves in on our own small worlds. We may have the facility and use of both of our legs, but may have given in to lethargy or laziness. We may have lost the desire and drive to do what we have to do. We may be able to use all our limbs and move about freely, but may have given in to fear. We may also be carrying resentments, bitterness, anger, jealousy and even rage in our hearts because of which we are paralyzed and not able to move freely.
The second issue which the story brings out is that of law versus love. Like the Jewish leaders we are also guilty sometimes of focusing too much on the law and not enough on love. Like they were not able to focus on the man’s wholeness but only on the violation of the Sabbath, so we are sometimes prone to focus on the negatives rather than on the positive. We prefer often to give a negative interpretation to a person’s actions and words rather than a positive one.
The miracle thus calls each of us to give up the blindness of our heart and the lameness of our mind and the paralysis of our spirit and to focus on the positive of God’s unconditional healing and love made visible in Jesus.

World Cup?????

It seems quite evident that we in India do not have too much to cheer about and can hardly look up to anyone for inspiration. Why else would so many in India get delirious when our cricketers win what is termed as a World Cup with ONLY 14 Countries participating? Also, it was evident that the cricketers of at least 4 of those fourteen nations were not able to hold the bat properly. The amount of money that is being "WASTED" on these so called sportsmen makes my head spin. In a country where so many are not able to have even one square meal a day, to think that crores of rupees are being poured into the lap of cricketers who already have so much is scandalous and disgraceful to say the least. Mukesk Ambani is reported to have spent five crores on tickets for the finals and yet the same Mukesh Ambani was not able to even meet Warren Buffet and Bill Gates when invited to be generous.
I must admit that like the prophets of old I believe that the sins of all of these will catch up with them and they will have to answer for their scandalous actions to a God of the poor.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Do you believe in God only when things go the way you plan or do you continue to believe in all circumstances? Is your God only a miracle worker or is he a God with you and for you?

The healing of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) which is part of our text today begins after the dialogue with the Samaritan woman (4:1-42). The first two verses of today’s text (4:43-45) serve as an interlude between the two stories. John uses the saying of the prophet having no honour in his own country, to show why Jesus came to Galilee. In John, Judea is Jesus’ own country and since he was not accepted there, he had to go to others including the Samaritans. Like the Samaritans, the Galileans welcome him.
The first verse of the miracle story that follows is an introduction narrating the case. The son of a royal official is ill in Capernaum. The mention of Cana and a summary of the first miracle of turning water into wine anticipate another miracle. The healing in this miracle, however, is done at a distance. The official makes a request for Jesus to come down and heal his son who is at the point of death. The immediate response of Jesus is directed not to the official alone but to all. That Jesus did heal the official’s son is an indication that his words are not meant merely as a rebuke, but go deeper. Though the people will base their faith in him merely on signs and wonders, Jesus invites them to realize that these are not what will motivate him to act. He will act only in accordance with the will of God. Human expectation cannot determine his action. Even after hearing this seeming rebuke, the official is not deterred. He perseveres in his request. With a word and from a distance, Jesus performs the healing. The official’s faith is Jesus is seen in his obedience to the command to “Go”. He does go on his way.
The attestation of the miracle is provided by the servants of the official who meet him when he is still on his way to his home. The official on further enquiry realizes that Jesus is the one who has performed the healing and is led to faith. The man now believes in Jesus, not only in Jesus’ word.
At the end of the miracle John remarks that this was then second sign that Jesus worked after coming to Galilee. In his Gospel, John always refers to the miracles of Jesus as signs.

Sickness and brokenness are very much visible in our world today and most are in need of some form of healing or another. At times doctors are not able to diagnose an illness and at other times when they are and perform a complicated operation, ask the patient and family members to pray and have faith. There is only so much that they can do, the rest is in God’s hands. The official in the story had probably gone to Jesus as a last resort (his son was not merely ill but at the point of death) after having explored and exhausted all other avenues. He is single minded in his purpose and will let nothing deter him. He believes and perseveres. His faith gains for him not only his son’s life but also the gift of faith in Jesus.
This means that faith cannot be based on external signs alone and remain at that level. If it is and does, then one will look at Jesus as a mere miracle worker. The focus here would be only on the actions of Jesus and not on his person from which his actions flow. If one is able to go beyond the action to the person of Jesus, then one will also be able to see who God is: God with us, for us and in us.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Some time ago, a young man came to see me to pour out his heart. He was a self-admitted workaholic, because of which he was increasingly distancing himself from his wife and two children. His marriage was on the verge of breaking up, since he could not find time to spend with his family. He was caught in a vicious circle. He worked hard in order to provide for his family and the harder he worked and the more time he spent in the office, the further was he moving away from his family. As he poured his heart out, I simply listened. His job had become his obsession. He wanted to give his wife and children things he had never had as a child and this effort to gain all things for his family became an enemy of the persons he loved most. He finally looked up at me and exclaimed, “I’ve lost sight of everything that matters most!” The fox says something similar to the Prince in the book titled “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The young man realized that he had lost his vision. He had not lost his external sight or vision, but the inner vision, the heart vision, which enables one to see clearly. He left my room with a promise to set his priorities right and thanked me for listening.
The loss of vision, which the young man above experienced, is similar to the one experienced by both Samuel as narrated by the first reading of today and the Pharisees in the Gospel text. In the case of Samuel, the reason for the loss vision is due to mistaken perception and judging by outward appearances alone. However, God makes it clear to him that he judges not by the external but looks at the heart. In the case of the Pharisees, the loss of vision was caused by their set opinions and understanding. They wanted to follow the law as thoroughly as they could but did not realize that they had mixed it up with their interpretation and preconceived ideas and thus had shut the door to any kind of revelation that God was constantly making in Jesus through his Spirit. They were so sure of everything--that God did not work on the Sabbath, that Moses was God's only spokesperson, that anyone born blind and anyone who broke the Sabbath had to be a sinner, that God did not work through sinners, that God did not work on sinners and that furthermore no one could teach them anything. In this context, it must be noted that John makes abundantly clear in this text that physical illness is not the effect of sin. Rather sin here is connected with spiritual blindness and anyone who rejects the true light who is Jesus is guilty of sin and so is spiritually blind. This is an even more dangerous blindness than the physical one. The man born physically blind comes to both physical sight and spiritual sight in his being able to see and recognize Jesus as the one who is sent. Through opposition and persecution the blind man moves from a confession of “the man Jesus,” to “prophet,” to “one from God” and finally to a confession of Jesus as the Son of Man and Lord.

The second reading of today reminds the Ephesians and us, that like the man in the Gospel who represents all of us, we were also blind and stumbling in darkness. But now we live in the light of Christ and his Good News. And that light is seen in the way we behave, in the way we relate with other people in "complete goodness and right living and truth". Our lives are to have a transparency where there is no darkness, no hidden behaviour which we would be ashamed to reveal to others.

We have been “enlightened” through baptism and are commissioned to confess and witness to our faith.. Imitating the journey of the man toward greater insight about Jesus, we progress to an inner enlightenment so they can ultimately confess the crucified one as the Son of Man, who, when lifted up, will draw all things to himself. Lest the Pharisees be too harshly blamed, we must ask about their own blindness. Of course, acknowledging our own spiritual blindness can be embarrassing, painful, and threatening. To confess our own groping darkness and howling demons, our frustrations, fears, and failures, unnerves us. And as unsettling as that confession is to make to our own selves, there is the added anxiety of what others might say, think, or do. Whether it was tradition, jealousy, or legalism, something blinded the religious leaders and prevented them from seeing the obvious. What blinds us to the truths that we should be seeing? Regardless of what it is, Jesus offers to remove the blindness and show us the light.