Much of the Office of Readings for the past days has focused on Moses and the Book of Leviticus. In that book much of the rules of behavior are described, it is a book of laws. Those commands describe an ethics, and that ethical standard was different from the people that surround them. It is what distinguished and defined them. In an essence it describes who they were, it answered the fundamental question of “Who am I.” Interesting they received those commands from one named I AM. Who am I? I am a Christian.
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons
That is a little sniper of the gospel. Two things happen. First Jesus drives out a demon and second an argument begins. Today the argument might be called a debate, but whatever. Sides are taken, one side is right and the other wrong but neither will admit it. What modern analogy comes to mind? CNN versus FOX NEWS is one. The point is Jesus still drives out demons, and people still argue about it. Perhaps that is good. Vigorous arguments look at all sides if an issue. Good arguments prosecute and defend, they are well thought out. In the end all points are considered before a verdict is reached. The process can be perfect and it can be perfectly perverted. A good debate can be swayed by money and power and influence: a good debate can be perverted when the only consideration is winning, a good debate can lose sight of what it originally had sought. It can become blinded to the truth. The crowd missed the miracle of the cured mute, to them the wrong side had won. Did someone forget to let go of their ego?
Click, click, click of the typewriter keys on the third Sunday of Lent. Today’s reading has to be one of the longest narratives in the New Testament Jn 4:5-42 . When Jesus gets into a discussion with that Samaritan woman at the well, it is a lengthy and long drawn out dialogue. That is particularly notable because the ill feelings between the Jews of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria. They would have avoided each other at all costs. Even more peculiar was that the conversation was between a Jewish male and a Samaritan woman. To converse presented some cultural peculiarities for sure. This cast of characters is but one portion of this dialogue.
As the first reading Ex 17:3-7 suggests the story has as much to do about water as it does the conversation. In the OT reading the people are complaining during the exodus. To quench the building doubt and anger the LORD has Moses bang his staff against a rock to so that water might flow from it. In the NT reading the woman is drawing water from a cistern, it is Jacobs well. The third mention of water is when Jesus tells the woman that he can bring her “living water” so that she might never thirst again. Living water has a specific meaning in Judaism, it is the water that can make one ritually clean. Its requirements are that it be unconstrained and free flowing. The water from the rock could be considered living water, it flowed freely when the rock was struck. The water from a cistern is not living water, it is stagnant and contained. An example of living water is a stream with fish, and fish are prominent in Lent. Those are just a few notes on water. Think of all the other accounts of water in the Gospel, baptism, holy water, the flood, the red sea. It has the dual purpose of destruction and cleansing. Water both takes and restores life. In baptism one dies in the water and rises in Christ. John the Baptist baptized in a water of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus does much the same at this well. He draws much out of the woman as is evident by the lengthy conversation, and He offers the living water that is Jesus Christ. Confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
The theme of water, living versus stagnant comes into play in another way. Living water is free flowing. It is not contained. Notice how Jesus is not constrained by social conventions. He freely crosses into Samaria ignoring and destroying a boundary. He speaks to the woman and accepts her, and that destroys yet another boundary. Finally in offering her that living water he offers her an unconditional forgiveness and welcomes her back. At that well Jesus broke every barrier that stood between that woman and salvation. At the end of the dialogue she is truly free.
The conversation speaks on a number of different levels. For the personal, baptism and confession (Jesus does draw a confession from this woman by asking about her husband) certainly enter the discussion. It also speaks on an international level, Jesus and the woman at the start of the conversation are from different countries. The conversation has an ecumenical dimension also. In society isn’t there also an effort to destigmatize also, Didn’t Jesus ask her for a glass of water? Didn’t He ignore the stigma of associating with a woman who was at the fringes of society? Jesus shows that Gods live and mercy have no bounds, it cannot be contained by any invention of man.
I have not even begun to talk about when the Apostles return, that is another discussion
The Burning bush and its testament. An Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 Lesson number one, be attentive to Angels! As Moses approached the bush, God told him to come no closer and to remove his sandals; because Moses now stood on holy ground. An Angel appeared to Mary and said she would bear our LORD. Mary listened to Angels. God was revealed to Moses in a burning bush, He was revealed to Christians in a manger. Moses pondered why that bush did not burn. Many woodsmen know that live wood does not burn.The tree of Life, the burning bush, and the Holy Cross of our LORD. The God of the living. Remove your sandals as you stand on hallowed ground. When Jesus sent out his apostles, what did He say they should do? Take no money, nor a second tunic, nor a walking staff. He did say to keep their sandals on their feet when entering a town to deliver the Good News. If that gospel was refused, they were top regard that town as if they shaken the sand from their sandals. As God delivered a message to Moses to deliver to the Israelites, Jesus delivered a message to the Apostles. They were to deliver to the world. It was a message of salvation, one that would allow the faithful to once again walk barefoot on hallowed ground. The gospel brings the freedom to remove ones sandals. It brings holiness to the land, and it removes the caltrops cast by Satan that hinder our life. The caltrops that hinder our pilgrimage journeying towards the Promised Land. Moses pondered a burning bush and listened to an Angel, Mary was obedient to an Angel’s message. God enters our lives.
There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”
God enters our lives for a reason, Jesus enters into creation as messiah. He enters to lead us back to the Father. How many times does God enter into our lives? That is something to think about. To listen to the voice of an Angel, we must be receptive to an Angel’s voice. That requires an open mind and heart. How can a Christian listen to angels without pondering the immaculate heart of Mary, a heart receptive to the Angel Gabriel and a heart willing to intercede on our behalf? Hail Mary, it’s a prayer.
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
Lectio Divina is also a prayer, it is the prayer of sacred scripture. These Gospel readings are a prayer. In today’s readings Jesus reveals something about God to us. He separates sin from events that are beyond our control. So different is the ancient worlds view of life and death. Lk 13:1-9. A body can be living, but if the sin severe enough the person is dead. Death of a soul is equivalent to the death of a body. Not equivalent, death of the soul is much worse as that death is for eternity. Christ’s mission was the redemption of both the living and the dead.That is something to think about when considering “the blood of the Gentiles that was mixed with our sacrifice.” Ponder the relationship between life, death, sin, and grace. Scripture is to be pondered, to be meditated on. In doing so it becomes a prayer.
And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none…
Parables also are to be pondered, examined, mulled over, meditated upon, and thought about. Their meanings are varied, and often influenced by the context in which they are evaluated. The parable of the fig tree that bears no fruit . Causally it emphasized the importance of the fruit. The fruit of faith. It emphasis the effort it takes to bear fruit, the tilling of the soil. Faith put to practice. It also emphasis Gods mercy, that tree is not immediately discarded. It is given time to come to fruition. In human terms it is given an opportunity at redemption, forgiveness, repentance. Parables though are to be read again and again. Each individual gleans their own conclusions, each individual learns their own lessons. I stop here.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
When Jesus makes this statement, I at once both immediately understand it, and am confused by it. I understand it because I have studied Christianity. I am familiar with His Churches catechesis, and many have made sure that I know the difference between a law and the spirit of that law. I have grown up in a culture where religious laws are interpreted, and the reason that they are interpreted is because a literal obedience leaves so much room for abuse. Look to the holy lands today and witness the smashing of ancient artifacts because someone thought they violate a religious decree. Yet as much as that ancient art was deemed against a religious law, a religious argument could have been made for that record of civilization to be cherished. Literally the law might have stated that no icon representing God can be made. Was a law also made that stated an ancient peoples artwork representing their god should be destroyed? The letter of the law might state that one should not make an image of God. The spirit though might suggest that nothing man makes can match the splendor of God, and it is wrong to deceive someone to thinking what they peddle is good as God. The spirit is against deceit and idolatry, while the letter can be misinterpreted against ancient artifacts. Sure , in an ancient civilization Moses would have smashed an idol like he did the golden calf. In the day it was created it lead people away from God. In a museum today though, that same idol can enrich a persons sense of culture and lead them towards God. How much better for someone to learn the reasoning behind a law than for an ignorant person extract vengeance because they think someone broke a law. How much worse for a person to manipulate a law to serve their own selfish interest. What a gift to be guided through the history and meaning of a law and their varied interpretations.
My confusion with that is from trying to understand it as those disciples heard it. I have trouble sometimes understanding the burden of a religious law enforced by a tribunal, though current events have enlightened me. Much more than stone has been shattered by thugs enforcing Gods decrees, how thankful I am Jesus came to fulfill those laws and teach what they truly mean.I think of the human lives lost through the misguided enforcement of a law wrongly interpreted.
I should also add a note though that those people who are destroying those ancient artifacts can always exclaim “but you do not know or understand our laws!” and they would be right except even among their own religion a Queen of theirs proclaimed that what they do is not part of their religion , but that they are only crazy fanatics. I am sure she does not abandon her laws either. I wonder if those disciples of Christ, so familiar with how laws were enforced, understood what Jesus meant when He said He did not come to abolish the law. Those ancient disciples also saw many laws enforced, and misinterpreted, with painful consequences. I wonder if they understood that when Gods law was read and followed correctly, only the burden was removed and not the law.
Remember and pray for the Jordanian Pilot, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, murdered by those who falsely interpreted a law, for their own gain, falsely in the name of God.