Man born blind

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If a blind man gaining sight Jn 9:1-41 isn’t an eye opener, listen to that conflict building between Jesus and the Pharisees. In the healing of the “Man born blind” there are two story lines taking place. One is of Jesus heling that man, and the other is the Pharisees accusing Jesus of going against the laws of the Sabbath for preforming that miracle. The man healed says little, he occasionally answers some questions presented before him. The story tells little about the wonderful experience of vision, it mentions little about seeing the world for the first time. The majority of the story is prosecutor and defense. There is a question that is asked at the beginning of the narrative and it would be a shame to let that question to become lost in the argument. The question the disciples asked Jesus is: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” That question contains some important details. The first is that the man’s blindness us the result of sin, the question wants to determine where the burden of sin lies. Is it from the parent, or the son? The question was not unusual for the time period, infirmaries were commonly considered to be a curse from God. It was a retribution for a sinful act. If this writer recalls correctly, according to the Torah a parent’s sin was not passed on to the children. According to the law if someone bore the curse from sin, it was through their own fault. That is not the answer Jesus gives. His answer is an emphatic neither, the blindness is not the result of a sin committed. To Jesus it is not even a curse. That might not seem to be a bold statement in the light of today’s medical advancements, but in the first century it went against a fundamental structure of society. People would have stood back in puzzlement. Religious leaders would have a furrow in their brow, they would have been challenged by the response. Jesus response would have been met with disapproval. The problem is that Jesus healed the man born blind, the gauntlet was thrown to the ground. Now there is a duel.

In the narrative a lot of detail is presented describing the scene. The first bit of evidence is the mechanism by which this man regains sight, but first notice the man does not ask to be healed. Why? I assume since he never knew sight, he accepted his handicap. But Jesus does open his eyes, and here is the quote on how: When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,” I know in the bible there are a few references to ointments for the eyes but in that quote one thing stands out. Jesus spit on the ground and made clay. Jesus made something out of dirt or clay, and he infused it with something of his own. He formed it with the dirt of the earth and his spittle. The description sounds awfully crude, but how were we formed? God formed us from clay, and infused us with his breath. Man and the ointment are both ordinary dirt and something divine. Call it a divine breath or sacred spittle, they are the same.

Is it difficult to miss that connection between God and man? Suddenly the God of the Old Testament gets much closer, or was the LORD ever that far away? There is a change in perception that happens here. Eyes were opened in more way than one. Jesus certainly does challenge the Old Testaments view of the relationship between God and Man. Jesus opens the eyes of many, but he also places anger in the eyes of quite a few. He is challenging the teachers, and they question his authority.

Jesus challenges the teachings of the authorities, and this places the anger in their eyes. Don’t forget the initial question about whose sin was responsible for the man’s blindness, and don’t forget Jesus response. Jesus said the blindness was not caused by sin. Jesus did tell the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, and those pools frequently were used for ritual cleaning. The Pharisees did not marvel at how the pool of Siloam cured the man, they were angered that the LORD healed that blind man on the Sabbath. They knew the source of the cure, and that angered them. Most of the rest if the argument is an attempt to discredit Jesus. They try to discredit him for healing in the Sabbath. They suggest that the blind man was in collusion with Jesus, and finally they suggest that the man was never blind. All of their attempts are discredited.

The blind man healed does see Christ differently than the authorities, at first he sees Jesus as a prophet. Jesus engages that man about who Jesus is. Jesus tells him, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Throughout the narrative Jesus gives hint of His nature, and of His mission. Here Jesus say’s I am the light of the world. In other parts if the discussion Jesus states “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” As that blind man gains his vision, a vision of Jesus Christ also begins to appear. This causes rejoicing among some, and they become disciples. While some rejoice, anger builds up in the eyes of others. They preach and plot and malign themselves against the Lord Jesus Christ.

It can be called anger in their eyes, or delusion, or a lie. It is not the truth. I see the same thing today, it is a conflict that continues. Some see that light of Christ clearly and follow His way. Ohers, they cannot accept His Good-News for whatever reason, and journey towards a darkness. Some follow fads that sometimes glitter on the horizon. Today it is a commonplace New-Age philosophy. Others, weakened by their own frailties, fail to accept His forgiveness. Stubbornly they continue on their own way. They fail to heed his advice and bathe in that pool of water, the pool of forgiveness. That man born blind? He welcomed the LORDS intercession and gladly accepted His action. That blind man realized who the Christ was, and what he had done. That blind man was thankful for that light he had received, and then let that same light guide him on his way. The contrast between the man born blind and the Pharisees is as clear as night and day. The man born blind clearly enjoyed basking in that light of day, Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 31

1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

Eph 5:8-14

Jn 9:1-41

A mountain walk

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The transfiguration is always an interesting reading with many details that each individually tell a subtly different emphasis to that transfiguration of Christ witnessed by those apostles on that mountaintop. It can be the placement of the story within the gospel that gives emphasis to a journey and also a learning curve. It can be the mention of pitching the tents, and the meaning of tents within the Jewish tradition. It can emphasize the epiphany and those words spoken, “this is my beloved Son.” Every detail, and every line of that testament is rich with meaning. Mt 17:1-9

Sometimes it is rewarding to  look at that story at its most simple element. It is the Transfiguration of Jesus where the Apostle’s witness Jesus as divine and hear him announced as the Son of God. It is an epiphany. It is interesting to look at that gospel account, and also to look at where that gospel is being proclaimed. It is the gospel reading being proclaimed at Mass during the liturgy of the word. It is also proclaimed half way through the biblical gospel . It is proclaimed on the second Sunday of Lent, a few weeks before the Easter feast. It is proclaimed on a mountain top, after an ascent and before a decent. What makes that interesting is that proclamation can be taken as part of a timeline, it concludes the first half of the liturgy.

Following that part of the liturgy is that liturgy of the Eucharist where bread and wine is transfigured, or more properly the transubstantiation into the body and blood of Christ. In looking at that transfiguration on a mountaintop in the context of the Mass, one can view that event not simply as a historical account but rather as something we also witness within the Mass. We take that journey as the Mass processes from beginning to conclusion, and we can envision those tents through the tabernacle and more importantly within ourselves. We hear those words, “this is my beloved Son” as “behold, the Body of Christ.” This is Jesus who takes away the sins of the world.” Upon reception of communion, we walk with Christ to continue that journey.

In a historical context, the Transfiguration occurs prior to the Passion events. It often is described as an event that builds the faith of the disciples so that they might endure the crucifixion of the LORD. The road they walk is difficult, and it is about to become treacherous. The transfiguration gives them strength, as the transubstantiation of the  Eucharist does for us. For an instant they get a glimpse of Christ’s divinity.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah gives the disciples the link to their faith, they serve as witness to this event. It is a reminder of where they have travelled from. The Mass does not simply read from the Gospel of the New Testament, that New Testament is related to the Old. A simple reminder, and the touch of Jesus a reminder that their journey is not yet complete. They have been enlightened and nourished but they must continue their walk. Moses face also glows in the presence of God, he descends with the tablets. Jesus with the Apostles. An important point on a journey, but not the journey’s end.

When the disciples hear “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” they fall prostrate afraid, but Jesus touches them and says “Rise and be not afraid.” And He says tell no one until he is raised from the dead. The touch and the command are common in Jesus healings. Jesus frequently heals those around him, but tells them to tell no one. This time though He tells them to wait until after He is raised from the dead. When do they speak and tell of what they saw? Later Thomas will touch His wounds. Touch is important, it heals.

Lent like Advent is a season of preparation. Both seasons remind us often what we must do to prepare for the LORD. Lent is full of devotionals that we participate in to better prepare ourselves for Easter. Its trio of Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving come quickly to mind. This gospel isn’t so much about what we have to do, but it is about what we have to get through  trials. They are the gifts Jesus Christ left us. Like the Apostles and disciples we walk with Christ on a journey, and along that journey Christ has given us gifts to help us along the way. They are his Church, and the successors to the Apostles. They are the scriptures, the gospels. They are the prayers and the sacraments, and they are the Mass. They are the same gifts that guided the Apostles as they walked with the LORD even if they did not always recognize them.

(this is an expanded version of an earlier post)

Second Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 25

A message from Jonah

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An interesting point about Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh Jon 3:1-10 is that they listened to him. Jonah was not a polished speaker, and he was not enthusiastic. He did not want to deliver the message, and he had nothings but contempt for the people who were to receive it. They were his enemy. Jonah was belligerent, cantankerous, and carried a grudge. He was uncooperative and did not want to be there. In spite of that he delivered the Lords message anyway. Why did those people listen to Jonah? They did not. They did not listen to the messenger, but heard that message and knew exactly who it was from. They recognized Gods voice in a grumpy belligerent man. Jonah was not the one they listened to. When Jesus preached Lk 11:29-32 who did people hear?

(I can add a bit here. Jesus disciples heard first a prophet, and then the messiah, and finally the Son of God. To simplify things, they heard the word of God. The people of Nineveh recognized the same word when Jonah said repent, even though they did not sing any praise to Jonah. The LORD does work in mysterious ways. Think of where Moses heard the voice of God. It was a burning bush. Think of Elijah at the cave feeling the LORDS presence in a passing breeze. Did those people see God in Jonah? No. Did they recognize Gods message through Jonah? They did heed the Word and repent.)

 

 

Almsgiving and prayer

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charity_edited

Well, if yesterday’s reading from the Book of Genesis reminded us of our quest for knowledge of good and evil, todays readings remind us that learning the difference between the two has a bit of a learning curve. Moses Lv 19:1-2, 11-18 in his address to the children of Israel tells them what they should do to be holy in the eyes of God. Jesus in his address Mt 25:31-46  does much of the same as He reminds the disciples that they will be separated like goats versus sheep. He explains to His flock what they must do to remain in His fold. Making decisions has its consequences, one must learn the difference between good and evil. Errors, often made, are a fact of life. There are of course different ways of discovering the difference between good and evil, there are different techniques of making sound moral choices. Moses and Jesus do have their own approaches. For Moses law becomes a tool of choice. For Jesus it is prayer and spirit. Jesus does pray a lot, He often distances himself from the crowd to pray. Jesus also gives instruction, he teaches that we must treat others as God treats us. Today’s discourse is all about charity, it is about feeding the hungry and giving drink to those who thirst. It is about clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, and welcoming the stranger. Jesus preaches good behavior.

Two of Lent’s themes are emphasized in today’s gospel. The obvious one is Charity, and often in today’s culture that is interpreted as almsgiving. Give food to the hungry, and clothing to the naked, and shelter to the homeless are all forms of almsgiving. They are all forms of giving out of Christian love. Charity is love.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

The other Lenten theme is prayer, though that is not as noticeable as Charity. In deciding between good and evil takes discernment and it takes guidance. Moses offered guidance through the law. Jesus offered the same trough teachings, parables, sermons, miracles, and prayer. The last, prayer, takes many forms one of which is reading scripture. Mass is a form of prayer too. Both Moses and Jesus are offering a sermon to the people; that is a common feature of liturgy. Prayer takes many forms.

To go back to charity, often charitable acts are reduced to “giving to the poor” and the poor are frequently reduced to those who are economically in distress. To be hungry certainly can be those who are deprived of food, it also includes those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Often those with the least in economic terms offer the most to others in spiritual terms. That is a subtle reminder that a charitable act should not depreciate or underestimate the value of the receiver. Often the charitable donation should be seen as a payment made for a service rendered. Giving to the homeless serves as a stark reminder of the value and dignity of every life. Those facing hardship often pay a hefty price teaching the wealthy that simple lesson. Prayer and almsgiving should not be separated, one enhances the other.