25 March 2017

FROM BLINDNESS TO SIGHT

IV SUNDAY OF LENT
1 samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; ephesians 5:8-14; john 9:1-41

author john h. griffin was blinded in an explosion during world war ii. twelve years later, walking down a street near his parents’ home, he suddenly began to see what he described as «red sand». a specialist later told him that a blockage of blood to an optic nerve had abruptly cleared causing him to see. commenting on his experience, griffin said: «you can’t imagine what it is like for a father to see his children for the first time.» 


the blind man of the gospel had an experience similar to griffin’s: after jesus anoints the man and he washes in the pool, a son saw his parents for the first time! he saw more than his parents; he saw jesus as his LORD.
while his physical sight was instantaneously restored, his spiritual sight grew in stages. for him, jesus is «the man called jesus», «a prophet», «a man of GOD»… and finally he makes a simple act of faith: «i do believe, LORD». 
paradoxically, the pharisees/jews make an opposite journey; they become increasingly blind. they expel the man from the synagogue. even his parents disassociate themselves from him out of fear.

for the evangelist, this is not merely another miraculous cure. john is writing to a community that is experiencing rejection from jewish society. through this sign, he presents the blind man as a model of spiritual growth to encourage them to continue to «see» jesus as their LORD.

like the blind man, we have been anointed and washed in the waters of baptism. 
have I grown in my faith response to jesus: do i «see» him as my LORD… or is he merely a man, a prophet, a man from GOD? 
am i ready to risk rejection in my desire to see jesus?

18 March 2017

THIRST QUENCHER

III SUNDAY OF LENT
exodus 17:3-7; romans 5:1-2, 5-8; john 4:5-42

several years ago, i had gone trekking with a group of friends. by mid-day, after trekking six hours, we were half-way to our destination. we were also out of water! there was no water source or human habitation in sight. after another three hours, we chanced upon a tiny stagnant pool of water. we were tired and thirsty. and so, though the water was dank, we drank.


thirst! this was the condition of the wandering israelites. 
it was thirst that made them grumble against moses; lament their liberation from egypt; and question GOD’s presence among them.
GOD’s response? he gave them life-giving water, a reminder of his continued and powerful presence among them

thirst! this was the condition of the samaritan woman.
it was physical thirst that made her come to the well in the noon-day sun; emotional thirst which took her through six relationships; spiritual thirst which made her dialogue with a jew.
GOD’s response? he gives the woman life-giving water. he satisfies her deep longing for love and understanding; he treats her as a human person, with respect and dignity. through a seven-part catechesis, jesus guides her from ignorance to faith; she grows progressively in her knowledge of jesus’ identity: «a jew,» «sir,» «prophet,» and «messiah.» she goes from being a social outcast to becoming a disciple and a missionary!

thirst! this is our condition. 
we, too, have physical, emotional, spiritual thirsts. GOD’s response to our thirst is similar to his response to the thirst of israel and the samaritan woman. he fills us with living water. we need not go back to the well because the source of living water is within us… from our baptism.

do i still go to other wells, or do i allow the living water to be my thirst-quencher? 
in what way can i, like the woman, invite people to «come and see» and encounter jesus, and drink of the living water that i have drunk?

11 March 2017

LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE

II SUNDAY OF LENT
genesis 12:1-4a; 2 timothy 1:8b-10; matthew 17:1-9  

a king once received a gift of two peregrine falcons, the most magnificent birds he had ever seen. he gave the falcons to his head falconer to be trained.
months later, the head falconer informed the king that though one falcon was flying majestically, the other bird had not moved from its branch. the king summoned sorcerers from all the land; no one could make the bird fly. the king then ordered his chief minister to get a farmer… someone from the countryside.
the next morning, the king was thrilled to see the falcon soaring high above the palace. he summoned the farmer, and asked: «how did you make the falcon fly?» the farmer replied: «your highness, i only cut the branch where the bird was sitting.»

if we want to find our place in life, we need to get off our branches, we need to leave our comfort zones. this is the thrust of today’s readings.


in the first reading, GOD tells abram (later abraham) to leave his homeland and his father’s house (his «branch»), and journey to the unknown. while abram experiences difficulties and sufferings because of this «leaving», the result is a life of blessing and glory.

in the verses preceding today’s gospel text of the transfiguration, matthew tells us «jesus began to show his disciples that he must… undergo great suffering… and be killed and on the third day be raised.» and today’s passage ends: jesus commanded them: «do not tell the vision to anyone until the son of man has been raised from the dead.»
matthew thus indicates that there is a close and necessary connection between suffering and glory, death and life. he skilfully highlights this point: the three disciples who are at the transfiguration will be at jesus’ agony at gethsemane! to experience life, we have to experience, paradoxically, suffering and death.
however, it is not easy to leave our comfort zones; our very natural impulse is to stay in a comfort zone. surrounded by magnificence and glory, peter wants to remain: «i will make three tents»! but peter must listen to jesus’ teaching that the way to fullness of life is through suffering and death, through a scary unknown.

am i ready to leave behind my comfort zone; am i ready to journey through uncertainty and difficulty? what are the «branches» i must leave/cut to live my identity and experience new life?

04 March 2017

JESUS, THE HERO TO IMITATE

I SUNDAY OF LENT
genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; romans 5:12-19; matthew 4:1-11

at a first communion liturgy, the celebrant asked the candidates whom they wanted to imitate. there were different answers: one wanted to imitate hrithik roshan, another priyanka chopra, and one said «jesus».

the liturgy of the first sunday of lent presents jesus as the hero to imitate and follow. 


unfortunately, most of us imitate other heroes… especially adam (and eve)!
adam and eve succumbed to temptation in the garden. temptation came to them at three levels: physical (good for food); emotional (a delight to the eyes); and intellectual (to be desired to make one wise). 
but the foundation of the temptation (and the fall) was the doubt about GOD’s word that the serpent planted in eve’s mind: «did GOD say?»; and the blatant denial of that word: «you will not die.» 
and instead of enjoying all that was «very good», they chose the forbidden.

like adam, jesus was tempted. unlike adam, jesus does not succumb. after his baptism, he is clear about his identity as the son of GOD, and does not make choices which preclude him living his identity.
further, the three temptations in matthew’s account mirror the three tests israel faced in the desert. while israel—called son by GOD—failed each test, jesus is obedient son, does not. jesus
- refuses to mistrust GOD and to exploit his power to provide himself with bread, and manifests his total dependence on GOD. 
- refuses to seek proof of GOD’s presence with him; 
- affirms his uncompromising loyalty to GOD. 

our needs and desires—physical, emotional and intellectual—could become channels for temptation. 
how/when do my legitimate needs become channels for temptation? what triggers make me choose the forbidden instead of the good?

adam and eve failed in the garden. israel failed in the desert. they chose the easy way out, and failed to live their identity as GOD’s children. jesus did not fail in the desert; he is the obedient son.
what prevents me from living as GOD’s son/daughter? whom do i imitate: adam (and eve) or jesus?