Speak Lord: That we may see

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The Gospel next Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent is again a long episode from John’s Gospel talking of healing and conversion – and this time also of resistance to knowing the love of God.

As Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

‘As long as the day lasts
I must carry out the work of the one who sent me;
the night will soon be here when no one can work.
As long as I am in the world
I am the light of the world.’

Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man, and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (a name that means ‘sent’). So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.

His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one.’ Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ The man himself said, ‘I am the man.’ So they said to him, ‘Then how do your eyes come to be open?’ ‘The man called Jesus’ he answered ‘made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, “Go and wash at Siloam”; so I went, and when I washed I could see.’ They asked, ‘Where is he?’ ‘I don’t know’ he answered.

They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.’ Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them.

So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man. However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind and had gained his sight, without first sending for his parents and asking them, ‘Is this man really your son who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but we do not know how it is that he can see now, or who opened his eyes. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, ‘He is old enough; ask him.’

So the Jews again sent for the man and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! For our part, we know that this man is a sinner.’ The man answered, ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He replied, ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’ At this they hurled abuse at him: ‘You can be his disciple,’ they said ‘we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man replied, ‘Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes, and you don’t know where he comes from! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to men who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind; if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.’ ‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.

Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
Jesus said:

‘It is for judgement
that I have come into this world,
so that those without sight may see
and those with sight turn blind.’

Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘We are not blind, surely?’ Jesus replied:

‘Blind? If you were,
you would not be guilty,
but since you say, “We see,”
your guilt remains.’

John 9:1-41

As we draw nearer to Holy Week and the Liturgies of the Passion of the Lord we do well to consider resistance to the teaching and person of Jesus. The readings of these days provide us with ample witness to them.

But what resistance to him is there in us? What deadness or deafness, blindness and prejudice have you noticed in yourself (as well as others!) as we have made our way through Lent?

  • Bring these to the Lord in prayer for his healing.
  • Bring yourself before the Lord for healing and new enightenment.

Healing of the Man born Blind. Worcester Cathedral. (c) 2017, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: send your Spirit…

Holy Spirit, Dresden

The gospel reading on Sunday comes from the Gospel of John. It tells of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, but not the Pentecost event that Luke/Acts relates: it tells of a quieter more intimate sharing on the first day of the week, the first day of the Resurrection, the first day of the new Creation.

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

John 20:19-23

The Holy Spirit is gifted to the disciples and so is the responsibility for living authentic to the Spirit, to Jesus and the Father.

  • Whose sins do you forgive?
  • Whose do you retain?

Holy Spirit, Dresden. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Speak, Bread of Life

Exposition, Piarist Church, Cracow aOn the 18th Sunday of Ordinary time in Year B, ie next Sunday, the gospel reading continues the reading from chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, begun last week.

Last week’s passage ended with Jesus heading for the hills to escape the enthusiasm of the crowd, that would crown him king.

When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’ So they said, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,
the true bread;
for the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.’

John 6:24-35

On their meeting the people seem a little sheepish, the enthusiasm of yesterday (?) seems to have ebbed away. All they can ask is ‘when did you come here?’ Hardly the most pressing question to ask the prophet they would make king!

Jesus responds to their clumsiness with words that challenge. He calls them to something more than they might be asking for.

They show themselves willing, just about.

But this passage ends with challenge also. They want bread, life giving bread. Jesus offers (only) himself.

  • How happy with that are they?
  • How happy with that are we?
  • For what do we long? What is it we strive for?

Taste and see: the first fruits of God’s kingdom

Beatitudes 3Yesterday’s Gospel, that for the 17th Sunday in Year B, began the Church’s reading of chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’

Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.

When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

John 6:1-15

A story that starts of so promisingly ends with Jesus fleeing for the hills.

Two questions

  • Why does the crowd want to make him king?
  • Why does Jesus flee for the hills?

Why does the crowd want to make him king?

They want to make him king because they find in him the fulfilment of God’s promises. He sets the sick free from their illness; he liberates prisoners from slavery to sin; he feeds the hungry. God comes with his prophet to set his people free. Is Jesus a new Moses? Maybe the closeness of Passover might put the idea in people’s heads. But, more than a prophet, they want a king!

They want setting free from their oppressors, sickness, sin, hunger and especially the Romans. So they want a king – a new Maccabean, a new Solomon, a new David, a new Saul. But they have forgotten what the scriptures teaches… Israel is not well served by its kings. Saul was a bad king; David an adulterer who had such promise but did not deliver; Solomon who had wisdom amongst the nations but whose kingdom collapsed after him; and the Maccabees who won back Israel but lost it again, amidst corruption and all the rest. But the crowd ishungry – for a new king. There is the saying ‘third time lucky’, but this is getting ridiculous.

Why, faced with this enthusiasm for his coronation or kingly anointing, does Jesus flee for the hills?

In his baptism he received the anointing that made him Priest, Prophet and King. And his Kingship is lived out in service and love – in sacrifice, the gift of his Body and Blood as John makes clear in the rest of chapter 6.

Israel has its king – as I Samuel makes very clear. And it is God.

Jesus is already the faithful son of the Father. He proclaims the nearness of the kingdom, but not in anything as vapid and passing as a new monarchy, rather a kingdom firmly established in the fatherhood of God.

He shares the first fruits of the kingdom, but people are greedy for ‘more’. They seek to take the kingdom by force and not receive it as gift.

They have received so much, been fed to the full but they are still hungry, for finally they are not satisfied by what God offers.

Are we?

Photograph of statue of Jesus teaching in the hills of Galilee, Domus Galilei. (c) 2012, Allen Morris

Taste and See: The New Day

 

Meadows, Oxford

The Gospel  for the 2nd Sunday of the Year, in Year B, comes from the Gospel of John, (rather than ‘the Gospel of the Year’ – namely, Mark’s Gospel).

John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher –’where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.

John 1:35-42

The narrative is tightly and sparely told. Beyond the essentials of the story there is use of titles to describe Jesus which function as short-hand (or teasers?) for his meaning. There is care to name some of the persons featured in the narratives, and to explain the meaning of Rabbi.

There is one detail which seems redundant, but some have suggested is a key to the symbolic meaning of the passage – and John is keen on on his symbols.

‘It was about the tenth hour’. ‘About 4pm’ says the note in one edition of the Bible.

Other commentators see this as suggesting that the visit to where Jesus lived began at sundown, and on a Friday. (‘In my beginning is my end…’) They arrive as shabbat begins, and the rest of the day that they spend with Jesus is the full length of the shabbat.

They arrive, in other words, on the last day of the week, the 7th day, the day of rest. They arise to leave on what Jews call the first day of the week, and Christians have variously called the Lord’s Day, the eighth day (interesting concept when the week ordinarily has eight days!), or more prosaically, Sunday. In their encounter with him, which allows Andrew to know the Jesus, the Lamb of God as the anointed one of God, the Saviour, they enter into the new creation won by the Paschal Death and Rising, and shared more usually through the sacrament of Baptism.

  • Where is newness and creativity experienced in your life today?
  • Who might you point towards Jesus today?

Photograph of Christchurch, Oxford, in the early morning (according to the Latin way of counting time!). (C) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Imagine a sower…

Christ the Sower

Today we have the shorter version of the Gospel heard at Mass on Sunday.

Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables.

He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Matthew 13:1-9

Many homilies on this gospel become moralising, quizzing us on what sort of soil are we to receive the seed that is the word of God.

The question is worth pondering, but too often the answer is rather depressing and does not necessarily lead us anywhere.

It is interesting, at least, that Jesus does not say ‘Imagine the soil in a field…’, though of course he does suggest various types of soil and their consequence for the seed scattered on it.

He says ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow…’

Who is the sower who sows the seed that is the word of God in our lives? He is no hired hand, in for the day on a bit of piece work. He is the living God who seeks to plant the word more and more deeply in our lives, that it may flourish and bear fruit, every day of our lives.

When the soil of our hearts is hardened, surely it is mostly he that resorts to the spade to turn it over, and make it more fitting. When there are weeds, he’s down there trying to clear the ground, when its right to do so, but when the time is not right, biding his time. The sower who becomes the gardener will appreciate a little help from us, of course, a little cooperation. But sometimes we are so flattened by life, so distracted by a thousand things: he does not then abandon us to our own devices, he is the sower who longs to see even our poor soil be restored to what it is intended for.

  • When/how has God tended to the soil of your life?
  • What fruit does the word of God bear in your life?

Taste and See: Pray and Work

Image

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
Jesus said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’

Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’
‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him ‘and you still do not know me?
‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.’

John 14:1-12

  • In the days since Sunday, what has troubled your heart? Or has run the risk of doing so?
  • What helps you trust in the Lord?

Here, Jesus says ‘Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, indeed, as he is going to his Father, we will perform even greater works than Jesus.’

As one who believes he believes in Jesus this rather confuses me.

Believe in Jesus, I do. I’m sure I do but, boy, is it a struggle even to appear as a pale shadow of him!

  • Whatever can he mean?

Perhaps it simply means that his work has been accomplished, and now our work – whatever it is – adds to that.

Perhaps it is by way of a reminder that by grace, we are now supported by Jesus – and in the next verse of this passage says (though it is omitted in extract featured in the Lectionary for 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A) ‘Whatver you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father, may be glorified in the Son.’

That is to say, any greater achievement will come not from our striving (only), but from our asking Jesus to (continue to) ‘do’ for us.

Be that as it may, the conclusion of the passage surely does challenge us to take stock and wonder, are we opting out, failing to engage, failing to call on the Lord…

Image (Keep calm and pray and work) found at http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-ora-et-labora-7/