EZEKIEL 37:12-14 | ROMAN 8:8-11 | JOHN 11:1-45
Jesus, weeping, speaks three powerful commands today. “Take away the stone!” “Lazarus, come out!” Untie him and let him go!” Let’s consider why Jesus is weeping.
There was a family he loved very much. They were much more than disciples; they were his adopted family. They didn’t live very far from Jerusalem, so Jesus often stayed with them when he was teaching in the temple or attending the Jewish festivals.
He began to be upset and weepy as soon as he got the message that Lazarus was ill. When he told his disciples that the illness wouldn’t end in death, he already knew that Lazarus had died. There was more to it, though, something more profound. Jesus was weeping because Lazarus was soul dead.
Take note of Ezekiel’s prophecy. “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” He extended this prophecy to an image of a field covered with sun-bleached bones. Israel was soul dead. People were walking around; but inside they were dead. The spirit of God, God’s breath of life, wasn’t in them. Paul warns us of that same death in his letter today. “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the Spirit. If only the Spirit dwells in you.”
We all need to have God’s breath of life in us. If we don’t, we’ll be like the people of Israel, sunbleached bones scattered across a field, or like Lazarus, entombed, imprisoned, breath-less.
Each of us is being invited this fifth Sunday of Lent to hear, to really listen to, the Lord’s words. “Take away the stone!” “Lazarus, come out!” “Untie him and let him go!” What do each of those phrases mean to you personally?
If you heard Jesus shouting a command to take away the stone, what would he be referring to? If Jesus called your name and cried “Come out,” what would he mean? If Jesus cried out to untie you – to let you go, what would happen to you?
Try asking yourself these questions as a meditation today. Begin by praying these phrases from Psalm 130, take your time as you read them. Trust the Spirit to guide you through the meditation. Don’t be afraid to feel whatever the Spirit evokes in you. This is an active prayer. Let the Spirit put flesh on your bones.
Lord, out of the depths I cry to you,
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ear be attentive to my voice in supplication.
I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in his word.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord.
For with the Lord is kindness and
with him is plenteous redemption;
and he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
1SAMUEL 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A | EPHESIANS 5:8-14 | JOHN 9:1-41
What a wonderful and powerful message Paul gives us today. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light.” Let’s keep this tucked in our minds as we reflect on the story of the man born blind.
John’s account of the cure of the blind man is a story about faith, the ability to see the truth, and a meditation on the cost of discipleship. This man was literally born blind, but, like all of us, he was born spiritually blind, too. What spiritual sight he may have had probably came from his parents who raised him in their Jewish tradition. For his parents it was difficult enough to raise a blind child. But they carried an even heavier burden. It was the popular belief that a child’s chronic illness was a punishment for sins committed by the parents.
In addition, when Jesus cured this man, it was a tense time. The threat had come out from the religious authorities that those who followed Jesus could be excommunicated from the synagogue. This was frightening in two ways. It meant the they would be excluded from Jewish life and, this is very important to note, they would forfeit the Jewish indult that freed them from the yearly civic act of worshiping the Roman Emperor, an indult gained after much suffering. Refusal to perform this act was considered treason by Rome.
As the account attests, when this man gained his sight and believed in Jesus he forfeited his ties to his Jewish community. Even his parents abandoned him for fear of repercussions from the authorities.
In this account John is warning us that faith in Jesus does not come without cost. To follow him means to be different, even countercultural. True, committed faith in Jesus, can exclude us from family, friends and even nation. John may be teaching us that suffering is part of discipleship. Imagine what it costs to be a Christian in China, Russia, India, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Unites Arab Emirates, Syria, North Korea, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria……
“You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light.”
Lord, I believe in you.
Give me the strength and courage
to let your light of truth shine in me and through me.”
EXODUS 17:3-7 | ROMANS 5:1-2,5-8 | JOHN 4:5-42
It started with a drink of water. It was the hottest time of the day. The area around the well was abandoned except for Jesus who was sitting near the well, and a Samaritan woman who had just arrived to fill her water jugs. She was the town pariah. She suffered under a strict patriarchal system. She was married five times and was presently living with a man. She never came to the well in the cool hours of the morning when the other women, chatting and sharing bits of gossip, gathered to get their supply of water for the day because she would be shunned and become part of the gossip. When she saw a Jewish man sitting at the well she expected trouble.
Samaritans and Jews were historical enemies the most hostile kind because they were related. They were both Israelites. They split in the 8 th century B.C. because of political and religious disagreements surrounding the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. The people of Judah rejected the assistance of the Samaritans, so they built their own temple which was absolute heresy in the eyes of the Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon.
Jesus asked her for a drink of water because he didn’t have a bucket to draw water from the deep well. It was spontaneous; her answer reeked with anger. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” The dialogue that followed may seem strange to us, but a tremendous healing was in process.
He asked her for water and then offered her living water, “water that becomes a spring that wells up to eternal life.” She said, “You people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” He then addressed her as “woman,” a revered title that Jesus used to address his own mother, and told her that the day was coming, and was indeed very near, when people would not need a place to worship because they would “worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” He
then told her “everything she ever did.” The dialogue ended with Jesus revealing himself as the Christ the Messiah she, the Samaritans, and the Jewish people, had been longing for.
One sentence at a time Jesus knocked down the walls of hurt and prejudice that held this woman prisoner. His kindness healed the wounds of her personal past. He put God into a new perspective for her. Her heart and mind soared to the Father in Spirit and truth. He gave her living water. It became a life-giving spring within her.
Her story has the most wonderful ending. “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.’ Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.’” This tarnished, suffering woman became the first apostle to the Gentiles. Her testimony converted the hostile, Samaritan town of Sychar. The people, in turn, gave witness to Jesus and brought hope and change to many lives.
The Samaritan woman’s story gives testimony to us, too. God knows everything each of us has ever done. That doesn’t stop God from loving us. If anything, it draws God closer. If we just believe that God sees everything and loves us even more for it the freer we can be to “worship in Spirit and truth”, to acknowledge God’s Spirit in us, to see beyond the deception of the world. The world is longing for God’s peace. If we can witness to God’s love in our own lives, the greater will our power be to open the world to the Kingdom of God.
So today, the gospel asks us to say yes to the Spirit. Say yes to the healing and transforming love of God.
GENESIS 12:1-4A | 2 TIMOTHY 1:8B-10 | MATTHEW 17:1-9
The first Sunday of Lent always invites us to take an inner journey – to confront our inner demons – to hear Jesus’ call in our hearts, “Follow me.” The second Sunday of Lent presents us with a powerful icon, an image, a doorway to the divine. Let’s first pray through the scene Matthew paints in his icon, The Transfiguration.”
Jesus chose three disciples, Peter, James and John, to leave the group and to accompany him to the top of a high mountain. He had just predicted his passion and death to his disciples. Upon hearing it, Peter immediately chided him for thinking such thoughts. Jesus, with fire in his voice, turned on Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as man.” He reinforced the prediction and added another prediction, Peter’s death. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The brothers, James and John, were dubbed the sons of thunder by Jesus. These three disciples were passionate and hot-headed but deeply committed to discipleship. James would be the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom. Peter would be crucified. John, the youngest of the group, came to be known as Jesus’ beloved disciple.
These three rough, gritty fishermen were chosen to see Jesus as Lord. They had the fire in their hearts necessary to glimpse the divine glory – the past, present and future of God’s manifestation to the human family. They were the first to be anointed as Christbearers by the Father. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They heard the voice; they saw the light. They collapsed in fear and awe.
Then came the affirming touch. “Rise, do not be afraid.” The event ended with another prediction. “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
These same three disciples are represented in another of Matthew’s icons, the Agony in the Garden. While the Transfiguration icon portrays the disciples prostrate, shading their eyes from the light of the Glorified Christ, the Agony icon presents the disciples asleep, hiding their eyes from the vision of the Suffering Christ.
How we long to see the Glory! How we fear the Agony! Matthew’s icons remind us of our call. “Follow me.” They remind us of our anointing. “Listen to him.” These icons will speak uniquely to each of us. No matter the images evoke in our souls, we’re challenged to say in chorus, “Father…not as I will, but as you will.”