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Sunday, 12 March 2023 / Published in Church Reflections

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.

Sunday, 05 March 2023 / Published in Church Reflections

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.”

Sunday, 26 February 2023 / Published in Church Reflections

GENESIS 12:1-4A | 2 TIMOTHY 1:8B-10 | MATTHEW 17:1-9

God’s Word to us this first Sunday of our Lenten journey is very interesting. It begins with a passage from the book of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience. A reflection from Paul’s letter to the Romans regarding their sin follows. Finally, Mathew gives us an account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. How do these fit together and what do they teach us?

The story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor for humankind’s struggle for connection with God. Eve is the spirit in each one of us that’s constantly reaching out to connect with God, symbolized, in the story, by the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam, his name means earth or soil, is that earthly part of us that needs redemption or inner liberation.

In the second scripture passage Paul shares a reflection with the Christian community in Rome. He presents Adam as a symbol of the human family’s struggle with sin defining Adam’s sin as disobedience or disharmony with the will of God. He then shines the light on Jesus as THE example of total obedience to God’s will. Disobedience is what brings sin and death into the world. Being in harmony with God’s will redeems one from sin and restores a life connected to God.

Now we come to Matthew’s account of the temptation of Jesus. The barren, hostile desert is the stage for the great test. A symbolic number is woven into the scene. The Jewish people were molded by many trials, struggles and even sins during their forty-year sojourn in the Sinai Desert. Those years were a time

when the Spirit challenged their faith, strengthened them, purified them and formed them into a nation. Throughout their time of testing they were guided by the Spirit of God, the burning pillar of cloud.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is driven by that same Spirit into the desert where, for forty days, he confronts his inner demons. The voice of temptation is relentless. Over and over again the challenge comes: if you’re the son of God…prove it! Change these stones into bread! If you’re the Son of God…Prove it! Throw yourself off the roof of the temple; God won’t let you die. If you’re the Son of God… Prove it! Vanquish every earthly power. Let me crown you King of the entire world. If you’re the Son of God…Act like it!

Jesus conquers the temptation to power and fame. He hands himself over in complete obedience to the father’s will. Just before his death he will tell his disciples that “the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

We begin Lent with a call to follow Jesus, and like him, to face our inner demons. The Spirit will lead us just has he led the Jewish people, and Jesus, too, if we submit. Lent is the time when we Christians question the depth of our faith and the fervor of our commitment to the will of the Father. The Spirit is driving us into the desert for forty days. Let’s pray for each other during this time. As Paul instructs us: “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Sunday, 19 February 2023 / Published in Church Reflections

LEVITICUS 19:1-2, 17-18 | 1 CORINTHIANS 3:16-23 | MATTHEW 5:38-48

We have what we might consider HUGE commandments for reflection our today. The first sentence of the passage from Leviticus zings us with one big fat commandment, “BE HOLY for I, your God, am holy.” Jesus, piggy-backing on Leviticus, commands: “BE PERFECT, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Holy Moly! Where do we go from here? Holiness isn’t enough? We need to be perfect, too? Let’s not panic. Leviticus wasn’t commanding the impossible, and neither was Jesus. Let’s look a bit more closely at the passages.

The passage from Leviticus ends with the well-known commandment which most Christians attribute to Jesus but he was just quoting Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we look closely, we discover that this commandment has a narrow scope. It continues: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.” Holiness is narrowly connected with love of one’s “people.”

Jesus introduces his call to be perfect with a call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” You may remember, when Jesus quoted this same passage from the book of Leviticus to the “teacher of the law” who asked him what the greatest commandment was, the lawyer immediately came back with a question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then laid the parable of the Good Samaritan on him.

Jesus connects holiness and perfection to

our relationship with one another, our friends and our foes alike. Later on, in that Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that our heavenly Father “makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He’s teaching us that to begin the journey toward holiness and perfection (our journey to God) our hearts must be open to everyone, people who don’t look like us, that don’t speak our language, that hate us, that want to do us harm, that hurt us and others.

During the weeks of Lent we will direct our reflection to the mystery of Christ – the mystery of death and resurrection. Each of us has been baptized into this mystery. Our commitment to Christ demands that we be holy and perfect as God is holy and perfect.

This Sunday is the last Sunday before we begin Lent, the forty days of personal prayer and contemplation on the mystery of death and resurrection. It’s also our communal time of penance and voluntary fasting. It’s so appropriate that we hear God’s challenge to be holy and perfect this Sunday. Our journey to God is going to take place one loving step at a time, one death and resurrection at a time. Being a Christian is a challenge, but it’s full of wonder and miracles and may God touch our hearts during this holy season. May Easter bring us new life.