Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Tomb of Lazarus

I visited the tomb of Lazarus in November 2010 while in the Holy Land. It’s only a few hundred yards from the Passionist house, St Martha, in Bethany, where I was staying, but because of the Israeli security wall you now have to drive about 13 miles around the wall to get there.

Some sisters from the nearby Comboni convent drove me there on their way to go food shopping one day. As I approached the tomb a group of about 30 pilgrims from one of the slavic countries were entering the tomb, so I stayed outside till they left. During the 2nd World War over 40 million people were killed by Hitler and Stalin in what’s been called “The Bloodlands,” parts of Eastern Europe that were fought over so viciously. Were these people going down to the tomb from that part of the world, bringing memories of “The Bloodlands,” I wondered?

They started to sing in harmony their beautiful eastern chants and the haunting, glorious music came up from the dark rock cavern below. Lazarus was being celebrated again and his tomb rang with their joyful song.

“Lazarus, come out!”

And not only were they celebrating the raising of Lazarus but our hope of resurrection too.

The dark tomb was still ringing with their singing when I went in. Joyful song from a tomb. Lazarus represents us all. That’s the powerful message from our gospel today which prepares us for the life-giving death of Jesus.

 

 

People Who Go Back And Forth

Our gospel today (John 7, 1-2,10,25-30) recalls Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, a popular autumn feast drawing crowds of visitors to the city. News of his teaching and the wonders he worked in Galilee had already reached the center of Judaism. John describes the reaction of the Jewish leaders: “the Jews were trying to kill him.” Along with them, his coming also draws the attention of “the inhabitants of the city.”

Who are they?

“The inhabitants of the city” are not the leaders who later put him to death. They’re the ordinary public who watch the leaders, who know what’s happening in the city, who follow trends and pass gossip. They watch Jesus with curiosity as he enters the temple area and teaches.

“Do our leaders now believe he’s the Messiah?” “How can he be, because he’s from Galilee and no one will know where the Messiah is from?” They’re people who go back and forth, the undecided who wait to see who wins before taking sides. Like Pilate, they would rather wash their hands of blame, but they’re involved just the same.

Jesus does not absolve them from responsibility. In John’s gospel, though immediate blame for rejecting him and putting him to death falls on the Jewish leaders, the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” are also responsible for their blindness to the Word in their midst.

In the larger perspective, then, aren’t we all “inhabitants of Jerusalem” who bear responsibility for not recognizing Jesus and putting him to death? Our Christian tradition sees the sins of us all responsible for the Passion of Jesus.

The Paralyzed Man

Let’s compare the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda, whom we hear about in today’s gospel, with the official in our previous story from John’s gospel. The official came to Jesus in Cana in Galilee looking for a cure for his son. Obviously, he was important. He knew how to get things done and came to get Jesus to do something for him. He’s a resourceful man.

The paralytic at Bethesda, on the other hand, seems utterly resourceless. For 38 years he’s come to a healing pool– archeologists identify its location near the present church of St. Anne in Jerusalem– and he can’t find a way into the water when it’s stirring. Paralyzed, too slow, he can’t even get anybody to help him. He doesn’t approach Jesus; Jesus approaches him, asking: “Do you want to be well?”

Instead of lowering him into the water, Jesus cures the paralyzed man directly and tells him to take up the mat he was lying on and walk. The man has no idea who cured him until Jesus tells him later in the temple area. He’s slow in more ways than one.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in this world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” St. Paul tells the Corinthians.
Here’s one of the weak, the lowly, the nobodies God chooses, and he wont be the only one. But are we far from him?

Lord Jesus,
like the paralytic I wait for you,
not knowing when or how you will come.
But I wait, O Lord,
however long you may be.

The Father from Galilee

On the 4th week of Lent we turn to John’s gospel to follow Jesus into Jerusalem, where he does great wonders and confronts a hostile city. Most of the weekday gospels till Holy Week will be from John.

On Monday, we read the story of the father, a royal official, who arrives in Cana to plead with Jesus to save his dying son. (John 4, 43-54) Is this another version of the story of the centurion from the synoptic gospels? “Your son will live,” Jesus tells him. The father believes him and as he returns to Capernaum finds out from his servants that his son was cured at the same time Jesus said he would live. “He believed and his whole household.”

The power of Jesus is not limited by distance or time, this miracle makes clear, and so John sees it as “the second sign.” The power of Jesus is unbounded, like the power of God.

“Your son will live,” Jesus tells the father. Is the father seeking life for his son an image of the Father who will not let death claim his Son, but brings him to life. God is not heartless before the mystery of death. Can our Father in heaven be less loving than the father from Galilee pleading for the life of his son? God infinitely surpasses the powerful government official. The Father of Jesus, our Father, never wavers; he brings us life.

The Tax-Collector’s Prayer

In Luke’s gospel Jesus often sides with those who are so let down by life that they hardly dream of anything better– tax collectors, widows, sinners like the prodigal son. He was criticized frequently by others for associating with people like that, so he must have done it often enough.
The tax collector in the parable we read today, who’s praying in the back of the temple, is an example. Luke recalls earlier in his gospel that Jesus sat down at table with Matthew and some of his tax collector friends in Capernaum. Was he telling their story in this parable?
Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector says only a few words:“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself; he seems to ask only for applause and approval. The tax collector asks only for mercy.
His prayer is heard so shouldn’t we make it our own? Tax-collectors,  widows and sinners stand closest to where all humanity stands. We all need God’s mercy. We come to God empty-handed.
“O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Following Jesus through the Lenten Gospels

Don’t forget we’re following Jesus through lent and the lenten gospels are our guides. During the first weeks we read from the gospel of Matthew, a favorite of the early church, which took us to the mountain in Galilee where Jesus at the beginning of his ministry taught his followers that they are children of God, how to pray, how to forgive, how to live together.

We follow Jesus our teacher.

Today’s gospel is from Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.(Lk 11,14-23) Gathering disciples to accompany him, he teaches them through parables and performs miracles, like healing the man who is mute. Driving out the demon who holds the man makes it more than a physical healing; the miracle is a sign that the kingdom of God has come. The Evil One is powerless before Jesus.

The miracles signify that Jesus is the Messiah. When he heard about them, John the Baptist asked, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied they were indeed a sign he was the expected Messiah:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7,18-23)

Jesus is the Messiah.

Next week, the 4th week of Lent, we begin the gospel of John, which take us to Jerusalem where Jesus performs great signs, like the healing of the paralytic and the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but he also engages in extensive arguments about his identity with the Jewish leaders in the temple area.

Jesus is the Son of God.

All that we learn of him leads to the mystery of his cross and resurrection.
There he is our teacher, our Messiah, our Lord.

Wednesday, 3rd Week in Lent

 

Mt 5, 17-19

Jesus ascends a mountain and gathers his disciples to teach them, according to Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7.  Moses before him brought God’s word to the Israelites from a high mountain.  Now, Jesus teaches as the New Moses. He does not abolish what the great patriarch taught; he brings it to fulfillment.

Lent gathers us again to listen to the Sermon on the Mount.  Sublime promises of a Kingdom are made to us; our God is gracious and near. But this part of the gospel reminds us of little things, the small steps, the “least commandments,” we must keep to enter the Kingdom of heaven.

This is a season–our reading reminds us– for remembering that small things like a cup of cold water, a visit to the sick, feeding someone hungry, clothing someone naked, speaking a “word to the weary to rouse them” are important commandments of God.

Yes, lent calls us to think great thoughts and embrace great visions of faith, But the law of God often comes down to small things, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are the best at that.

“The most important things for you are: humility of heart, patience, meekness, charity toward all, and seeing in your neighbor an image of God and loving him in God and for God.” ( Letter 1114)

 

What small step do you want me to take today, O Lord?

What can I do to help the neighbor I meet,

Who is made in your image?