A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for March, 2015

Live or die?

According to the calendar, the season of spring has already begun.  Spring is usually the time when plants and trees, usually dormant in winter, begin to blossom.  We often see the cycle of life death.  Nature is very resplendent with this process.

In the gospel for the fifth Sunday of Lent (John 12:20-33), Jesus apparently focuses on the themes of death and life in the images that he uses when speaking to his audience who are  mostly farmers.

The story is that many Gentiles come looking for him during Passover because they wanted to learn more about his teaching.  He begins his conversation with the phrase, “The hour has come.”  This means that his public ministry is practically over, and it is now time to begin preparations for his death and resurrection.

To explain this, he uses the image of the seed.  The seed has to die before it can grow and bear much fruit.  “I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  But, if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  (John 12:24)  Jesus was speaking of his upcoming death and resurrection.

He further emphasized his resurrection when he spoke of glorifying the Father.  The truth is, the Father is glorified by Jesus’ resurrection.  The resurrection is seen as a victory over the Prince of Darkness (Satan/devil).  We know that “darkness” is often used as a symbol of sinfulness and ignorance.  In addition, “light” is a symbol of goodness and knowledge.  The working out of this victory is the constant amount of service that believing Christians do to others, for example: justice, compassion, forgiveness.  And the list could go on.

Jesus also spoke about being lifted up.  “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) Being “lifted up” refers to Jesus’ crucifixion.  And in his case the crucifixion is always followed by the resurrection.  It is important to note the parallels from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).  [1]-Moses and the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:4-9); [2]-Isaiah and the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13; 53:5).  Salvation is provided by what was “lifted up.”

As the season of Lent is drawing to a close and we are in spring time, we would do well to focus on the issues of death and life.  Not only do we see it in nature, but also in ourselves.  “Death” can come through our sinfulness.  How aware are we of the harm we have done to others?

The resurrection of Jesus was a victory over the darkness of sinfulness.  How willing are we to see the resurrection as “Life” and light over darkness?  In other words, what role does the resurrection play in our lives? Namely, the good that we can to and for others.  In fact, how serious are we to see this shift from death to life in ourselves?  There is always the choice between life and death.  Better yet.  What are willing to do about it?  No doubt, the questions will have the possibility of being answered on Easter.




Taking chances

Taking chances is always a risky business.  Whether walking alone at night or trying to negotiate the freeway with “crazy” drivers is practically always a serious risk.  But it could be very risky when we are in conversation with someone whom our culture would not condone.  What would people say?

In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent (John 4:5-42) the Jewish Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman. That was taking a real chance. The Jewish culture at the time did not allow Jews to converse with Samaritans.  And something else.  This was a single man speaking to a woman–without being properly introduced.

There appeared to be a fracture of the Jewish culture by the Jewish Jesus.  Why did he do this?  In fact, when he was in conversation with anyone it was generally to make the conversation a “teachable moment.”  For the most part in his conversation with the Samaritan woman we can say that the teachable moments had to do with “living water” and “being an evangelist.”

The concept of “living water” referred to water that was constantly flowing (such as a river) as opposed to water that was not (such as well water.)  Jesus referred to himself as living water and one had to “drink” him (=believe in him and do his work) in order to “live” (=have everlasting life.)

In addition, the Samaritan woman became a promoter of the Jewish Jesus soon after their encounter.  She went to her village and spoke excitedly about him to other townsfolk, much like an “evangelist.”  The text tells us that the people were impressed and so began to believe in him.

What can we learn from this Gospel reading?  Many things I suppose, but I would like to suggest two.  The first is about “living water.”  For us, “living water” would be the sacrament of our Baptism.  When the priest poured running water on our forehead baptizing us in the name of the Trinity, we were given the responsibility of carrying on Jesus’ work to the best of our ability.  It would be beneficial to remember constantly these responsibilies.

The second suggestion deals with the Samaritan woman being a “proclaimer” of Jesus to others.  For us, this would mean that we can’t give what we don’t have. If we don’t know much about Jesus what can we say to others about him?  Obviously, we will have to study Scripture.  Then whatever we say about Jesus will have credibility.

However, one important item to keep in mind is the issue of culture.  For example, what are the limitations our culture places on us in terms of dealing with other people?  Feelings of racism?  Immigration?  Speaking another language instead of English?  The Bible tells us that we are all created EQUAL in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27).

On his own, the Jewish Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman thus breaking the cultural barrier.  Why?  Because Jesus placed greater reliability on his faith rather than on his culture.  We should do the same.

If we were to focus on the responsibilties placed on us by our Baptism, and took seriously our obligation to learn more about Jesus, then this would be a chance worth taking.




Becoming someone else

Mt. Everest has become somewhat of a “magic” mountain over the years.  The challenges are so great for climbing to the top, so that when one gets there s/he gets to share in the “magic” of media coverage.  Edmund Hillary was one of the first few to make it to the top so that he became a media focus for some time afterwards.

In this sense the “mountain” has entered our culture as something important. Yet, the “mountain” played a significant role in the Bible as well.  Certainly, Mt. Sinai was one of the key examples.  It was the locale where God entered into a mutually responsible covenant with his people.  “I will be your God and you will be my people IF you keep my commandments.” Moses was the mediator.

In the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent (Mark 9:2-10), the mountain becomes a signicant locale for what is about to take place, namely, the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Belief that the mountain was the meeting place for heaven and earth, meant that whatever took place there naturally had signicance.

And what was significant in this Gospel reading was that Jesus was transfigured in front of the disciples.  From the normal Jesus to one who was “dazzingly white.”  Light was victory over darkness.  That is to say that these disciples were made privvy to Jesus’ resurrection.

And Moses was also present on this mountain, along with Elijah.  Quite likely signifying that the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) would accompany Jesus.  Then a voice came from the clouds said, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)  What could this have meant?

In the Bible, a cloud often represents the divinity.  The voice’s comment appears to suggest that God the Father is recognizing Jesus as his son, and he says that the message of Jesus must be heard.

What are we to make of the above for our daily living?  Well, for awhile I thought that having a memory aide would be helpful (Memory aides are useful  as you get older).  The one that came to me could be (or already is ?) a cable channel, namely MTV.

M would stand for “mountain.”  We would have to  decide what our mountain would be.  Where can I encounter God?  In prayer?  Through the Sacraments? Or in other people?

T could represent “transfiguration.”  Every time that we do well to others, we are transfiguring ourselves from being lukewarm disciples into effective ones.

V  would certainly represent the “voice” from the cloud.  We would have to see Jesus in his humanity and in his divinity.  Above all, we should listen to what he has to say.  Listening to Jesus means doing what Jesus did, for example, practice justice, be compassionate, forgiving, and understanding.

The seasons of Lent and Easter can give us a better understanding of the resurrection, namely, through suffering comes life.  And if we are serious with the MTV process, we can easily become someone else.  That is to say, from the lukewarm Christian to the sincere one.


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