Sunday by Sunday

FAITH Magazine March-April 2007
Our regular guide to the Word of God in the Sunday Liturgy

4 March Lk 9.28-36

I. We notice that Christ goes up the mountain to pray and it is then that He is transfigured. It is while in union with the Father in prayer that He is seen for who He is. The brilliant whiteness of His clothes and face are His ‘true colours’. The more we enter into communion with our Father in prayer the more our true colours shine through. At first this brings the injunction to conversion as we see our faults. In time we are moulded or ‘coloured’ by God’s grace to be what He wishes us to be. Our ‘true colours’ will also be a sharing in the brilliant white of Christ if we allow God to work in us.

2. Moses and elijah sum up the Old Testament as representatives of the Law and the Prophets. Furthermore, these two men were always journeying, led by God towards greater things. Peter, by contrast, wants to pitch camp and stay where he is. This is not God’s way. Our true home is not to be found on this earth. even the events in Jerusalem are described as a ‘passing’. Christ’s journey, like that of all His discipIes, is a journey towards the cross. But it is at the cross that true glory is found. The Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the future; not just Christ’s future but the future of all of us.

3. The cloud, the shadow, the fear of the people and the voice are all classic Old Testament indications of the presence of God. There is no question about what is happening here. This man, Jesus, is revealed as the Son of God by the Father Himself in the most solemn terms. Furthermore, the Father instructs us to listen to Him. We owe obedience to Jesus because He speaks with the authority of God. No longer do we hear through intermediaries like Moses and elijah. The Law maker Himself and the Word of the prophets speaks to us Himself

11 March Lk 13.1-9

I. During Pilate’s brutal governorship of Judaea he took some of the Temple funds to finance aqueducts for Jerusalem. It could be that the Galileans were killed during the resulting riots. It seems that Jesus is told about the Galileans among the many dead because He is a Galilean Himself. The insinuation is that because they died so violently they must have been sinners. Jesus insists that the manner of death tells nothing of the guilt of a person, but in this case it can point to a more important lesson. Death does await the hardened sinner. God is life itself and to reject God is to reject life. The resulting death is far worse than any brutal earthly governor could inflict.

2.The Jews considered untimely death to be a punishment for sin. This understanding is prevalent in various forms even today. It betrays a completely wrong impression of God. God is seen as one who has the power to judge and to take life. This is true, but it is one aspect of His being, blown out of proportion. In the parable He is represented by the man who plants a vineyard. Such a figure shows our God as a life-giver and cultivator. He only wishes to be rid of the fig tree because it is taking room where fruitful life could grow. Our God is a God of life. Only that which brings death is excluded from Him. It is sin which bears death as its fruit and must be pruned away from any tree in the vineyard of life.

3. A fruit tree is planted for a reason. If it does not bear fruit it is more than useless because it takes up precious ground. We are created for a reason: to know, love and serve God and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. We are given all the time and graces we need to bear this fruit. Lent is a time to take stock of the kind of fruit we bear. It is an opportunity to examine the reasons for living which guide our choices and lifestyle. The results of our examination may show that we need the manure of repentance and conversion. If it means we bear fruit the hard work will be well worth while.

18 March, Lk 15.1-3, 11-32

I. The younger son asks for the inheritance before his father has even died. In a sense he is anticipating his father’s death. In a strange sense he could be said to be wanting his father’s death. When we sin we do not think of it in terms of wishing God dead but in reality we want neither God’s will nor His presence. If we do not want Him present to us at that moment to where do we hope to banish Him? We are not far from the youngest son’s disposition in wanting his inheritance before his father has died.

2. The youngest son hits rock bottom. It is not only that he must feed the swine which were considered unclean. He knows that the swine are of more value than he is. They at least are being fattened for the market. He returns to his father having pronounced sentence on himself: “Treat me as one of your paid servants.” The father, however, does not allow the son to pass such a sentence. The boy will always be a son to his father. We are sometimes frightened of going to confession or even admitting our guilt because in our minds the sentence we would pass is severe. Our Father is never so severe and will never allow us to cease to be His children. The confessional should faithfully reflect such mercy.

3. The eldest son feels no such mercy for the youngest son and subtly disowns him: “This son of yours.” The father reminds him that all the father possesses is his; he should not be jealous. He also reminds him that while he shares in all the material riches, he also shares in the relationship with his brother and should share in the father’s joy now that he is back. It is perhaps a proof of our union with God, beyond our righteous actions, that we share in such joy celebrated in heaven. Any feelings of resentment or jealousy among the ‘good’ people should be warning signs that their own relationship to the Father is not as close as it could be.

25 March Jn 8.1-11

1. The woman was caught in the “very act” of committing adultery. The passage seems to suggest that she was placed semi-naked in full view of the people. Certainly, as regards them knowing her sins she was completely exposed. Christ too would be stripped and paraded before the people as a sinner. Though innocent, His solidarity with sinners is unbounded. So too is His power to forgive. In private, when all the others have left, Christ judges without condemnation and exhorts the sinner without discouraging. In the Sacrament of Confession we are all given the same liberating opportunity.

2. We hear that Jesus is sitting in the Temple area teaching. This was the recognised posture and place for the great teachers among the Rabbis. Perhaps the Scribes and Pharisees recognised this and wished to confront Him with their greatest teacher, Moses. In the prologue to John’s Gospel we read, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1.17) Here we have a practical example of what this verse means. This woman is given the possibility of living according to the law because of the freedom she receives in forgiveness. Christ upholds the Law and completes it by the gift of His grace, without which the Law is impossible for us.

3. Through Moses God wrote in stone. But the teaching of Moses, so steadfastly carved, was not fully grasped by those who wanted to take up stones. He who could have thrown the stone contented Himself with dust. But He succeeded in writing His teaching more surely in their hearts than Moses ever did. The eldest and wisest saw it first. How long will it take us to drop the stone and grasp the more steadfast teaching which comes from Him who scribbled in the dust?

1 April Lk 22.14-23,56

I. Jesus is arrested and dragged from Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives along the same route where his path was cheered just a few days earlier. The whole passage tells of such turnarounds. A kiss is used to betray the Christ. A strong fisherman is frightened by a servant-girl. Jesus is accused of inciting a revolt. Herod clothes Him in a rich cloak. Pilate and Herod forge a friendship. A rioter and murderer is exchanged for the One who said, “Blessed are the meek.” The greatest turn-around of all is only hinted at in this passage. A condemned criminal saw through the contradictions and gazed upon the reality of His God hanging on the cross next to Him. From that day he becomes known as ‘the good thief. The complete turnaround will happen three days later. The deadman rises from the tomb.

2. Only Luke in his description of the Passion tells how the Lord turns to look at Simon immediately the cock crows. Did Simon feel that look as a dagger piercing him to the heart and the crowing of the cock as an accusing cry of condemnation? Perhaps not. Condemnations like daggers bring only death. The cock heralds the dawn and Christ’s glance, while bringing a sorrow unbearable in its pain, was an invitation already to turn back. When Simon was able to open his eyes and wipe away the tears that clouded his sight the sun was already rising. On that day the Lord would die for Simon and Peter would begin again to live for the Lord.

8 April Jn 20.1-9

I. John uses three different verbs in this passage to describe what, (or rather ‘how’), Mary of Magdala and the two disciples ‘see’ at the tomb. Mary ‘notices’ that the stone is rolled away and ‘the other disciple’ ‘notices’ the linen cloths. Peter goes into the tomb and ‘looks attentively’ (a different verb is used) at the cloths. Finally ‘the other disciple’ goes in; he sees (yet another verb is used) and he believes. In this way John uses the story of the discovery of the empty tomb to show how the easter faith of the disciples develops. It is not enough only to behold the sign. Complete sight is the vision of faith. We, whose eyes are fully open celebrate that vision today.

2. It is part of the irony common in John that he emphasises the darkness when Mary arrives at the tomb. Furthermore, the central object of attention is a tomb which is empty. In such circumstances it would seem there is nothing to see. Indeed, all that is seen is a rock and some linen cloths. But such darkness and emptiness proclaim the greatest of messages. The resting place and the garments of the dead are forever discarded. He is risen and has left them behind. From today, for those who believe, they will be only a temporary abode and apparel.

3. Until this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture. The scriptures, so familiar to the disciples, take on a fuller meaning when seen in the new light of easter morning. It is not only the scriptures which are different in this light. Without the resurrection our world is like a tomb because there is nothing beyond it but dust and ashes. This familiar world takes on a new aspect in the easter light. As believers we see it as it really is. This must give us different priorities and different commitments to those who do not believe. Christians are different because they live in the light of easter.

15 April Jn 20.19-31

I. Jesus, risen from the dead, still bears the marks of His earthly life. His thirty three years have not been wiped away or discarded. His wounds have not been removed. The whole of His life on earth has been taken up and transformed. Jesus in turn breathes on the apostles just as God breathed life into the man He had formed from the dust of earth (Gen 2.7) He received new existence and became a living being. So also their lives are taken up and transformed and given a new existence, they become spiritual beings.

2. This passage illustrates how the easter event is brought into the lives of all mankind. The apostles see the Lord. They are rooted in the historical reality. However, as we saw last week, theirs was not simply observation but a ‘vision of faith’. It is now their task to be witnesses of this event and instruments to bring that ‘vision of faith’ to all people. Thomas is not rebuked for seeing. As an apostle it is part of his role to see. But he refused to believe on the basis of their testimony and so he rejected their witness. We who believe accept the witness of those who saw with their own eyes. We are in the line of faith with those who were part of the historical realities. We are blessed because we have not seen but we have received the same ‘vision of faith.’

3. The reason John has written his book (Jn 20.30-31) is so that he can be one of God’s instruments to bring the ‘vision of faith’ to all his readers. For those who receive the ‘vision of faith’ the gifts are the same as those recounted at the beginning of this passage. The community of believers receives the Spirit and is made a new creation which we describe as the Church. Through the wounds of Christ in His hands and side we receive forgiveness and are given the same authority to forgive and retain as was given to the apostles. Christ’s words of peace are spoken to the Church in every age as surely as they were spoken on that first day of the week. All this John sums up as “life in His name.

22 April Jn 21.1-19

In the absence of Jesus Peter decides to go fishing. It seems to be a decision to revert to that old way of life before Jesus came on the scene. As soon as Peter realises Jesus is on the shore he leaves everything again. This time it is for good. The boat is left on the water and the fish in the net. Peter knows Jesus will never leave them again. He is soon to find out that it is Peter himself who receives the mission to feed and tend the sheep. Christ the Good Shepherd remains present to His flock in Peter and his successors until the end of time.

2. The bread and fish on the shore of Galilee remind us of the meal for the 5000. Again there is overabundance, 153 big fish, and Jesus distributes the food. This time, however, it is breakfast. The disciples do not ask, “Who are you?” because they know full well who is on the shore just as those on the emmaus road knew who broke the bread. Neither do we ask who is on our altars, who is in our tabernacles, because we know full well “it is the Lord.” Christ continues His presence among us in the eucharist. tt is a presence which points to God’s superabundant generosity and a breakfast banquet which marks the beginning of a neverending day.

3. Peter is told that he will stretch out his hands and be taken where he would rather not go. This will be a far cry from the young man who denied Jesus, frightened by a maid in Caiphas’ house. As an old man his death will give glory to God. In John’s Gospel it is the cross which most reveals God’s glory. Peter will share in this. Christ continues to be present in all those who, like Peter, stretch out their hands and are led where they would rather not go that their lives may give glory to God.

29 April Jn 10.27-30

I. This passage comes in the middle of a dispute with those Jews who refuse to believe in Jesus. What sets Christ’s sheep aside from others is that they listen to His voice. This is not a popular disposition. A sign of the true Christian is that humility which gives a person an open ear to the voice of Christ. They are willing to be guided and taught and they submit their own will to the will of the Shepherd who leads them. This is the obedience of the true followers of Christ.

2. The shepherd cares for the sheep and knows what is best for them. In Palestine the shepherd eats, sleeps and lives among his sheep. This is the best way to provide protection and lead them to good pastures. Christ our Good Shepherd came to eat, sleep and live among us and thus knows our needs better than we do ourselves. He knows that the pasture every human being, without exception, craves for and seeks is eternal life and this is where He wishes to lead us. This pasture can only be found by those sheep that listen to the Shepherd and follow Him.

3. Christ’s authority to be such a shepherd is based on His union with the Father. When he pronounced the words, “The Father and I are one”, the Jews were ready to stone Him (Jn 10.31) They perceived the full force of this phrase and understood it to be blasphemy. The man from Nazareth claimed to be God. This is the foundation for our disposition to accept Him as our Shepherd since the words He speaks and the path He offers are not based on human authority but God’s. We who believe He is God and obey His voice “will never be lost”

Faith Magazine