Friday, March 25, 2011

IIIrd Sunday in Lent . Cycle A

EX 17: 3-7; ROM 5: 1-2, 5-8;Gospel: JN 4: 5-42

A thirst could be physical or spiritual. Often it is both, as in the case of the unnamed woman whose meeting with Jesus by Jacob's well gave us today's gospel story. Physically she is thirsty, thirsting for water, and that brings her to the well day after day. But spiritually also she is thirsty, an inner thirst which drives her from one man to another and for which she can find no satisfaction. By the time she meets Jesus she is in her sixth marriage, and yet she is able to tell Jesus "I have no husband," indicating that she is probably already looking for the seventh.
Numbers are often significant in biblical interpretation. According to the biblical symbolism of numbers, six is a number of imperfection, of lack, of deficiency. The woman in her sixth marriage is, therefore, in a situation of lack and deficiency. Seven, on the other hand, is a number of perfection, completion and sufficiency. Jesus comes to this woman as the seventh man in her life. She opens up to him and finally experiences the satisfaction of all of her soul's desiring, the full assuaging of her spiritual thirst.
God created us with a thirst for his friendship, for divine wisdom, and for everlasting truth and love not in order to torture us, but to lead us towards the real paradise. But when we let ourselves be seduced by plastic paradises instead, his treasures go undiscovered, and our desires go unsatisfied.
As the Catechism puts it: The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself .Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. (#27).Isn't this the kind of experience we wish for ourselves and for all in this season of Lent?
This unnamed woman was coming to the town well in the middle of the day, the Gospel tells us, the hottest time of the day, when none of the other women in the town would be coming to the well. She wanted to avoid them or it could be that she was ostracized as a social leper by the community. Human society organizes itself by erecting boundaries - national, ethnic, religious, and gender. Jesus shows in today's gospel that in order to reach out to the other and create the necessary conditions for conversion, one must be prepared to challenge these man-made boundaries and break the dividing walls of prejudice.
According to the convention of the times, Jews were not supposed to interact with Samaritans. Walls of prejudice built on the foundations of ethnicity and religion kept them apart. Jesus broke these boundaries when he asked the woman for a drink, as her reaction shows:
"How is it that you, a Jewish man, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?" Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans" (John 4:9).
That was not all. It was also against the moral norms of the day for a man to engage a woman in dialogue in a public place. And yet Jesus engages this woman in the longest dialogue we have in all the four Gospels, an act which even his own disciples saw as morally questionable:
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" (John 4:27)
If Jesus had kept within the bounds of the expected behaviour of his day, there was no way he could have gone beyond a superficial brush with the woman, which would invariably lead to superficial results. Why does Jesus make such a tremendous impact on the woman? Because for the first time in her life she meets a man who really understands her. In her excitement she forgets her water jar and physical thirst (and so also does Jesus); and she runs back to the village inviting the villagers to come and see "a man who told me everything I have ever done" - probably the first man to know her so well without rejecting her. Before you know it the convert has become a missionary bringing others to Jesus and to the joyful experience of conversion.
When Jesus reveals himself to her, her life turns around, one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. She runs back to the village announcing the good news to anyone she can find. And we know from the Gospel that Jesus and his disciples ended up spending three days there, and the whole town came to believe in him. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world." (4:42)
We see that there are two stages in the believing or conversion process: a. believing because of what someone told us about Jesus, and b. believing because we have come personally to know Jesus ourselves. Lent is the period when the Church invites all her children who still believe on the strength of someone else's witnessing to come to Jesus personally and believe, not because someone told us, but because we have known him and experienced his love personally in our own lives.
Evangelization is as some one said - one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread. We should lead the hungry and the thirsty to the table of life. Let’s ask ourselves: Can I do what she did? Invite friends and neighbors to Jesus and salvation?
When Jesus became personal with this woman and started asking embarrassing questions about her five husbands, she cleverly tried to change the subject and talk about religion. She didn’t want Jesus to get personal. But Jesus wanted to free her, forgive her, shape her life in a new direction, and change her. He wanted to offer this woman living water. At the end of the long heart-to-heart conversation Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah, which in turn led her to faith in him.
We need to allow Jesus free entry into our personal lives. Jesus wants to get personal with us, especially during this Lenten season. Jesus wants to get into our “private” lives. We have a “private” personal life which is contrary to the will of God. Christ wishes to come into that “private” life, not to embarrass us, not to judge or condemn us, not to be unkind or malicious to us. Rather, Christ comes into our “private” personal life to free us, to change us and to offer us what we really need: living water. The living water is the Holy Spirit. The living water is the Spirit of Jesus and his love. We can find this living water in the sacraments, in prayer and in the holy Bible.

In the words of that Samaritan woman let’s pray: Lord give me that living water, so that I may never be thirsty again.

Friday, March 11, 2011


LENT I SUNDAY ; GEN 2: 7-9, 3: 1-7; ROM 5: 12-19;Gospel: MT 4: 1-11
William Willimon in his book “What’s Right With the Church” tells about leading a Sunday School class that was studying the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. After careful study and explanation of each of the three temptations, Dr. Willimon asked, "How are we tempted today?" A young salesman was the first to speak. "Temptation is when your boss calls you in, as mine did yesterday, and says, 'I'm going to give you a real opportunity. I'm going to give you a bigger sales territory. We believe that you are going places, young man.' ‘But I don't want a bigger sales territory,’ the young salesman told his boss. ‘I'm already away from home four nights a week. It wouldn't be fair to my wife and daughter.’ ‘Look,’ his boss replied, ‘we're asking you to do this for your wife and daughter. Don't you want to be a good father? It takes money to support a family these days. Sure, your little girl doesn't take much money now, but think of the future. Think of her future. I'm only asking you to do this for them, the boss said.” The young man told the class: “Now that’s temptation.”
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to find out what he was made of. The first temptation was “to turn stones into loaves of bread.” Lent is a time to look at such temptations, sin and the consequences. Lent was originally established for new Christians, those who experienced a call. They were to spend forty days and forty nights preparing for their baptism. If at the end they still wanted to follow Jesus, then on Easter Eve they would be baptized as the sun was rising in the east, signaling the new day, the new era, inaugurated because of the Resurrection.

But later the Church used the forty days as a time of renewal for those who were already Christians, because at a certain point everyone in the empire became a Christian, everyone was baptized as infants. So the time of Lent was used as a time of renewal and recommitment to the Christian life, examining our lives in light of the one we are supposed to follow.

Since the Church begins the season with a reflection on the origins of sin among us, the main themes in today’s readings are temptation, sin, guilt and forgiveness. We are told of the temptations offered to our Lord, submission to which would have destroyed his mission. Today’s readings give us the notion that testing comes to us by an agency apart from and in opposition to God. But the truth is that, while testing comes from the outside, temptation comes from within ourselves. However, the good news is that, though we are tempted and often succumb, God’s grace provides the way of salvation for us. Testing is to strengthen us in faith, while temptation is to weaken our faith. Testing comes from God and temptation comes from evil source.
Like Adam and Eve in the first reading today, we are all tempted to put ourselves in God's place. Consequently we resent every limit on our freedom, and we don't want to be held responsible for the consequences of our choices. Temptation is a very real part of life: temptation to stray from the values we hold dear, temptation to take short cuts, to avoid struggle, to find the easy way through.
God helps us in our temptations so that we may not fall away from our faith. Jesus told Peter that he prayed for him and others that he may not fall away. In the garden of Gathsemene Jesus told his disciples to pray with him so that they may not fall into temptation.
A teen-age boy told his parents he was going to run away from home. "Listen," he said, "I'm leaving home. There is nothing you can do to stop me. I want excitement, adventure, beautiful women, money, and fun. I'll never find it here, so I'm leaving. Just don't try to stop me!" As he headed for the door, his father leaped up and ran toward him. "Dad," the boy said firmly, "you heard what I said. Don't try to stop me. I'm going!" "Who's trying to stop you?" answered the father, "I'm going with you!" In our weak moments of temptation Jesus is going with us, because he knows we cannot fight it ourselves.
Every one of us is tempted to seek sinful pleasures, easy wealth and a position of authority, power and glory, and to use any means, even unjust or sinful ones to gain these things. Jesus serves as a model for us in conquering temptations by strengthening himself through prayer, penance and the active use of the ‘Word of God’. Temptations make us more powerful warriors of God by strengthening our minds and hearts. By constantly struggling against temptations we become stronger. Each time one is tempted to do evil but does good, one becomes stronger. Further, we are never tempted beyond our power. In his first letter, St. John assures us: “Greater is the one who is in us, than the one who is in the world (1 John 4: 4). We may be strengthened by St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No testing has overtaken you, that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and [God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing [God] will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."
We are all affected by the culture around us, just like fish are affected by the water quality of the lake where they live. And the culture around us has become drunk with science and technology - so much so that it has completely forgotten this basic truth, that man cannot live on bread alone.
With our genius for science and technology we seem to be on the road to being able to turn stones into bread . The popular culture is trying to make religion into a totally private thing - like a hobby. If society can perfect itself through scientific progress, why do we need God? We need God because society can NOT perfect itself - we do not live on bread alone. We need God because every new invention can either be used for good purposes or bad purposes, and without God's grace we will neither be able to identify the good ones, nor will we be strong enough to choose them. We need God because he is the source of truth, and our souls yearn for truth as much as our bodies yearn for bread.

Hence, during this Lent, let us confront our evil tendencies by prayer , by penance and by meditative reading of the Bible. Let’s use this season of Lent to rediscover who we are before God and say yes to God and no to Satan as Jesus did.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

IXth - Sunday in Ordinary time

DEUT 11: 18-26;ROM 3:21-25;: MT 7:21-27

Ever heard of counterfeit $100 bills? sure, a lot. Ever heard of counterfeit toilet paper? No. Why not? Because it is not worth it. The existence of counterfeits indicates how precious a thing is: the more precious it is, the more counterfeit you get. Spirituality is a very precious commodity. The proof is in the amount of counterfeit spiritualities in circulation. Counterfeit spirituality did not begin with us.

Acts 19 reports a curious incident that happened when Paul was preaching in Ephesus. Paul was performing so many miracles in Ephesus that the other religious ministers in the city became envious of him. They were losing their members to Paul. So some of them decided to observe and copy what Paul was doing. Paul was doing mighty works and casting out demons by invoking the name of Jesus. They thought they had discovered his secret formula, and they took off to go and implement it in their own ministry. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest called Sceva, who were professional exorcists tried to use the name of Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them, overpowered them and handled them so badly that they fled out of the house naked and bruised all over. The moral of the story: Who you are comes before what you do or say.
This is what Jesus is trying to teach his followers in today’s gospel story. He gives thumbs down to some people who say words of faith. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). He even gives thumbs down to some people who do works of faith. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers’” (vv 22-23). By saying “I never knew you,” Jesus indicates that the fundamental and most important thing is him knowing us and we knowing him. In other words, the relationship between Jesus and us is more important than the performance we put up in terms of words and deeds. We have to be Christians, people who know Christ, before we can act or speak Christian. We must have a direct, personal relationship with Christ. This is what gives meaning and potency to the words of faith we speak and the works of faith we perform. Otherwise we are no better than the seven sons of Sceva.

The seven sons of Sceva represent all those who try to profess the Christian creed outwardly and perform Christian works and projects but without being Christian on the inside. The seven sons of Sceva did not surrender their lives to Christ; all they wanted was to profit from the amazing grace that is available to Paul, the servant of Christ. They did not love Jesus; they loved something that Jesus gives. It was self-interest through and through. Paul professed Christ because he wanted to know him, love him and serve him.

Professing the faith by word of mouth is good. Involvement in concrete works of faith is great. But for these to have any meaning for eternal salvation, we must, first and foremost, cultivate a direct and personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We can make all sorts of grandiose plans, we can even see our plans benefiting other people as these plans are laid and carried out. But if our plans remain OUR plans, set in OUR terms, and without consulting God, at some stage, cracks in their foundation will begin to show.

Take the case of a talented architect who wanted to show off his
skills in architectural design. He goes to his drawing board and
drafts what he regards as his masterpiece design. He never bothers to
consult other experts like a soils or a seismic engineer perhaps, to
see if his design can be executed on the ground he had chosen as
planned. Had he done so, he would have discovered that his design must
adapt to the actual soil conditions, and not the soil conditions adapting to his design. He will have to adjust or alter his plans and submit to the limits and boundaries imposed by nature.

Something similar can be said about following God's will. Human plans
must be exercised within God's will, for it is God's will that must be
its solid foundation. Otherwise, human will and freedom would just
sway unsteadily when left unguided, and exposed to the many forces in
the world. And so, the parable of Jesus makes real sense: the wise
man, the one who follows the will of God, builds his house upon the
rock; the foolish man, the one who follows his own will, builds his
house upon the sand. The rains fell, the floods came, and the house
upon the sand is gone. But the house upon the rock remains.

Some times we pledge to be obeying God’s will and in practice behave as if we know better than God. An elderly Scottish woman was making her way through the countryside. Each time she came to a crossroads she would toss a stick into the air. Whichever way the stick came down was the direction she went. At one intersection, however, an old man saw her toss her stick into the air not once, not twice, but three times before resuming her journey. The old man was curious. "Why are you throwing your stick like that?" he asked. She squinted and replied, "I'm letting God direct my journey by using this stick." "Then why did you throw it three times?" asked the curious old man. "Because," she said, "the first two times He was pointing me in the wrong direction." We may laugh at this. But some times we go by our human wisdom than relying on Divine wisdom.

Our faith is primarily for living in, not for looking at or talking about. It must be lived in deed and truth” (1Jn 3:18).In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI, recalls that “the Christian message is not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known; it is one that makes things happen and is life changing. Christianity is not an ideology, or a simple ethics program; it is, above all, a personal commitment with Somebody.
Let’s build our spiritual edifice on the living stone of Jesus by doing the will of the heavenly father in heaven.’ May the Lord be praised now and for ever.