Let us pray with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin…
Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart;
And there hold me, refine, purge, and set me on fire,
Raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation. Amen
1st Reading: Malachi (3:19-20a)
Take a minute to go over the opening prayer again and what this reading is saying. Our spirituality is like fire. We can let it transform us, or we can rest in the coals. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.” How does this sit with you today?
Malachi means “my messenger”. This book was written by an anonymous author about 460-450 BC after the exile. Although the exile was over and the people had been allowed to return home, they were disheartened. The temple had been rebuilt, but it did not guarantee communal, liturgical, or spiritual unity. The people were in disarray. The clergy were negligent, the ritual sloppy, and there was an indifference to the needs of the poor. The rich became richer, and poor became poorer. The prophets used the idea of the “Day of the Lord” to create fear and to motivate people to change. They claimed the day would be a day of judgment – a day of fire when the righteous would be saved, but evil would be destroyed. Because Malachi came up against the leaders, he was a very unpopular prophet. He was also insistent that the people forsake all foreign religious practices – he was even afraid of intermarriage because he thought it would taint Judaism. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 533)
The “Sun of Justice” literally means the ‘sun which is justice’. How does this image speak to you of God? Here we see the Biblical authors applying the symbol of the ‘sun god’ that was used in Persia and Egypt to Yahweh for to them Yahweh certainly was the source of all light and life. The hot sun could blaze with fire to burn away evil and to heal the righteous. Christians applied this idea later to Jesus calling him the “Son of Justice” – the One who comes as light into the world with the incarnate presence of God. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Wk, 533-534)
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians (3:7-12)
This letter reflects an example of a group whose apocalyptic fervor has ‘gone amuck.’ They refused to work, and they were beginning to be a burden on the rest of the Christian community. We do need to be careful how we apply this text. We are all capable of being ‘shirkers’ – and we thus need to take the warning seriously. But – as with all scripture – we should not use this passage to criticize the poor who might be faced with unemployment and homelessness beyond their own choice. It may be just as likely to find ‘shirkers’ among the affluent as among the poor. Christianity always demands that we uphold the law of love. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 534)
“Faith cannot stand as an excuse. Faith does not wait for another to work, for another to think, to serve, to pray. Faith plunges the believer into the thick of the human experience with all its pain and struggle even as it realizes and lives in the hope that this life is not forever. Temporal and temporary as it is, however, it is only during THIS life that we have the opportunity to prepare for the life that never ends,” (“Preaching Resources”, Nov’04).
Gospel Reading: Luke (21:5-19)
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
But in some ways this gospel is also just about the way life is – such things do happen as Jesus warns us. Each day is the last. Each time is the end time. Each human faces the end of the world in the span of a life. Every sunset closes a day that will never come again. Each human death is a curtain on an unrepeatable drama. Without God, this would all mean hopeless tragedy.
Has there ever been an age without such turmoil and trial, persecution and stress? As Paul says, it is only faith that saves us; it is faith that gives us hope in the midst of this ‘groaning of creation’ both within and without our human lives – as we live and when we die.
Our belief in Paschal Mystery can help us. From the Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser:
In order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life . . .
Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life . . . Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life, a life that is free of death entirely. (146)
What can we learn from the cycle of the paschal mystery?
- Name your deaths.
- Claim your births.
- Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality.
- Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing.
- Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living. (148)
Christ’s words are meant to move us, inspire us to set the world on fire like St. Ignatius implores. Here are some reflection questions using the image of fire:
- What is blazing in your heart?
- Where in your life do you experience the fire of light, protection and warmth?
- What in your life needs to be refined or purified?
- Where do you experience resistance to the purifying dimensions of fire?
- What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?
The cross is a symbol of our salvation. Each time we look upon and venerate the cross; each time we cross ourselves in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, we profess our willingness to take Jesus seriously, to live the radical Gospel fully, and to die for our beliefs, our values and commitment to God, to Jesus and one another (Sanchez, PD, NCR for 8/29-9/11).
1st Reading – Numbers 21:4b-9
What logic is behind this reading and command? Why should a victim have to look at that which can kill them? The reason becomes a bit clearer if we look at the meaning of the snakebites which is the same thing as looking at the nature of sin, since the people had revolted against God and Moses. They were not even grateful any longer for the free bread that came to them from heaven. God sent the snakebites to punish them – not vindictively but as a ‘reality-check’ –considering how their sin and ingratitude had distanced them from God, the source of life – discovering later in their pain that they were suffering, lonely and God-forsaken. The only answer is to open the door again, and so they do that. They own up to their sin and ask for God’s help once again. Moses is told to make a serpent out of bronze, and so he does. This serpent has no sting; they can look on it without fear and without death. They can face their wrong-doing knowing that it has been taken up into the splendor of God’s on-going love which has brought them out of slavery to new life – a love that will continue to lead them if they but follow. (Fr. John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Philippians 2: 6-11
This early Christian hymn that Paul is using should help us to appreciate how freely God gives his love to us and how completely this love is revealed in Christ Jesus, our Lord – the only one that is worthy and safe to be called Lord.
This is the Paschal Mystery: that by emptying ourselves, we may rise to new life. Ronald Rolheiser in the Holy Longing says, “Like all things temporal, our understanding of God and the church too must constantly die and be raised to new life. Our intentions may be sincere and noble, but so too were Mary Magdala’s on Easter morning when she tried to ignore the new reality of Jesus so as to cling to what had previously been, “ (p. 162). What needs to be emptied in you to bring about new life?
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he talks a lot about this emptying as a way of detachment. In making personal decisions, we should pray to get to the point where we could go either way in deciding (emptying ourselves). That way, we are truly leaving it in God’s hands to make the decision, and thus doing God’s will. He says, “One strives earnestly not to desire that money or anything else, except when one is motivated solely by the service of God our Lord; in such a way that the desire to be able to serve God our Lord better is what moves one to take or reject any object whatsoever,” (#155).
The Gospel – John 3: 13-17
God: all life begins with God; it is God who sent Jesus.
Loved the world: Here is the motive for all of God’s activity – God is love!
Gave his only Son: God gave in two senses – first, in the Incarnation God’s Word, God’s Message became flesh in the world; second, this Son in whom God is perfectly present endured death, the ‘lifting up’ on the cross.
Believes: God asks us to respond to his love – believe in Jesus. This believing in John’s gospel is always an entering into a deep and abiding personal relationship with Jesus.
Not perish/eternal life: God’s plan is NOT for human destruction, condemnation, or punishment. God wishes us to trust his love so that this love can lead us to an eternal life where death is destroyed, wrong is righted, and peace/shalom is established forever. This is the Good News we exalt on today’s feast.
(“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)
In Elizabeth Johnson’s Consider Jesus, she compares 2 theologians’ views on the cross. Jurgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, was a prisoner of war during WWII and wrote The Crucified God. His view of salvation is that out of love, God freely chooses to be affected by what affects others, so that when people sin and suffer this influences the divine being. He saw the cross as an event between God and God. While Jesus suffers on the cross, both Father and Son are suffering, though in different ways. Each suffers the loss of the other, yet they have never been so deeply united in one love. In their common loving will to save the world, regardless of the cost, what is revealed is the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and Son. At Jesus’ death his Spirit, God’s Love, is let loose on the world. Only if all disaster is within God can God affect salvation. (Think of all the current disasters today and how God may reveal Godself in them.)
Compare Moltmann with Edward Schillebeeckx, a Belgian Roman Catholic who is a Dominican and contributed greatly to Vatican II. He says God wills life and not death, joy and not suffering, both for Jesus and for everyone else. The cross reveals the tension between God and sinful humanity. God, as pure positivity, enter into compassionate solidarity with Jesus on the cross, keeping faith with him, not abandoning him. God is present in the mode of absence. He keeps vigil until human freedom has played itself out and Jesus is destroyed. Then God overcomes the evil of death through the act of resurrection, conquering and undoing the negativity wrought by human sinfulness. We are saved not by the cross but despite it
Neither theologian is right or wrong…it is all just thinking aloud about knowing God. Jesus is the Compassion of God. Jesus is in solidarity with us, and we are all united with God in Jesus by being in compassionate solidarity with all those who suffer.
The Gospel — John 11: 1-45
The cast of characters…
Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss:
“Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”
Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer.
Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’
by his grace and live to ‘go free’.
The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless.
Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. Why? No easy answer.
If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God? Where do you see yourself in the story?
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship (A), p.179:
This story is a prelude to the cross. It leads the way; it shows us the meaning of Jesus’ coming passion. Lazarus was raised from the dead for a brief respite; Jesus was raised forever. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we all share in the Lazarus sign. The raising of Lazarus prompts every believer to answer the ultimate question: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE?
What do you think of Thomas’ statement: “Let us go to die with him.” (verse 16) It is in John 20: 24-29 we also see Thomas after the Resurrection. From that story he gets the name, doubting Thomas. Aren’t we like Thomas, at times?!
Jesus waited. Scripture uses the word remained, which gives the waiting an intentionality. Lazarus was dead for 4, long days. All hope was lost. But everything is possible with God, right? As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans a couple weeks ago, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts…” (5:5). It was for the glory of God. God’s time is not our time. What wonderful things may lie in wait for you if you hope in the glory of the Lord?
Martha is worried about the stench in the cave when Jesus approaches (as, of course, Martha would!). Jesus waves that off and focuses on why he is there, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” Jesus is not afraid to come to our stinky, dark places and breathe new life into us! And actually, Jesus does not go into the cave but calls Lazarus out. Jesus calls us OUT of ourselves. And he calls others in to help Lazarus with the bandages. We need the support of our community to jump in and be there with us. Jesus is in the midst of it all. Do you see yourself in this? Our church?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:
John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”
Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did. Lazarus died. And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus. We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time. Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t. And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.
Lazarus dies, and his family grieves. Even Jesus weeps at the loss. But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life! And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him. Death wins the battle, but love wins the war. So we believe. So we profess.
Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering? The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it. When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)
The Gospel – Matthew 17: 1-9
Mountaintops have often been symbols for peak spiritual experiences. Moses, the freeing lawgiver, and Elijah, the wonder-working prophet, met God on Mt.Sinai or Mt.Horeb (two names for the same mountain). At Sinai the Hebrew people had been wanderers who lived in tents. A tent became the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s sheltering presence in the wilderness. As they traveled, God went with them, a cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 40). The booths that Peter wants to build symbolize this sheltering presence of God. (Sunday by Sunday, Feb. 28, 1999 from Good Ground Press http://www.goodgroundpress.com )
Is your experience of God’s presence this Lent more like a mountaintop or a journey through a valley – or desert – a cloud? What does it mean to you to have God’s favor rest on Jesus – on us?
All of Lent is about either preparing for baptism or learning to live our baptism more fully. We are called to listen to Jesus – to journey with our God – to grow in holiness. All of this will mean a share in God’s glory – God’s own life, but it will also mean an embrace of suffering. Through baptism we all share in the life of the glorified Christ. This life is the blessing of holiness, promised to Abraham by God and made possible through the transformative grace of Jesus’ suffering and death.
From Living Liturgy, Year A, p.68:
Christian living is about being touched by Jesus so that the fleeting moments of glory are made permanent in bettering the lives of others. ‘Coming down from the mountain’ may be a metaphor for the need to take up the ministry of Jesus. Listening to Jesus and being touched by him should draw us outside of ourselves – and our ‘comfort zones.’ We don’t build tents: we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, touch the downhearted, visit the lonely, encourage the discouraged, etc. In this way Christ touches others through us. This kind of living is eminently practical and requires a real and constant dying to self. Why do we try to live this way? Because we have great hope in the outcome: helping to create a better world here (God’s kingdom) and forever.
Consider the following paradoxes:
1) The account of the Transfiguration is sandwiched between two predictions of his passion and death.
2) Peter, James, and John were also the three who were with Jesus in Gethsemane.
3) Jesus tells his disciples not to mention this vision until after his suffering.
The image of Christ transfigured is that of Christ being glorified after the suffering and death.
How do you understand what is called the paschal mystery?
Here are some thoughts from Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing:
The paschal mystery is the mystery of how we, after undergoing some kind of death, receive new life and new spirit. Jesus, in both his teaching and in his life, showed us a clear paradigm for how this should happen. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” (John 12:24) These words of Jesus define the paschal mystery: namely, in order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life and spirit. Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life.
Daily we undergo this paschal mystery.
In more colloquial language it is this:
1. Name your deaths (Good Friday).
2. Claim your births (Easter).
3. Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality (the 40 days after Easter).
4. Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing (Ascension).
5. Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living (Pentecost). (The Holy Longing, pp. 145-148)
Have you ever experienced a transfiguration? Have you ever seen a plain girl become a radiant beauty when she is seen through the eyes of love? Have you ever seen a timid, ordinary person become a ‘lion’, a hero, when someone was in need of help? Have you ever noticed a homely face become remarkably attractive as they share their enthusiasm for something they love? Have you ever met someone who appeared to be rather ordinary only to discover how extraordinary they really are? Have you ever felt tired, discouraged, and alone only to quietly, but deeply begin to feel God’s presence and care? Afterwards, you can’t really doubt that it was from God, even though you may still not understand it. These experiences may help us to understand a little better the gospel experience. For a moment the three disciples experience Jesus in the complete union with God that he is.
It was a short vision of how things really are at their core. Yet, Jesus will go on to suffer. The Transfiguration was one way to show that Jesus’ suffering would not negate his divinity. Suffering is not foreign to the Father or to Jesus. (John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In a culture where honor and shame were everything, this story confirms to Jesus’ followers that no matter how shamefully he may be treated by the ‘powers of this world’ his very being is filled with God’s goodness and glory. It is in this truth, this reality, that Jesus steadfastly trusted. His faith and trust paid off: God restored to him his ultimate true honor in a way that no human ever could have. The crucified one was the one God raised from the dead. In our very different culture, where self-reliance is highly valued, it is equally challenging to trust God especially when we feel we are to be fully in control of our life and destiny. We, too, must realize that our hope also resides in the faithful love of our God who is with us in good times and bad. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The disciples are asked not to talk about this experience, this vision. It is only in the light of the Resurrection that they will begin to understand the whole truth about Jesus. The crucifixion will be a scandal that is only be undone by the shining light of the resurrected Jesus offering to all his peace. (Share the Word, Feb. 28, 1999)