5th Sunday of Lent

This Sunday’s Gospel is considerably long – it is the story of the death and raising to life of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. Proclaiming the story offers its own challenges, standing and listening I would well imagine offers considerably more!

Did you know Lazarus has his own website? For those with the slightest interest it  “is a Delphi compatible cross-platform IDE for Rapid Application Development. It has variety of components ready for use and a graphical form designer to easily create complex graphical user interfaces.” I have absolutely no idea what any of that means!!

However, back to our Gospel.

Elements of the story that have given me cause for reflection.

Firstly, the story is recounted only in the Gospel of St. John. I would have thought such an astonishing event would have been recorded ‘everywhere’. Today, such a miracle would have been front page news on Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, and media outlets worldwide! Why the silence on the part of Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

Secondly, while the story itself is long, maybe we could well compress the story to one sentence, and in fact two words – “Jesus wept”. While the story is indeed about Lazarus, it also affords me the opportunity to reflect on the response of Jesus. “Where have you laid him?” is the enquiry of Jesus, and when shown the sight, the immediate, spontaneous, response of Jesus is one of tears.

Tears are an integral part of our being human; they come as a response to joy, to happiness, to delight, to wonder, to awe. They come too as a response to deflation, to disappointment, to sadness, to pain, and to grief.

Tears are in fact an important part of the human persons  communication system – when the human vocabulary seems at a loss to express the feeling quality associated with an occasion or a person, the vocabulary of emotion takes over. Tears communicate all manner of feeling. This is communicated again in our Gospel story, “so the Jews said, ‘see how he loved him!’ “.

The third reflective point for myself is that all this happened in public! Jesus’ grief was overt, available for all to see! He was in fact a Jewish man exhibiting his Jewishness! As ‘mature’ Caucasians we are more inclined (though not all of us) to weep in private. Consider the number of movies you have watched where an adult begins to weep, grabs a hanky or a tissue and hurries from the room!

One of the after-effects of a stroke is that persons often experience emotional and behavioural changes. The reason is simple. Stroke impacts the brain, and the brain controls our behaviour and emotions. As a consequence, a person may well be sitting watching a TV programme, or listening to a piece of music, and quite spontaneously tears well up and roll down the cheeks (and inevitably there are others in the room!).

The final reflection point for myself is the request of Jesus, “unbind him, let him go free.” This request is given to those who had gathered at the burial site. Hold on a moment! I don’t mind standing at the place of burial! I don’t mind shedding a ‘private’ tear or two! However, getting that up close and personal?? “Unbind him, let him go free.” Ultimately, the individual’s freedom arrives when I unbind them!

Prints from other masters inspired Van Gogh during his stay at the hospital in Saint-Rémy, and he made his version of the Raising of Lazarus from an etching by Rembrandt (1642). With his ginger beard, Lazarus bears some resemblance to Van Gogh himself.

The painter may have seen a parallel between Lazarus’ return from the dead and his struggle from mental illness towards recovery.

Art critics note that Van Gogh’s depiction left out the central figure of Christ with his arm raised as is very evident in the painting by Rembrandt.

Note, however, the colour of each painting; for myself, Van Gogh has painted with the vibrancy of light. Rembrandt is dark and sombre. Possibly, the vibrancy of light in the Van Gogh painting is the new life of Christ experienced by Lazarus!

4th Sunday of Lent

The illustration is a contemporary modern watercolour with the title, “Eyes Gazing”

When I was living and in ministry in the city of Christchurch I had the use of a small car to get me from A to B and on occasions even as far as O and P!

The car was nifty and ran well and being small was easy to park.

However, as the driver, I noticed the car had a blind spot!

The framework of the chassis which held the left front window in place prevented me, as the driver, with a clear vision, from looking for oncoming motorists, cyclists and indeed pedestrians.

I found myself becoming concerned and frustrated.

Eventually, I took the vehicle to the dealership and explained what I considered a major manufacturing fault.

The gentleman listened attentively, and then we went and examined the vehicle.

To my surprise ( and chagrin), the gentleman sat in the driver’s seat, moved the seat forward a little and suggested I myself take the seat, and as it says quite simply in this Sunday’s Gospel, “ he was able to see!” ( Jn 9:7).

This Sunday, the Gospel is the story of a blind man receiving his sight.

The story in the Gospel involves spittle, dust from the ground forming a paste, washing in the pool of Siloam, a testy encounter with the Pharisees, and indeed disbelief.

All I needed to do was make a small adjustment to my sitting position!

However, while it was easily managed in the motor vehicle, in life, the shift maybe a little more difficult.

Where I sit and/or stand gives me a certain viewpoint; however, it may also provide a “blind spot”.

A blind spot is an obscuration of the visual field.

One could get all technical; however, from a medical point of view, it concerns the lack of light-detecting cells.

Perhaps from a Christian living viewpoint (or lack of!) if I sit or stand in the same place, I may in fact be preventing the light from penetrating, thus promoting a “blind spot”.

At the end of the Gospel, Jesus says, “ I came into this world, so that those who do not see, may see.” (Jn 9:39)

The illustration is a contemporary modern watercolour with the title, “Eyes Gazing”

7th week of Ordinary Time

A collection of pearls from Savusavu, Fiji . The town is located on the south coast of Vanua Levu.

Three weeks shy of his twenty-fifth birthday, the French composer, George Bizet completed his opera, known in English as “The Pearl Fishers”.

Set in Ceylon, the opera centres around the competitive love two men have for the same woman.

The two men, one known as Nadir and the other Zurga, have been life-long friends, however this competitive love has forced them apart.

After a self-imposed absence, Nadir returns to the shores of Ceylon, where his friend Zurga has just been elected Fisher King. In a well-known aria, known in English as “from the depths of the Temple” the two men seek to recover and embrace their life-long friendship.

They sing:

Your hand pushes my hand away!

Your hand pushes my hand away!

From our hearts love seizes
And changes us into enemies!

No, let nothing separate us!

No, nothing!

Swear to stay friends!
Oh yes, let’s swear to stay friends!

The words in the aria may well be an echo of today’s Gospel, “but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ( Mtt. 5: 44).

Whenever, we choose to love our enemy, we exhibit something of the love of God.

Whenever we forgive instead of getting angry at one another, bless instead of cursing one another, tend one another’s wounds instead of rubbing salt into them, hearten instead of discouraging one another, give hope instead of driving one another to despair, hug instead of harassing one another, welcome instead of cold-shouldering one another, thank instead of criticizing one another, praise instead of maligning one another . . . in short, whenever we opt for and not against one another, we make God’s unconditional love visible.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

God summons us to a radical way of living.

We are called to be more than just moral: God invites us to be virtuous.

We become virtuous by habitually choosing to do good.

Naturally, we are not perfect, however God calls us to reflect on how we live and to understand what has gone right and wrong for us. Such reflection can lead us to insight that will help us to live better – be virtuous – in the future.

Therefore, by reflecting on our experiences in the light of our faith, we grow in wisdom.

The author of today’s first reading, Sirach, affirms that God knows every human action; St Paul reminds us that God has many riches for those who love him; and Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel says that he has come not to abolish but to fulfil the Law and the Prophets.

What we see clearly in the readings today is that there are repercussions, and consequences – good or bad – for all our actions.

Our challenge is to avoid the opportunities that do harm and to choose what directs us to God.

Sirach, the Psalmist, Paul and Jesus embraced this way of life; they are examples of how it is possible for us to become virtuous and wise. If we take to heart their messages from the readings this Sunday, we too, like them, will be true beacons of virtue – people of faith, hope and love.

If you have ever been to a circus or a carnival of one sort or another, you may well have walked passed what is known as a “distorting mirror”.

They are a popular attraction.

Instead of a normal plane mirror that reflects a perfect mirror image, distorting mirrors are curved mirrors, often using convex and concave sections to achieve the distorted effect. The result is you look much taller or shorter, much fatter or slimmer!

It is not you, however, there is enough of you to capture your attention, for you to pause, and, if there is none nearby, for you to pull a funny face and make the image of yourself more distorted still.

This image of the “distorting mirror” came to mind as I read this Sunday’s Gospel.

Just two Sunday’s ago we read from St. Matthew’s Gospel what are known as the Beatitudes, (Mtt. 5: 1 – 11). Often referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount”. The Sermon on the Mount is the very blueprint for the Christian lifestyle, and most scholars see it as the best summary of Jesus’ teaching.

If you have a New Testament that is in the form of columns, sitting in the column next to these wonderful blessings is today’s Gospel passage, and it is like you have walked past a “distorting mirror”.