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”

Palm Sunday

Imagine that today’s Gospel text, that accompanies the blessing and procession of palms (Lk. 19: 28 – 40) the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem was adapted as a stage show, or perhaps even a full-length movie; the spotlight would most certainly be directed onto the person of Jesus. He is the central figure, he has the starring role; however, in directing the spotlight onto Jesus, another figure is illumined – the donkey! In fact, the donkey and Jesus share the limelight, and I would like to focus on the donkey. Certainly, Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem today, however it may not have been the first time he was on a donkey. Christmas images in art have a pregnant Mary riding on a donkey as she and her husband Joseph make their way to Bethlehem. Similarly, these images have Mary (holding the newborn child) riding on a donkey as she and Joseph make a hurried escape to Egypt. And we might well imagine that there was a ride on a donkey when the family made their return from exile. Donkeys carrying Jesus appear to be a theme.

In Orthodox Christianity there is a special title given to Mary – that title is Theotokos. The title is what we in the English language would call a portmanteau, that is a new word formed by fusing together parts of existing words, in this instance the Greek word “theo” meaning God and the word “tokos” meaning to bear or to carry. Mary is the “God-bearer”. However maybe the donkey is also – the God-carrier.

Maybe that is our privilege and responsibility as baptized women, men, and children – to become a donkey! To carry Jesus wherever we go! There is, however, one important element which is sometimes overlooked, the bearer at times tries to become the one who is being carried. A genuine donkey will stand and wait with patience until the Master has need – and we have no better example there than the original ‘Theotokos’, who carried when carrying was necessary, who let the Word go when the Word chose, and who in the end was ready to hold when the Word could go no further, known as the Pieta.

The Pulitzer prize winning American poet ( 1935 – 2019 ) wrote a thought-provoking poem with the title, “The Poet Thinks About The Donkey”

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
     leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
     clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

+ Mary Oliver


Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Gospel story about an encounter between Jesus and those accusing a woman of adultery, (John 8: 2 – 11) is not about the rights and wrongs of the woman’s behaviour.

The Pharisees use Moses and his law as their point of validation. So let us go to the law of Moses.

In the Book of Leviticus we read, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 20:10).

Did you spot the word ”both”?

I would hazard a guess that few persons who read that Gospel passage have bothered to look at the law of Moses. According to the Law of Moses, King David ought to have been put to death!

The Gospel is about finger-pointing.

I have said on many occasions when you point a finger at an individual you are, in fact, pointing three at yourself!

What we accuse others of is more often than not what we ourselves are guilty of, or have difficulty in accepting a part of who we are.

Have you ever given consideration to the possibility that the adulterer was one of the group who brought the woman to Jesus?

The following is a reflective poem written as a response to the Gospel passage. The author, Irene Zimmerman OSF. A School Sister of St. Joseph.

From the angry crunch of their sandaled feet
as they left the courtyard, Jesus knew,
without looking up from his writing on the ground,
that the Pharisees and scribes still carried their stones.

The woman stood where they’d shoved her,
her hair hanging loose over neck and face,
her hands still shielding her head
from the stones she awaited.

“Woman,” he asked, “has no one condemned you?”

The heap of woman shuddered, unfolded.
She viewed the courtyard — empty now —
with wild, glazed eyes and turned back to him.
“No one, Sir,” she said, unsurely.

Compassion flooded him like a wadi after rain.

He thought of his own mother — had she known such fear? —
and of the gentle man whom he had called Abba.
Only when Joseph lay dying had he confided
his secret anguish on seeing his betrothed
swelling up with seed not his own.

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said.
“Go your way and sin no more.”

Black eyes looked out from an ashen face,
empty, uncomprehending.
Then life rushed back.
She stood before him like a blossoming tree.

“Go in peace and sin no more,”
Jesus called again as she left the courtyard.

He had bought her at a price, he knew.

The stony hearts of her judges
would soon hurl their hatred at him.
His own death was a mere stone’s throw away.

– From Woman Un-Bent, Irene Zimmerman, St. Mary’s Press, Winona, MN. 1999