HOLY WEEK: THE LABYRINTH OF LOVE
A quarter of a century ago, in a nearby church with a choir loft, the choir director would survey the congregation to see how well they were participating. From the back of the church, at that height, one could overlook the entire assembly. Once, the director noticed a man with his ten or eleven year old son, who was obviously physically and mentally challenged. From time to time, the dad would try to help the struggling son stand or kneel at the appropriate time. Particularly, during the Eucharistic Prayer, the dad would carefully place each of the boys knees on the padded kneeler, very lovingly. Within a moment or two, the lad would sit back again in the pew. Each time, the father would put his arm around the lad and coax him gently back upon the kneeler. Time and again this went on for virtually the entire mass. It was not long before the choir director noticed this ritual occurring each week, month in and month out for as long as the director
remained at that church.
If the young boy is still alive, he would be almost middle aged now. That choir director wonders from time to time if the boy, now a man, recognizes the unselfish act of love that father demonstrated over and over again. It never changed. It never got easier for the dad. Perhaps the lad recognizes in his limited way how much he was loved. Perhaps not. Do any of us really recognize those gestures of love that we have experienced in our lives?
Passion Sunday is a reminder for us of how much we are loved. Not in an emotional or sentimental way, but in that direct, inescapable type of demonstration that is easily missed in our distracted, busy lives. Sometimes, we may get overwhelmed by the pain and suffering that Jesus endured. However, crucifixion and death were only a prelude to what we mention in passing in the Apostle’s Creed: “He descended into hell.” We think of that as three days, but according to the theory of relativity that could have been thousands of years of torment and suffering, in terms of relative time. Who knows? We only know that God would go to any lengths to demonstrate his infinite love for us. Because, in order for love to be fully realized, it must be expressed without limits or conditions. Do we recognize it? Are we rooted in that love?
Out on the plaza of the church is painted a labyrinth. In some ways, walking the labyrinth is a journey that reflects the time Jesus was in the tomb. We go inward to the center and then return outward again to resume our ordinary routine. Perhaps, the next time we walk the labyrinth we could think of it as a journey into the labyrinth of God’s love and a demonstration of our commitment to follow Jesus in his journey into the darkness for our sakes. Love must be demonstrated to be fully realized. Holy week invites us to be rooted in Love, in the most essential ways possible. As we walk humbly with God during Holy Week, let us consider not just the price, but the enormity and the focus of God’s love for each of us, and his willingness to give everything to prove it. Are we? Our truth is what we do.
WEEK FOUR: Rooted In Simple Belief
The Gospel story of The Man Born Blind reminds us of the poem, The Blind Men and the Elephant, as we ponder, whose blindness are we considering? A popular notion today is “Thinking Out of the Box.” Basically, that means getting beyond social or group thinking. One of the biggest things that many people do, conceptually, is put God in a box and think the box is God. Then we become experts about the box and mistakenly think we know something about God. Another “box” is the idea of society, itself. We all know what society demands or considers appropriate, but society has no headquarters or official institution; it is simply something everyone knows all about. The notion of group, social consciousness is one of the elements of blindness that John writes about.
The Pharisees are a political party/social movement, roughly similar to what we would consider, in our society “liberals” or “conservatives.” The Scribes are a faction of professionals, roughly similar to what we might consider lawyers or accountants. Finally, “The Jews” are a social construct that equates roughly to what we would consider society. So, when the man, whose blindness was healed, was taken by his neighbors to the Pharisees, the Pharisees were not an official organization or institution, though we are left with the impression that they had some official standing. When John states in verse 18 that “The Jews” did not believe he was blind from birth, he is more or less saying that “society” did not believe his story. These details are important because we can become blinded by the fascinating narrative and miss entirely the possibility that the story may be about us. If we stay
strictly on a literal level, it is easy for us to miss that point entirely.
Within each of us there is a virtual tribunal that conducts an inquisition about nearly everything we do or say. Like the healed man, no one stands for the defendant. He stands alone. While the repartee with the accusers is entertaining, it is easy to miss what is important. All the back and forth about sin and guilt (talk about the God box) misses the essential point that he was blind and now could see. He was grounded in the simple facts of a simple faith that allowed him to see beyond all the clever artifices being hurled at him to obscure the facts. When he reiterated the simple facts, the “Jews” became frustrated and angry, because the “Me Heart” cannot win in the face of simple faith. We all need to be rooted in simple belief about God and not become distracted by the box in which many people have placed God. The world is constantly trying to trap us in a box and pretend that the box is God.
The way the story ends, Jesus indicates that those Pharisees, with all their complicated beliefs about God, were actually the ones who were truly blind. They could not see beyond the box in which they had put God. The problem we face is this: do we hold to our “God in a particular box” kind of blindness, or do we simply remove the box of rightness and allow God to be whom, how, and where God actually is? The answer is simple.
When we look at all they ways God has been active in our life, do we really hear Jesus asking us, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Can we, with the power and conviction of a simple faith, respond: “I do believe Lord!” With our eyes wide open then, rooted in simple belief, let us walk humbly with God.
Week Three: Get Rooted in the Possible
For most of us, life consists of a series of patterns, which we more or less consistently follow, calling it our “routine.” By the “routine” of our life, to the observant, we demonstrate a great deal of what is important to us and what is not. The simple fact is, the truth is what we do. When the Samaritan Woman encounters Jesus, she is in the midst of doing her “truth.” The noon day sun is very intense in that part of the world, and most likely the woman was coming to the well at that hour to avoid social contact. Whether her isolation was self imposed, or not, the gospel does not mention.
Jesus demands of her a drink, which seems to us to be a bit presumptuous. However, hospitality in Mediterranean culture is extremely important, and he was merely reminding her of her social obligation, which she probably was not pleased to oblige. She had access to the well, he did not. What ensued was a bit of a verbal contest in which she could satisfy his thirst, and Jesus could satisfy hers. Apparently, both their needs were met. While Jesus asked penetrating questions, demonstrating an understanding of her life circumstances, he did not accuse her of sin or offer her forgiveness. However, we as readers/hearers of this story often impose a judgment upon her. A seemingly minor point, yet significant, is that when the disciples returned, she left somewhat hastily because she left her water jar behind.
She apparently overcame her isolation and engaged the people of that town enough for them to go see for themselves who this foreigner might be. Even more amazing was that afterwards, they apparently continued to engage her, if even in a somewhat dismissive way. It appears that her past was no longer the impediment to social interaction that she had previously experienced. Neither for her, nor for ourselves, is our past our “potential.”
Many of us find ourselves rooted in the past, which even God cannot change. There we adjust our lives to accommodate the enormity of our shame or guilt. What the story of the Samaritan Woman invites us to consider is becoming re-rooted in our possibilities, not our past. The “Living Water” Jesus refers to, enables us to flow past and beyond those moments which constrict our lives and narrow our options. Jesus reminds us that we don’t have to face the heat of the day alone, but can live and breathe and have our being in the freedom of a redeemed people.
The sacrament of reconciliation is our invitation to Jacob’s well. Like the Samaritan Woman, we can engage in a routine enumeration of the facts of our lives and continue struggling along as we have, or we can open ourselves to reengaging a new set of possibilities for living a fuller, richer life. Showing up for confession is a demonstration of how we can be rooted in reality, in the unexpected, and the possible. We can continue living the hardships of isolation and estrangement from the best part of ourselves, or we can leave our water jar behind and reengage with all those aspects of ourselves from which we have become strangers. The Living Water is calling, drink deeply.
Second Week of Lent Reflection
Encountering the unexpected always offers us challenges. Most people like to know what lies before them when they undertake a journey, usually consulting maps and preparing or over preparing for things they may experience along the way. We like to think that being properly prepared in advance is a prudent way to engage the world. If the unanticipated appears, if we are properly prepared (so the thinking goes), we will know how to respond appropriately as events unfold. The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent presents a situation for which the disciples who accompanied Jesus were most likely unprepared.
In the Matthew version of the Transfiguration, Jesus refers to what the apostles experienced as a “vision.”
The way the “vision” unfolds, the disciples are not aware that it is merely a vision, but fall to the ground in reverential fear. Perhaps that is the most appropriate response to an encounter of such magnitude. Transfiguration is a lot like what happens every Sunday at Eucharist, but perhaps because it is all so familiar to us, most of us do not have the vision to perceive what is actually going on.
Our image for the Second Week of Lent is that of doors. We tend to think that the unexpected is always on the other side of the door. We focus, almost blindly, on which door to choose, or what lies beyond. Rarely do we grasp that the unexpecteded could be right there with us on this side of the door. Whether a burning bush, as Moses experienced, or a powerful vision of transfigurations that the disciples witnessed- it was
right there in the ordinary realm of experience. So are the Sacraments. The Sacraments are our encounter with the fullness of Christ, but because of our blindness we often fail to grasp the enormity of that encounter. To be rooted in the Sacraments is to be rooted in the unexpected encounter with the fullness of Christ.
Jesus invites us to rooted in the Paschal Mystery of his passion, death and resurrection. Mystery is a notion that troubles many people, because most us prefer the expected, normal unfolding of events in a reasonably predictable way. To be rooted in the unexpected seems like a contradiction to us that simply does not make sense. Mystery at its essence in not only unknown but also unexpected. There is no way to make sense of an encounter with mystery. Rarely is there a clearly designated doorway through which we enter into the realm of original experience. To enter into mystery is to walk ever so humbly
with God. To be rooted in the Sacraments is to be rooted in mystery.
The practices of prayer, fasting, and alms giving that are customary for Lent are way of letting go of our expectations of normalcy and preparation for getting rotted in the unexpected unfolding of mystery in out lives. Rarely, when we encounter the mysterious, are we going to respond like the disciples and suggest camping out there. Most of us want to return to the normal as soon as possible. Walking humbly with God is an invitation to remain steadfast in the face of the unexpected, the unwanted, the mysterious.
FIRST WEEK OF LENT REFLECTION
In the gospel for the first week of Lent, we encounter the Matthew account of Jesus being tested in the wilderness. Because we are familiar with the narrative, we are tempted to view it almost exclusively as a story about a contest between Jesus and Satan, where Christ unfailingly triumphs over the cunning tricks of his adversary. While literally true, we can be blind to Jesus inviting us to be “Rooted in Reality.” In a certain way, each temptation is an invitation to succumb to unrealistic appetites, energies, and expectations, while dismissing or ignoring the appropriate boundaries reality imposes upon each of us.
In the first temptation, after forty days of fasting, Jesus would be legitimately hungry. If it were in our power, we might turn stones into something to quell our aching bellies. Jesus, even though he had the power to do so, chose to “walk humbly with God,” and accept the reality that stones are merely stones, and it was appropriate to accept that reality. In our society, many people try to sustain themselves with things that do not support real life or satisfy the deep hungers we experience in life. Jesus reminds us to be rooted in the larger context of real life and not settle for stones masquerading as bread.
In the second temptation, unlike Jesus, many people mistakenly believe that the rules of reality do not apply to them. Whether by addiction or foolish pursuits of one form or another, people literally throw their lives away without recognizing the danger they face. The newspapers are full of tragic stories of drug overdoses and accidental deaths of people who mistakenly believed that they could get away with denying the truth of their situation. Being rooted in reality can be painful, difficult and complicated, but testing God is no way to make things better. Because Jesus is rooted in reality, he chose to walk humbly with God without testing the boundaries. Jesus invites us to do likewise.
In our culture, the idea that we can have it all is very popular. In the third temptation, Satan offers Jesus exactly that, with that one tiny little catch that is so easy to overlook in the fine print of life. The idea of bowing down in worship is metaphoric for the things we actually do: taking ethical short cuts, moral compromises, small dishonesties, and other practices which escalate in an ever cascading crescendo of unintended consequences. Bowing down to the devil is a big deal, but taking a little ethical short cut is such a small matter… Regardless of our appetites and expectations, the reality is that we cannot have it all. While the answer to such temptations is neither obvious or easy, we must get rooted in reality and walk humbly with God.
Walking humbly with God by being rooted in reality is what Jesus demonstrates in the gospel story. As Paul says in Philippians 2:7, “…He humbled himself…” even when he did not have to do so. Our challenge is to open our eyes, get rooted in the reality of God’s love for us and walk humbly in that reality each day.