Listen, He’s talking to you

5th Sunday of Lent (A)

Update, March 29, 2020: It occurs to me that in this period of social distancing, isolation, and quarantine, the most loving way to heed Jesus’ command to “Take away the stone” (albeit, virtually and from afar) from our friends, family, and even strangers who are experiencing life-restricting grief and despair is through regular check-ins in, texts, FaceTime (or whatever app you prefer) in order to offer each other life-giving loving support and encouragement.

Originally published in 2017

In a reflection on the Lazarus story, the late theologian, Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, wrote, “Resurrection (…) is not so much a theological problem as it is a religious experience. It is not an extravagant miracle happening out there; it means the transforming presence of Jesus within us.”[1]

Stuhlmueller does not spend much time discussing the veracity of the Lazarus story in this reflection; he does not go to lengths to affirm Jesus’ power to return life to his dead friend, as told in John’s gospel. He simply states “Jesus did raise Lazarus back to life.”[2] The Lazarus story is less about the facts and more about coming to believe in Jesus and our role in helping others come to believe. It is here that we experience resurrection.

For many, it is comforting to want to read bible stories as if they were factual accounts of historical events. We imagine that biblical times were an isolated era when the atmosphere crackled with divine sparks, a time of angels and miracles and Prophets and heavenly signs. A time very different from our own, we believe. Why, we wonder, did Jesus walk the earth in that particular time in history? Why not now? Perhaps we just are not paying attention.

This is not an invitation to debate whether or not the Lazarus miracle is based on actual events of Jesus’ earthly ministry or a symbolic foreshadowing of Jesus’ impending death and resurrection. But I propose we ask better questions of the text, and allow ourselves to be more curious.

Stuhlmueller wants us to consider the experience of resurrection of the living: those transformative, spirit-led events of our lives. “The resurrection is not completed when our dead bodies are raised to life but when the spirit of Jesus dwells within us, yet, not simply within each of us individually but within all of us as one family.” [3]

“Within all of us as one family.” This is a story not only about coming to believe in Jesus, but a story about community. It is a guide for those who experience periods of despair and suffering and those who companion them.

Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus that their brother was dying. They begged him to come to their aid, to save Lazarus. They put their faith in him. But Jesus did not come; he intentionally stayed away, and Lazarus died.

How often have we been Martha and Mary, begging Jesus to hurry to our side because we or our loved one is nearing the end of a long and fruitless struggle?  To be perfectly clear, how often have we wondered why Jesus allowed our worst fears to come to pass?

And then, in our grief Jesus shows up at the gate of our heart, and joins us in our sorrow. Martha and Mary confronted Jesus, they were confused and angry. Why did he abandon them in their time of need? Why, indeed. And in that dark confrontation they reaffirmed their faith in Jesus and the hope for new life was inspired within them.

In recent days, I have been struck by the implicit role of community in the Lazarus story, and in each of our resurrection stories. Consider where you have witnessed a resurrection. You have likely participated in one. Perhaps in your marriage, your family and friends, your church, workplace, in the people you serve, or a stranger?

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

He required the participation of those present, that Lazarus’ friends overcome their reluctance, doubt, and fear of the stench of death, and that they summon the strength to take away the stone that divided the living from the dead.

“They took away the stone.” Do we have the strength to help take away life-restricting stones in service to one another? Stuhlmueller asks, “Are we convinced that new life will come out of our profound collapses?”

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus did. How loud must Jesus be for us to hear him? Listen! It is directed to us.

Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

In Jesus’ other miracles, most recently in the healing of the man born blind, Jesus physically touches the ones he saves. But in this story, it is the friends who do the touching. “Untie him and let him go.”

We are each bound up in our burial cloths, limited by what binds us: our way of thinking, our sense of purpose, our abilities—or lack thereof, our prejudices, and the ever-increasing limitations we use to restrict ourselves and others from the fullness of life: all these bindings need to be loosened and we need to allow others to help us remove them.

The gospel don’t tell us the rest of the story. We don’t know what Lazarus does with his newfound life. It is not important. What is important is what we do with ours. How loud does Jesus need to be?

Today’s readings can be found here.

__________________________

[1] Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P.,  Biblical Meditations for Lent, Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah, NJ, 1978. p 107.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid

Though I am lost, I will not fear.

Holy Week (C)

A reflection for anxious wanderers at the start of Holy Week, first published for Palm Sunday, 2016.

Instead of writing about one or more of the readings for Palm Sunday I want to share this prayer from Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude, a book on the solitary life and the need for quiet reflection. You may already be familiar with the prayer and know Merton’s words are a spiritual balm for a wounded world. Apply liberally, and as often as needed.

 “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”[1]

We live in distressing times. It is hard to see the road ahead when dangerous and hateful talk is celebrated by so many and the use of violence so handily defeats dialogue. This is not Godly. None of this is pleasing to God. These are not the actions of people who desire to follow God’s will, no matter what they say to the contrary.

Yet our current chaos is nothing new. These days repeat like a needle stuck in a gouge on the album of human dysfunction. And the reason, Merton concludes, is because we can’t hear.

In the preface to this book Merton writes:

“No amount of technological progress will cure the hatred that eats away the vitals of materialistic society like a spiritual cancer. The only cure is, and must always be, spiritual. There is not much use talking to (people) about God and love if they are not able to listen. The ears with which one hears the message of the Gospel are hidden in (a person’s) heart, and these ears do not hear anything unless they are favored with a certain interior solitude and silence.”[2]

And here we have the challenge of our faith and the meaning behind our Lenten experience: To live in a way that is a true expression of our love for God and for our neighbor requires the ability to listen, as Jesus listened. We know that this is a way which is wrought with peril; it requires an open and vulnerable heart, or more accurately, as writer Katharine Mahon so beautifully put it, a “broken heart made whole by God for the sake of loving the world”[3]. We do this willingly and fearlessly because we trust that God will never leave us to face our perils alone.

Blessings to you and your loved ones as you enter Holy Week.

_______________________

[1] Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, New York, 1956. 79.

[2] Merton. xiii.

[3] Katharine Mahon. “Rend Your Hearts: How to Break your Heart this Lent” Daily Theology, February 10, 2016. http://dailytheology.org/2016/02/10/rend-your-hearts-how-to-break-your-heart-this-lent/ (accessed March 19, 2016).

The muddy mystery of our humanness: The Man Born Blind

4th Sunday of Lent (A)

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” —The Little Prince

The man born blind received his sight as he allowed himself to be touched by Jesus who is the light; not just his physical sight, but a new and radiant vision as he came to recognize and believe in the incarnate Presence of the divine in the one who had touched him in the flesh. He came to “see” rightly with his heart, through the eyes of Faith and Love.

It is through and in our humanness that God keeps us alive to love. Always stay alive to your humanness, it is where we are present to and experience love. If we lose touch with our humanness we (more…)

Fear has Big Eyes

4th Sunday of Lent (A)

Fear has big eyes. With just four words this Russian proverb depicts the wide-eyed countenance of intellectual, emotional and spiritual blindness. Fear garners our trust and our friendship and promises vigilance against threats; it conjures the outline of the thief, murderer, or secret agent lurking in every corner. Fear is a shallow breather, a loud talker; it fortifies walls, builds bunkers, spreads untruths like Round-up on a windy day. There’s a snake under every bed. Therefore, fear never rests. Fear suspects everyone of malevolent intentions. Fear, with its myopic goal of self-preservation, shuts out light, extinguishes hope. This kind of fear has no experience or knowledge of God.

When I created the Good Disciple blog, I designed it as a space to reflect upon the Sunday readings in the context of contemporary Christian discipleship. Now, if you take a trip in the way-back machine and read my reflections from 2015, you may notice (more…)

Knowing, even as we are known

3rd Sunday of Lent (A)

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

The Woman at the Well. It’s about coming to see and know Jesus…seeing and knowing us…as we are, without any judgment or condemnation, with complete unconditional love and acceptance, tapping wellsprings of faith and love within us…tapping the Spirit of God within us that wells up as springs and fountains of living water within us. That’s what Jesus came to do, to tap the Spirit of God within us, that we might worship the living God in Spirit and Truth!

That’s what faith in Jesus does, it releases the Spirit with us, cleanses, transforms and liberates our lives from fear, guilt, and shame, or anything that would keep us from loving as God loves.

God gets water from our stoney hearts, takes away our hearts of stone and gives us a heart of flesh for love. (more…)

Really Listen

2nd Sunday of Lent (A)

A symphony of collected works from mystics, theologians, biblical scholars and spiritual writers fill the shelves of our home library.

At times like these I long to hear the first notes of those who have done the work of listening and who have transcribed the delicate tones of their spiritual experiences into timeless classics. People like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, John O’Donohue, C.S. Lewis, Kathleen Norris, Thomas Merton, Carlo Carretto, Rainer Maria Rilke,  (just to name a few—honestly too many to list) of the diverse living and deceased writers whose books inspire me to listen, to block out the current cacophony and attune myself to the sometimes silent voice of God.

This Lent in particular, I find myself reaching for (more…)

Fear Not the Broken Heart

detail-treasured-heart-black-bordershellypenko

Image: “Treasured Heart” by Shelly Penko

While we are on the topic of “rending” our hearts this Lent, (or “rend+er-ing” or “sur+rend+er-ing” it, or the many beautiful words we can use to describe those gestures which make us more vulnerable to God’s grace, or open to receive it), I thought once again[1] to share Katherine Mahon’s wonderful essay, Rend Your Hearts: How to Break Your Heart This Lent, which she published on Ash Wednesday 2016 on the always enriching Daily Theology website.

Being a visual person, I tend to draw images, metaphors, analogies—anything that sparks a deeper understanding from whatever it is that I seek to know better.   (more…)