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

Probing Belief: Facing our Doubts

2nd Sunday of Easter (A, B, C)

I admire Thomas. I can relate to him. Thomas, also known as Didymus, the twin, was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, but his designation as “the doubter” that has followed him throughout history is a trait that many of us share. At least, it is one that I share.

Most everything we know about Thomas comes from the gospel of John, He seems to be one of the more introverted apostles, he is a fact-gatherer and a deep thinker, and his coming to belief is an intentional process, one which he discovers happens best in community.

“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” [John 20:24-25]

Doesn’t it make sense Thomas would want to see Jesus with his own eyes? After all, (more…)

#SoBlessed #TheWrongPrayer #HaveMercyOnMeASinner

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Late one night last week when driving home from a local restaurant with my husband I noticed a push cart near the corner of the street where we live. It was the type of cart that many apartment dwellers use to do their shopping. This cart appeared to be loaded to the top with laundry bags. I craned my neck as we turned the corner; in the shadow of the street light I made out the shape of woman standing beside the cart.

I live in what might be called urban suburbia; our town, an incorporated city, is situated just 8 miles west of Times Square. Like city-dwellers we can set our clocks by the screech of city buses stopping for passengers; we barely take notice of wailing emergency vehicles and find comfort in the train whistles. We can walk a short distance to the deli, cafes and restaurants, boutiques, houses of worship, the theater, even the grocery store. Some city folk might not agree with the “urban” descriptor, but I know better, having lived in suburbia most of my life: this is city life.

My part of town is a poster child for how successful mixed housing works. Our neighbors live in flats over stores, apartment buildings and townhomes. Turn-of-the-century mansions, pre-war homes both grand and modest nestle together on narrow lots on the same block. We are a blend of socio-economic-religious diversity and it is beautiful thing to behold.

But I’ve never seen a person who was obviously experiencing homelessness standing on the corner of my street.

We pulled into our driveway, got out of the car, opened the door to our house and went inside. I thought to myself, “What should I do, what is the appropriate thing to do?” Then, as I contemplated walking outside perhaps to talk to the woman I lost my nerve. I have poor night vision and thought I might be mistaken. Maybe I didn’t see what I thought I saw; and how would I handle the awkward moment when I offered a sandwich to a neighbor who was simply waiting for the bus? #SoManyExcuses.

Early the next morning I looked outside to see the woman and her cart still there, only this time someone was talking with her. I stepped back in the house to grab something to bring her, but when I returned she was gone.

That same day I read a New York Times op-ed written by David Brooks, a journalist I respect greatly. The article, entitled, “The Power of a Dinner Table” concerned some friends of Brooks who host Thursday night dinners for some of their son’s classmates—kids who don’t have enough to eat. As Brooks reveals, this family’s loving and generous hospitality fills more than hungry stomachs. The table guests, he says, “have endured the ordeals of modern poverty: homelessness, hunger, abuse, sexual assault. Almost all have seen death firsthand.” Brooks writes from his place at the table, where for the past two years he has joined the couple and their guests at these dinners. #MakeRoom

And then I read the readings for this weekend, the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The text from Sirach assures us that God hears our cries, judges fairly and without favoritism, and in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus directs a parable to those who believe themselves to be #SoBlessed.

Jesus is so clever. He knows his listeners. If they don’t recognize themselves in the Pharisee whose prayer is to thank God he is not like the despised one who stands off in the distance beating his heart and asking for mercy, they will take the higher, even more hypocritical seat of judgement that looks down on everyone. Thanks be to God we are not like that Pharisee or the toll collector! Suddenly this parable is about the prayer of three people, and we don’t get the irony. And so it goes. Who then will judge us?

To judge another is about as natural a human behavior as can be had. We compare our progress against one another in nearly every capacity of life. Taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, stingy, generous, educated, ignorant, poor, rich, too rich, greedy, lucky, unlucky, lazy, persistent, worthy, unworthy, good Catholic, bad Catholic, true Christian, false Christian, sinner, and saint.

Honestly, is there anything that we don’t judge? To be fair, constructive comparisons and judgments often help us set goals to better ourselves. And that’s a healthy approach. But, when we judge in order to pat ourselves on the back or puff up our own sense of superiority that’s a whole different ballgame. That’s not prayer. That’s self-exaltation.  And that’s not Godly.

Oh Lord, I am glad I am a respectable citizen, and a churchgoer, I thank you that I am not like those who look down on the poor and the needy. Don’t forget that dollar I dropped in a cup last week. #TheWrongPrayer

I did not judge or look down on the woman standing on the corner of my street with what I presume was everything she owned. I did not count my blessings or mumble something lame like “there but for the grace of God go I.” But my sin was what I did not do, and that was to delay showing her the mercy that God was urging me to show her. And then it was too late. #NeverAgain #HaveMercyOnMeASinner

Hey! Corinthians of yesteryear and today

How about we
stop trying to
be the greatest.

How about we
not look out for number one.

How about we
stop building walls
around the fiction of our security.

How about we
stop making rivals out of
people who
look, think, act, believe
differently
than us.

How about we
stop comparing our stuff
with that of our neighbors.

(None of which, by the way, is ours to keep,
and all of which has no value at all
if it is not used to build a better world.)

How about we
recognize that we can’t survive
without each other.
Like the parts of a body.
Like the body of Christ.

—Susan Francesconi

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

—1 Cor 12:12-29