20Mar 2nd Sunday of Lent

Theme

Today’s main readings have two transforming moments, which impact on the outlook of whole religions: Abraham’s call by God is basic to faith of Jews, Muslims and Christians, while Our Lord’s transfiguration is a key moment in the forming of Christian faith. Peter, James and John saw Christ transfigured on the mountain. They themselves were transfigured by the sight. By prayerful meditation on Christ, keeping him present in our hearts, our lives too can be transfigured. In my own life, what does my God want to transfigure?

Readings

Gen 12:1-4. The call of Abraham marks the beginning of a special relationship between God and man in which man can show loyal obedience to God and be more blessed in return.

2 Tim 1:8-10. We are pilgrims, moving towards the land of promise. Like Timothy, we will have some problems and suffering to face on the way, but we can rely on God’s help in everything.

Mt 17:1-9. Jesus gives his apostles a glimpse of his glory, in order that later on they will understand the mystery of his suffering. As he sits with Moses and Elijah, two towering Old Testament prophets, they understand that Jesus is God’s ultimate and greatest messenger to us.

Bidding Prayers:

– that Christ may take away our prejudice against others and help us to see what is fine and noble in them.

– that he may open our hearts to the most deprived in our communities, who are God’s children just as we are.

– that he may give us the discernment to distinguish between good and evil, and help us to choose what is best.

– that he may guide us on our earthly pilgrimage, and always give us the strength and courage that we need.

Man for All Seasons (Joseph Cassidy)

The first two years of my education were in a mixed convent school. At four years of age, it was not considered a threat to my morals. There was a large picture in the infant classroom which I can still recall vividly. It showed a teenage boy with long hair, draped in a knee-length tunic, with a belt round his waist. He held a staff in his hand. It was John the Baptist. He immediately became my hero, the stuff of a young boy’s fantasies. As I grew older, I should have grown out of John the Baptist as I did out of Santa Claus but I didn’t. The older I became, the more I learned about him, and the more I liked him. He was my man “for all seasons.”

To start with, he was a “voice crying in the wilderness.” The type of person every age needs and none more than our own. Somebody prepared to speak out. Willing to take on the system, the powers-that-be. People who have the courage of their convictions, who dare to confront low standards in high places. Who do “not judge by appearances” but give “their verdict for the poor of the land.” Isaiah knew the type; he was one himself.

Mercifully every age produces examples, who can articulate for the silent majority, for the rest of us, what we lack the courage to speak out about. We turn out in our thousands to applaud them from the safety of our anonymity. “Then all Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him.” We can always melt away when the tear-gas and the baton-charges start. All of- them pay a price for their outspokenness, and some of them, the ultimate price. It was long years imprisonment for Alexandra Solzhenitsyn and Nelson Mandela. It was the assassin’s bullet for Martin Luther King. It was both for John the Baptist. And it was not surprising. Anyone foothardy enough to describe the religious establishment of his time as a “brood of vipers” was certain to become a marked man. He didn’t mince his words. And when he pointed a finger at the sexual scandals of the government in the person of Herod, he was a condemned man.

What makes John the Baptist unique, is that the fame or notoriety he achieved was not for himself but for another. “The one who follows me is more powerful than I am and I am not fit to carry his sandals.” His was no ego-trip, which is a charge that could be laid at the feet of all those others who challenged the system, no matter how admirable their causes were. History has no other example of people who achieve that sort of adulation, yielding centre-stage to another as yet unknown. That extraordinary moment has been immortalised in the Mass, fittingly just before Communion, when the priest lifts up the Host and says “Behold the Lamb of God.” These were the words the Baptist first pronounced when he spotted the unknown Jesus standing at the fringe of a crowd who had come to hear John preach. His job was to prepare the way for Christ and then make way for him.

He is a model for any Christian and for all Christians. For parents for their children, husbands for their wives, and wives for their husbands. Teachers for their pupils, priests for their people, neighbours for their neighbours. Each Christian should lead others to Christ.

Pilgrims’ Journey (Patrick Rogers)

The days and years of life pass smoothly by; we are on a journey from youth to age, from the cradle to the grave. In his dream-like poem, The Lotus Eaters, Tennyson describes a sense of weary resignation, one option we might take, in face of the passing years:

“Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,/And in a little while our lips are dumb./Let us alone. What is it that will last?/All things are taken from us, and become/Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.”

But for a person of more active faith, the passing of years looks somewhat different. We believe our journey is going somewhere: instead of simply terminating with death (full stop, finis), we will emerge into the life of heaven (welcome, transition into God’s presence.) We are pilgrims, like Abraham, moving toward the land of promise. Like St Paul, we try to deal with the problems, hardships and setbacks along the way, with the help of the Lord. And one day, if we are faithful, we will share the privilege of seeing Christ in glory, as the reward of life’s pilgrimage.

Pilgrim’s Progress: In our many journeys today (an age of unprecedented mobility) we move around a lot, but without making notable spiritual progress; on the contrary we often appear to be going backwards. Our goals and desires are short-term, narrow, superficial. Moved by a restless urge for more money, from recognition by others, for novelty, excitement, success or pleasure, we go round in circles. But the pilgrim’s sights are set on a high and distant destination, and his direction is as close as possible to a straight line. Like Martin Luther King he can say: “I have a dream…”; hard to reach, and far-off though this dream may be, its attainment will be more satisfying than all the short-term desires we follow. Each step on the journey takes on meaning. It is progress towards the goal.

Inward Pilgrimage: Our whole life can be made a pilgrimage towards God. Just as he called Abraham, so he calls each of us to be his own. His call to us is quiet but insistent. Not in the exact form “leave your country and your father’s house,” but “leave behind your old ways, the pride and selfish desires, the hard heart, the anger, the envy and the falsehood. And go to the land I shall show…” The direction of our pilgrimage is not geographical but moral: “Go towards charity, purity, sharing in truth and prayer and good-will. Go in the way of the gospel. Go to heaven.’

-Meaningful Living: Having God’s command, and submitting entirely to it, made Abraham the first great pilgrim. Henceforth all his activity took on the value of obedience to God; he was on the high road towards Yahweh, the living God. The same spirit would give the deepest meaning to our lives too. Far from being absurd or useless, the pilgrim’s efforts to follow the gospel of his Master are full of meaning. Progress along this way is the real formula for peace of mind. Augustine said it profoundly: “You have made us for Yourself, 0 Lord; and our hearts can never be at rest, until they rest in You.”

New Perspective (Martin Hogan)

When I was a child, my father bought our first car, a little car, a Mini, as it was known at the time. This was in early 1960s Ireland, when cars were just beginning to be bought in numbers. It was a great thrill to have a car, even if a very small one. On a Sunday, certainly in the summer, my father would take my mother, myself and my two brothers out for a drive. When we were in the car, before we headed out, he would turn towards us in the back seat and say, “Will it be the sea or the mountains?” The sea was anywhere from Dollymount to Rush. The mountains were really the Dublin hills, but we used to call them the mountains. At the time I always had a preference for the mountains, and I was always glad when we headed south, rather than east or north. There was something about being on a height which I found exhilarating and exciting. It felt different up there. You were somehow above it all. You had a different perspective. The city looked better from a height, more beautiful, spreading inland from that natural horseshoe that is Dublin Bay.

Peter, James and John made their living from the sea. They were fishermen. They must have spent long hours on the sea of Galilee or by its shores. In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus takes them away from the sea, up a high mountain. There, on that mountain, they were given a new perspective on Jesus. They saw him as they had never seen him before, transfigured, his clothes dazzling white. In an earlier chapter of his gospel, Mark had described Jesus and his disciples in a storm at sea, the boat battling against the wind and waves. Now on the mountain, the storm must have seemed a distant memory as they were absorbed by an experience of Jesus that made Peter cry out, “it is wonderful for us to be here.” The hell of the storm had given way to this heavenly experience on the mountain. Yet, an even more hellish storm lay ahead for the disciples. They would soon come down the mountain and continue the journey towards Jerusalem, the city where they would experience suffering and loss and failure.

In our own lives we will probably have experienced both the storm at sea and the peace of the mountain top. When we look back on our lives, the darker and more painful experiences can stand out for us. Hopefully, we can also remember times when, like Peter, we said, “it is wonderful to be here.” These were times when we felt deeply happy and at peace, when we felt alive. The gospel reading this morning invites us to remember those moments, to relive them, and to continue to draw life from them.

Lifting the Veil (Martin Hogan)

This gospel is where the veil was lifted slightly, and the apostles got a little glimpse into the real nature of Jesus. Of course, he was human and, up till now, their only experience of him was within that human framework. However, he was also divine, and something of that was seen in this situation. Peter, James and John were close friends of Jesus, and they were the ones who seem to have accompanied him on several occasions. On a human level, they could claim to know him well, to know how he thought, and to be familiar with his actions. The miracles were strong signs, of course, but then, even if only God could effect a miracle, he has been doing that through saints and prophets since the beginning of time. Today was different. There was something unearthly, something other-worldly about it. The natural human reaction in the presence of such is to be afraid, so the apostles were terrified and covered their faces. The face of Jesus became like a mirror, reflecting back the glory of the Father. The appearance of Moses, as the Lawgiver, and Elijah, as the Prophet, were significant figures, because Jesus had come to announce that his mission was to fulfil the law and the prophets.

I have had the privilege of being at bedsides where people died. Many of them were ordinary unpretentious people, who never drew much attention during their lifetime. And I have been deeply edified by many of them, as they approached death with a quiet dignity, and a serene confidence. There was a faith present that had been unnoticed during their lifetime, and they were seen at their best at that moment. This was the acid test of their whole lives and, at this moment, they became transfigured into people who were at peace with themselves, and at one with God.

In today’s gospel, the apostles had a glimpse of who Jesus really was. Because I am a human being, it is much easier for me to relate to Jesus as a human being, who was also God. The extraordinary is found in the ordinary. In today’s gospel, Jesus is raised above ground level, as it were. The next time that will actually happen will be on Calvary. No matter how much of his glory is revealed along the way, his ultimate purpose is to die so that we might live. Redemption does not mean lifting us out of our human condition, nor does holiness mean becoming so heavenly as to be no earthly good. Redemption is something that is effected deep down within us, where the real me dwells, where I am most truly myself. It is there that the bondage and the slavery is found, and it is from there that our freedom begins. The further down into my humanity I am prepared to go, where I am willing to name, claim, and tame my demons, the more I reflect the face of Jesus, the more glorified I become.

When the vision was over, when Moses and Elijah had gone, when the brilliance was dimmed, the apostles opened their eyes, (and these words are powerfully significant) they saw no one but only Jesus. It was back to reality, to business as usual. Peter had wanted to build some sore of permanent dwelling on the mountain, but Jesus knew that they had to come down off the mountain and face reality, and that is why he even referred to the fact that he was going to die. Martin Luther King referred to his vision of civil rights for his people, with the words, “I’ve been to the mountain.” as he spoke he was back among his people again, and was soon to be killed. It is good to go to the mountain on occasions, in prayer, and get a wider view of life; but it is more important to return to earth, and face the realities of that life.

Going aside with the Lord would be a good description of prayer. I can do this in the midst of the madding crowd. I can enter my heart and be with him whenever I choose. If I were to lay out the gospel story before you now, I could highlight those times when Jesus brought his apostles to one side. Those were special moments. It was at one such time that he explained the parables; it was at another that he taught them to pray, and gave them a prayer to say; it was at such a time that they saw him glorified, and on a later occasion they would witness his agony. These were moments of profound formation for them, and they came to know him better, and to understand his message better, as a result of those private moments.

Holiness is not what happens on the mountain. It’s what happens when I am down into the reality and the humdrum of everyday existence. I can think of the mountain, of course, at such times, and I will get courage from the thought. When Jesus came down from the mountain, it was to head for Jerusalem, and face death. Our daily humdrum contains a thousand ways of dying; of all the many dyings we have to do in our loving of others; dying to our pride, our opinions, our biases, our intolerance, our impatience, etc. When is the last time you ever died for another? That was the last time you really loved someone, and greater love than this no one has that someone should die for another.

Our Covenant with God (John Walsh)

During the consecration of the chalice, the celebrant at every Mass, recalling the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, says, “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.” That word covenant, which is central to the theme of all the readings today, has lost most of its significance for people in the modern world. But for the majority of people in ancient times it was the only means of ensuring their very survival. There were two kinds of covenants, or what we might term treaties, agreements which were entered into by two countries, or tribes, or communities, or even individuals. There were covenants between equals, but more often there were covenants where one of the parties was far more powerful than the other, in which case the weaker party pledged allegiance to the stronger in return for promises of protection, whenever needed.

This was to take on a unique significance in the history of Israel, in that its people were the first to enter into a covenant with God himself. And thereafter the history of Israel was largely the history of the promises of this chosen people to serve God, and the promises God had made, beginning with Abraham, as shown in the first reading, “I will bless you and make you a great nation, and all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” It was God who took the initiative in this. He invited the people into a covenant relationship, a relationship which was not that of slaves, but of first-born children graciously redeemed by God, a relationship which was meant to be the basis of the community.

The covenant was always ratified by sharing a meal and offering a sacrifice. And so it is that the new and eternal covenant between ourselves and God is ratified by the Eucharist, which is both a meal and a sacrifice. God has nothing to gain from any covenant, but enters it freely, in order to show his bountiful mercy. The central event in the whole of the Old Testament was the covenant at Mount Sinai, and the establishment of the Law by Moses, who was regarded as the friend of God. Moses had wandered for forty years in the desert after receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, and Elijah’s journey was a symbol of this, but in reverse. He was going back to the sources of the Jewish faith. And at Sinai God appeared to Elijah also, God’s covenant was renewed in him and his fervour was restored. From the time of Elijah on, the aim of the Old Testament prophets was to return to the standards of the Mosaic tradition.

Now we can see why it is that in today’s gospel we have Moses and Elijah appearing side by side with Christ at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Moses represents the Law and the covenant at Sinai, and Elijah represents the prophets who, at a much later period, helped to keep the Mosaic tradition alive. In Christ we have the new and everlasting covenant which has evolved between God and man. And just as Elijah travelled through the desert for forty days to be renewed in the Sinai covenant, so we are spending these forty days of Lent in preparation for the renewal of the Christian covenant in us. God also is telling us during this season to listen to Christ, to open our hearts to him. For the Christian covenant is especially a covenant within, a covenant of the heart.

Bidding Prayers:

– that Christ may be our source of life, in many ways.

– that we may receive from him the living water of grace.

– that it “will turn into a spring, welling up to eternal life.”

– that giving a “glass of cold water in his name” and other acts of kindness, may be part of our programme for living.

Eternal Thirst (Patrick Rogers)

Thirsting Soul: Our need for drinking is obvious; without water we would quickly die. Not so easily recognized is the soul’s thirst. We can be fully preoccupied with the surface of things, and quite neglect the obscure thirsting of the spirit for eternal life. Like the Israelites, we worry about our physical needs, but are unmindful of God who supplies them. Today, Jesus offers us the refreshing water of eternal life, a power of faith and union-with-God which is our deepest need, and can satisfy the thirst of our soul. How the desert blossoms, when water is brought to it. (Dramatic examples of successful irrigation in Israel, Egypt, California.) The same miracle of growth can take place in my withered and parched soul, if God lets his Spirit flow over me. All the ravages of doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.

Sacramental Washing: Already in baptism, the sacramental washing with water by the Christian Church was a first contact with the grace of Christ. I was given a good start, planted well in the garden of God, with room to put down roots, and draw vital nourishment from the living spring of the Saviour. Yet, I need continuing help, to keep my spirit alive and pleasing to God as life goes on. Like the desert-wandering Jews, I suffer from thirst; I grow weary in confronting problems and temptations (sketch examples – ) Jesus guarantees me the “living water” I need. His own Spirit is always at hand, as a force of encouragement and fidelity.

To dwell in the house of the Lord: One great thirst, one deep desire remains. Not confined to Christians, but shared by the mystic tradition in other religions: namely, the yearning to come into the presence of God, and be welcomed faithful to Christ. All of us are called by him to drink of that “fountain of water, springing up to everlasting life.” In times of religious scepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often cast in doubt as wishful thinking. But we should cling to this hope, on the word of Jesus. For Paul and the early Christians, the hope of eternal life breathed joy into all other actions and efforts – and sacrifices. Fidelity until death seemed well worthwhile, “for the weight of glory that will be revealed in us.” My own part to play is repentance from sin, and continually renewed effort to live by the gospel. God can be absolutely relied on to fulfil his promise, and will in time satisfy the deep thirst of my spirit.

Water from the Rock : For us who live in such a rainy climate, it is difficult to grasp the huge value of water for the people of biblical countries. Even today neighbouring countries in the middle east threaten to go to war over the sharing out of water from rivers that flow through their territories. It has been said that a person in ancient times who dug a well received as much honour and gratitude from a Jewish community as would the donor of a hospital, for example, in ours. When it did rain in Israel, there was a feeling of gratitude to the Almighty, and awe at the strength and power of the water, as it gushed through the wadis and dried-up river beds. Water was seen as the life-giving principle not only for man and beast but for the parched land and crops.

It was God who blessed the people by sending them this rain, and when the heavens remained shut up, they believed that it was because the people’s faith in God was found wanting. This lack of faith we see in the first reading, where the Israelites in the desert were tormented by thirst, and how they began to grumble and complain against Moses. Moreover they even accused God, as we so often do when confronted with difficulties. “Is the Lord with us or not?,” they said – does God care about us? They were thinking on a purely natural and material level. Yet, God did not forget them, as we see, when water in abundance flowed out from the rock after Moses struck it. It is interesting that, in the Psalms, God is often referred to as “my rock, my fortress, my deliverer,” and that St Paul echoes a tradition of the Rabbis, which claimed that the rock followed the Israelites while they journeyed through the desert. But Paul is not thinking in purely material terms either – “They all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them,” he states, “and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). And in today’s second reading Paul also speaks about the love of God being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which has been given us.

In the gospel we see the faith of the half-pagan Samaritans being contrasted with the faith of the Jews which, quite often, was a superficial thing – a faith which was miracle-hungry, seeking after signs and wonders, a faith which was blinded by nationalism, and saw God as a kind of national asset for Jews alone, one who was bound to bring about Jewish aspirations, if they but offered up the required sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem and observed certain laws of external conduct. The Jews, for example, were not supposed to drink the same water, nor even drink from the same vessel as a Samaritan. This explains why the Samaritan woman was surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink.

Then there followed a gradual self-revelation by Jesus to her. She had responded by recognising him as no ordinary Jew, but one who was greater than Jacob, who dug the well, one who was a prophet, the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. He went on to tell her that the hour was coming when people would worship God, not in Samaria, not in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in truth. This was a clear reference to the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, a covenant in which God reveals himself internally to each person, so that one does not have to be instructed by others about the things of God, but rather listen to the Holy Spirit of God speaking within oneself.

For the Christian this internal revelation of Christ becomes the inner source of trust in, and prayer to, the Father. Remember always that there must never be a contradiction between our lives and our worship. We must continually remind ourselves during this period of Lent, that if we continue to sin in our daily lives, then our worship of God can become as empty and meaningless as that of the Jews in early times, who combined it often with worship also of pagan gods. But if we open ourselves in, faith to the Spirit of Christ, then the gift of God will become a spring inside us welling up to eternal life, as Jesus promised.

Going To The Well (Liam Swords)

Few of the many visitors to Rome who stand and admire its many splendid fountains realise that they are not only artistic gems but that the water gushing from all those sculptured heads is perfect drinking water. I have seen tourists throw their coins into the Trevi fountain and make a wish on a sweltering summer’s day, when their most immediate wish could be realised by simply scooping up the water to slake their thirst. These fountains are the result of various public works undertaken by popes to provide the citizens of Rome with an abundance of good safe drinking water. It was a major engineering feat, tapping wells miles away in the hills outside Rome and piping it into the heart of the city. And doubtlessly, it saved numerous lives. They lived then, as many still do today in the Third World, under the constant threat of deadly plagues such as typhoid resulting from contaminated drinking water.

It is hard to believe now that for most of history the mass of humanity could be aptly described as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” The well was the great centre of community life. Everybody met there daily. Local politics revolved round the “parish pump.” Even after the introduction of running water into most homes, the local well continued for years to be the only source of drinking water. We simply called it “spring water.” I remember well as a child, that my first chore when I came home from school, was to go to the well for a bucket of water. And in that pre-pocket-money era, I earned a few pennies by doing the same for an elderly spinster who lived in our street.

It is not surprising that the ancients included water, with air, fire and earth as the four elements of life. A person can survive a relatively long time without food, but will die fairly quickly without water. The term the French use for a well is la source. Particularly, in that parched and semi-desert land where Jesus first preached the gospel, the well was the source of life. To poison a well was a crime against humanity. Even in pre-Christian Ireland wells were sacred places and when the Irish became Christians they kept their holy wells, attaching the names of their saints, like Patrick and Bridget, to them. They remained places of pilgrimage up to recent times. Their demise came, like those of their secular sisters, with the introduction of running water. Since then, the very notion of “well” has largely lost its fascination for us. And we are the poorer for it.

Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water. For us, as for her, he is the source of life, the only well where we can quench our thirst for happiness. “Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give,” Jesus said, “will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.”

The Well-Woman (Alex McAllister)

Many authors have examined the customs of the times governing the relationships between men and women and have concluded that the woman’s action of approaching the well at noontime when a man was sitting there inevitably meant that she was of dubious reputation. The later revelation about her five husbands only confirms the assumption.

Whether this is so or not, she certainly was both a Samaritan and a woman and therefore not someone any respectable Jew would engage in conversation. But respectability was never something Jesus regarded highly.

Jesus asks her for a drink and so initiates this fascinating dialogue on two levels. He is speaking about living water and the life of grace while she is thinking only of the water in the well and the mundane realities of her rather chequered life.

She says: Give me some of that living water so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come to the well again. There is a hint of incredulity and mockery in her voice. And then Jesus’ penetrating remark cuts right through her defences: Go call your husband.

Her response exposes her vulnerability: I have no husband. And Jesus reveals his knowledge about those five previous husbands and she realises that this is no ordinary man standing before her. She believes him to be a prophet and tries to engage him in a standard religious discussion about the differences between Jews and Samaritans-as if that’s the sort of thing you would say when you talk to a professional religious person.

This gives Jesus the opportunity to speak about how all these earthly differences will soon be transcended. The woman says she knows that the Messiah is to come and that then all will be revealed. Jesus simply replies: I am He. We can almost experience through the page the depth of the silence that must have followed that astonishing statement. Then disciples suddenly return from their shopping expedition and their encounter is interrupted. The woman is filled with joy and rushes to her people to tell them about Jesus, in turn they come to him and also experience a similar conversion.

This Gospel story provides us with a wonderful paradigm for our own conversion story. It provides the classic pattern for all religious conversion. Acknowledgement of sinfulness, experiencing non-judgemental acceptance by Jesus, followed by some event or remark which cuts through to the inner core of the person and then a moment of startling insight or revelation leading to a proclamation of the Gospel to others who in their own turn experience this process for themselves.

Each of us has most likely experienced a similar sequence of events in our own life which has brought us to faith or which has more deeply confirmed us in the faith that we already have. Each of us is in our own way therefore is involved in a similar drama. (And I deliberately use the present tense.) We do not live mundane and boring lives of interest to no one. We are key players in a cosmic drama which involves God himself.

And this is not a one-act play in which at some opportune moment we experience conversion and then live on as before. No, this is an extraordinary epic which lasts until the end of time; it has many episodes and frequent twists and turns of the plot.

And what is this so-called Living Water that will well up to eternal life; this water which once we have drunk it we will never be thirsty again? This Living Water is the water of Baptism, it is the grace of Christ, it is the great outpouring of God’s love and salvation that is the direct consequence of Jesus’s sacrifice on Calvary and his resurrection from out of the empty tomb.

In our hearts we need to drink long and deep this refreshing and healing water. When we embrace Jesus and give the assent of faith to his Gospel we become one with him; we experience his life living in us; we experience his power living through us.

We have become altogether new creatures and it is no longer a case of accepting Christ because that is what our parents brought us up to do or any other second-hand religion but as the Samaritans said: We no longer believe because of what you have told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the Saviour of the World!

Respecting her Dignity (Jack McArdle)

Today’s gospel contains many powerful insights into the mind of Jesus. It is almost impossible for us to imagine how radical this encounter with the woman really was. It went completely against everything that a religious Jew would have held sacred. His conversation with her and with his disciples showed clearly how Jesus thought about certain issues. The final part of the gospel, where he heals the official’s son, would appear to be totally unconnected, except for the final line, where he says. “Must I do miraculous signs and wonders before you people believe in me?’

In today’s world it is quite common for parents to be worried about the next generation. Change is coming so fast, and all our traditional values are being challenged. The children are not going to church, they are living with a partner, or they have children while not being married. All of this seems to fly in the face of everything the parents were brought up to believe in. While I understand their confusion and their concern, I often speak to them about the situation in which one mother found herself. Her name was Mary, and her son was Jesus. Mary was reared in the best and purest Jewish traditions. Her background and upbringing would have been very religious and traditional. Just imagine, on a human level, the problems she might have had with her son. He appeared to deliberately kick against every single religious tradition that was sacred to her. He completely ignored the law on many issues. He touched the untouchables, he spoke to prostitutes and to Samaritans, and he hung around with the riff-raff of society. This wasn’t rebellion for the sake of rebellion. It is worth reflecting on exactly why this was so, and what it tells us about Jesus.

The most obvious point in today’s gospel is the respect and the personal dignity that Jesus afforded a woman who would have been scorned by society. He spoke to her as a human being and, while he challenged her, he did so with respect. It is generally accepted that she came to the well at midday because everybody else stayed indoors during the hottest part of the day. She had to avoid the scorn and disdain of her neighbours. Jesus knew that there was an emptiness within her that she had tried to fill in so many ways. He spoke to her of the life that he offered, of the Spirit that rises up like a fountain from within the heart of his followers. He offered her something that she really needed, and, by the end of the story, it seems that his words had got through to her.

Her attitude was typical of most people who are involved in any kind of compulsive or addictive behaviour. She was in total denial, and her arguments were coming from her head. Jesus, however, gently confronted her with the truth. It was for people like her that he had come, and when his disciples urged him to have something to eat, he spoke of his real hunger. His desire to seek out and to find the lost sheep was his driving force, because that is why the Father sent him.

There is an interesting and important point at the end of his encounter with the woman. She ran off to get her friends. They came to meet Jesus, and to listen to him. In what might be considered as rather “catty,” they then told the woman that they believed, not because she had told them, but because they had met him and listened to him themselves. I could apply that concept right here now. I would pray that you might believe, not because I am telling you, but because you have met Jesus, you have listened to him, and you have come to know him yourselves.

The word incarnation might put us off, but the reality of it is very simple. God could have loved us from a distance, but he decided not to. He decided to come to where we’re at, and to meet us as we are. “I did not come to condemn the world Neither do I condemn you,” says Jesus. In today’s gospel we have a good example of Jesus meeting someone and accepting someone exactly as she was. He was totally aware of how she was, and of the situations within her life. He sat down and chatted with her, listened to her, and gently challenged her. He wanted to free her from bondage, and to restore her dignity and self-respect.

Many of us have friends and associates who may not be as we would wish them to be. I know, on a human level, it can be difficult, but the Christian law of love must extend to all, without exception. Supposing you have a son or daughter not going to church, or involved in an irregular relationship. If you were to die right now, there is only one question you would have to answer about that person. “Did you still love that person, as a parent is expected to love a child, or was your love lessened because your child did not live up to your standards for her?’

Jesus speaks of the harvest that is ready and waiting to be reaped. In other parts of the gospel he speaks of gathering the crop into his barns. This is his driving urge. He does not want any one of us to be lost. There is an Irish poem called “Ag Criost an soil,” and, in summary, it says that the seed is from God, the crop is for God, and may we all end up in his barns; the fish are God’s, the sea is God’s, and may we all end up in his nets. The only thing that could frustrate his plans and hopes for me is that I should choose to do my own thing, to go my own way.

Put yourself for a moment in the place of the woman at the well. Jesus looks at you, and he knows you through and through. How comfortable would you feel in his presence? Would you be able to fully open out the canvas of your life to his gaze, without fear of condemnation? If you get a few spare moments today, maybe you might try that. It is important to be fully open to him, and it is also important to accept his total acceptance.

I suppose it’s fair to say that there are traces of bigotry, racism, biases, and self-righteousness within all of us. On a human level, it would be impossible to be any other way. It is only through the presence and the work of the Spirit within us that we can hope to be freed enough to begin to love others as Jesus loves us. I have just mentioned the importance of accepting his acceptance of us. The ideal, then, would be to begin extending that same acceptance to others.

What can I do personally about the vast harvest that Jesus speaks of? As a Christian, I must be concerned, it is my business, and I just cannot leave it to others. I begin, of course, with myself. Like the friends of the woman, I too come to meet him, to listen to him, and to believe him myself. Christianity is more about attracting than promoting. Your most effective sermon is your life. The greatest witness a recovering alcoholic can give is to walk sober down the main street of his home town. You write a new page of the gospels each day, by the things that you do, and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?

First Reading: Exodus 17:3-7

In that place the people thirsted for water; and they complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Gospel: John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, an the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jeusalem.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He canno be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”

First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8-10

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


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