Lent III John 4: 5–42

 

God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us

Hyperichius said, ‘The tree of life is high, and humility climbs it.’

He also said, ‘Imitate the tax-collector, to prevent yourself being condemned with the Pharisee. Follow the gentleness of Moses, and hollow out the rocky places of your heart, so that you turn them into springs of water.’

 

People can be strange, stubborn infuriating creatures, and the picture given to us of the Israelites in Exodus should strike something of a chord. We can recognise something of ourselves in it: stubborn, wilful, and sinful. But lest we get too disheartened it is important to recognise that Moses strikes the rock at Horeb, as the Lord commands him, and out flows water. This water, like the parted water of the Red Sea prefigures Christ, the living water, our baptism, through which we enter the Church. Through it we are regenerate, born again to eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, whose side was pierced on Calvary, and whence flowed blood and water. This water speaks to us of the grace of God poured out upon us, his people, to heal us and restore us, to help us live his risen life.

So as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, we can do so joyfully because God’s love has been poured into our hearts – what matters is what has been done to us, by God, out of love, so that we can be like him. He is the reconciliation which achieves what we cannot: restoring our relationship with God and each other, healing our wounds, and giving us eternal life in Him.

Picture the scene – it’s the middle of the day, the sun is blazing overhead, he’s been walking for hours, days even. Jesus is tired – as a man, a human being, he is no different from you or me – he ate and drank,  he was thirsty, and he was knackered. Mid-day is certainly no time to be drawing water from a well – it’s something you do first thing in the morning, as the sun is rising. What sort of a woman is drawing water at mid-day? Hardly a respectable one, but rather someone shunned, someone beyond the pale, cast out of polite society as an adulteress who is living in sin. Jesus asks the woman for a drink – he’s defying a social convention – he’s breaking the rules. She’s really surprised – Jews are supposed to treat Samaritans as outcasts, they’re beyond the pale: they’re treated something like the Roma in Eastern Europe – outcasts, second class, scum, to be despised and looked down upon. And yet Jesus asks her for water, he initiates the conversation and the encounter, with an outsider, to bring her in.

Jesus offers her living water, so that she may never be thirsty again. The woman desires it, so that she will never be thirsty again, or have to come to the well to draw water, she’s fed up of the work, and fed up of being an outcast, and having to do it at antisocial hours when the community can see who and what she is. Jesus knows who and what she is – he recognises her irregular lifestyle. He also sees her need of God – her need for the water of grace to restore her soul, and inspire her to tell people the Good News. Her testimony is powerful because she has experienced God’s love as a living reality and she simply has to tell people about it. She brings them to Christ so that they can be nourished, so that they too can experience the grace of God.

People are interested in who and what Jesus is, what he’s got to say, and they believe and trust in Him as the Messiah the Anointed of God, as the Saviour of the World, a title recently taken up by the Roman Emperor, big claims to make, and dangerous ones, which along with His healings will soon lead to His condemnation and death. In plenty of parts of the world the proclamation of the Good News still leads to imprisonment, torture and death, even today. And yet as Christians we are called to bear witness regardless of the personal cost, so that the world may believe. Here in the West we have as a church become comfortable, we forget about persecution, or view it at a safe distance. We’re not involved, it doesn’t matter that much to us. Are we far from the grace of our baptism, have we not encountered Jesus in Word and Sacrament? Are we too afraid of the World? The world which Christ overcomes on the Cross.

To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to his word; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him in the Eucharist, by Christ both priest and victim, to become what He is – God; if we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. So that we too may praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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Guercino Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1640-1

The Sunday next before Lent

“Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name”

Fulton Sheen The Life of Christ 1970: 158

Over the last few weeks we have been reading through what we generally know as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus goes up to a high place to teach the assembled crowds how to live in a way that is pleasing to God and will bring about human flourishing. This morning we see Christ up a mountain doing something quite different. The world around us has a good idea of what it thinks glory is: most of the time it looks like human success and triumph, just think of people winning a gold medal at the Olympics, people waving flags, noise, pomp, pageantry, all fine and good in its place, but essentially something fleeting and transitory, it goes, it doesn’t last. As Claudio Ranieri the erstwhile manager of Leicester City knows all too well.

Rather than concentrate on human ideas of glory, this morning’s readings give us a glimpse of God’s glory. In the Book of Exodus we see Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Law, the Ten Commandments to show Israel both what to believe and how to live. Moses spends time in the closer presence of God, so that when he comes back down the mountain he is shining, he is transformed and transfigured by the experience. It’s an experience which takes time, God tells Moses to come up and  wait there, he waits six days before being invited to come up further. He spends forty days on the mountain, which prefigures Our Lord’s forty days in the wilderness before the start of his public ministry and our own forty days of Lent.

Jesus takes his closest disciples with him to show them something of the glory of God. He appears with Moses and Elijah to show them and us that He is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God. Christ is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets because they all look to him, they find their truest meaning in Him, they are fulfilled by Him. That is why the Church has always read the Hebrew Scriptures in a Christological Way: they point to Christ, who is the Word made flesh. The Church has never abandoned them, for in them we see a richness of material, a depth of proclamation throughout the history of Israel and its relationship with God which points to Christ, which can only be explained by Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, he is what the prophets look towards, and their hope, and their salvation.

When God speaks he tells us three things about Jesus: he is the Son of God, he is loved, and we should listen to him –  He is God, the Second Person of the Eternal and Divine Trinity, who created all that is and who will redeem it. We should worship Him, and obey Him. He is loved by God, love is what God is, the relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is one of love, and our human love is but a pale reflection of God’s love for us, shown by his Son Jesus Christ on the Cross, where he dies for our sins. We should listen to him , what he says and does should affect us and our lives. – We have to be open to the possibility of being changed by God, ‘to live is to change, and to live well is to change often’ as John Henry Newman once said, love changes us, it is dynamic not static, it forms who and what we are.

Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after he has risen from the dead. The detail is important: Jesus will suffer and die upon the cross, taking our sins upon Himself, restoring our relationship with God and each other – this is real glory – not worldly glory but the glory of God’s saving love poured out on the world to heal it and restore it.

As this is the Sunday before Lent, Quinquagesima, fifty days before Easter we have a chance to spend time time with God, we have the prospect of a penitential season, a chance to focus on what really matters, away from the noise and bustle of normal life, a chance through prayer, reading the Bible and Sacramental encounter to spend time with God, to be close to him, and to let his love and grace transform us more and more into his glorious likeness.

That is why we are here this morning – to see that self same sacrifice here with our own eyes, to touch and to taste what God’s love is really like – to go up the mountain and experience the glory of God, what God is really like, so that God’s love may transform us, given a foretaste of heaven, and prepared to be transformed by God. This is true glory – the glory of the Cross, the glory of suffering love lavished upon the world. The Transfiguration looks to the Cross to help us prepare for Lent, to begin a period of fasting and prayer, of spiritual spring cleaning, of getting back on track with God and each other, so that we may be prepared to celebrate Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, to behold true majesty, true love and true glory – the kind that can change the world and last forever, for eternity, not the fading glory of the world, here today and gone tomorrow, but something everlasting, wonderful.

So let us behold God’s glory, here, this morning, and let us prepare to be transformed by his love, so that the world may believe and trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Epiphany IV

In the marriage act, love is triune: wife gives self to husband and husband to self and out of that mutual self-giving is  born the ecstasy of love. The spirit too must have its ecstasy. What the union of husband and wife is in the order of the flesh, the union of the human and the Risen Christ is in Holy Communion

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests, 1974: 157

Everyone loves a party, and that is right and proper, and what more wonderful thing is there to celebrate than a wedding, the joining of a man and a woman that they may become one flesh. Marriage is an image used of Christ and his church: it speaks of a deep union, a profound and meaningful relationship, one of self-giving love, commitment, something wonderful and mysterious. We have not come here this morning to celebrate a wedding but rather the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have come to do what he told his disciples to do at the Last Supper, and the church has done ever since, and will until the end of time. We have come so that we may be fed, be fed by Christ, be fed with Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit God is active in our lives, transforming us, by his grace, so that our human nature may be transformed, into His Divine nature.

If we were to listen to the many voices around us which criticise Christianity, we would think that we were of all people the most pitiable, ours is either a weak death-cult of a failed Jewish magician and wonderworker, or a strange oppressive force which actively works against human flourishing and actualisation.

But nothing could be further from the truth, we celebrate love, and forgiveness, we are imbued with faith, hope, and love in and through God at our Baptism, and as our vocation as Christians is JOY. The one whom we worship, the Son of God made flesh liked nothing better than to hang around at parties with social undesirables, and was accused of being a drunkard by religious authorities. Most of us have outside our houses one or two wheelie bins, which are a similar size to the water jars in the Gospel. They hold about 30 gallons, or 150 litres, or 200 bottles of wine. Multiply that by 6 and you’re looking at 1,200 bottles of wine, a hundred cases, and this was after the wine ran out, what we’re dealing with in the wedding at Cana must have been some party, it must have gone of for a couple of days, and it is only a foreshadowing of the joy of the Kingdom, it points to something greater than itself: this is what is in store.

Our starting point as Christians is Mary’s advice to the servants: Do whatever He tells you. Our life as Christians is rooted in obedience: we listen to God and we obey, for our own good, and the good of the Kingdom, so that we are not conformed to the world and its ways, but rather to the will of God, so that we can truly enter into the joy of the Lord, in humble obedience, fed by Him, and fed with Him, who died for love of us in obedience to the will of the Father.

The world around us struggles somewhat with extravagance, we distrust it, and rightly so: when we see Arabian oil magnates riding around in gold-plated supercars we are right to be concerned, yet in the Gospel we see something strange. The steward had a point: you serve the best wine first, while people are sober and can appreciate it, but the Kingdom of God turns human values on their head – the joyous new wine of the Kingdom is finer than any human wine and is lavished upon undeserving humanity, so that it might transform us, so that we might come to share in the glory of God, and his very nature. Thus, at the Epiphany we celebrate three feasts: Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles, the proclamation of the Messiah to the whole world, his baptism, to show us the way to the Father, a sign of love and obedience, and the Wedding Feast at Cana, as a sign of the superabundance of God’s love, shown to us here today in the Eucharist where we drink the wine of the Kingdom the Blood of Christ so that we may be transformed by the power and the grace of God, so that we may share his Divine life, and encourage others to enter into the joy of the Lord.

All this is brought about by Christ on the Cross, where the Lamb of God is sacrificed, a new passover for a new Israel, the people of God, to free us from our sins, and to give us new life in Christ. It’s crazy, it doesn’t make sense: how and why should God love us so much to go far beyond what Abraham did with Isaac on the mountain of Moriah. The ram caught in the thicket points to Christ, who is the Lamb of God, even then, at the beginning God shows us his love for us, he prepares the way, by giving us a sign, to point us to Christ, to his Son.

Such generosity is hard to comprehend, it leaves us speechless, and all that we can do is to stand like the Beloved Disciple S. John at the foot of the Cross and marvel at the majesty of God’s love. It affects S. Paul in his preaching, a man who began persecuting the Church, who was present at the martyrdom of S. Stephen, has his life transformed by Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ saving us does not make sense, it is an act of reckless generosity, like helping a wedding party drink to the point of excess, it is not supposed to make sense. In rational terms we are sinners, who do not deserve God’s mercy, and yet he shows us his love in giving us his Son, to be born for us, to work signs and wonders, to bring healing and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God’s love, his mercy, and forgiveness.

So let us come to him, clinging to His Cross, our ONLY HOPE, let us be fed with him, and by him, to be strengthened, healed, and restored, and to share this is with the world, so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

cana

Third Sunday of Year A [Mt 4:12–23]

If you go to S. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, you can see one of the most popular and reproduced works of Religious Art in the world: Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World. It shows our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ standing at a door with a lantern. The door has no handle; it needs to be opened from the inside: Jesus may be the Light of the World, but he does not force himself upon us, we have to welcome Him into our hearts and our lives. His coming into the world which we celebrate at Christmas, which was made manifest to the world at Epiphany, was not the entry of a tyrant, forcing himself upon the world, but as a vulnerable and loving baby, entirely dependent upon the love and care of others, God comes among us. His coming is foretold by the prophet Isaiah, He is the fulfilment of prophesy, he is the light of the nations, and a cause of great joy: to be a Christian, to follow Christ is it not to be filled with the joy and love which comes from God; we can be serious in our zeal, but should never be miserable: our vocation is to live out our faith, in love, and hope, and joy in our lives, to draw others to Him.

Of our many failings as followers of Christ there is nothing worse than to see strife and division amongst Christians, as S. Paul found in Corinth: it has no place in the church, it isn’t what God intended for us, it’s not how things should be. It has to be resisted: wounds have to be healed, transgressions forgiven, and unity restored. It’s part of how we live out our faith in our lives, it’s why we pray and work for Christian Unity, and why it matters for our proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God.

If we turn to the words of this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent as Christ is asking us to, as St John the Baptist proclaimed before him is to change our mind, to make a change of direction in our lives, away from sin, and to Christ, it is what we promise in our baptism and it is how we are supposed to keep living our lives. It’s hard, I know, I fail on a daily basis, and yet I keep trying, turning back to a God who loves me, who took flesh of the Virgin Mary and became incarnate for me, and for you, and all who have ever or will ever turn to Him. Ours then is God of love and mercy, a God of forgiveness who calls us to turn to him, so that we may have life and have it to the full.

We turn away from what separates us from God and each other, we turn to God in Christ, to be close to Him in Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we might share His divine nature, so that we might be given a foretaste of heaven, so that we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, so that the world may believe – the Kingdom is close at hand, and Christ calls us, the baptised people of God, to share in the work of His kingdom. He asks that we follow Him, that we go where He goes, that we do what He does – it sounds easy enough, but it’s not, it’s something which we need to do together, and while I can endeavour to help you along the way, I cannot without your help, your prayers, your love, and your support. As Christians we are inter-dependent, we rely upon each other, we’re in it together.

In the Gospel, Jesus sees Andrew and Simon Peter and then James and John the sons of Zebedee and says ‘Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people’. He calls them to share in God’s work of saving souls. They drop everything and follow him: it’s immediate and matter of fact. Jesus goes around preaching the good news of the kingdom, and the need for humanity to repent, and to be baptised, and he heals the sick, just as he can heal the sickness in our souls. This is good news indeed.

We need to be like lights in the world, shining in the darkness, so that Christ can knock on the door of people’s hearts. We need to be like those first disciples who heard what Jesus said, who listened, and did what He told them, who were close to Jesus, so that our faith is a reality in our lives. We need to be strengthened and fed by Him who is the greatest medicine for our souls, who comes to us here, this morning,  in His Body and Blood, to heal us, to restore us and strengthen us to follow him, so that the world may believe and and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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A Christmas Thought for the Day from Fulton Sheen

Let Christ be formed in You

As God was physically formed in Mary, so he wills to be spiritually formed in you. If you knew he was seeing through your eyes, you would see in everyone a child of God. If you knew that he worked through your hands, they would bless all the day through …. If you knew that he wants to use your mind, your will, your fingers, and your heart, how different you would be. If half the world did this, there would be no war!

How to find Christmas Peace

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A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

The Way to Peace

What Christ did in his own human nature in Galilee, he is doing today … in every city and hamlet of the world where souls are vivified by his Spirit. He is still being born in other Bethlehems of the world, still coming into his own and his won receiving him not, still instructing the learned doctors of the law and answering their questions, still labouring at a carpenter’s bench, still “[going] about doing good” (cf. Acts 10:34-43), still preaching, governing, sanctifying, climbing other Calvaries, and entering into the glory of his Father.

In the Fullness of Time

Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus

 

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A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

Abandonment to God

We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us. God sent the angel to Mary, not to ask her to do something, but to let something be done. Since God is a better artisan than you, the more you abandon yourself to him, the happier he can make you.

Seven Words of Jesus and Mary

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