Today’s readings are about food, manna in the desert and Jesus’ flesh and blood as food for us. Our food we call the Eucharist or communion, that is we come together as a community to celebrate Christ’s life and passion and death and resurrection and are fed his body and blood. John tells us today that whoever eats Christ’s body and drinks his blood will have Christ in him and will be able to have eternal life. As manna was meant for the Israelites as a people escaping slavery and without food and a need to reconnect not only with God but also with each other as a community and nation bound together. This need of coming together and acting as a nation is a strong reason why they remained in the desert for forty years as they bonded their lives together and became once again God’s people. So it is for us, that Christ’s body and blood binds us to him not only individually as he comes to us, but also a community that is bound together to look out for each other and to bring Christ’s Word to the world. It is a principle act of the church which brings us together frequently so as to be prepared to live out and proclaim our faith and love to the world. As our body craves and needs food, so does our soul need Christ’s special food which keeps us ready for the journey that we walk together. And so in this special way, Christ is present and comes to us and remains with us as he has remained with the church throughout the ages. His love is ever-present and remains in us.
Today’s first and third readings bring up the idea of Resurrection or rising from the dead. In Ezekiel, we see the “Dry Bones” passage maybe best known from the song “dem bones goin’ to rise again”. Ezekiel is not addressing resurrection directly, but is addressing a people captured and enslaved and dragged off to Babylon. The prophet was reminding the people that God had not abandoned them and would restore them and bring them home. From lost hope, God will give them a new life.
In the Gospel, we see Jesus is in no hurry to run to Lazarus’ side when he hears he is sick. Instead he waits three or four days until he travels to Bethany. At this time, he knows Lazarus is dead, yet he knows what he is about to do. In the middle east, Israel included, it is the custom to bury someone immediately after they die, usually before sundown. Obviously, the climate and the lack of embalming and other means of preparation of the body makes this a bit of a necessity. It was a culture, where family and friends prepared the grave and carried the person out and buried them. The reality of death to them was stark and harsh. Even for us today, death is a hard and stark reality even if we in some ways deal with it in a much different manner. With death there is a finality that all people must confront. As Christians we see it in light of Jesus. In John’s gospel, we have seen Jesus raise a little girl, a widow’s son, and today Lazarus. The little girl had just succumbed, the widow’s son was being carried to his grave, and Lazarus was four days in his grave. Here are three instances of the dead coming back to life. Such a happening had reverberations in Jesus time, but surely raises the question of what is death, what happens after death even today in our time. We know Jesus said we will live forever, but what could this mean. It is not something easily answered or even understood, and only truly know by faith.
Faith tells us God is love, and that love embraces and lifts us all up. As we are joined to him in life through his spirit and his love, that union and joining is one that continues through life, passing us through that passage of death into the love-filled life of eternity. The raising of Lazarus was an important act before Jesus’ own death and resurrection to point out his power over life and death. Our lesson is to see that God’s love is always with us and even in sorrow and loss, he is there. Life as well as love itself continues in some way we will only know when we experience it ourselves.
Over the many years I have served as a priest, one thing that always amazes me is that no one can really look ahead and see what lies ahead for them. I think today’s first and third readings tell us this fairly clearly today. First, we see Samuel sent to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse with a horn of oil to anoint the next King of Israel from among Jesse’s sons. With a sacrificial banquet prepared Jesse presents seven of his sons starting with the oldest. Samuel was drawn to the sons, and even had a favorite, but each of the seven presented were rejected by the Lord as the chosen one. Only when Samuel asked, did Jesse say my youngest is tending the sheep. Yet, the youngest and least of his children was the one chosen and who during his life and for all ages would be remembered. God chose him and remained with him through his good times and even his times of unfaithfulness for the good of Israel. Why David? Only God could say.
Next we come to man born blind in the gospel today. He like the homeless and other victims of our society that we so often pass and really do not see as we busily pursue our lives, even today in our modern times. Unlike his disciples who were quick to equate his blindness to sins of his parents, Jesus paused and said this man was chosen to show Christ as light of the world. Sickness, blindness maladies had nothing to do with sin. The man before him had an intrinsic value, and so it is for every human being in God’s creation. Once again the weak, the person set aside is chosen to be a lesson for God’s kingdom. Again we are reminded, no part of creation is insignificant.
The real lesson for us today, is that God does as he wills. He chooses whom he wants and sometimes confounds us by whom he chooses. It is why his church is a community and in Baptism we all share in the priesthood of his cross and resurrection. His Spirit works through the whole body of the church from the least to the greatest. Yet, in actuality there is really only one Great one, and this is the Body of Christ. This is why we must remain open to the Spirit, open to one another in all things. Christ speaks to all of us in many ways. Whether we be the least or possibly the greatest we need always to be open to the Spirit and hear his Word.
Paul’s death row letter to Timothy tells us how to face hard times for the sake of the Gospel.
We have a pivotal turning point in our first reading. It is the beginning of the story of Abraham. It is the point in Genesis where the creation story ends and the history of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all start. It is the birthplace of so much – a place where a scholar could do their life’s work. But today we’ll pass it by. Our Gospel reading is a high point of Matthew’s revelation of the divinity of Christ, just after Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. It is a mountain-top experience in every sense. But today we’ll pass it by. I love the 33rd Psalm, but today we’ll pass it by. For what? For two sentences from a short letter to Timothy, which we only read once every three years, and often ignore.
So, are you thinking, “Did they nick her brain during the eye surgery?” Or hopefully, “Who was Timothy, why did St. Paul send him a letter, what’s it got to do with Lent?”
All good questions! Timothy was a young man, the product of a mixed marriage. His grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, were Christians. His father, who goes unnamed, apparently was not. Timothy was steeped in the Good News since birth. He traveled for some 15 years as Paul’s traveling companion throughout Asia and Greece, the entire distance of Paul’s 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys, as well as special trips to Jerusalem. He was with Paul in Rome when Paul was first in prison. Then he had been “ordained” by Paul and left in charge of the church in the Greek city of Ephesus. In short, Timothy, like Paul, had given his life, his time, his money, his efforts, and even his safety to spread the Good News of the Risen Christ – as Paul’s helper.
Paul suggests that Timothy was sometimes dismissed as just a young kid who didn’t know much (Paul writes him, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness”); and that Timothy was a little overwhelmed sometimes ( Paul tells him to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments”). I will never forget the first time I really studied the journeys of Paul and Timothy, as described in the Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles. Without exaggeration, I can tell you it was truly amazing, thrilling, scary, and at times I cried. You might decide to study it yourself. I can help.
Well, let’s take a look at those two sentences we have today. I have to tell you that Paul would have failed any English class writing assignment I’ve ever encountered. His sentences stretch to the moon and back, and frankly, that’s one of the reasons you seldom hear homilies from the 2nd readings. What your missal has as two sentences really is one big train-wreck of a sentence. I made 10 complex-enough sentences out of it in attempt to make it understandable.
First sentence –Paul is saying to Timothy: “Don’t despair in the hard times and don’t give up. Continue to share with me, to join me in the suffering we have done for the sake of spreading the gospel. We do it all through the power of God.” Paul continues with second sentence, “Remember, it is God who has saved us. God called us to proclaim the gospel. God called us with a Holy Calling. It was not because we did such great works, but it was according to God’s own purpose, God’s plan for the world. God lavishly gave us the grace to do it…grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus since before the beginning of time. God’s grace now is personified in Jesus, who destroyed death. Jesus brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” Two amazing sentences.
Scholars pretty much agree that this letter was the product of time Paul spent waiting in prison, waiting to be put to death in Rome. The end of his letter tells us Paul knows his end is very near. This is a death-row letter, looking back at his life as the big picture, the final summary. And his life had been interwoven with Timothy for many important years. And with the oppression of Christianity probably near its height, Paul is wondering what will happen to those Christian communities he established and nurtured and prayed for. Will anything he worked for, literally would give his life for, survive? It is a letter that could have wilted into self-pity and despair, except for the faith behind it. Paul tells Timothy “God has not given us a spirit of being timid, but of power and love and discipline.” He writes, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that Christ is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.” Finally, Paul advises, “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
This is beginning to sound like Lent, ah? When you give your all and it all seems to be going down the drain. When you are discouraged, and your friends and family are no where to be found. When you have to decide to speak up or shut up. When you are certain of your values, and feel alone. When you look into the future and you see the end.
Paul wrote, “Know the strength to bear the hardship comes from God.” God didn’t choose us because we could win our battles single-handedly, but we were called to do what was right and true and just, to be holy and part of God’s kingdom. Christ Jesus has already won the battle – abolished death, opened the way to eternity, shined the light to show the way home. Guard the truth in your soul, like Abraham and King David and Paul and Timothy, and our Lord Jesus. Lent is a time to settle firmly into the unshakeable rock of faith.
Recently, we had the experience of sharing in the birth of little Isaac. What is there not to love in the birth of an infant? But, you know what comes to mind in seeing this, is that each infant, each person in this world is entirely unique. Even identical twins or triplets etc, are individually unique because at gestation everything becomes different for each one. Each person though does have a relationship with God, even if the person chooses not to pursue it. As each of us develops, we are certainly conditioned by family and all our surroundings and experiences. Jesus himself was a unique human being, but even more so as he had a second nature as he was divine also. His life, his work was to make it possible for humans to have a relationship with God. His life seems to have been a period of gradually preparing to do his ministry. After his baptism, we see today he goes off alone to the desert to contemplate, to prepare. As is common in Mediterranean culture and the middle east, the spirit of evil or the devil appears to once again challenge humanity to somehow be equal to God as we saw in the Genesis reading today. As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus rejects the devil and moves on to his ministry.
For us, the gospel and the story of the garden reminds us that as human beings we are vulnerable to overestimate ourselves, to have an inflated notion of our very self, to want to stand out in some way. Yes, our uniqueness can sometimes make us feel more important or even superior to others. We all know that within a family it is important to know and accept each other as they are, and so it is in the family of humanity itself. Christ’s message of love and care of each other means that we live and work and accept others. In doing this, we must learn and accept the abilities of all and the role we play in working together. While we certainly can not solve all the ills of the world, we certainly shouldn’t be adding any to the list. As we look forward to the coming weeks, we should be positive in examining all the good things we do and what more we can do or change to further the kingdom Jesus has given us. This will truly make us ready for Easter Morning.