March 26: Children of the Light

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March 26: Children of the Light

The future king, David, in today’s first reading, is an example of a type of character present throughout the Hebrew scriptures. He is the child born out of place (not the eldest or most favored) who ends up receiving the promise of the covenant. The spirit of God’s anointing rushes upon him. In this way, he is similar to the man born blind from today’s Gospel. David’s family and the blind man’s community did not expect the miraculous grace of God’s love to work through them. Perhaps they, too, were “blinded” by the expectations and assumptions of those around them. Yet, after being touched by God, they both came to “see” the presence of God’s will for them. Both became messengers of God’s will. That same Spirit of God’s anointing rushed upon us at our baptism; we were given a candle as a sign of our membership in the Body of Christ, the Light from Light. Our vocation, then, is to fulfill that enlightenment, that anointing, as Ephesians tells us, by living as “children of the light.”

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Especially during the Lenten, Holy Week, and Easter seasons, the prayer texts of the Eastern Church revel in paradoxical images of Christ: the eternal life who is put to death, the host of the supper who is also its meal, the thirsty crucified one with living water streaming from his side. These images flow from the evangelists’ portrayals of Jesus and from his very ministry, during which he often upset or reversed people’s expectations about him or the ways of God. This “reversal” is at play in today’s Gospel, as Jesus speaks to an enemy foreigner who is also a woman beneath his status. In addition he, the thirsting one, shows the woman to be the one truly thirsting. He whose parched lips will say “I thirst” before he dies is the source of life and life-giving water. Lent calls upon us to dwell on how each of us is thirsting for Christ, and it leads us, ultimately, back to the life-giving waters of our baptism into his Body.

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“We used to be such good friends. How is it that you’ve moved so far away?” one man asked another. “Perhaps,” the other replied, “you have moved away. By standing still.” This exchange very well could have happened between Peter and Jesus, had Peter been allowed to erect tents to stay on the mount of the Transfiguration. He nearly succumbed to the temptation to stay in a place of wonder and light. But Jesus knew the hard truth: we are on a continual journey when we are walking the paths of God’s will. It is not good for us to stay in one place on our faith journey. Equally unhealthy is staying put in times of joy and wonder to avoid life’s difficulties, or to wallow in our trials and temptations and fail to be companions for our sisters and brothers who are also suffering—or celebrating! The pilgrim Church is required to do one thing on its Lenten journey: to walk continually with Christ as his Body born of water and the Spirit, seeking God’s will, helping the reign of God to be known on earth, being led to the end of our journey, transfigured for all time into the company of heaven.

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February 12: Choice

“If you choose you can keep the commandments,” Sirach tells us. God “has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand” (Sirach 15:15, 16). This is a great mystery: God does not control us so completely that we cannot choose our own path. We have certain boundaries, of course, but no one but we can choose our way within those boundaries. In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of our freedom and our responsibility for our lives. He calls us to look beyond the words of the commandments, all the way to their meaning. Look beyond the adultery to the selfishness that poisons our love. Look beyond the murder to the anger that eats away at our compassion. Look beyond the perjured testimony to the lies and deception that drive our behavior. Our vocation is to choose life for ourselves, and to choose a path through our part of the world that helps make life possible and more abundant for others as well.

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February 5: This Little Light of Mine

As children we sang the lively song This Little Light of Mine. The words, of course, are based on today’s Gospel, in which we are called as disciples to be salt and light for the world. Children are uninhibited about sharing their faith. It’s only when we grow older that we prefer to hide our light under a bushel basket because our culture tends not to emphasize discipleship. The message in this week’s readings is clear: in order to give glory to God through our discipleship, we must show the light of Christ in our words and deeds. Not an easy thing for inhibited adults. Often we may think of salt and light in terms of what we do for others, but it can be just as important not to do something, such as getting angry with the stranger on the road, or telling an offensive joke.

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January 29: The Chosen Remnant

Zephaniah is one of the least-known of the Old Testament prophets. He speaks in today’s first reading of impending judgment. But the Lord will leave a “remnant” in Israel. This image of a remnant, or remainder, was to become vital to both Judaism and Christianity. Paul’s letter to Corinth makes obvious his deep concern for the Christians there. They are too self-confident, he says, too sure of themselves. He admonishes them to remember that Christ has given them all they have.

Today’s Gospel comprises the opening of Jesus’ “Great Sermon.” As God gave Moses the law on Sinai, so now Jesus gathers his disciples on a hillside to teach them the new law. Each of these Beatitudes contrasts the humiliation of the present with the glory of the future: poverty vs. the riches of God’s kingdom, hunger for holiness vs. fulfillment in the Spirit, persecution vs. the reign of God. Jesus is here speaking to God’s chosen “remnant.”

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January 22: Liberation and Reform

While you might have to reach for an atlas to determine that Isaiah is speaking about Galilee, today’s first reading (part of which was read at Christmas) is prophetic of Jesus’ future ministry in that province. The light that brings salvation and rejoicing is, ultimately, Christ. Liberation is the theme: liberation from both ignorance (“darkness”) and sin (the “yoke”). As Isaiah identifies a place, so Paul describes an attitude: the attitude that develops, even among good people, of equating their own will with the common good. This always brings dissension, and so it has done in Corinth. Paul will not allow this; we are all members of “Christ’s party.” The gospel is not to divide us. Matthew quotes from Isaiah in today’s Gospel, presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies. The theme is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). To spread this message, Jesus begins to select disciples, four of whom we meet today: Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

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