The magnificent story of the healing of the man born blind occupies the whole of chapter 9 of St John’s gospel – although the miracle itself only takes two verses to tell; the controversy around the healing takes the other 39 verses. The first question that arises and which continues through the drama as it unfolds is – who is to blame for this? Who sinned? There was a very clear teaching in the Torah about sin and its consequences and so there must obviously be someone to blame for this man’s affliction. The must have realised that it was a bit rich to blame the poor man, since this is the way he was born – so did his parents sin? Where does the buck stop? If only the church and the christian community had taken on board the teaching of Jesus here: “Neither he nor his parents sinned.” How much grief would be avoided if we stopped looking for causes and blame for so many things in our world, and just got on with fixing them instead? But the discussion about sin is not yet finished, because we soon discover that this sixth sign in the Gospel of John happens on a Sabbath day, so that gives cause to the Pharisees accusing Jesus as a sinner for working on the holy day (creating the paste with the dirt and spittle). But what really is sin? Is it just breaking random commandments – or is it something deeper? Perhaps a definition that I read this week might shed more light on this area of darkness: the culpable disturbance of shalom. The Lord intends that we experience a world that is based in Shalom – peace, wholeness, blessing. We know that so many things disturb this shalom, and the blindness of this man is an example of this. The wonderful thing is that after the healing, the man begins to journey from physical sight to spiritual sight as he slowly ponders about who this man Jesus is that he brings such restoration.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (9’39”)
Sunday 4, Lent, Year A. John 9:1-41.
This insight on sin is contained in a blog series by Rob Bell called ‘What is the Bible?’, which I have published in book form on my website.
- A biblical and anthropological look at loneliness
This talk was given to a group of young adults in Wollongong, in response to a request to look at why in an age of widespread online social networks, so many young people still experience profound loneliness.
The talk first looks at the biblical background to the concept of friendship, fellowship, loyalty and relationships – where they suceed and where they fail.
The talk concludes with the insights of Professor Robin Dunbar who has studied primates and early human societies to look at the brain science of friendship and its limitations.
While listening to the audio of the talk, it will be helpful to either look at the notes (available in PDF format) or better to look at the PowerPoint presentation (which I will refer to during the talk). The talk concluded with an open discussion, most of which is included in the audio.
Thirst is one of those basic human needs that is hard to ignore. When you have worked hard on a hot day, or you have returned from a vigorous run or work-out, or you simply out in the heat of the desert, the need to drink and quench your thirst is usually significant. So, even though the Hebrews had escaped from the slavery of Egypt, the concrete possibility of dying from thirst drove them to want to return. In answer to their pleading, Moses is instructed to go to the front of the people and to strike the rock with the staff that he used to part of the water of the Sea of Reeds. Thirst – when it is experienced acutely – can be so basic that it will drive a person to all kinds of things that aren’t the usual. Although we thirst for God, the incredible truth that the Gospel reveals today is that Jesus not only thirsts for water, but he also thirst for our faith and response to his invitation to worship and love.
“O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory.” Psalm 62 (63)
Recorded at St Mary’s Leppington, 8am (10’29”)
Sunday 3, Lent, Year A. John 4:5-42.
In the journey through Lent each year, the Church leads us first out into the wilderness to be with Jesus during his temptations, and then on the second Sunday of Lent his three closest disciples join Jesus as they journey up a high mountain. The strange event which the bible calls Jesus being transfigured is told today in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 17.
Sometimes we think that it is on this particular mountain that the divinity of Jesus is revealed when he shines brightly. In fact, the writers of the New Testament knew that humanity itself was a rather glorious thing, and that the perfect humanity that was Jesus was the model for the glory that all his people would one day share.
Early Christians would tell us that if you wanted to see the divinity of Jesus, you must look at the suffering and shameful death of Jesus – even if this continues to surprise us. So, to understand what happens here on the mountain of the transfiguration, you need to meditate on the other mountain – the place of the crucifixion.
On this mountain, Jesus is revealed in glory; there, on that hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed in his shame. Here, the clothing that Jesus is wearing is shining white and bright; there his clothes have been stripped away. Here Jesus is flanked by the two great heroes of Israel – Moses and Elijah; there he only has two brigands to flank him. Here a bright cloud covers them with its shadow; there the land is covered in darkness. Here Peter declares how wonderful this all is; there, Peter and the others have run away and hide in their fear. Here the booming voice of God declares that this is His beloved son; there, it is left to a pagan Roman soldier to declare in his surprise that that really was God’s son.
Perhaps it is only when we begin to really see that the glory of God can be revealed in sorrow and shame that we begin to understand how strange and wonderful is this story of Jesus. This Lent we are invited to move deeper into this story, as we listen to the voice of Jesus calling us into life.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’57”)
The text above is from the Journey Radio Program: dow.org.au/catholic-radio
At the Easter Vigil, there is an especially poignant moment during the singing of the Easter Proclamation, or the Exsultet, when the deacon or priest sings: “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer.” (Roman Missal II translation) As we set out on the journey of Lent, the Church offers us the figures of the Adam and Eve in the garden surrounded by all the delights that earth can offer. When we become aware of these faults and failures within ourselves, it is a connection with the foundational nature of sin. The fall of Adam and the entering of sin into human history was an essential part of salvation history. St Paul understands this clearly because he knows that in the person of Jesus you don’t just get a simple reversal of the disobedience of Adam by the absolute obedience of Jesus – but the transformation of the original sin as new creation begins to break into the world.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (9’31”)
Sunday 1, Season of Lent, Year A.
Below is Pope Francis’ message to the faithful for Lent, 2014.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As Lent draws near, I would like to offer some helpful thoughts on our path of conversion as individuals and as a community. These insights are inspired by the words of Saint Paul: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). The Apostle was writing to the Christians of Corinth to encourage them to be generous in helping the faithful in Jerusalem who were in need. What do these words of Saint Paul mean for us Christians today? What does this invitation to poverty, a life of evangelical poverty, mean for us today?
1. Christ’s grace
First of all, it shows us how God works. He does not reveal himself cloaked in worldly power and wealth but rather in weakness and poverty: “though He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor …”. Christ, the eternal Son of God, one with the Father in power and glory, chose to be poor; he came amongst us and drew near to each of us; he set aside his glory and emptied himself so that he could be like us in all things (cf. Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15). God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us. Indeed, Jesus “worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he truly became one of us, like us in all things except sin.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says “that by his poverty you might become rich”. This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross. God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety. Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery. It is striking that the Apostle states that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Yet Saint Paul is well aware of the “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8), that he is “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2).
So what is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us? It is his way of loving us, his way of being our neighbour, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man left half dead by the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25ff ). What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of his love. Christ’s poverty which enriches us is his taking flesh and bearing our weaknesses and sins as an expression of God’s infinite mercy to us. Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all: Jesus’ wealth is that of his boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to him. Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and who loves its parents, without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant. Jesus’ wealth lies in his being the Son; his unique relationship with the Father is the sovereign prerogative of this Messiah who is poor. When Jesus asks us to take up his “yoke which is easy”, he asks us to be enriched by his “poverty which is rich” and his “richness which is poor”, to share his filial and fraternal Spirit, to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother (cf. Rom 8:29).
It has been said that the only real regret lies in not being a saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.
“Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.” So much of this season of Lent is acknowledging how true this – that we stand before each other as sinners. This cry attempts to express something of our need for God – to be healed. By myself, I cannot do this; but with the grace and compassion of God, I can achieve the impossible – a life of holiness with God.
This response to the Psalm today in this Ash Wednesday marks the necessity of the invitation that every Christian receives today to return to the Lord, the God of mercy. We are invited into a way of life that acknowledges our own poverty – a poverty that the Lord himself knows about because he experienced it in his own life.
We are invited into the more during this season of Lent. So often we accept a vision that is too small, rather than the richness of his life – a life of holiness and purpose.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9am (05’19”)
This Sunday, Bishop Peter Ingham’s Lenten Pastoral message – “This is Christian Hope: That the Future is in God’s Hands” – replaced the homily in all churches across the Diocese. You can watch the video here. Consequently, I did not preach nor record a homily this week. However, the homily from three years, recorded at St John Vianney Church in Fairy Meadow a few days after the devastating Christchurch earthquake is available below.
The fact that Jesus repeats a phrase seven times in our Gospel reading today perhaps suggests that there is something he wants us to learn. In a world that values money, security and wealth much more highly than the glories of God’s creation, the words of Jesus invite us to embrace a different way of being. One imagines that when Jesus preaches the sermon on the mount, he was surrounded by the lilies of the field in the Galilee spring and as he gestures upwards to the birds of the air there were many wheeling and flying free – just the same as Jesus lived and calls his disciples to live in the same freedom – embracing the amazing gifts of creation and the bounty and generosity of God.
Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (8’45″)
Sunday 08A. Matthew 6:24-34