Friday, 10 November 2017

St. John 4: 43-54


Once again, in the following verses, St. John shows his deep, and compassionate understanding of the human condition: Vs. 43-45= After the two days, He left there for Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honour in his native place. When He came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him, since they had seen all He had done in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves had gone to the feast.

In the United States there is a state known as the “show-me” state.

It is very human, when confronted with something difficult, to expect, even to seek proof, for example to be told 2 + 2 = 4 is one thing, to be handed 2 apples and then 2 more, as an unexpected gift, results in the joy both of receiving the gift and having 4 apples!

Suddenly I recall one of my philosophy professors who was the type of personality he would jump in here and ask: “What proof do we have the apples exist?”

When he challenged a student about proof of existence the student flicked his bick, as was an saying from an advertisement and, flame turned up high, approached the professor and challenged him to hold his hand over the flame if he doubted its existence, because his hand would not burn.

Wisely the professor declined!

St. John notes that Jesus was welcomed by the Galileans because they had seen miracles – yet ‘proof’ alone can itself be tricky.

A magician can say they will make a rabbit appear, and the rabbits appears, but this is NOT proof that previously the rabbit did not exist!  It was simply cleverly hidden.

Miracles per se do not prove the divinity of Jesus, that He is the Messiah.

Indeed, it is His laying down His life for us which points to the truth He IS our Redeemer and His Holy Resurrection which confirms who He is, and all He reveals to us.

However, some people, even if shown proof, will refuse to accept objective truth, indeed many insist there is no such thing as objective truth.

Canada, where I live, is a winter country and we have had snow in this northern city since the beginning of October.

It is a truth, in the sense of a fact, that some Canadians hate winter.

It is a more widespread fact most enjoy winter: the snow, the sports, the laughter of young and old sliding down a hill on sleds, toboggans, inner tubes, flattened cardboard boxes.

It is also a harsh fact for the homeless winter is an unpleasant and dangerous time.

However, there is another fact: many seasonal workers depend on winter for work, logging, tending to the needs of those who come to the ski hills in the mountains, and yes in the cities: the men and women who run the plows and sanders, the day labours hired by businesses to keep their walks cleared.

A fact is a type of truth.

What Jesus offers is no mere fact, no mere type, Jesus offers the template of truth: Himself!

St. John Paul, along with many other saints and theologians, but with papal wisdom and clarity, addresses the whole matter of truth in his encyclical VERITATIS SPLENDOR [ The Splendour of Truth.]

It is within the orbit of the splendour of truth that we are indeed truly free.

No truth, no freedom.

The clearest, most objective truth of all is that we exist because we are beloved of Love Himself who creates us.

Lamentations in chapter 3 notes: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to and end; they are new every morning……and in Wisdom we note, in chapter 3: Those who trust in Him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with Him in love……

Deeper into his Gospel account – 8:32, St. John notes Jesus telling those who already believe in Him and therefore every human being open to believing in Him: Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in Him, “If you remain in My word, you will truly be My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Even more clearly in 14:6 Jesus leaves no room for doubt, true we can still deny what is revealed but its force remains intact: Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Continuing meditating upon the current chapter we note St. John inserts another, as it were ‘reminder’ in v.46= Then He returned to Cana in Galilee, where He had made the water wine.

The Evangelist is here restating a salient truth, for he is reminding us of 2:11- Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him.

While many contemporary translations of the Gospels use the term “signs”, rather than the term “miracle”, sign in the Gospels always indicate Christ performing a miracle, a sign which points to His divine power and authority over the material universe.

 St. John references fewer miracles than the other Evangelists as his focus is more on the teachings of Jesus, given, as we shall see, in detail.

Also of note the Evangelist makes frequent reference to glory, life, hour, the Father and the “I am” statements, declarations of truth, made by Jesus such as in 14:6, noted above.

v.46-47= Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son, who was near death.

Stark are the words of the Evangelist: ‘was near death.’

Who has not, as a parent, sibling, grandparent, or other family member or close friend, neighbour, not experienced the anguish of parents whose child is terminally ill?

In the face of such enormous stress, panic, powerlessness there is nothing a parent would not do to save their child.

We can imagine the haste with which this official sought out Jesus, the hope, perhaps even hope against hope, he had that what he’d heard about Jesus was true and that Jesus would save his son.

v. 48= Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”


Where is the compassionate Jesus, why this apparently harsh rebuke?

First the use of ‘you’ here is the plural, for in His statement to the official Jesus is challenging everyone, you and me too, to examine if our faith is a trust-choice to believe, and therefore is a response to the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit, or a superficial act based only on what we determine as tangible proof.

v. 49= The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

The official’s instant reply is reminiscent of the reply of the Canaanite woman advocating for her daughter as St. Matthew records [cf. Mt. 15: 21-28].

It is the power of parental love that they skip over, ignore if you will, any reply that does not fulfill the passionate urgency to see their child healed.

Implicit in the official’s instant reply is a statement of true faith.

v. 50= Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”

How quickly Jesus responds to acts of faith.

However, it is important to keep in mind, when it seems we pray unceasingly with faith and days, perhaps weeks, months, years pass without the answer we want, never to be discouraged for every heartbeat and breath witnesses we are beloved and cared for, and that His answer, while it may not be as instantaneously as we want, or even precisely what we ask for, His answer is always both what is best for us and when it is best for us.

Trusting this truth is a true act of faith.

The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.

When parents in a hospital watch their child be taken out of sight into surgery there are often hours of waiting, with all the attendant uncertainty and anxiety that they will get to see their child brought into the recovery room and be told by the surgeon that all will be well.

Even if we have not had that exact experience, all of us have had some experience where we had to wait, endure the waiting.

Thus, the official, as simple as it may appear as an action, left after Jesus’ assurance.

Every parent knows, we should all know, this action was far from simple, it was a bold act of trust, trust in Jesus and His word, indeed His promise-assurance.

v.51= While he was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.

It does appear, even though they were enslaved, those who rushed to bring the good news to the official had more than a sense of mere duty towards him and his family. The goodness of the human heart, even when enslaved, or in labour or death camps or prisons, retains the capacity for genuine charity, indeed under such conditions acts of charity are truly heroic.

v. 52-53= He asked them when he began to recover. They told him, “The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”  The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he and his whole household came to believe.

Given that the father was of noble rank his household would have included the very slaves mentioned above, as well as his son and other family members.

This act of the official and his household becoming believers is the greater miracle.

As impressive as external miracles are, the conversion of hearts is, always has and will be, the greater sign of grace in action, Divine Love in action, when through the gift of faith love-grace is responded to and cooperated with.

v.54= This was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

ST. JOHN 4:7-42


I have been unable to trace who created this painting, but it does appear when seeking images in the public domain and it is striking for we see Jesus, exhausted as He is, relaxed and totally paying attention to the woman.

She stands as one torn between flight and curiosity. One foot is on the step, rope in hand, leaning towards pulling up the skin of water to fill her jar, the other foot on the ground as if she might suddenly turn and flee.

Though we see only partially the face of Christ His head is slightly tilted upward for she is His focus, while her face betrays a type of skeptical hostility.

Here we have, as it were, the opening scene of one of the powerful examples by St. John the Evangelist of the public-missionary life of Christ.

We humans, sadly and scandalously we Christians, are so quick to judgement, to sneering and accusing without having the whole picture, without meeting, listening to the human being or group we are rejecting because we fail to see each other with the eyes of Christ, fail to listen with the ears of Christ, fail to love with the heart of Christ.

V.7= A woman of Samaria……

In many countries, women, as in the days of the Woman of Samaria, still have the daily heavy chore of walking, often for miles, to the nearest well to get the day’s supply of water for cooking, cleaning, drinking. It is a time for the women to chat about everything, to receive wisdom, comfort, affirmation from each other.

 St. John is telling us, a woman isolated from other women, perceived as a danger to marriage and family life because she was perhaps a prostitute, certainly an adulterous, was clearly not welcome amongst those going to the well in the cool of the morning.

So alone, unwelcome, at high noon in the broiling heat, she comes to the well, every step a burdensome reminder of her isolation.

Approaching the well she would have seen the man sitting there.

Given her history with men likely she was suspicious, perhaps even apprehensive.

V.7-cont.=…..came to draw water.

Water is mentioned over 700 times in Sacred Scripture from: The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. [Gn.1:2] to: …one of the soldiers pierced His side and immediately blood and water came out. [Jn. 19:34] and the last mention is: …Whoever desires, let him come take the water of life freely. [Rv. 22:17].

Water covers the earth in vast oceans, and the Arctic and Antarctic are lands of water frozen as snow or ice. Fresh water, meaning drinkable water, is so essential to life we cannot go more than 3 days without it, yet nowadays millions can only have drinkable water if it is first filtered and chlorinated, or if we can afford to buy bottled watered.

Millions of our brothers and sisters around the world have no access to safe drinkable water and so drink polluted water and are plagued by diseases, some of them fatal.

Insufficient water soaking the earth as rain and crops fail, famine follows.

We all know this intellectually, but I wonder when we let the tap run until the water is as cold as we like before filling a glass, almost without thinking buy yet another bottle of water, or obsessively water lawns, do we ever stop for a moment, give thanks for the gift of water, pray for those who suffer lack of pure water?

Thirst is a terrible thing.

The water the woman had come to draw was no luxury, rather fundamentally necessary.

V. 7 cont.= Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

Just reading the words of Jesus on the page we might assume a certain curtness in “Give me a drink.” Certainly, we can hear our mothers’ voice telling us about please and thank-you!

However, Jesus speaks at a time and in a culture far removed from ours, plus He was a Jewish man asking for a drink of a Samaritan woman added into the mix.

So, unless we hear the spoken word, see the facial expression, observe the body language, be we reading words spoken in a newspaper article, a work of history or fiction, unless the author adds a descriptive to indicate how the words were spoken: gently, harshly, pleadingly, for example – there is no way to know.

There is another occasion, reported by the Evangelist, when Jesus reveals He is thirsty: After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst”. [cf. Jn. 19:28]

Many Saints across the millennia, St. Mother Teresa among them, have seen Christ’s “I thirst”, spoken on the Cross as His thirst not just for souls in general, but for you, for me, as individuals and the saints have sought to satiate this thirst of Christ through serving the poor, through prayer and acceptance of suffering, through all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

So, we would not be amiss to ‘hear’ Jesus’ request for a drink spoken with the sound of tender love and thirst for the soul of the Woman of Samaria.

V. 8= His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.

As he often does St. John is giving us a clue here to something very important which we will discover at the end of the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. This is also St. John making it clear why Jesus was alone.

V.9= The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)

Some translations indicate not ‘use nothing’ but rather ‘have nothing in common.’

Despite their common heritage various events over the centuries caused extreme bitterness, even hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans, some were religious/cultic differences, others were claims of right of territorial possession, none them, justified the enmity, just as no cultic, theological, ethnic or other assertion of one group of human beings against another can be justification for hatred and violence in our own day.

It amazes me how human beings can get all gaga when seeing a rainbow, the multiplicity of colours in a field of wild flowers, marvel at the plumage of varieties of birds but go apoplectic when seeing human beings of different colours!

Racism, for example, if we were truly thinking and reflective human beings, is counter intuitive.

Blood has only one colour.

We all bleed red.

Air, so vital to life that it is the very breath of God within us, is colourless.

We all breathe.

Enmity between peoples, the dark seedlings of hatred and violence can only grow in hearts frozen by enmity, is always rooted in the bitter retelling-blaming stories which become ever more divorced from objective truth with each retelling.

Jesus, who knows everything about us, about all human history, thus about His own people and the Samaritans, simply will not participate in the enmity and so His reply is a truth way beyond bitterness, blaming, hatred, anger: v. 10= Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and Who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”

Jesus has also just turned the whole encounter on its head.

From supplicant, He has become gift-giver and the woman no longer the one from whom something is expected: now she is offered gift.

Jesus Himself is the gift of God.

Jesus as gift of God gifts to us also the name of God: Abba/Father and with the Father gifts us the Holy Spirit, who is Himself the living water:

As "by one Spirit we were all baptized," so we are also "made to drink of one Spirit." Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life. [Catechism of the Catholic Church # 694]

Pope Francis has taught eloquently on this when commenting on this very encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that he will give a superabundance of “living water” forever to all those who recognize him as the Son sent by the Father to save us (cf. Jn. 4:5-26; 3:17). Jesus came to give us this “living water”, who is the Holy Spirit, that our life might be guided by God, might be moved by God, nourished by God……In the Letter to the Romans we find these words: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5:5). The “living water”, the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Risen One who dwells in us, purifies us, illuminates us, renews us, transforms us because he makes us participants in the very life of God that is Love…… The Holy Spirit teaches us to see with the eyes of Christ, to live life as Christ lived, to understand life as Christ understood it. That is why the living water, who is the Holy Spirit, quenches our life, why he tells us that we are loved by God as children, that we can love God as his children and that by his grace we can live as children of God, like Jesus. And we, do we listen to the Holy Spirit? ….. Let us hear the Holy Spirit, let us listen to the Holy Spirit and may we move forward on this path of love, mercy and forgiveness. [Pope Francis, General Audience, May 8, 2013]

Vs. 11,12= The woman said to Him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”

From the ‘you, a Jew’ hostility to now a respectful, less hostile, yet in a sense still uncertain about who Jesus is and what this is all about, the woman uses the honourific, “Sir” as she seeks clarity and, by referring to Jacob hints at the common ancestry, shared by both Jews and Samaritans.

There is a softening here of tone and attitude.

Vs. 13,14= Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

That drinking a cup of mere ‘created’ water can never satisfy our need for full daily hydration is an obvious observation Jesus makes to counter point the truth He is revealing, namely that within the water He is offering is the gift of the Holy Spirit, but also therein all that Jesus teaches us, which is why the water of Baptism, or rather the Sacrament of Baptism itself, when we first receive the Holy Spirit, is called the gateway to sacramental life.

More, it wells within us like a river upon which we are carried into eternal life!

There is this wonderful vision in Revelation 22:1-5: Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will look upon His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.

Vs 15-16=The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”

The woman is still thinking, or at least by her reply seems to be so, in terms of material, physical thirst and that the water Jesus is offering would mean she would no longer have to endure the daily grind and humiliation of her solitary trips to the well.

Jesus however is offering faith, conversion, a restoration of her human dignity, membership in the community.

Jean Vanier, in his book BECOMING HUMAN, reminds us that: Those who are weak have a great difficulty finding their place in our society.

Acceptance of our weakness, ultimately our need of Jesus and the grace and gift He offers us as He is doing here with the Samaritan woman, is the first step towards faith and conversion of heart: metanoia.

As Jesus Himself teaches us, the journey of faith, the Spirit’s gift of metanoia, is a life journey, indeed a day by day journey: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. [cf. Mt.16:24]

St. John Paul in his first Holy Thursday letter to Priests in 1979 stresses: We must be converted anew every day, we must rediscover every day the gift obtained from Christ Himself…[cf. op. cit. para.10]

As with the woman here, so with every human being, Christ’s ‘ask’ of us is always invitational, always protective of our human freedom, itself God’s gift to us, to say yes or no: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with Me.” [Rev. 3:20]

This whole dialogue with the Woman is, truly, Jesus knocking at the door of her heart and asking her to go and get her husband is, as it were, handing her the key to unlock the door and open to Him and the living water, the Holy Spirit.

IF she goes to get her husband then she is making a gesture of freedom, she is freely choosing to open the door of her being, in itself an act of faith and trust for:…….faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift of God: to God’s self-communication in the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul writes: “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” [cf. Dominum Et Vivificantem, para.51.2; encyclical of St. John Paul, May 18, 1986]

v.17= The woman answered and said to Him, “I do not have a husband.”

Speaking truth, indeed making a confession, we can hear not only the woman’s words, but the sound of a door being unlocked.

Ven. Fulton Sheen, in his book, LIFE OF CHRIST, speaking of another adulterous woman’s approach to Christ notes with great compassion: There was love in her boldness, repentance in her tears……[op. cit. p.122]

In his book ORTHODOX PSYCHOTHERAPY, Hierotheos, Bishop of Nafpaktos, quotes St. Gregory Nazianzen, who stresses that “…it is necessary to be truly at ease to know God.” [op. cit. p. 31]

Throughout this encounter Jesus has been putting the woman at ease.

Jesus zeros in not on her promiscuity but on her truth speaking, for the now unlocked door is beginning to open.

When Pope Francis began stressing the mercy of God early in his pontificate, in his book THE NAME OF GOD IS MERCY, he teaches us that: The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy….I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this “Church that goes forth”; it exists where there is combat. [op. cit. p. 52]

In this encounter of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan Woman we have a template of what Pope Francis is teaching, a template in the first instance for bishops and priests, but for all the baptized on how we should encounter, witness to, love one another.

This encounter between Jesus and the woman is also a template for patient, attentive, dialogue, for apparently instant conversions, at least authentic ones, are rare – look at the struggles of a St. Augustine or a St. Teresa of Avila.

Vs. 19-20= The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

Things have moved now from ‘you’ the Jew to ‘sir’ to ‘prophet’ indicating growing trust and respect, but still some resistance.

It is as if having unlocked the door of her being, opened it slightly, she is guarding the door still, needing perhaps assurance Jesus is indeed whom she thinks He may be.

So, she reaches back to the old enmity between Jews and Samaritans.

Vs. 21-24=Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

In His reply, it is striking that Jesus, who has just heard the woman speak of ‘worship’ as generalization specifies that she, indeed everyone, will “worship the Father.”

It is Jesus who, after the millennials of human history, and specifically that of the Chosen People, reveals that God is indeed our Father.

Further, Jesus lays out the whole mystery of the Trinity while announcing that the fulfillment of the prophecies, which point to Himself and the gift of redemption, is at hand.

V.25= The woman said to Him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when He comes, He will tell us everything.”

Now she has opened to the door to Jesus. Not yet has she invited Him in, but in her own way, minus any of the previous attitude, she is conversing, person to person and, in her own way, making a statement of faith and hopeful expectation.

What is this ‘everything’ that the Messiah, the Anointed One, will tell us, will tell her?

First and foremost, that ‘everything’ is what Jesus tells her, namely that the Expected One is now among us: V. 26= Jesus said to her, “I am He, the one who is speaking with you.”

How wonderful as He reveals Himself Jesus stresses that He is speaking ‘with’ her.

Too often when we seek to evangelize we speak ‘at’ or ‘to’ people, not with them.

Now she can allow Jesus to cross the threshold of her being for she no longer is speaking with a mere man but with the Messiah, the Redeemer, the sought-after Beloved Himself!

Next there is an interruption and here the words of William Barclay in his commentary on the Gospel of St. John, volume 1, page 103 apply: We must always remember that beneath John’s simple stories is a deeper meaning which is open only to those who have eyes to see. In all his gospel John never wrote an unnecessary or an insignificant detail. Everything means something and everything points beyond.

V. 27=At that moment His disciples returned, and were amazed that He was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then an amazing thing happens, reminiscent of all the running to and fro, Easter Sunday, as people ran around proclaiming: HIS IS RISEN!

V.28/29/30= The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could He possibly be the Messiah?” They went out of the town and came to Him.

Metanoia, conversion of heart, leads to a willingness to proclaim, and for the Samaritan Woman this meant the courage to do so in the heart of the very community which held her in disdain and rejected her.

Indeed, given enmity between Jesus and the woman at the outset, for she noted He was a Jew and she a Samaritan, that between her and the people of the town, not merely her lifestyle but the state of her soul, then what transpires once she allows Christ to enter her being and transform her heart, we see what St. Gregory Nyssa illustrates when he teaches on Christian perfection: We have Christ, who is our peace and our light. He is our peace, who has made both one. Since Christ is our peace, we shall be living up to the name of Christian if we let Christ be seen in our lives by letting peace reign in our hearts. He has brought hostility to an end, as the apostle said. Therefore, we must not allow it to come back to life in us in any way at all but must proclaim clearly that it is dead indeed. God has destroyed it in a wonderful way for our salvation. We must not, then, allow ourselves to give way to anger or bear grudges, for this would endanger our souls. We must not stir up the very thing that is well and truly dead, calling it back to life by our wickedness. But as we bear the name of Christ, who is peace, we too must put an end to all hostility, so that we may profess in our lives what we believe to be true of him.

 Bl. Pope Paul VI: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."

This is who the Samaritan woman is, a witness first and then a teacher and as a result the people went to meet Jesus, which means they too spoke with Him, and clearly, listened and took what He said to heart.

Was St. John, presumably at a respectful distance, present for the entire exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, or did he seek her out after the event to fill in the details?

In any event he would have been present when, the disciples have returned, the following took place:  VS.31-38= Meanwhile, the disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

Over and over Jesus draws from the ordinary of life to illuminate the realities of who and why we are as persons, what the gift of life is ultimately about: As the Baltimore Catechism of my childhood stated, God creates us to: know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. Thus, too the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the Prologue, # 1, re-affirms: God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

St. John closes this critical section of the Gospel with these verses: 39-42: Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to Him, they invited Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in Him because of His word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

All of us, in imitation of Christ, as did the Apostles, as did the woman, as baptized Christians are called to witness to Christ and to teach the Gospel.

When a heart is open to Christ in the Gospel the person must then have a personal experience of Christ. The greatest of these personal experiences with Him occur within the Sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Marriage, Priesthood, Anointing of the Sick.

Strengthened by sacramental grace we remain faithful, courageous even, especially in these days when Christians are constantly derided, hated, persecuted, even martyred.

This is the Samaritan Woman, commemorated in the East as St. Photini, a martyr for the faith.  The details of her life after meeting Jesus are not in the Gospel, nor in the Acts of the Apostles.

Many stories have been handed down by oral tradition long before someone wrote anything down about the lives of various people who do appear in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles without accurate historical records of their later lives.

Purists may fret over the lack of historical records, but there is a strong presence of the sensus fidelis: Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church……[Catechism of the Catholic Church #94].

Thus, since devotion to St. Photini has been handed down over the generations, it is a beautiful tradition, inspiring, that the Woman has been given a name and is celebrated as one faithful to Christ to the very end, martyrdom.

St. Photini prayer for us.


Friday, 4 August 2017

St. John + 4:1-6


It is high summer.

In North America and several countries in Europe the hot dry weather has spawned the usual rash of wildfires.

In parts of Africa drought and famine spread.

While heat does warm the earth, causing seeds to grow, too much heat kills: plants, animals, human beings.

We humans can only live three days without water.

St. John, knowing well the reality of life in a desert country, as he frequently does throughout the Gospel, paints a vivid picture of heat causing fatigue and thirst and within that reveals more of the real humanity of Christ.

St. Paul reminds us that: …Christ Jesus Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. [Phil. 2:5-8]

4:1-3= Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, just His disciples), He left Judea and returned to Galilee.

Given that the Evangelist wrote down his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and teachings, post-Pentecost, it is indeed crucial that St. John points out that Jesus did not baptize because, he would totally understand that what John the Baptist, and some of the enthusiastic disciples of Jesus, at this early stage still lacking a clear understanding of Jesus’ person and mission, were ‘baptizing’ in a symbolic sense, not as the actual sacrament of baptism, instituted by and mandated by Jesus: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” [Mt.28:19]

In the above verses from St. John we are reminded again that Jesus’ life on earth, His public life was never static. Mostly He is on the move, as if trying to get to every place, especially where the Chosen People lived.

This is missionary movement.

This is why the Church Herself can never be static, nor any diocese or parish, nor any individual Christian.

We must always be on the move, seeking, reaching out, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives, without compromise.

The way in which we do so will vary according to our vocation, but even a smile offered to a stranger on a crowded bus is an act of evangelization.

Indeed, it is the witness of our authentically Christ-centered lives, for by baptism we are Christophers, that is Christ-bearers, and not words, which will bring people to Christ. Once people have embraced the witness then their hearts will be open to hear the teachings of Christ: Tertullian, writing around 200AD, shows how astonished the majority pagan community was about the smaller Christian community, whose love and care for one another, Tertullian asserts, caused the pagans to declare: “See how they love one another.”

Such an observation of love in action leads to curiosity, which leads to approach from which flows questioning that becomes dialogue and then an ask to be baptized.

Vs. 4-6=He had to pass through Samaria.  So He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.

Translated here as noon, the term ‘noon’ is more often translated as ‘the sixth hour’, we see this in the Synoptic accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus noting moments which occurred at the sixth to the ninth hour, that is from noon until three in the afternoon. [cf. Mt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33,34; Lk. 23:44]

In most countries of the world, at least in summer, the hours between noon and three are the hottest of the day, indeed in some countries the heat during those hours can be brutal, even dangerous.

Oddly enough when meditating on these verses – and one never knows where meditations might go, perhaps in this case because it is near three in the afternoon on a hot summer’s day – a Noel Coward ditty came to mind from my childhood when, after the more serious anthems and classics had been sung as we celebrated Empire Days, Coward’s song MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN would be sung by all with much glee, the colonials making fun of the particular British approach to peoples of the Empire: “In tropical climes there are certain times of day when all citizens retire……because the sun is much too sultry…..But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”

When we meditate upon the crucifixion of Jesus it is important to be aware He was crucified on the top of a hill during the hottest time of the day; to remember most people in countries of extreme heat do not have air conditioning, easy access to cool water; even in countries such as mine, where days above 25 Celsius/70 Fahrenheit, are rare, except in July.

Many countries with milder, even northerly climates, can still have days of brutal heat and the poor, the homeless, outside workers, the elderly, the sick, expectant mothers, small children, suffer much in the heat.

There is nothing in the life of Jesus, even if it seems to be mentioned almost in passing, that is outside of the experience of any human being.

Many of us live in cultures replete with elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, air conditioning, and either public transportation systems or own our own cars replete with air conditioning, and cup holders for nicely chilled bottled water.

Not the case for millions of our brothers and sisters who must walk everywhere in the hundreds of countries that do not have such things, indeed even in countries with such things the homeless must walk everywhere to beg for food, for water, a place to sleep at night, and not to be gross about it but they and millions of the poor around the world even have to find a place to go to the bathroom.

So here Jesus, having walked for hours is hot, exhausted, thirsty.

He sits down at the well.

How very human!

Who among us has not experienced at some point being overheated, thirsty, worn out and sought a place of shade, rest, where we might slake our thirst?

Just as Jesus did.

But this is all prelude to the central event!

Friday, 30 June 2017

ST. JOHN=3:22-36

Vs.22-24= After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where He spent some time with them baptizing. John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized, for John had not yet been imprisoned.

As will become apparent in later verses St. John the Baptist will, in this instance, catechize as if he were aware of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus.

There are two points to note, first in chapter 4:2 the Evangelist specifies that: Jesus Himself was not baptizing, just His disciples.

Second, while keeping in mind how much of the Holy Land, is mostly desert, arid land, where water is precious, St. John does not tell us if this abundance of water is a river or lake or from a well, yet in such an arid place any abundance of water would be notable.

When the Evangelist notes that St. John had ‘not yet been imprisoned’ it is as if he is preparing us for what is to come.

I have just finished reading a wonderful book A SONG FOR NAGASAKI, which is the life story of Takashi Nagai, a convert to the faith, doctor, husband, father, who suffered much being a citizen of Nagasaki when it was struck by the atomic bomb.

On page 105 the author notes: “Origen used to say that the Gospel according to St. John is the quintessence of the Bible and is understood only ‘if you lean on Jesus’ breast’, in other words, if you pray.”

I find, like Origen, meditation on the words of the Gospel leads to prayer and so it ends up taking a long time to move from verse to verse!

Vs. 25,26= Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about ceremonial washings. So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here He is baptizing and everyone is coming to Him.”

How often critical catecheses in St. John’s Gospel are proceeded by some controversy!

With the above St. John introduces the powerful, and humble, words of the Baptist:

Vs. 27,28= John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him.

We have here incredible statements of faith and trust in Divine Providence.

It is very common for we human beings to presume what we have is as a direct result of our own labours, ingenuity, tenacity.

This simply is not true.

The origin of all we have comes from the creative, providential love of Divine Providence.

True, this laptop and its components come from human labour, but the origin of all the metals, for example, contained herein, is mineral resources, yes dug from the earth by human labour.

BUT no human being created the minerals, nor placed them in the earth to be found and exploited by human beings for use in this laptop.

In every Holy Mass, this same faith and trust in Divine Providence is expressed in the Offertory Prayers: Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. And: Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the wine we offer You: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.

Jesus urges us to trust Divine Providence, to understand what truly is of value as noted by St. Luke 12: 22ff; St. Matthew 6:25ff.

Then the Baptist asks his questioners to themselves become witnesses of the great reality of the Messiah.

Vs. 29,30= “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”

Two critical teachings flow from the Baptist’s reference to marriage: 1] while we all can rejoice during a wedding something more critical than what appears when we observe the bride and groom in their finery before the priest at the altar, namely, unlike the other sacraments, the minister of this sacrament is not the priest. He and those in attendance are witnesses to something very sacred indeed, as teaches the Catechism of the Church about the union of a baptized man and baptized woman: According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church…..In the epiclesis   of this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of the love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever-available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity. [#’s 1623, 1624]

2] Christ Himself is the Bridegroom, the Church His Bride, and thus we as members of the Church share in this intimate communion of love: The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her. He has joined Her with Himself in an everlasting covenant, and never stops caring for Her as for His own body. [op.cit.#796]

There is a pointing to Jesus’ own expression of joy in St. John’s saying his joy has been made complete, when Jesus says in 16: vs. 20, 22, 23, 24= ….you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…..I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you….Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be complete.

No matter what we suffer, no matter the stress, no matter the turbulence of our emotions, the state of heart and soul of all the baptized is joy, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When St. John teaches about Christ that He must increase and of himself that I must decrease he is preparing everyone for the reality that with himself, as the last prophet of the Old Law/Testament, and the precursor, preparer of the way for Christ, history – both chronological history as we experience, and salvation history which is the whole point of the former, will forever more be noted as the time before Christ and the time since Christ.

Here too we can hear the later teaching of Jesus about greater and lesser:  Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. [Mt. 18:3]; The greatest among you will be your servant. [Mt. 23:11].

Being true disciples, witnesses of Christ for others means in a real way we too should decrease so Christ increases within us.

As an aside noted by Byzantine liturgical scholars: the nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24th, when the sun has begun its decline towards the horizon, while the birth of Christ is celebrated December 25th, when the sun has begun to increase.

The Baptist continues his teaching, vs.31-36= The one who comes from above is above all. The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things. But the one who comes from heaven [is above all]. He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accepts His testimony. Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy. For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to Him. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

Was St. John the Baptist shown the Most Holy Trinity?

Certainly, we know that Holy Spirit formed him and sent him on his mission as precursor of Christ.

What the Baptist gives us here is a clear teaching that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the expected One, sent by God, that is by the Father, and that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit.

This all, which is spoken here, flows from what the Baptist experienced and already witnessed to in John 1: 29-34.

All God’s self-revelation is fulfilled in Christ, who reveals to us that the name of God is Abba. [Hebrew which is translated in the formal sense of ‘father’, but the more accurate translation of this word, commonly spoken particularly in Israel is: Dad, Papa, Daddy].

This is the intimate relationship we have with the Father, that of beloved children, each of us is His Child.

Jesus is both our Redeemer and our brother.

Through Jesus as well we come to know the Holy Spirit and in baptism receive the Holy Spirit, becoming disciples of Christ, true children of the Father, thus enter communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity.

Indeed, when the Father sends His Word, Jesus Christ, He always sends His Breath, the Holy Spirit. [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #689].

Thus as St. Paul teaches: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him……In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. [Rm.8:14-17 & 26]

Monday, 5 June 2017

new blog added

Friday, 26 May 2017

ST. JOHN 3: 1-21

Before starting reflections on the above, the final verses of chapter 2:23-25:
While He was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. But Jesus would not trust Himself to them because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He Himself understood it well.
Once again St. John is pointing at the critical event towards which Jesus is heading, Passover, the final one Jesus will celebrate on earth and which will usher in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Pointedly as well the last line: He Himself understood it well, speaks volumes about the observational lived experience of Jesus’ some thirty years of hidden life among us.
Jesus’ understanding us well is exemplified by the intensity of His compassion.
Indeed, Jesus understands us so well that if we do not know Jesus we will remain incomprehensible to our very self.
The attraction of various self-help books, gurus, other religions, facial creams, gyms and the plethora of gizmos for sale promising the perfect body, cosmetic surgery, cults etc., even the plastering of tattoos on the body, all these ultimately are coming from a desperate need to find self.
Be since we have been created by love Himself, in His image and likeness, we cannot find the real, the true self, outside of intimate communion with Him.
The sooner we become exhausted by alternatives and turn towards Him our faces will be radiant with the recognition we seek for we shall see ourselves in the only mirror which does not invert the image, not distort – the mirror of His loving eyes gazing upon us!
3:1-2: Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night………..
In his novel THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, Dostoevsky has a chapter, entitled The Grand Inquisitor, which some commentators see as a mockery of the Roman Catholic Church, but given the unfortunate reality that all Christendom, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, has across the millennia produced numerous saints and martyrs, likewise, given it is human beings who make up the Body of Christ on earth, there have been, are, always will be those, both clergy and laity, within Christianity, who take advantage to feather their own nests with power, close mindedness, and all the other vices in opposition to authentic, Gospel rooted, imitation of Christ’s holiness: it is not a bad thing to have the sins, failures, compromises of Christians exposed. It should be occasion of re-conversion!
Ultimately the character Ivan seeks to explain his poem, The Grand Inquisitor, a poem which shows the Cardinal Inquisitor, having Christ, who has returned and once more is loving, healing, affirming people: arrested.
The Cardinal comes at night to visit Jesus in His cell.
The dialogue between the two is fascinating, a type of exegesis of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which the Cardinal asserts throughout it is really all about Christ giving us choice, that is free will: and a big mistake.
The real power of the ‘poem’ comes at the end when, the Grand Inquisitor having finished not merely challenging but indicting Christ, Christ in silence approaches, and gently kisses the old man.
Instantly Christ is set free but is told never to return.
Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, may well have been of the ilk of the Inquisitor, certainly he too approaches Christ at night and he too will challenge, coming close to indicting Christ, but the outcome is very different indeed!
v. 1-2, cont.:…..and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.”
Like as not Nicodemus is not doing so here, but there are echoes in the way he speaks, of what many of the enemies of Jesus will do throughout His life, namely, make statements or ask questions which are, in essence, traps guised as sincere enquiry.
While addressing Jesus with the honorific ‘rabbi’ and declaring Jesus to be a teacher who ‘has come from God’, neither Nicodemus, nor St. John the evangelist, identify the ‘we’ in: ‘we know that’.
It may well be that Nicodemus has just come from some meeting of the leading Pharisees where the issue of Jesus has been discussed, perhaps in such a way that Nicodemus’ curiosity has been peeked.
v.3=Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
It is striking that Jesus at first glance does not appear to be telling Nicodemus directly by asserting, for example, that He, Jesus, has indeed come from God and that God is indeed with Him.
However, looked at more closely that is what Jesus is asserting for implied in His statement is indeed a pointing towards His Incarnation.
v. 4= Nicodemus replies immediately with a question that contains within it a challenge: Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot re-enter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
When people express to me a struggle with faith and prayer I remind them that God who is Love, precisely because He loves us, as Jesus does here, welcomes our need to question, to challenge, to express whatever we struggle with or pains us.
We have the example of Abraham in Genesis 18 arguing with God so that some from Sodom and Gomorrah might be spared, the tenderness of Jesus Risen walking with, listening to the painful confusion of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and taking the time to explain to them the truth of what has happened as St. Luke [24:13ff] tells us.
Here too in Nicodemus’ question we see something else which is very important, namely questioning which comes out of a search for faith, for truth, for the One we seek, for as St. Augustine reminds us every human being is restless until we have communion of love and rest within Love Himself.
It behooves us then as Christians to have attentive, patient, compassionate hearts and when someone expresses an opinion or asks a question about matters of faith NOT to be in a rush to convince or win some argument but to truly hear and reply with the same compassionate and gentle patience as shown by Jesus both to Nicodemus and the Emmaus disciples.
Vs. 5-8= Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus is giving a teaching on Baptism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that: Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit…..the door which gives access to the other sacraments……[1213]….it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which ‘ no one can enter the kingdom of God.’ [1215]
v.9= Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can this happen?”
That this visit and conversation with Jesus occurs long before the post-Pentecost teaching of the Apostles Nicodemus’ question is quite reasonable. Yet Jesus challenges Nicodemus because after all Nicodemus is a learned man of faith:
v. 10= Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Then, reminiscent of the encounter and conversation between Jesus risen, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus [cf. Lk. 24:13ff], immediately Jesus gives a fulsome teaching:
vs. 11/12=Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
It can be stated that in this dialogue Nicodemus is speaking as the voice of Judaism while Jesus, when He states, “we speak”; “we know”; “we testify”; “we have seen”; “our testimony” this reveals His intimate union with the Father and it can be added, since St. John is writing in the early years of the Church the ‘we’ is also the voice of Christianity.
The parables Jesus uses to teach are replete with stories which concern earthly things and are used to lead into the things of heaven, such as are found in the Synoptic Gospels but not in St. John, who focuses on the teachings of Jesus in a detail of words. Thus in meditating upon the Holy Gospel according to St. John it is critical to take time with the words because unlike in the synoptics there are not easy ‘stories’ to tell as gateway to the teaching.
vss. 13-15= No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Being a man of faith and scholarship Nicodemus would realize immediately Jesus is revealing that He Himself is the cure for all that sickens humanity. While in the desert, all the Chosen People had to look upon a representation of the very snakes that were sickening them, so the healing promised by God might take place. That healing was only for those physically sickened by a snake bite and had no extension to the inner healing all human beings need.
Perhaps Nicodemus did not fully grasp things, yet maybe listening to Jesus, his heart, like the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, was already burning within him.
Saying He Himself must be lifted up Jesus is beginning to reveal what He further details: vs. 16-17= For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
As mentioned, in the desert the people were only healed from a snake bite.
Jesus heals the sickness of sin and the poison of death.
If we return to Nicodemus’ opening question how astonished he must have been by the depth and clarity of Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps Nicodemus was already rediscovering in his mind and heart everything contained in the Hebrew Scripture about the Messiah.
While intellectually we can understand love and giving as in “….God so loved the world that He gave…” only our hearts are able to open to the fullness of the immensity of the Father’s love for us in giving His only Son for us, a gift which contains within the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and Jesus’ constant intercession for us at the right hand of the Father.
We have also here the profound teaching on mercy: “…God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Divine Mercy is personified in the crucified and risen Jesus and more than two millennia after this conversation with Nicodemus, Pope St. John Paul II would declare the Second Sunday of Holy Easter Mercy Sunday.
Jesus continues teaching v.18= Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Over the centuries since Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, a simple enough code for holiness, as our Jewish Brothers and Sisters became settled in the promised land and groups like the Pharisees, to which Nicodemus belonged, the Sadducees, and some Rabbi’s kept piling on every more burdensome regulation until achieving holiness of life either through daily living or religious practice became nigh impossible.
Christianity has faced, does face, the same temptation and struggle, namely to bury the simplicity and clarity of, for example how to follow the Great Commandment to love one another, under similar burdens, as Christ was constantly criticizing the religious leaders of His day for doing.
Certainly, the valid celebration of sacraments requires rubrics, but post the Council of Trent, particularly when Latin was no longer the common language, insistence on Latin as the ONLY liturgical language was burdensome and frankly dumb. It would take the Vatican Council, called by St. John XXIII, who was always a priest of the people, to open the richness and transcendence of liturgy to all people, whatever their language.
It may well have shocked Nicodemus that Jesus was asserting holiness of life has faith as its foundation and praxis, not following a bunch of rules!
True faith leads to fulfillment of the Gospel, lived without compromise, to communal participation in sacramental/liturgical life.
v.19= And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
These words of Jesus echo the Prologue: And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. [Jn.1:5]
Much later Jesus would declare: “I am the light of the world…..” [Jn.8:12ff]
We speak these days of ‘dark’ money in politics and of the ‘dark’ web, indeed people of faith understand we live in a culture of darkness and death.
Paradoxically, given the number of major cities and towns across the globe we seem both addicted to dark places and fearful of them at the same time and so intensely illuminate our cities that we refer to such illumination as ‘light pollution!’
v.20= For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.
Even post-baptism we Christians can choose to reject the Light of Christ poured into us. We do this by choosing sin, by rejecting the gift of faith.
We can also choose to live and move, to act and love always within the divine gift of light.
Borrowing from the stories of the Fathers of the Desert, in his book, Circling the Sun, Robert Pelton teaches this, first re-telling a story about two fathers of the desert: One day Father Lot went to Fr. Joseph and told him, “As far as I can, I keep my rule. I eat little, I pray and am silent, I work with my hands and share my bread with the poor. As best I can, I strive to purify my heart. What else should I do?” Then Father Joseph stood up and stretched out his arms, and from his fingers shot tongues of fire. “If you want,” he said, “you can become a living flame.” [op. cit. p.122]
Pelton comments: To become a living flame: that is the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus the Master. That is what He Himself is, the blazing sun who lights the whole world. [ibid.]
v. 21= But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.