Sunday, 19 March 2017

Accept the gift


Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied 

‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, he would have given you living water.’
‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him,
welling up to eternal life.’
‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’ ‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
  At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
  Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:
‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,
and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying:
Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you:
Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps;
I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it;
and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’


This week in school we offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation as part of a Service of reflection. Through the examen and with Pope Francis' 'Fasting for Lent' list we were able to write down those things that we are carrying unwillingly. I wish I could say that the parish priest was overwhelmed with the resulting queue however it seems that their ritual action of leaving their concerns to be burned away was enough for the vast majority. And maybe it was, they are only children after all. 

But watching the lines of children, papers scrunched in their hands ready to be flung into the 'jar of letting go', I was saddened by their unwillingness to take that extra step.  Here was our priest, in Jesus' name, offering a channel for the living water that is God's grace and forgiveness of all our regrets. Sitting, waiting for them to seek out this gift; freely given to anyone who asks. Jesus is sitting, waiting too;  his friends off feeding the body rather that the spirit - other priorities; other places to be. 

It is a pity that the Sacrament of Reconciliation has such a bad press. That it is regarded as a duty on a par with visiting dentists; yet it is pure gift; pure grace. 


 I had never really connected the Samaritan woman with the Sacrament (after all, if there is sin it is implied and if assumed then not 'forgiven' and Jesus always forgives) 

It is this woman who comes to the well. Maybe not a sinner (though aren't we all?) but not right.  There is something not right about a woman who has grieved for five husbands and whatever the circumstance of the present relationship. There is something not right about a woman coming to the well alone; without women friends; without a child on her back or running around her feet.

This woman is no outcast; she is able to return to her village not imagining that she won't be heard; she can hold her own in conversation with a stranger (too clever for her own good?).  She knows herself;  her longings; she wants to feel right. She is prepared to do the work; to enter into dialogue with the 'enemy'; to enter into relationship with this man who knows her in spite of  the bravado and the stigma of who she is or is not. This man has what she needs and she has the confidence and humility to ask for it.  Not out of shame or even guilt; but with with the optimism that God's grace is the answer; will fill her with light; will make her new. 

And because it does she has the generosity of spirit to bring others to that same well, whilst Jesus' disciples are still wondering what he has been up to. 

What a wonderful way this would be to approach the Sacrament and especially in this time of Lent -when we are seeking our way through desert paths - what an opportunity to find an oasis in which to sit with a friend; to rest; to be unburdened; to be made new.

Pope Francis' Fasting List for Lent 


  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
wordinthehand2017

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Beloved

GospelMatthew 17:1-9 


Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.
  As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’

With all the challenge and denial I wonder how often did Jesus ask himself  - how can my Father be pleased with this? How often did Jesus return to the lonely places asking his Father for loving consolation?

Probably not an image of Jesus anyone would want to consider; yet the conversation in Gethsemene tells us that Jesus is not in control of the Mission; sometimes Jesus does seem to learn as he goes; the woman who asks for  healing as scraps from the table for instance. Some would say Jesus uses the situation to teach a lesson.  I wonder if Jesus himself sometimes needed the lesson - after all he believed he had come to gather Israel first - maybe the woman was his teacher this day - a lesson learned from experience - and many others along the way.

Now, three years later, the final pilgrimage to Jerusalem; the one that will end with his death. In the past few days he has talked with the disciples about the sacifice that is to come and they still don't get it. I imagine Jesus sitting at the fire during the morning de-camp; watching the hustle-bustle as preparations are made for the day; the talk of anticipation for the Passover. I see his eyes reaching towards heaven and in his fearful heart a simple cry - 'Father'. 

And his Father says 'Come to me and bring your friends'. 

The mountain is not an escape. It is a refuge. The going up will mean coming down again but surely worth it? It isn't always about moving on; moving forward; sometimes its about reaching a point where there is nowhere else to go and staying with that.

At the top of the mountain the air is thin; they feel lightheaded; catching their breath at the landscape rolling out below them. For the fishermen this is as far from the sea as you could be; as far from their early life as they could imagine. Maybe as they watch Jesus pray they whisper together about the adventures they have had; the lives that have been changed because of this man, this friend, this brother.

And then they see this man, this brother, as the Father sees him; shining and wonderful beyond all recognition; washed clean again from the doubts and prejudices of human perception. Resting in the company of the fathers of faith; wrapped in the light of his Father's eyes. 

 Why would Peter even suggest tents? Why seek to confine this experience; to enclose it within manageable 'space'? Because they could not cope with the wonder of what they were seeing? 

And then the voice of the Father; speaking to them - ordinary men out on a mountain - the Father witnessing to them 'This is my Son; I love him; listen to him.'

As they come down the mountain the doubts and misunderstandings are already beginning to set in. Keep this to yourself - Jesus tells them - you don't understand now, talking about it won't help. But the experience will come back to you when it is needed. 

What does Transfiguration mean to us? That we are fearfully and wondrously made. That even in our fears and mistakes we are blessed, Yet how often do we believe that? How often does life not let us believe that? 

Surely there are times when we can imagine no greater gift than being on a mountaintop and letting God hold us; seeing ourselves reflected in God's eyes; letting God tell us we are Beloved; that we have a message worth listening to? 

As disciples we follow Jesus. Jesus knows his need of the Father, he makes the time, he takes the journey. Jesus finds rest in his Father. Enough to face death and more than death. As disciples we have accepted the cross of desolation; we may also accept God's embrace of consolation. We are Beloved.


wordinthehand2017

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lead us not into temptation

Gospel - Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says:
Man does not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:
He will put you in his angels’ charge,
and they will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says:
You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says:
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’
Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.




It is difficult to imagine how Jesus must have felt after his baptism. There are many thoughts about how aware of his divinity Jesus was during his early life. My own thoughts are that it would have been difficult for him to be good at being human if he spent his time making clay sparrows come to life and healing his friends scuffed knees with a rub.


Certainly the Baptism must have been a pivotal point - a place of Trinity where God became present to celebrate Jesus' humanity and divinity - the Word becoming flesh. But not too much of a celebration - whilst the crowds on the riverbank chatter amongst themselves about what they have seen - the Spirit gathers him up and leads him out into the desert.


We are reminded every year of these forty days in our time of Lent - you would wonder how any human could last 40 days of fasting but, no matter, the number 40 represents a journey - a movement from one place to another. From where to where?


Jesus must enter the desert feeling pretty full of himself; an experience of God is never something to be taken lightly; ask any of the saints. To realise that you are the Beloved Son of God; after years of poverty; striving; suffering; of making the most of what you have; must have been extraordinary. Did the scales fall from his eyes? Was he overwhelmed with the possibilities that lay before him. Did it all seem so clear?


After all, being human had not been a joyride; Jesus had lived the life of an outcast, a refugee, a peasant. He had broken nails on his hands and hard skin on his feet. Being God meant it was in his power to change all that -to heal, to bring balance, to build the Kingdom with a thought and a wave of his hand. What would you do if you were God? The power to create a personal paradise  is a strong desire -ask any candidate  - even Miss World wants to cure all ills and end all wars.


After the thousands of years we had had free will - here was a God who could have taken it from us; with the best of intentions; with the benefit of human experience; with the desire to do good. It would be something his friends would ask of him; his enemies would expect. The Messiah with the flaming sword.


But that is not the Father's plan and it is the Spirit who is the symbol of tough love;  sheltering him in her wings, whispering to him the need for sacrifice, for submission, for the world to make its own mind up even if it means.....  Reassuring Jesus that he is full of  the Father's grace and that that grace will move through him for others; for others encountered in relationship; in friendship; in need; in love. Telling him there will be people who say no; who forget to say thank-you; who will demand; who will run away; who will betray and that that is their right.

It is only at the end of the forty days that the devil speaks; dehydrated and starving,Jesus must have looked an easy target - his humanity failing - and now there is the  the opportunity to make it all better. 

The devil is daring; telling God how to be God and then challenging him to act. Not realising that in his weakness and powerlessness Jesus now understands his freedom.  In admitting that you cannot do it by yourself. In needing relationships and intimacy; in needing his Father;  because God is not over us but within us.  God is not Power  but Love. As St Paul reminds us: 'if I  do not have love, I am nothing.' And God knows, we are more than that.

wordinthehand2017