Rediscovering Our Passion for Life

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead (John 11:1-45)

Gospel Quote

“Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:44)

Gospel Reflection

When I was working my way through college tending bar, one of the bartenders I worked with had a saying: “A rut is a grave with the ends kicked out.” In my early 20s, I had little experience of such ruts. Now that I’ve lived for more than 60 years, I’ve known my share of them. Something in the Lazarus story connects me with my experience of ruts and stagnation. There is a place within each of us where we are more dead than alive. When we encounter these stagnant places, we are – like Lazarus – entombed.

For most of my career, I worked hard to build a successful company. The consulting firm that began as my solo practice grew into a firm that became well established and had a solid reputation for serving its clients. For most of those years, I had “two jobs.” One was serving my own clients, and the other was providing strategic leadership for the consulting firm. By the time I reached my late 40s, it was clear to me that the success of the company had been purchased at a significant cost to my mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. The work that I had once loved was no longer fun. I was in a rut, and something had to change.

When I’m faced with stagnation, my first tendency is the same as Martha’s. I am afraid to roll back the stone for fear of the stench. It took me a long time to realize that when stagnation engulfs me, it can be a gift in disguise. Over time I’ve discovered that my stagnation has a life-serving purpose. It directs my attention to the aspects of my life that need to change.

Our lives have a momentum that is difficult to overcome. When I was faced with stagnation in my career, there were forces in my life urging me to ignore my instincts and stay in my rut. Yet the stagnation forced me to examine my life in a deeper way. It was a powerful catalyst for change. I needed to learn to embrace the dying parts of me that I was working so hard to avoid. That part of me possesses some deep wisdom about what’s not right with my life.

Stagnation and death are an inevitable part of life. We’d like to maintain the naïve view that Christian faith insulates us from these realities, but it doesn’t. Human life is an agonizing mix of bitter and sweet. The moon waxes and wanes, reaching fullness only a few nights each month. Success is only possible when failure is also part of the picture. We live in a world filled with darkness as well as sunlight, hate as well as love, evil as well as good and death as well as life. If we are to embrace life, we have to embrace the whole of it.

Far from sheltering us from these painful realities, Christian faith places us fully in the midst of them. The good news is that we do not face them alone. Jesus, the compassionate one who wept at Lazarus’ tomb, also meets us in the dull rut of our stagnation. He weeps for us, and then he calls us out of the tomb. He touches us with a power stronger than death and gifts us with resurrection faith. That faith gives us the courage to roll back the stone, face the stench and walk into the light.

The stagnation of my late 40s led me to face difficult choices. Once I moved past the denial of “everything’s fine,” my first instinct was to make minor adjustments in the externals of my life. I tried hiring someone to manage the company, devoting less time to work and taking up hobbies that I had neglected for years. These external changes did little to restore my vital energy. Something more fundamental was necessary.

I found myself longing for prayer and solitude, and this quiet led to some intense soul-searching. I came to realize that I needed an inside out, fundamental change. I needed to reconnect with my deepest passions and leave behind the things that led to exhaustion rather than fulfillment.

Something in the Lazarus story connects us with the stagnant inner places where we are dying. Our fear urges us to cling to the darkness of the tomb. By contrast, Jesus calls us to leave these dull ruts of stagnation behind, walk back into the light and embrace the resurrection. If we believe, we will see ourselves journey through the desert of grief and tears to rediscover our passion for what is truly important. If we believe, we will see the dead ends and detours of our lives give way to revitalization and new life. If we believe, we will see our stagnation and despair become wellsprings of creativity and gardens of hope.

The closing scene of the classic movie Papillon captures what’s at stake in our life and death struggle with stagnation. After years of separation, Papillon (played by Steve McQueen) is reunited with his fellow prisoner Dega (played by Dustin Hoffman). They were both sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island and arrived there together. Early in their imprisonment, they attempted to escape together but were recaptured and tortured. The long imprisonment has broken Dega’s spirit. When the two meet again, Dega’s home is a small square of dirt that he refuses to leave. He has literally become a prisoner of his own fear, waving a machete wildly in the air to keep imaginary intruders from invading his “home.”

Papillon is a sharp contrast to Dega. During his imprisonment, he has made repeated escape attempts. When each one failed, he was subjected to solitary confinement, torture and other severe punishments. Yet after years of failed attempts, he is still determined to escape. Not far from Dega’s prison of fear, he has fashioned a raft out of coconuts. He watches over the cliff as the waves crash against the rocks that surround Devil’s Island, trying to read the pattern of the waves. He is determined to hurl the raft over the cliff, dive into the water and make one final attempt to achieve his freedom.

Jesus goes to the tomb of Lazarus and calls him forth. When we are entombed in the ruts of our own stagnation he also calls to us. We can, like Dega, remain prisoners of our fear and hide in the darkness of the tomb. Or, like Papillon, whose name is the French word for butterfly, we can take a leap of faith. That leap requires us to trust that each rut in our life is a cocoon rather than a tomb. It requires us to trust in the resurrection and to believe that the words Jesus spoke to Lazarus are also meant for us: “Unbind him… unbind her… let them go free!”

Questions to Ponder

  • When have you experienced ruts and stagnation in your own life? How did you respond?
  • When you’ve experienced fear and stagnation, has your response been more like Dega or like Papillon?
  • When have you found the courage to roll back the stone, walk back into the light, and embrace the resurrection?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. You know all my stagnant places, the deep ruts that I have worn in my life. Sometimes I lose hope and cling to the darkness of these tombs. Give me the courage to trust that you are present – even when I’m broken and stagnant – bringing life out of death, hope out of despair and joy out of grief. Let me surrender to you and open myself to transformation.

Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. Help me to turn away from stagnation, despair and isolation to embrace the life you bring. I long for this, even though I am afraid. Like Dega, I am often a prisoner of my own fear. Give me the courage to trust in you, to take Papillon’s leap of faith and to choose freedom and life.

Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. Give me the courage to roll back the stone and respond to your voice when you call me from the grave. Free me from the chains of sin and death so that I may be able to walk into the light. Bring me fully alive in you so that I may live for the glory of God. Let my entire life be a joyful hymn that gives you thanks and praise!

Facing Martha’s Challenge

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead (John 11:1-45)

Gospel Quote

“‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26)

Gospel Reflection

Jesus and his disciples arrive in Bethany during the extended wake for Lazarus. Lazarus has already been dead for four days and the house is full of mourners. Martha goes to meet Jesus even before he reaches the house. Her greeting is filled with emotion: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21). It must have been beyond Martha’s comprehension that Jesus did not arrive in time. This greeting may contain the frustration and disappointment of “What took you so long?” It may also be filled with the kind of anger and resentment that would cause us to ask, “Where in the world have you been?” Martha is clearly grief stricken – both by the loss of her brother and by Jesus’ failure to prevent his death.

Above all, Martha is a practical woman. She may be grieving, but she knows what she wants: “Even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask…” (v. 22). The dialogue that follows is revealing. Jesus first affirms, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). Martha indicates that she “knows that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day” (v. 24). For Martha, the resurrection will happen – eventually. It is Jesus’ next statement – “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25) – that she may not be ready to embrace. For Jesus, the resurrection is a “here-and-now” reality that he makes present. Even though Martha quickly affirms her belief in the resurrection, it won’t be long before that belief is tested.

When Jesus orders the stone taken away from the tomb, Martha can’t help herself. She is so practical that she can’t imagine Jesus knows what he’s doing. “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days” (v. 39). Jesus’ response – perhaps annoyed or even amused – chides her for her lack of faith. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (v. 40).

Most of us face Martha’s challenge: not letting our pragmatism blind us to the ways that God brings life out of death. Although Martha must have been overjoyed when Lazarus emerged from the tomb, it was an embarrassing day. First, she makes a bold request – telling Jesus what she wants. Then, when he questions her about her faith, she confidently professes her belief in the resurrection. Within minutes, Jesus begins to fulfill her request, asking that the stone be rolled back from the tomb. Yet Martha’s pragmatism overpowers her belief, and she tries to stop him.

There is a huge part of all of us that identifies with Martha’s pragmatism. Our pragmatic, Martha side would never think of rolling back the stone. Our sensible side grasps the reality of death – with all its stench and decay. It knows how risky it is to open a grave. Better to grieve and mourn. Better to cling to the distant hope of being reunited with Lazarus on the last day. Anything is better than facing the darkness of the tomb.

There is nothing wrong with pragmatism, as long as it doesn’t become our dominant response to life. When pragmatism begins to take over, it squeezes out faith. I know about pragmatism because I make my living as a management consultant. In that role, I advocate for a clear game plan – spell out the action steps, set deadlines, clarify accountabilities. Unfortunately, life is by nature unpredictable. It doesn’t unfold according to the plans we’ve made, and it can’t be reduced to a simple formula or set of steps. There’s more to it than that.

To appreciate the “something more,” we have to enter into the realm of faith and mystery. It is a realm that children embrace naturally. My grandchildren are relatively unimpressed by my credentials as a management consultant. What’s important to them is whether I can enter into their experience. To do so, I have to tempter my pragmatic instincts. Danielle doesn’t really care how other kids play hide- and-seek, she enjoys hiding in the same place every time. For her, the high point of the game is the laughter and delight of being found.

To enter into the realm of mystery and faith, we have to leave our Martha-like pragmatism behind. Only then can we enter into the realm of Danielle’s laughter, beautiful sunsets and falling in love. Only then can we open ourselves to a God who surprises us by transforming the stench and decay of our lives into the fullness of life.

By the end of that unforgettable day, one thing is clear to Martha the pragmatist: She is not in charge. The mystery of life and the power of God are beyond her control. She sent an urgent plea for Jesus’ help, but he chose the timing of his arrival. She urged him not to roll back the stone, but he wouldn’t listen. Her faith in the resurrection – so mixed with doubt, hurt and disappointment – was challenged in a public and embarrassing way. Her attempt to keep her brother in the tomb failed, and she received him back alive and healthy. Her too-small image of God was shattered to make room for a deeper and more profound grasp of Jesus as the resurrection and the life.

As we face Martha’s challenge, we are called to let go of our pragmatism and trust the realm of mystery and faith. To do so, we have to endure both excruciating waits and embarrassing moments. Ultimately, Jesus – the resurrection and the life – will turn our tears into joy.

Questions to Ponder

  • When have you, like Martha, been disappointed by God and found yourself struggling to trust that God was there for you?
  • What life experiences have called you to move beyond pragmatism and embrace the realm of mystery and faith?
  • In what ways have you been urged to give up control and your too-small image of God to make room for a deeper grasp of Jesus as the resurrection and the life?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. Like Martha, my pragmatism can blind me to the powerful ways you bring life out of death. Give me the faith to trust that the resurrection is a here-and-now reality, not just something that will happen eventually. Help me see the ways that your life-giving power fills the world around me with new life.

Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. Help me to trust that on the day I’m called across the canyon of death you will hold out your hand and guide me home. Give me the courage to trust that you will seek me out, call me by name and welcome me with outstretched arms.

Grieving for a Loved One

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead (John 11:1-45)

Gospel Quote

“‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:22 and 11:32)

Gospel Reflection

Our Lenten journey now takes us to the tomb of Lazarus amid the tears of his two grieving sisters, Mary and Martha. I identify so strongly with their grief that this story stops me cold. Like them, I have lost a brother to death.

Mike was a Navy pilot flying combat missions at the height of the Vietnam War. For months we all waited and worried. He was on the verge of coming home when his tour was extended. When he finally returned home safely after more than 200 combat missions, I felt an enormous sense of relief. As a result, I was totally unprepared when he was killed in a crash during a training flight.

The first days after the accident are still a blur. Even in my memory, I view them through a haze of grief and tears. As the reality of Mike’s death sank in during the months that followed. I faced some very dark times. It was more than a time of grief; it was a crisis of faith. My view of God was too small to encompass the experience of my brother’s tragic death. I had powerful emotions that I couldn’t handle and no way to make sense of what had happened. I felt something of what Mary and Martha must have felt when they sent an urgent message asking Jesus for help, and he failed to show up in time.

Slowly, out of the grief and the darkness, a way of making some sense of the tragedy began to emerge. While this didn’t lessen the loss, it somehow made the grief more bearable. My too-small image of God began to give way to a deeper, more profound understanding of tragedy and how God is with us in the midst of it. In my darkness I learned something of how Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Mike was a pilot, and he loved to fly. God created him to be free and gave him the ability to choose. He knew the risks of flying and made the judgement that they were worth taking. In making that choice, he exercised his freedom. Unfortunately, the human condition is flawed. As a result, the inevitable consequence of taking risks is that some of those risks end in tragedy. Sadly, that was the case with Mike’s last flight. God doesn’t want these tragedies to happen anymore than we do. But the only way that God could prevent them would be to rob us of our freedom. Without that freedom, we could not choose love over hate, generosity over selfishness or life over death.

Mike’s death shattered my too-small image of God. Yet God did not abandon me. Like Mary and Martha, the death of my brother caused me to encounter Jesus as the resurrection and the life in a deeper and more profound way. Out of the ashes of the crash, I experienced something of the power of the resurrection. The God of the resurrection is with us in the midst of tragedy, helping us rebuild our lives out of the broken pieces.

As our Lenten journey continues, we are called to trust that God’s faithfulness is more powerful than death. We are called to trust Jesus as the resurrection in order to embrace a deeper and more profound life that we can only experience by passing through death.

Questions to Ponder

  • As you reflect on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, what experiences in your own life come to mind?
  • What experiences in your life – such as tragic death – have forced you to come to grips with having a too-small image of God?
  • How are you being called to embrace Jesus as the resurrection and the life?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. You wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and you know the grief I feel for my loved ones who have died. Help me to trust that you can transform death into new life – an unending life in your presence. Be with me in my grief and turn my tears into a profound trust in you.

Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. You were deeply moved by those mourning Lazarus. Gift me with compassion that I might enter into the deepest moments of life – whether to weep or to rejoice – and be present with others. When I am isolated, let me connect with those around me. Where I am numb, let my frozen tears melt so that my emotions may flow freely. Let me move beyond numbness and fear to embrace the fullness of life – even when it costs me. Help me to trust you as the resurrection and the life.

Finding the Courage to Face Adversity

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus heals the man born blind (John 9:1-41)

Gospel Quote 

“‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to the one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’” (John 9:31-33)

Gospel Reflection 

The man born blind finds himself in the midst of a fierce controversy. Jesus’ mission of healing and reconciliation flies in the face of the law-based stance of the Pharisees, and the man born blind is caught in the center of the storm. Like it or not, he is hauled onto center stage and provides an example of courage in the face of adversity. He clearly testifies to what has occurred, proclaims his belief that Jesus is from God, stands up to threats and accepts the consequences of his action. This story gives the disciples advice on how to respond to adversity.

Courage is a differentiator. Some of us have it and others of us don’t. The man born blind is in the first category. All too often, I am in the second. My natural inclination is to avoid conflict. When I find myself in the midst of adversity, my tendency is to keep my head down and remain silent. If I do get drawn into conflict, I usually try to assume the role of arbiter or peacemaker. Claiming that role is an attempt to stay safe and above the fray. When I face the truth, I have to admit that I’m afraid of conflict.Some years ago, I was involved in negotiating a business agreement related to a startup company in serious financial trouble. I was one of several people trying to keep the company afloat by restructuring both the company’s debt and its ownership. At one point in the negotiation, my tendency to avoid conflict got the best of me. When the stakes were high and emotions were tense, I reluctantly agreed to some unfavorable terms. As a result, I was saddled with too much risk and not enough chance of an upside return.

After the deal was done, I was angry at myself and resentful of the terms I had agreed to accept. I stewed about it all afternoon and evening. Then I had a sleepless night. The next morning I got up early and did my usual workout. The exercise gave my anger an outlet, and I found myself peddling wildly on my stationary bike. Driven by adrenaline, I peddled on and on while I had an angry conversation with myself. I knew I had made a bad deal. I didn’t like the terms, but I had given my word. As I peddled on, the conversation continued. Finally, my feelings were vented enough for my anger to subside, and I started weighing my options. By the time I got off the bike, I knew what I had to do – even though I hated the thought of it.

That morning, I went to see the person with whom I had made the agreement. I began by stating that I knew we had an agreement and that I would honor the terms if he held me to them. I went on to say that I didn’t think the deal was fair and that I was angry at myself for making it. I stammered a lot in getting all this out, eventually stumbling my way to the conclusion – that I wanted to reopen the negotiation. Needless to say, it was a very awkward meeting.

When I finally finished, he was silent for what seemed like an eternity. I was squirming – both inside and out. Finally, he started laughing. Embarrassed and flustered, I demanded to know what he thought was so funny. He replied, “I’m usually the one who screws up and gets all bent out of shape. It’s kind of funny to see you in that situation.”

I shot back: “You may think it’s funny, but I hate it.” “I know,” he said, “that’s why I’m enjoying it so much.” When he laughed again, I laughed too. Then we renegotiated the deal on more acceptable terms. It wouldn’t have happened if my anger hadn’t given me the courage to stand up and do what I needed to do. It also wouldn’t have happened if my colleague’s fairness and integrity hadn’t given him the willingness to renegotiate.

As our Lenten journey continues, the story of the man born blind invites us to look at how we deal with conflict and adversity. I’d like to assume that I would handle it like the man born blind, but the story makes clear his parents didn’t react that way. My own track record makes it hard to conclude that I would fare any better.

When we try to find the courage to face adversity, we are forced to confront our fears. It is our fear that paralyzes us when we are called to act. Acknowledging our fear helps us grasp that being courageous is not about being fearless. It’s about being able to act in spite of our fear. The man born blind demonstrates this ability. As disciples, we’re called to do the same.

Questions to Ponder

  • What experiences in your life have forced you to face adversity?
  • As a disciple, in what ways are you called to act with courage in the face of adversity?
  • In what ways have you experienced the Jesus touch empowering you with the courage to face adversity?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, gift me with your healing touch that I may have the courage to face conflict and adversity as your disciple. When I find myself in the midst of controversy, give me an unwavering commitment to you and the ability to speak the truth. Help me act with honesty and integrity even when the stakes are high. Empower me with your touch that I might live courageously as your disciple.

Receiving Jesus’ Healing Touch

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus heals the man born blind (John 9:1-41)

Gospel Quote

“‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” (John 9:7)

Gospel Reflection

A defining characteristic of being touched by Jesus is the ability to see. For the blind man, Jesus’ touch resulted in physical healing; he was able to see for the first time. For the other disciples, Jesus’ touch transforms their view of the world, reveals the way that God is present as a healing force and conveys spiritual insight. By contrast, the Pharisees refuse to open their eyes. As a result, they are unable to see the goodness of the works Jesus performs or recognize his identity in God.

Jesus’ touch has a remarkable power to heal and transform. His touch not only heals the physical blindness of the man born blind, it gives him the insight to recognize Jesus’ identity in God. As our Lenten journey continues, we are invited to explore our own experience of Jesus’ healing touch.

I changed schools at the start of third grade. On my first day in the new school, I encountered a crippled boy whose life has taught me much about Jesus’ healing touch. It was impossible not to notice Tim – he came into class on crutches wearing a plaster cast on each leg. I later found out that he suffered from a congenital condition called arthrogryposis that caused deformity in both his legs and his arms. On the day I first saw him, he was recovering from his usual summer routine – one or more serious surgeries.

While Tim’s entrance into class captured my attention, it was nothing compared to what I experienced during recess. He became one team’s quarterback in a pickup game of football. The game began with a rules discussion because Tim wanted to play tackle! Fortunately for everyone, less courageous players won the argument, and they played touch. The next obstacle was that the team had no football. Tim immediately took the arm pad off one of his crutches, and it became the ball.

Picture in your mind’s eye a seriously crippled third grader. Tim is at least a head shorter than anyone else on the field, and he’s balanced on his crutches. He takes the snap from center and lofts a pass into the end zone for a touchdown. That scene repeated itself over and over during that recess and the ones that followed. Over the years, it connected with other images that helped me recognize that this kid with a crippled body had an amazing spirit and two defining characteristics: courage and character.

Tim and I have now known each other for over five decades. Our long friendship has given me the opportunity to see how Jesus’ healing touch has transformed his life. No, Tim didn’t experience the kind of instantaneous healing that the man born blind did. There wasn’t a single miraculous moment in which he put down his crutches and walked away healed. For Tim, Jesus’ healing touch came to him in many ways over many years.

By the time Tim and I were in high school, he was walking independently. More importantly, his mental development was taking him toward a career in journalism. Always driven to excel, his career highlights include a long tenure as editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, working on committees to award the Pulitzer Prize and serving as President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

At some point well into his career, Tim came to recognize the second dimension of the Jesus touch. Those who have been healed are called to reach out to touch others. The crippled boy who experienced Jesus’ healing touch became a man who saw there was more at stake in his career than personal success. He came to recognize his career as a calling, and that changed everything.

As a result of this second transformation, being an editor took on new meaning for Tim. It went beyond putting out an outstanding newspaper to include fostering values in the workplace and in his profession. Tim’s strong convictions led him to use his positions of power and influence to urge others to recognize their roles in journalism as a calling, commit themselves to excellence and to take up their responsibility to society.

Tim’s life exhibits some remarkable parallels to the story of the man born blind. He received the healing touch of Jesus, and that touch led him to face adversity with courage and overcome difficult circumstances. Like the man born blind, Tim’s experience of suffering, healing and transformation led him to recognize his call to discipleship. He now uses the many opportunities he has to witness to that calling in his own life and to encourage others to live their own lives as a calling.

Each of us is born into the painful limits of the human condition. Some of us – like Tim and the man born blind – have physical infirmities that are immediately obvious. Others of us suffer from less visible wounds. We wrestle with inner wounds such as loneliness and depression, self-doubt, difficulty in loving ourselves or the emotional scars left by past trauma. Whatever our experiences of brokenness, our wounds invite us to open ourselves to the healing touch of Jesus.

Questions to Ponder

  • In what ways have you received Jesus’ healing touch?
  • How has that touch changed your life?
  • How has Jesus’ healing touch called you to reach out and touch others?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, your touch opened the eyes of the blind man and gave him the ability to recognize your identity in God. You know the ways in which I need to be touched and healed. Open me to the gift of healing that I might see . . . Open me to your call to serve that I might find the courage to reach out and touch others.

Experiencing Our Blindness

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus heals the man born blind (John 9:1-41)

Gospel Quote

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from his birth.” (John 9:1)

Gospel Reflection

The opening words of the story are intriguing/ Jesus doesn’t appear to go out of his way to meet the man born blind. He encounters brokenness and need wherever he goes, and he responds with healing and mercy.

The disciples view the man’s blindness as a punishment for sin and questioned whether his blindness was caused by his sin or that of his parents. Their question is based on the prevailing view of the time – that physical impairment is a punishment for sin. They accept this view so completely that their only question is about whose sin it was.

Jesus sees the man’s blindness in the context of his mission of healing and redemption. His explanation opens the disciples to a new way of seeing blindness and other physical ailments. It also puts his teaching in sharp contrast to that of the Pharisees. From the second verse on, this story is about overcoming blindness and misconception to embrace new ways of seeing.

As our Lenten journey continues, the story calls us to recognize the ways in which we are blind. For most of us, the blindness we suffer from is not a physical infirmity – our eyes are healthy. This story, however, makes clear that there is more to seeing than having the physical attribute of sight. It helps us recognize the ways we can be spiritually blind.

In the classic story The Little Prince, the prince takes great care to tame the fox. Only then does the fox reveal his secret: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” The story of the man born blind is more than a story of a man whose physical blindness is healed. It is a story that invites us to see in a deeper way. Only when we see with our hearts will we be able to perceive Jesus’ healing touch and open ourselves to it. Our spiritual blindness has more to do with the heart than with the eyes.

Some years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing nursing home patients in an attempt to discover what gave them the ability to cope with the challenge of late age. During one of my conversations with a patient named Florence, I asked if she had a philosophy of life. She seemed somewhat put off by such a theoretical question and she answered without hesitation: “No.”

Trying a different approach, I drew on some of what I had learned about Florence from my previous conversations with her. “Florence, you’ve lived for almost 90 years. You’ve raised a family, suffered the loss of your husband, survived a stroke and experienced lots of other things that had to be very difficult. Through all these struggles, what gave you the courage to go on?”

This time Florence paused before she responded. “I think life is like me. I can look at the part of me that doesn’t work – a reference to the side of her body paralyzed by stroke – and I can be angry. Or, I can look at the side of me that does work, and I can be grateful.”

Both of Florence’s responses and the story of the man born blind reveal a deeper truth about seeing. Our perception of reality is profoundly shaped by our stance toward life – the core set of attitudes, values and beliefs that shape the way we see life and respond to it.

Years of experience had given Florence the insight to recognize that she could choose to view life through the lens of anger or the lens of gratitude. The story of the man born blind also confronts us with a choice about two views of life. The Pharisees view life through the lens of the Mosaic Law, and that stance toward life blinds them to the good works Jesus performs and his identity in God. By contrast, the man born blind’s experience of being healed changes his stance toward life. It gives his heart the lens it needs to recognize that Jesus is from God, and he becomes a disciple.

As our Lenten journey continues, we are called to reflect on the way in which we see life and respond to it. This story urges us to see the ways in which we experience spiritual blindness and open ourselves to the healing touch of Jesus.

Questions to Ponder

  • As you reflect on the story of Jesus healing the man born blind, what experiences in your own life come to mind?
  • What is your experience of blindness? Is it physical, perceptual or spiritual?
  • How does your stance toward life – your core set of attitudes, values and beliefs – shape the way you see life and respond to it?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, your healing touch opened the eyes of the blind man. Open my eyes that I might see. Help me to recognize the ways in which my eyes need to be opened. Cure my spiritual blindness so that I might see life as you see it and respond with compassion and love. Help me see with my heart as well as with my eyes. Gift me with the openness I need to see your healing presence and its power in my life.

The Living Water of Redemptive Love

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus meets the woman at the well (John 4:1-42)

Gospel Quote

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Gospel Reflection

The core message of this story is that Jesus gifts us with the living water of God’s redemptive love. This unique and powerful force – so different from anything the woman has named “love” before – heals, reconciles, and transforms. The good news of the story is that this redemptive love is the only thing that can satisfy the woman’s deeper thirst. It is her encounter with Jesus that reveals this living water.

Even though the woman has a desperate thirst for this love, she initially resists it. Through her encounter with a stranger, she is able to let go of her resistance and open herself to this remarkable gift. When she invites the stranger in, she surrenders to the transforming power of God’s redemptive love.

As we experience God’s redemptive love, our orientation toward life changes in profound ways. Just as the woman at the well moved beyond defensiveness to acknowledge her deeper thirst and asked for the living water, my experience of being wounded by my father’s abandonment caused me to respond in self-protective ways, expecting to be disappointed.

The changes I’ve experienced in my own fundamental orientation toward life have come slowly and gradually. I have never had a one-time encounter that led to the kind of dramatic transformation and healing that the Samaritan woman experienced at the well. For her, the living water was a waterfall. For me it has been more like a long soak in a soothing bath. My gradual change has been nurtured by a number of strangers and friends over a period of years. But my experience has also been powerful. Over time, I’ve been able – at least on my good days – to let go of pain and move beyond the belief that there is something wrong with me. Over time, I have come to trust that I am deeply loved and reach out to others with renewed energy. The same redeeming power of God that touched the woman at the well has also touched me.

Experiencing redemptive love transforms the way we see life and respond to it. The Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus changes her core beliefs about love. On her way to the well, her beliefs about love probably went something like this: falling in love is wonderful, but it doesn’t last. Men want to sleep with me, but I’ll soon be abandoned and alone again.

In her encounter with Jesus, the woman experiences a different love than she knew was possible. As she is transformed, so are her core beliefs about love and about herself. On the way to the well, she probably believes that something is wrong with her. Her past experiences taught her that as soon as a lover gets to know her, he abandons her. At the well, she experiences a man who knows everything about her and loves her more deeply than she ever thought was possible. The encounter gives her an entirely different experience of herself, and it transforms her core beliefs about herself. She now knows what it is to be loved unconditionally for being the very one that she is. Her experience of being healed and transformed by redemptive love gives her the courage to believe in her own innate goodness. For the first time in her life, she is able to trust that she has found a love that will last.

From my experience of growing up in a chemically dependent family, I know something of core beliefs and how they need to change. Through my struggles growing up, I developed the core belief that “I have the power to help myself.” The core belief was quite helpful because it gave me the courage to cope with many difficulties. Over time, however, it became less functional and took on a life of its own.

As a young adult, I had become so self-reliant that I couldn’t accept help from others. By that time my core belief – which was deeply ingrained but only partially conscious – went something like this: “I have to do it all, by myself, perfectly.” This core belief demanded achievement, control, rugged individualism and perfection. It was a heavy burden loaded with guilt and stress that drove me to work too hard and expect too much of myself. When I acted on this core belief, my behavior often compromised my professional effectiveness and undercut my ability to build intimate relationships.

Slowly, as I became more conscious of this core belief, I came to grasp its negative impact on my life. I realized it left no room in my life for the gift another can give me or for the redemptive love of God. Over time, I have been able to modify this core belief somewhat. Now the statement that captures my core belief is: “I’ll do what I can, with the help of God and others, and trust that good will come from my efforts.” This new core belief embodies less control, more trust, and an openness to God’s redemptive love.

During this season of Lent, we are urged to examine our orientation to life and our core beliefs. We are called to open ourselves to the redemptive love of God and give God the room to work in our lives. Like the woman at the well, we need to open ourselves to the unconditional acceptance of a God who loves us deeply. As we embrace the Living Water of redemptive love, we will find ourselves letting go of control and learning to trust that God and others are there for us in surprising ways.

Questions to Ponder

  • In what ways have you been touched and changed by the transforming power of God’s redeeming love?
  • In what ways has God’s love opened you to see life in new ways?
  • How has experiencing God’s love changed your core beliefs about yourself, about life and about God?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.


Jesus, living water, help me move beyond my guilt and shame. Teach me to love myself with an unconditional love that heals, reconciles and transforms. For so much of my life, I’ve lived with the belief that there is something wrong with me. Help me open myself to your redeeming love, trust my own goodness and learn to love myself. In my thirst, I turn to you.


Jesus, living water, give me the courage to live as one touched and changed by your redeeming love. Gift me with passion and energy to tell others how your love has transformed me. Help me discover the mission that you call me to fulfill and let me embrace it with passion. In my thirst I turn to you.


Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.

Opening Ourselves to Redemption

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:1 – 42)

Gospel Quote

“Give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15)

Gospel Reflection

Early in the story, the Samaritan woman is resistant and combative. She tries to keep herself a safe distance from the stranger. When she asks Jesus for the water, her stance shifts from resistance to openness for the first time. Even though the woman has not yet grasped the true nature of the living water, she is intrigued. She is a long way from understanding what Jesus is talking about, but she has opened the door and admitted her thirst.

The vulnerability of that admission gives Jesus the room he needs to work. As soon as the woman acknowledges her thirst and asks Jesus for living water, he makes a surprising request: “Go, call your husband and come back” (John 4:16). He is not changing the subject; he is going to the heart of her deeper thirst. The woman is desperate for a love that will last, and she has failed in every attempt to achieve it. This is the broken place in her life, the place where she is most vulnerable, the place where she is desperate for healing.

When we confront the experience of being wounded, it is tempting to respond like the Samaritan woman and try to deny it. She denies she has a husband to hide her wound and ignore her deeper thirst. My childhood family taught me the same approach. We denied that my father had a drinking problem, and we denied that his drinking hurt us.

It is easy to rationalize that denial is the best approach. Why would the woman get into all that messy stuff about husbands with a stranger? Why would my family subject itself to the kind of embarrassment that facing my father’s drinking would entail? Denial is inviting, and it may even work – for a while. It isn’t long, however, before the truths that have been hidden come back to haunt us. Like a high-interest loan, the payments get bigger and bigger. As time passes, the energy required to maintain the denial increases; the cost of pretending not to see the wound escalates.

As the story unfolds, the Samaritan woman chooses to move beyond denial and open herself to redemption. It is the compelling presence of Jesus that gave the courage to risk making a different choice. His revelation that he knew everything about her meant she no longer had anything to hide. Her experience of this unique stranger’s deep and unconditional love meant that she no longer had any need to hide it. Finding herself in the safety of an unexplained intimacy, she acknowledged that she was wounded and gave the stranger the room to become a redeeming force in their life.

I struggle with this kind of vulnerability and self-revelation. My fear of abandonment causes me to resist being open and candid about who I am. I am still afraid of rejection. As a result, my tendency is to try to project an idealized self-image – a cleaned up, no-zits version. When I have my choice of self-portraits, I select the idealized one in soft focus so my flaws won’t show. This struggle with admitting vulnerability limits my ability to build an intimate relationship – even with my family and friends. If I follow my instinct and resist letting them in on my struggle, I cut myself off from the love and support that they provide. I am like the woman at the well: unable to imagine that the stranger – or anyone else – could know all about me and not abandon me.

The word intimacy comes from the Latin phrase in timore. Its literal meaning is “into the fear.” When we are on the verge of an intimate encounter, we are afraid. We face a choice: to enter into the encounter in spite of our fear or to run away. Every profound encounter – from a teenager’s first date to Moses’ encounter with the burning bush – brings us to the point of making this choice. The woman at the well faced this choice in responding to the stranger. I face it in deciding whether to admit my vulnerability or maintain my denial. All the profound mysteries of life – making friends, falling in love, facing death, experiencing God – involve this choice between safety and vulnerability. Our Lenten journey calls us to embrace the way of redemption and move into this fear.

Questions to Ponder

  • As you confront being wounded, what is your response? Denial, openness, what?
  • What surprise encounters have you experienced that opened you to the healing and redeeming power of God?
  • What experiences have you had of moving “into the fear?” What was the experience like for you?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.

Jesus, living water, thanks for those who love me with your redemptive love – especially those who continue to love me even when I fail to return their love. Whether they are strangers or lifelong friends, I am grateful for the way they embody your redeeming love. Help me open myself to those who express your love, let go of my fear and resistance and surrender to the transforming power of love. In my thirst, I turn to you.

Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.

Acknowledging Our Deeper Thirst

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Gospel Story of the Week

Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:1 – 42)

Gospel Quote

“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.” (John 4:10)

Gospel Reflection

Jacob’s well is at a crossroads near a Samaritan village. On this particular day, it is the place where an itinerant preacher named Jesus encounters a woman from the village. She is going about her daily chores, trying her best to ignore a thirst that has shaped her life. He is on a mission, and his journey has left him tired and thirsty. Their meeting fills the story with the tension of a man ignoring cultural taboos to address a woman, a Jew disregarding issues of race and religious purity to interact with a Samaritan, and a teacher and a healer reaching out to a woman with a questionable past. In the midst of this tension, their thirsts bring them together – at a deep well, where two roads meet, in a land where relationships are strained.

The story begins simply enough. The woman is fetching water as part of her daily routine. It is only as the story unfolds that we learn she has a deeper thirst: she is desperate for a love that will last. This deeper thirst has shaped her entire life. Time and again, it has led her into relationships with men. Time and again, her hope for fulfillment has become a dead end street. Each relationship has ended badly, and neither Jacob’s well nor her bucket will satisfy this deeper thirst.

Like the Samaritan woman, we all have a deeper thirst for a love that will last. The search is so much a part of life that it pervades music, art, theater, television and movies. We turn on the radio and hear songs that express the thirst for love as well as those that grieve for the pain of failed relationships. Whether love has left us fulfilled or frustrated, we know how precious it is. Grasping the meaning of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well requires acknowledging our own deeper thirst.

For much of my childhood, my father struggled with an addiction to alcohol. His addiction and my family’s struggle to cope with it were the unspoken focus of enormous amounts of energy and attention in my family. As a result of this struggle, I grew up with an unsatisfied thirst for my father’s love. Sometimes he was physically absent, other time he was emotionally unavailable, and still other times his rage was fierce enough that I preferred his absence. I internalized his absence and his anger as a fear that I would be abandoned and as a belief that something was wrong with me. No matter what I did, it never seemed to be enough.

As a result of these experiences, I carry within me the scars of a child who was deprived of his father’s love. When I reflect on the story of the Samaritan woman, I connect with the pain of her wound. Like her, I know what it is to live with shame, feel defective and want to find some place to hide. She and I both know what it is like to need redemption. We know how hard it is to trust a stranger, to let ourselves be vulnerable and to believe we can be redeemed.

Because we are human, wounding is inevitable. Our choice is not whether we will be wounded, but how we will respond to our wounds. The choices we make shape our lives in powerful ways. As our Lenten journey calls us to reflect on the story of the woman at the well, we begin by acknowledging this deeper thirst and the powerful way that it shapes our lives.

Questions to Ponder

  • What experiences in your life help you to identify with the woman at the well?
  • In what ways have you experienced being wounded?
  • What deeper thirst brings you to the well longing for living water?

Invitation to Prayer

Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.

Jesus, living water, help me trust the surprising and unexpected ways I encounter you. My thirst brings me to desert places where you are the stranger at the well. Yet my fear so easily closes me off from your redemptive love, and I find myself blocking your healing power. I often resist the very love I so desperately need. Give me the grace to recognize that only your redemptive love will fulfill my deepest thirst. Help me open myself to that love. In my thirst, I turn to you.

Jesus, living water, you know my deepest thirst. You know all my secret places, even the corners where I hide in the darkness. There is nothing I can hide from you. You know my deep ache to belong, my longing for a love that will last and my need to be loved without condition or limit. In my thirst I turn to you.

Jesus, living water, in my thirst I turn to you.

Giving and Receiving Delight

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Gospel Story of the Week

The Transfiguration of Jesus – Matthew 17: 1-9

Gospel Quote

“This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 17: 5)

Reflection on the Gospel

When we have the courage to admit it, each of us longs for the powerful affirmation that Jesus hears in the Transfiguration: “In you I am well pleased.” We long to be blessed by hearing God is delighted with us.

The way I take delight in my grandchildren has helped me grasp something of the delight God takes in us. I love playing with my grandchildren – reading stories with them, taking them on outings and spending time with them in whatever way they want to spend it. My delight often takes the form of wonder when I see them do something that expresses their uniqueness. I find myself watching them and saying to myself: “Wow! That is so cool!” I don’t understand this amazing bond with my grandchildren, and I certainly can’t explain it. I just know that they have an uncanny knack for melting my heart.

My love for my grandchildren is remarkably unconditional – just like God’s love for each of us. There is nothing they have done to earn or deserve my love. They had it before they were born, and it continues to grow with every experience we share. That love just is, and there is nothing that can take it away.

If I can feel such deep love for these special ones in my life, how much more is God capable of having those feelings for us. Being a grandfather helps me trust that there are things each of us does that cause God to exclaim: “Wow! That is so cool!”

In his book Sacred Fire, Ron Rolheiser draws a sharp contrast between a blessing and a curse. He notes that “cursing is what we do when we look at someone whom we do not like and think or say: ‘I wish you weren’t here! I hate your presence! I wish you’d go away!’’ He goes on to point out that “cursing is what we do when we are confronted by the joyous screams of a child and we say: ‘Shut up! Don’t irritate me!’” Rolheiser notes that we curse when: “unlike God, we try to suppress life, deny joy its place, squelch exuberance and shame enthusiasm.”

By contrast, Rolheiser describes some of key elements of blessing others. “We bless others when we take delight in them, when we speak of them, when we feel their presence and energy as a gift rather than a threat.”

As we reflect on the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration, we are called to trust God’s voice blessing us with the assurance that we are beloved, that we are surrounded by unconditional love, and that God takes delight in us. We are called to trust the good news that we are blessed and to leave behind the toxic legacy of being cursed and cursing others.

One of Rolheiser’s ”Ten Commandments for the Long Haul” urges us to “bless more and curse less.” We are called to give up cursing others and avoid reinforcing the negative self-talk of the inner assassin in the previous reflection. As grandparents, elders, parents, teachers, supervisors, coaches and friends, we are called to bless others – expressing in clear and unequivocal words and other affirming ways that we take delight in them.

As our Lenten journey continues, we are urged to open ourselves to being blessed and to seize opportunities to bless others – honestly, sincerely and frequently.

Questions for Reflection

  • In what ways have you experienced the longing to be blessed as the beloved of God, to know God takes delight in you?
  • In what ways have you experienced the pain of being cursed by others?
  • What opportunities will you have today – and throughout the week – to “bless more and curse less?”

Invitation to Prayer

Wonderful Creator, open my eyes to help me see others and all creation as blessed and good. Merciful Redeemer, forgive me for the ways that I curse others – negating their uniqueness and diminishing their gifts. Spirit of Love, give me the insight and courage to seek out ways to bless others by affirming their presence and celebrating their gifts – today and every day . . .