Today’s gospel passage begins two themes, expressed through symbols, that recur throughout John. Take this opportunity to trace the references to light and water. In the prologue, Jesus is the light which enlightens everyone. The Jewish writer Elie Wiesel describes a relevant experience in the Nazi concentration camps. Trudging through darkness after exhausting labor, prisoners saw the light in a small cottage. “Ah,” they remembered. “Even in the worst dark, the light still shines.”
In John 8:12, Jesus calls himself the light of the world. In John 9, he cures the blind man and criticizes those who think they see light, but are really blind.
John’s baptizing with water is no accident. In the magnificent artistry of this gospel, the symbol connects with the Samaritan woman, to whom Jesus promised water gushing up into eternal life (4:4-42). He walked on water to his frightened disciples (6:16-21). On the Feast of Tabernacles he promised, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and…drink” (7:37). From him, living water would flow into believers.
Jesus told protesting Peter at the last supper that he must have his feet washed in water or he could have “no share with me” (13:8). Jesus refers not only to the foot washing, but also to standing within the long flow of love that began in Genesis and continues through our day.
In a terrible irony, the source of refreshment was himself thirsty on the cross (19:28). When the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, “blood and water came out” (19:34).
The people of John the Baptist’s day, like people today, would’ve expected any profound religious announcement to come in its proper place: from the rabbi in the synagogue. Instead, this unorthodox preacher appears in the Judean desert and attracts a crowd. People might be naturally suspicious. He certainly doesn’t use polite language, or worry about disturbing our comfort zones. Yet those too unsettled by this man in camel skin to pay attention might miss an important message. How sad to miss the Christ to whom John the Baptist points!
What unlikely prophets live among us? What surprising spirituality have we encountered where we least expected it? Did it come from someone too young to believe, or someone too oddly dressed to have credibility?
Especially if we’re self-righteous churchgoers, we need a herald like John to shake up our easy assumptions. We may not like the direction in which such leaders point, but their challenge upsets our own infallibility. It’s sadly easy to enshrine our personal opinions and make our preferences into little gods. In the spiritual life, some uncertainty and hesitancy, especially regarding our impeccable selves, is useful.
“As Richard Rohr often reminds us, we see things not as they are, but as we are. Lately, I’ve been trying to see things through the banquet lens. Surely, that was one of Jesus’ best images for his reign: a table overflowing with favorite foods, wines gleaming like rubies in glass goblets.”
Check out the rest of Kathy Coffey’s new article, “Seeing all of life through the banquet lens” on the NCRC website.
Feast of All Saints Meditation
When Jesus first walked among the crowds speaking the Beatitudes, the promises he made must have seemed astonishing. But Christians throughout history have recorded their own astonishment at the amazing fulfillment of what must have at first seemed utterly outlandish.
While many people are struck dumb by the gifts they have received, others are inarticulate. They may feel the amazement, but putting it in words is the work of the poets. So Raymond Carver, who died at fifty, marveled that the last ten years of his life were “gravy.” Because of his alcoholism, he had received a terminal diagnosis at age forty. The love of poet Tess Gallagher, with her encouragement to stop drinking, bought him years he never thought he’d see.
C.S. Lewis explains the thinking behind the Beatitudes:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Metaphorically, then do we settle for living in a dark, damp basement when we could be enjoying the five star resort?
Saintly Sinners: Flawed but Faithful, Models of Holiness
The saints inspire us on our own paths toward God. They show us that everyday holiness is within our grasp. But what do we know about those saints we call upon in prayer? If we think of them as remote and out of touch, we do them and ourselves a great disservice. Knowing even a little of their stories humanizes them and draws them closer. Author Kathy Coffey helps readers appreciate the saints as models of everyday holiness—people who persevered in faith in spite of their flaws and limitations. Catholic Update Newsletter – See more at: http://www.liguori.org/saintly-sinners.html#sthash.1bVNa1Pd.dpuf
Gospel for 9/21/14: Mt. 20:1-16
This weekend’s gospel is a good one to read when we get snippy about how much we’ve done for others, overlooking how much God has done for us. Before we get our hackles up over the rampant injustice of paying the Johnny-Come-Latelys the same as those who sweated in the sun all day, let’s reconsider.
While we may think we’ve done great things for God, we may need a little remedial arithmetic too. How could we put a price on our health, our faith, the simple accidents of our birth? Even those who may not have had ideal circumstances can still point to other blessings: a safe and beautiful world, a caring teacher or social worker, friends, inborn gifts. What about God’s continued care, a steady stream of goodness even in the worst situation? As we reflect on our blessings we may find ourselves in the position of someone who paid out $100, but who inherited billions. What’s the right response? Gratitude.