By means of the water that washed away his blindness, the blind man is made a new creation. He progresses from knowing the name of the one who cured him, to professing that Jesus is a prophet, to proclaiming that he comes from God. The struggle between darkness and light, between blindness and sight runs throughout this account. Jesus is the light of the world. The man, who is gradually brought from physical blindness to sight, also progressively moves from spiritual blindness to religious insight. The Pharisees were blind to the truth that the newly cured man saw so clearly. The one who was blind sees, and those who can see are blind. The move from darkness to light describes the radical change that takes place in the lives of Christians as a result of their commitment to Christ. The three qualities that are produced by the light – goodness, righteousness, truth – are merely symbolic of the complete transformation of character that this light can effect. Christians have entered into a new state of being, which will require of them a new way of living.
The Gospel reading this Sunday very clearly lays out the choices between water that quenches thirst and water that does not. Jesus identifies himself as the source of water that guarantees eternal life. He places before the Samaritan woman a choice that requires a step of profound faith. She knows the thirst-quenching quality of the water from Jacob’s well, but she is not acquainted with the water promised by this stranger who is also an enemy of her people. The choice is not an obvious one. A similar choice is placed before us. We know the demands of our culture and the circumstances of our lives. Are we able to acknowledge the sins of which we are guilty, recognise the grace that is being offered to us, and make the right choice?
Jesus’ Transfiguration puts our sacrifices in context, reminding us that Lent is more than a season of self-denial . The only reason we deny ourselves anything or commit ourselves to actions of service for these 40 days is to grow more deeply in love with the God who loves us into life. Penance is not meant to attack our self-esteem, it’s intended to help us sort out what really matters, to cast some light in the darkness of our lives and to focus on the relationship which gives meaning and purpose for this world and the next. The God of Mount Tabor is not interested in each of us feeling isolated as we fulfil the letter of a legal code. He wants all of us to have hearts that listen to the Gospel of love so that we can gain the power to transform the world through the sacrifices of our daily lives. On a much gentler scale, Sunday Mass is meant to be a weekly mountaintop experience for us where we hear God call us by name and confess his love for us; where we feel re-energised for the commission we have to bear his light to the world. In this context anything we can do this Lent that helps remove the blocks in our full response to his love, must be worth the effort.
At the beginning of Lent we are invited to acknowledge honestly and realistically our fundamental human weakness. Despite our weaknesses, the situation within which we find ourselves is not hopeless. Somewhere deep within ourselves we know that we are not helpless prisoners of our limitations. God has not deserted us to our guilt. The form that God’s compassion takes is outlined in the reading from Romans. It is in the death and resurrection of Jesus that we see the extent of this divine compassion. Its scope is first measured by the yardstick of human sinfulness, and then it outstrips those dimensions. God’s gracious gift far exceeds the effects of human transgression. As we look to Jesus, we see humanity at its best, tempted but not overcome. There will certainly always be human limitations, human weaknesses that will open the door to temptation. But Jesus shows us that we are not thereby doomed. Jesus is a model for our own journey to new life.
Jesus instructs his disciples to offer no resistance at all when someone tries to take advantage of them. He then reinterprets the law of love in an even more radical manner, insisting that his disciples’ love must be patterned after God’s love, which is given unquestioningly to the just and the unjust alike. Those who would be known as children of God are expected to love as God does. Jesus tells us to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, outdo ourselves in generosity and rise above the fray. He is not suggesting that we allow ourselves to be abused, but that we not perpetuate the antagonism out of which the mistreatment arose. He is not advocating passivity, but he is saying that we should not retaliate. Jesus is describing what we today would call active non-resistance. We are also told that the neighbours whom we are to love are those people who do not like us. We are to love those who deliberately exclude us from their social circles, who talk about us behind our backs. We are to love those who make us feel that we are not good enough for them, those who resent us for our accomplishments. We are to love those who exploit us or do us harm. This is indeed a radical teaching.
The readings focus our attention on the nature of true wisdom. It is this true wisdom which prompts us to choose the right course of action and directs us in our interpretation of the law. The longer we live, the more we realise that life experiences open up for us a series of choices. With these choices we chart the path that we will take. Circumstances might be thrust on us, but we can still make choices about how we will deal with them. Obedient people do what they are told; wise people choose what good they will do. True wisdom calls us to choose life and whatever enhances life. If we are truly wise, we will come to realise that what was acceptable and life-enhancing in one situation may not be appropriate in another. Life is fluid, and our thinking and acting must be flexible enough to adapt when necessary. True wisdom, which comes to us through the Spirit, will enrich us with insight into life in ways we never thought possible. We will realise where and how we fit into the vast and interrelated ecosystems of the universe, and we will be overawed with the majesty and intricacy of its workings. We will understand once and for all that the value of anything is determined by its capacity to enrich life, and we will commit ourselves to and cherish every manifestation of that life.
Jesus employs two metaphors to characterise the essence of discipleship: salt and light. These metaphors point to what the disciples do for others rather than to what discipleship does for the disciples themselves. It is the Spirit and power of God that work the wonders, and God works them through mundane elements of life such as light and salt. True disciples are the light that shines forth in the darkness of ignorance or faithlessness. They enlighten others not by words but by their manner of living. Jesus teaches us that what we do flows from who and what we are. We can enlighten the world with the message of the gospel, because our lives have been transformed by that gospel and now we ourselves are light for others. We can serve others in various ways, only because we have been saved by God’s grace and now we are agents of that grace in the lives of others. Our own renewal becomes the means through which God renews the world. We may not be asked to perform extraordinary feats, but all disciples of Jesus are called upon to do the ordinary things of life in an extraordinary way. It is this manner of living that declares to the world that the reign of God has indeed been established in their midst, and that the age of fulfilment has dawned.
To follow Jesus means that one learns from him, that one follows his manner of life and his way of thinking. To follow Jesus means to follow his example in the way he respects himself and other people, in his use of the things of the natural world. It means that one listens to what he says, and asks for an explanation when what he says is not understood. All of this requires that the disciple be a learner, one who can learn from the life of Jesus as well as from his teaching. The first lessons that the disciples must learn are found in the beatitudes. The same lessons are placed before us, the modern-day disciples. These beatitudes, these blessings call for profound inner transformation and it is clear that each and every beatitude invites us to turn our standards and our way of life upside down and inside out. The disciples of Jesus are not merely his followers; they also continue the work that he began. In whatever circumstance of life we find ourselves, as disciples of Jesus we work to sustain the good that is in the world and to transform whatever needs transformation.
This week we hear Matthew portray Jesus as the fulfilment of Sacred Scripture. Throughout his gospel, Matthew is at pains to demonstrate that Jesus fulfils prophecy. The purpose in doing this was not only to tie Jesus into the prophecies of the Messiah but to demonstrate that Jesus was part of God’s plan all along. This gospel was written at a time when there were growing tensions between early Christian communities and mainstream Jews. By highlighting the fulfilment of Scripture, Matthew attempts to firstly reassure the Christian community in the face of aggression and resentment from the mainstream Jews and secondly, challenge those who oppose the Christian sect to see this movement as just another thread in the ancient story of their people. Jesus’ call to repent is a call to see our relationship with God in a whole new way.
Dear parishioners of St Agnes’ and Our Lady of the Assumption,
Another year nears its end, and we say once again, ‘Where has the year gone!’ I thank you most sincerely for your continued support, in so many ways, throughout 2022. I think of the many liturgical and pastoral events of the last year and I’m aware of many significant times we’ve known as individuals and families within our parishes. For some there has been the gift of new life, and others the sorrow that accompanies bereavement. We’ve prayed for many who were sick, some who are now doing well, others who continue to struggle with the consequences of their illness. Our Parish communities are, in the true sense of the word, communities that share these highs and lows, these joys and sorrows. Thank God we continue to find the courage and the conviction to be the Body of Christ, the Church, the ongoing presence of God’s Son, empowered with God’s Holy Spirit, in these challenging and engaging times. As you may have heard me say on one or more occasions, ‘we are not simply called to be a people in whom Christ is present, rather, we are called to be a people in whom Christ is recognised’.
On behalf of the Parish staff thank you for your many Christmas cards, greetings and gifts. We extend to you and your families, our sincere best wishes for the Season of Christmas. May this Christmas be a happy time, where we can gather to celebrate the significance of the faith we share, and give thanks to our God for all that we’ve been given in the beauty and sheer splendour of His creation. The Father’s goodness to us is at the heart of what we believe, including, His ultimate gift to us His people, His Son Jesus Christ, the one whom we remember, in this Holy Season, as the Babe of Bethlehem, the King of Kings, Wonder Counsellor and Mighty God. May the Star of Wonder continue to guide us to God’s perfect light.
And may God continue to bless us, and all with whom we share His wonderful gift of life and love, today and always .