We Can See Clearly Now

4th Sunday of Lent (A); March 25, 2017

1 Sam 16: 1b,6-7,10-13a   Ps 23   Eph 5:8-14   Jn 9:1-41

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

As we read today’s Gospel from John (9:1-41), it will be helpful to remember John’s audience and his purpose. John is writing at the end of the first century to people who were waiting for the return of the Risen Christ. His purpose in writing his Gospel is to help them see, that is, realize that the Risen Christ is already present to them in the Church and in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. What is true then is true now: Jesus is present because He is risen!   In order to experience this Resurrected reality, we need to move beyond appearances and to go deeper:   to “look into the heart,” into the essence of things. For that to happen, we must have an encounter with Jesus. Indeed, if we are going to be witnesses to the Gospel, if we are going to see reality as God sees it, that can only be possible if we have encountered our Lord and are engaged with Him in an ‘I-thou’ relationship. Those who truly know Him and are falling in love with Jesus, become his witnesses and are highly motivated and energized to share the Good News. But , the encounter has to come first.

The Blind Man in today’s Gospel is a lot like the Samaritan woman, as we read last Sunday. That Triple Outsider encountered Jesus, spoke with him, and her life radically changed: she returned to her people and said: “Come, see a man who told all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:29).

A witness to the Gospel is one who has encountered Jesus Christ, who knows him, or better who feels known by Him, personally recognized, respected, cherished, loved, and forgiven. When we encounter Jesus in this way, how cannot we be deeply touched, filled with a new joy, given life a new and deeper meaning? And this shines through; people can tell and what we have received, we share with others.

Both the Samaritan woman and the Blind Man are clear examples of the type of person that Jesus loved to encounter, to make witnesses of: persons who are marginalized, excluded, scorned. Does that sound familiar? In today’s Gospel the Blind Person was especially scorned because at that time a disability was seen as a consequence of previous bad behavior of the person or his family. In other words, he was not only blind, but he deserved to be so. Jesus radically heals the man at two levels: he cures his physical blindness and he forgives the man’s sins. Brothers, Jesus forgives your sins and he yearns to bring healing to your parched soul. Once you accept his healing, he invites you into a new community based on faith and fraternal love. We are, indeed, brothers to one another in Christ Jesus.

Well, this does not sit well with the religious establishment. Because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, they judged him to be a sinner along with the Blind Man. What we have is two opposing cultures. In the story of the Samaritan Woman and the Blind Man, we have the culture of encounter and we have the culture of exclusion. The latter is characterized by prejudice because it does not see people in their inherent dignity but sees them through the blinders of biases. So, they criticize and exclude. I am sure you have experienced this kind of marginalization. At the same time, brothers, precisely because of your vulnerability, fragility, and limitations, you can become witnesses to the encounter with Jesus, which opens you to a deeper life and faith, and therefore empowers you to be genuinely present to others because you now “move, live, and have your being” in the Risen Christ.

Our holy Father, Pope Francis likes to describe the Church as a field hospital of wounded, broken people who are in need of Divine Mercy. That’s why our Lord Jesus needs you to enthusiastically give witness here at Folsom Prison.    Indeed, only those who recognize their own fragility, their own limitations, their radical dependence upon God’s mercy and grace, can build fraternal and solid relationships in the Church and society. How are you going to respond?

 

 

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How to Deal with Temptation

1st Sunday of Lent (A); March 5, 2017

Gn 2:7-9, 3:1-7   Ps 51   Rom 5:12-19   Mt 4:1-11

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

        Each year, the first reading and the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent set before us the narrative of how to respond to temptation. What we see at the beginning of Creation (the story of the Fall) and re-creation (Jesus encountering Satan in the desert before he begins his public ministry) shows us that in the weakness of temptation, we must avoid dialoging with the devil. Yes, we’re all going to fall, just like Adam and Eve did, but we must have the courage of recognizing what we have done, pray to our merciful God and ask forgiveness in order to pick ourselves up and move on being empowered by his grace. What we must not do is to hang around with Satan, dabble in his seductions, and play his games which are designed to destroy us.

Isn’t it interesting that at the beginning of creation and at the beginning of re-creation, temptation was the first event. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve had it made.   They were in an earthly Paradise in which they were in right relationship with God, themselves, and Creation. And, they had a task to do: to safeguard and protect Creation on God’s behalf with love. In the same way, “in the beginning,” they were tempted.

The same thing happened to Jesus. Our Lord leaves his hometown of Nazareth, gets baptized by John in the Jordan River, and goes into the desert to pray so as to begin his public ministry which will bring about the salvation of the world. At that moment of vulnerability, the same tempter seeks to divert Jesus from the Father’s plan of total sacrificial giving by offering him an easier path of having the goods of the world: a path of wealth, success, and power.

We heard from the Genesis reading that in the temptation of Adam and Eve that “the serpent was the most subtle” (Gn 3:1) of creatures: he shows himself in the form of a seductive serpent and shrewdly seeks to deceive by playing upon our weaknesses. But, we shouldn’t listen to him because he is the “father of lies” as Jesus calls him. Notice how he engaged Eve in conversation. He makes her listen to him carefully. What he offers sounds good: if you eat the forbidden fruit, you’ll become “like gods who know” (v. 5). What could possibly go wrong with that? Such a promise makes Eve feel good; she trusts in the devil, who assures her that she will not die if she eats from the Tree of Knowledge. In so doing, he’s virtually calling God a liar. Step by step, he leads her to where he wants.

The devil tries to the same with Jesus in the desert. He makes three offers, but unlike the Genesis account the dialogue with Jesus ends badly for the devil. “Be gone, Satan!” (Mt 4:10a). However, the dialogue with Eve does not end well for her: Satan wins. Why? Eve listen to the devil. She entertained his seductions. She placed her toe in the syrupy pool of his illusion.

Brothers, notice how the devil operates. He does not take us by storm, forcing us to act against our will. No, when the devil fools a person, it starts with a dialogue. He engages us and what he says is tantalizing: it really sounds good. That is precisely what he tries to do with Jesus. “Hey, you’ve been out her in the desert fasting for 40 days. You’re hungry. If you’re the Son of God, use your power to turn this stone to bread! You’ve come to save the world, but here is a shortcut that can save you a lot of toil and hard work.   Go to the top of the temple, show yourself to the crowds and throw yourself down without a parachute. Amazing! The people will go crazy and they will believe in you. And, it will be all over in a half-an hour.

But, Jesus does not play Satan’s game. In the end, the devil shows his true face. “Come with me.” He shows Jesus the whole world and says you can have all of this “if you prostrate yourself and worship me” (v. 9). That’s the devil’s end game for Jesus: he wants the Son of God to commit idolatry. Jesus’ response cuts to the heart of the matter: “Get away, Satan! It is written: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (v. 10).

Notice how Jesus deals with temptation. He does not dialogue with the devil, he doesn’t play around with him by testing the waters. Rather, he hears what the Prince of Darkness has to say and gives a response, which is not ostensibly his: Jesus takes the response from the Word of God. Jesus three responses are all taken from the Old Testament.   That was his weapon and should be ours as well.

The contrast with Eve is dramatic. She was very naïve. In the beginning what the serpent had to offer was tantalizing; it was attractive and “seemed good.” She thought that if she ate the Forbidden Fruit that she would be transformed into something better: she would become a god, which is the sin of idolatry. So, she continues to dialogue with the devil, even when he insults God and implies that He does not have her best interests at heart. So, she went ahead with the dialogue and gave in to the temptation. Genesis tells us that it did not end well. She and her husband are now naked and they have nothing: they are not in right relationship with God, themselves, and Creation. They have lost everything.

That’s what it comes down to, brothers. Don’t play around with the devil: he is a bad payer: he does not deliver on his promises, which are false to the core. Satan promises us everything—“you’ll become like a god”—and leaves us naked.

We know that our spiritual journey into the mystery of God will be fraught with temptation. Let us remember this: at the moment of temptation, there is no arguing with Satan, there is no rationalizing that the temptation is not “all that bad.” Our defense must always be the Word of God! And, if we take refuge in the Word, the temptation will dissipate and soon leave us for the time being. The Word will save us!

Jesus did not dialogue with Satan; instead, he stuck with his plan. Jesus is absolutely committed to his Father’s plan of love, which energizes his public ministry and will lead him three years later to the final reckoning with the “prince of the world” (Jn 16:11), at the hour of his passion and Cross. And, Jesus will have the final victory, the victory of love—of being in right relationship with His Father and his brothers and sisters.

Brothers, the time of Lent is an opportune occasion for all of us to make a journey of conversion, by sincerely allowing ourselves to be confronted with this Gospel passage. Let us renew our Baptismal promises: let us renounce Satan and all his works and seductions—for he is a seducer who does not have our good at heart—in order to follow the path of God and arrive at Easter in the joy of the Spirit. Amen.