As many of you may well remember, this Sunday’s celebration of the Holy Family at Nazareth is my nemesis? I have long found it difficult to be comfortable in preaching...
This reflection is being prepared two weeks before Ash Wednesday! I am running a good six weeks ahead of time (the result of being housebound and forbidden to drive after two surgical operations – but two anaesthetics in eight weeks have not managed to dull my mind completely – or at least I hope so). This morning’s Newspaper carried one of my favourite columnists (the psychiatrist, Devi Rajab) under the headline NEED FOR SA TO INCLUDE AND NOT DEFINE. It will be helpful if we made this the ‘catch phrase’ of our reflection.
Let us plunge immediately into TODAY’S GOSPEL READING [JOHN 11: 1 – 45]. Bear in mind that the Samaritan Woman (and her fellow-villagers) had come to believe – as well as the man born blind. Now we have close, personal, friends of Jesus who were being put to the test. More could have been expected of them. Did they, originally, respond positively? The Lord had himself acknowledged the friendship when told the disciples that “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” However, hear the somewhat adversarial (accusingly nature) of both Martha and Mary in two entirely different conversations … “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Recall the reflection for Lent Three when we talked of unrealistic expectations and the ‘demand’ for the Lord to provide instant, predetermined, responses. More importantly, go back to Lent Three and the basic question – “is the Lord among us or not?”
Both Martha and Mary call him Lord but they had failed to recognise that he was with them even when far away. They wanted (expected him for friendship sake) to bethere immediately when they felt he should have been (after all they had done for him??!!). It was ‘pay-back time’ and he had not, in their view, honoured his obligations?! Do we have here another mirror-image? They were not including the Lord but defining him.
Definition establishes limitation – and as Devi Rajab said this morning, “meaning is derived not only from words, but from the tone and sensory aspect and feeling nature of language.” As Catholics (and this applies to many fundamentalists of all faith and religions) we should be very careful of how and what we define. Too often the definition excludes some of our brothers and sisters. For example, what do we mean, imply, by saying that someone is or is not a ‘good Catholic’? If we go back to last week’s approach of the Pharisees, we should know that they were more than willing to define, among many other things, a ‘good Jew’. However, we well know that such definitions were far from inclusive. The Pharisees had lost the plot. We must be careful that we do not. Pope Francis is trying to ensure that the Church does not. Perhaps we all need to rediscover the plot?!
Martha and Mary had, temporarily lost the plot. done. If we read this Gospel extract carefully, we should be able to discern that the Lord had everything under control from the start. However, he was going to act and respond in HIS way and HIS time! He was amongst, with them, and understood their human sorrow and distress. The Gospel tells us that “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” However, we need also to see that Jesus’ initial response to Martha’s ‘accusation’ was, as with the Samaritan Woman, a gentle outreach. He has an honest dialogue with her, leading herto rediscover the plot. Lent provides us with an annual opportunity if not to rediscover then to clarify him – Jesus Christ is the plot! Make an analysis of this Sunday’s Gospel, and connect it with Sundays 3 and 4 – – – therein you will discover that Jesus the Plot is rediscovered by Martha and Mary, while he is discovered by “many of the Jews”, the Samaritan Woman, her fellow villagers, and the man born blind. The Lord only defined himself in the broadest terms of “I am the resurrection and the life” but this was inclusive of everyone. No one was ever categorised or limited. Read carefully the personal conversations the Lord shared with men and women over these three Sundays, and recall the words of Devi Rajab that “meaning is derived not only from words, but from the tone and sensory aspect and feeling nature of language.”
This week’s reflection has been deliberately confined to the Gospel reading. There is one further aspect which has real importance. Remember that John’s account [20: 5 – 7] of the Lord’s resurrection tells us that he had left the tomb unbound and uncovered. Not so with Lazarus who emerges hands and feet bound, face covered! “Jesus said to them, ‘unbind him and let him go’.” (I prefer the translation set him free!). The Lord brings to life but we have to become involved in unbinding ourselves and others. However, defining people (and ourselves) too rigidly only places more bandages and coverings – and we remain resurrected prisoners.
It is impossible to unbind others if we ourselves are prisoners.
In Christ I am the only one able to set myself free!