Fifth Sunday of Lent: “Come Forth!”

Today’s gospel/Cycle A (John 11:1-45) prompts us to ask where we ourselves are bound and death-like. Have we capitulated to the culture’s definition of us as consumers? Have we bought into the put-downs tossed off by the careless that do unintended harm? Do we resort to old categories (gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital status, socio-economic level), caging unique human beings? Jesus’ call comes to us all: “Lazarus come forth!” Shed those paralyzed trappings; enter into new and abundant life.

It is marvelous to consider Martha’s role in this miracle. She starts with an understandable complaint: “If you’d come sooner, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Yet she dares to hope for more, just as Mary once told Jesus at Cana, “they have no more wine.” Martha is far more creative than the bystanders, who never dream that this “Johnny-Come-Lately” could defy death and wrench their friend from the tomb.

Approaching his passion, it’s almost as if Jesus needs one slight affirmation. He must wonder whether those who’d been with him so long had the slightest glimmer of understanding. Peter had once professed that Jesus was the Christ, but in the next verse, Jesus is warning him because of his stupidity, “get thee behind me, Satan!” Martha, on the other hand, gives Jesus what he needs: her belief that he is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Encouraged by her trust, Jesus asserts his truest identity: “the resurrection and the life.”


Fourth Sunday of Lent: Blind Dignity

Scripture scholar Thomas Brodie writes of the man born blind: His first words, ”ego eimi” mean literally, “I am.” But there’s more to this than a simple self-identification. They also place him in line with God’s self-definition, “I am who am,” and Jesus’ string of identifiers elsewhere in John: I am the bread of life (6:35) and light of the world. This spunky, uneducated man represents us all, made in God’s image. (The Gospel According to John New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 55.)

Furthermore, the formerly blind man models how to trust. He’s so grateful to Jesus he believes him completely, and bows in reverence to him. He may not have read anything, but he stands in sharp contrast to the Pharisees who desperately cling to a tired tradition: “we are disciples of Moses.” Their blindness keeps them from seeing how awesomely God works in the present.

We shouldn’t pick on them when we all have our blind spots. Sometimes, metaphorically, we choose to hang out in the dark basement, rather than the gorgeous, light-filled ballroom to which God invites us. If we wallow in despair or anxiety, we overlook our amazing identity: created like God.

When Jesus anoints the man’s eyes with clay (John 9:6), it symbolizes the man’s human dignity and heals his blindness. Jesus himself will be anointed by a woman (John 12:3). So too, those baptized or confirmed at the Easter Vigil will be anointed with oil, like Israel’s priests, prophets and rulers. Story and symbol speak of our essential dignity.

Third Sunday of Lent: Words at a Well

Today in the Cycle A readings (John 4:5-42), Jesus arrives at the well tired, thirsty, aware that he’s among Samaritans who have a long history of conflict with his people.

He immediately breaks a social taboo since a good Jewish boy never spoke to a woman (even his mother, wife or sister) in public. So the Samaritan woman is surprised–and intrigued. Jesus refused to categorize her by gender or nationality. He begins by expressing poignant human need, the same thirst he named from the cross. Then he engages in conversation with her, just as he did with Martha, Peter, or the other disciples.

His conversational style is important: some believe that the Trinity itself is a marvelous dialogue or dance among the three persons of God. In contrast, the one-sided lecture form seems stale and lifeless. Jesus’ conversation liberates her from enshrined prejudices and irrelevant beliefs. Where we worship is secondary, he says. How we worship is primary.

Since Jesus has invited the woman’s participation from the beginning, asking her for a drink, it’s natural for her to feel empowered, spreading the good news. She leaves behind her water jar, symbol of exhausted systems, in her eagerness to tell her village about Jesus.

The Samaritan woman got more than she bargained for when she went to draw water. She got a life-giving spring, gushing up to eternal life. And we, working at the old chores, the same routines or the endless drudgery, we too might be surprised by a stranger…

Second Sunday of Lent: Lent and Joy


It may seem an odd combination, the symbols of penance and the rebirth of spring. Why does the church’s long wisdom juxtapose something that suggests dark death with something that leads inevitably towards new life?


One explanation comes from environmentalists, who teach that the muddiest mulch produces the loveliest flowers. In a compost heap, dead leaves, rotten vegetable skins and over-ripe fruit create a rich and fertile soil. If this all sounds too earthy, remember that the rites of the church have always reverenced the ordinary: water, oil, candle wax, palm branches, bread, vines, wildflowers, ash.


In a scriptural context, read the Book of Esther, which is admittedly a bit risqué. The beautiful queen who had hidden her Jewish identity from the king suddenly faces a situation where she must break the law, risking her life to save her people. She prepares by setting aside her jewelry and rich ointments, covering her head with ashes and dirt (4:13). She asks her people to join her; their gesture says: confronting mindless oppression and brutal violence, we feel ashen within. The mark on the forehead symbolizes a recognition of our human flaws, our desperate need for God. Esther is ultimately victorious: new life for the oppressed and preview of Easter joy!


Even in still-wintry climates, the days grow longer. We appreciate the extra daylight and look harder for the first hints of spring: crocuses, warmer temperatures or green shoots. Do these activities suggest how much we long for God’s reign of light?

First Sunday of Lent–New Wrinkles

As ashes were signed on foreheads Wednesday, some heard what seems like a more meaningful translation: “Turn from fear; trust the good news.” What does that mean? Turn from all that drags us down. Trust God who has always been faithful; it’s the only door into the future.


And what shall we fast this Lent? The old practice of giving up candy bars or cigarettes was almost too easy. It only addressed one side of ourselves, the physical. This year, try fasting from negative put-downs, anxiety, time wasted on fluffy entertainment or games that are beneath us. Substitute compliments, a deliberate direction of the brain channels away from anxiety, time spent in quiet reflection. That will make it seem like a breeze to forego the candy bar!


Why We Marched

No, Mr. Trump, we did not march to celebrate your economic gains, as your tweet mis-defines us. But then, we’re not so crass as to vote ourselves millions in tax breaks, or hold fundraisers at our own hotels, neatly paying ourselves. If over 150,000 people in the Bay Area marched Jan. 20, there were probably as many reasons why. As one marcher lamented: “So many issues. So little sign.” Just a few:

Because no one should toy with nuclear weapons which could kill millions of people

Because a president who publicly admitted to sexual harassment is still in office, when many others, not even proven, have resigned.

Because it’s unconscionable to deny health care to poor children (CHP), endangering nearly 10 milion lives and rewarding billionaires.

Because we cherish our national parks and monuments and hate to see them destroyed or diminished

Because it’s immoral to deport 260,000 Salvadorans to one of the most violent countries on earth

Because drilling in our oceans could cause irreparable harm

Because 43% of the Nigerians you slammed come to this country with a BA degree or higher.

Because we can’t stomach racism, sexism, any other ism, or return to the 50s

Because Dreamers, Muslims and immigrants of every shade are valued as part of our national fabric

Because we’re embarrassed by the face of our country which you present to the world

Because some children are afraid that if they go to school in the morning, their parents will be deported by the time they get home

Because we believe what scientists say about global warming

This list only scratches the surface.

It’s tempting to quote the signs, succinct enough for even one who doesn’t read books. For instance: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

You probably don’t read Shakespeare, but he said: “She may be little, but she is fierce.” Stay tuned.

We’ll be marching again in November. To the polls.

A Trinity of Women and a Long Tradition

Hooray for the emergence of strong women telling Arrogant Ole Boys, no more exploitation! Let’s focus on three women who’ve been in the news recently. Oprah Winfrey touched a chord when she spoke of being a child, sitting on linoleum floor, amazed to watch Sidney Poitier receive a Golden Globe award. The unspoken message: things could be different for her. She alerted viewers: other little girls are watching this broadcast. How will we change the current climate for them?

Jane Goodall opened the doors for young women in science. The movie “Jane” showed her at 26, fearlessly and curiously going to Tanzania, accompanied by a supportive mom, to study the chimpanzees. Her arrival there in 1960 began “one of the longest and most rigorously conducted inquiries into animal behavior. Her finding, published in Nature in 1964, that chimpanzees use tools — extracting insects from a termite mound with leaves of grass — drastically and forever altered humanity’s understanding of itself; man was no longer the natural world’s only user of tools.” (“Jane Goodall Is Still Wild at Heart,” NEW YORK TIMES, 3/15/2015)

She continued to work tirelessly for conservation, traveling all over the world to promote “Roots and Shoots” for children and the Jane Goodall Institute, a conservation NGO she founded in the 1970s. A fierce advocate for forest conservation and sustainable development, she also completely reformed the methodology for contemporary field biology.

Kay Graham didn’t choose to be editor of the Washington Post at a critical juncture in its history. She thought it perfectly natural for her father to turn the family business over to her husband Phil. But when he committed suicide, she inherited the job. The film “The Post” recounts her dangerous decision to publish the Pentagon papers, despite furious threats from President Nixon.

The leak, through Daniel Ellsberg, revealed years of lying to the American public about a war in Vietnam that authorities knew was unwinnable. Unwilling to admit colossal mistakes, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara perpetuated the sham, as countless boys continued to die. Graham’s own son fought and survived, but she seems clearly motivated to prevent more needless deaths. She risks imprisonment from a vindictive president, but boldly chooses for freedom of the press.

And the tradition of bold women? Stay tuned for the blog: “The Real Wonder Women.”