Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor has its primary Lenten meaning. The Son of God is given a special revelation of his coming suffering. Here, the Father gives him that loving reassurance, almost in advance, as a resource, which he can’t find in his agony on the Mount of Olives on the night of Holy Thursday.
Radiating from this primary meaning, there is so much to contemplate and think about in Jesus’ transfiguration. For us, it is a gentle light, which guides us and makes us think about our own journey.
The Jewish reading for the days of Purim (a feast of liberation from the ill intentions of Haman) gives us an interesting connection. It is about the details of the vestment of the high priest. The description of the dazzling beauty of it invites us to connect it with the beauty of Jesus’ transfiguration. ‘The High Priest’s garments are gorgeous, made from the most expensive fabrics, in stunning colours of gold, blue, and crimson, and adorned with the best precious stones. These precious stones embedded in the High Priest’s hoshen (breastplate) represents the whole nation. “Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel on the breastpiece of decision over his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, for remembrance before the Lord all times” /Exod 28:29/. Similarly, the names of the tribes of Israel are engraved on two lazuli stones on the shoulders of the garment.’ Interestingly, this description of the priestly vestment (‘Transfiguration’ of the High Priest) is juxtaposed to the passage of animal sacrifice (Lev 1-7, and 8). The Jewish sages believed that ‘just as offerings/sacrifice effect atonement, so too, priestly vestments symbolically effect atonement.’ It is mind-blowing and gives a shiver to see our Lord Transfigured as the one who stands there as our High Priest. He is offering his yes to the Father, the most important offering and sacrifice. He wants to give his life for us. The rest of the scene is a profound mystery.
The second connection that we could raise is a topical image. These days we have a mini-version of a banal transfiguration. When we put on our masks. We become ‘changed’. People become different, as part of their identity becomes veiled from others. ‘Ralph Lee, an American puppeteer often speaks about aspects of wearing masks and costumes and asks: Does a mask hide certain aspect of the wearer? Or give the person the freedom or/ and responsibilities to become someone else?’ Let us think about it in terms of our Lord’s transfiguration. With his new glorified appearance, actually, Jesus is not putting on a mask or a different outfit, but he is revealing his true identity. On Mount Tabor, he completely ‘unmasks’ himself. He puts on the responsibility of our redemption, and he does it in utmost freedom. Is not Lent in invitation to reveal ourselves fully to God, to Him, and to each other? Let us think about this symbol of the ‘mask’ in terms of our Lenten preparation.
The third image I would like to share is the story of an egg. It is from a children’s tale by Dan Pagis (The Egg that Disguised Itself). It might challenge us to think about our Lenten journey; where we would like to arrive? ‘Bored and lonely, the egg is looking to be something else, an artificial identity constructed by costumes; limited by its physical form - a round egg - it is looking to free itself from its shape. The egg tries disguise after disguise, but in vain. Its “egginess” always shows until at the end, when, found by the mother hen, it develops into its true self, a baby chick.’ And that’s when true growth comes!
Perhaps a deeper look can make us see that until the Holy Spirit of Lent finds us we are like the egg. Never satisfied with ourselves. We are trying so many things, sometimes hiding, disguising and concealing our feelings and thoughts in certain situations, hiding from discrimination, or simply trying to fit in with where we are. Lent and Easter, this is what we celebrate today, will reveal our true identity. Easter will help us to accept our true identity - deeply rooted in the life of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
(Applied resource, JTS meditation ‘Dr Ofra Arieli Backenroth, “Wearing Masks”’)
1.Discernment and Listening
The second kind of sensitivity is marked by discernment. It tries to grasp exactly where grace and temptation is present, for sometimes the things that flit across our minds are mere temptations that can distract us from our true path. I need to ask myself what is that the other person is trying to tell me, what they want me to realise is happening in their lives. Asking such questions helps me appreciate their thinking and the effects it has on their emotions. This kind of listening seeks to discern the salutary promptings of the good Spirit who proposes to us the Lord’s truth, but also the traps laid by the evil spirit – his empty works and promises. It takes courage, warmth and tact to help others distinguish the truth from illusions and excuses.
The third kind of sensitivity is the ability to perceive what is driving the other person. This calls for a deeper kind of listening, one able to discern the direction in which that person truly wants to move. Apart from what they are feeling or thinking right now, and whatever has happened up to this point in their lives, the real issue is what they would like to be. This may demand that they look not to their own superficial wishes and desires, but rather to what is most pleasing to the Lord, to his plans for their life. And that is seen in a deeper inclination of the heart, beyond the surface level of their likes and feelings. This kind of listening seeks to discern their ultimate intention, the intention that definitively decides the meaning of their life. Jesus knows and appreciates this ultimate intention of the heart. He is always there, ready to help each of us to recognise it. We need but say to him: ‘Lord, save me! Have mercy on me!’
(From Pope Francis’ letter to young people, Christ Is Alive, art.293-294)
1.Listening and Accompaniment
When we are called upon to help others discern their path in life, what is uppermost is the ability to listen. Listening calls for three distinct and complementary kinds of sensitivity.
The first kind of sensitivity is directed to the individual. It is a matter of listening to someone who is sharing his very self in what he says. A sign of this willingness to listen is the time we are ready to spare for others. More than the amount of time we spend, it is about making others feel that my time is their time, that they have all the time they need to say everything they want. The other person must sense that I am listening unconditionally, without being offended or shocked, tired or bored. We see an example of this kind of listening in the Lord; he walks alongside the disciples on the way to Emmaus, even though they are going in the wrong direction. (Lk 24:13-35) When Jesus says he plans to go farther, they realise that he has given them the gift of this time, so they decide to give him theirs by offering their hospitality. Attentive and selfless listening is a sign of our respect for others, whatever their ideas or their choices in life. (From Pope Francis’ letter to young people, Christ Is Alive, art.291-292)
1.The Call of Jesus Our Friend
To discern our personal vocation, we have to realise that it is a calling from a friend, who is Jesus. When we give something to our friends, we give them the best we have. It will not necessarily be what is most expensive or hard to obtain, but what we know will make them happy. Friends are so sensitive to this that they can already imagine the smile on their friend’s face when he or she opens that gift. This sort of discernment that takes place among friends is what I suggest you to take as a model for trying to discover God’s will for your lives.
I want you to know that, when the Lord thinks of each of you and what he wants to give you, he sees you as his close friend. And if the plans to grant you a grace, a charism that will help you live to the full and become someone who benefits others, someone who leaves a mark in life, it will surely be a gift that will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you. It will be a perfect fit for your entire life. (From Pope Francis’ letter to young people, Christ Is Alive, art.287-288)
2. Expulsion From Paradise
Let me ponder on Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, how they covered their nakedness with fig-leaves when they saw that they were naked. How to this day, all repented sinners, when they have lost virtue, feel exposed and cover their nakedness with some sort of lie or fantasy. (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Prolouge, 3 December)
1. Prayer for discernment
A particular form of discernment involves the effort to discover our vocation. Since it is a very personal decision that others cannot make for us, it requires a certain degree of solitude and silence. The Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment. Yet we simply cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, to calm our anxieties and to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light.
Yet this silence does not make us close in ourselves. We must remember that prayerful discernment has to be born of an openness to listening – to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways. Only if we re prepared to listen, do we have the freedom to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas… In this way, we become truly open to accepting a call that can shatter our security, but leads us to a better life. It is not enough that everything be calm and peaceful. God may be offering us something more, but in our comfortable inadvertence, we do not recognise it. (From Pope Francis’ letter to young people, Christ Is Alive, art.283,284.)
2. Purpose and Discernment
‘…The person who makes a journey without purpose, as the Fathers say, labours in vain. … What aim then ought we to have when we come to meet one another? First of all, love, for it is said, “When you see your brother or sister, you see the Lord, your God.” Go in search of the fear of God, but with discernment, so that you go to meet one another as friends, each one bowing his head before the other, as we say each one humbling himself before God and before his brother, and cutting off his own will for the sake of his brother.’ (St Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses.)
1. Formation of Conscience
Here we see the importance of the formation of conscience, which allows discernment to grow in depth and in fidelity to God: forming our conscience is the work of a lifetime, in which we learn to cultivate the very sentiments of Jesus Christ, adopting the criteria behind his choices and the intentions behind his actions (Cf. Phil 2:5)
In this process of formation, we let ourselves be transformed by Christ, even as we develop the habit of doing good, which also is part of our examination of conscience. We do not simply identify sins, but also recognise God’s work in our daily lives, in the events of our personal history and the world around us, and in the witness of all those men and women who have gone before us or accompany us with their wisdom. This helps us to grow in the virtue of prudence and to give an overall direction to our life through concrete choices, in the serene awareness of both our gifts and our limitations. (From Pope Francis’ letter to young people, Christ Is Alive, articles281-282)
2. A penitential prayer from the Orthodox Tradition
Attend, O heaven, and I shall speak; give ear, O earth, to the voice of one who repents before God and sings His praise. Look upon me, God my Saviour, with Your merciful eye, and accept my fervent confession. More than all men have I sinned; I alone have sinned against You. But as God take pity on Your creation, o Saviour. With my lustful desires I have formed within myself the deformity of the passions and disfigured the beauty of my mind. I am surrounded by the storm of sin, O compassionate Lord. But stretch out Your hand to me, as once You have to Peter (Matthew 14:31). I have stained the garment of my flesh, O Saviour, and defiled that which was made in Your image and likeness. With the lusts of passion I have darkened the beauty of my soul, and turned my whole mind entirely into dust. I have torn the first garment that the Creator wove for me in the beginning, and now I lie naked. (From Great Compline. Monday in the First Week. The Lenten Triodion.)
READINGS FOR LENT: 'OLD AND NEW'
I. Vocation and Discernment
Jesus is walking in our midst, as he did in Galilee. He walks through our streets, and he quietly stops and looks into our eyes. His call is attractive and intriguing. Yet today the stress and quick pace of a world constantly bombarding us with stimuli can leave no room for the interior silence in which we can perceive Jesus' gaze and hear his call. In the meantime, many attractively packed offers will come your way. They may seem appealing and exciting, although in time they will only leave you feeling empty, weary and alone. Don't let this happen to you, because the maelstrom of this world can drive you to take a route without real meaning, without direction, without clear goals, and thus thwart many of your efforts. It is better to seek out that calm and quiet that enable you to reflect, pray, look more clearly at the world around you, and then, with Jesus, come to recognise the vocation that is yours in this world.
I mentioned there that all of us, but especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zapping. We can navigate simultaneously on two or more screens and interact at the same time with two or three virtual scenarios. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend. Indeed, this is all the more important when some novelty presents itself in our lives. Then we have to decide whether it is new wine brought by God or an illusion created by spirit of this world or the spirit of the devil.
Such discernment, even though it includes reason and prudence, goes beyond them, for it seeks a glimpse of that unique an mysterious plan that God has for each of us... It has to do with the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, and with the real purpose of my life, which nobody knows better than he'
(From Pope Francis' letter to young people, Christ Is Alive, articles 277-279)
II. Bishop NIkolai Velimirovic, 'The fear of the Lord'
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But, if a person has not begun aright, how shall he/she finish aright? If a man has followed the wrong path from the beginning, he must go back and find the beginning, setting his feet on the right path. he who has not the fear of God cannot have love for God. The greatest ascetics, torturers of self who spent forty or fifty years in incessant ascetism, day and night, were filled with the fear of God right up to the time of their death; and these, the most sinless of mortals, cried out in the hour of death: 'Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!'
The fear of the Lord is the salt of devotion. If this salt is lacking, all our devotion is insipid and tepid. The fear of the Lord girds up the loins, encircles the waist, gives the heart sobriety, curbs the mind and chastises self will. Where is repentance without the fear of the Lord? Where is humility? Where is restraint? Where are chastity and patience, service and obedience?
Oh, my brothers and sisters, let us embrace this teaching as holy truth: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
(Bishop Nikolai Velemirovic, Prolog, 2 June)
In our Bible study group, Philip shared with me his experience of leprosy. His father took him to the missionary hospital. There, as a nine-year-old, he saw how a leper’s hand was operated. Not going into visual details, the operation was needed to strengthen the ligaments in the person’s hand. As leprosy advances, the person loses its senses to feel pain, and hold himself or herself. The reason I am sharing this recollection is to feel the leper in the Bible close to us. We are indeed closer to him than we think. What can we learn from the life-example of our Biblical leper?
‘A man infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disordered: he must shield his upper lip and cry: “unclean, unclean.” As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean; therefore he must live apart: he must live outside the camp.’ This ‘unclean’, ‘unclean’ echoes in us with a timely message. Is not our experience of Covid 19 so much similar to that of those, who became outcasts because of leprosy. We feel a similarly painful separation. This is a separation from our previous, normal life. This is a similar separation from our friends, colleagues or members of family whom we are no longer able to see or visit when we want to.
‘He must shield his upper lips and cry: “unclean, unclean”.’ With the beginning of the penitential season on Ash Wednesday this coming week, we should also ask. Are not we indeed ‘unclean’, have not we become ‘unclean’ as a culture? Is not our state - our unadmitted sins, our unexamined lives - crying for forgiveness? Have not we offended God, and Nature itself, with our sins and selfishness? Before we enter Lent, as a community, as a nation, as a culture, should raise this question.
To answer this big question, first we need to meet this leper (inside us) in person. For what we can learn from him, can lead us to genuine repentance. How is he our life example, an example for our faith?
Matthew and Luke, in their Gospel report that this miracle happened in the presence of a huge crowd. The leper comes to Jesus in the midst of a great crowd. They must have been astonished that a leper presses through them: a leper who was not allowed to approach anyone. The fact that he made his way to Jesus through all these crowds was so astonishing that Matthew uses the exclamation, ‘lo!’.
The man ‘comes beseeching him and falling on his knees to him’ as a most humble suppliant. Luke says, he fell on his face while kneeling, bowing his head to the ground. In Matthew he prostrated himself and addressed Jesus as kyrie.
Oriental people were very free with prostrations, and kyrie was often little more than our respectful ‘sir’. But here something more is going on.
At the time leprosy was incurable. So what the leper asks is less important. He knows that it is incurable. He knows that this healing may never happen, and he would humbly accept it. Instead of what he asks, the way in which he asks is significant. He fully believes in the power of Jesus to heal his leprosy with a single word. ‘You can clean me’, and he adds, ‘if you will.’
There is no doubt in him about Jesus. The emphasis is on his submission to Jesus. He leaves his healing to the will of Jesus. As a leper he does not expect this teacher to touch him, he does not have to… He places his case completely in the hands of Jesus. This is the highest form of trust. He is willing, if Jesus so wills, to remain in his living death.
Richard Lensky’s Commentary draws our attention to the fact: this leper distinguishes God’s temporal gift from his spiritual and eternal gifts. He exactly knows that he is asking for a temporal gift, which God’s wisdom and love may withhold from us and often does.
How did this leper come to this wisdom, humility, and faith? We do not know the exact details. But his case shows how the teaching of Jesus produced this spiritual effect. That is why it is so important to listen to Jesus’ teaching. To be ‘hearers’, week in and week out, daily. This faith was produced in someone, who ‘was full of leprosy’ (Luke). It was in an advanced state. Just like we have been immersed in Covid 19, for a year now.
We don’t know when God will give us our recovery from Covid19. We all want to be cured from it. Yet, the leper reminds us, it is a temporal gift. God may give it or may postpone our healing. Is there something which we have to do, as a preparation? Something, similar task of trust and hope, preparation and effort to get to Jesus, as the leper did? What is this task?
Whenever our prayers will be heard, we can be certain, that Jesus is moved by compassion. The biblical word is olpagnisomai which Mark uses. The verb means to have one’s inner organs moved, lungs, heart, and liver, which were considered to be the seat of the feelings such as love or pity. We may say that ‘his heart was stirred’.
It implies not only a pained feeling at the site of suffering. It is more than sympathy which feels the other’s suffering and shows mildness or kindness.
The story of the leper shows how Jesus heart was ever filled with merciful kindness and feelings of pity for the distressed. Whenever and wherever suffering and sorrow of body or soul met his eyes, Jesus was moved with the will to help. Whenever he sees suffering, he is moved to help.
Covid 19, after a long year, is still with us. Is there something, what is that something, what is missing, which we should do in order that Jesus act out his compassion, which is surely there. Is this delay form his part or from our part?
The Metaphor of the 'Kintsugi tea-cup' (5th Sunday in OT, (Job 7:1-4,6-7; 1Corinthians ).16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39)
I would like us to see our three readings against the image of a beautifully mended broken Japanese tea-cup. In Japan, re-building the broken vessels has developed into on art. It is called ‘Kintsugi’. A Kintsugi master mends the the broken tea ware with Japanese lacquer and then covers the lines of connection with gold. The result is not the old, mended vessel, but a completely new creation, which is even more beautiful than the original. So let us have a look at our readings with the help of this beautiful metaphor.
In our first reading, Job - as always - depicts the broken human condition. ‘Like the slave, sighing for the shade, or the workman with no thought but his wages, months of delusion I have assigned to me, nothing for my own but nights of grief.’ In his book we can recognise our own sufferings, personal and collective. In times of Covid 19, the pain of Job fully resonates with our pains. With him, we cry out, ‘everything is broken.’
Apostle Saint Paul knows well this brokenness. Think of his conversion. His pharisaic Jewish tradition was shattered by the new faith in Jesus Christ. All he saw was that people were leaving their teachers and turned to Christ. Paul was broken. He thought he failed. In his anger, he persecuted the members of the new movement, and agreed with putting them to death. He fell from the horseback, became blind. A broken man. Listening to his words speaks about how he found himself again in Christ. His letters, with honesty, recall his previous life. Or he is always honestly mentioning his struggles and sufferings in declaring the good news. Yet, in every letter of his, what dominates is the radiance of grace. Symbolically, it is what we see in our Japanese tea-cup. The golden lines, connecting and vitalising the previously broken parts.
The Gospel passage, in a close up, shows Jesus ‘mending’ a broken situation. Peter’s mother-in-law is ill. Now he restores the unity of the family. Out of illness and concern, he creates a loving and flourishing community. In it, everyone finds their place immediately. Peter’s mother-in-law ‘serves’, the apostles listen to his teaching. Then we see Jesus healing all who were brought to him. (A good model of the church, how it can suddenly function and flourish again.)
Again, our image of the renewed vessel helps us understand an important feature of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry. Whatever situations and people he touched, he did more than healing them and giving them the right instructions. He added something previously missing from these people’s life. It is an unspoken beauty, which they could not even name. Think of the ‘golden lines’ in the vessel, the added beauty. Jesus forged a new community. In those, to whom ‘faith in him’ was added, they remained faithful to him. The first Christians came to faith not out of blue, but because they were marked by Jesus’ healing love. This was that added beauty, which remained invisible and unnamed while he was them in his teaching ministry.
Finally, let us think about ourselves, in front of our metaphor. Our parish, our life together, is like a broken and renewed vessel. Regarding our past, our failures, we are a broken vessel. ‘The Christian gospel, [locally, too] begins with the awareness of our brokenness…Christ came not to “fix” us, not just to restore, but to make us a new creation. [Just as the Kintsugi master] does not just “fix” or repair a broken vessel. Rather, he makes the broken pottery even more beautiful than the original.’ (Makoto Fujimura, Art and Faith)
Let us bear in our hearts this image and think of our own community as a new creation, repaired and renewed in Jesus’ hands. What does it entail, how should I see my brothers and sisters, easy and not easy ones, in line with this image? What does it say about us when we are together? Is not this image of the renewed cup with the golden connecting lines between the pieces a good expression of how the Eucharist which we receive unites us?
However, let us return to Saint Paul’s letter. ‘Do you know what my reward is? It is this: in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.’ Let us think about our role. Let us ponder that ‘added beauty’ which only we can offer to our broken world? Paul remains a powerful reminder that we Christians have a unique contribution in this world. What is it which no social action, no technology, no government, no local council, no political movement can not give - only us. Think of the ‘golden line’ in our vessel, which is the image of the Church. It is the living faith, our living worship in trust in God and in one another’s goodness. Let us cherish this beauty in order to connect us, let it shine and grow!
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..