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On the Back Porch

Reading, pondering and studying God’s Word is sometimes best done “on the back porch.” Each week we will try to offer something for you and your “back porch time.”

The Man Born Blind

4th Sunday of Lent

In the Gospel of John there are seven miracles (called “signs” / semeia). They always point beyond themselves to the divine – not just the divine as a vague power, but to a person. They identify Jesus as the light and life of the world, the bread of life from heaven, and the Logos who, through the semeia/signs, reveals his own glory, which is also the glory of God his Father, since he and the Father are one and since he does the Father’s will and works.  These signs are given that we might believe (Jn 20:26).  For John, sin is the failure to believe and accept the consequential changes in one’s life.  All the characters of John 9 (on-lookers, neighbors, parents, the Pharisees and other religious leaders) are judged in their failure to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior and to subsequently become witnesses to Jesus as the glory of God.

For all the people in the gospel story, the day started out as ordinary, just a regular day. The man born blind takes his usual place for begging. His parents go about their day. Even the Pharisees are about their routine. And in a moment ordinary is torn asunder all because of an encounter with Jesus. Everyone in the account has been given the conditions for the possibility of enhanced sight. Physical sight for the man born blind, but spiritual sight for all the people.

After all the events of that day, the man born blind entered a world he once could only engage by touch and sound. Now he could see and was forced to find a new rhythm and “ordinary” in this new world – all because of a personal encounter with Jesus.

You can find the full text of the Sunday gospel here. And if you are interested in a detailed commentary, one is available here.

The first reading for the 4th Sunday is from the 1st Book of the Prophet Samuel. Take 7 minutes and watch this overview video on the first of the two prophetic books.

The Raising of Lazarus

5th Sunday of Lent

The account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is told in John 11:1-45. In the telling, St. John offers us another sign (as he calls miracles). While the story stands on its own, it is part of a larger narrative’s flow in which Jesus is revealed by signs. The account follows the story of the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). In the commentary on that gospel it was explained that the miracles (called “signs” / semeia) in the gospel point beyond themselves to the divine – not just the divine as a vague power, but to a person. The person who restored sight to the man blind since birth. The one who proclaims: “I have come that they might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10)

Chapter 10 continues the revelation of Jesus – and like the chapters before it, also reveals faith among people in the way they respond to the signs – or sin in the way they fail/refuse to respond to the sign. In John 10, Jesus reveals/identifies himself as the good shepherd (10:11,14) promised by Zechariah 34 who would bring the lost sheep of Israel back into the covenant relationship. But we see the hard hearts in scene after scene. Despite all the signs, there is a hardness of heart that always wants more signs before the commitment can be given. It is in this context that returning someone from the dead establishes the ultimate “fish or cut bait.”

In the Gospel we see Jesus, holding two grief-stricken sisters in his arms, and telling them with absolute certainty that he is the Resurrection and the Life.  Jesus proclaims the truth of eternal and abundant life in bold, unapologetic tension with his own inner turmoil as he came face-to-face with the death of his friend. “When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled…and Jesus wept.” (John 11:33,5).

It is not just the dead who suffer. It is everyone around them who also suffers. There are aspects of the story that pull us to consider them more deeply, there is one part of the story that stands clear. It is a story well-suited for pandemics, plagues, death, doom, flood, fire, famine, and all manner of disease, disaster and human folly. It is an account that shows grief taking hold of Jesus, taking hold of God and breaking him down to tears. It is the clearest, most human, revelation of the Divine. And Jesus wept. Weeping in the same moment he proclaims he is the Resurrection and the Life. Weeping, for while God will have the last word, in this moment death is speaking.

This is a gospel that holds clear the promise of resurrection and joy but does not race past the moment when Mary and Martha are grieving. He weeps for Lazarus and he joins the sisters in their grief. His kindness calls us all into the holy vocation of empathy, compassionate suffering, and mourning.

You can find the full text of the Sunday gospel here. And if you are interested in a detailed commentary, one is available here.

The first reading is from the Prophet Ezekiel. Our passage is from a section that is a message of Hope to a people who were hard-hearted, strayed from the covenant into idolatry, and as a result were taken into exile in Babylon. The first reading is like the gospel but instead of raising one man, the Lord resuscitates a whole nation of people – raising them from the graves of their exile. This video will give you an introduction to the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

The Passion

On the sixth Sunday during Lent we have a unique liturgical feature: two gospels. At the start of the Mass, there is a gospel proclaimed that recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the event we remember as “Palm Sunday.” What follows the reading of that gospel is a procession which serves as the entry of the priest celebrant into the sanctuary. The celebration of the Mass continues. Then, as part of the Liturgy of the Word, there is a second gospel proclaimed: the Passion narrative.  It is the proclamation of the two gospels that gives the Sunday its formal name. While we often refer to it as Palm Sunday, the correct title of the celebration is “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion.”

One way in which to view the Passion narrative is as an play in three Acts: love portrayed, love betrayed and love on display.

Love protrayed in Jesus’ desire to share the Passover table and to then institute the Eucharirst, as well as the love between Father and Son in the prayers in the garden.

Love betrayed by Judas, disciples running away at Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, and so much more.

Love on display – arms outstreached on the cross, connecting heaven and earth, open to his Father’s will, and open to receive all who believe into the salvation offered by his sacrifice.

The Passion narrative is a lengthy reading. You can find the full text of the Sunday gospel here. And if you are interested in a detailed commentary, one is available here.

The first reading is from the Prophet Isaiah. One of best known passages is from Isaiah 52 which says how beautiful are the feet of the messenger who brings the good news. The video connects that passage to the Passion of Jesus, all part of the Good News (Gospel) of the Kingdom of God achieved on the Cross.

The Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Sunday)

Easter Sunday

The gospel narrative is simple: “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” What she encountered was an empty tomb. What the disciples saw was an empty tomb. Does an empty tomb change anything?

You can read the full text of the readings here.

The Easter gospel is only snapshot of the morning on a day that will continue to unfolds. While our gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of John, enjoy this video that contextualizes all the runs up to Easter from the Gospel of Luke.

2nd Sunday of Easter
(Divine Mercy)

The Upper Room

The gospel text for this Sunday is taken from the Gospel of John (20:19-31). It is a scene in the Upper Room and occurs “On the evening of that first day of the week…” – in other words, it is the evening on the day Jesus was resurrected from the tomb. In John’s gospel we know that Mary Magdalene has already discovered the empty tomb and informed Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved (assumed to be John) of the findings which they confirm for themselves. Yet “they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” (John 20:9)

It is not hard to imagine the confusion, the rumors, the fears and doubts, and all that would try to fill the void of not knowing what to make of the empty tomb. It is at this point in time that the gospel narrative resumes.

What follows can be understood as three movements within the reading:

  • The appearance of the Risen Lord and his greeting of peace,
  • The giving of the Spirit and the mandate for the forgiveness of sins, and
  • The familiar “doubting Thomas” narrative

There is a lot going on in these verses. If you would like to read a detailed commentary, you can find that here. The commentary goes into far more detail about the meaning of “peace”, what seems to be a “mini” Pentecost in the giving of the Holy Spirit, the commissioning (As the Father has sent me, so I send you.)

the institution and mandate of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the story of Thomas. Take the time and dive into the details!

A word about Thomas. Interestingly, the word “doubt” does not appear in the text, neither in English nor in Greek. The New American Bible (the one we use to proclaim the Sunday readings) says “do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  An equally valid translation is: “do not be untrusting, but trust.” I think that when we use the word believe we tend to think of the messenger. “Trust” is a word we associate with relationships with people. Do we trust this person or not? Thomas received witness and testimony from the other disciples – did he not trust them? That is a question that Thomas needs to answer even before he can “believe” their testimony.

The disciples are being sent just as Jesus was sent. The messenger needs to be trustworthy before the message can be received.

Full text of the Sunday readings

Detailed commentary on the Gospel

Acts of the Apotles

After the events of Easter Sunday morning and that same evening when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room, the nacsent church was being born. There is still Pentecost to come that we will celebrate in some 40 days or so, but the first reading for this Sunday begins to describe the early church as a commuity of believers. The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles – as are almost all of the first readings (daily Mass and Sunday).  Take a moment and watch this overview video of the Acts of the Apostles.

Breathing Divine Mercy

A homily from Bishop Robert Barron in which he unpacks the meaning of Jesus breathing on the disciples. He cnnected that action and its source to the story of Creation, the moment the holy breath of God gave life into the soil that became Adam, and its connection to Psalm 104…. and there is a lot more!