One of the striking things about the Bible is its wealth of images, many of which have worked their way into our ordinary language and literature. The readings for this Sunday contain two such images, one of the "shepherd" and the other of "light." Both invite our reflection in the course of this season of Lent.
If you have ever traveled by rail, at some point you may have heard or seen a message warning you to "mind the gap," urging you to pay attention to the space between the platform and the train in the process of boarding or leaving the train. Some say the particular expression began with the London Underground but now variations are found across the globe drawing passengers' attention to the potential risk of ignoring that space.
This Sunday's lectionary presents us with an option that should be accompanied by a "mind the gap" caution. One of the lengthiest, and deeply theological and political, conversations in the Gospels occurs between Jesus and the unnamed Samaritan woman in John 4:5-42. However, the lectionary offers an option for an abridged version that leaves out several key verses including 4:16-18, and half of verse 39.
When I first came across Jesus' poetic words today about God's care for creation and having trust in God's providence, it hardly seem very realistic. Like the lyrics of a song that won a Grammy award in 1989, Bobby McFerron's, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Its reggae beat and constant refrain were hard to stop humming, but the message struck me as superficial and trite. I remember thinking to myself after hearing the song for the umpteenth time, "Don't tell me how to feel!
The first words we hear on this Sunday are: "Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." WHAT? What does this call to holiness mean? And, how is it that God is holy? After consulting both a thesaurus and an etymological dictionary, holiness has to do with a certain reverence for life. Indeed, our God reveres all of creation, and we are challenged to do the same. In Leviticus, it comes down to the great commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The first reading from Sirach lays out the fundamental decision we need to make - the choice between life and death, between good and evil. That choice will determine the direction and meaning of our life. What does this decision entail?
Children are taught to base their decisions on rules. Don't touch a hot stove! Don't run with a scissors or knife! Don't fight with other kids! Children may not know the reasons, but they are to just "follow the rules."
"With just a few more grains of salt, Nicholas' dish would've been as good as Nina's."
"Wait a minute, what does it mean that we are sitting here in the final challenge and we're still saying, 'Nicholas' dish needed a little more salt.' This is basic cooking 101!"
"It certainly would've made his dish infinitely better."