Year A – 4th Sunday of Lent

Divine Spittle

(1Sam.16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Eph.5:8-14; Jn.9:1-41)

Jesus often heals people, but not always in the same way.

Sometimes he prays over them (Jn.11:41-42) or utters other words (Mt.9:6-7). At other times he touches them (Mt.8:15) or heals them from afar (Mk.7:29). And on at least three occasions he uses his saliva.

He heals a man who can’t hear or speak by putting his fingers in his ears, and placing a drop of saliva on his tongue (Mk.7:31-33). He also heals a blind man from Bethsaida by spitting on his eyes and touching them (Mk.8:22-26).

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus smears a muddy paste of spit and clay on a blind beggar’s eyes. And after washing it off in the Pool of Siloam, the man’s sight is restored.

Why does Jesus do this? After all, spitting was considered insulting back then (Deut.25:9), and even Jesus was hurt when someone spat on him (Mt.27:30).

Some have suggested that Jesus didn’t actually spit on these people; rather, he spat on their disease. So, they say it was a blessing, not an insult.

Others have argued that Jewish folk-medicine in those days believed that human spittle remedied eye trouble and other ailments.[i] Indeed, the Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) once wrote that spittle can heal certain skin diseases.[ii] The Talmud, a Jewish text from the time of Jesus, also mentions the healing power of saliva. (Interestingly, modern medicine does recognise that saliva has some therapeutic benefits.) [iii]

And sometimes, Jesus uses physical actions to symbolize spiritual truth. In the 2nd Century, St Irenaeus noticed that by mixing his holy spittle with clay, Jesus is mirroring his Father’s actions when he created Adam out of dust (Gen.2:7).

John Bergsma writes about this in his book Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls. (The Dead Sea Scrolls were ancient Jewish manuscripts discovered in the caves of Qumran between 1947 and 1956.) Bergsma says it’s no coincidence that at least four times these Scrolls describe man as ‘a vessel of clay’ kneaded from ‘dust’ and ‘spittle.’

The Scrolls also contain many ‘Hymns of Praise’ where the composer often refers to himself as ‘a vessel of clay,’ or ‘dust, spit and clay.’ Bergsma says that these images of dust, spit and clay clearly refer to the story of the creation of Adam in the Book of Genesis.

He also says that it was Jewish traditional belief that God made the clay for Adam’s body by spitting on the dust, and this tradition is reflected in all the passages of the Scrolls that speak of man as ‘mere spit.’

So, by spitting on the ground to make clay, Jesus is repeating the acts of his Father when he formed the first man. He is recreating this man who was born in darkness, into a ‘son of the light.’

Bergsma also says it’s significant that this man washes in water from the Pool of Siloam, because this isn’t just any old water. The Pool of Siloam received its waters from the Gihon Spring, which originally flowed from Eden (Gen.2:13). This, too, reinforces the theme of a new creation.

But the story doesn’t end there, because these images of flowing water and new birth all point to the sacrament of Baptism, for we are all like this man born blind. Because of the failures of our first parents, Adam and Eve, we were all born into the darkness of ‘original sin.’

We bear no guilt for this original sin, because as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, ‘neither this man nor his parents sinned.’ However, we did inherit from Adam and Eve the absence of the Holy Spirit from our lives, and this is what baptism repairs. It restores the ‘light’ and ‘life’ of the Holy Spirit to us.

St Paul says that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ (2Cor.5:17). Baptism, therefore, is a new kind of creation, and this is what we see in John’s Gospel today. Jesus re-creates the man born blind through dust, clay and spittle, and washing in water, and he emerges ‘enlightened’ because Jesus is the ‘light of the world.’ [iv]

By using his divine spittle in his healing ministry, Jesus demonstrates that he is not the distant figure some people think he is. Indeed, he is never remote from our brokenness and pain, because he’s constantly seeking a close, personal relationship with each of us.

Jesus wants us to become whole again, and while helping us he’s even prepared to get his hands dirty.

For touch is a sign of love, and Jesus is the touch of God.




[iv] John Bergsma, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Image Books, NY. 2019:61-64.

Year A – 3rd Sunday of Lent

Our Hungry Hearts

(Ex.17:3-7; Rom.5:1-2,5-8; Jn.4:5-42)

In his popular song Hungry Heart, Bruce Springsteen sings:

Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don’t make no difference what nobody says
Ain’t nobody like to be alone. [i]

His message is that, deep down, we’re all hungering for something. Whether it’s for shelter or friendship or a sense of belonging, or even for some kind of change, our hearts are always hungry. There’s always something we want or need.

To some, this hunger might sound selfish, but the story of the Woman at the Well in John’s Gospel today tells us that God has designed us this way. He has deliberately placed hunger in our hearts for a purpose.

Jesus is at Jacob’s Well, in the Samaritan town of Sychar, 63 kilometres north of Jerusalem. There he meets a woman who the locals actively dislike because she’s had too many husbands. They think it’s scandalous.

However, she needs water, so she goes to the well at noon, at the hottest time of day when all is quiet. But Jesus is there, and he starts talking to her about water. He knows she’s struggling, and that she needs more than drinking water. ‘Whoever drinks of this water will get thirsty again,’ he says.

So, he offers her a new kind of water: the refreshing, life-giving water of the Holy Spirit. ‘Whoever drinks the water that I shall give, will never be thirsty again,’ he says.

What Jesus is saying is that this world can never satisfy what her (or our) heart desires. Indeed, we know this for ourselves: every time a desire is fulfilled – like our need for water, or a new outfit or a car – that sense of satisfaction never lasts. We’re always hungry for something else afterwards.

So, our hearts teach us that we have infinite needs that can only be satisfied by the infinite. When God created us, he gave us a natural hunger for himself, and that’s why we’re always seeking something more than whatever we have.

Ronald Rolheiser calls this hunger in our hearts a ‘holy longing’. It’s holy, because if we follow it, it will ultimately lead us to God.

This longing is a deep-seated desire to love God. And if we nurture that love, it will grow.

Just like artists practising their art, the more we practise loving, the better we’ll be at it. And the more we give ourselves to God, the more we’ll love him and the more we’ll feel at peace.

But Rolheiser says that before we can fill our hearts with this love, we need to create space for it by letting other things go. We’ll get nowhere if our hearts are already ‘full,’ he says. ‘It will be like trying to attach two inflated balloons to one another.’

In his song, Bruce Springsteen sings: Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing, I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.

For many of us, this is how we live. We drift aimlessly through life, trying to satisfy one worldly hunger after another.

But in today’s story, the woman makes a decision: she accepts Jesus’ offer. ‘Give me some of that water,’ she says. Her physical thirst has helped her discover her spiritual emptiness, and it changes her life completely.

When she runs off to share the news, she leaves her water jug behind, just as the disciples left their nets behind to follow Jesus.

According to Eastern tradition, this woman was St Photina, the first evangelist in John’s Gospel. Her name means ‘the enlightened one.’ After meeting Jesus, she travelled far and wide, telling the story of how he saved her. [ii] She dedicated the rest of her life to encouraging others to drink Jesus’ living water.

In his commentary on this reading, St Augustine said that Jesus was thirsty for that woman’s faith. But he’s thirsting for our faith, too. So, this Lent, let’s ask Jesus for some of his refreshing, living water, which is always available to us in Baptism. And let’s really drink it in.

For as Joseph Krempa writes, ‘If we don’t take the call of Lent to heart, then we can be like someone who is thirsty and reads about water, listens to talks about water, sees beautiful banners about water, hangs pictures of water, collects books about water, sings songs about water, gathers with others to hear sermons about water, joins discussion groups about water, hears stories about those who have found water, until one day he or she dies of thirst.

What happened?

He or she never drank the water.’ [iii]

[i] Bruce Springsteen, Hungry Heart.


[iii] S Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire, St Pauls, New York, 2005:34.

Year A – 2nd Sunday in Lent

The Number Three

(Gen.12:1-4a; 2Tim.1:8b-10; Mt.17:1-9)

Some people love numbers; they’re fascinated by the patterns they find in them. So, today I’d like to talk about the number 3.

In ancient Greece, the philosopher Pythagoras (c.570 – 495 BC) taught that numbers have meaning and that 3 is the perfect number because it represents harmony, wisdom and understanding.

In the Hebrew language, numbers also have meaning, and this is reflected in the Bible which has many. Indeed, numbers are never used randomly in Scripture; they always mean something.

In Hebrew, the number 3 (shelosh [f.], sheloshah [m.]) represents harmony, completeness and new life, [i] and it appears in the Bible almost 500 times. When it does, this number typically represents something that’s solid, real and substantial, and it points to something important, such as God’s plan for our salvation. [ii]

Consider these examples from the Old Testament. On the third day of Creation, God made the dry land and it began producing fruit. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the three fathers of Israel. Noah had three sons. Three strangers visited Abraham, and Jonah was freed after three days inside the belly of a whale.

The three strangers in Rublev’s Trinity, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

In the New Testament, the Holy Family has three members. The Wise Men bring three gifts. Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months. Jesus is lost for three days at the age of twelve. He is tempted three times in the desert. His public ministry lasts for three years. Peter denies Jesus three times. Saul is blinded for three days. Jesus prays three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. And at the age of 33, Jesus also dies at 3.00pm, and rises from the dead on the third day.

But this triune pattern isn’t confined to Scripture; you can find it all around us. Every atom, for example, has three constituent parts: protons, neutrons and electrons. There are three basic stages of existence: birth, life and death; water has three states: solid, liquid and gas; we all have three abilities: thought, word and deed; and time has the past, present and future. There are three primary colours: red, green, and blue. Humans can perceive three spatial dimensions: height, length, and width.

The earth also has three layers: core, mantle and crust; there are three main types of rock: igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary; there are three types of earthquake waves, and three types of volcanoes.[iii] And all living organisms on earth use the same three-letter DNA code. [iv]

Clearly there’s a pattern here, and it all seems to point to our Creator God who is himself the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

St Augustine had a great interest in numbers, and said that ‘mathematics is music for the mind, and music is mathematics for the soul.’ He believed that patterns in music and number reveal something about God and his creation. [v] St Jerome and St Gregory 1 also wrote about the significance of numbers in God’s plan of salvation.

It certainly seems that God has embedded evidence of his triune nature into the basic design of his Creation. But why? I’d like to suggest three reasons:

Firstly, this three-fold pattern reminds us of where we’ve come from. Indeed, we have all been made in the image and likeness of our Trinitarian God (Gen.1:26-28).

Secondly, it reminds us of who we are today. Through our Baptism, we have become disciples of Jesus, warmly welcomed into God’s Trinitarian union.

And thirdly, it reminds us that we’ve all been designed for community. We are not meant to be alone. Rather, we’ve been created to use our three-fold blessings of head, heart and hands to develop relationships and live and work in loving communion with others.

And just as three-ply yarn is stronger than single-ply yarn, so we all benefit from our close interconnections with others.

In today’s Gospel, three disciples – Peter, James and John – witness three heavenly beings talking together atop Mount Tabor. These disciples are amazed to see Jesus’ face shining gloriously as he speaks with the prophets Moses and Elijah. And they hear a voice say, ‘This is my beloved son, listen to him!’

Peter wants this incredible experience to continue, and suggests that they erect three tents. But this mystical moment isn’t meant to last. It’s only meant to encourage the disciples in their journey of faith.

So, Jesus leads them back down the mountain, where they witness him saving a boy’s life (Lk.9:37-44).

This Lent, as we prepare our hearts for Easter through the traditional trio of almsgiving, sacrifice and prayer, let’s remember that these three Lenten practices are very much part of God’s design for us.

Just like the rest of his Creation.

[i] Hebrew Numbers 1-10,

[ii] The Significance of Numbers in Scripture


[iv] Three is the Magic Number

[v] Augustine on Number, Music and Faith

Year A – 1st Sunday of Lent


(Joel 2:12-18; 2Cor.5:20-6:2; Mt.6:1-6, 16-18)

Temptation. What is it? It’s the desire to do something that’s either unwise or simply wrong. It comes in many different forms.

In North America, for example, there’s a freshwater turtle called the alligator snapping turtle. These creatures eat almost anything, especially fish, and they grow very big. They also use a very clever trick to catch fish.

These turtles lie still on the floor of a river or lake, with their mouths wide open. At the back of their tongues, they have a small, pink appendage that looks like a worm. They wiggle it to get a fish’s attention, and as the fish approaches the turtle snaps its mouth shut. The fish is trapped. [i]

This is how temptation works. Something enticing is placed before us, and it’s hard to resist. Temptations like greed, lust and the desire for attention and power are always dressed up as something good, but they only lead to trouble.

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus has just been baptised and he goes into the desert for forty days to pray, fast and reflect. He knows it’s time to begin his public ministry, and he needs to prepare himself.

But there in the desert, the devil tries to unsettle and confuse Jesus. He challenges him with three temptations that we all commonly face.

The first is the temptation of the flesh, which is symbolised by bread. Jesus is hungry, and the devil says, ‘If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.’ But Jesus replies, ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’

In other words, there’s much more to life than the pleasures of the flesh.

Next, the devil tempts Jesus with pride. He takes him to the top of the Temple and challenges him to throw himself down, for surely God will protect him. But Jesus replies: ‘don’t put God to the test.’

And finally, the devil tempts Jesus with power and glory. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says: ‘All these will be yours if you worship me!’ But Jesus replies, ‘Be off, Satan! …for you must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’

These are temptations we all face – the temptations of the flesh, of pride, of power and glory. Jesus faced them, too, but he always managed to resist. For too many of us, however, our temptations have become bad habits. What can we do about them?

St Aelred of Rievaulx, the wise abbot of a Yorkshire monastery, identified five things we can do.

Firstly, he says we must call our vices by their real names, instead of denying and rationalising them. Many of us try to soothe our consciences by renaming our shameful vices. But gluttony is gluttony; it’s not ‘enjoying God’s gifts’. Greed is greed; it’s not ‘being prudent for the future’. And lust is lust; it’s not ‘just being natural and human’. Clever names and rationalisations change nothing; they simply lead us deeper into difficulty.

Secondly, we need to be honest about our vices, at least to ourselves. We must take responsibility not only for what we do, but also for what we don’t do, since these are too easily overlooked. And we need to acknowledge the evils our sin has caused.

Thirdly, we need to keep reminding ourselves why this bad behaviour must stop. For example, in my younger days I smoked. When I began to quit smoking, I identified 38 reasons why this was important. Reminding myself was very helpful.

Next, we need to listen to those who are telling us where we’re going wrong. Negative feedback can be good for us. Indeed, it may even be a message from God, meant not to hurt or humiliate us, but to encourage us to change.

And finally, we need to seek God’s mercy. Many of us struggle to control ourselves, and we need to ask God for his help. God does answer our prayers, but not always in the way we’d like him to. [ii]

Temptation, then, is the desire to satisfy a short-term urge, but it comes with long-term risks, particularly when it leads to destructive behaviours.

But there is something we can do about these destructive behaviours: it’s St Aelred’s five-step solution:

To call our bad habits by their real names. To be honest about our vices and the evils they have caused. To confront ourselves with the reasons why we must change. To listen to the voices of wisdom around us.

And finally, to ask God for his mercy. God is always there to help us.


[ii] Michael Casey, Grace: On the Journey to God, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, 2018 e-Book.

Year A – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Hatfields and McCoys

(Lev.19:1-2, 17-18; 1Cor.3:16-23; Mt.5:38-48)

Hurt people sometimes hurt people, don’t they? We see it so often in the movies, but also in the news, at work and school, and in our families. Some hurt people respond to their pain by hurting others, and sometimes it’s for revenge.

I once heard someone try to justify revenge by quoting an ‘eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ from today’s Gospel. But he was wrong. He misunderstood what Jesus is saying. Let me explain.

In the Louvre, in Paris, there’s a shiny block of black stone. It’s ancient, 2 metres tall and weighs over a tonne. It was found in Iran in 1901 and it’s known as the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was king of Babylon about 4,000 years ago, and his code has 282 laws.

One of these laws says, ‘if a man puts out the eye of an equal, his eye shall be put out. If a man knocks out the teeth of another man, his own teeth will be knocked out.’

This law wasn’t meant to encourage revenge. Its purpose was to make sure that people don’t overreact when they’re wronged. So, if someone breaks your tooth, you can’t retaliate by breaking all his teeth. The punishment should fit the crime.

Centuries later, this principle of an ‘eye for an eye’ found its way into the Bible (Ex.21:24; Lev.24:20; Deut.19:21). But its purpose isn’t to encourage revenge, because Moses agreed with Hammurabi. He believed that any response to an offence should be measured and appropriate. This principle still applies in our criminal law today.

So far, this law sounds sensible. But in another way it’s not sensible at all. 

In 1963, Martin Luther King said that this philosophy of an eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.[i]  What he meant is that if everyone believed in the tit-for-tat approach to justice, then the retaliation, and the pain, would never end.

Have you heard of the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys? These two families lived on opposite sides of a river flowing between West Virginia and Kentucky. No-one’s sure how this feud started, but these families hated each other. 

In 1878 Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing one of his pigs.  He took him to court, but lost. 

Soon afterwards, McCoy’s sons killed one of Hatfield’s boys and then things steadily got worse. Between 1880 and 1891, at least 12 people were killed and 10 were wounded. 

The feud lasted for many decades, and the last confrontation was in 2000. In 2003 the two families signed a formal truce, and now, every 14 June, the states of Kentucky and West Virginia celebrate ‘Hatfield-McCoy Reconciliation Day’.[ii]

What would Jesus say about this? He’d say this war should never have started. 

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus warns his disciples not to retaliate when someone hurts them. He’s not telling us to accept abuse, but he is saying that any response should be non-violent.

Jesus is also saying that it’s important to break the cycle of violence, and to always seek peace. He then gives us examples of what to do. If someone strikes you, he says, don’t strike back. If someone takes you to court over your tunic, then give them your cloak as well. And if someone demands a service of you, don’t resist.

Each of these responses is bold, but non-violent. It robs the aggressive person of their power, and it can break the cycle of revenge. It can also help the victim gain control over the situation.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘I object to violence because when it appears to do good, that good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.’

And in 1957, Martin Luther King said, ‘Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.’ [iii]

That’s what Jesus is trying to teach us. That’s why he says we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt.5:44). 

And that’s why Jesus prayed for those who nailed him to the Cross, saying ‘Forgive them Father, for they don’t know what they’re doing’ (Lk.23:34).

Yes, hurt people do sometimes hurt people. Payback is a temptation, but we know it’s wrong.  None of us needs more pain.  We all need healing and peace, and the only real way to achieve that is through love.  

How do you respond when someone hurts you?




Year A – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Gift for Valentine’s Day

(Ecc.15:15-20; 1Cor.2:6-10; Mt.5:17-37)

Next week is Valentine’s Day. All around the world on 14 February, millions of couples will be celebrating their passion, friendship and love.

Not much is known about St Valentine, but it’s said that he was a Catholic priest who lived in 3rd Century Rome, during the Christian persecution. At one point, Emperor Claudius II insisted that his soldiers’ first love should be Rome itself, so he made it illegal for them to marry.

Valentine responded by conducting secret weddings, but he was caught and gaoled. A judge then offered to release him if he restored his blind daughter’s vision. Valentine placed his hands on her eyes and her sight was restored. The judge was delighted and did release him, and even became a Christian himself.

But the persecution continued, and Claudius had Valentine executed on 14 February, in 269 AD. Legend tells us that just before he died, he wrote to that girl, signing his letter ‘from your Valentine’.

Now on every Valentine’s Day, millions of couples celebrate their friendship and love by exchanging letters, poems and gifts. This wonderful tradition highlights for us just how important love is to us all. Indeed, Martin Luther King once described love as the greatest force in the universe.

Many of us would like to get better at understanding and practising love. We’d like to become much better lovers. Well, there’s no better teacher than Jesus, and in today’s Gospel reading, which comes from his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers us some very good advice. He says that the state of our heart is just as important as the specific things we do.

Jesus begins by talking about obedience to the Law of God, as given to Israel through Moses, and he reminds us of the Fifth Commandment: ‘You shall not kill.’ He says that it’s not enough to say that you’ve never killed anyone, for that’s a very superficial reading of the law.

There are so many ways to destroy people without actually killing them. For example, there’s hatred, hostility, slander and abuse. There’s also gossiping, belittling, insulting language, back-stabbing and giving someone the cold shoulder. All these actions are nasty and very destructive, but below the threshold of murder.

Jesus’ point is that it’s not enough to obey the letter of the law. It’s not enough to be seen to do the right thing, which is all the Pharisees care about.

We need to go beyond that, and recognise the spirit of the law, for all of God’s commandments are meant to lead us towards authentic love.

Jesus then talks about the Sixth Commandment: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ Again, he says that it’s not enough to say that you’ve never committed adultery, because there are so many ways to undermine a marriage and destroy a relationship. This includes lustful thoughts, inappropriate behaviours and drifting away from family life.

A couple might be legally married, and technically there may have been no adultery, but emotionally and practically, it may be as though they have already divorced.

Once again, we need to go beyond the letter of the law and start reading our own hearts. How are our thoughts and desires affecting our relationships?

And finally, Jesus talks about honesty. He says that it’s not enough to make and keep oaths in legal situations. It’s far better that we are transparently trustworthy in everything we say and do.

Our word should always be clear and reliable, wherever we are, and not loaded with technical half-truths or double-meanings. When we say something, others shouldn’t have to guess what we mean. We should be people of truth.

Our yes should mean yes, and our no should mean no.

Jesus’ point is that integrity and wholeness are essential in all our relationships. If we are serious about living lives of love, then we must be open and accountable, and our motivations must be pure.

Every Valentine’s Day, millions of dollars are spent on flowers, chocolate and cards. These are all very nice, but surely the greatest gift of all is unconditional, honest and heartfelt love.

It’s God who sent the first Valentine, and it’s Jesus who demonstrates what true love is. Today he teaches us that the state of our heart is just as important as the things we do.

On Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year, if we want to become better lovers, we must always use our hearts, as well as our heads.

Year A – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Salt and Light

(Is.58:7-10; 1Cor.2:1-5; Mt.5:13-16)

Someone once asked me, ‘To be a good Christian, is it enough to simply pray and learn about my faith?’

Let me tell you a story. There was once a great biblical scholar who was noted for his great piety. He spent hours every day secluded in his room, studying the Scriptures, praying and meditating.

One day a holy man visited the town where the scholar lived. When he heard about this, the scholar set out to look for him.

He first looked in the church, but he didn’t find him there. Then he looked in a local shrine, but he wasn’t there, either. He looked in other likely places, but couldn’t find him. Eventually, he found him in the marketplace.

On meeting him, he told the holy man who he was, and how he spent hours every day studying the Scriptures and in prayer and meditation. Then he said, ‘I have come to seek your advice on how I might grow in the service of God.’

The advice he got was simple and direct. The holy man said, ‘It’s easy to be a saint and a sage in your room. But you should go out into the marketplace and try to be a saint there.’ [i]

We don’t know how the scholar responded, but the holy man’s point is reflected in Matthew’s Gospel today. That’s where Jesus tells his followers that they must be like salt and light in the practice of their faith.

What does that mean? 

Well, by itself salt has no purpose. It’s also useless if it’s contaminated, so it must remain pure. But salt does make food tasty. It’s good for our health. It helps our hearts beat and our blood flow. It preserves food and it heals wounds. 

And so it is with us. On our own we have little purpose, because we’re meant to live in community. And we need to avoid being contaminated by sin. But like salt, Jesus wants us to keep our faith fresh and to mix with our world. He also wants us to add flavour and bring things to life. And he wants us to heal wounds and to protect and preserve what’s good and holy. 

Jesus also calls us to be ‘the light of the world’.  What does that mean?

Well, like salt, light is essential for life. We need it for our health. We need it to see where we’re going and what we’re doing. Light also symbolises knowledge and truth. It dispels darkness, it wakes people up and like the lighthouse, it warns of impending danger.

Jesus actually calls himself ‘the Light of the World’ in John 8:12, and elsewhere in Scripture God is referred to as ‘Light’ (Is.60:1-3; Ps.27:1; IJn.1:5). 

The world around us is a dark place, and too many people are struggling and groping around in spiritual darkness, trying to find their way. This is why Jesus wants us to absorb his divine light. When we allow his light to become part of us, it will change us from within and we’ll start to think and live like him.

Jesus’ light will then shine through us, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, and our very presence will begin to make a real difference, wherever we go.

The good things we find ourselves doing don’t have to be spectacular. Even a small light can illuminate an entire room.

But when we lose our Christian identity, when we no longer bother to practise our faith, when we let ourselves succumb to the universal dumbing down of anything that’s precious,[ii] then we become as useless as salt that’s lost its flavour, or a lamp that no longer works.

Some people fear that they might not be good enough, or talented enough, to make any sort of difference. But remember what St Paul says in our second reading today. He never relies on himself to keep going in his work. He always relies on the power of God – to inspire and encourage him.

So, to be a good Christian, is it enough for us to simply pray and learn about our faith?

Clearly not.

We are all meant to be salt and light to the world, making a difference in our own way, and in our own circumstances.

[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2013:194.

[ii] Michael Casey, Balaam’s Donkey, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2019:366.

Year A – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Beatitudes

(Is.8:23-9.3; 1Cor.1:1-13,17; Mt.4:12-23)

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has often been described as the heart of the Gospels, and central to this sermon are the Beatitudes.

These famous blessings are at the very heart of Jesus’ teaching. [i] [ii]

Pope St John Paul II once called the Beatitudes the Magna Carta of Christianity.[iii] What he meant is that these eight blessings are a pivotal guide for how we might live our best lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Early in the Old Testament, in the Book of Exodus, Moses climbs Mt Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments from God. These Ten Commandments are ten simple, but profoundly important, rules for how to live a safe and moral life that will both please God and help us all live in community.

In a similar way, early in the New Testament, Jesus, as ‘the new Moses’, climbs another mountain, this one overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and he introduces a new law which we call the Beatitudes. This new law isn’t meant to replace the Law of Moses. Its purpose is to perfect them and help us understand them better. As Jesus says, ‘I’ve come not to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them’ (Mt.5:17)

The essential purpose of the Ten Commandments is to teach us right from wrong, and to show us how to respect God and each other. The purpose of the Beatitudes, however, is to help us take the next step, by doing everything in love.

And living a life of love is living the life of God.

The word beatitude means ‘blessedness,’ and these eight blessings tell us what we need to do, to truly be happy. They are also a challenge, because each is exactly the opposite of what our society today expects us to believe and do.

Our world, for example, says that you’ll be happy when you chase after money. But Jesus says ‘happy are the poor in spirit.’ In other words, those who are truly blessed are those who put God before anything else; and who have the humility to admit that they can’t do anything without God’s grace, because he is ultimately in control.

Our world also says you’ll be happy when you are tough, ruthless and feared, just like in the movies. But Jesus says blessed are the kind and gentle, who refuse to get ahead by hurting others, for gentleness is a form of strength.

Our world says you’ll be happy when you really know how to party. But Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn; who recognise the emptiness of cheap thrills, and who understand that you can’t avoid pain and sacrifice when you focus on what really counts in life.

Our world says happy are those who have a taste for power, status and fame. But Jesus says happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice, who understand the importance of values and standards, and always doing the right thing.

Our world says you’ll be happy if you’re intolerant and refuse to accept or forgive the mistakes of others. But Jesus says happy are the merciful, who try to understand why people do what they do, and then give them another chance, for God’s mercy will shine on them.

Our world also says you’ll be happy if you have the right look, and it really doesn’t matter what you’re hiding underneath, because it’s appearances that count. But Jesus says happy are those who have a good, clean heart, because all our thoughts, words and actions come from there.

Our world says you’ll be happy if you trample all over others, because then you’ll get what you want. But Jesus says happy are the peacemakers; those who welcome the stranger, who pursue justice and help to spread understanding, for they shall be true sons and daughters of God.

And finally, our world says blessed are those who lie, cheat and steal, because they’ll have the last laugh. But Jesus says happy are those who take a stand for what is right, especially in the face of persecution and abuse, for they’ll be honoured on earth and rewarded in heaven.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI called the Beatitudes ‘Jesus’ self-portrait’, for he is ‘the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice.’ [iv]

The Beatitudes may be challenging, but remember this: they are an excellent guide to a good relationship with God and our neighbours.

And they are our pathway to heaven.

[i] Photo: Church of the Beatitudes, Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee.




Year A – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shining Light

(Is.8:23-9.3; 1Cor.1:1-13,17; Mt.4:12-23)

The first pot-plant I ever owned was a coleus blumei (aka ‘Painted Nettle’). I had it long ago, but sadly it didn’t survive.

Like each of us, it needed healthy doses of sunlight, but I didn’t recognise this at the time, and it slowly perished. I’ve always regretted that.

What does sunlight do for us? It banishes the darkness; it nourishes growth, it heals and it reduces our stress and anxiety. Sunlight also offers us comfort, warmth and safety. And it shows us the way.

But there’s another kind of light we also need. It’s the interior light of faith and hope that shines in our hearts and minds. This is the spiritual light that opens us up to truth, beauty and goodness, and it fills us with joy.

Not surprisingly, light is a theme that runs all through Scripture. At the beginning, at the dawn of Creation in Genesis, God commands ‘Let there be light!’ (Gen.1:3). And at the end, in the Book of Revelation, we’re told that in heaven we won’t need the sun or the moon, because God’s glory will give us all the light we need (Rev.21:23).

About 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold that one day, the Virgin would bear a son who would be called Emmanuel (Is.7:14). And as Matthew reminds us in today’s Gospel, Isaiah also prophesied that those living in darkness would see a great light.

Well, as history shows us, that’s exactly what happened. At midnight, when the world was at its darkest, Jesus was born (Lk.2:8), and ever since then he has continued to bless us as the Light of the World (Lk.2:30-32).

But in what way is Jesus the Light of the World? How does he light up our lives?

Well, Jesus is very much like sunlight, because he banishes the darkness (Jn.8:12), and he shows us the way (Jn.14:5-6).

Like sunlight, Jesus is also warm in the way he reaches out to everyone. He nourishes us and heals the sick and the suffering (Mt.8:3; Mk.10:46-52).

And like the sun, Jesus is pure because his entire life is focussed on only one thing: love. Love for his Father and love for all humankind (Mt.5:8).

Jesus is the Light of the World, and the world needs this light today. So many people are struggling.

The novelist Edith Wharton once wrote that there are two ways to spread light: either to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

Jesus is that candle, and here in our church he is symbolised by the paschal candle. But the Light of Christ is not meant to stop there; it needs to spread. That’s what happens at baptism, when the flame is passed from Jesus’ paschal candle down to our own baptismal candles, which we then take into our own lives.

In other words, at our baptism, Jesus’ Spirit of love is passed down into our hearts, and our challenge is to keep that flame burning brightly all through our lives.

Next week, on 26 January, we celebrate Australia Day. This is always a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on those saintly women and men who have done so much to mirror the light of Christ in our nation.

Think, for example, of the remarkable Mum Shirl Smith who raised 60 children. And St Mary McKillop, who spent her life supporting and educating poor children and their families. And Eileen O’Connor, possibly Australia’s next saint, the severely disabled woman who established a nursing order for the poor. And Caroline Chisholm, who helped countless immigrant families.

But what about us today? How do we let our light shine? Do we give others the hope and encouragement they need? Do we smile and listen to them, and genuinely help them? Each of us can do something to make a difference.

Let’s close with a story. A boy went with his parents to Europe for a holiday. They visited many magnificent Cathedrals, and the boy was fascinated by the way the sun shines through the beautiful stained-glass windows.

‘Who are those people in the windows?’ he asked his father. ‘Oh, those are the saints,’ the father replied.

Back at home, when the boy returned to school, his teacher asked the class, ‘Who are the saints?’

The boy eagerly replied, ‘I know! Saints are the ones the light shines through!’

How do you reflect the Light of Christ?

Year A – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lamb of God

(Is.49:3,5-6; 1Cor.1:1-3; Jn.1:29-34)

The Bible is full of lambs. In fact, they’re mentioned over 200 times.

There’s the paschal lamb (Lk.22:7), the sacrificial lamb (Ex.29:38), Isaiah’s lamb led to the slaughter (Is.53:7) and the triumphant lamb in Revelation (Rev.22:3).

And in today’s Gospel, when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he cries out: ‘Behold the Lamb of God … !’

What does he mean by that? And what’s the significance of all these lambs?

To answer that, we need to go back into history. In ancient times, many cultures believed they were too unworthy to approach God, and the only way to worship him was by sacrificing something valuable, like sheep, bulls and goats.

Now, when the ancient Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God heard their cry for freedom and asked Moses to arrange for their release. But Pharaoh refused, so God sent ten plagues to soften his resistance. In the last plague, the Angel of Death took the firstborn of every Egyptian family.

But just before that, God instructed every Jewish family to sacrifice a lamb and to use a hyssop branch to smear its blood on their door posts. This was to help the Angel of Death to identify and bypass Jewish homes.

After that, Pharaoh relented and allowed them to leave (Ex.12:1-31). Ever since then, at Passover, the Jewish people have been celebrating their escape from slavery in Egypt. Those sacrificed lambs meant new life for them. [i]

Now, John’s Gospel often mentions the Passover. Indeed, it begins with John the Baptist in today’s Gospel calling Jesus ‘the Lamb of God’, and it ends with Jesus being crucified at the same time as the priests slaughter the lambs in the Temple.

John’s Gospel makes the point that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament Passover lamb. By sacrificing himself on the Cross, Jesus has become the new Passover Lamb and he has inaugurated a new exodus, by opening the door to eternal life for his disciples.

Because of this, animal sacrifice is no longer necessary, and the old Passover has been replaced by a new Passover, the Holy Eucharist, which means thanksgiving.

There are many parallels between the old and new Passover lambs.

In the Old Testament, for example, lamb’s blood saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But now the blood of Jesus saves us from slavery to sin. Jesus’ sacrifice has opened the door to new life for us.

Also, when God gave Moses his rules for the Passover, he insisted that no bones may be broken when the lambs were sacrificed (Ex.12:46). When Jesus was nailed to the Cross, the soldiers came to break his legs, but he was already dead, so they speared him instead (Jn.19:31-34).

As John writes in his Gospel, ‘These things happened so that scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken”’ (Jn.19:36).

Further, as Jesus hung on the Cross, John tells us that ‘a sponge full of vinegar was put on a hyssop stick and held to his mouth’ (Jn.19:29). This reminds us of the hyssop used to smear blood on the Israelites’ doorposts.

And as Brant Pitre writes in his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, in the 1st Century A.D., the Passover lambs in the Temple were not only sacrificed, they were crucified. After sacrificing the lamb, thin staves of wood were driven through the lamb’s shoulders in order to hang it, and then it was skewered from head to tail, so that it was effectively crucified. It was then roasted.

Pitre says that Jesus would have witnessed thousands of Passover lambs being crucified in the Jerusalem Temple, so it’s not surprising that he likened his own suffering and death to that of a Passover lamb.

And finally, Pitre notes that at the time of Jesus, rabbis always saw each Passover celebration as a way to actively participate in the first exodus. So, Passover was not only a sacrifice; it was also a memorial or remembrance (Ex.12:14) by which the Jewish people both remembered and made present the event itself.[ii]

Now, all this is reflected in Jesus’ new Passover, the Last Supper. ‘Do this in memory of me,’ (1Cor.11:25) Jesus says, and we’ve been repeating this ever since, at every Mass. Jesus has placed his body and blood at the centre of this new Passover, and we eat it, just as the original Passover lambs were eaten by those who made the sacrifice.

That’s why Jesus is the Lamb of God.

By his sacrifice, Jesus leads us on a new exodus, from death to eternal life in heaven.


[ii] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Crown Publishing, NY. 2016 (eBook).