Why believe

This past Sunday’s Gospel was the famous story of the prodigal son. However, the alternate Gospel for the second scrutiny Mass in preparation for receiving the sacraments at Easter was the story of Jesus healing the blind man. While both readings spoke of healing, they also posed a deeper question: why believe?

The story of the prodigal son is one of hope but is also tinged with hurt. The younger son asks his father for his share of his inheritance and leaves to squander it all. Me, me, me is his perspective; he wants things his way. It’s only after everything is gone and he finds himself the caretaker of pigs that he starts to consider what life is all about. Even though he still has a selfish mindset, he knows the generosity of his father and would rather be a servant to his father, than a hungry swineherd. The lavish welcome the father gives his son tugs at our heartstrings and we appreciate the beauty of the moment. This son had to leave and lose everything in order to value his family. His initial belief system was tested and failed him. He learns that there is something greater than himself: his family.

The story does not end there. How many have heard this account from Luke and not felt a bit like the older brother? It’s not fair! How can a father totally forgive his son for living so recklessly? Those feelings are not unlike those that might bubble up when weekly churchgoing parishioners have to accommodate attendees they see only at the Christmas and Easter Masses. Yes, we all have a little bit of the older brother resentment in us. The older brother in the parable, however, is not much different than his younger brother, he too, has a selfish mentality. He complains to his father about how long he has “served” his father. This sentiment is not of a son who appreciates learning the business, receiving a gift to be nourished, strengthened, and passed onto the next generation. He sees his father as a taskmaster telling him what to do, and he responds out of filial responsibility, not out of love. The older brother may be the heir, but his belief system was tested when the father urges him to receive his brother back into the fold.

The healing of the blind man in John’s Gospel, focuses on what people believe in black and white: “We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” (Jn 9:29) Oh how sorry I feel for the Pharisees! How in the world can they know that God spoke to Moses? How can they know that beyond a shadow of a doubt? How can they know “that God,” yet be so completely clueless about Jesus: true God from true God? It’s great that they can recognize God’s handiwork in the past, yet it’s more the tradition that they are clinging to rather than seeking a relationship with Him. All of what Moses taught was so that the Israelites could learn to have a relationship with God, to lean on Him in times of trial, and to celebrate His generosity. While some generations of Israel had success in forging that relationship, too many others failed to the point where instead of becoming a great nation, Israel fell under Roman occupation. 

So why believe in God? He is our creator, the one responsible for giving us life. He is our redeemer, the One who gave His life for ours. He is our sanctifier, the One who will guide our way if we can just listen to Him. God wants a relationship with us, one as intimate as a Father. His generosity can be glimpsed in the amazing amount and variety of species that inhabit the earth. But it doesn’t stop with just the material things, His blessings include endless mercy showered upon us when we seek to be reconciled with Him. We believe not just because of stories and traditions, but because He has touched our lives in many ways. We believe, because we can see Him in our family, in our friends, and in the smiles of people we have yet to meet. 

Grape leaf and bunch of grapes gilded on a church door in Israel

Best wine

I was reminded recently of Jesus’ first miracle which took place at the Wedding Feast of Cana and found in John’s Gospel (2:1-11). I love the detail about how the head waiter comments to the groom about saving the best wine until after the guests had already been drinking an inferior one. When I look at that statement with a logical mind, I think, “Of course, it was water turned into wine by Jesus. He’s not going to make something inferior.” However, I think there is a deeper meaning to the wine being of better quality. Jesus as the bridegroom of the Church has been taught throughout Church history and the marriage of heaven and earth is through the salvation efforts of Jesus. 

The wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana can be viewed as a symbol of our life, and when we complete our life on earth, the life that comes next is far superior. Jesus did remark to His mother that His time had not yet come to perform miracles, yet he proceeded in doing so. Was it because His mother was insistent, to the point of directing the wait staff to follow the directions Jesus gave them? Or was it because He could use the opportunity to teach people that while they may enjoy life now, a far better life is yet to come? 

I do enjoy a glass of wine and I like sampling them at wine tastings. There is always an order: light white wines first, then the heavy reds, and sometimes finishing up with the sweet dessert wines. If you try sampling them out of order, it can be hard to cleanse your palate enough to taste something that is more delicate in flavor and you can’t appreciate it as much. It doesn’t indicate they are not good wines, just that the flavor is affected by what we have consumed prior to it. I can see how heaven would be a wine that is light and delicate, yet full of fruit flavor. We may think our life on earth is a glass of bubbling champagne, or maybe a refreshing blush wine. We may enjoy it while we are living our earthly life, or maybe the bubbles are too much for our taste. Whatever the situation is, the wine of heaven will be suited to our taste, and the best we have ever had.

Wine is composed, on average, of over 80% water. While it is still miraculous that Jesus turned the other amount into the elements that make up wine, He still started with the basis of water and enhanced it. That is one of the hallmarks of being exposed to Christ, you don’t remain the same person you were before encountering Him. Being God, Jesus could have turned anything:  lava or wood or some other object, into wine. Yet, He chose to turn water into wine. Something so similar in composition yet drastically different. 

Our lives are changed when Jesus enters our lives. For those who welcome Christ into their lives and seek a relationship with Him, He promises life eternal far superior than we can ever imagine or taste. Cheers!