Saturday, March 16, 2013

5th Sunday in Lent (C)
Shuttle for the Stranded

Picture: insing

Sisters and brothers, have you ever found yourself trapped or stranded in some way? If so, what did it feel like? We may think, for example, of the thousands of people who found themselves left high and dry, when the MRT trains broke down on several occasions about a year or so ago. Perhaps some of you were among them. How do you think those passengers might have felt. I’m sure many were angry and frustrated. Perhaps even anxious and afraid. Stuck in a strange place. Unable to get to where they wanted to go...

And how do you think those same people might have felt when the shuttle buses finally arrived to rescue them? We may imagine that, despite their frustration, they also felt some relief. Very likely, the commuters were eager to quickly get onto the right bus, so that they could continue on their respective journeys without further delay. So that they could finally arrive at their desired destinations. However unhappy they might have been with the situation, it would have been rather strange for any of them to refuse to board the bus that was their ticket to freedom. For a passenger stranded by a broken down train, especially someone in a great hurry, nothing is more important than boarding the right shuttle.

All this is true not just of public transport. In the spiritual life too, we can sometimes find ourselves stranded in some way. Stuck in a strange place, without any visible means of escape. At least not at first. Isn’t this what we find in each of our Mass readings today? In the first reading, the people of Israel have been living for long years in exile. For generations, they have been stranded. Not just in the strange enemy territory of Babylon, but also in the faraway spiritual place of their own sinfulness. Their own infidelity to God. In such a difficult situation, God promises to do something marvellous. Just as, in the past, God had made a way for their ancestors through the waters of the Red Sea. Leading them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. So too now, the prophet announces that God is making for the people a road in the wilderness, paths in the wilds. God is providing a bus to ferry them back from exile. A shuttle to bring them all home.

And what God is doing in the first reading, God continues to do in the gospel. Here, we don’t need to be bible scholars to see that the woman caught committing adultery is well and truly trapped. She is stranded. And in more ways than one. In addition to the improper sexual relationship for which she is being accused, she is also caught up in the cunning scheme of the religious authorities. The scribes and the Pharisees, whose main concern is not really to uphold the Law, but to trap Jesus. After all, it takes more than one person to commit adultery. Where is the other party? Why accuse only the woman?

In any case, following the provisions of the Law, the scribes and Pharisees propose to execute the woman by stoning. A very painful and cruel way to die. And there is really nothing she can say in her own defence. There is nothing she can do to free herself. She stands guilty as charged. Thankfully, Jesus stands up for her. Speaks up on her behalf. Like a welcome shuttle, rescuing the stranded passengers of a broken down train, Jesus gives her a way out. Not only is she saved from death by stoning, she is also rescued from the dire spiritual consequences of her sin. She is given her life back. Has no one condemned you? Jesus asks. Neither do I condemn you, go away, and do not sin any more.

As with public transport, so too with the spiritual life. Even if we may sometimes get stranded, God works to make a way for us. In Christ, God provides a shuttle to ferry us to freedom. Except that things are sometimes far less straightforward in the spiritual life. Whenever an MRT train breaks down, it doesn’t take long for the passengers to realise that they are stranded. And, when the shuttle finally arrives, it doesn’t take much persuasion to get people on board. The same, however, can’t always be said for those stranded in a spiritual sense.

In the gospel, for example, the woman caught in adultery is not the only one who is in trouble. Her accusers are as well. They are trapped in their own judgmental and self-righteous attitudes. Stranded in their legalistic approach to religion. Which prevents them from truly experiencing and benefitting from the mercy and compassion of God. Unfortunately for them, unlike the woman they want to stone, these men don’t recognise the dangerous situation they themselves are in. They fail to see that they themselves are trapped. And so they refuse to accept Jesus, the Way to Freedom. They refuse to board the shuttle of his teachings. Without realising it, they choose to remain stranded in their  sin.

All of which should help us to appreciate a little better the reason why St. Paul writes the way he does in the second reading. For, as we all know, earlier in his career, Paul too was a crusading Pharisee. Trapped in his own narrow interpretation of the Law, he went around persecuting the early Christians. But God freed him from his self-righteousness. On the road to Damascus, the Risen Christ appeared to him. Helping him to recognise his terrible mistake. Providing him a way out. So that, towards the end of his life, even as he sits in prison, Paul is able to marvel at the wonderful things God has done for him in Christ. I believe nothing can happen, he says, that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Sisters and brothers, unlike public transport, in the spiritual life, it is possible to be trapped and not even to realise it. It is possible to be stranded and still refuse to board the shuttle provided by God to ferry us to our true destination. Which is why the season of Lent is so crucial for us. This is the time when we make space in our lives for the Lord to appear to us, as he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. This is the time when we allow the Lord to show us the different ways we might be stranded. Whether it be in our clinging to memories of the past, or in our desperate worrying about the future. Whether it be in our obsession with our own material wants, or in our inability to reach out to those who may need our care and concern. Whether it be in the resentments that we may hold against those who have done us wrong, or in our guilt at having wronged others. However we may find ourselves trapped, God always remains eager to provide us a way out. A means to set us free. And although the traps may be many, the way out is always one and the same. Our shuttle is Christ. And his path is the Way of the Cross. To continue to board this shuttle, to persevere in walking this Way, is truly to come to know the love of Christ that Paul writes so passionately about in the second reading. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death.

Sisters and brothers, how might the Lord be shuttling you to freedom today?


  1. This song came to me very coincidentally, and the lyrics has made me reflect deeply as I started to surrender and put my trust totally in God. For He is full of compassion, forgiving and always loving us so unconditionally.

    How can we say "No" to His shuttle bus? A bus that will bring us to freedom, peace and joy. We can make ourselves to board this shuttle bus, is to open our hearts and mind, surrender all reservations, fear and pride to Him.

    "Are you tired of chasing pretty rainbows?
    Are you tired of spinning round and round?
    Wrap up all those shattered dreams of your life
    And at the feet of Jesus, lay them down."

    Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus
    Shattered dreams, wounded hearts, and broken toys.
    Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus
    And He will turn your sorrows into joy.

    He never said you only see sunshine,
    He never said there would be no rain.
    He only promised a heart full of singing
    About the very thing that once brought pain.

    Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus
    Shattered dreams, wounded hearts, and broken toys.
    Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus
    And He will turn your sorrows into joy.

  2. I never realised how much i needed this "shuttle bus" till my divorce. Amongst other things, one thing we disagreed was the importance of faith. We'd argue over the kid's catechism classes clashing with tennis lessons - he thought catechism was a waste of time. I was struggling with the logistics of the kids' school, sports, music, and tuition classes. It was so stressful on me.

    Now my ex has remarried, and is buckling under pressure from his new wife. He called to pour his woes, and I felt torn. It's not fair to burden me like this as we are no longer married.

    So what do I do? Since I'm at a loss, all i can do is pray. Even though there's no solution in sight, I feel less troubled.


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