John’s gospel, read most these final days of Lent and into Easter, says that Jesus went regularly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts. In this gospel, Jesus says that the feasts are signs that say who he is and what he does.
For example, in Jerusalem Jesus heals a paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida on a Sabbath feast (Chapter 5); The Son does not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life. At the Passover (Chapter 6), Jesus teaches he is the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes. On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7-9) he reveals himself as the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, which celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration Jesus claims to be the true temple, dwelling among us and making God’s glory known.
The feasts are signs that what Jesus says and does is from God. On the feasts he claims “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” But listeners in Jerusalem seem blind to the signs and accuse him of blasphemy. They try to stone him and have him arrested. Jerusalem rejects him. In today’s gospel, Jesus has to leave the place and go to a place across the Jordan where John baptized. “Many there began to believe in him.”
Now , God gives a new sign. Not a temple, or its feasts or it worship, but One who is lifted up on a cross. John’s gospel, more than the others, finds glorious signs in the sufferings of Jesus. Realists that we are, we find it hard to believe suffering reveals God’s glory and power. We find it hard to see soldiers falling to the ground in the garden before him, Pilate shrinking before him on the judgment seat, Jesus speaking so calmly from the cross. We find it hard to see glory in suffering.
We find it hard to see anything but absurdity in the pandemic we’re experiencing today. But John’s gospel says “Look for the signs.” If we believe God is with us, there are signs of glory and a promise of resurrection.
Lead me on, O Lord, through your holy signs, to Show me the glory I don’t see, and through the One lifted up, let me come to you. Amen.
I’m glad I went to my bible to discover a little more about God’s call to Abraham in our first reading for today in our lectionary – Genesis 17, 3-9 – because I found out that Abraham was 99 when God made promises to him. He’s 99 and God promises to make him the father of many nations and even have a child.
Abraham and his wife Sarah laugh at that thought, not for joy, but because it’s so nonsensical. They’re at life’s end, not it’s beginning. Something more to do? A child at their age?
How can anyone think big thoughts and great dreams at life’s end? Even if we did, the present Coronavirus pandemic kills big thoughts and dreams. Many, not just 99 year-olders, see things ending not beginning. Dark days ahead.
The story of Abraham and Sarah tells us not to believe life and dreams end. I like Jessica Power’s poem about Abraham.
“I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten
unwavering nomad; when God called to him
no tender hand wedged time into his stay.
His faith erupted him into a way
far-off and strange. How many miles are there
from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie,
or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait?
How could he think his ancient thigh would bear
nations, or how consent that Isaac die,
with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?
I think, alas, how I manipulate
dates and decisions, pull apart the dark
dally with doubts here and with counsel there,
take out old maps and stare.
Was there a call after all, my fears remark.
I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you,
are you my father? Come to me in pity.
Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.”
Who says the scriptures are dull and have nothing to say?
Readings Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) The splendid temple buildings, its well-ordered worship, its ancient tradition which they know so well, tempt them to ask: “Why listen to this man? We have what God promised to Abraham; it’s automatically ours”.
But God’s promises are not automatic, Jesus says. “If you were the children of Abraham you would be doing the works of Abraham.” The great patriarch, a nomad, found God’s promises revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time. And so must we.
John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Jews and Jewish Christians in his time, “descendants of Abraham” may have longed for the restoration of ancient structures now gone,
This gospel would remind them that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured on paths unknown.
Does that sound like our times? We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith. Our first reading today from the Book of Daniel tells of the three children thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon. They sang in the flames.
Is God telling us to do that today? Sing in the flames and God will lead us on.
Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross faced his times urging those who sought his advice to hold on to the Unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God will be our guide..
“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Freely take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, in God’s consuming fire. Rest in God’s divine perfections, especially in the Infinite Goodness which made itself so small within our humanity.” (Letter 18)
O God, you are my God,
For you I long.
My body pines for you,
Like a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63)
Readings Once again our gospel today (John 8:21-39) reports what Jesus said in the temple area during the Feast of Tabernacles. He speaks with urgency to those opposing him. The time is short; the Light guiding the world has appeared, but he “is going away” and those who reject him will die in their sins.
Are we detached observers as we listen to this gospel, watching others challenged long ago? We’re also challenged to answer the question: Who is Jesus Christ?
He is “I AM,” a divine title his enemies find blasphemous, but believers find true. In Hebrew it means “He who is always there.” Later in John’s gospel, Thomas bows before Jesus and says “My Lord and my God,” as he recognizes that the One lifted up on the cross is indeed “I AM.”
Our graphic above shows us the Cross as a place of healing. In our first reading for today Moses places a serpent on a pole to heal the people on their desert journey.We reverence the One lifted up on the Cross.. He is “I AM,” true God, sent by the Father, “who so loved the world that he sent his only Son.” He was lifted up on a Cross, and he will always be there as a sign God is with us in our wounds, our suffering and death..
In an early letter to Bishop Count Peter Garangi, who worked to establish the Passionists as a new congregation in the church, St. Paul of the Cross emphasized the importance of the mystery of the passion and death of Jesus as a revelation of God.
“So many believers live in forgetfulness of how much our Divine Savior did and suffered; they sleep in a swamp of evil. We need zealous workers to awaken them from their sleep in darkness and the shadow of death by the trumpet of God’s word and by meditating on the Passion of Jesus Christ, so that God be glorified by many who will be converted and pray and lead a holy life.” (Letter 266)
Lord Jesus Christ, Draw me to your cross And show me your wounds, your bitter death, your triumph over the tomb. God with us, always there, God who shares our humanity, God who loves us so much help me keep you in mind, save me from forgetfulness.
Readings Jesus meets the woman accused of adultery in the temple area during the Feast of the Tabernacles. He is the light of the world and living water. His enemies fiercely dispute his claims. It’s likely they brought the woman to discredit him. Earlier, he said, “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just…” (John 5:30) Here was a test.
Moses, according to the woman’s accusers, commanded she be stoned. What is his judgment?
Adultery–which is still wrong–-is not the only issue here. Gender injustice is also on the table. The woman was treated badly by men. Where is the man in the case?
Jewish religious law then said that if a woman were caught in the act of adultery and two men witnessed it, she could be stoned to death or strangled. The system led to abuse, historians say; two witnesses paid by a vengeful husband who wanted to get rid of his wife, might give false testimony and have her stoned to death.
Jesus brings a lens of justice and mercy to every age; in the temple that day the woman received life and light from him. Her accusers met the judgment of Jesus. We believe he offers that same light for knowing what is right and just today for us.
Lord, let me judge others with your eyes, your heart and your mind. Help me work for a world that is right and just. Give me the grace to know myself.
The Gospel of John, Chapter 11, verses 1-45 tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. Ten years ago, after my conversion, this Gospel was the most important to me. Of all the biblical characters, Lazarus was the one that I most related to for a number of years. Part of the reason is because I ended up “playing” him on four different occasions.
On two different Fifth Sundays of Lent , at St. Joseph’s Parish in Miami Beach, FL, they dressed me up like him, one year wrapped in toilet paper, the other year shrouded by a huge white sheet. I would “come out” in front of the catechumens at the moment when the teacher read the climactic part of the Gospel to the group. From the stricken looks on their faces I must have looked more disturbing than funny in that get-up. Death is serious business. I was so touched that I could not stop crying.
Two years later at the Holy Week Retreat in Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica,NY, a group of us helped out by playing different characters from the Gospels before the large group of retreatants. We were “remembering” Jesus on Holy Saturday, after He had been buried. I played risen Lazarus and improvised on my imagined memories of his childhood , playing among the olives above Bethany, with Mary and Martha, his little sisters, and of course Jesus, who was already special. I “recalled” His visits, His preaching, our belief in Him. I described how: “I got so sick and eventually lost all consciousness. Suddenly in the darkness, I heard His powerful voice saying, ‘Lazarus, come out!.’ Somehow I found myself blinking in the dazzling light before Him. It turned out the Lord had brought me back to life! But then, a few days later, here He was dead and buried like I had been. I was so grief stricken, dazed and confused, but there was this strange hope in my heart.’
The fourth time I felt possessed by Lazarus was when I was crawling out of this dark, ancient tomb, way under ground, in Al-Azariah, Palestine, on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. Al-Azariah means in Arabic: “the town of Lazarus”. Not far up the street from the Church of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, the Arab owner of Avery old private house, charges to let pilgrims wind down a steep staircase to the “grave”. It is a dreary place, specially after one crawls, one at a time, into the claustrophobic “cave”. As I was crawling back out, Fr. Vasko, our guide, took a picture of me.
I did not look very happy. Why? I had just been meditating on my sinful God-less life, the darkness where my soul languished on life-support. My Lord had the stone that covered my grave be taken away. He brought me back to life. He removed so many things that had bound me. He freed me in so many ways. I thank and love Him so much for that. So why that unhappy look? Perhaps because there were so many souls still stuck behind me in that hole. In a way our whole world seems to our earthly eyes to be still inside that hole. The mystery of suffering was weighing upon my mind on that day. Like Mary and Martha, I felt like complaining to the One Who saves me: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Why all this suffering dear Lord?
It has taken me a few years to come to terms with this mystery. Surrender to the will of God in prayer helps a lot. We get some inner peace. And yet I must admit, I am still trying to cope with the mystery of suffering every day, when my Lord faces me like He did Martha and challenges me: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Humankind has come down with a serious illness, like Lazarus. All of us friends of Jesus, cry out to Him: “Master, the one you love is ill.” Please bring a miracle. Deliver us from this disease. So many of us are suffering and dying. You, my Lord, can stop this pandemic.
He told us to “Ask and you shall receive.” No matter how desperate, I feel it’s my duty to ask God for the welfare of everyone on this Earth. I am doing this with all hope and faith. Yet I realize, that in another way I must be part of the answer to that prayer for someone else, just letting them know in their enclosed isolation and fear the I am there for them, even if just to listen, to pray together, because most importantly, our God is there with us. I truly believe that in God’s own time our Lord will again cry, “Come out!” And we will be able to emerge from the confining insides of our houses, from the hospitals, and we will praise our loving God. Sadly for us, some will open their eyes to be before Him, like Lazarus, but now in the delight of Eternal Life. We will mourn them, but pray for God’s grace so that we will be able to cry out to Him with tears similar to the ones He shed at Bethany: “Yes Lord we believe. We believe that You are the Resurrection and the Life!” Orlando Hernández