Studies on the passion of Jesus: www.passionofchrist.us
Lent is coming. Let’s join those disciples in our picture above following Jesus. One way to follow him is by reflecting on the lenten scriptural readings recommended for the Sundays and weekdays till Easter. They’re the basic book for lenten reading.
On the 1st Sunday of Lent, this coming Sunday, Mark’s gospel takes us to the Jordan River where Jesus is led into a deserted place by the Spirit and tempted for 40 days after his baptism. Our journey begins in a desert. Readings from Mark’s Gospel lead us through the Sundays of Lent this year.
The weekday gospels for the first three weeks of lent are mostly from Matthew, the early church’s favorite gospel for catechesis during Lent. They bring us to Galilee where Jesus began his ministry. Most are from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks “the words of eternal life.” (Matthew 5-7) Be faithful to prayer and you will grow in wisdom, Jesus says. ( Tuesday and Thursday, 1st week of Lent) Love your neighbor, even your enemies and “the least,” whom we easily overlook. ( Monday, Friday, Saturday, 1st week of Lent)
Peter’s confession at Caesaria Phillipi is the highpoint of the first part of Matthew’s gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter says to Jesus. “You have the words of everlasting life.” Lent invites us to join him in that same confession.
But can we possibly love and believe that way, so lofty and challenging? We’re rather weak disciples. The reading for Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us, though, that Jesus doesn’t call perfect disciples. He called Matthew the tax collector and people like him–not very good keepers of the law. Outsiders and sinners like them welcome us to the lenten season. (Luke 5, 27-32)
Matthew’s gospel takes us up the Mount of the Beatitudes. Like most sacred writers, Matthew likes mountains. You see ahead more clearly from them. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we go up to the Mount of the Transfiguration to glimpse the glory found ahead.
By the 4th week of Lent, we arrive in the Holy City, Jerusalem, to the temple mount and then the Mount of Calvary. Starting with the 4th week most of the weekday lenten gospels will be from the Gospel of John. I’ll say something about them before we get there.
You can follow the lenten readings online here.
We listen as different witnesses take the stand in today’s gospel ( John 5, 31-47) to testify for Jesus.. John the Baptist, “a burning and shining lamp” speaks for him. Miracles and works of healing Jesus performed testify for him. Above all, his heavenly Father, who through an interior call draws to his son those unhindered by pride, speaks for him. Then, the scriptures, long searched by the Jews as the way to eternal life, “testify on my behalf.”
These are ways faith in Jesus comes to us now. Do we accept them? The church, like John the Baptist, points Jesus Christ out to us; are we guided by its light? His works and words and miracles are proclaimed in the scriptures; do we search into them? Our heavenly Father draws us to his son; do we pray for faith and humility to accept his grace?
We’re reminded by scholars that “the Jews” spoken of in these pas- sages of John’s Gospel are not the whole Jewish nation but those who opposed Jesus because pride and position turned them against him. Ever since, people still oppose him. In lent, the voice of the Father says once more: “listen to him.”
Mystics like Paul of the Cross knew that faith is a gift of God; we don’t get it by reason alone. It’s God’s gift. He recommended prayer, steady prayer, as a means to gain, to nourish and strengthen faith.
“Someone who left his community once wrote to Fr. Paul and signed the letter pretentiously , Archpriest, Lawyer, Theologian. Answering his letter, Fr. Paul signed himself, N.N.N., which means Paul of the Cross, who is nothing, who knows nothing, can do nothing, desires nothing in this world but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. This was his wisdom: to see with eyes of faith his own nothingness and to allow God who works within us to be born there.” (Life of Blessed Paul of the Cross, by St. Vincent Strambi, Chapter 35)
I come to you
who have given so much to me. You know “my inmost being” and “all my thoughts from afar.” I want to listen to you
and be changed by what I hear. Amen.
From now to Holy Week our gospel readings at daily Mass are mostly from the Gospel of John, which also provides us with the story of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday and many of our readings during Easter time, as we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection.
In John’s Gospel what Jesus says and does are continuing signs revealing God through his Son.
“Your son will live,” Jesus tells the government official from Capernaum, who in today’s reading has come from Galilee to plead for his son who is near death. God wants life for us and so Jesus tells the official “your son will live,” and the deadly fever leaves him, even though he is far away.
Can we see in the father who pleads for his son’s life an image of the Father who wishes life for his only Son? Jesus affirms repeatedly his union with his Father. “The Father and I are one.” “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” It’s a theme we’ll hear often in these final days of lent. Jesus trusts in his Father’s love even in death.
God is not heartless before the mystery of death, our story says. He’s not less loving than the father from Galilee pleading for his son. The Father of Jesus, our Father, never wavers; he brings life to the world through his own Son.
John’s gospel was a favorite source for St. Paul of the Cross who sees our spiritual journey in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have another life before us, so we must mystically die to this one. We’re called to rest in the bosom of the Father.
“I recommend to you never to rest in the gifts or the spiritual joy such gifts God bring, but with one sweet glance of faith and love journey further to God in nakedness and poverty of spirit, losing all in him, not looking back on your suffering or on any spiritual understanding you have, but rest in naked faith and pure love on the bosom of God, completely clothed in Jesus Crucified.” (Letter 914)
O God, let me rest in you
even now, before my earthly journey’s done.
For you bring me life even in death.
May I live
through the merits of Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.
Rejection is a special kind of pain. Matthew’s gospel today describes the rejection Jesus experienced when he entered Jerusalem before his death. At first, he’s acclaimed by a large crowd as “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” They spread their cloaks and cast branches before him. “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Then, Jesus goes into the temple and drives out those who were buying and selling there, a symbolic act that indicates he has come to restore this place of prayer. (Matthew 21, 1-18)
Reacting strongly, the Jewish leaders reject him and question his authority to do such things. He has been sent by God, Jesus says, and responds with a parable that condemns leaders like them who reject prophets sent by God.
Jesus remains convinced of his mission, but conviction does not insulate him from the pain that comes from rejection. Like the prophets before him he suffers from it, and his suffering only increases as the crowds that first acclaimed him fall silent and his own disciples deny and abandon him. All turn against him and he is alone.
The events described in today’s gospel and the parable Jesus told throws light on one suffering Jesus endured in his passion and death¬– rejection. Rejection and death will not be the last word, however: “the stone rejected by the builder will become the cornerstone.”
You went to Jerusalem, Lord,
to announce a kingdom come
a promise of God fulfilled.
a hope beyond any the mind could conceive.
Teach us to keep your dream alive
though we see it denied.
The rich man In Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is so absorbed in himself and his “good” life that he sees nothing else, not the poor man at his door nor his own inevitable death. Other parts of scripture, like Psalm 49, point to the same blindness: “In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed.”
The warning is not just for the rich, however. The same psalm calls for “people both high and low, rich and poor alike” to listen. A small store of talents and gifts can be just as absorbing and make us just as shortsighted as a great store of riches. The parable is not just a warning to the rich. We can be absorbed in a small room. Whether we have much or little, we have to see the poor at our gate.
We also have to see a life beyond this one as our destiny; what we do and how we live here will count there. There will be a judgment.
But Jesus‘ parable offers another reminder. God has given us a sign in his resurrection from the dead that we have been called to share in his risen life. A great gift has been given. Like the sign of Jonah, some will not believe it, but Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, places this joyful mystery before us again.
May God give us grace to believe in it.
Lord, I see only so far, I live for the day
my vision is all on what’s before me,
Give me eyes to seek your kingdom
and desires to have it come.