thoughts and observations on the daily readings
Monday of Holy Week
Reading may be found here
In the second eucharistic prayer, we invoke the Spirit, praying that the Spirit will descend upon the gifts “like the dewfall.” At the time of the new translation there was much chatter about this wording, but I love it because I believe that it captures an essential aspect of Divine grace.
Today, Isaiah prophesies concerning the “Servant of the Lord.” This passage is one of several “Servant Songs” that Christians now understand as speaking prophetically of the Lord Jesus. Notice that the all faithful Servant is absolutely gentle – “not crying out,” “a bruised reed he will not break,” “a smoldering wick he will not quench.” In this, the Servant reflects the qualities of God. Recall that the original sin consists in the rejection of divine love and the will to our own illusory sense of power and entitlement. God’s power, the only true power, is the power of love – it does not exercise control or dominate. It seeks the good of the beloved. And love always longs for a free response. God did not force Adam and Eve to bend to His will and God will not crush our freedom even to save us. His servant is gentle and self-sacrificing, and His spirit descends “like the dewfall,” the gentlest of ways for life giving water to appear.
In the passage from John we see that Judas, a man who would control and manipulate events to his own ends, condemns the extravagant and loving gesture that Mary offers the Lord. Judas has failed to understand the nature of God’s ways. Jesus’ rebuke of Judas is not a diminishment of His frequent calls to care for the poor – rather it is His recognition that Mary has understood and responded freely to the power of love. May we do likewise!
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
The readings may be found here
The Prophet Ezekiel offered a vision of hope to a people suffering and broken hearted in exile. The promise here of renewal and restoration resonates beyond that original moment of crisis and fear. His words became a prophecy of what God would accomplish in the gift of His Son and the new and everlasting covenant brought about by the Self offering of Jesus Christ. And that prophecy now speaks to us in our exile, our fear, our mourning.
In the passage from the Gospel of John, we move ever closer to the events of the Passion. The opposition to Jesus is intensifying. It is ironic that the High Priest who opposes Jesus speaks the ironic truth that the Lord will give His life to save the people. The mention of the approach of Passover emphasizes that this is a moment fraught with the danger of death and the promise of deliverance. As we hear or read this passage we recall other words from this same gospel: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11). The Lord Jesus is indeed the “shepherd who guards his flock.” He will die “for the nation” and for the “dispersed children of God.” And He will fulfill the vision of Ezekiel of a people delivered and renewed.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings may be found here
In our first reading from Jeremiah and in the gospel passage from John today, we have an intentional parallel between both of these rejected and persecuted prophets. We also see that glimmer of hope – even as the Lord Jesus provokes deadly opposition, some among His listeners are pierced to the heart. They respond with belief. This sign and the confidence of Jeremiah who knows that the Lord will not abandon him remind us that God brings light from darkness.
That is the faith expressed so beautifully in Psalm 18 today. Of course, Psalms are prayers as much as they are scripture and we would do well to spend some time today with this resonant prayer. It gives voice to the person in the greatest danger, the most fearful circumstances. It cries out with confidence in the saving power of the Lord and finds there a “rock,” a “stronghold,” and “salvation.” A good prayer for us in the midst of the storm.
Thursday of the Fifth week of Lent
Readings may be found here
In the Book of Exodus, after the Lord commissions Moses to announce delivery to Israel, Moses asks for a name that he can announce to the people. (Exodus 3:12-13) The Lord responds “I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (v. 14).
The Hebrew for the Divine Name revealed to Moses is notoriously difficult to render in translation. It is fair to say that it is a verb form and this is expressed in the English translation, “I am Who am.” What’s missing in that translation is the sense of presence communicated by the Name. It is discernible in the context as earlier (V. 8) God self identifies as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Likewise, in verse 12 God tells Moses “I will be with you.” The Name communicates this active presence of God to Moses and the people.
In the first reading for this Thursday, we hear from early in the narratives about Abraham in the Book of Genesis. We hear today about the relationship that God establishes with a new family through the call of this faithful man. The Psalm plucks a similar tune, praising the fidelity of the Lord to the family.
The passage from the Gospel of John is more difficult as we are continuing to hear disputes between the Lord Jesus and His opponents. At issue is the question of Jesus’ origins and identity. He invokes that family relationship, but He goes on to say something abslotely remarkable: “before Abraham came to be, I AM.” In that electric phrase, Jesus confirms and asserts the truth already revealed in His deeds of compassion and mercy. He is no mere prophet; He is the revelation of the Living God. And just as in the case of that passage from Exodus, he uses the language that emphasizes His presencewith us. As Saint Paul proclaimed so passionately, it is now this Divine Name Jesus at which “every knee shall bow…” (Philippians 2:10). Praised be the Name of Jesus Christ, now and forever!
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
The readings may be found here
The season of Lent is a season of truth-telling. The season begins with the darkest truth – we are dust and unto dust we will return. We are creatures, we are unable to save ourselves from our frailty and our mortality. We are sinners, we are unable to justify ourselves. These hard truths would be overwhelming but for the other truths we hear during this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We hear the truth that God is faithful and that the Lord Who formed us from the dust wishes for us light and life. In the passage from the Prophet Daniel, this God delivers three righteous youths from the fiery furnace and offers hope that God never forgets nor abandons us.
The ultimate truth telling at this time of year is more than a message, it is a Person, Jesus Christ. In the passage from the Gospel of John we hear the Lord say:
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The harsh truth that we cannot save ourselves is overcome by the promise of the God Who would save us from sin and death. Lent prepares us for this overwhelming news of the Grace of God Who is Love revealed in the words, deeds, and perfect self-offering of the Beloved Son. He is Truth – the Truth that sets us free.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Readings found here
We are our own worst enemy. While people are capable of amazing feats, works of art and technology, and acts of self sacrifice, we are also prone to pettiness, selfishness, and foolishness. As we get close to the liturgies of Holy Week, the readings have been reminding us of why we need a Savior. Today, in Numbers we are reminded of the foolishness, ingratitude, and infidelity of the people in the desert. Just liberated from slavery by the miraculous intervention of God, here they are complaining about the food. It's tempting when reading this passage to observe that no snake can outdoor the human capacity to "bite" with our words and actions. Of course, the passage contrasts the infidelity of the people with the compassion of God Who delivers them from the effect of their sin. (It's also interesting to note that this passage offers us that symbol of the serpent and the pole that become a regular part of our medical iconography).
The truth that God's people are too often unwilling to entrust ourselves to God is also on display in the passage from John. We have been hearing Jesus debate His opponents. His frustration is palpable as they are making the same mistake over and over again. Rather than open their hearts to the revelation of God's presence and will, they cling to their own agenda. They find every reason to oppose Jesus. And that opposition will have deadly effects as well will recall next week. The miracle is that the Lord Jesus lives compassion even in the face of opposition and rejection. He will not fail but will win our victory by His steadfast faith.
When we hear the gospels, we might prefer to imagine that we are like the faithful ones in the story - the ones who followed and loved the Lord. And maybe there is truth to that. Yet we also need to acknowledge that really we are all of the characters in the story and that we have as much in common with the opponents and the complainers as we do with the disciples. We are indeed our own worst enemies. Good thing we have a faithful friend in the Lord Who saves us from ourselves.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
The readings may be found here
The story of the Prophet Jeremiah is a tragic one. Despite his fidelity to the call and the Word of the Lord, Jeremiah experienced opposition, rejection, and deadly persecution. In these verses Jeremiah laments that mistreatment and calls upon the Lord.
When you consider the similarity between the rejection faced by Jeremiah and that faced by Jesus, it is easy to imagine that Jesus might have thought about Jeremiah in moments like those in John 7. There Jesus faces misunderstanding among His own and hostility from the leadership. In this passage, Nicodemus offers an indirect defense only to find himself the object of fury.
It is perhaps tempting for us to look back on those who rejected the prophets and imagine that we would have been different. The honest truth is that it is entirely possible, even likely, that Jesus would have confounded and or scandalized us. If we look at our lives and the many moments and sins that constitute our own rejection of the Messiah, it might be best to adopt a stance of humility – to ask the Lord to give us the grace to recognize His presence and live His Word.
Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings may be found here
We do not always like what we see in the mirror.
A crisis like this one has a way of revealing the best and the worst in us. As I read the pointed passage from Wisdom for this Friday, I do not so much like what I see. Wisdom reminds us of that truth that we can be all too ready to allow temptation into our hearts and actions. Who among us can deny the darkness confronted by this passage - that terrible human capacity to blame the good and the innocent for the evil desires and deeds in our own hearts. Indeed, the good person does become "obnoxious" to any who would pretend that their evil deeds are justified or even "good." It is not disturbing that so much of our popular culture revels in the naughty and mocks the nice? Sacrifice, integrity, honor, virtue have become forgotten values in a culture that prizes egotism, self indulgence, and venality. And yet now our very lives and way of life depend upon men and women who live those "old" values in their compassionate and courageous care of the sick.
The passage from the Gospel of John reveals Jesus' forthright honestly and courage in the face of rejection and deadly threats. He continues to reveal the Face of the God of Love - in Whom there is no selfishness. And here is another, more encouraging truth - The Lord Jesus is Himself a mirror held up to each and every one of us - in that mirror we see our calling, our best self, the person God made and intended us to be. Jesus Christ is the Revelation of God and the Revelation of a renewed humanity. Looking into that mirror, I like what I see.
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings may be found here
In the 5th chapter of the Gospel of John, we see both the revelation of Jesus Divine identity and the controversy and conflict that ignite in response to the revelation. At the outset of the chapter, Jesus performs a miraculous healing of a sick man. Jesus’ compassion and authority contrast with the religious leaders who ignored the man’s suffering for years and now resent his healing because Jesus has acted on the Sabbath. They fail to respond with faith to the presence and action of God. In the lengthy address that follows this miracle, Jesus denounces that failure and compares it to the stubbornness of the people in the time of Moses – a point emphasized in this liturgy by the selection of the first reading.
In His address, Jesus reminds them of the unity, the communion, that exists between Him and the Father. He contrasts their interest in human “praise” with His sole focus on Divine praise. The language here is interesting as the Greek word used is “doxa.” A word that can mean praise or “glory.” Jesus rejects glory as the world defines it and reveals only the glory of God. That Glory of God (Hebrew kavod adonai) accompanied the people through the desert to the promised land. It was the main point of building the Temple and Temple precincts - the place where people might draw near to that Glory of God. So the Glory of God revealed in Jesus will be unlike worldly glory – fame, military might, wealth, political power. Rather, His Glory is that of healing, mercy, creation, renewal, and love. His is the Glory of the One Who will be “lifted up” in a moment of absolute self-gift.
On most days, it is very difficult for us as human beings to respond fully and trustingly to this revelation of God’s presence and Divine will. We are too often distracted by shiny things and by our own egos. Maybe in these days of insecurity we have an opportunity to hear the Lord’s voice and appreciate His glory in a new way. It is certainly true that there are so many men and women on this very day who offer us witnesses of courage in the face of death, compassion over fear, and love over selfishness. There is the Glory of God shining before us – the Glory of the Only Begotten Son Who so loved the world…