thoughts and observations on the daily readings
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…
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Readings found here
Good mothers and fathers love their children from the start. They do not really know the child, but they know they love him or her. Parents also know that the grace of that first, intense, love must continue to grow and evolve. After all, love must be mutual to be complete – a communion of heart and mind. The essential ingredient in a healthy, authentically loving relationship is trust. Parents protect, feed, clothe, teach, and engage their child. The child who grows learning to trust in the loving care of good parents is a child well prepared to respond and grow in love.
On the other hand, the lesson of trust takes time, hard work, and consistency. Parents know that toddlerhood and teenagerhood and every age in between will see a struggle with willfulness and complaints. Trust does not come easily to human beings. The original sin, our delusion that we are or can be the masters of our own fate, runs strong in us.
Divine love is trustworthy. The Holy Scriptures teach us over and over of the fidelity of God Who creates us, loves us, saves us. This Good God longs for our free response of love – a trusting love. It’s probably fair to say that for most of us, this summons to trust is the most difficult aspect of discipleship.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that the truth of trust is at the heart of the Paschal mystery. Jesus is the Revelation of the Living God and the revelation of who we are called to be – fully Divine and fully human, he reveals our truest self to us. And this Jesus lives absolute trust and love. In life he never craves or seeks wealth or security. He never falls into the trap of ego or tries to “Lord it over” others. He Who in fact is Lord offers himself in humble service. And in death, in His self-offering, we see the ultimate revelation of trust – the truth praised in the passage from Hebrews.
If this model of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel, the annunciation passage is a prophetic “pointer” to that heart. Here at the outset of Luke’s Gospel, we have a true Daughter of Zion. She receives the announcement of the good news with trust and offers nothing less than herself. In this, the Blessed Virgin Mary is herself a prophet. And like the prophets, she will go on to burst forth in praise of the Lord and gratitude for His loving mercy. Mary knew the truth proclaimed by Isaiah and by the angel – that God was with her. She trusted that presence and the result is that she participated in God’s great work of reconciliation and salvation.
May she intercede for each one of us on this Feast, teach us to trust in her son, and be strengthened by the truth that God is with us!
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Readings may be found here
The vision of Ezekiel speaks powerfully to folks that live in arid or desert places. In such places, people are deeply aware that water is life. And in this vision, Ezekiel sees the Temple and Temple precincts transformed. Water is gushing forth from the Temple, streaming out into the desert, life bursting where ever it flows. It is a powerful image of hope realized, of longings fulfilled.
While Ezekiel’s vision of life renewed involved the Temple, we now know that this vision spoke prophetically of the One Who would fulfill the vocation of Israel and the Temple, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus indicated as such, prophesying that He would destroy “this temple” “raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19). Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman of the life-giving water that would flow from Him: “the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).
Now in chapter 5, we see Jesus heal a man at the Pool of Bethesda. For years the man has languished blind, lame, and crippled. Now the Lord Jesus, Compassion Itself, sees and lifts him from misery and restores him to life. Here we see the vision of Ezekiel realized as God’s mercy and grace pour forth from the One Sent from the Father.
You and I might live in the desert, but we know what it is to long – maybe now more than ever before. We long for each other, we long for healing for the sick, we long for the hope that comes from God. And we long for the gift of the Eucharist. Maybe we should embrace that longing and allow it to turn us to the Jesus Who is our water in the desert, our Life in the valley of shadow.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
The readings may be found here: USCCB
Pay attention to the passage from Isaiah today. of course it is a message of hope - the promise that God will renew His people. But notice something amazing - we learn here that God delights in us "I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people." Have you ever brought this truth to prayer, that the God Who created you delights in you? Remember that Jesus Christ, the living Revelation of the Face of God said to us "I do not call you servants, I call you friends." He invites us into His work and we matter to Him.
Pay attention next to the Gospel passage - in this part of John's Gospel, Jesus has a series of encounters that begin the revelation of the truth of His identity - a truth offered poetically in the prologue. The encounters reveal Him doing the work of the Father or speaking with divine authority. In this particular miracle story we see that divine quality which is compassion. To us at present, this passage is all the more powerful. It is so easy to imagine just now the anguish of a father whose child is ill and the relief and exultation at the news that the boy is well - that "the fever left him." These readings speak to us of the tenderness of God's care for us, the depth of Divine compassion, and the ground for our hope in this moment and every day in the Lord of Life.
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings may be found here at the USCCB
How hard it is for us to remember that the only true power in the universe is love. There are so many illusory forms of power in the world around us: fame, wealth, political, technical and military might. All these tempt us to imagine ourselves the masters of the world, others, and ourselves. We walk the world as if we were gods. The worst part of this temptation is the truth that when some would be gods others must be slaves. So much human suffering through the ages has been caused by the greed, envy, and egotism of those who would dominate, manipulate, and exploit. The Holy Scriptures are clear in exposing the lie and bringing us to the truth that offers healing and liberation. We are not gods, we do not and cannot control our fate or that of any other. The path to the fullness of life is found in forgetting the self, trusting in the True God, and heeding His call to unselfish love.
In the readings today, Hosea and Jesus both point to the sad reality that human beings sometimes even turn religious practice into another way to imagine that we are in control - to use ritual or custom as if we might bind God to our purposes. Today we are warned away from such foolishness and to recognize that authentic relationship with God demands trust, surrender, and the free embrace of that power of God which is love. The Good News is that the only truly Powerful One, the Creator of the Universe is Love Itself. We can be infants in the arms of a loving parent, helpless and protected, vulnerable and trusting. God bless you and keep you.