Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Gn 17:3-9
Gospel Jn 8:51-59
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM."
Back in the Trinidad of my youth we had a 'character' who roamed the streets of the city nicknamed 'Red Hawk'. Now at a carnival celebration one year we were all trying to get close to the stage exit so we could see the performance for free. The problem was that it was a no-no according to the organizers and the law enforcement who maintained a perimeter with a police horseman.
Well Red Hawk approached the area where we wanted to be and looked at the police officer on his horse then drew a line in the sand daring the officer to cross it and come and remove him. The smart 'constable' turned his horse around and left and we all ran forward and stood with Red Hawk for the rest of the show.
Funny how the mind works; pulling a distant and obscure memory from my youth as I reflect on Jesus and the Gospel today. In the first reading God says to Abraham (formerly Abram): "I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God." God also said to Abraham: "On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages."
The Jewish leaders wanted to remind Jesus of their proud lineage all the way back to Abraham. Jesus reminded them of his:
"Before Abraham came to be, I AM".
That is his line in the sand. Stand with him or against him but you're going to have to take a stand.
As a youth I stood with Red Hawk but now I ask would you stand beside me with Jesus?
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
Gospel Jn 8:31-42
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, "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." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, 'You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
'Truth' is being assailed today as I've never seen before: accusations of 'fake news', presentation of 'alternate facts', deflections, cover ups, and of course blatant lies emanate from those that occupy the halls of power. It can all be summed up in Pilate's words: 'truth', what is that?
Yet today's Gospel tells us that truth is not a 'that', it is a person: Jesus Christ. The Pharisees and scribes have been hostile in opposition to the truth (nothing really changes does it?), hiding behind the letter of the law while decimating its spirit, claiming bloodline with Abraham yet denying Abraham's hope and in their self delusion and deception remain "a slave to sin".
Truth is freedom: "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", but it comes with a price, a cost, a cross. Jesus will pay the ultimate price in being the liberating truth.
In the first reading from Daniel, a white hot furnace awaited Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for standing up for their faith before the powerful Babylonian king. Three cast into the fire yet four seen in it and they were saved. The Truth set them free!
As we draw closer to Holy Week let us try even harder to seek the truth despite what it may reveal about ourselves. The words of Ash Wednesday "repent and believe in the Gospel" is a call to seek the Truth and freedom.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Nm 21:4-9
Gospel Jn 8:21-30
So Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him."
When we hear Jesus speak of being "lifted up" or referring to himself as "I AM" in John's Gospel, he is using Old Testament language from the Torah or the Prophets to help the church come to faith in him in the light of his death and resurrection. One might say he is waiting for the 'lightbulb to go on' even with the Pharisees and scribes. But with that particular group the lightbulb never goes on and their hearts remain hardened against him. Let it not be so with us.
Today's scriptures also features powerful images of the Serpent and the Cross: Israel’s sin, symbolized by the serpent with its venemous bite, is changed into an instrument of salvation. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole, so that all who looked upon it after admitting their sin and repenting were cured by the Lord.
Saint Paul wrote: “For our sake God made the sinless one to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God” (2 Cor 5:21) in reference to Christ on the cross. His crucifixion removes the venom of our sin from us. Let us look upon Him whom they pierced and repent and be saved.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62
Gospel Jn 8:1-11
Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more."
The Scriptures today tell a tale of two women, both accused of adultery but one innocent and the other guilty. The innocent woman hoped and appealed to the God of JUSTICE: But Susanna cried aloud: "O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be: you know that they have testified falsely against me. Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things with which these wicked men have charged me" and she was vindicated.The guilty woman lay silent; she knew the law, she broke it and knew the price to pay; dare she to hope at all, appeal to whom and for what? On that day however she encountered the God of MERCY.
"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And with that they left, one by one, so that she stood alone before the only sinless one who could actually cast the first stone, but she received new life instead of death.
Justice gives us what we deserve, mercy gives what we do not deserve and both justice and mercy have their origin in the heart of God. For this we should be eternally thankful.
I hope this Lent we encounter the God who is both just and merciful, whose love for sinful humanity (us) led him to the Cross. My sins condemn me as I stand before Him but mercifully He does not.
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Reading 1 Ez 37:12-14
Reading 2 Rom 8:8-11
Gospel Jn 11:1-45
Jesus told her, "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?"
For the past few weeks the Gospels have given us accounts of various encounters with Jesus; the woman at the well, the man born blind, and today the people at Bethany, Martha, Mary, Lazarus and the townspeople.
Every encounter comes with an invitation to faith: to the Samaritan woman at the well and her townspeople; come and see and drink living water. To the man born blind; behold the man, the prophet, the son of man, the Lord and now to Martha and Mary and all with them - "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?"
"Lazarus come out"
Lazarus' resuscitation foreshadows the resurrection of Christ. Death will not have the final say on our sin. The first Word in Christ was "let there be" and the final Word in Christ is "come out".
Christ calls each and every one of us to "come out" of darkness into the light, out of sin into holiness, out of death into eternal life. Do you believe this?
This is the final week of Lent before we enter into Holy Week. What are we still hiding from, still running from, still imprisoned in, still ignorant of? Hear the words of our Lord "come out".
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Jer 11:18-20
Gospel Jn 7:40-53
Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said, "This is truly the Prophet." Others said, "This is the Christ." But others said, "The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David's family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?"
President Obama was subject to the 'birther' movement which questioned the legitimacy of his presidency amid doubts over his birthplace. The scriptures today confirm the writer of Ecclesiastes that "there is nothing new under the sun".
Jesus taught with wisdom and authority ("never before has anyone spoken like this man") and performed great signs (giving sight to the man born blind, making the lame man walk) yet this was not sufficient evidence for the chief priests and Pharisees. They doubted the legitimacy of his claim because he was a Galilean and not from Judea (when in fact he was born in Bethlehem and of the house of David).
It seemed that God would have to play by their rules. Isn't that typical of our all too human hubris? In today's Gospel we hear nothing from Jesus but a lot about him and it comes down to the choice we all have to make: is Jesus the Son of God or not? The crowd, guards, chief priests and Pharisees all had made their choices, "Then each went to his own house."
I just addressed a youth group on this at a retreat a few hours ago. Is choosing Christ difficult? Yes because so many voices are saying otherwise. Is choosing Christ easy? Yes because his way is always profoundly better than ours.
However we experience, hard or easy, it we have to choose. Do we accept his words and signs as truth or are we asking for proof of birth before we believe?
Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Wis 2:1a, 12-22
Gospel Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
"Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him." These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls' reward."
The passage from our first reading today foretells the mindset or should I say the 'heartset' of the religious leaders that Jesus encountered: "Their wickedness blinded them".
"So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, "You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own..."
As a little child my mother would send me to the corner shop for an item or items. I would say "Mr. Stephen, mom wants..." and he would give it to me. No money passed but he would write it down on a slip of paper he had on a wire hook. It was the credit tab I realized much later. But Mr. Stephen knew me and more importantly he knew who sent me. That relationship was built on solid evidence of my mother's trustworthiness and so he accepted me, a mere child, as messenger.
But as it was then so it is now: their wickedness blinded them. We would persecute truth as being offensive: "To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us," as we hear in the first reading.
Sin and self-delusion often walk hand in hand but per the warnings of my native country, Trinidad/Tobago, "God don't sleep" and "God don't like ugly", the latter referring not to physical appearance but a deformity of heart and deeds that will bring retribution.
Lent says "be warned".
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Ex 32:7-14
Gospel Jn 5:31-47
But I have testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.
Some years ago I had a staff member in my office when another came to give me a report I asked for but would not leave before extolling how wonderful a boss I was! When that employee left I told the one sitting with me "please don't ever suck up to me like that, let your work speak for you, let your work be your signature".
In John's Gospel the Pharisees really come into severe criticism from Jesus particularly because of the legalistic approach to God and his people. Their 'thou-shalt-nots' far outweighed doing what would please God and give him glory. They could only see a broken Sabbath and not the work of God in their midst And so it brings forth an indictment: " Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father: the one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. For if you had believed Moses,you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"
A stiff-necked people indeed. But what of us, do our works testify that God is our Father, that Jesus is our Lord, that the Holy Spirit is empowering us?
Let your work be your signature. Peace.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Is 49:8-15
Gospel Jn 5:17-30
Jesus answered the Jews: "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work." For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.
How can we see the works of God and still deny the presence of God? It is perhaps because the works of God we see do not conform with our perceptions of the work God should be doing. Why should God heal, bless, forgive a sinner, especially a criminal type?
Jesus answered the Jews: "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work."
What is the Father's work that the Son is obliged to follow? The answer; his work is to love. In the Greek language, there are three types of love: Eros, which is erotic/romantic love, Philia, brotherly love and Agape which embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves, regardless of circumstances.
That is the love of God for man: universal, unconditional. That is God's work: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is the nature of God: 1 John tells us that God is love.
"My Father is at work until now, so I am at work." What does this mean for us?
In Romans 8:14-17 we are told: "14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” 16 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him."
If we are children and heirs of God then agape love has to be our work too! That is the challenge of being Christian.
How do I love the unloving or the unlovable? Only in Christ.
"My Father is at work until now, so I am at work."
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Ez 47:1-9, 12
Gospel Jn 5:1-16
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?"
John's Gospel begins with the most beautiful prose: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God."
Today we again see the power of the Word. Just as Jesus told the royal official "go, your son will live" without seeing the boy or laying any hands or reciting any lengthy prayers so today he tells the lame man at Bethesda "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." No laying of hands, no lengthy supplications, just the power of the Word. Jesus is the Word.
No one would help this paralyzed man into the water for 38 years. 'I have my own problems' was probably the prevailing thought as the others rushed to the water but Jesus sought the man out. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?" It's called compassion.
The lame man walked but the Pharisees remained paralyzed in their strict legalism about the Sabbath, just as the man born blind was now able to see but those the Pharisees remained blind to the presence of the Word in their midst.
These accounts from John's Gospel serve as a warning to us. Before we point our fingers at the Pharisees, let us look at ourselves, at that part of us that wants to keep God in our religious box; the God we make in our image and likeness thereby forgetting it's the other way around.
Lent calls us to recognize the Word of God in our midst.
The Season of Lent is a special time for us to slow down, look inward and make the necessary changes to truly become an Easter people.