If the gospel and reflection of the day is not showing, scroll down.
CLICK HERE FOR THE GOOD FRIDAY READINGS
Commentary on Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
1. One scene – the veil of the Temple is torn in two.
The Holy of Holies is thrown open.
God is no longer hidden behind a veil, inaccessible to all but the High Priest,
and then only once a year.
God in Jesus, battered and naked on the Cross, is made accessible to all.
Yet, it still needs discerning eyes to see – and yet even a pagan soldier could do it (Mark 15:39).
2. Ron Rollheiser points out how all cultures sacrificed blood to their gods.
Blood was associated with the life principle.
We can bleed to death.
The most precious offering to God is blood.
And the most precious of all was human blood.
We have the example of ancient American cultures.
Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac is related to this practice among some Middle East peoples.
Later human sacrifice eliminated and only animals used.
By the time of Jesus, Rollheiser says, the Temple had become a giant butchery
with priests killing animals non-stop.
When Jesus drove out the money-changers, it was estimated that 90 percent of commerce was linked to animal sacrifices.
3. Why, then, so much blood at Jesus’ death?
Franciscan Richard Rohr suggests:
For so many centuries people have been spilling blood to get to God.
But in the crucifixion it is reversed –
God spills his own blood to reach out to us.
This is to take away our old fear, that by spilling blood we try to appease an angry God.
There is no such thing as an angry God – only an unconditionally loving God.
4, Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself.
He emptied himself of all egoism, of all anger, fear and anxiety,
of all human dignity in the sight of others.
He let go of everything and because he did so, he was fully taken up in union with his Father.
For us it has to be the same.
Our lives are so tied up with all kinds of concerns, desires, ambitions, fears and anxieties.
We need to remove these blocks and just let go.
To break down the barriers separating us from total union with the Source and Goal of all being.
The Way is shown clearly in the Gospel and most of all in the Way of the Cross
— leading to resurrection, new life and ascension, union with God in Christ.
Paul was very close to it when he said:
“I live, no not I, but Christ lives in me.”
Click here for the Readings
Commentary on Acts 10:34,36-43; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; John 20:1-18IF CHRIST IS NOT RISEN, then our faith has no meaning. Easter, not Good Friday, is the climax of Holy Week. The resurrection is not just an appendix to Jesus’ death, a “proof” of his divinity.
Jesus leads the way by going through death to a life that can never be taken away from him again. “We know that Christ, being raised from death, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” And that life is shared with us. “I have come that they may have life, life in abundance”, says Jesus.
The message of Easter is first communicated by the empty tomb. The death of Jesus was an observable and observed fact by both friends and enemies. No one saw the resurrection. It did not involve resuscitation of a corpse.
The first witnesses that something had happened were women. And what they saw was not Jesus but his empty tomb. They were puzzled and alarmed. Then Peter and the Beloved Disciple go to investigate. They find the empty tomb as the women reported. Peter just sees a loss, the absence of a body. But the other disciple sees with the eyes of one who loves and he sees a void filled with the presence of the Risen One. (Our lives too may seem to be marked by absence and loss but those who see with the eyes of love may see them filled with the presence of the risen Lord.)
The Beloved Disciple sees the empty tomb and believes. He sees what cannot be literally seen. He suddenly understands the teaching of Scripture and the words of Jesus that he must “rise from the dead”. Every disciples who loves Jesus is one who sees — and believes with all his/her heart in a Risen Lord.
Same and different
It is clear from the Gospel accounts that the Risen Jesus is the same person who died on the cross. It is equally clear that he is so different that his followers have difficulty in recognising him. In various post-resurrection scenes he does not even look the same. For Jesus now has the face of Everyone.
He is known and recognised only by faith. The basis of that faith is the fact of the empty tomb and the extraordinary transformation of the disciples. They were not expecting to see their Master again. At the time of his arrest and execution, they had fled in all directions. They were terrified and in hiding.
When they finally did realise that he was still with them, even if in a very different way, they were transformed from fearful people to a group overcome with joy and enthusiasm and afraid of nothing. They were now ready to endure what their Master had gone through, to give their lives for Truth and Love, and many of them did so.
How to find the Risen Jesus in our own lives?
How are we to share in all of this? In the reading from 1 Corinthians today we are reminded how at the Jewish Passover the Jews were expected to throw out all the old, leavened bread and to prepare new, unleavened bread. The fermentation caused by the leaven, the yeast, was seen as a kind of corruption. As Paul says, “You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven [i.e. corrupt] all the dough”. (Remember the parable Jesus told about a small amount of leaven penetrating the whole batch of dough?)
So, Paul goes on, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of integrity and truth.” Easter is not only a time for celebration, for bunnies and Easter eggs, for new clothes and fancy bonnets — it is also a time for deep inner renewal.
It is a time to recommit ourselves to the meaning of our Baptism and Confirmation. We need to remember that as we break and share together the unleavened bread of the Eucharist, we share the Body of Christ, and that body embraces both Jesus and the whole community.
Finally, Peter in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the mandate that follows from the resurrection. He and his fellow disciples are to proclaim the Good News about the Risen Jesus. The Jesus who will give new life to every single person who accepts him as Lord, who accepts him as the Way, Truth and Life. Peter and his fellow disciples are called “apostles”, people sent out on a mission, “ambassadors for Christ”, Paul calls them.
We, too, share that mission. We are not just disciples, followers of Jesus. We are also meant to be his living ambassadors. No one will know about Jesus and what he means for our lives unless we tell them.
Many people got baptised yesterday. Not a single one of them came to the Church without the intervention of some Christian(s) somewhere. The Good News about Jesus is not to be kept a secret. There are many people out there waiting to hear it. They are depending on you and me, members of Christ’s Body, to tell them.
Gospel Mt 6, 1-6. 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see. Otherwise expect no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, for example, do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets like hypocrites looking for applause. You can be sure of this much, they are already repaid. In giving alms you are not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you are praying, do not behave like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in synagogues or on street corners in order to be noticed. I give you my word, they are already repaid. Whenever you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees what no man sees, will repay you.
When you fast, you are not to look glum as the hypocrites do. They change the appearance of their faces so that others may see they are fasting. I assure you, they are already repaid. When you fast, see to it that you groom your hair and wash your face. In that way no one can see you are fasting but your Father who is hidden; and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
The three central acts for the devout Jew were prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The only fast actually laid down in the Mosaic law was that of the Day of Atonment (Leviticus 16:31) but in later Judaism the practice of regular fasting was common. The Gospel tells us that John the Baptist used to fast and he was contrasted with Jesus who ate with sinners (which does not mean that Jesus did not fast). The Pharisees also fasted regularly.
For Christians too these acts are all proper to the Lenten season. And all three can profitably be incorporated in some way into our lives during these six weeks.
Let us give some more time specifically to prayer (not just saying prayers) each day. We might think of learning something about ways of praying – John Main prayer, Centring Prayer, Lectio Divina (based on reading of Scripture) or some form of Ignatian Prayer. There are many books available to learn about these methods which are basically very simple. They can also be found on the Internet. John Main recommends 20 minutes twice a day as ideal. That may seem a lot but many of us, even in a busy day, do not have a problem with spending an hour or more on a TV programme. For some it may be possible to pray in a small group together with shared prayer.
There are now in most places only two official fast days in the whole of Lent. Some people would never think of fasting although they may be on a diet which is even more stringent than what the Church asks. Fasting can consist of doing without something we do not really need, even if we are over the age for fasting: alcohol, nicotine, snacks and titbits… Sometimes it is harder to let go of these things than to eat fish – especially if you like fish!
And do not let us forget to share something of what we have with those who are in need. Why not take the money that would be spent on that fancy meal you decided to forego and give it to those who do not know where their next meal is coming from? If you have given up movies for Lent or any other indulgence, again let the money saved be diverted to the really needy.
The Gospel today emphasises the importance of doing all these things quietly and without ostentation. No one should even know we are praying more, sharing more or doing without things. Once we draw attention to ourselves doing these things, they have lost their real purpose which is to bring us closer to God and his ways.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Gospel Lk 9:22-25
Jesus said to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,and be killed and on the third day be raised.”Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”
Commentary on Luke 9:22-25
This passage is about death and life. It begins with Jesus foretelling what is going to happen to him. Intense physical suffering, mental suffering through total rejection by the leaders of his own people, and a brutal execution. But all will lead to resurrection and a new life that can never be taken away.
Jesus goes on to say that anyone who wants to be one of his followers must be prepared to walk the same path, carrying their cross after Jesus. Perhaps we should emphasise that we are to carry our cross which will be different from the cross of Jesus and from that of other people. And Luke adds that it is something we must be prepared to do every day.
Of course, it is a call which goes against many of our normal instincts. Renouncing self goes against our desire to advance ourselves in the eyes of others. Who does not want to preserve their life? Self-preservation is a deep instinct. But self-preservation is not the same as self-advancement. Jesus is saying that a life spent focused only on ourselves and our self-advancement is ultimately a recipe for self-destruction. We are bound to be disappointed.
The only way to live is, like Jesus, to offer our lives for the benefit of others in love, in caring, in solidarity, in compassion, in justice. This is the only way truly to find ourselves and to come out winners. What is the good of winning the whole world – becoming incredibly rich and famous – and to lose one’s integrity, one’s self-respect, one’s dignity as a person, one’s happiness?
Our world – Christian and otherwise – is covered with statues and images of people who gave their lives for others, for causes and values greater than themselves. They are our heroes and our models.
And first among them is Jesus, dying in apparent failure and ignominy on the cross. We now see that cross as a victorious symbol of the greatest love that one can show for brothers and sisters.
Friday after Ash Wednesday
Gospel Mt 9:14-15
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” esus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Commentary on Matthew 9:14-15
The Gospel more than once contrasts the lifestyle of Jesus with that of John the Baptist. In today’s passage we see the disciples of John the Baptist (John himself never questions anything that Jesus does) asking Jesus why they and the Pharisees fast regularly but his disciples do not.
The reason Jesus gave was because it was not normal to fast when the bridegroom was still around. He is the Bridegroom and, as long as he was present, it was a time for celebration. Fasting is a sign of mourning and would be as inappropriate at this time of joy, when Jesus is proclaiming the kingdom, as it would be at a marriage feast.
But there is more than that. Jesus in his life pointed his disciples to something deeper and more important than fasting, namely, reaching out in compassion to others bringing joy, comfort, healing into people’s lives. Fasting can be very self-centred, as in the case of the Pharisees. “See how holy I am!” (We saw that in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday.) Jesus expects more than that.
But Jesus does say that when the bridegroom is gone, when Jesus is no longer visibly present, his disciples will fast. At that time, it will be appropriate to fast as a sign of penance and purification. There is a place for asceticism and even penitential acts. The Church (and every other major religion) has recognised that over the centuries.
But it is the reaching out in caring love that is most important. Without that, fasting has no value.
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Gospel lk 5:27-32 Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Commentary on Luke 5:27-32
Jesus certainly made strange choices in his prospective followers. Today when we look for “vocations” we tend to search among committed and well-balanced Christians. Today we see Jesus picking someone who was regarded as an immoral money-grabber, a religious outcast.
Tax collectors were despised on two counts: first, they were seen as venal collaborators with the hated colonial ruler, the Romans, for whom they were working; second, they were corrupt and extorted far more money than was their due.
But Jesus knows his man. At the sound of the invitation, Levi drops everything, his whole business and the security it brings him. It is very similar to the fishermen leaving their boats and their nets. He then goes off after Jesus. Where? For what? He has no idea. Like Peter and Andrew, James and John before him, in a great act of trust and faith, he throws in his lot with Jesus whatever it is going to mean, wherever it is going to bring him. In Luke’s gospel particularly, the following of Jesus involves total commitment.
Then, as his last fling so to speak, he throws a party in his house for all his friends, who of course were social rejects like himself. The religious-minded scribes and Pharisees were shocked at Jesus’ behaviour. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” they complained to the disciples.
Jesus answers for them. Only the sick need a doctor, not the healthy; Jesus has not come to call the virtuous, but sinners, to repentance. Jesus’ words can be read in two ways. On the one hand, there is no need to preach to the converted. Which is what we do a lot of in our Christian churches. What is needed is to reach out to those who are lost, whose lives are going in the wrong direction, who are leading a self-destructive existence.
And surely that is what the Church needs to be about today. There is a lot of the Pharisee among us still. We are still shocked if we see a priest or a “good” Catholic in “bad” company and often jump to hasty and unjustified conclusions. “A priest/sister should not be seen in such company.” As a result the Church is in many cases very much confined to the church-going fringes of society.
Jesus’ words can also be taken in a sarcastic sense. His critics regarded themselves as among the well and virtuous. In fact, they totally lacked the love and compassion of God reflected in Jesus. Their “virtue” did not need Jesus because they were closed to him anyway. We remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. It was the one who acknowledged himself as a sinner and wanted God’s mercy who won God’s favour.
We too need to be careful of sitting in judgment on others, taking the high moral ground and claiming to be shocked at certain people’s behaviour. All of us, without exception, are in need of healing.
Monday of the First Week of Lent
Gospel Mt 25:31-46
Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46
Both of today’s readings deal with the way we ought to behave towards each other. The First Reading tells us the kinds of things we ought not to do while the Gospel emphasises more what we should be doing.
The Gospel is the great scene of the Last Judgment when all will face their Lord Jesus. We will be divided into sheep and goats – those who are with Jesus and those who are not. The criteria on which we will be judged are interesting. Nothing about the Ten Commandments (normally the matter of our confessions). Nothing about the things mentioned in the First Reading, which more or less reflect the contents of the Ten Commandments. There is nothing about what we normally call ‘religious obligations’ (e.g. being ‘at Mass’ on Sundays and holydays).
The test will be very simple. Did we love all our brothers and sisters or not? There is some discussion as to the identity of these ‘brothers and sisters’. Does it refer to all who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothes, in need of medical care or in jail or to a particular group? The passage may primarily be thinking of Christians, and especially Christian missionaries whose preaching brought them suffering and persecution. These were more likely, too, to end up in prison. To reject and abuse these people and their message is tantamount to rejecting Jesus himself.
However, we have traditionally extended the passage to include all who suffer in any way because of our neglect and we recognise Jesus as being present in these people in a special way.
And the things we are supposed to do are so simple: give food to Jesus hungry and drink to Jesus thirsty; to clothe Jesus naked; to visit Jesus sick and Jesus in jail. And naturally people will ask: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or in prison?” And the Judge will answer: “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me.” Whether we realise it or not, every time we spontaneously take care of a brother or sister in need it is Jesus himself we are serving.
Notice: You did it TO me, not FOR me. Jesus identifies himself especially with the person in need. Every time we neglect to help a brother or sister in need, we neglect Jesus himself. Our worst sins, our most dangerous sins will be our sins of omission. We can keep the 10 Commandments perfectly and still fail here. The next time we examine our conscience let us think about that.
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Gospel Mt 6:7-15 Jesus said to his disciples: In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
Commentary on Matthew 6:7-15
Jesus tells us here not to babble endless prayers as if somehow by so doing we can bring God round to our way of thinking. (Read Elijah and the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18:25-29.) Some religious groups, too, would keep calling their god by all his different names, hoping that by hitting on the right one he would listen. There is no need to do this because God knows our needs before we ask. Why then do we need to pray at all? The praying is not for God’s sake but for our own. It is important for us to become deeply aware of our needs and of our basic helplessness and total dependence on God. We also need to learn just what God wants of us so that we can do what he wants.
And that is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. Strictly speaking, it is not a prayer to be recited. It is a way of praying; it is a list of the things we need to pray about. And it is less our telling God what we want him to do than making ourselves aware of the ways by which we can become more united with him. It is a very challenging and, in a way, a very dangerous and daring prayer to make.
So, Our Father: God is the source of all our life and all we have and are. We say ‘our’ and that ‘our’ includes every single person. And, if God is the Father/Mother of every single person then each one of them, without even one exception, is my brother or sister.
Holy be your name,
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth as in heaven: The three petitions are really saying the same thing. Obviously, in one sense we cannot make God’s name more holy than it is. But we do need to respect that awesome holiness and that is more for our sake than God’s. The petition can also be a petition that God make his name holy by showing his glory, in this case by bringing about the Kingdom in its fullness.
We want God to be loved and respected and worshipped by all – not in some future life but here and now, on earth. We want the loving and compassionate Reign of God to be fully accepted by people everywhere as part of their lives, individually and corporately. We want God’s will for this world to be also the will of people everywhere.
Clearly, all this has to begin with ourselves. The coming of the Kingdom is not just the work of God alone; it is the result of us cooperating with him in the work. What am I doing in my life now for the realisation of that Kingdom?
Give us this day our daily bread: A prayer that our needs be satisfied for today. A prayer that rules out excessive anxiety about the future. But how are those needs to be satisfied? Do we expect manna to drop from the skies? And what about that little word ‘our’ again? Does it just mean me, my family, our community, our town, our country – or much more? Is this not a prayer that we all work together to ensure that no one goes hungry? Yet we know that millions do go to bed hungry every night and even more suffer from an unhealthy diet. And most of it is the result of human behaviour and neglect. This prayer reminds us that changing that situation is the responsibility of all of us. Another dangerous prayer.
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us: This is another dangerous thing to pray for. I really should not say it unless I am ready. And, if I am not ready, I need to pray hard for a forgiving heart. This is the only petition which is spelled out more clearly at the end of this passage. “If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.” (cf. Matt 18:21-35, about the unforgiving servant.)
Do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one: A final plea that we will not fail but that God’s help will be with us all the way. It is an admission of our basic impotence to set things right in our own lives and in the world. Given the challenges of the rest of the prayer, we need all the help we can get.
If this prayer were to really enter our heart and minds, we would become deeply transformed people. So let us stop babbling it as we often do and really pray it, phrase by phrase – and live it.
Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
Gospel Lk 11:29-32
Gospel Lk 11:29-32
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here."
Today’s readings are about doing penance for our sins and they are linked by the name of Jonah.
In Mark’s gospel the crowds are often shown as recognising God’s presence in Jesus better than the Scribes and Pharisees do. In Luke, however, they are sometimes shown as people curious to see signs and wonders but without any real commitment to following Jesus.
So today we are told that “the crowds got even bigger” and Jesus spoke to them. But what he said was not very flattering. “This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign.” The only sign they will get will be the sign of Jonah. Jesus, like Jonah, is a call to repentance and radical conversion. And Jesus implies that many of his listeners are not ready or willing to hear that call. They don’t need any signs; Jesus has been giving them an abundance of signs through his teaching and healing work.
On the judgment day, they, the chosen people of God, will be surprised to see the Queen of the South rise up because she, pagan that she was, came a long distance to listen to the wisdom of Solomon – and Jesus is someone far superior to Solomon. They will be surprised to see the people of Niniveh, pagans that they were, rise up because they repented at the preaching of Jonah – and Jesus is far greater than Jonah.
We too, who claim to be God’s People, may be surprised to see who will be called to God’s side on judgment day because they heard and followed God’s word according to their capacity. The question is: where will we be on that day? Thomas A Kempis, the writer of a famous medieval treatise, called The Imitation of Christ, asked that very same question. He was worried about whether he would persevere in serving Christ to the very end of his life. He said he was told in answer to his prayer: “Do now what you would like to have done then, and you will have nothing to worry about.”
Where will I be on the Day of Judgement? The answer to that question can be decided by me this very day and every single day from now on.
Thursday of the First Week in Lent
Gospel Mt 7:7-12 Jesus said to his disciples: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.”
Commentary on Matthew 7:7-12
Today’s readings are about prayer, specifically prayer of petition.
Today’s gospel sounds marvellous. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find…” It seems all I have to do is pray for something and I will get what I ask for. And yet, we all know from experience that that is simply not true. I pray to win the lottery but don’t even get one of the minor prizes. I pray for the recovery of a person with cancer but the person dies. What is happening? Is Jesus telling lies? Are there some hidden conditions that we are not aware of?
I believe the answer lies in the second half of the passage. First, Jesus asks whether a father would offer a stone to his son asking for bread or whether a snake would be offered instead of a fish. “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.”
In other words if we human beings, in spite of our shortcomings, care for the well-being of our children, then surely God, who is all good, will be infinitely more caring. The problem is not that God does not answer our prayers; the difficulty is that we tend to ask for the wrong things. We do not give a child a sharp knife to play with even though, when we refuse to do so, he throws a temper tantrum and gets angry with us. A good parent, of course, will try to give the child something else which satisfies its real need at the moment.
Jesus is saying that God will give “good things” to those who ask. In fact, as Jesus says elsewhere (Matthew 6:8), God already knows all our needs so it is not necessary to tell him. Then why pray at all? The purpose of prayer is for us to become more deeply
aware of what our real needs are.
The things we ask for in prayer can be very revealing of our relationship with God and with others, it can be very revealing of our values and our wants (which are very different from our needs). The deepest prayer of petition will be to ask God to give us those things which are most for our long-term well-being, those things which will bring us closer to him and help us to interact in truth and love with those around us. It is a prayer to be the kind of people we ought to be. It is difficult to see that prayer not being answered.
It may be useful for us to look at the prayer of petition of Jesus in the garden and how it was answered. Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians also shares an experience of petitionary prayer which he made (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) and the surprising answer that he got.
onday of the Second Week in Lent
Gospel Lk 6:36-38$
36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Commentary on Luke 6:36-38 from Sacred Space.com
Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” This is the last sentence in Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching on the need to love our enemies. We saw the Matthaean version last Saturday. There the passage ends with “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.” It is clear that it is in showing compassion for all, even those who wish us evil, that we are to aim at imitating our heavenly Father.
God’s compassion is all-embracing. His love reaches out to all without any discrimination between saint and sinner. Like the rain and sun which fall equally on all, so God’s compassion and mercy are extended to all. We, too, are being called to follow the example of our God and of Jesus his Son. We remember the words of Jesus as he was being nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Here is the compassion of God being expressed in an extreme situation. The words will be repeated by Stephen when he is being stoned to death.
In today’s Gospel, we are told to follow that compassion by not sitting in judgement on others. That in no way means that we are to be blind to the genuine faults of others. But we are not in a position to take the higher moral ground so that we can sit in judgement on the supposed wrongdoer.
If we are honest we know we judge others a lot, often with very little evidence and even less compassion. Our media, too, are full of judgment. Our conversations, our gossip is full of judgment. We lack compassion for the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters.
At the same time, we do very little to help them correct their ways; in fact, they seldom hear the criticisms we make. It is most often done behind their backs. If they unexpectedly appear, we quickly change the subject. We just take pleasure in the backbiting. We might even be disappointed if they reformed!
Do not condemn and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned.” Later on in this Eucharist we will pray, “Forgive us our sins in so far as we forgive the sins of others”. A dangerous prayer to make, yet it trips so easily off our tongues, the same tongues that can be so critical and judgemental.
The gospel calls for great generosity in our relationship with others. Not just material generosity but generosity in love, in understanding, in tolerance and acceptance, in compassion and forgiveness. The more generous we are with others the more we will receive in return.
teach me to be generous,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and to seek no reward
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.
The passage ends with the so-called Golden Rule – “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Note that it is expressed positively rather than negatively and that makes a considerable difference. The negative version can be observed by doing nothing at all; not so the positive version. Although it is a separate saying it can be linked with what Jesus says about petitionary prayer. If we expect God to be kind and generous to us, surely we are expected to be equally kind and generous to those who come asking our help.
Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle“
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19
This passage should give us great comfort. Why? Because in this passage Jesus lays the foundation of His Church. He gives to Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. And, in so doing, He establishes what has come to be known as the gift of “infallibility.”
Think about it. What does it mean to be given “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven?” This is quite a statement. But by speaking it clearly and definitively, Jesus entrusted an incredible spiritual power to Peter. He may not have understood what this exactly meant at the time, but he would have been changed as he was entrusted with such authority.
By “infallibility” we mean that Peter was guaranteed to teach only that which was true in the areas of faith and morality. Faith and morality are what live on forever in the Kingdom of Heaven and so it is with authority in these areas that Peter is entrusted.
Furthermore, we know that the Apostles had successors. Peter went to Rome and became the Bishop of Rome. He was succeeded by Linus, then Cletus, then Clement, and so forth until the Bishop of Rome today. In 2013, Pope Francis became the 265th successor of St. Peter. This is important to note because this spiritual authority that Jesus gave to Peter did not end with his death. Rather, it continued with his successors and will continue on until the end of the world.
Today, in celebrating the great Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we not only honor the Pope, we also rejoice in the spiritual authority that the Holy Father has been entrusted with. And knowing that Jesus is alive in such a way, through the certain teaching authority of the Keys of Heaven, we should be comforted and at peace knowing that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. Popes are sinners, but they are also visible and infallible instruments of Christ Himself every time they exercise their sacred role.
Reflect, today, upon your faith in the Church. We do not put our faith in persons, we put our faith in Christ, His Church and in the spiritual authority entrusted to the Church. Reflect upon your own faith in this regard and if it is lacking in any way, renew it in honor of this great Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
Lord Jesus, You entrusted Your power and authority to St. Peter and to all of his successors. I thank You for the gift of our pope. I pray for him and offer him to You for Your guidance and protection. I renew my faith in the gift of the Holy Father and in Your promise to lead us always through him. May my faith in Your Church bring me consolation and hope as we all move forward to the goal of our salvation, the glorious Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday of the First Week of Lent
Gospel mt 5:20-26 Jesus said to his disciples: I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
Commentary on Matthew 5:20-26
Today’s readings are about repentance for the wrongs we have done and the guarantee of God’s mercy.
This passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount and is the first of six so-called “antitheses” where Jesus contrasts the demands of the Law with those of the Gospel. Virtue for the scribes and Pharisees was largely measured by external observance of the law.
For Jesus that is not enough. For him real virtue is in the heart. There was a commandment not to kill but Jesus says that even hatred and anger, violence in the heart (often expressed by abusive language) must be avoided. Furthermore, we cannot have one set of relationships with God and another set with people.
So, it is no use going to pray and make our offering to God if we have done hurt to a brother or sister. I must leave my gift at the altar, and first go and be reconciled with my brother or sister. Only then may I come to offer my gift.
I cannot say I love God if I hate a brother or sister. “If someone says he loves God, but hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20) and “As often as you did not do it to the least of these you did not do it to me.” Repentance has to be expressed both to God and the person I have hurt. I cannot be reconciled to one and not to the other.
We have something like this in every celebration of the Eucharist although, in practice, it can be very superficially done. At the beginning of the Communion, we together recite the Lord’s Prayer in which we all say: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” How often are we conscious of saying those words and how often do we really mean them?
Just after that, we are invited to share a sign of peace with those around us. Again, this can be done in a very perfunctory way. But the meaning of this gesture is that we want to be totally in a spirit of union and reconciliation with each other before we approach the Lord’s Table to break together the Bread which is the sign of our unity as members of his Body.
Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Gospel Mt 5:43-48 Jesus said to his disciples: You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Commentary on Matthew 5:43-48
Today’s passage, like yesterday’s, comes from the Sermon on the Mount. The two are not unrelated: both speak of dealing with people with whom we have difficulties.
It is a passage which many find difficult, too idealistic or just downright meaningless. The Mosaic Law said that one must love one’s neighbour. It does not actually say we should hate our enemies but in practice such hatred was condoned. Jesus rejects that teaching outright for his followers. We are to love our enemies and pray for them.
How can we possibly do that? It is important that we understand what ‘love’ here means.
In Greek it is the word agape (‘?????), a deep concern for the good of the other that reaches out even if there is no return. It is not sexual, physical love (eros, ‘????) nor is it the mutual love of intimate friendship or that between marriage partners (philia, ?????).
‘Enemy’ here too means those who do harm to us in some way. It does not include the people we turn into enemies because we don’t like them. The true Christian does not have this kind of enemy.
The main reason Jesus gives for acting in this way is that that is what God himself does.
God has many friends and many who are opposed to him, yet he treats them all exactly the same, his agape reaches out to all indiscriminately just as the welcome rain falls and the burning sun shines with equal impartiality on every single person.
Elsewhere we are told that God IS love, it is his nature; he cannot do anything else. And that love is extended EQUALLY to every single person – to Our Lady, Mother Teresa, to the murdering terrorist, the serial killer, the abusive husband, the paedophile…
The difference is not in God’s love for each of these people but in their response to that love.
Jesus tells us that we must try to love people in the same way. It is important to note that he is not telling us to be IN love with those who harm us or to like them or to have them as our friends. That would be unrealistic and unreasonable to ask.
But if we just care for those who are nice to us how are we different from others? Even members of a murder gang, people with no religion or morals do the same. But we are called to imitate the God in whose image we have been made.
And is it so unreasonable to love, to care for, to have genuine concern for our enemies and pray for them? One presumes, as we have said, they are enemies in the sense that they are hostile to us even though we have not provoked them in any way. True Christians, from their side, do not have enemies. For someone to be my enemy, it means that person really hates me and may wish to do harm to me or may already have harmed me in some way.
What do I gain by hating that that person back? Then there are two of us. Why should I allow another’s person’s hate to influence my feelings towards them? A person who hates, is a person who is suffering, a person who is doing more damage to himself – rather than to the supposed enemy. As the gospel says, another person can hurt my body but not my inner self.
And, if he/she does harm me, they only harm themselves as well, even if they get a twisted pleasure in the short term. If I have a true Christian spirit I will reach out in compassion to that person. I will want that person to be healed, healed of their hatred, healed of their anger, and to learn how to love.
Surely it is much better and makes more sense to pray for that person than to hate them back. To bring about healing and reconciliation rather than deepen the wound on both sides.
What Jesus is asking us to do is not something impossible or unnatural. It is the only thing that makes sense and will bring peace to me and hopefully in time to the person who is hostile to me. We can literally disarm a hating person by acting towards them in a positive and loving way and refusing to be controlled by their negative attitudes. “Bless are the peacemakers; they will be called children of God.”
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Obviously, this is an ideal that we can only reach out to. But it is a call to do our utmost to imitate God in extending our goodwill impartially and unconditionally to every single person. This is not just a commandment. When we reflect on it, it is simply common sense and it is as much in our own interest as it benefits others.
Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel: Mt 23:1-12
1 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. 4 They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12 From Sacred Space.com
It looks like an attack on the Pharisees but we should really see it directed towards members of the Christian community, especially its leaders. Jesus levels two criticisms against the Pharisees:
- they don’t practise what they preach, and
- they do what they do to attract the admiration of others.
In fact, the words of Jesus are warning to all people in authority. Jesus was attacking the Pharisees but his words can be applied to many positions in our own society. Executives, managers, doctors, lawyers, bishops, priests, civil servants, parents can all be included here.
In so far as they have genuine authority, they should be listened to – the doctor about things medical, the lawyer about things legal, the priest about things spiritual, the parent about family matters…
The Pharisees tried to impress by wearing wider phylacteries and longer tassels. The phylacteries were small boxes containing verses of scripture which were worn on the left forearm and the forehead. The tassels, worn on the corners of one’s garment, were prescribed by Mosaic law as a reminder to keep the commandments. By making each of these items larger one drew attention to one’s superior piety and observance. It is not difficult to see parallels in our time.
Unfortunately, it would be wrong to follow the behaviour of such people especially when they become arrogant and domineering, when they use their authority to draw attention to themselves, to assert their supposedly superior status. When they impose burdens on those ‘below’ them which they themselves do nothing to alleviate. One is reminded of Miss Brodie in the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie telling her students who questioned something she had done:
Girls, don’t do as I do; do as I say.”
Authority is not for power but for empowering and enabling. Real authority is a form of service, not a way of control or domination or a claim to special privileges. So Jesus has no time for people who insist on being addressed by their formal titles. Matthew’s attack on the Pharisees again points to similar weaknesses on the part of church leaders in his time. It is something that again we are all too familiar with in our own time.
Hi, Jack!” “Mr Smith to you, if you don’t mind.”
Hi, Father Jack!” “Monsignor Jones to you.”
As Jesus says, ultimately we are all brothers and sisters. And elsewhere he tells us that the greatest among us is the one who best serves the needs of those around him rather than the one who has the most impressive titles, or the biggest desk, or eats in the executive dining room, or has his/her picture on the cover ofTime or Hello.
Unfortunately, we contribute a lot to this nonsense because some of us dream of being there ourselves some day.
Anyone who lifts himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be lifted up.” The perfect model is Jesus himself, who “though in the form of God emptied himself… walked the path of obedience all the way to death… For this reason God raised him to the highest place” (Phil 2:7-9).
Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel: Mt 20:17-28
17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, 19 and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zeb’edee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; 28 even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Commentary on Matthew 20:17-28
In the Gospel Jesus takes his disciples aside to let them know what is going to happen to him. This is, in fact, the third time he has told them this. It is the third and most detailed of the Passion predictions. For the first time, mention is made of being handed over to the Gentiles. The text follows Mark very closely except that, where Mark says that Jesus will be killed, Matthew explicitly says ‘crucified’.
Their reactions are not recorded here but we know that on previous occasions they were both shocked and saddened. They were also perplexed. How could people do this to the Messiah for whom they had waited so long? How could their own leaders do this to the Messiah? Even worse, how could they hand him over into the hands of the hated Romans? They did not yet understand how Jesus would enter his glory through rejection, suffering and death.
In fact, they have still a lot to learn as what follows clearly indicates. The mother of James and John approaches Jesus with a request, a typical mother’s request. In Mark’s gospel, it is the boys themselves who ask the favour. Why Matthew makes the mother ask is not clear. There could be an allusion here to Bathsheba, wife of King David, seeking the kingdom for her son Solomon. Another possibility is that Matthew is more deferential to the disciples than Mark, who regularly shows up their failure to understand the meaning of Jesus’ teaching.
What is it you want?” Jesus asks her. If Jesus asked me that question right now, what answer would I give? She asked that her two sons be on Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom. ‘Kingdom’ here is to be taken in the sense in which Jesus normally uses it, that is, the Kingdom of God on earth rather than referring to Jesus in glory. The two disciples envision Jesus as Messiah, King of his people and with a court like every other early king.
The mother uses her contact with a person in authority to get some short-cut privileges for her sons. Understandable indeed but not the way that God or Jesus works.
Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” This question is clearly directed at the two disciples. “We can,” they say with confidence. They are ready to do anything to get the top spots with the Messiah. They have forgotten the words that, unless we carry our cross after Jesus, we cannot be his followers. And Yes, they would “drink the cup” of pain and sorrow and suffering but that is not what they are thinking about now.
In any case, the places at the right and left of Jesus are not privileges given to the first people who just ask. Jesus works by quite other standards. Those places will be given to those who deserve them and to no one else. And those who deserve them are those who follow Jesus most closely.
The other ten disciples are not much better. They are angry and indignant about the backdoor tactics of James and John. Obviously their thinking is no different. So Jesus teaches them about real greatness.
In the secular world, leaders exert power, domination and manipulation. They control people for their own ends. In Jesus’ world, it is altogether different. To be great is to put one’s talents totally at the service of others, to empower not to have power. Jesus himself is the perfect example. It is a lesson we do not find easy to learn or to follow.
And Jesus says in conclusion: “Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ‘Ransom’ here is to be taken in the sense of ‘liberation, making free’. ‘Many’, as a Semitic expression, means ‘all’. Jesus put his whole life at our disposal so that every single person should experience liberation and fullness of life. We are called to take part in the same great enterprise.
Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel: Lk 16:19-31
19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz’arus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”
This parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man illustrates the words of Jesus earlier in Luke's gospel:“Happy are you who are poor, you who are hungry now!” and “Woe to you who are rich".
The parable has two characters. One is a a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen, both signs of great wealth. He also has a good table and enjoys the choicest of foods every day.
The other is a poor man called Lazarus. (The rich man is nameless. In spite of all his money, he is a Nobody.) He was hungry and longed, like the dogs, to pick up the scraps that might fall from the dining table. The dogs even licked his sores. Dogs were abhorrent to Jews so this was a particularly degrading thing to happen.
What is striking about this scene is that nothing seems to be happening. The rich man is eating; the poor man is sitting and waiting. There are no words between them. The poor man is not abused or chased away; he is simply ignored as if he did not exist. “As often as you neglected to do it to the least of these brothers of mine, you neglected to do it to me.”
Then both men die. Lazarus is brought by angels to the bosom of Abraham; the rich man is condemned to an existence of great suffering in Hades, the place of the dead. The rich man now begs for even the slightest relief from the man he ignored in his lifetime. But it is now too late.
The rich man had his chance and he blew it. He had his life of “good things”; he now knows just how “good” they really were. It is now Lazarus’ turn to have the really good things, the companionship of his God.
The rich man begs on behalf of his brothers that they be warned. “They have Moses and the prophets [the whole Jewish religious tradition],” replies Abraham. “But if only someone would come to them from the dead, they would change their ways.” “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
The message of Moses and the Prophets (the entire Old Testament) is that the rich have the responsibility to care for the poor. Their wealthy should be a blessing not just for them, but should be used to help the poor and the needy as well. The rich man received this eternal punishment not because he was rich, but because he failed to help the poor beggar at his gate.
The United States Bishops’ pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, tells us that “as followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental ‘option for the poor’—to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor” (16).
This preferential option for the poor asks us to put the needs of those who struggle ahead of our own. It asks us to guard against growing more comfortable while millions continue to live in grinding poverty. It calls us to ask what we can do to alleviate the suffering of those who lack the basic necessities of food, shelter, education, and health care. But it’s not just a series of demands. There is also the confidence that we can help bring justice to the world. We are more powerful than we think!
What might all of this mean for your life? Perhaps you could think about how you spend your money and your free time. Why not make the effort to take your family to serve the poor or the homeless together? Why not give away some of those extra clothes and blankets that have been piling up in your closets? If everyone reading this meditation could do just one small thing to help people who are in need, this world would look a lot more like heaven!
Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel Mt 21:33-43, 45-46
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.
Commentary on Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
We have here a parable spoken to the unbelieving chief priests and elders of the people. In fact, it is more of an allegory than a parable as each of the persons and incidents described point to real people and real events. Some scholars feel that what we have here is really a parable spoken by Jesus has been modified in the light of later events in the Church.
The owner of the vineyard is clearly God. The vineyard is the house of Israel, where God’s people are to be found. The tenants of the vineyard are the people of God. The servants sent to collect the harvest are abused in various ways – beaten, killed, stoned.
The servants represent the prophets and other spokespersons sent by God to his people, many of whom were rejected, not listened to and even abused. Finally, the owner decides to send his son. “They will respect my son.” On the contrary, they saw that, if they got rid of the son, they could take over the whole vineyard for themselves. They could carry on without the owner.
So they seized the son, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. A clear reference to Jesus being crucified.
And what will the king do then? Jesus asks. The leaders condemn themselves by answering the question: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end” as happened when the city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans.
Instead, the vineyard is let out to new tenants – those Jews and Gentiles, the new people of God, who believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The stone rejected by the builders becomes the cornerstone. “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
The Gentiles had for long been rejected as unbelievers and outsiders. Now, it is on them, together with those Jews who accepted Jesus, that the Kingdom will be built.
The Gospel ends by commenting that Jesus’ hearers understood his message perfectly but, because of Jesus’ popularity with the people, they could do nothing in retaliation for the moment.
Again and again it has happened in world history that fighters for truth and justice have been rejected, jailed, tortured and eventually found themselves the saviours of their people. Pavel in Czechoslovakia, Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King in the US, Gandhi in India.
Let us make sure that we are listening to the right people, the people who have the message of truth, love and justice and that we follow them. Jesus our Saviour still speaks through his followers.
Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
Gospel Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable. “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
The parable of the Prodigal Son, a marvellous revelation of God’s unending love and mercy for the repentant sinner.
Steps in the story:
The son receives his share of the inheritance from a loving father. Asking for his inheritance while his father was still alive was tantamount to saying he could not wait until his father had died.
He goes off to a far country, far from his father.
He is not only far in distance but also in thinking: he wastes the inheritance he has been given in pleasures and enjoyment of the most immoral kind.
In the end, he has nothing.
A famine strikes the place and he has nothing to eat, no money to buy food.
He is forced (horror of horrors for a Jew) to feed pigs and is so hungry he is ready even to eat the slops given to them. One can hardly imagine a lower level of abasement and poverty.
Then, he comes to his senses.
He thinks of the home and the loving father he abandoned so stupidly.
Where the lowest servants/slaves are better off than he is.
He will try to go home.
After what he has done, he does not expect to be accepted back.
He will beg to be taken as one of the lowest servants.
He prepares a carefully worded speech for his father.
Then he starts the journey back in fear and trepidation. He knows he deserves very severe treatment, if not outright rejection. “Go back to your pigs and your whores!”
While still far away, the father sees him. He has been anxiously waiting all this time.
But he never sent out to have him brought back.
If the son wants to go his own way, the father will not stop him. He will not be forced back.
Full of compassion the father rushes out to welcome his returning son and takes him in his arms.
The son tries to make his speech of repentance but it is totally ignored.
Instead orders are given for the best clothes to be brought out and a magnificent banquet to be laid on.
This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
It is a time of celebration.
The elder son, working in the fields (the Lord’s vineyard) comes back at the end of a hard day and hears the sounds of merrymaking.
When he is told what is going on, he is extremely angry.
He has been a loyal, faithful, hard-working son and nothing even approaching this was ever done for him.
While his brother, who was steeped in debauchery and wasted so much of his father’s wealth, is welcomed like a returning hero.
He refuses to go into his father’s house. (Surely the saddest words in this story.)
The father remonstrates: “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.
But your son was utterly lost. Now he is back, we have to celebrate.”
The story is a clear reply to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was mixing and eating with sinners. They simply did not understand the mind of God as revealed in Jesus’ behaviour. How well do we understand them?
The two clear lessons for today are:
- I can be absolutely sure of God’s mercy and forgiveness provided I turn back to him in true sorrow.
- I need to have the same attitude of compassion with people who offend me. I must be ready to forgive and be reconciled. I cannot refuse to love someone that God loves.
There are three people in this story and we can identify with all of them:
- The son who went far from his Father and followed his own way into the most degrading behaviour.
- The son who thought he was good and observant but, deep down, did not have the mind of his Father at all. He kept the commandments and all the rules but did not have a forgiving heart. He did not belong in his Father’s house.
- The Father whose love never changes no matter what his children do and is ready to accept them back every time without exception.
Which of these three most represents me? Which one would I want to be like? Many say they identify most with the elder son. Which, of course, is the point of the story. They are the real sinners – who shut their hearts against God’s compassionate love.
Monday of the Third Week of Lent
Gospel Lk 4:24-30
Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Commentary on Luke 4:24-30
There are alternative readings that may be used on any day this of week. The Gospel of the Samaritan woman may be used ad libitum.
Both readings today are linked by the story told in the First Reading about Naaman, a Syrian general, who was miraculously cured by Elisha the prophet.
The Gospel is the second part of the scene in the synagogue in Nazareth where Jesus officially announces his mission as Messiah, Saviour and Liberator. The first reaction was one of amazement that Jesus, their townsman, could speak with such power. “Where did he get it all?” There was amazement but no real faith in him. Familiarity had blinded them to his true identity. Basically they reject him. For them he is just “Joe the carpenter’s boy”.
Jesus says he is not surprised by this reception. “No prophet is ever accepted in his own country.” He then goes on to give two examples taken from the lives of two well-known Old Testament prophets. They are not quite examples of prophets not being received by their own people but rather of prophets reaching out to other peoples, non-believers.
When there was a great famine among the Israelites, it was a Sidonian widow who was helped by Elijah. Sidon was the place where Jesus would heal a Gentile woman’s daughter. There were many leprous people in Israel, says Jesus, but Elisha was sent to cure Naaman the Syrian, another Gentile. Jesus’ hearers are incensed by what appear to them arrogant and insulting words. In their minds, they were not rejecting a prophet but an impostor. His remarks about Elijah and Elisha they find highly objectionable.
The references to Elijah and Elisha help to emphasise Luke’s image of Jesus as a prophet like those who went before him. They also lay the foundation for the future mission to the Gentiles.
We, too, can very easily fail to recognise the voice of God in certain people who in fact – whether they are aware of it or not – are bringing a message from him. Like the people of Nazareth, we can think we know them too well to have to listen to them. We feel it would be inconceivable that God could speak to us through such people. This probably happens most of all with people we meet every day of our lives.
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Gospel Mt 18:21-35
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Commentary on Matthew 18:21-35
This passage makes a crucial link between God forgiving us and our forgiving others. Peter asks how many times he should forgive another and offers what he regards as a very generous seven times. Jesus multiplies that by eleven. In other words our readiness to forgive should be without limit.
The reason is that that is the way God himself acts towards us. Supposing we only had seven chances of being forgiven our sins in our lifetime? Supposing we were to confess our sins to a priest and were told: “Sorry, you have used up your quota.” Don’t we expect that every single time we genuinely repent we can renew our relationship with God?
Jesus is simply telling us that, if we are to be his followers, we must act on the same basis with other people. To make his teaching clear he tells the parable of the two servants. The one with the huge debt is forgiven by the king. He then proceeds to throttle another servant who owes what is, in comparison, a paltry amount.
As indicated in the parable, there is no real proportion between the offence of our sins against an all-holy God and those made against us by others. And every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we commit ourselves to this: “Forgive us our sins JUST AS we forgive those who sin against us.” It is indeed a courageous prayer to make. Do we really mean what we say? Do we even think about it when we pray it?
We could make a couple of extra comments:
- This teaching does not mean turning a blind eye to a person who keeps on doing hurt to us. Forgiveness is more than just saying words; it involves the restoring of a broken relationship. It involves the healing of both sides. It may be necessary to make some proactive but totally non-violent response. Our main concern should not be ourselves but the well-being of the other person whose actions are really hurting him/her.
- Forgiveness is not purely a unilateral act. It is only complete when there is reconciliation between the two parties. It is difficult for me fully to forgive when the other party remains totally unrepentant. Even God’s forgiveness cannot get through in such circumstances (remember the Prodigal Son whose healing only began when he came to his senses and returned to his Father). The injured party has to work on bringing about a healing of the wound of division between both sides. Only then is the forgiveness complete. That may take a long time.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Gospel Mt 5:17-19
Jesus said to his disciples:“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19
In Matthew’s gospel especially, Jesus is shown as not being a maverick breakaway from the traditions of the Jews. He was not a heretic or a blasphemer. He was the last in the great line of prophets sent by God to his people. “Last of all God sent his Son.” And so, in today’s passage, he strongly emphasises that it is not his intention to abrogate the Jewish law but rather to develop and complete it. In the verses that immediately follow today’s passage Jesus gives six very clear examples of what he means. He quotes a number of moral situations contained in the Law and shows how he expects his followers not only to observe them but to go much further in understanding their underlying meaning.
The Law is not to be downgraded in any way; rather it is to be transcended to a higher level. Up to the time of Jesus, and this is clearly exemplified in the Pharisees and Scribes as they appear in the gospels, perfect observance of the Law focused on external observance. Jesus will show that true observance must also be in the heart and mind.
Christians, too, can become obsessed with external observance of Church laws and regulations. It can become a source of scrupulosity and fear. This can happen during the Lenten season when we are encouraged to do ‘penitential acts’. We need to remember that these acts do not stand on their own and only have meaning if they deepen our relationship with God. In all things, our ultimate guide must be the law of love. No truly loving act can ever be sinful, although at times it may violate the letter of a law.
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Gospel Lk 11:14-23
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed. Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
Commentary on Luke 11:14-23
Amazement in the Gospel does not always lead to faith. People are amazed to see Jesus liberate a dumb man from the evil power that prevented him from speaking. But, rather than seeing here the clear intervention of God’s saving power, they see in Jesus the power of another evil spirit. More than that, they ask Jesus to give some special sign of his authority and identity.
Jesus shows up the contradictions of their position. First, he has just given a powerful sign but they choose not to see it as such. Secondly, a divided household can only collapse. Why would Satan be undoing his own work? And, if it is through Satan that Jesus casts out Satan, by what power do other exorcists among them do it? If the answer is by God’s power, why should they make an exception of Jesus? And, if it is by God’s power (the only other alternative) that Jesus liberates people from evil powers, then they should know that God’s Kingdom, God’s reign has come among them.
Far from being an accomplice, Jesus is the “stronger man” who is driving Satan from all his strongholds
Both readings today urge us to listen carefully to God speaking to us in our lives. Let us not be blinded by prejudice of any kind which might prevent us from recognising the signs or the voice or the hand of God in people and experiences we have during any ordinary day.
There must be many times when we write off people and events and so fail to realise that God is saying something important to us through them. They may be saints or sinners – it does not matter. God can and does use any channel to reach us.
Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Gospel Mk 12:28-34
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Commentary on Mark 12:28-34
Both readings are about our total commitment to God.
In the Gospel we find one of the rare meetings between Jesus and a teacher of the Law which is not confrontational. The man seems genuinely interested in Jesus’ answer to a question that was often asked by interpreters of the Law. Again, rather unusually, Jesus answers the question directly.
In fact, he gives a double answer. In doing so, he links in a special and indivisible way a total love of God with love of those around us. The scribe is impressed. He fully endorses what Jesus has said and even adds that such love transcends any purely religious activity. Jesus is also impressed and tells the scribe that he is very close to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus says this because the scribe puts love of God and neighbour at the very centre of living but he will not be fully in the Kingdom until he becomes a follower of the Way of Jesus. Whether that happened or not we do not know.
What we do know is that we today are being called to follow Jesus in a total commitment of heart, mind and strength to loving God and to loving unconditionally every single person we come in contact with.
Lent is a good time for us to evaluate how we are doing in this regard.
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Gospel Lk 18:9-14
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Commentary From Living Space.com
The readings are about our attitudes in relating to God in prayer.
In today’s Gospel we see two ways of praying. One is arrogant, proud and contemptuous of others. As the Pharisee “prays”, God is somehow meant to feel grateful that there are at least a few people as observant of the rules as he is in comparison with the sinful and despicable outsider symbolised by the tax collector behind him.
I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly I am not like this tax collector.” On the contrary, he fasts twice a week, pays tithes on all he earns – he goes well beyond what the law demands.
Yet his “prayer” is not accepted. It is not really a prayer at all but a hymn to himself. As Catholics, or as regular churchgoers, we can sometimes feel superior to those who have dropped out, to those who have no religion, those who lead what we regard as “immoral” lives.
The tax collector is certainly a sinner; that is not denied. But he knows and acknowledges his sinfulness. He is deeply repentant and he puts himself totally at the mercy of God. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” God accepts the prayer of the second one because he acknowledges God as his Lord and Saviour. Nor does he compare himself with anyone else. He does not judge anyone else; only himself.
Our prayer must always be an expression of our total dependence on God. There is nothing that we can give him which he has not given us first. All we can do is to make an effort to return a fraction of the love that he showers constantly on us. We are and always will be in his debt.
Sunday of Week 4 of Lent
Click here for the Sunday Readings: Joshua 5:9a,10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3,11-32
LENT IS A TIME FOR RENEWAL. Part of that renewal requires that we become aware of the disorder, the disharmony, the distortions in our life, in other words to become aware of the areas of sinfulness, of the evil in our behaviour. We cannot change unless we are first aware of what needs to be changed. Many of us go through life not really prepared to take a really objective look at the kind of people we are, although we may spend a good deal of time being very aware of what is wrong with others.
Once aware of the areas of our lives which are ruled by negative forces like hate, anger, resentment, greed, vindictiveness, injustice or violence we need to repent. “Repent” in the Gospel calls not only for expressions of regret and sorrow; it also demands a radical change in my future behaviour, a profound change in the way I see God and people and other things. It calls for a re-ordering of my relationships with God, with Jesus, with other people and with myself. It means a real turning round of my life, a real conversion.
Looking to the future
Many have the good habit of making a serious confession during Lent or before Easter. However, we must be aware that such a confession entails not just clearing the decks of past wrongdoings; it also involves a genuine desire for a reform of life, a real change in our behaviour. If my confessions over the years do not seem to change very much, it may well be that in making them I have paid too little attention to the present and the future. As we will see, God is not really interested in our past.
Part of the renewal experience of Lent is to try to become more truly disciples of Jesus, to share more deeply his values, his outlook, his attitudes. As St Paul told the Philippians we are to have the same mind, the same way of thinking as Jesus had.
God’s way of thinking
In today’s Mass, we have one of the most graphic descriptions of Jesus’ – and therefore of God’s – thinking. We are confronted with the attitude of God to the wrongdoer, his deep desire to forgive, that is, to be totally reconciled with the one who has severed relations with him.
The context of today’s passage is important. Sinners and social outcasts were “all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say”. The Pharisees and Scribes, who were the “good and religious” people, were shocked and disturbed. “This man welcomes sinners and [even worse] eats with them.” By their standards, a “good” person avoids “bad company”. To be quite honest, don’t we think the same? If so, then we are not thinking like God or like Jesus.
Jesus answers the Pharisees by telling three parables, only one of which is given in today’s Gospel. The first parable is about a shepherd who has lost one of his sheep. He goes to extraordinary lengths, even leaving all the other sheep, to find that single one that has gone astray. That is a picture of God and the sinner. When he finds it, he has to share his joy with all his companions. The second parable is about a poor woman who loses a coin. It may be only one coin but it means a lot to her. She turns her house upside down till she finds it and when she does, she joyfully tells all her neighbours.
The prodigal father
But the most striking story is the third parable. We normally call it the “Prodigal Son” but, in fact, the emphasis is less on the son than on the father, who clearly represents God and Jesus.
No one can deny the appalling behaviour of the younger son. He took all that his father generously gave to him as his inheritance and used it in leading a life of total debauchery and self-centred indulgence. Eventually, he had nothing and was reduced to living with pigs, something utterly abhorrent to the Jewish mind, and even sharing their slops, something even we would find appalling. “Served him right,” might be the reaction of many, especially the good and morally respectable.
This, however, is not the reaction of the father, who has only one thought in his mind – how to get his son to come back to where he belongs. The father does not say: “This son has seriously offended me and brought disgrace on our family. May he rot in hell.” Instead, he says: “My son went away, is lost and I want so much to have him back.” And he stands at the door of his house watching and waiting… His love for his wayward son has not changed one iota.
There is no force involved. The police are not sent out. Servants are not instructed to haul him back. No, the father waits. It is up to the son himself to make the crucial decision: does he want to be with his father or not?
Eventually he “came to his senses”, that is, he realised the wrongness of what he had done. He became aware of just how good his father had been. The process of repentance had begun. He felt deeply ashamed of his behaviour and then, most significantly of all, he turned round to make his way back to his father.
The father, for his part, filled with compassion for his son’s experiences, runs out to meet him, embraces him and brushes aside the carefully prepared speech the son had got ready. If the son had known his father better, he would have realised that such a speech was unnecessary. Immediately, orders are given to bring the very best things in the house and a banquet is laid on.
This is forgiveness, this is reconciliation and, on the part of the son, this is conversion, a real turning around of his life and a return to where he ought to be.
All this, it is important to remember, is in response to the comments of the Pharisees and Scribes about Jesus mixing with sinners. This story reveals a picture of God which, on the one hand, many of us have not yet fully accepted and, on the other, a way of behaviour that does not come easily to us in our own relationships with others.
That is where the elder son comes in. He simply cannot understand what is happening. He was never treated like this and had always been a “good” boy. What kind of justice is this? One brother stays at home keeping all the rules [Commandments] and seems to get nothing. His brother lives riotously with prostitutes in a pagan land and when he comes back he is treated like royalty. He could not understand the mind of his father and some of us may have difficulties too.
In some ways God is very unjust – at least by our standards. He is corrupted by love! But fortunately for us he is like that. Supposing we went to confession one day and the priest said, “Sorry, that’s it. There can be no more forgiveness, no more reconciliations. You’ve used up your quota. Too bad.” Of course, it is not like that. There is no limit to God’s forgiveness.
As was said earlier, God is not interested in the past but only in the present. I am judged not by what I have done or not done earlier. Nor need I be anxious how I will behave in the future. I am judged by my relationship with God here and now. It was on that basis that the murderous gangster crucified with Jesus was told, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” He is promised eternal life “this very day”. It was on the same basis that the “sinful woman”, presumably a prostitute, becomes totally reconciled with Jesus there and then and all her past behaviour forgotten. “She has no sin [now] because she loves so much [now].” All I have to worry about is whether right now I have a loving relationship with God and with all those around me through whom I come in contact with him.
What limits do we set?
There is clearly much for reflection, too, in today’s readings on how we deal with those we feel have “offended” us. In wanting to experience God’s forgiveness, we also need to learn how to be forgiving to others. Do we set limits to our forgiveness? To be reconciled with God we need to learn how to be reconciled with all those who are sources of conflict or pain in our lives.
We thank God that we have a Lord who is so ready to forgive and welcome us back again and again. But we cannot stop there. We have to learn to act towards others in the same way. “Forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us.” We, too, need to see the person in the here and now and not continue to dredge up past hurts and resentments, anger and hatred.
By imitating Jesus more, we find that our relationships improve. In so doing we are coming closer to having the mind of Jesus but we are doing something else as well. We will find that life will become a far more peace-filled and harmonious experience. It is a perfect win-win situation.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 4:43-54
At that time Jesus left [Samaria] for Galilee. For Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his native place. When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves had gone to the feast. Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe." The royal official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus said to him, "You may go; your son will live." The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. While the man was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live. He asked them when he began to recover. They told him, "The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon." The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live," and he and his whole household came to believe. Now this was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.
Commentary on John 4:43-54
This week we begin a semi-continuous reading of John’s gospel. Today, Jesus brings the promise of new life, now and in the future. Today’s Gospel follows immediately on the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. Jesus now goes back to Galilee from Samaria. In spite of what Jesus had said earlier about prophets not being welcomed in their own place, he was received well, because they had seen what Jesus had done in Jerusalem during his recent visit there. He returns to Cana, where he had performed his first sign, changing water into wine. A high official comes to ask Jesus to cure his son who is dying. Jesus’ first reaction is negative. He complains of people just looking for miracles, signs and wonders. The man ignores Jesus’ remarks and repeats his request for Jesus to come and heal his son before he dies. This, in itself, indicates the level of the man’s faith in Jesus. This is always the basic requirement for healing to take place. Jesus ignores the invitation to go to the man’s house. In the Synoptics it is the centurion who tells Jesus it is not necessary to go to his house. That was because he was a Gentile and knew that Jesus should not go there. (It is not certain if John’s account is another version of that story.) Here Jesus simply says: "Go home, your son will live." The man believed what Jesus said and set off for his home. Before he gets home the official’s servants are coming out to tell him that his son is alive and well. On further enquiries, the father learns that the fever subsided just at the moment when Jesus promised that the boy would live. It was also the moment when the man, trusting in Jesus’ word, began his journey home. John tells us that this is the second of the seven "signs" that Jesus did. Its clear message is that Jesus brings life, eternal life that begins now. In John, eternal life begins as soon as we attach ourselves in total trust to Jesus and to his Way. Lent is a good time for us to renew our pledge to walk along his Way and to ask for a deep level of faith to do so.
The seven Signs in John are:
The changing of water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana (2:1-11)
The healing of the royal official’s son (4:46-54) [Today's reading]
The healing of a man who is crippled at the Bethesda pool (5:1-18)
Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-15)
Jesus walking on the water (6:16-21)
Healing of the man born blind (9:1-41)
The raising of Lazarus (11:1-44)
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 5:1-16
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 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?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’“ They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there. After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.
Commentary on John 5:1-3, 5-16
Today we see Jesus back in Jerusalem for an unnamed festival. He goes to the pool near the Sheep Gate. John says it had five porticoes and the ruins of such a pool have been excavated in recent times. Around the pool are large numbers of people blind, lame and paralysed. These are the ailments that we Christians often suffer from:
we cannot see where Jesus is leading us or where we should go in life;
lameness and paralysis we can see but have difficulty walking or even moving along Christ’s Way.
During this Lenten season let us hear Jesus asking us the question he puts to the man: “Do you want to be well again? Do you want to be made whole again?”
For 38 years the man has been trying to get into the water when it is “disturbed” but someone else always gets in before him. It seems that a spring in the pool bubbled up from time to time and it was believed that it had curative qualities. Some earlier versions of the New Testament at this point added: “For [from time to time] an angel of the Lord used to come down into the pool; and the water was stirred up, so the first one to get in [after the stirring of the water] was healed of whatever disease afflicted him.” Some older people may remember this text but its genuineness has since been called into doubt and it is now omitted.
Jesus wastes no time. “Rise up! Pick up your sleeping-mat and walk.” The man is immediately cured and walks away. Again we have in the words of Jesus the intimation of resurrection to new life of which Jesus is the Source. “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
It is at this point that the legalists step in. On his way the man is challenged for carrying his sleeping mat on a sabbath day. How petty one can get! Here is a man who has been a cripple for 38 years and is now taken to task for carrying his sleeping mat on a sabbath. The wonder is that he can do it at all!
It is like those people who get upset because the vestments the celebrant at Mass is wearing are not the right colour for the day or because he changes some unimportant words or because a woman is not wearing a hat. Or people who worry that they have not been fasting for the full hour. As if there can be any comparison between sharing the Body of the Lord in the Eucharist and observing a minor man-made regulation. It is so easy to lose our sense of proportion. For some, a rubrically correct but deadly boring Mass is more important than one where there is a real spirit of celebration and community and a coming together in Christ even if the rules are not being followed to the letter. The man answers that the one who cured him told him to carry his mat but he did not know who that person was, as Jesus had disappeared into the crowds. Later, Jesus and the man meet in the Temple. The man is told to complete his experience of healing by abandoning a life of sin, bringing body and spirit into full harmony and wholeness. This is not to say that Jesus is implying that the man had been a cripple because of his sin. Jesus did not teach that. But what he is saying is that physical wholeness needs to be matched by spiritual wholeness, the wholeness of the complete person.
This is the third of Jesus’ seven signs – again bringing life and wholeness. Let us ask him to do the same for us.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
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. Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation. “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”
Commentary on John 5:17-30
Let us not be afraid or cast down; God is on his way in the person of Jesus
Today’s Gospel follows immediately on yesterday’s story of the healing of the crippled man by the pool. That passage had ended with the words: “The Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this [i.e. the healing] on a sabbath.” We might point out, as with some other sabbath healings, that there was absolutely no urgency to do the healing on a sabbath for someone who had waited 38 years. It is just another indication of the divine authority with which Jesus works.
So Jesus’ reply is direct and unapologetic: “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” Because Genesis speaks of God resting on the seventh day (the origin of the Jewish sabbath), it was disputed whether God was in any way active on the sabbath. Some believed that the creating and conserving work of his creation went on and others that he continued to pass judgement on that day. In any case, Jesus is claiming here the same authority to work on the sabbath as his Father and has the same powers over life and death.
The Jewish leaders are enraged that Jesus speaks of God as his own Father. They want to kill him. They understand by his words that Jesus is making himself God’s equal. Jesus, far from denying the accusation, only confirms it.
A son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will also do.” This saying is taken from the model of an apprentice in a trade. The apprentice son does exactly what his father does. Jesus’ relation to his Father is similar. “For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does, so that you may be amazed.” And “just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes” – and whenever he wishes. And such giving of life is something that belongs only to God. As does the right to judge, which Jesus says has been delegated to him.
Jesus is the perfect mirror of the Father. The Father is acting in him and through him. He is the Word of God – God speaks and acts directly through him. God’s Word is a creative Word. Jesus, like the Father, is life-giving, a source of life.
The right to judge has been delegated by the Father to the Son. And to refuse to honour the Son is to refuse the same honour to the Father. In everything Jesus acts only according to the will of his Father and does what his Father wants.
Jesus, then, is the Way, the Way through whom we go to God. For us, there is no other Way. He is God’s Word to us and for us.
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 5:31-47
Jesus said to the Jews: “If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true. But there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true. You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth. I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. 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. Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.
I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I came in the name of my Father, but you do not accept me; yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God? 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?”
Commentary on John 5:31-47
Today we continue with yesterday’s words of Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus re-affirms that God himself is the witness – in four ways – to the truth of all that Jesus says:
The testimony of John the Baptist, although that was only human testimony (vv.33-34).
The works of Jesus give clear testimony of the divine origin of all that Jesus does. “The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.” The leaders could not see this but the crowds often testified to it with enthusiasm. (v.36)
The Father himself has given testimony, although that has not been seen directly by some of the Jews. “The Father who sent me has testified on my behalf but you have never heard his voice nor seen his form.” (Is this a reference to Jesus’ baptism or to the Transfiguration?) (vv.37-38);
A careful reading of the scriptures will show they give testimony to Jesus. “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.” This is clearly shown later on by Jesus when explaining the scriptures to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. (vv.39-40).
Although Jesus clearly comes in the name of his Father, he is not accepted or believed in.
Yet some individual will come in his own name and they will accept him. Further they keep looking into their own traditions rather than looking further to someone who clearly comes from God.
Jesus will not accuse them before his Father. Moses, in whom they claim to believe, will be their accuser. “If you have believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you refuse to believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?” By “Moses” is meant the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch and whose authorship is attributed to Moses, although we know now by the dating of the various parts that this could not be possible. It was common in ancient times to attribute the authorship of a work to a well-known personality.
How much of all this applies to us? Where do we ultimately put our faith? In the Christ of the New Testament or in a Jesus we have tailored to our own wants? How familiar are we with the Word of God in the New (and Old) Testament? Where do we clearly see the Risen Jesus bringing God into our lives every single day?
Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
Jesus moved about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel in Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near. But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret. Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, “Is he not the one they are trying to kill? And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him. Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ? But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” 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, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come
Commentary on John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
In today’s Gospel we move to the 7th chapter of John, skipping chapter 6 on the Bread of Life which will be read at another time in the liturgical cycle.
We are told that Jesus was confining his activities to Galilee. He did not want to go to Judea and the vicinity of Jerusalem because there were people there who wanted to kill him. Jesus does not expose himself unnecessarily to danger. He knows that a time is coming when the final conflict will be inevitable but that time is not yet.
It is the time of the Feast of Tabernacles and (this is not contained in today’s reading) his family are urging him to go up to Jerusalem for the feast and show himself to the world. He tells them the time is not ripe for him to do this but later on, after his family have left for the city, he goes privately and unknown to others. However, in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple area and begins to teach openly to the amazement of his listeners: “How does he know scripture without having studied?” (A good example of Johannine irony. Does the Word need to study the Word?!)
Jesus is a source of some confusion in the minds of many people. On the one hand, the people are aware that Jesus has become a target of their religious leaders and yet he goes about openly and speaking freely and without fear.
Jesus would not be Jesus if he were to keep his message to himself. The Word of God cannot remain silent. On the other hand they are also confused about the identity of Jesus. Is he allowed to speak freely because the leaders now believe he really is the Messiah-Christ? But everyone knows where Jesus comes from (Nazareth in Galilee). How, then, can he be the Messiah?
Jesus then tells them: “Yes, you know me and you know where I come from.” That is only partially true; rather, they think they know. “Yet I did not come on my own, but the One who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” And, if they do not know the Father, how can they know the Son? And vice versa.
This only angers his listeners who know what he is implying but they cannot arrest him there and then because “his time had not yet come”. The time of his arrest will only be in accordance with God’s plan.
Do we really know who Jesus is? There are many conflicting opinions out there. We can only know the real Jesus by reading the Scriptures under wise and perceptive guides who can penetrate the deeper meaning beneath the literal text. We can also learn a lot by prayer and contemplation. Lent is an excellent time for us to do both and, better still, to begin making it a practice that goes far beyond Lent.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
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?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of him. Some of them even wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?” The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.” So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” Then each went to his own house.
Commentary on John 7:40-53
Today we have a continuation of yesterday’s confusion about the identity of Jesus. There is a conflict between what people are seeing and hearing and what they have been taught to believe. On the basis of his words and actions, Jesus looks like the Messiah but, as every Jewish child knows, the Messiah is not going to come from Galilee (where Nazareth is) but is to come from Bethlehem and the family of David. This is a good example of Johannine irony. Of course, Jesus did come from Nazareth but he was of the family of David and, as Matthew and Luke tell us, born in David’s town of Bethlehem.
Even the police are confused. When asked by the religious leaders why they have not arrested Jesus, they reply: “There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.” They are scolded for their ignorance. Never mind how impressively he speaks. Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? And the crowds are written off as ignorant and cursed.
But one Pharisee, Nicodemus, who had earlier (John chap. 3) spoken with Jesus in secret and had been won over, protests. Even the Law says a man should be given a hearing before judgement is passed. He is swept aside by the leaders’ preconceived ideas: prophets do not come from Galilee.
We need to remember we are not reading this passage simply to condemn the Jewish religious leaders or the Pharisees but to reflect on our own prejudices and short-sightedness. How do we see Jesus, the Gospel message, the whole Bible, the Church, our parish community and its leaders, our family, friends, neighbours, not to mention strangers and outsiders…? Let him or her who is totally without prejudice or who has never passed judgement on another cast the first stone.
Let us pray for an open mind to accept in its totality the message of Jesus. And also be very open about the many and surprising ways in which Jesus can speak to us. If we are honest, there is something of the Pharisee in every one of us.
Sunday of Week 5 of Lent
Click here for the Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
GOD HAS A VERY BAD MEMORY. That is one way we might express the theme of today’s readings. For the Scripture of today’s Mass speaks of how God is always compassionate to his people. No matter how many times the Israelites abandoned their God, no matter how many times they became “stiff-necked” and refused to do his will, he always came to call them back.
In the whole of the New Testament we see God, in the person of Jesus, calling his sinful people to be converted, to put their whole trust in the message he brings and to follow his Way, as the way of truth and life.
Jesus can be called the Sacrament of God among us. A sacrament in general is a visible manifestation of the power of God working among us. So when we see the man Jesus, we are seeing God (though imperfectly, because what we actually see through Jesus’ humanity is not, cannot be the totality of a transcendent God). When we hear Jesus, we are hearing God. When Jesus acts, a human being like ourselves is acting and speaking but it is also our God acting and speaking. So, in reading today’s Gospel, when we see Jesus with the sinful woman, we are also seeing God.
Two kinds of sinners
We might say there are two kinds of sinners in today’s Gospel passage. First, there is the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, a very serious matter. As a matter of record, there is no mention of the other party, the man. It takes two people to commit adultery. One person committing adultery – unless it is purely in the mind – is like the Japanese concept of one hand clapping. Of course, in Jewish as in other societies where purity of the family line was vital, because the woman was the one who bore the child, the stigma of adultery and the birth of an illegitimate child was laid on her. Moreover, when a married woman commits adultery, it may not be certain who is the real father of the child she bears. An adulterous man, on the other hand, may produce an illegitimate child but, from this perspective, it is the problem of the woman and her family and not him or his family.
But in this story, the Scribes and Pharisees are also sinners. Not in their own eyes, of course, but in the eyes of Jesus and his Gospel they are totally lacking in the compassion that God displays and which he expects his followers to have: “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.” The Pharisees and the Scribes are proud and arrogant, they give themselves the prerogative to sit in judgment on others. They have no idea how to love, how to forgive – only how to keep the Law. They are thus far from God. They do not love the people that God loves.
But, before we ourselves sit in judgment on them, we might sincerely ask how many of us would have acted differently than they did in this particular case? How would many of us react if we discovered a spouse, a son or daughter, not to mention a stranger or public figure, in an adulterous relationship?
Representing all of us
The woman in this story is not just an isolated sinner. She represents all of us. She represents every person who has sinned. She represents you and me. And the Scribes and Pharisees, who were sinners too, also represent you and me. We sin in both ways: when we hurt others by indulging our desires at their expense and when we hurt others by setting ourselves up as superior and better than they. If we had been there that day, what would we have done? Would we have condemned the guilty woman too? Even during the past week, how many people have we condemned in our hearts or in our words? Are we regular readers of newspapers or watchers of TV programmes which delight in rubbishing people and destroying their lives? How many people have we ourselves passed judgement on? On the other hand, to how many have we extended a hand of love and compassion?
How Jesus treats people
Now let us look at Jesus in this scene. First of all, Jesus does not deny the woman’s sin. She HAS sinned and very seriously. Adultery involves an intimate sexual liaison between two people, at least one of whom is already married. It is a serious breach of trust in the marriage relationship and a serious act of injustice to the innocent partner in the marriage. The seriousness is really in this breach of trust and the injustice to one’s partner rather than the sexual activities, which, in this case, are secondary. The story does not tell us whether the woman was married or not. What is admitted by all – by Jesus, the Pharisees and the woman herself – is that she sinned.
Pawn in a game
However, there is another element in the story which is not explicitly mentioned but is strongly implied. The woman has been dragged before Jesus as a pawn in a game. The game is one of entrapment. “Moses ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?” They hope to put the rabbi who eats and drinks with sinners on a collision course with the sacred traditions coming from Moses. They hope to condemn him from his own mouth. But, if he agrees with Moses, he belies his own teaching and behaviour with sinners; if he rejects the Law of Moses, he can be denounced as no man of God.
Jesus at first ignores their question, which reveals how far they are from understanding what he has been teaching and doing. He bends down and writes with his finger on the sandy ground. There has been much speculation about what he might have been writing but it seems to be a way of refusing to walk into their all too obvious trap. When they persist, he says: “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
To their credit, not one of them took up the challenge. One by one, beginning from the most senior, they slipped quietly out of his sight. This is the first teaching of today’s Gospel: only one without sin can sit in judgment on another person. To put it more colloquially: people in glass houses cannot throw stones. Yet, do we not do this all the time?
Now only Jesus and the woman are left. Her accusers are gone and the one person remaining is not going to accuse her. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you. Go away and do not sin any more.” Unlike the Pharisees and Scribes, upholders of the Law, Jesus refuses to condemn her. Rather he gives her an opportunity to repent, to convert and change her ways. Jesus came not to condemn but to save, to rehabilitate, to give new and enduring life. Jesus always leaves a door open.
Our instinct is to punish and even destroy the wrongdoer. Every day we see the media condemning and even claiming to be “shocked” by the misdemeanours of the famous and the not so famous. How do we think Jesus would deal with such people?
If God acted like the Pharisees, how many times would I myself have been condemned or destroyed? But, no matter how many times I sin, no matter how seriously I sin, even if the whole of society condemns me and expresses horror and revulsion at my behaviour, God calls me to start over again, to change my ways of seeing life and other people. How often does he do this? Once or twice? No, but seventy times seven times! In other words, indefinitely.
As one popular Sunday missal comments on today’s Mass: “The utter completeness of Christ’s forgiveness is almost incredible. When he says to us Neither do I condemn you, the past is dead, snuffed out like a wick, forgotten.” That is what is meant when one says that God has such a poor memory. He only sees and knows the person actually in front of him at this moment. “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before,” says Isaiah in today’s First Reading.
Seeing the real person
In today’s story, Jesus saw a lonely, frightened woman, manipulated by cruel, self-righteous men for their own sinister ends. He saw the potential for change and he accepted her totally.
This was also the experience of Paul, also once a zealous Pharisee. Paul knew that God had forgiven his sin, the sin of persecuting the disciples of Jesus (in the name of God and religion, it may be noted). He realises now that it is not a question of becoming a morally perfect person by his own efforts. For him to have a close relationship with Jesus is the most precious thing in life. All the rest is just garbage. As a Pharisee he thought he was a perfect person by keeping the Law meticulously and hating all those who did not. Now he knows he is a good person because he has become filled with the love of Jesus. Now he hates no one. He loves, he forgives and, like God, he forgets.
We will find a great deal of happiness and peace in our lives if, on the one hand, we can really grasp the attitude of God to the sinner, and if, on the other, we can make that attitude our own in our relationship with others.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 8:12-20
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “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.”
Commentary on John 8:1-11
There are some doubts as to whether this story about a woman accused of adultery really belongs to John’s gospel. Some would say the style is more reminiscent of Luke and one can easily imagine it fitting into his gospel.
The scene takes place on the Mount of Olives, just outside the walls of Jerusalem. It is the only mention of this area in the gospels apart from the accounts of the agony in the garden. Yet it is likely that Jesus and his disciples would have gone there from time to time.
There is no question at any stage that the woman was guilty as charged. In our day, of course, we might like to ask what happened to the man. It takes two to commit adultery (unless it is in the secrecy of the mind). And which of them was the married partner? Both of them? Or was it only the man?
But in a society which was very concerned about legitimacy and the continuation of the family line, the burden of integrity was on the wife. “Extracurricular” affairs of the husband were taken far less seriously. Any children arising out of such a liaison were the woman’s problem and did not affect the ‘purity’ of the family line.
What is also highly distasteful in this scene is that the woman is dragged in by the scribes and Pharisees as a pawn in a game they are playing with Jesus. There are a number of such ‘plants’ in the Gospel story.
The Law says that this woman should be condemned to death by stoning. What is your opinion?” It is a little like the question about paying taxes to Caesar. Whatever Jesus is likely to say, he will convict himself out of his own mouth. In fact, the Law specified death but not the manner of execution for adulterers. However Deuteronomy prescribes stoning for a betrothed virgin caught in adultery. (If it were not for Joseph, this could have been the fate of Mary when she was found with child.) It was also the prerogative of witnesses to the adultery to throw the first stones. (Deut 17:7) – hence, Jesus’ invitation to his accusers.
If Jesus says she should be forgiven, then he is in violation of the Law; and, if he says she should be punished, then he contradicts his own teaching about mercy and compassion for the sinner.
Jesus cleverly throws the ball back in their court. “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” In a strange show of humility, they do not reply. They are reduced to silence and one by one, beginning with the eldest, they go out.
Eventually Jesus and the woman are left alone. (It is no embarrassment to Jesus to be alone in the presence of a convicted adulterer.)
Has no one condemned you?”
No one, sir.”
Neither do I condemn you; go away, and do not sin any more.”
Does this mean that Jesus condones adultery? Not at all. But he sees in the woman the seeds of repentance and the potential for conversion. Jesus looks always at the present and the future and never at the past.
Looking at this story we can first look forward with confidence to the same compassion from Jesus for our sinfulness. But we also need to have the honesty of the Pharisees who did not dare punish the woman because they acknowledged that they too were sinners.
How often have we unhesitatingly sat in judgment on someone for wrongs they have done with never a thought of our own culpability, picking specks out of others’ eyes while there are planks in our own?
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Gospel jn 8:21-30
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill himself, is he, because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you in condemnation. But the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.” They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father. 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.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
Commentary on John 8:21-30
Listening to Jesus, the Pharisees must have thought he was speaking in riddles. This was largely due to their own preconceived ideas about him. They take every statement he makes literally (they are the original Fundamentalists) and miss the symbolism. Basically, their problem is, as Jesus points out, that they “are from below; I am from above”; they “are of this world; I am not of this world”.
John uses the word ‘world’ in two senses. In one meaning he simply is referring to the world that God created with all its variety. Later, he will tell his disciples that, if they want to communicate his message effectively, they will have to be fully inserted in that world, like the leaven in the dough. Separating themselves from that world will not do much for the building of the Kingdom on earth.
The second meaning of ‘world’ for John refers to everything around us which cannot be identified with God or Jesus. It is that part of our environment which speaks and acts in a way that is contrary to the Spirit of Jesus and the vision of Jesus for the world. Jesus does not identify himself with that world nor does he want any of his disciples to identify with it either. Their mission is to change it, to shine his Light on it.
Twice in today’s passage Jesus says of himself “I AM”, an expression we saw yesterday and which was used directly of God himself.
When they “have lifted up the Son of Man”, then they will know who Jesus really is and that everything that Jesus has said and done comes from God himself because, as he will say later, “I and the Father are one”. “Lifted up” not only refers to Jesus being lifted up on the cross but also includes the glorification of Jesus, his lifting up to sit at the Father’s right hand. For John the cross is Jesus’ moment of glory, the triumphant climax of his mission.
And, because of these words, we are told, “many” came to believe in him but most of the Pharisees were not among them.
This is a time for us also to examine our allegiance to Christ and what he means for us in our lives. Is our following of him truly a healing and liberating experience not only for ourselves but for others as well?
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
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. I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you. I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.”
They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father!” So they said to him, “We were not born of fornication. We have one Father, God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”
Commentary on John 8:31-42
The contentious dialogue between Jesus and the Jews continues. There are some sayings here which we would do well to reflect on deeply.
If you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free.” The Pharisees take umbrage at that statement. As descendants of Abraham they were never slaves to anyone. In fact, in the long history of their people, the Jews were almost continuously enslaved to invading powers. However, the slavery Jesus speaks about is the slavery of sin.
In responding to Jesus’ words, how many of us who want to be disciples of Christ have truly made his word our ‘home’? How many of us have to admit that we are not really very familiar with Jesus’ word in the New Testament? Yet we cannot truly follow him unless we are steeped in that word.
Again, how many of us really believe that the truth about life that is communicated to us through Jesus makes us genuinely free? How many of us experience our commitment to Christianity as a liberation? How many have left the Church because they felt suffocated and wanted to be free? What freedom were they looking for? For many being a Christian is sacrificing freedom in exchange for a promise of a future existence of pure happiness. We can say with confidence that, if we do not find being a Christian a liberating experience here and now, we do not really understand the true nature of our Christian faith.
If God were your father, you would love me, since I have come from God.” To know Jesus, to love Jesus, to follow Jesus is the way to God and it is in God and only in God that we will find true happiness, freedom, and peace. But the only way to know the truth of that statement is to experience it personally.
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 8:51-59
Jesus said to the Jews: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” So the Jews said to him, “Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word. 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.” So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.
Commentary on John 8:51-59
Jesus continues to challenge the Jews about his identity. They continue to misunderstand the real meaning of what he says. “Whoever keeps my word will never see death.” This they can only understand in a literal sense.
But they do see the implication of the words that Jesus is claiming to be more than Abraham or any of the prophets. And they ask: “Who do you make yourself out to be?” This was the same question they asked of John the Baptist (John 1:22) who gave a very different answer.
Jesus makes it perfectly clear to them by talking of his “Father” and then saying that the Father is the one they call “our God”. But he continues by saying that they do not know the Father, although they may think they do. And they do not know the Father because they do not know Jesus. Jesus, however, knows him and keeps his word. Then comes the supreme provocation: “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day: he saw it and was glad.” (This could be a reference to the joy following the unexpected birth of Isaac, when the promise was made to Abraham that his seed would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore and as the stars in the sky – Gen 17:7; 21:6)
To which the shocked Pharisees retort: “You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham?” only to have Jesus make the ultimate claim: “I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham ever came to be, I AM.” Again we have Jesus using the term “I AM” of himself. He unequivocally identifies himself with Yahweh. The Pharisees are horrified by what they regard as terrible blasphemy. The term ‘came to be’ is used for all that is created, while ‘I AM’ is used only of the Word, co-eternal with the Father-God.
They took up stones to throw at him…” They were not able actually to carry out their plan to kill him because his “time” had not yet come. Then come words of prophetic significance: “”Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.” It is a striking summary of Jesus’ role.
Jesus “hid himself”. In his humanity, the Godhead in Jesus, which he has just spoken about, was largely concealed (except to those with the eyes of faith). St Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks of the divinity being hidden during the terrible hours of the Passion. St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians speaks of Jesus “emptying” himself and taking the form of a slave.
And “he left the Temple”. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil guarding the Holy of Holies in the Temple split right open, revealing the sacred inner sanctuary to the world. God was no longer there, he had left the Temple. And he now dwells in a new Temple, not now a building but a people, the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 10:31-42
The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘? If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried again to arrest him; but he escaped from their power.
He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him.
Commentary on John 10:31-42
Once again Jesus’ enemies want to stone him because they continue to accuse him of blasphemy. “You, a man, are making yourself God.” It is clear they have no doubt about the meaning of his words. Jesus points to the Scriptures which has God saying of some people “You are gods”. Jesus is here referring to the people called ‘judges’ in Israel. Since they were judges of their people, taking on themselves something which belongs only to God, they were called “gods” (cf. Deut 1:17; Exod 21:6; Ps 82:6).
If people inspired by the word from God could be called ‘gods’ can Jesus whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blaspheme because he says, “I am the Son of God”? And, if they will not accept a verbal claim, Jesus appeals to what he has been doing. “Even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do.” To anyone with an open mind it is clear that God is working in Jesus. “You will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again, they tried to seize him but he escaped from their power. His time had not yet come. That time would not be decided by them.
On the other hand, while Jesus was being attacked by the leaders of the Jews, many of the ordinary people continued to seek him out. Jesus had gone back across the Jordan (a safer place) to the spot where John the Baptist had baptised and given such strong testimony to Jesus. Many people came looking for him there. They could see, as the Pharisees could not, a clear distinction between Jesus and John: “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true. And many there came to believe in him.” There are many who reject Christ and his message today but let us pray that we may have open minds to believe the many signs by which God reveals his love to us each day.
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Gospel Jn 11:45-56
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him.
So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but he left for the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there he remained with his disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before Passover to purify themselves. They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?”
Commentary on John 11:45-57
We are now on the threshold of Holy Week and today’s Gospel sets the stage for the coming events. Today’s Gospel passage is full of Johannine irony, where people make statements with a meaning far beyond what they intend to say.
The raising of Lazarus had led many to believe in Jesus but others were alarmed. They went off to the chief priests and asked what was being done to stop this man in his tracks. Their report was serious enough to warrant calling the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, into session.
What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs.” Far from seeing the great significance of the “signs”, they go into a panic. “If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.”
Of course, what they feared and wanted to stop is exactly what happened. Jesus did go on “in his Way” and the Temple and the nation were destroyed.
Caiaphas, the high priest, moves to quell their fears and then goes on to make his own unwitting prophecy. A gift of prophecy, sometimes unconscious, was attributed to the high priest. He says: “You fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” He wants to say that it is better to get rid of Jesus than put the whole nation in jeopardy. In fact, in a very different way, Jesus did die for his own people and John comments that Jesus died not only for the Jewish people but for people everywhere. And it was not for the political preservation of a nation but for the giving of new life to a people where all conventional divisions became irrelevant.
The end for Jesus is coming close so he goes into hiding until the time is ready. Again he goes to Ephraim, a place thought to be about 20 km northeast of Jerusalem, where mountains descend into the Jordan valley. It was a remote desert area where Jesus was relatively safe.
As the Passover approaches, people are on the watch for Jesus to appear. Instructions have been given out that any sightings of Jesus were to be reported so that the authorities could arrest him.
Again there is another ironic question: “What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?” Little did they know that Jesus would be the central character of this Passover and make it the most famous Passover in history.
We are now ready to enter the great finale of Holy Week.
Click for Today's Readings
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Commentaries on the Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56AFTER FIVE WEEKS of preparation we now enter the climax of the Lenten season and what we call Holy Week. In a way, the whole week from today until Easter Sunday should be seen as one unit – the presentation of what we call the Paschal Mystery. This Paschal Mystery includes the sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus into glory and the sending of the Spirit on the disciples of Jesus to continue the work he began. Although it is, for liturgical and catechetical reasons, spread over a period of seven weeks, it should also be seen as an indivisible single experience.
This week sees the climax of the mission of Jesus Christ in which the deepest meaning of his life is unfolded and in which his teaching becomes incarnated in his own words and actions.
Today’s celebration (for, strange to say, the terrible happenings we are about to listen to are truly a cause for celebration on our part) is divided into two distinct parts: the procession with palms and the Mass proper. (The particular Mass you attend may not include both parts as many parishes will only do the first part at one of the day’s Masses.)
Joy and triumph
In the first part the prevailing atmosphere is one of joy and the vestments in today’s liturgy are a triumphant red and not the violet which has prevailed during the other days of Lent. For the reading from the Gospel in this first part recalls the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as King. He gets a rapturous reception from the crowd who acclaim him with words we still use in the “Holy, holy, holy…” of the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. This scene is important for, in a few days’ time, the same triumphant Jesus will be reduced to a battered wreck of humanity, calling forth the words of Pilate: “Look, it is a human being!” (Ecce homo)
As we process through our church, with our palms (or their equivalent) in our hands, we too sing with enthusiasm: “Christ conquers, Christ is king, Christ is our ruler” (Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat). There is a difference in our case for we know the end of the story and what is to come. Because of that, we sing with even greater conviction about the greatness of Jesus and a realisation of just why he is our King.
But even here there is shadow. For not all are spreading their clothes on the ground for Jesus to walk over or waving their branches. His enemies are watching and what they see only gives greater urgency to their desire to see the end of Jesus. In one way, they will succeed with a frightening ruthlessness to destroy Jesus but, of course, they will also fail utterly. Our presence here today is proof enough of that.
The mind of Christ
In a way the real key to Holy Week is given in today’s Second Reading, which seems to be a hymn, incorporated by Paul in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, in northern Greece. It expresses the “mind,” the thinking of Jesus, a “mind” which Paul urges us to have also if we want to identify fully with Jesus as disciples. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The key word in the passage is “emptied.” This kenosis (), or emptying, is at the heart of Jesus’ experience during his Passion.
In spite of Jesus’ identity with the nature of God, he did not insist on his status. He first of all took on himself in the fullest sense our human nature – “like us in all things, but sin”. But, even more, he reached down to the lowest level, the lowest class of human beings – the servant, the slave. That was still not the end. He let go of all human dignity, all human rights, let go of life itself to die, not any “respectable” form of death, but the death of a convicted criminal in shame and nakedness and total abandonment.
To understand the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus one must fully grasp what Paul is saying here and, not only grasp it, but totally appropriate it into one’s own thinking so that one would be prepared, with God’s help, to go exactly the same way. Our normal sensitivities even over trifling hurts just show us how far we have to go to have the “mind of Jesus.”
We are now – hopefully ¬¬– prepared for listening to Luke’s version of the Passion of Jesus, up to but excluding the climax of resurrection.
So much to reflect on
Although efforts are now made to make the listening of the Passion less of an endurance test, there really is too much to be fully digested as we stand listening to one or three readers. Perhaps we should set aside a short period later in the day to go through the dramatic telling more at our leisure. Or perhaps we could focus on a particular passage which speaks to us more at this time.
– the last meal of Jesus with his disciples, a bitter-sweet experience for all
– Jesus’ struggle with fear (even terror) and loneliness in the garden, ending in a sense of peace and acceptance
– Peter’s denial of ever having known Jesus, the same Jesus with whom he had just eaten and who had invited him into the garden
– the kiss of Judas, another disciple, sealing the fate of Jesus, and leading to bitter remorse and suicide
– the rigged trial before the religious leaders and again before the contemptuous, cynical Pilate, the brief appearance before the superstitious and fearful Herod
– the torture, humiliation and degradation of Jesus
– the way of Calvary – the weeping women, the reluctant Simon of Cyrene
– the crowds, so supportive on Sunday, who now laugh and mock
– the murderous gangster promised eternal happiness that very day
– the last words of forgiveness and total surrender (emptying) to the Father.
The drama is truly overpowering and needs really to be absorbed one incident at a time. It would be worth reflecting in which of these scenes I can see myself, with which characters I can identify as reacting in the way I probably would.
Jesus – the focal point
Through it all there is Jesus. His enemies humiliate him, strike him, scourge him. Soldiers make a crown with thorns, a crown for the “King of the Jews” (an element of contemptuous racism here?), Herod mocks him. Pilate, Roman-trained, makes a half-hearted attempt at justice but fear for his career prevails.
Jesus, for his part, does not strike back, he does not scold, he does not accuse or blame. He begs his Father to forgive those who “do not know what they are doing.”Jesus seems to be the victim but all through he is, in fact, the master. He is master of the situation because he is master of himself.
So, as we go through this day and this week, let us look very carefully at Jesus our Saviour. We watch, not just to admire, but also to learn, to penetrate the mind, the thinking, the attitudes and the values of Jesus so that we, in the very different circumstances of our own lives, may walk in his footsteps.
If we are to be his disciples, he invites us to walk his way, to share his sufferings, to imitate his attitudes, to “empty” ourselves, to live in service of others – in short, to love others as he loves us. This is not at all a call to a life of pain and misery. Quite the contrary, it is an invitation to a life of deep freedom, peace and happiness. If it were anything else, it would not be worth considering.
Monday of Holy Week
Gospel Jn 12:1-11
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.
Commentary on John 12:1-11
Today’s Gospel serves as a lovely prelude to the Passion of Jesus.
Jesus is back in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, recently brought back from the dead. Perhaps these are his last moments of companionship before the horrors that are to come. True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary, the contemplative, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed unguent and pours it all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. It is a sign of great love and echoes what the “sinful” woman in Luke’s gospel also did. This account is probably the same as that described in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13 but is distinct from the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50.
While the “Beloved Disciple” is a nameless character in John’s gospel, he can be matched by this beloved disciple.
Judas, the spiritually blind materialist, only sees what he regards as terrible waste. Hypocritically he suggests the money would have been better spent helping the poor. John suggests Judas was more interested in getting the money for himself than sharing it with those in need.
Jesus sees an altogether different meaning in Mary’s action. He sees the tremendous love behind the action and interprets it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)
You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.” This is not to be understood any cynical way. The poor cannot be truly loved except in God and in Jesus.
As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Only those who truly love God (whatever name they call him) are able truly to love the poor and all those in need. And vice versa. Also, in Jewish tradition there was disagreement as to whether giving alms to the poor or burying the dead (which would include anointing) was the greater act of mercy. Those in favour of burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the final resurrection.
Finally, we are told Lazarus’ own life is in danger as well as Jesus’. Lazarus is seen as the living sign of Jesus’ divine power and so they both must be wiped out. Many of the Church’s martyrs died for the same reason. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, witnessing to the truth, love and power of Christ.
Am I willing to be a martyr-witness for Christ, to stand beside him on the cross as he is mocked and insulted? This is the week for me to find the answer to that question.
Tuesday of Holy Week
Gospel Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor. So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night. When he had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” Peter said to him, “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”
Commentary on John 13:21-33,36-38
A sad moment in the Gospel: double betrayal.
First, that of Judas. Judas is no outsider but one of the inner circle of the Twelve. Jesus announces solemnly: “One of you is going to hand me over.” The statement comes like a bombshell. For all their weaknesses, they cannot imagine any one of them planning such a thing. Peter asks the Beloved Disciple, who is closest to Jesus (in every sense of the word) to find out who it is. “It is the one to whom I hand the piece of bread after dipping it in the dish,” says Jesus. Jesus hands over the morsel, a symbol of sharing. It is probably part of the bitter herb, dipped in salt water which was a feature of the Passover meal. Jesus hands it over to the one who will hand him over to those who wish to be rid of him. This is an act of friendship which makes the coming betrayal doubly treacherous. The bitterness of the morsel is also significant.
In that very moment Judas knows he has made his fateful decision as Jesus tells him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” None of the other disciples realised the significance of the words. As soon as he has left, it is no wonder that the evangelist comments: “Night had fallen.” Yes indeed. It was a moment of utter darkness. This is a gospel which constantly contrasts light and darkness. Yet at that very moment which sets the whole passion experience in motion, Jesus speaks of his being glorified and of God also being glorified.
To do this, Jesus is going to leave his disciples. He will leave them in death but he will also leave them to return to the glory of his Father.
Peter, well-meaning but weak, swears that he will go all the way with Jesus, even to death. It is the second betrayal. Worse in some ways. At least Judas made no wild promises. What will save Peter will be the depth of his repentance and later conversion.
We too have betrayed Jesus and those around us so many times. We have broken bread with Jesus in the Eucharist and then turned our back on him by the way we treat those around us. We have promised at confession with his help never to sin again and then gone and done what we have just confessed.
Let us pray that we, like Peter, may weep bitterly for all the wrongs we have done and all the good left undone.
Wednesday of Holy Week
Gospel Mt 26:14-25
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, AMy appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“ The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,and prepared the Passover.
When it was evening,he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”He answered, “You have said so.”
Commentary on Matthew 26:14-25
The stage is being set for the final drama of Jesus’ mission. Judas has gone to the chief priests to make a deal for handing Jesus over to them. This term ‘handing over’ is like a refrain all through the Gospel and reaches a climax here. John the Baptist was handed over. Now we see Jesus being handed over – the term occurs three times in today’s passage. Later, the followers of Jesus will also be handed over into the hands of those who want to put an end to their mission.
Judas sells his master, hands him over, for 30 pieces of silver. Only Matthew mentions the actual sum given to Judas. The sum derives from a passage in Zechariah (11:11-13), where it is the wages paid to the shepherd (Zechariah himself) rejected by the people. He is then told by God to throw the money into the Temple treasury as a sign of God’s rejecting those who reject him. (Judas, too, will throw back the money to the priests after realising what he has done.)
What people will do for money! Judas is not alone. What he did is happening every day. Perhaps I, too, have betrayed and handed over Jesus more than once.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus’ disciples ask him where he wants to celebrate the Passover. Little do they know the significance of this Passover for Jesus – and for them.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover are closely linked but there is a distinction between them. The Passover was the commemoration of the Israelites being liberated from slavery in Egypt, their escape through the Red Sea (the Sea of Reeds?) and the beginning of their long trek to the Promised Land. The feast began at sunset after the Passover lamb had been sacrificed in the temple on the afternoon of the 14th day of the month Nisan. Associated with this on the same evening was the eating of unleavened bread – the bread that Jesus would use when he said over it “This is my Body”. The eating of this bread continued for a whole week (to Nisan 21) as a reminder of the sufferings the Israelites underwent and the hastiness of their departure. It was a celebration of thanks to God for the past and of hope for the future.
Jesus tells the disciples they are to contact a man who will provide all that they need for a Passover meal.
During the meal Jesus drops the bombshell: “One of you is about to betray me (in the Greek, ‘hand me over’). It is revealing that none of them points a finger at someone else. “Is it I, Lord?” Each one realises that he is a potential betrayer of Jesus. And, in fact, in the midst of the crisis they will all abandon him.
Nor is it one of his many enemies who will hand Jesus over. No, it is one of the Twelve, it is someone who has dipped his hand into the same dish with Jesus, a sign of friendship and solidarity. All of this has been foretold in the Scriptures but how sad it is for the person who has to take this role, even though it is a role he has deliberately chosen. There is a certain cynicism when Judas asks with an air of injured innocence, “Not I, Rabbi, surely?” “They are your words,” is Jesus’ brief reply.
The whole approaching drama is now set in motion.
Let us watch it carefully during the coming three days not just as spectators but as participants. We too have so often betrayed Jesus, we too have so often broken bread with Jesus and perhaps have sold him for money, out of ambition, out of greed, out of anger, hatred, revenge or even violence for our own personal gain.
We can, like Judas, either abandon him in despair or, like Peter, come back to him with tears of repentance.
Click here for the Holy Thursday readings from the Mass for the Lord's Supper.
Commentary on Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READINGS cover the whole sweep of what today’s feast means.
The first reading is a description of the Jewish Passover Meal. It is a sacramental re-enactment of the meal taken by the Israelites before their flight across the Red Sea from Egypt. A flight from slavery to freedom and liberation. This, once a year commemoration, could be called the “Eucharist” of the Jews. Except that they celebrate it just once a year and not weekly or even daily, as we do. It is a sacred remembering of God’s great act to liberate them from slavery and the beginning of their long journey to the Promised Land. It is no coincidence that it was precisely during the celebration of this meal that Jesus instituted what we now call the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Here is the link between the Hebrew and the Christian Covenants.
In the Second Reading, Paul recalls what Jesus did during that Last Supper, that Passover Meal. He took the bread at the table and said it was his Body. He took the cup of wine and said it was his Blood to be poured out for us. These actions were to be repeated by his followers in memory of the liberation brought about for us through his suffering, death and resurrection.
Three events are thus united into a new mystery:
– the Jewish Passover and Paschal Meal;
– the whole Paschal Mystery of Jesus: suffering, death and resurrection.
– the linking of the bread and wine and its communal eating with the sacrificial death and the
resurrection of Jesus;
There is a new liberation, not just from physical slavery, but from every kind of slavery, especially that of sin and evil. There is now a new Pasch and a new Passover. There is a new Lamb, the Lamb of God. There is a new unleavened bread, the Bread that is the Body of the Risen Lord. The blood of the lamb is now replaced with the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus, who takes away the sin of the world.
Commentary on John 13:1-15
The Gospel links all this with the concrete reality of our lives. It says nothing about the Pasch or the Passover. It says nothing about the Eucharist, or the Body and Blood of Jesus. Instead it speaks of Jesus, Lord and Master, getting down on his knees and washing the feet of his disciples. It is this spirit of love and service of brothers and sisters which is to be the outstanding characteristic of the Christian disciple.
And this is the true living out of the Eucharistic celebration. To have one without the other is not to live the Gospel. And so the words of the Eucharist are also repeated here: “Do this in memory of me.”
Not to celebrate the Eucharist in community and not to spend our energies in love and service of each other is not to be living the Gospel. Our Christian living is a seamless robe between Gospel, liturgy and daily life and interaction.