Friday, March 31, 2017

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

“Christ with the Chalice” 
by  Juan de Juanes, 1560’s
During the Fourth Week of Lent (especially in cycles B and C when the Gospel of the man born blind is not read on the Fourth Sunday of Lent) optional MassTexts are offered.
Reading 1: Jeremiah 11:18-20
Commentary on Jer 11:18-20
In this selection we hear the Prophet Jeremiah reflecting on a plot against his life. This first reflection, called a “confession,” borrowing from St. Augustine’s titled work. It is the first of seven such passages. This plot, according to later scripture passages, may have been initiated by his own family (Jeremiah 12;6ff). Other scholars contend that it was earlier in his career when the priests of Anathoth opposed him because his preaching provided backing for Josiah's religious reform. He speaks prophetically of the event using language similar to Job 21:7-13 and Psalms 374973 and provides images that will later associate this passage to the plots against Jesus in his last days
CCC: Jer 11:19 608
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 7:2-3, 9bc-10, 11-12
R. (2a) O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
Commentary on Ps 7:2-3, 9bc-10,11-12
Psalm 7 is a lament. In the verses used here, we find the psalmist being persecuted. He is calling on the Lord for protection and salvation. As in many cases, the singer sees the Lord as armor, a shield against those who would do him harm, the wicked.
Gospel: John 7:40-53
Commentary on Jn 7:40-53
The irony of St. John’s Gospel shows in the first part of this passage. The crowd is pointing at facts about the Davidic Messiah, specifically where he was prophesied to be born. They recite the prophecy: the Messiah will be from the line of King David (cf 2 Samuel 7:12-14Isaiah 9:6-7Jeremiah 23:5; and Ezekiel 34:23-24), and Jesus is. He will be born in Bethlehem (cf Micah 5:2), as Jesus was. Not knowing the truth about these facts the crowd is not wholly convinced.
In the second part St. John describes the deliberations in the Sanhedrin. Why had the guards not arrested Jesus? Based upon the description, we can infer that those present actually prevented the guards from taking that step. The religious leaders cynically say that “this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” After more discussion, they are still not ready to act, and return to their homes; action for the moment is delayed.
CCC: Jn 7:48-49 575; Jn 7:49 588; Jn 7:50 595; Jn 7:52 574
In the Gospel from John on Friday we heard the first echoes of the coming passion of Christ.  Today we hear it again in a resounding way.  First we find Jeremiah speaking of the plot against him, letting us know that this is not the first time God’s people have rejected what God needed them to hear.  The author also speaks of God’s faithfulness to Jeremiah, how God’s messenger (Jeremiah) trusts him to take care of these obstacles. 
The Psalmist translates the prophet’s call into a song, full of hope and trust in God.  As is usual this common call puts us in the place of Jeremiah.  In our lives there are always pitfalls along the way.  Sometimes they are of our own making, sometimes placed there by others.  In some cases, in spite of our constant prayer; “deliver us from temptation,” we fall into those snares and need the Psalmist’s assurances: “O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and rescue me” (Psalm 7:2).
The Gospel today describes how the plot against Jesus thickens.  The Scribes and the Pharisees are very upset because the genuine voice of God is hard to disguise, and that voice was not saying what they needed it to say.
It is clear they do not know the particulars of his background, or the Lord’s identity would have been immediately seen.  They did not know he was of the line of David, the ancestry predicted for the Messiah.  They did not know he had been born in Bethlehem, the prophesied place of birth for the Messiah.  They had not heard his claim that he had come to fulfill all that had been written in the Law, redefining key terms (expanding the love of God from just the house of Israel to encompass all peoples and nations).  Had they understood the Prophet Isaiah, they would have seen that, not only did he meet the prophetic standard for the physical arrival of the Messiah, he also fulfilled the path to be followed. They would see this too late.
If this were an adventure novel, right now we readers would be saying to Jesus: “Look out, it’s a trap!  Don’t go there (to Jerusalem) where they can get you.  Run – go back to Galilee where it’s safe for you.”  But as we know, he sees this trap and knows the fate that awaits him, and because of his great love for us – he walks knowingly in.
This is our great example of what the Lord tells us about love for one another.  Never does he express hate or even anger about the people who plot his arrest and death.  How can he? They are his creation as well.  But we must see his face in those who plot against us. We, like Jesus must trust in the our Heavenly Father to give us strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril, and peace in all we do. 

[1] The picture is “Christ with the Chalice” by  Juan de Juanes, 1560’s

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Friday of the Fourth Week in Lent

"Jesus Among the Doctors" by Paolo Veronese, 1558
During the Fourth Week of Lent (especially in cycles B and C when the Gospel of the man born blind is not read on the Fourth Sunday of Lent) optional MassTexts are offered.
Reading 1: Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22
Commentary on Wis 2:1a, 12-22
In this passage from Wisdom we see scripture usually associated with the passion of the Lord.  It draws heavily on imagery from the “suffering servant” in Isaiah (Isaiah 52-66 ff).  The motives and feelings of those who oppose God are laid bare in clear language.
“This section describes the way the ungodly think and behave, and their error in so doing. Righteousness is immortal; but the ungodly think that life ends at death and therefore they try to strike a bargain with death (Wisdom 1:16-2:19). Moreover, they hound the righteous man because he thinks and acts differently from the way they do (Wisdom 2:10-20). They have no idea what life is all about (Wisdom 2:21-24).”[4]
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 and 23
R. (19a) The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
Psalm 34 is generally a song of thanksgiving, however, this selection is more from the wisdom tradition (see Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22). We hear the results of the actions of the evildoers, whose motives were made clear, and how the Lord supports the just man.
Commentary on Jn 7:1-2, 10,25-30
Jesus leaves Galilee for the last time and goes down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. He goes, knowing there is a plot to kill him. The suggestion in v. 10 is that he did not come with the fanfare that would have normally been associated with a prominent teacher or prophet.  Still, he is recognized by his teachings in the temple area by people who know of him, and the negative view the Sanhedrin has about him. There is an ironic statement by St. John; “Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?
Jesus challenges the Jews' understanding that the Christ (Messiah) would reveal himself “suddenly and unmistakably, and that prior to this manifestation he would be completely hidden.” The Lord proclaims himself to be the one who was foretold and says further that they know what he is talking about.
The fact that they cannot arrest him testifies to the fact that the crowd, at least, was divided on his identity. The authorities would not have wanted to stir up controversy in the middle of the celebration of a major feast.
CCC: Jn 7:1 583; Jn 7:10 583
We see, in St. John’s account of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, the great passion the Lord has for the mission upon which he had been sent.  Since his baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Baptist, Jesus has had only one goal, to reveal to the Father’s creation that he loves them. He reveals that the Law and the Prophets are an attempt to show the people how to imitate the love of God in order for them to live in his peace and to inherit the Kingdom of God, coming there at last, at the end of this world. 
That was his purpose in coming in a nutshell.  It is clear in the stories from the Gospels that coming as he did, “taking the form of a slave coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance” (Philippians 2: 7), Jesus saw with those human eyes that his mission was not close to being accomplished.  The emotion of this realization is captured by St. John’s Gospel: “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."
The Lord fairly begs the people present to understand the mission with which he is charged. But they do not see.  They are weak and afraid.  They had heard that this man was dangerous and that the chief priests want him dead.  Even so, we are surprised they did not arrest him when he revealed himself.
It is the purpose of Christ’s mission to reward our faith in him, and that reward is not given without faith and trust.  It is a great irony that, in order to find salvation, we must be willing to accept, on faith, that the gift of faith yields this great prize.  And as the Lord “cries out” to us to accept his mission and example, we find the real purpose in our Lenten journey.  We are to cast away our fear and weakness, and accept the offer God has issued through his Only Son.
This, we know, is a very hard thing to do.  Human weakness is built into us all.  The need to conform to the group satisfies an internal urge to be loved, and often the group is not guided by the divine will of Christ so we fail.  But the Lord continues to cry out to us. He continues to open the way for us.  So great is his love that he accepts our blemishes, our weakness, and our fear, cherishing us even in our sin.  It is his unwavering fidelity that often confuses us.  We cannot understand how one so pure could love us.
To our continuing amazement, we recognize rationally that he is still crying out to us, calling us home to him, and we pledge ourselves once more to respond.  We offer that response as our prayer today.

[1] The picture today is "Jesus Among the Doctors" by Paolo Veronese, 1558
[4] The Navarre Bible: “Wisdom Books”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2003, pp.310

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

“The Infant Jesus Distributing Bread to Pilgrims” 
by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1678
During the Fourth Week of Lent (especially in cycles B and C when the Gospel of the man born blind is not read on the Fourth Sunday of Lent) optional MassTexts are offered.
Reading I: Exodus 32:7-14
Commentary on Ex 32:7-14
“Yahweh informs Moses of the people's sin; these verses must originate from a source other than that of v.18, where Moses appears ignorant of what is happening in the camp. Yahweh has divorced himself from this sinful people, for he refers to them as "your people." He intends to destroy the wicked and form a new nation. Moses now assumes the role of mediator and appeals to God's honor for his own name before the pagan nations as a motive to prevent the destruction of his people. As a second motive, Moses recalls the promises accorded to Abraham. We note, however, the subsequent conflicting elements of the punishments invoked by Moses (Exodus 32:2025-29) and the testimony of Yahweh (Exodus 32:34).”[4]
CCC: Ex 32 210; Ex 32:1-34:9 2577
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 106:19-20, 21-22, 23
 R. (4a)  Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Commentary on Ps 106:19-20,21-22, 23
Psalm 106 is a national lament remembering the events from Exodus 32:7-14, where the Jews brought out of Egypt by Moses fell into idol worship, even as he received the Law on Mt. Horeb.  The psalmist reminds the people that Moses interceded and turned away God’s wrath.
CCC: Ps 106:23 2577
Gospel: John 5:31-47
Commentary on Jn 5:31-47
Jesus continues his discourse as his revelation continues. He now focuses on testimony other than his own to demonstrate that he is the Son of God. He starts with John the Baptist and then moves to the works he has performed in the Father’s name, indicating that those actions give testimony that he is from God. Jesus finally points to Holy Scripture and tells the Jews that even scripture testifies to his identity.
In the final section of this passage, Jesus chastises the Jews for their lack of belief in him. He points out that he did not come seeking praise or glory for his own sake (“I do not accept human praise”). He goes on to tell them they do not see the truth but will believe a lie if it conforms to what they believe the truth should be (“…you do not accept me; yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him”).
The logic of the Lord’s words in the final verses crashes down on them. If they reject Jesus in favor of the glory that comes from false prophets, then he does not need to condemn them, they are self-condemned. He tells them that if they believed Moses (the author of revelation in the Old Testament) they would believe in him (Jesus) and are now condemned by Moses as well, because by rejecting Jesus, they have disbelieved the word of Moses.
CCC: Jn 5:33 719; Jn 5:36 548, 582; Jn 5:39 702; Jn 5:46 702
Jesus, in throwing the words of Moses into the face of the Hebrews who would not accept him as the Messiah, also challenges each of us.  While we profess our faith in him as avowed Christians, by his words and example he asks us if we truly believe he is our Savior.  He says: “The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”  We must ask ourselves: do our works testify that we are sent by Christ?
Through our Lenten discipline of fasting, prayer, and alms-giving it should be clear to those we meet that we are practicing Christians.  But we must ask ourselves: do we try to hide that fact?  Are we a little embarrassed to show our faith to the neighbor across the street or the co-worker in the next cubicle?  Do we clearly work as Christ would if he were employed in our jobs, or given the same tasks to fulfill?
Jesus had to work very hard to change the minds of the Jews.  They thought of God the Father as the punisher who had killed off an entire generation wandering in the desert.  They thought of him as a harsh judge, allowing innocent people to be deformed and humiliated because of the sins of their ancestors.  Jesus works to change that image through his own sacrifice.  He is the love of the Father personified.
If we accept this new image of God, given to us in Christ’s revelation, we must act in ways that demonstrate this belief.  We cannot hide Christ’s love under a basket or shrink away from opportunities to show others who we believe in.  This is the great challenge the Lord throws down once more in scripture.  We are called to testify to the Father and Son through what we do, not just what we say in the darkness of our evening prayers.
Let that be our pledge.  Let us testify to the world through our actions that we truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.

[1] The picture is “The Infant Jesus Distributing Bread to Pilgrims” by Bartolom√© Esteban Murillo, 1678
[4] Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc.© 1968, 3:90, pp. 65