Brief reflections on the week’s Scripture readings
The FIFTH Week of Lent, 2021
Sunday, March 21: “I will put my spirit in you that you may live…” (Ez 37:12-14) “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Rom 8:8-11) “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live; everyone who believes in me will never die.” (Jn 11:1-45)
Such difficult but important readings for us in light of the great losses we have experienced over the past year. My heart aches for those mourn the deaths of loved ones, for the healthcare professionals who have endured so much. I am incredulous and greatly saddened, after all we have been through, to still see image of people who still put their own selfishness ahead of the health of their families, friends, and neighbors.
I hope those who mourn can find some solace and hope in these readings. Know that Christ mourns with you. Let all of us as a family, community, country, and world keep the spirits of those we have lost alive by respecting each other. If your heart is embittered, either from the suffering and death you’ve witnessed or by selfishness and impatience, ask the Spirit to come upon you, and rise from the death of bitterness, sorrow, and sin to new life in Christ’s love.
Today’s Provision: Allow faith in Jesus to be your anchor. Having faith does not lessen our grief, nor is grief a sign of lack of faith. Polite religious platitudes do little to help those who mourn. Faith does not calm the storm. It is our anchor in the storm. Jesus is that anchor. Let his love and compassion surround and protect you.
Monday, March 22: Jesus arrived again in the temple area… and he sat down and taught them. …when they (the scribes and Pharisees) continued asking him, he straightened up… (Jn 8:1-11)
I love to picture gospel scenes like a play being performed right in front of me. The “temperature reading” around Jesus is pretty high by this point. He has been sitting down, likely right on the ground with the people he is teaching; he wants to be with them at their level. The elders arrive, robes flowing, manhandling this woman they have found in the “very act of committing adultery.” (It begs the question, “Where is her partner in crime?”) The elders are looking to trap Jesus. Some in the crowd are probably cowering just like the woman in their midst, afraid they might be identified. Some might be skulking away. The elders tower above Jesus, demanding an answer. The Greek translation says Jesus “stood straight up.” He faces the accusing authorities on their level, unafraid, and with 18 words, knocks them to their knees. Then he sits back down. Yes, he rises up again, but not to tower over the woman. I like to imagine he takes her hand and helps her to rise up again too.
Today’s provision: Allow Jesus to challenge and heal you. Maybe you are among the crowds wanting to listen to Jesus but hesitant lest others judge you. Perhaps you are a self-righteous elder, ready to condemn anyone who runs afoul of “the law”—or at least the part of “the law” that matters to you. Maybe you are the woman – whatever your back story -- guilty of sin, ashamed, waiting for punishment to absolve you. Allow Jesus to challenge your hesitation and fear and to look within your own heart and see the sin that exists there. And then allow Jesus to heal you, not with punishment but with forgiveness and mercy.
Tuesday, March 23: “He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” (Jn 8:21-30)
Let’s clear something up here: God never leaves us alone. God is always with us, even when we are doing things that do not please God. God does not go away. We do.
Today’s Provision: Learn from Jesus. Jesus always does what pleases God. He never lets God out of his sight and is rewarded by seeing God and feeling the comfort of God’s presence always. He is never alone. If you long for that feeling as well, keep yourself focused on God. It doesn’t mean we will never sin again; that’s just not going happen. It also doesn’t mean that we won’t experience times when God seems absent. We know that can happen occasionally, perhaps as a challenge for us to deepen our faith. It happened to Jesus on the cross. But we also know that at that time, experiencing total abandonment, he still cried out to his God – another important lesson we can learn from Jesus. “To be sure, our mental processes often go wrong, so that we imagine God to have gone away. What should be done then? Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure. Learn to behave thus even in deepest distress and keep yourself that way in any and every estate of life. I can give you no better advice than to find God where you lost him.” (Meister Eckhart)
Wednesday, March 24: 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.” (Jn 8:31-42)
“Um, excuse me folks. You are Jews, right? You’ve never been enslaved to anyone? From my reading, you’ve been enslaved almost all of your existence! Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia. You could even look at Rome as enslavers. What gives?” Scholars say this exchange might be some Johannine sarcasm, poking fun at the people’s prideful arrogance. But it may also be a harbinger to those who “believe in him:” sin will be your downfall into slavery yet again if you do not change your hearts.
Today’s Provision: Do you have belief? Or do you have faith? What does it mean to you to believe in Jesus? For me, belief is more an intellectual affirmation that risks being challenged when what I believe in doesn’t quite play out the way I think it should. But faith is the anchor we talked about on Sunday that holds us firm even when our worldview is challenged. Whatever your word for it, just make sure in resides not only in your head, but in your heart.
Thursday, March 25: The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. (Lk 1:26-38)
“One cold night, a village girl, not yet fifteen, cradled her belly when the thought became clear: this child of mine will be special…Like every mother, she believed in her child. Like every mother, she believed in hope when hope was not to be seen. Today, I am a wing-bent angel sent to say thank you to Mary. To every mother. Thank you for the gift of your great faith.” (adapted from Hope as Old as Fire, by Steven Charleston)
Today’s Provision: Gratitude for faith and hope. In many Christian traditions, today is the Feast of the Annunciation, nine months before the day on which we celebrate the birth of Mary’s son, Jesus. Of course, we do not know the exact dates of Jesus’ birth nor the day his life began in her womb. What we do know is that Mary allowed her faith, her heart, and her soul to lead her. Intellectually, she didn’t understand (“How can this be?”), but still she said “Yes!” on this day, and all through the many trials and tribulations of her life and the swords that pierced her heart. Let us be always grateful to Mary and her courage, her faith, and her hope. Let us be grateful for the courage and hope of all people who bring new life into our world. May we always support them and their children, being there for them during the trials and tribulations of their lives.
Friday, March 26: 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?” (Jn 10:31-42)
I can just see members of the Sanhedrin on the sidelines, silently cheering, hoping the crowds would take care of this “problem” for them! (We read more about this tomorrow.) The way this scene is described confuses me. You’d think this mob of people would be all riled up, stones at the ready, but instead we hear an intellectual conversation between the crowd and Jesus. It’s like they are confused as well, trying to reconcile the good works they have seen from this man with what their law says about blasphemy. At some point, the stones are dropped, but they still try to arrest him. He escapes from their grasp, leaving them -- still confused and unsure.
Today’s Provision: Consider what confuses you about following Jesus. I’ve talked to many people recently who are confused, torn about how their religious beliefs and faith reconcile with their political stance. This is prevalent in the US where people on both sides of the political divide claim to be the true face of Christianity. My best advice is to read the words Jesus says and to look at the fruits he produces, for it is “by their fruits, you will know them.” And don’t confuse faith with political ideology. That’s dangerous ground. Just ask Jesus: he can tell you what happens with you mix politics and religion.
Saturday, March 27: 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
Read the whole gospel passage for today. See how religion and nationalistic ideology blinds the elders. They are concerned about the nation, the kingdom of Israel, not the Kingdom of God. So they use religious laws to bring Jesus to the cross. What can we learn from their blindness? Instead of worrying how we will make our countries secure and “great” again -- assuming they ever were for everyone anyway -- let’s set our sights on bringing forth the Kingdom of God. Let’s make sure we are not still crucifying Jesus today.
Today’s Provision: Allow yourself to be challenged. I’ve used this quote a few times in the past: “The Scriptures can often offend, but they are not meant to offend. They are meant to challenge. They only offend us if we do not want to be challenged.” (Walter Modrys, S.J.) We talked yesterday about the political divide. What if we were to try to make Christianity the bridge over the divide rather than as a means of widening it? Movements are springing up trying to facilitate conversations to heal the wounds of division. Some are based in religion and some are secular. Are we open to be challenged? Think about beginning a civil dialogue within your community.
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