THE SUNDAYS OF LENT are the building blocks of the Season. Week by week,the Sunday liturgy draws us more and more deeply into the Lenten season and in preparation for the Easter Mysteries. Week by week we will outline here the main themes of the Sunday Gospels for Lent.
Sunday 18 March 2018. 5th Sunday of Lent.
Two themes dominate the gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year B. One is that when the Son of Man is lifted up (i.e. on the cross) he will be glorified. ‘Glory’ in the Bible does not have the meaning it normally has today. The Israelites used the phrase ‘the glory of God to convey the idea of the God they could not see, but to whom they felt close. It was an expression for the nearness of God. Jesus makes it clear in word and action that God is never closer to humanity than when the son of Man is raised up (i.e. crucified). When this happens, Jesus says, it is like the groin of wheat which will only ever remain a grain of wheat unless it falls to the ground and dies. Then it will give rise to a rich harvest. Jesus, the grain of wheat, dies so that we,humanity, may have life and have it to the full. Last week we read that God’s purpose in sending the Son of God into the world is not to condemn the world, but so that through the Son, the world may have life. Now we face the reality of how that purpose is achieved: through the grain of wheat which dies; through the Son of man being raised up. The humanity of Jesus is stressed here too. Of course his soul is troubled at what lies ahead. We should never forget that in Jesus’ death we have the ultimate commitment of God to humanity; and we should never forget that the humanity of Jesus paid the ultimate human price that we might live. The passage has been described as the 4th Gospel’s equivalent of Jesus’ agony in the garden after the Last Supper as found in the other three gospels.
For those using the gospel of the Raising of Lazarus (Year A), there is the last of Jesus’ signs: the raising of Lazarus. Martha’s faith is under the spotlight here. She states to Jesus that is he had been present, her brother need not have died, but when Jesus tells them to roll the stone away, Martha is horrified: “Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day”. Her horror is understandable, but she has just said that even now god will do whatever Jesus asks. Martha’s reaction might prompt us to reflect on our own faith in what Jesus might do for us!
Sunday 11 March 2018. 4th Sunday of Lent. ‘SCIAF’ Sunday
Centre stage this week is Nicodemus, the Pharisee in Jerusalem who came to Jesus at night (i.e. he came out of the dark). Nicodemus recognises greatness in Jesus, but is unable to understand what Jesus is saying when he says that a person must be born of water and the Holy Spirit from above and anew in order top enter the kingdom of heaven. Nicodemus is puzzled: how can someone undergo birth a second time? He misses the point of the newness of Jesus’ teaching: being born again is entering into a totally new life which comes from God. In today’s passage this becomes linked to God’s purpose for humanity: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved”. God’s purpose; not a human invention – that we may have the fullness of God’s life. Now that has to be Good News!
Again, where there are to be baptisms at Easter, the Year A readings are to be used. The Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Lent Year A is the story of the cure of the man born blind. This is a long and remarkable tale. A blind man sees more clearly than those with the gift of sight, and he ‘sees’ Jesus more and more clearly. The authorities however descend further and further into a blondness of their own making, and which they do not recognise
Sunday 4 March 2018. 3rd Sunday of Lent.
Gospels for the Sundays of Lent for the rest of this year are all from John, whether you use the readings for Year B (which is the current liturgical year), or whether you use the Year A readings because adults will be baptised at Easter. In Year B, today’s gospel is the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple. This is a different version of the story from that found in the other three gospels.For a start, it comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; the other gospels place it just before Jesus’ death. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is appalled that the Temple has been turned into a market, but in John, his only comment is that if they destroy ‘this temple’ – his own body, he will rise it up in three days. Of course, he is misunderstood, and no one could have understood him until he did rise form the dead. It was after his resurrection that his followers realised that whereas the Temple was the place where daily animals were offered in sacrifice in the hope that those paying for the offering would have their sins forgiven, in Jesus’ death there is one sacrifice which takes away the sin of the world – and the cost is Jesus’ life; not the price of a sacrificial animal. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
In parishes where there will be baptisms at Easter, the gospel is the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well. This is a wonderful story of the meeting whereby the woman becomes progressively more confident through her encounter with Jesus, and is so full of life that she becomes an ambassador for Jesus to her own people. An inspiring tale for those nearing baptism.
Sunday 25 February 2018. 2nd Sunday of Lent.
Like last Sunday, this one always has the same Gospel story, no matter which year of the cycle we are celebrating. It is always the story of the Transfiguration, the version of the story changing from year to year, so that over the three year cycle, we read each of the versions from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is of course Mark’s version we read this year. The story is strange, but simple. Jesus climbs a high mountain with Peter, James and John – the three disciples who accompany him at special moments – such as the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus goes after the Last Supper, and where he is arrested.
On the mountain, three humans, earthly figures – Peter, James and John see encounter Jesus in the presence of three heavenly figures. Two of these are visible – Moses and Elijah (human, but no longer living on earth), and God the Father (not visible, but audible). Jesus stands in the company of the heavenly figures, but he is also among the very human and earthly disciples.
In other words, Jesus is the person in whom the things of heaven and the things of earth exist together. His mission is acknowledged by the voice of God the Father: “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him”. Clearly Jesus is recognisable to the disciples, but he is also different from what they knew. Peter wants to make a permanent memorial of this – three shrines. but the disciples must descend with Jesus and they will gather again on the Mount of Olives, in teh Garden of Gethsemane on that mountain. Before that,m Jesus will tell them three times that the Son of Man must suffer, die and rise again, but they do not listen to him. Until they do, they will never realise that Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for all of humanity.
Sunday 18 February 2018. 1st Sunday of Lent.
On the 1st Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is always the Temptations (testings?) of Jesus in the period between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry. This year, we read Mark’s account of this episode. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not list the temptations. He merely tells us that:
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him”.
What we do know is that Jesus emerged victorious from this because he immediately begins to proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God is at hand. So what’s going on here?
The ‘testings’ of Jesus come between his baptism and the star of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus was baptised, the remarkable event of the presence of the Father, Son and holy Spirit (the only time this ever happened in a way that human senses could experience) meant that thee Godhead, the Holy Trinity. was present to the world of humans. God the Father speaks (a rare occurrence, because Jesus is the Word of God who speaks); the Son of God immerses whimsy in the River Jordan and in his Mission; and the Holy Spirit is seen in the form of a dove (we don’t know why a dove, but we do know that spirits, and therefore the Holy Spirit, are not usually visible). The presence of God in the world of humans is a powerful sign that God intends to destroy the power of evil once and for all. But will God, or Satan win? The fact that Jesus emerges from the desert and immediately proclaims the kingdom of God is at hand is a powerful indicator that the power of Satan is soon to be destroyed. Satan’s total defeat comes with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but in Jesus prevailing at this period of testing, Satan is served formal notice that evil is already on the way to total defeat.