Thursday in Week of Lent 4

31st March 2022

Exodus 32.7-14; Psalm 105; John 5.31-47

Again and again Jesus describes himself as One who was sent. [e.g. John 3.17; 4.34; 5.23-30; 6.29,38-40,57; 7.16,28-29; 8.16-18,28-29; 10.36; 11.42; 12.44-49; 13.16; 14.24; 15.21; 16.5; 17.3,21-25; 20.21] Essentially, this locution is used at least once in nearly every chapter of the Gospel. The Greek verb apostellein, from which we have derived the English word apostle, means ‘to send’. In this oft-used self-description of himself as the heavenly Father’s apostle Jesus has given us food for meditation on our own apostleship.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the decree of Pope St Paul VI on the apostolate of the laity: ‘The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.’ ‘Indeed,’ the Catechism continues, ‘we call an apostolate every activity of the Mystical Body that aims to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth.’

To do the works of the One who has sent us, though, we must be fully in him. The Christian apostolate is not a way of ‘baptising’ our own political agendas; rather, to know ourselves as ‘sent ones’ is a spiritual work of humility, subjecting our preferences and predilections to the searching gaze of the God who is the Judge of every human pretension.


Wednesday in week of Lent 4

30th March

Isaiah 49.8-15; Psalm 144; John 5.17-30

My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work.’ [John 4.34] Many of the signs are followed up in John’s Gospel with explanatory discourses which amplify and deepen the meaning of the sign. In this teaching Jesus asserts that his Father ‘will show him even greater things than these’, greater, that is, than the healing of a man paralyzed for 38 years. On another occasion he declared that ‘the works I do in my Father’s name are my witness.’ [10.25b]

More remarkably, speaking to his disciples just before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus asserted that ‘whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself; he will perform even greater works.’ [14.12] By observing and being spiritually built up by the signs Jesus performs we will become in truth his disciples and continue the work of our heavenly Father until it is completed. [cf Philippians 1.6]

Tuesday in Week of Lent 4

29th March

Ezekiel 47.1-9,12; Psalm 45; John 5.1-3,5-16

Another singularity of John’s Gospel is that in it alone do we find the chronology of a three-year public ministry of Jesus with his disciples. John has Jesus and his disciples going regularly to Jerusalem to observe the pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Pentecost and Purim). In particular, John articulates three Passovers, all celebrated in Jerusalem. [2.13; 6.1-4; 11.55] Today’s Gospel lesson takes place at an unnamed ‘Jewish festival’. This may have been a fourth Passover in Jesus’ public life, but it could have been at any of the pilgrimage feasts.

The emphasis that John places on water is striking: in four of the seven signs; in Jesus’ nocturnal dialogue with Nicodemus [3.5], in his dialogue with a Samaritan woman [4.1-16], and in his pronouncement in the Temple during one Hanukkah [7.37-39]. Most of all, it is John who records Jesus’ cry of thirst from the Cross [19.28] and that on the Cross Jesus’ side was pierced with a soldier’s spear, bringing an effusion of blood and water. [19.34]

Do you want to be healed?’ Jesus asked the paralytic man. Lent—which St Gregory the Great in a hymn called ‘the healing season’—poses that question directly to each of us. ‘Come to the waters’ Jesus invites us. [cf Isaiah 55.1] Water is at once refreshment and danger. Only by disregarding the peril can we receive the promised peace and satisfaction and healing.

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Monday in Week of Lent 4

28th March

Isaiah 65.17-21; Psalm 29; John 4.43-54

Unlike the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke (commonly called the ‘synoptic’ Gospels because they seem to have seen the life of Jesus through ‘the same eye’), John’s Gospel makes no effort to present a continuous narrative of Jesus’ earthly life. Instead, John gives us seven ‘signs’ which he says he has selected and ‘recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.’ [20.31] The first two signs are enumerated: the transformation of water at the marriage feast in Cana
[2.1-11] and the healing of the son of a nobleman [4.46-54] The remainder, not explicitly enumerated by the Evangelist, are (3) the healing of a lame man at the pool of Bethzatha
[5.1-17]; (4) the feeding of 5000 [6.1-15]; (5) Jesus walking on the water [6.16-21]; (6) the healing of a man born blind [9.1-41]; (7) the raising of Lazarus from the dead [11.1-44]. It is this last sign which leads to a decision by an unexpected alliance of Sadducees and Pharisees to enlist the help of the Roman colonial government to put Jesus to death. [11.45-54]

Most of these seven ‘signs’ are also narrated in the synoptic Gospels, where they are usually called ‘miracles’ [cf Mark 6.52], that is, extraordinary events which cannot be explained by the laws of nature. For John, though, these signs point beyond themselves and invite us not merely to wonder [cf Mark 2.12b] but by our meditation on them to be formed in faith, to be made not simply in name but in reality his disciples.

Saturday in Week of Lent 3

26th March: Hosea 5.16—6.6; Psalm 50; Luke 18.9-14

To be humble is to be united to the humus, to the earth. [cf Genesis 3.19] Humility is an honest acknowledgement of who we are. But if dust is our origin, it is not our destiny. As the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul.’ God creates us by calling us out: calling us to leave the dust that inexorably dissipates and to allow God to fill us with God’s own Spirit. [Genesis 2.7]

Lent begins with a statement of our mortality, of the hopelessness of the human (from humus) condition. But that hopelessness is never the last word about us. If we come before God asserting our accomplishments, perhaps most especially our spiritual successes, we will soon be shown to be foolish. ‘Pride goeth before a fall’ the Proverb [16.18] reminds us. If, on the other hand, we come before God with humility, the God who called us into existence will renew that call and restore in us his Holy Spirit. [Psalm 50(51).11]

Annunciation of the Lord

25th Mar: Isaiah 7.10-14; 8.10; Ps 39; Hebrews 10.4-10; Lk 1.26-38

Ancient Christians thought the Crucifixion on Good Friday had occurred on 25th March; and because of their conviction that the Incarnation and the manifestation of its purpose [cf John 18.37] must have occurred on the same day, they fixed 25th March as the date of the Annunciation. Christmas, nine months later on 25th December, followed in natural sequence.

God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will’ is a quotation from the Psalter [39(40).7-8] placed on the lips of the incarnating Christ as he wings his way from his heavenly home to make his home in the unlikeliest of places, the womb of a virgin in Nazareth. [cf John 1.46] Like every child of Adam, Jesus is made who he is by vocation, by the call of God. His response to that call—his acceptance of the imperative of that call—will make him who he is to be.

The Word was made flesh’. [John 1.14] On the floor of the Holy House in Nazareth an inscription reads ‘Verbum caro hicfactum est’—the Word was made flesh right here. No less than Jesus, Mary herself was made truly herself by vocation, by the call of God to her, by her acceptance of the imperative of that call. ‘Be it unto me according to thy word’ she replied to the angelic announcement. Thrice daily Catholic Christians recite the Angelus and affirm Mary’s Yes, an affirmation like unto God’s own. [cf II Corinthians 1.19-21]

Thursday in Week of Lent 3

24th March: Jeremiah 7.23-28; Psalm 94; Luke 11.14-23

The Old Testament organises the history of Israel around two central axes: the liberation of God’s chosen people from Egyptian slavery, and the later liberation of this people from Babylonian exile and captivity. God’s liberating work is fundamentally defined as call, or vocation. In creation, God calls all things to come into existence (in metaphorical terms, calls them out of darkness into light). In redemption, God calls his people out of slavery into freedom. And in the ongoing work of sanctification, God calls his people out of death into life.

These three calls are one. Creation and redemption are not simply acts completed in the past; they are on-going and continually necessary. Over and over human beings are shown preferring inertia to the demands of existence, preferring slavery to the demands of freedom [cf Exodus 17.1-7], preferring the pseudo-life of instinct to life worthy of the name.

Persistently God speaks in prophetic words we would rather not hear. Persistently he endeavours to govern us, to keep us in paths of peace and fulfilment. But only by his complete identification with us, his Incarnation in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, constantly renewed for us at the altar as he takes the bread we offer and makes of it the food of eternal life, does he make us, not just in virtue but in fact, his people, alive and free in Him forever.

Wednesday in Week of Lent 3

(23rd March): Deuteronomy 4.1,5-9; Ps 147; Matthew 5.17-19

Not one little stroke shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.’ Both the Douay-Rheims Bible and the King James Version translate this verse with the familiar ‘not one jot or tittle’. The jot is really iota, the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet, equivalent to our letter i. The tittle is from the Latin word meaning superscript—a diacritical (accent) mark, even the dot that tops the i. In hyperbolic language, the words of the Law (the Torah) are so sacrosanct that the smallest pen-stroke cannot be obliterated without endangering the whole edifice.

But what is the purpose of that Torah? In positive terms Torah is a picture of the indescribable God; a lifestyle by which we may come to resemble God himself. [Psalm 118(119).1] It is a manifestation of the presence of God in the midst of his people. The New Testament writers are univocal in asserting that the Law never succeeded in accomplishing that goal [cf Hebrews 7.19] Yet Jesus himself, at once the sign and the substance of the life of God on earth, God’s continual concern for the earth and its inhabitants created by him, is the Law’s fulfilment, and in imitating his lifestyle we also may come to know a Life that is worthy of the name.
[cf John 10.10]