Jeremiah 20.10-13; Psalm 17; John 10.31-42
Again, on a fresh occasion, Jesus faces a crowd who threaten to stone him for blasphemy; and again he eludes them. He unites his words and deeds to those of his heavenly Father, who he proclaims has consecrated [him] and sent [him] into the world.
To be an apostle is to be sent: sent on a mission, sent with a message. Jesus unites himself to the whole tradition of Prophecy in Israel, and every prophet is a spokesman for God.
The language of consecration, though, is language about priesthood. Jesus has come into the world not simply to endure the opprobrium that was the lot of every legitimate prophet: he has come to make the suffering that God’s representatives inevitably suffer into an act of sacrifice. He is the Breath of Life set loose in the world; by laying down that life (for no one can take it from him) he fills every child of Adam with life worthy of the name. As Jesus goes to the Cross, the Father is in him and he is in the Father. By his Passion he frees us, by his wounds he makes us whole. [Isaiah 53.5] His priestly sacrifice (sacrum facere) makes us holy, makes us not just in virtue but in fact the children of God.
Genesis 17.3-9; Psalm 104; John 8.51-59
We began this week with a woman accused of personal impropriety, for which the stipulated penalty was stoning; today Jesus himself is accused of the far more substantial crime of blasphemy, for which the penalty was also stoning. The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees has reached a fevered pitch. Jesus evaded his accusers and hid himself; indeed that is the reason (for this Gospel reading was traditionally read on Passion Sunday) that we customarily veil crucifixes and statuary for the final two weeks of Lent, the period known as ‘Passion-tide.’
He hides himself, though, only so that he may be found by those who seek him sincerely. As God of old revealed himself in the mysterious name (YHWH) which is really the sound of the life-breath that pulses through all of us, so Jesus prepares to reveal himself to his true disciples as the Life which cannot finally be extinguished.
Daniel 3 (selected verses); John 8.31-42
“Our father is Abraham” Jesus’ listeners insisted. Before Judaism is a religion it is a family, an ancestry. Like other identifications, being a child (a descendant) of Abraham can occasion snobbery and superciliousness. The most difficult task for the early Church was overcoming the customary animosity between Abraham’s heirs and the Gentiles, their term for everyone else.
Yet when pressed Jesus’ audience declared “We have one father: God.” Relationship with God transcends ties of kindred and affinity; indeed that very relationship makes possible what John the Baptist proclaimed by the Jordan River, that “God is able to raise sons for Abraham from these stones.” [Luke 3.8-9]
We are—or most of us are—those transformed stones, adopted children brought into a family not naturally our own. Alongside Abraham’s children, we are freed from slavery to the whims of this world’s tyrants and oppressors. [Galatians 3.7-14] As Israel found, though, we only experience real freedom when we have shackled ourselves to the demands of the only God.
Numbers 21.4-9; Psalm 101; John 8.21-30
To lift up the One sent to the world by the Father is to crucify him, to impale him as Moses put the bronze serpent on a standard during Israel’s years of wilderness wandering as an antidote to the bite of the fiery, venomous serpents God had unleashed because of the people’s impatience and faithlessness. “We have sinned”, the people acknowledged to Moses. “Intercede with the Lord to save us.” Their cry seems insincere, opportunistic: religion turned to when every other remedy has proved impotent. And yet the crucified One hangs, arms outstretched, in a posture of patient, perpetual intercession, even and especially for those whose faith is wavering and undependable, whose relationship to the Maker of the Universe is mechanistic and impersonal. Triumphant over death and sin, he lives now eternally to make intercession, even for us. [Romans 8.34]
Daniel 13 (selected verses); Psalm 23; John 8.12-20
This Gospel reading follows directly on from the familiar passage about the woman ‘caught in the act of adultery’ and haled before Jesus. Today’s reading considers the evidentiary usefulness of testimony. Three people give contradictory accounts of the same event; whose testimony should be believed, and whose dismissed?
This is set into context by the haunting story of Susanna, villainously accused by two ‘judges’ whose amorous advances she had resisted. Daniel, a young man chosen from among the Judaean deportees to be trained in the ways of Babylon [Daniel 1.3-7], steps forward, and declares that Susanna has been condemned on perjured testimony. Cleverly he interrogates Susanna’s accusers separately and proves that their account of events is entirely concocted.
These readings, of course, encourage our reflection on the trials of Jesus, first before the religious authorities and then before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who had difficulty breaking Jesus’ taciturnity. [John 18.33-38] St Paul describes this as Jesus’ ‘witness for truth’. [I Timothy 6.13] Are we that kind of witnesses? Or are we too easily convinced by the rolling stone of the mob?
2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; Psalm 88:2-5, 27, 29; Romans 4:13,16-18,22; Matthew 1:16, 18-21,24
There is so little known about St Joseph - other than a few verses in the Gospels. However what is known is so significant: we can trace his ancestry back through King David (our first reading), and then back to Abraham (as the letter to the Romans says - 'I have made you the ancestor of many nations'.)
Joseph, then, links Jesus firmly back into the covenants made between God and mankind in the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophet Nathan tells King David that his line will endure, and we are told Joseph has the pivotal role of bringing the infant Jesus - not his natural born son - into the line of David by persevering in his betrothal to Mary and thus adopting the infant.
Jesus coming from the line of David was one of several key signs that He is the messiah.
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]