Soak in the Gift of God’s Word this Lent
As we approach Holy Week, we have one more opportunity to make the most of our Lenten journey. Reflecting on the daily Gospel is a beautiful way to become fully immersed in Lent and soak in the wisdom that God wants to pour into our hearts.
Sunday, March 18 – Fifth Sunday of Lent
Today’s gospel reading—the one specifically for RCIA—tells the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). There are a lot of interesting details about the story, though one of the more interesting points is the lead up to this in St. John’s gospel. It’s a veritable crescendo where Jesus reveals more and more about Himself.
In ch. 6, Jesus gave His famous discourse on the Bread of Life. The claim He made astonished the crowd: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53). In ch. 7, He taught with such authority and vigor that even impressed the Pharisees. In ch. 8, the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus into stoning an adulteress. By not picking up a stone, Jesus challenged the Law of Moses, which was (rightly) held sacred by the Pharisees. Later in ch. 8, he focuses on drawing His disciples into Himself, promising that “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (v. 31-32). In the same discourse, Jesus narrowly escaped with His life after telling the crowd of His divinity in Jerusalem, saying, “truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). He healed the man born blind (9:1-41) and followed that up with another claim to His divinity: “If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father” (10:37-38). The gospel readings for the upcoming week unfold this story in greater detail.
Jesus steadily backed his detractors into a corner as each chapter progressed. How could they continue to deny Jesus’ words and deeds? Tension runneth over between Jesus and the Pharisees, as well as other Jews in Jesus’ audience. It all centered around one question: who is Jesus? All the signs & miracles, the teaching with authority… could any ordinary prophet do such things?
With that as a background, perhaps Jesus’ delay in going to Bethany makes more sense. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus while Lazarus was alive (11:3), but Jesus didn’t leave until two days after getting the message (11:6). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead simply by commanding him. The message He sent to the Jews at the time is the same He asks of every Christian of every age: I came for you, that you may have life. Do you believe Me now?
Monday, March 19 – Solemnity of St. Joseph
St. Joseph has one of the most important roles in the gospels, though none of his words were recorded. As soon as the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, telling Joseph to take Mary as his wife, he didn’t just acquiesce to divine pressure. Joseph loved Jesus as his own child; He joined himself to the mission of raising the Messiah with Mary.
Had Jesus materialized from heaven in human form, without mother or father, his messianic credentials would’ve been stronger. Upon hearing Jesus preach in the Temple, people in Jerusalem complained that “we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” (John 7:27) In that light, it was still in the divine plan for Jesus to grow up with an earthly mother and father.
What does that tell us about the importance of the family? And how the vocations of mother and father have been given to us by God? St. Joseph laid his life completely in service to his family and to the Lord. He’s a model for every father: love your family, love Jesus, love Mary, and unite yourself to the will of God. Say a prayer for all fathers today, that they may emulate St. Joseph.
Tuesday, March 20
In the gospel reading today (John 8:21-30), Jesus converses with the Pharisees, and they start to understand. They asked incredulously, “Who are you?” It’s part of the way toward the truth, whether they believed Jesus or not. The Pharisees seemingly were saying, ‘you can’t say that, only God can say that.’ Some in the crowd made the connection from Jesus’ preaching to believing in Him.
Jesus also prophesies that when He is lifted up, then they will know Him as the Son of Man; that is, the Messiah. Was Jesus wrong? Some Pharisees became followers of Christ, but not all. The lifting up of Jesus/the crucifixion became a stumbling block for many Jews (1 Cor 1:23). How should we understand this prophecy?
The key with this prophecy is that Jesus’ audience wasn’t restricted to the people in the crowd that day. His audience spans millennia, down to all of us today. The “lifting up” that Jesus mentioned is definitely the crucifixion, but the Paschal Mystery includes more than a brutal execution. The whole Paschal Mystery contains the entirety of the institution of the Eucharist and the New Covenant, the Passion & death of Our Lord, the resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit. Encapsulated in one small prophecy is the entire mystery of our salvation: in the Paschal Mystery we shall know Him for Who He IS.
As Holy Week draws near, take some time to appreciate the wonderful gift of salvation. It can only be brought to light by He Who Is the light of the world.
Wednesday, March 21
Jesus tries to shed more light on His identity to the Pharisees in today’s gospel reading. We should pause to take an honest look at the Pharisees. They’re easy targets in the gospels, yet they were the “professional” religious in their day. There were bad apples, as there would be in any group of people. But these men who knew their faith, knew the Scriptures, and kept the commandments as laid down by God—all three of those things are vitally important to the spiritual life. Do those three things apply to you? And do you still cast a proverbial stone at the Pharisees when Jesus smacks them around? We can’t surrender to pride and think that we’re immune to the pitfalls that befell the Pharisees in the gospels.
All week, the gospel readings have focused on the person of Jesus, and how well we truly know Him. Our Lord must be pursued with our whole mind, heart, body, and soul. That chase ends when we die, and not a second before. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that it’s possible for even His disciples to completely miss the boat:
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Today, pray for a humble heart that seeks to love Our Lord. The Little Way of St. Therese applies to these thoughts today: “What a comfort it is, this way of love! You may stumble on it, you in prayer may fail to correspond with grace given, but always love knows how to make the best of everything; whatever offends our Lord is burnt up in its fire, and nothing is left but a humble, absorbing peace deep down in the heart.” (Story of a Soul, Ms. A., Knox translation).
Thursday, March 22
The first reading (Genesis 17:3-9) and the gospel reading (John 8:51-59) bring up the patriarch Abraham. We hear the amazing promise made to Abraham by God, to institute the Old Covenant. All three promises of God came to pass, probably in ways that Abraham never expected. The nation & land that would form came to pass in the Mosaic covenant; the kingdom and the kings that came from Abraham’s line was fulfilled in the Davidic covenant (Gen 17:6). But how would Abraham be the father of a multitude of nations? (Gen 17:4) And that the covenant was everlasting?
The answer to those questions would’ve blown Abraham away, had he been able to see the New Covenant established by Jesus. It encompasses all nations, and since its founder is eternal, the covenant is, too (Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, pg. 96).
Skipping ahead in time to Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees, Our Lord drops a bombshell on them: “before Abraham came to be, I am” (John 8:58). There was no mistake on either part: Jesus used the divine name of God to refer to Himself, and the Pharisees’ push to stone Him shows they knew exactly what He was saying.
We cannot forget that the divinity of Christ ensures everything the Catholic faith says and does. If Christ was a mere guru or teacher—as the secular culture likes to think of Him—our faith is groundless and a waste of time. Hear the readings today and consider yourself privileged. The build up of centuries of the Old Covenant reached its fulfillment in Jesus, and we reap the fruits of His grace today!
Friday, March 23
Lent nears its culmination on the cross one week from today. Jesus continues His verbal battle with the Jews & Pharisees in the gospel reading. It’s the first reading that draws our attention to what’s coming on Good Friday. The prophet Jeremiah had just been beaten and thrown in the stocks. Upon being released, he mixes praise of the Lord, denouncing his enemies, and frustration with the Lord all in one soliloquy.
“But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed” (Jer 20:11).
Putting those words together with Jesus’ crucifixion don’t fit at first glance. The crown of thorns, the scourging, the nails driven into His hands and feet… the marks of a dread warrior? It doesn’t fit the secular mindset in even the tiniest way. He didn’t weaponize His divine powers. Jesus fought with the weapons of humility, complete self-giving love, and total surrender to the will of the Father.
Our Savior is a conquering hero! His love is unassailable. Jesus fights in our hearts to win them over, using the same three weapons. Don’t resist His efforts—join in the battle.
Saturday, March 24
The first reading today is from Ezekiel 37, and it’s a key text that looks ahead to the coming New Covenant. After the exodus, the twelve tribes of Israel settled into the Promised Land. King David had conquered the surrounding lands. The kingdom later turned into two separate ones, the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms. The Assyrians invaded and destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., sending into exile the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom. Those tribes have been lost to the sands of time. About 150 years later, the Babylonians invaded the Southern Kingdom, destroyed Solomon’s Temple, and carried off the two Southern Kingdom tribes into exile.
Twelve tribes, a.k.a. a huge part of the promise God made in His covenants with Israel, were nearly obliterated. With God all things are possible, but I imagine the Jews listening to Ezekiel with a good amount of skepticism:
“Thus says the Lord God: ‘I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land. I will make them one nation upon the land, in the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one prince for them all.’” (Ezekiel 37:21-22)
The Jews knew redemption was coming; Jeremiah foretold a new covenant that was to come; Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant who would bear the sins of many.
Enter Jesus: the Messiah and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The one nation under Christ the King does not have an ethnic identity anymore, but a heavenly one. Jesus didn’t go to find the lost ten tribes; He instituted a new sacrament, baptism, to unify all people together in Him. The New Covenant was on its way! Like the covenant on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24), it too would be sealed in blood.