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Lent 5 (C)
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Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

1. Isaiah 43, 16-21

  • Thus says the Lord.  First I hear the prophet speaking for God.  What voice would I use for an official announcement in the town square or on television?  That’s the voice I need. 
  • The Lord, who opens a way in the sea.  That present tense ‘opens’ would have sounded strange to the listeners of the prophet as well as to us.  So it is not a re-enactment of the Exodus, as it were, but the thing itself in our own day!
  • Remember not the events of the past.  Once again, we are talking ‘today.’  God has not stopped working.  See, I am doing something new.  The prophet wanted his listeners in exile to take note, and I want my listeners today to do the same.  They will make the connection, but I can help to drive the message deeper if I speak Do you not perceive it? as if to say, “Why, it’s right there in front of you.”
  • In the desert I make a way.  This is not the same as a campaign promise, so I must not make it sound like a public works project.  It means that God wants the people to return to the holy city, and that if they do they will not lose their way.
  • Water for my chosen people to drink.  And they will not die of thirst, as the popular hymn says.  I notice that the prophet says ‘my people,’ and then the people whom I formed for myself.
  • That they might announce my praise.  The Native Americans knew how to use every bit of the birch tree, and I find spiritual food in every part of the reading.  The scripture scholar Max Zerwick said that he found food for meditation in every word of scripture; yes, every word!  So God does not protect and care for Israel just for the fun of it.  This people is expected to give thanks and tell the world about all these wonders.  Here is covenant with its rights and responsibilities.
  • Climax: I am doing something new.  Our return to favor is the work of God.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we attribute the glory to God?
  • I will challenge myself: To find the language of inspiration for those in our assembly who are discouraged today, to help them to prepare for Easter.

 

2. Philippians 3, 8-14

  • I consider everything as a loss.  Here is Paul’s most personal testimony to his beloved church.  I have spent a lifetime building a career and a spotless social standing, as have my listeners, as did the apostle.  I have much of which to be proud, as do my listeners.  But can I, can we, take the next step into Christ?  In our sight as well as God’s, is it just so much wasted time? 
  • The passage begins with loss, which the apostle said a total of three times (two here) and then, for greater emphasis, rubbish.  He almost says, ‘I don’t care what you think,’ and I think they sound best when I build them to a climax.
  • The supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus will sound right if I declare it with full voice, but that I may gain Christ and be found in him must be spoken more intimately, as if I have found him after great effort and plunged my head into his bosom.  After all, this is about the risen Christ who is present to the church, who is found in our needy neighbor and in prayer and not in campaign tours. 
  • And what is this finding, or belonging?  To know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.  This is the heart of it.  The letter is being dictated and we hear some digressions.  This is where I will place my emphasis, and where I will speak with a stronger voice.
  • I will also pay attention to the humility that shows through the passage.  Not having any righteousness of my own and If somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead and finally Not that I have taken hold of it.
  • I continue my pursuit in hope.  And then the famous words that have been translated as ‘eyes on the prize’: Straining forward to what lies ahead I continue my pursuit toward the goal.  I have run track and field, and know what it feels like to finish a race at full stride with reserve energy, when I have lost the feeling in my legs.  Let me rehearse until I bring out this personal knowledge in my reading.
  • Central point: Nothing counts but knowing Christ Jesus.
  • The message for our assembly: Do we truly appreciate what the apostle is saying?  Or do we still think that our social standing, our wealth and our career have value in the eyes of Christ?  Will we approach Holy Week as onlookers or as followers?
  • I will challenge myself: To be worthy of the apostle and his single-minded dedication to the Lord.

 

Gospel. John 8, 1-11

  • So maybe the story of Jesus writing on the ground does not belong to John, but to Luke or someone else!  It is genuine Jesus, regardless. 
  • The story of the woman caught in adultery reminds me of the legend of Susanna, which was once read in Lent and was quoted in John Paul II’s letter on moral doctrine.  Susanna was wrongly accused; we do not know about the woman in Jerusalem.  In neither case was she allowed to speak in her own defense (except to Jesus).  I could find a way to hint at this aspect of the story.
  • They brought a woman and made her stand in the middle.  I know what ‘brought’ probably means.  All this treatment would make her appear even more degraded than her public sin would make her. 
  • Teacher, this woman was caught… I’ll rehearse my earnest and indignant side, the one I feel when I see a spouse abuser on television.  They said this to test him.  I read the evangelist’s wry comment – ‘Of course, you know their true motivations’ – as a wry comment, and with no cynicism in my voice.
  • But above all, like the apostle, my eyes are on Jesus.  I must bring him alive as he bent down, began to write on the ground, straightened up.  Finally and decisively, I repeat Neither do I condemn you not as a judge but as a shepherd.
  • They went away one by one.  Let time pass while I read.  Don’t be in a hurry!
  • Climax: What else?  Let the one without sin be the first to throw a stone.
  • Message for our assembly: We should feel that we are judged by the Just One when we finish listening.  Are we ready to change our judging ways?
  • I will challenge myself: To maintain the inherent tension between the woman’s accusers and Jesus.

From Word to Eucharist: Holy Week and Easter draw nearer.  We should be feeling lighter by now, free from some old baggage and in the middle of hard training.  That host we consume is very light, to remind us that we need very little for our journey together.

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