20 March 2010

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Ordinary Form)

First Reading, Isaiah 43:16-21
One can easily marvel at the miracle that God worked for His people by bringing them out of the slavery of Egypt. In fact, most parishes will proclaim that miraculous event in one of the Readings at the Easter Vigil; and of course, virtually everyone looks forward to the annual showing of ‘The Ten Commandments’ with its all-star cast. But as great as that event in salvation history was, we are not eyewitnesses. Thus our Lord would have us turn our focus to 'something new'.

The miraculous crossing of the Israelites occurred in a moment of time. Christ's salvific act, although it occurred in a moment of time, has eternal consequences. The Sacrifice of the Lamb of God is witnessed at each and every Mass and the fruits of this Supreme Sacrifice are received at Mass in the Eucharist and ultimately in eternal life – if one can actually say that something eternal is ultimate. Thus God desires us to be eyewitnesses of something that is not only new, but forever new.

Second Reading, Philippians 3:8-14
For many Christians, sadly, ‘the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus’ is an abstract thought. There are many reasons for this which include the highly secularized society we live in, and the failure to pursue Christ beyond the Sunday obligation. Any relationship that doesn't bond in some way will fail.

How heart wrenching it can be to know that many see Jesus rightly as the Saviour, but the veil which blocks their spiritual vision suggests that He is out there somewhere and not really lovingly involved in the lives of humanity; while at the other end of the relational spectrum, Saint Paul considers ‘everything as a loss’ because he knows his Lord and Saviour so intimately. In fact, Saint Paul even goes so far as to refer to all things as ‘rubbish’ which is a very good rendering of the Greek text.

Admittedly, it seems harsh to call all other relationships and moral joys rubbish, but what Saint Paul is likely doing is hoisting the greatness of Christ to an unfathomable level rather than actually degrading everything else. Saint Paul does, after all, define his knowledge of Christ as a ‘supreme good’ which undoubtedly puts his relationship with Jesus at a level that few can comprehend.

Paul acknowledges that any righteousness he possesses was dealt to him by the gift of faith. Our Lord already knows what we can do with the gift of faith but desires that we surrender to His will in order to show us what He can do with our gift of faith. A human being is not capable by his/her own merits of joyfully sharing in the life of Christ and knowing ‘the power of His Resurrection’. We can't conform ourselves to Jesus without His help.

This intimate level that Saint Paul already enjoys still longs for an even higher level of maturity; but Paul divulges the secret: ‘I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus’. And this possession is not caused by any kind of obtrusiveness on our Lord's part, for that would be contrary to Divine Love; but rather, it is a surrendering of the human will to the Divine will. Paul seeks a maturity in his relationship with Jesus that is perfect which echoes the words of our Saviour: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48).

When our Lord commands us to ‘be’, it intimates cooperation with grace. In other words, Christ can do the work through us but for us to ‘be’ also requires action on our part. This compliant cooperation with grace is what leads to ‘the prize of God’s upward calling’.

Gospel, Saint John 8:1-11
It's a bit humorous, while at the same time very sad to read that the scribes and Pharisees were telling Jesus what the Law of Moses commanded; but their blindness hides from them the absurdity of what they’re doing.

What did Jesus ‘write on the ground with His Finger’? No one knows for certain but the Old Testament may provide a clue. First of all, Scripture tells us that the two stone tablets containing the Commandments that were given to Moses were written with the Finger of God (cf. Exodus 31:18). Thus this Gospel scene reminds us that the Finger which wrote the Commandments is the same Finger which here writes on the ground. Secondly, these words are also found in the Old Testament: ‘O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be confounded; they that depart from You shall be written in the earth’ (Jeremiah 17:13). Jesus may very well have been writing the names of the scribes and Pharisees, which would have been a bit shocking when considering that it was the scribes and Pharisees who brought forth a woman that they considered to be the one who departed from the Lord. Another possibility is that Jesus was reminding everyone of that verse in Scripture by writing it with His Finger. No one knows for certain what He was writing. Virtually everyone has the power to stoop down and erase anything that is written on the ground; but our sins are inscribed on our heart and soul and can only be erased by Jesus.

A very ancient practice, which sort of fell through the ecclesial cracks somewhere, was re-introduced by Pope John Paul II. It’s the practice of contemplating the Face of Christ. While many can be negligent when it comes to going to Confession, the season of Lent is a great opportunity to turn things around. Most parishes even create more opportunities to take advantage of that Sacrament during this penitential season. Waiting in line for Confession can be a humbling experience because it speaks quite clearly that none of us are in a position to cast the first stone.

After receiving this Sacrament of mercy and love, efforts can be made to offer thanksgiving by contemplating the Face of Christ. How does He look at you when He says: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’? See that Face of Love Who alone can make such a bold statement to you.