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Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 17, 2024
Jn 12:20-33

Jesus’ hour has come. In today’s Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus tells his followers that he is to be glorified and that this glorification will come about by his death. But he makes it clear that to serve him; we must follow him all the way to the cross. This can sound like something we’re not quite ready for–but this is what we signed on for as disciples of Christ. Digging deeper into his words, we can find the hope, courage, and strength to follow him. 

Jesus describes his sacrifice as similar to the transformation of a grain of wheat into a fully grown plant, which can then produce much fruit. This same transformation can happen for us when we pour ourselves out for the love of God and our neighbor.

Jesus reveals his human nature by saying that he is troubled. But then he perfectly models for us his abandonment to God’s will. We can use his words when we are faced with difficulty: Father, glorify your name.

Jesus promises victory, as his death on the cross justly casts out evil–and conquers sin and death, offering salvation to humanity. We can claim this promise with gratitude, especially when we are tempted or facing a spiritual battle. He has already won. 

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

March 18, 2024
Jn 8:1-11

In another episode of “Gotcha, Jesus,” the scribes and Pharisees try again to catch Jesus saying or doing something that would mean they could bring him up on charges. In this unsavory scene, they put an adulterous woman in the middle of a large group of people and ask Jesus what should be done with her. 

What were they hoping to charge Jesus with in this case? There were a couple of possible scenarios. If he says she should be stoned, they can turn him over to the Romans, who forbid Jews to execute anyone (see chapter 18, verse 31). If he says the woman should not be stoned to death, they can charge him with not obeying the Law of Moses. They thought they had him this time. 

Instead of answering their question, Jesus “bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.” What was he writing? I love this answer in George Martin’s book Bringing the Gospel of John to Life: “In reality, what he wrote is not important; if it were, the Gospel author would have presented it. The likeliest suggestion is that Jesus is simply turning away from those trying to trap him and doodling on the pavement, pointedly ignoring them.”

Ignoring them just made them continue to pester them until he turned it back to them, saying, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And just like that, the tables were turned. If they insisted on stoning her, they would have to face the Romans; if they did not, they would be breaking the Law of Moses themselves. He won this round, and they left.

Jesus masterfully handled the manipulative scribes and Pharisees. And then, just as masterfully but equally tenderly, Jesus handles the woman face to face. He knows her sin but does not condemn her. Instead, he shows mercy and lovingly urges her to change her life from that moment on. 

Our loving Lord knows our sins, too, and is always ready to offer us the same mercy. Meeting him has a tendency to change lives. 

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

March 19, 2024
Lk 2:41-51a

Every year for Passover, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus made the trek to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. Today’s Gospel reading (option 2) recounts the time when Joseph and Mary were on their way back to Nazareth with the group they came with, and they couldn’t find twelve-year-old Jesus. So, most likely tired from the trip, they had to backtrack to Jerusalem and hunt for their missing child. I often wonder how many times in the days they searched, they feared the worst. 

When Joseph and Mary ultimately found Jesus in the temple, Scripture tells us that Mary said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” My reaction may have been more high drama, with a lot of screaming and hand flailing and where-were-you-why-did-you-do-this-we-told-you-to-stay-with-us-


I think their anxiety was a human reaction to losing track of their preteen child. They lost Jesus and then found him right where he knew he belonged, in the temple. But in the end, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth…” They took him home.

We can find ourselves searching for Jesus, too. We know where to look, but sometimes, we can be stubborn or just want it to be easier. Ultimately, we know where to find him, even if it takes us a few frantic days. He’s always in the tabernacle, in the Eucharist, in communion. We find him there and take him with us.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

March 20, 2024
Jn 8: 31-42

The world likes the sound of “the truth will set you free.” It seems to promise intellectual and emotional liberation through a clear understanding of reality. But what people today call “truth” can vary widely depending on their philosophical, scientific, and cultural viewpoints. So truth and freedom could be defined by anyone using any standard they like. 

Jesus’ words about truth and freedom in today’s Gospel are not arbitrary or vague and are not up for interpretation. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

The truth is what Jesus came to testify to, the way to God that he brought. The freedom he speaks of is freedom from sin and death. This is what Jesus is offering. Even as his listeners are debating him, and ultimately trying to kill him, he is trying to save their lives. “I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.” 

Their arguments are thin. Their minds are closed. They’ve decided what their “truth” is and are not budging. As much as we don’t like to think about it, we can be a lot like them. When things get just a little too tough in our lives, or we feel like our religion is asking a little too much of us, we can close down, too. 

Lent is long and sometimes difficult. As we get closer to the Passion, the Church gives us readings like this one to remind us what true discipleship is. The truth is a person, Jesus, and true freedom–freedom from sin and death–is only found through him. Are we going to go all in?

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

March 21, 2024
Jn 8:51-59

The clencher in today’s Gospel reading–which feels like “second verse, same as the first” from yesterday’s–is the question, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” 

We can feel the heat rising in these debates with the Jews bent on killing Jesus. Like in yesterday’s Gospel reading, Jesus is passionately trying to convince them that he is the source of eternal life, “whoever keeps my word will never see death.” But they resorted to what they thought they knew–Abraham and the prophets–and refused to open their minds to the fact that their heroes were pointing to Jesus all along. 

And Jesus went there. “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” Meaning he was the Word incarnate, preexisted Abraham, was with God, and is God. Which in the Jewish book was blasphemy with a penalty of death. Out came the stones. But Jesus evaded them again.

Do you have people in your life who don’t know Jesus? Or who think they know him as a historical figure, a moral teacher, or a cultural icon? The Jesus in today’s reading makes it clear that he is God–always present tense, from forever to forever. And he wants to have a relationship with us. He wanted a relationship with the people who were resisting him and who ultimately had him killed. 

Let’s pray as we approach Holy Week that we can bear witness by imitating Jesus, and keeping his word.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

March 22, 2024
Jn 10:31-42

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus continues to try and convince the Jews who wanted to kill him that he was not blaspheming but telling the truth that he is the Son of God and, in fact, God. And again, they had the stones all ready to hurl. They saw him heal people. They witnessed him casting out demons. They heard his preaching and saw the effect it had on people. Jesus wanted desperately for these things to matter and work as proof: “…even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Nope.

After escaping the mob (again), Jesus headed for the wilderness where John was baptizing. And there, in the wild, people came out to meet him and believed.

This story makes me think of the saying, “You either love him or you hate him.” The Jewish religious leaders hated Jesus because he challenged their dogmatic belief system and was a threat to their authority. Others loved him. He brought outsiders in. He gave hope to hopeless people. He wanted to give that same love, hope, and mercy to everyone, even those who rejected him. 

We can’t be ambivalent about Jesus. 

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

March 23, 2024
Jn 11:45-56

Our Gospel reading picks up just after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and not surprisingly, many of the witnesses of the miracle “began to believe in him.” But, as we have seen in our readings lately, there were those among them who didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and they went straight to the Pharisees to report on him. And they convened the Sanhedrin to talk about what to do. 

It may have been a heated discussion, but it boiled down to a dilemma: leave Jesus alone and risk the Romans removing their religious authority or take matters into their own hands and destroy Jesus under the guise of protecting “the people.” For them, it was all about authority and maintaining the status quo–a pretty comfortable status. “So from that day on they planned to kill him.”

It is a bitter pill we swallow every Lent. Jesus raised Lazarus to life, which led directly to his own death. 

One thing we can do today, inspired by this reading, is to find time to go into the desert with Jesus, as he did with his disciples. Take some moments and thank God for his perfect plan, and ask him as I’m sure they did, to help us to prepare spiritually for what is coming.