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Third Sunday of Lent

March 3, 2024
Jn 2:13-25

When I read today’s Gospel, I am reminded of a mosaic inside The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, one that I have referred to as “angry Jesus.” I’m not alone in that description; if you Google “angry Jesus,” info about the mosaic pops right up. It’s actually entitled “The Christ in Majesty Mosaic,” and it’s quite impressive. According to the Basilica website, it is one of the largest mosaics of Christ in the world, measuring over 3,600 square feet and created with over 3,000 shades of Venetian glass tile. 

The look on Jesus’ face in the mosaic is, at first blush, angry. But if you study it closely, the expression is one of strength, intensity, and resolve. There is no doubt of his authority. 

Whether you love this mosaic or not, it and today’s Gospel message show a side of Jesus that we might find disturbing. Often, I think of Jesus as a quiet, gentle, and peaceful person who liked to go to parties and loved kids. The side we see today is passionate, commanding, and powerful. And, a bit mysterious. 

The selling of sheep, cattle, and doves was not the issue in today’s reading. Since crowds of pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover, many would have chosen to purchase their sacrificial animal there rather than to have traveled with it. The issue was that vendors and money changers were allowed inside the temple instead of the courtyard where these transactions typically occurred. 

The temple was a sacred space that represented the relationship between God and man. And the secular activity of buying and selling had crept in. Jesus made his identity known with authority (and a whip). He said, no, not in my Father’s house. 

Today, I have to ask myself: what have I allowed to creep into the temple of my heart? I imagine Jesus–not angry but with a determined look–helping me clear out what might be keeping me from loving and serving God the way he intends. Only a clean temple will do.

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

March 4, 2024
Lk 4:24-30

Jesus knew exactly who he was. The people in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, thought they knew him. People in the synagogue raved. “Wow, Jesus is an excellent speaker.” “That guy, Jesus, he’s amazing, right?” “Oh, yeah, Jesus? He’s great, isn’t he? He’s Joseph’s son.”

Well, they said those things, but instead of basking in their approbation, Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his native place.” They would have understood that to mean that he was aligning himself with the prophets and that he was telling them: you people do not have a good track record with prophets. Then, he very clearly illustrates his point.

Two prophets, two Gentiles, and two times prophets helped people outside their native place. Elijah was sent to a widow in Zarephath during the famine, and she and her son survived. Others did not. Elisha cleansed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy while there were Israelites who were not healed. It was a bit of a mic-drop moment. His listeners were enraged and full of bloodlust, but Jesus escaped them and put his hometown behind him. 

This episode foreshadows what we know is coming. Jesus will be accepted by some and outright rejected by others. As we approach the Passion, let us pray for hearts to be opened to the message of Lent: repent and believe in the Gospel.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

March 5, 2024
Mt 18:21-35

Two different debts, the same plea: “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable in answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (In the Bible, this means, “As many as all the times?”) 

The first debtor owed the king what may as well have been trillions of dollars. The king was going to exact punishment on the servant, but he was moved with compassion and forgave the loan. The second debtor, a fellow servant, owed a modest amount to the one who had been forgiven. He also begged for mercy but instead was thrown in prison until the debt could be paid. Nothing like this is easy to hide, and sure enough, other servants who had been witnesses of the ordeal went to the king and reported the whole thing. And then, the unhappy ending for the unforgiving servant. 

Jesus’ parable ends with a warning: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” Not the schoolyard brand of forgiveness. Not grudgingly. No lingering resentment. No sense of obligation. It must be the real thing.

If this sounds difficult, it is! And if it sounds harsh, consider the debt that we owe to God the Father. Our debt was paid by Jesus on the cross. “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you?”

Lent provides us another opportunity to forgive anyone who has hurt us–in big or small ways. Pray today, asking God to reveal to you where you may be holding on to past injuries and show you who you need to forgive. Then, the healing can begin.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

March 6, 2024
Mt 5:17-19

“I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” 

His listeners knew the Old Testament laws; maybe they didn’t have all 613 of them memorized, but they knew the Ten Commandments–don’t kill, don’t steal, no adultery, keep the Sabbath, honor father and mother, and so on. This was the code to live by, and these boundaries were pretty easily defined. 

But Jesus’ teachings seemed like something entirely new. The poor are blessed. Enemies are to be loved. The first will be last. Turn the other cheek. Become like children. How do these things fulfill the very long list of Mosaic laws?

Love. Loving God and loving our neighbor fulfills not just the letter of the law but the spirit of it. If we just refrain from killing, we fulfill the letter of the law. But if we don’t get angry, we fulfill the spirit of the law. If we refrain from adultery, we fulfill the letter of the law. But if we don’t indulge in lustful thoughts, we fulfill its spirit. And so on. 

Jesus gives us some goals to shoot for in this Gospel reading. One goal is not to break “one of the least” of these commandments or lead others down the same path. The other goal is to “obey and teach these commandments,”–which comes with a bonus: we will be called “greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” 

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

March 7, 2024
Lk 11:14-23

Amazed or absurd.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has to give a little lesson in logic to some people in a crowd who had just witnessed him driving a demon out of a mute man. When the formerly mute man spoke, they were amazed.

And then, absurd things started popping into their minds. “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.”

It would be like witnessing a doctor perform a miraculous medical cure and, instead of acknowledging the medical expertise and advancements, skeptically attributing it to some dark conspiracy or fraudulent activity, claiming that the doctor is using a malevolent force or deceitful means to achieve the healing.

There were other Jews at the time driving out demons, so Jesus asked them by whom they were performing these exorcisms. He traps them in their own argument because they would not say that their own were driving out demons by anyone but God. Again, Jesus makes his identity and authority known–he is the stronger man who attacks and overcomes the evil one. 

For us, as with Jesus’ critics at the time, we must decide where our allegiance lies. We can’t ride the fence on this one. What can we do in Lent today to help Jesus gather us?

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

March 8, 2024
Mk 12:28-34

Today’s Gospel reading is at once hopeful and challenging. 

What I find hopeful is that there was a scribe–a scholar of scripture and teacher of the law–who approached Jesus not to criticize but to have an honest discussion with him on the subject of which law was most important. Jesus quotes from scripture that the scribe would have known intimately. The scribe was open and willing to understand–he repeated what Jesus said in his own words, showing that he was actively listening. What we can learn from this exchange is a lot. 

Now to the challenge. It may just be me, but there might be a tendency to think this teaching of Jesus is a lot of pretty words, kind of a scriptural warm hug. But in fact, it is at the heart of what it means to live as a disciple. Jesus connected loving God and loving our neighbor. They are inseparable. We can’t claim to love God and not our neighbor. We can’t truly love our neighbor without loving God. God at the center of our lives makes it possible for us to live for others. This is the challenge.

Pope Francis spoke about this passage in an Angelus, saying, “To love God is to live of him and for him, for what he is and for what he does. Our God is unmitigated giving; he is unlimited forgiveness; he is a relationship that promotes and fosters. Therefore, to love God means to invest our energies each day to be his assistants in the unmitigated service of our neighbour, in trying to forgive without limitations, and in cultivating relationships of communion and fraternity.”

Sitting with this scripture today, I’ll ask myself some deep questions. Do I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? If not, why not? Do I love my neighbor–everyone without exception? 

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

March 9, 2024
Lk 18:9-14

It has all the elements of a good joke:” A Pharisee and a tax collector walk into the temple area.”

Jokes that contrast people from two extremes use humor that exaggerates the differences, leading to absurd situations that are inherently amusing. They also provide social commentary, highlighting stereotypes, and we find humor in recognizing and questioning these observations about human behavior.

Jesus wasn’t making a joke, although he did deliberately choose a respected Pharisee and a despised tax collector to make his point. 

The Pharisee’s prayer is blatantly self-centered. He essentially tells God how great he is already and doesn’t ask him for a thing. The tax collector’s prayer is clearly humble and contrite, begging for mercy. Which one am I? Do you have to ask? Of course, I’m the tax collector! Right?

If I think about this, I know in my heart that I have been the Pharisee in this story. 

“O God, I thank you that I’m not like the rest of the people in this grocery store line–they have no empathy, they think only of themselves, and they are just plain rude– like that person behind the counter. I pray the rosary every day, and I give to more than one needy family every Christmas.”

Gulp. Jesus makes it very clear who will go home justified, and it’s not the Pharisee-in-me. 

Lent always gives us another chance to get it right in our spiritual lives. And today, it gives us another chance to approach God as the tax collector did–well aware of our sinful nature and our need for him, asking for his mercy. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”