Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)

Humiliation seldom sinks lower than to have another spit in one’s face.  Spittle may transmit disease.  More than that, spitting is a universal sign of contempt.  One account of a particularly gruesome display of hatred tells of prison gang members spitting razor blades to cut up the opponent’s face even before a fight begins. 

In the first reading today the Suffering Servant speaks of giving his face to being spit upon.  Conscious of this reference, Mark’s passion narrative underscores how both Jews and Romans spit on Jesus.  Jesus is seen as the incarnation of the Suffering Servant whose identity is left obscure in Isaiah’s prophecy.

There are four “Suffering Servant Songs.”  Each gives the portrait of the righteous man who takes upon himself the sins of the world.  He not only speaks words of comfort to the oppressed; he also listens to their cries.  He establishes justice but not with a sword that will bring grief to a wife or parents.  Indeed, he heals others’ defects by bearing the penalties incurred by their sins.  Who but Jesus has fulfilled this character description completely?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 49:1-6; John 13:21-33.36-38)

Today’s gospel juxtaposes Judas and Peter, especially their sins against the Lord.  Jesus predicts both offenses – Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  Does it distinguish the gravity of the two offenses?  Some say “no,” but the passage indicates that Judas’ transgression is the greater.  It says that “Satan entered him,” not as an excuse for Judas as we sometimes say that “Satan made me do it.”  Rather, by conjuring Satan, the Prince of Darkness, the evangelist signifies the depth of Judas’ evil.  He deliberately handed over the Savior, preferring darkness to light.

Peter, on the other hand, will sin out of fear.  There is almost risible irony in how he boasts in the reading that he will lay down his life for Jesus and how at the high priest’s house he will deny that he is Jesus’ disciple.  Under duress his courage fails him.  Again, this is not an excuse as he was quite aware of the seriousness of the occasion, yet he succumbs in the test.

We are tempted as both Judas and Peter.  Some people actively participate in abortions, the killing of the innocent for at least sometimes no reason other than convenience.  That, we may say, approaches Judas’ treachery.  Others out of intense desire or compromising fear do things they know to be wrong.  This is a sin more of the order of Peter’s.  We need to recognize that Jesus’ Paschal sacrifice can save us from both kinds of offenses.  Indeed, through his death and resurrection these sins may not only be forgiven, they may also be avoided.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-11)

The woman spoke up at the request for intercessory petitions.  She prayed, “For my son who is being sent to Afghanistan in June.”  She realizes that the young man may be injured or even may encounter the unmentionable.   In today’s gospel Mary makes a similar gesture. 

The passage describes two very different responses to Jesus.  Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anoints the feet of Jesus with a liter of perfume and wipes them with her hair in preparation for his burial.  She recognizes that Jesus is, as her sister Martha proclaimed earlier, “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Judas, on the other hand, cannot recognize Jesus as the Savior of the world.  He is blinded by greed which recognizes money as what needs saving.  Throughout the Gospel of John people are faced with the same challenge.  They have to choose between Jesus as the way to life’s goal or take another path in life, which will ultimately lead to dissolution.

Now that we have entered Holy Week we have to concentrate on the choice before us.  Let’s be sure that following Jesus is not always easy.  At times it will mean going against not just what the majority of people but even our own friends and family think.  The reason for doing so is, of course, that we have the joy and peace that Jesus’ companionship brings.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday of the Fifth Week in Lent

(Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42)

Among the gestures made in church we bow to the altar.  Some perhaps think that they are reverencing the tabernacle which is often placed behind the altar.  But the altar itself is a symbol of Jesus.  We bow to him.  The gospel today indicates the association.

The setting is the Jewish feast of the dedication of the temple altar.  Jesus has come to Jerusalem to celebrate.  In the ensuing discussion with the Jews, he says that God has consecrated him as well.  In fact, he will replace the temple altar as the locus of true worship.  His crucifixion becomes the only perfect sacrifice which redeems humanity.  It atones not just of individual sins but the multiplication of guilt through the ages.

The Jews understandably have difficulty accepting Jesus’ claims.  We, however, have the benefit of numerous testimonies to his resurrection from his apostles and from saints throughout the ages.  Following in their way, we find that in joining him we have not given up our freedom but are actually freed from the attractions that undermine our desire for eternal life.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Genesis 17:5-9; John 8:51-59)

In the Gospel of John Jesus is not tried before the Sanhedrin.  Unlike the three other gospels, after being arrested Jesus is given only a brief interrogation by the former high priest Annas. He is then brought to the house of Caiaphas before being delivered to Pilate.  But this is not to say that Jesus is not tried by the Jews in the Gospel of John.  Indeed, he is asked the same kind of questions in passages like today’s gospel that Matthew, Mark, and Luke have him face in the Sanhedrin trial.  John has typically reworked the sayings about Jesus that were handed down in the apostles’ preaching.

“Who do you make yourself to be?” the Jews ask Jesus.  In the Gospel of Mark the high priest asks Jesus a similarly pointed question, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?”  In both cases Jesus answers with the same, “I am,” echoing God’s name for Himself in Exodus.  It is a moment of truth, and Jesus, as he says in the passage, cannot deny that he is God’s Son. 

It is time for us also to give testimony.  Jesus touches our lives every day.  We may not be able to say that we have seen him, but we pray to him.  Invariably, it seems, he saves us from failure and distress.  We can truly say that he is the Son of God.

Wedensday, March 25, 2015


(Isaiah 7:10-14.8:10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38)

The story of the “Christmas truce of 1914” has been verified by accounts sent home by the soldiers.  It happened that as the First World War became a miserable reality for both sides in the trenches, the Germans made an offer to the British to stop the fighting on Christmas Day.  They sent the message along with a chocolate cake.  The British accepted the offer with a gift of tobacco for the German troops.  Today we take a similar day off in Lent to celebrate the beginnings of Jesus Christ.

It is exactly nine months before Christmas.  Figuring that Jesus had a normal gestation, the Church has consecrated today as the day of his conception.  It proclaims the gospel story of Mary’s acceptance of God’s offer to be the mother of His Son, Jesus.  He will fulfill God’s ancient promise to Israel of a king who will rule forever with peace and prosperity.

We should not hesitate to have a glass of wine today and perhaps a sweet roll with coffee.  But beyond breaking our fast, we do well to relate the significance of this day to our Lenten journey.  The Son of God became human to proclaim God’s love for the world.  Being enmeshed in sin, humans abused the gift and killed him for the Good News.  That story unfolds next week in our celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.