Sunday of the Third Week of Lent
In today’s Gospel Jesus drives out the money changers. These were the people who considered Roman money “unclean” and changed it into Jewish currency often at 20 times the market rate. Jesus is angry at the injustice of vendors who cooperated with the temple inspectors in rejecting “imperfect” animals brought from outside the temple.
The temple is also metaphorically Jesus’ very self. In his flesh Jesus was God’s dwelling place. Just as Jesus made real in his flesh the presence of God, we make real in our own bodies the presence of God in our world today. As such we need to focus on the great commandments: love God and love neighbor. Is there anything I need to “drive out” to give better witness to God in my relationships and life circumstances?
What impresses me most in the Prodigal Son story is the waiting and waiting and waiting of the father. We may know persons who are waiting someone’s return—an estranged friend, a faithless spouse, an absent parent, a wayward child, a son on a tour of duty, a neighbor in the hospital. Like the prodigal father, we wait for their return. We place these persons in our heart. In some situations we might also offer an invitation—to a penance service, counseling session, retreat, a healing service, a night out, an inclusion in a group. And pray, “O God, I’ll keep fattening the calf if you keep looking out for the return.”
Today’s First Reading said Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons. The famous tunic led to jealous sibling rivalry. What we don’t know is what Israel gave to the other sons. Maybe he was treating each one as an individual. Maybe the tunic wasn’t special privilege. Maybe the father was loving each of the twelve sons in the way he needed to be loved. I can’t imagine having eleven big brothers made life easy for the baby of the family. A colorful tunic may have made up for a difficult life. But whatever is the real story behind the story, let’s reflect on God’s unique love for each one of us.
God loves us uniquely, giving us what we need. God treats us like a favorite, while all God’s other children are his favorites. God knows how we want and need to be loved. Could we put more effort into loving others as they need to be loved? Some people want a hug, others a word of affirmation, a congratulatory note, a listening ear, or some space. It takes effort to discern what each person needs and wants, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
Luke’s gospel is replete with meals. Even today’s parable is about food. The rich man ate sumptuously but never gave a crust of bread to the poor man outside his door, even though the beggar “longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” Whether the man died from his infirmities or starvation, we don’t know. But we do know “he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” Not the rich man, though. He and his purple robes landed in a place of torment.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus provides the meal, talks about food, eats plucked grain on the sabbath, multiplies loaves and fish, stops at Martha and Mary’s house for hospitality, teaches us to pray for our daily bread, instructs the preparations for the Passover, and gives us the Eucharist. Bon appétit! Be open to all the ways we can “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 34:9).
Were the sons of Zebedee embarrassed when their mother asked Jesus to give these sons choice seats in the kingdom? Whether they were or not really does not matter, because Jesus changes the topic: “Can you drink of the cup that I am going to drink?” Well, of course, they can, they thought. What about us? We are offered many cups. The cup of suffering in the passion of Jesus and in our own physical and emotional sufferings. The chalice of the Eucharist. The cup of God’s overflowing goodness. The cup of our lives shaped and molded by the Divine Potter. From all these cups “you shall drink.”
We may have taken on some extra penances in Lent, and after two weeks these mortifications may seem rather burdensome. The anxiety-ridden pandemic is a year old, but this is not a first birthday to celebrate. And is there ever a day when there’s not at least one thing that we hate to do, but are obliged to do? With Jesus we say, “Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you would have it, not as I.”
In his proclamation titled Patris Corde Pope Francis wrote a document that gives spiritual strength during our pandemic. Early in the document the pope salutes “ordinary people, people often overlooked.” He then lists a dozen workers who “daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility.” The document remembers all the parents, grandparents, and teachers who have shown children “in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer.” The pope gives “a word of recognition and of gratitude…to them all.” If you have a chance today, pray for parents, grandparents, and teachers. Perhaps give them a tangible sign of your appreciation, too.
Saint Joseph, mirror of patience, pray for us.
During Lent the Church encourages us to do spiritual reading, primarily the Bible, but there are many other resources. As we begin March, the month when we give particular honor to Saint Joseph, I would recommend to you Patris Corde proclaimed by Pope Francis on December 8, 2020, the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Joseph as patron of the universal Church. Every paragraph gives hope, creative ways to imitate this “just man,” and bring us closer to Joseph and his Holy Family. I assure you that you will be amazed at how much can be said about Joseph, who is called “the Silent,” for Scripture records none of his words. But Joseph’s actions tell volumes about his tenderness, courage, and fidelity to God’s will.
Saint Joseph, foster father of the Son of God, pray for us.
In Jewish thought the presence of God is connected with a cloud. Moses met God in a cloud. During the exodus the people followed a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. A cloud filled Solomon’s temple. The cloud in today’s story of the Transfiguration indicated the Messiah had come. From the cloud came the voice of the Father: “Listen to him.” Moses and Elijah, lawgiver and prophet, saw in Jesus the consummation of the promised Messiah. Their presence assured Jesus that the cross was the right choice. His mission would be from cross to resurrection.
Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Gulp! I just read “love your enemies.” Gulp again! Pray for those who persecute you.” But who are my enemies? Very likely, it’s not a person outside myself. It’s me. (To the English teachers: It’s I.) I’ve got a true self that God created and sees in its perfection. And I’ve got a false self that is rather evident to the people who live with me but maybe deeply hidden from my own eyes. Lent is a time to discover my false self–the self that doesn’t reflect God’s image in me. If I can be truer to my true self, then God knows I can make a difference just by being who I am called to be.
Friday of the First Week of Lent
Today’s gospel tells us to settle our differences quickly. If we’re on our way to church, stop first to be reconciled. We’re to leave our gifts—our Lenten sacrifices, fasting, almsgiving—and be reconciled. Such advice follows a basic law of psychological and spiritual life; namely, energy follows attention. Wherever we focus our attention is where the energy of our body, mind, and spirit goes. Disagreements, dislike, tensions do not let us focus. But once we are reconciled and able to see another’s view—and perhaps even come to like them—our enthusiasm and energy are restored. Focus good thoughts on those whom you dislike, then your heart will grow more loving. The heart and mind are interacting in concert.