The liturgical season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday and runs until Holy Thursday night. Lent has a two fold character. It serves as a time for the immediate preparation of the catechumens and candidates who will be fully initiated into the church at the Easter Vigil when they celebrate the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist). It also serves as a time for the rest of us to prepare ourselves, by penance, alms-giving and prayer to celebrate the Paschal Mystery and the renewal of our own baptismal promises at Easter. This double character actually speaks of two ways to describe the same journey. All of us, whether new catechumen or long-time believer, are constantly being called to more complete conversion. God always calls us to approach Him more closely. During this time, the church invites us to spend time with Jesus, John the Baptist and the ancient prophets of Israel in the wilderness, listening to this call from God and reflecting on the mystery of redemption through the cross and resurrection of Jesus and on what it means for each of us today.
This Sunday the RCIA will celebrate the Third Scrutiny. In Masses where this occurs (10:30 Mass at St. Raymond Parish), the readings from Cycle A will be used. The other Masses will use the normal Cycle B readings. I have provided both sets of readings below. In the Cycle B readings of this Sunday, the first reading gives us a promise by God that He will pierce our hearts with the word of His love. If we let Him, He will write of His love on our hearts. How have I responded to His love? The second reading reminds us of the model of prayer and obedience that Jesus is for us. I must ask myself, how well do I follow His example? In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of both death and glory. In John’s Gospel, they are opposite sides of the same coin. How well do I recognize the glory in the little “deaths to self” to which God calls me each day? The Cycle A readings which are used for the last of the three RCIA Scrutinies look a little more closely at the third of the great symbols of Easter, life, itself. Jesus said “I am the life.” The readings today call us to consider, with some honesty, what Jesus’ claim means to us. In what way and to what extent is Jesus really my “life?” What must change in me if He is to really be my Life?
First Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
31 The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 31:31-34 Beginning with Hosea, the new covenant to be made with Israel was a common theme of the prophets. Jeremiah names some qualities of the new covenant that make it significantly different from the old one. These include: It will not be broken, but will last forever; Its law will be written in the heart, not merely on tablets of stone; The knowledge of God will be so generally shown forth in the life of the people that it will no longer be necessary to put it into words of instruction. This prophecy was fulfilled in the fullest sense, only through the work of Jesus Christ. See Luke 22:20; and 1 Cor 11:25.
This is the only time the term, “new covenant” is used in the Old Testament. Although the original usage was aimed at the Mosaic covenant, it was reinterpreted in the New Testament to refer to Christ (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; and especially Heb 8:8-12 which is the longest Old Testament quote in the New Testament).
* 31:32 The comparison is clearly described at being made with the covenant of Sinai (Ex 19:1-24:18).
* 31:33 “After those days” is an expression used often by Jeremiah (7:32; 9:24; 16:14) with an eschatological overtone because it indicates a break in Israel’s history through the intervention of Yahweh. Although it has a parallel in Deuteronomy (Deut 6:6; 11:18;30:14), the idea of the heart as a material upon which something is written was really a Jeremian invention. “I will be their God” is a very widespread (Jer 7:23;11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1; 32:38; Ezek 11:20; 36:28; Zech 8:8; Lev 26:12) covenantal clause used throughout the Old Testament.
* 31:34 In this new era, God will intervene directly (Isa 54:13) and the practical recognition of God in every action and all situations will be a life attitude.
Second Reading: Hebrews 5: 7-9
7 In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; 9 and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, [10 declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.]
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 5:7-8 These two verses are intended to show how Jesus is qualified as the one who can sympathize with sinners. The reference to Jesus’s days of the flesh refers to His time of mortal life.
* 5:7 This may be a reference to the incident at Gethsemane (Mark 14:35-36). The deliverance from death may refer to the resurrection. While His death was essential for His priesthood, had He not been saved from death by the resurrection He would not now be the High Priest of His people.
* 5:8 The author considers Jesus� Sonship in two separate aspects: He became Son when exalted He always was Son because He existed with the Father even before He appeared on earth. Although both of these views are accepted as true and not inconsistent with each other, the second one was arrived at a bit later than the first and they existed together in the early church. Later theology would say that the resurrection-exaltation gave Jesus� human nature full participation in His Divine nature.
The learning through suffering motif is common in Greek literature but this text , Rom 5:19 and Phil 2:8 are the only New Testament places where the obedience of Christ in His passion is explicitly mentioned.
* 5:9 Jesus’ obedience leads to His priestly consecration which qualifies him to save those who are obedient to Him. The salvation that Jesus gives is eternal because it is based on His eternal priesthood (7:24-25).
Gospel Reading: John 12: 20-33
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who had come up to worship at the feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.
27 “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. 31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 33 He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
NOTES on Gospel:
* 12:20-36 This is both an announcement of glorification by death and an illustration of “the whole world” going after him as mentioned in verse 19.
* 12:20 The word, “Greeks,” is not being used here in a nationalistic sense but probably refers to Gentile proselytes to Judaism (See John 7:35). This points back to 7:35 and 12:19. It may also indicate a change in John’s community away from evangelization of Jews and Samaritans and toward Gentiles.
* 12:21-22 Philip and Andrew have distinctly Greek names and the approach through them may suggest that access to Jesus was mediated to the Greek world through his disciples who being mainly Galileans were likely to be bilingual. The word, “see,” may mean “have an interview with.”
* 12:23 Jesus’ answer implies that both Jews and Gentiles will be encompassed by His message only after His crucifixion and resurrection. For the Son to be glorified means both the culmination of His mission and the condemnation of this world and its ruler.
* 12:24 This verse is echoed in 1 Cor 15:36 and was probably a common proverb of the day. It implies that through his death Jesus will be accessible to all. A form of this saying is found in the synoptic triple and double traditions (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24; Matthew 10:39; Luke 17:33). John adds the phrases (John 12:25) in this world and for eternal life.
* 12:25 The Greek word, psyche, refers to a person’s natural life. It does not mean “soul,” in the same sense that we use the word. Jewish anthropology did not postulate a body/soul dualism in the way that is familiar to us.
The saying is found with some variation in Luke 9:24; Mark 8:35; Mat 16:25; Mat 10:39; and Luke 17:33. The synoptic gospels tend to apply it to the loss and suffering associated with discipleship. While John may also have these in mind, he seems to be looking forward more directly to the sufferings of his community.
* 12:26 The beginning of this verse echoes Mark 8:34. This deals with the identity of Jesus and His followers which is a theme that is presented at length in the farewell discourse (13:13, 16; 15:20). See Mark 8:38; Mat 10:32; Luke 12:8.
* 12:27-30 In this section, John has taken the tradition of the private agony of Jesus which is presented by the synoptic gospels and transformed it into a public manifestation of Jesus’ obedience.
* 12:27 The use of “troubled” is probably an allusion to the Gethsemane agony scene of the synoptic gospels.
* 12:31 Here John uses “the world” not as an object of God’s love (3:16) but as a symbol for all that is hostile to God. The thunder of the previous verses blends into the thunder of God’s judgment that must follow both on the world and the powers that rule it.
* 12:32 Primitive Christian tradition saw the Lordship of Jesus as founded on His exaltation to God’s right hand (Phil 2:9-11). This verse indicates the beginning of a reformulation of this traditional language.
* 12:33 John reminds us that Christ’s exaltation begins at the cross. Cycle A Readings
If Scrutinies are celebrated, the following readings are proclaimed instead of the previous readings.
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14
12 Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! 14 I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
NOTES on First Reading:
Ezekiel was one of the prophets of the exile who helped to maintain the faith of Israel among the population that had been led away into exile after having been conquered by Babylon. Our reading comes from the second part of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, which dates from around 570 or 580 B.C. It begins in verse 1 of Chapter 37 and is essentially a message of hope meant to assure the downtrodden and discouraged survivors of a terrible war that God has not utterly abandoned them. He will restore Israel whose surviving but conquered population is living in the midst of a pagan nation during the Babylonian exile.
The vision of the dry bones consists of two parts: Vs 2-10 Description of the vision. Vs 11-14 Interpretation of the vision. The reading is taken from this section.
The story plays on the contrast between dry, dead bones and the “ruah” (wind, breath or spirit) of God. The image summarizes the mission of Ezekiel to the exiles. He preaches the word of God to bring new life to a dead Israel. The bones, very dry and bleached as they lie scattered on the ground represent the total destruction of Israel by the invading army of Babylon. Now God is offering to breath His own life into the dead dry bones, the exiles. Thereby, He will raise up a restored Israel. This text was not originally intended as a reference to individual resurrection of the body but as an image of God’s future restoration of the “people of God.” Later the early church interpreted it as an Old Testament foreshadowing of the resurrection that was revealed in Christ. Our reading comes from the last part of the story where the interpretation of the vision’s meaning is provided.
Second Reading: Romans 8: 8-11
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.
NOTES on Second Reading:
In verse 8, Paul chooses a neutral way of expressing the goal of human life. Pleasing God is the aim of both Jew and Christian and yet it can not be accomplished by one who is dominated by his own wants or is “in the flesh.” Only one who lives “in the spirit” or who lives according to the Spirit can please God. For Paul the term, “flesh,” meant anything that was not of God or that distracted one from God. It need not have anything to do with sex as some later interpreters mistakenly insist.
In verse 9 the words, “if only ” (in the NAB), are sometimes translated as “since” (as in NRSV). In fact, Paul probably meant something like “if, in reality. ” It is not the behavior that results in being “in the spirit” but rather it is being “in the spirit” that results in the behavior that is pleasing to God. We as followers of Christ have the Holy Spirit within us as a result of our death and rebirth in Christ (Baptism). The Holy Spirit is now the new principle of life within us. Paul uses the terms, “Spirit of God”, “Spirit of Christ,” and “Christ” interchangeably as he struggles to express the multifaceted reality of the Christian’s experience of participation in the Divine life. This is much more than a simple or external identification with the cause of Christ. Paul sees it as a “spiritualization” of the believer who is empowered to “live for God” by the “Spirit of God” Himself, Who takes up residence within the believer. We sometimes tend to make this idea of the indwelling Spirit so spiritual that it becomes meaningless. Paul sees it as an absolute reality with very real and practical consequences.
Paul plays on the meanings of “pneuma” in verse 10. It clearly means the Spirit of God but the word is also used for a component of our humanity that can be contrasted with “flesh.” Without the Spirit as the source of Christian life the human “body” is like a corpse because of the influence of sin. However, in union with Christ the human “spirit” lives because the Spirit of God resuscitates the spiritually dead human being through the gift of uprightness.
In verse 11 as in 9 the “pneuma” is the Spirit of the Father to Whom the efficiency of the resurrection is attributed. So the power vivifying the Christian is traced to its ultimate source, for the Spirit is the manifestation of the Father’s presence and power in the world since the resurrection of Jesus and through it. The future tense refers to the eschatological resurrection of Christians in which Paul sees the role of the Spirit as central. At His resurrection Christ became, through the Father’s glory (6:4), the principle of the raising of Christians (See 1 Thes 4:14; Phil 3:10,21;1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14).
Paul concludes the previous discussion and introduces the next section with verses 13-14. He tells us that the Baptized Christian could still be occupied by the “deeds, acts, pursuits” of one dominated by “saryx,” flesh. However, use of the Spirit received in order to abandon those things is the debt owed to Christ.
Although mortification mentioned in verse 13 is a necessary part of the Christian life, it does not capture its essence. The essential point of Christian life is a new relationship with God for which Paul uses the image of “sonship.” The new status of the Christian is modeled on the relationship of the resurrected Jesus with the Father.
Gospel Reading: John 11: 1-45
1 Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. 3 So the sisters sent word to him, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” 4 When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” 12 So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” 13 But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. 14 So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. 15 And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. 19 And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 (But) even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” 29 As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. 31 So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” 35 And Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” 37 But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”
38 So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. 42 I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
45 Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
NOTES on Gospel:
The raising of Lazarus is the last of the “signs” and forms the longest continuous narrative in John’s Gospel outside of the passion account. It is the climax of the signs that Jesus works. In John’s account it leads directly to the decision of the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus. The story focuses on the theme of life. Lazarus is symbolic of the real life that Jesus’ death and resurrection will give to all who believe in him.
Johannine irony is found in the fact that Jesus’ gift of life leads to his own death. This story is not found in the synoptic gospels, but Mark 5:21 and Luke 7:11-17 are parallels. In the synoptic stories however, the dead person who is restored to life has just died. Only this story deals with someone who has been dead for a period of time. It illustrates the image of Jesus as the “Life” just as Chapter 9 presents Him as the “Light.” Another, lesser parallel is found between this story and Luke’s parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). In both stories, a man named Lazarus dies. In Luke, there is a request that he return to convince his contemporaries of the need for faith and repentance, while in John, Lazarus does return and some believe but others do not.
John identifies Mary as the woman (never named in Mark 14:3-9) who anointed Jesus before the passion (John 12:1-8). Once again John uses the device of misunderstanding (11:4) to give Jesus a reason to explain something. Here, however there is a double misunderstanding. In verse 4, the disciples are referring to physical death, but it is meant by Jesus as spiritual death. They are told that the illness has as its purpose to make the “glory of God” manifest. This points back to John 2:11 and forward to the real glorification of the cross (13:31-32; 17:1). Later (11:11) Jesus refers to physical death as sleep and the disciples think he means slumber.
The statement (11:5) that Jesus “loved” Martha and her brother and sister points to Jesus’ love for the disciples.
In the ancient world common belief was that light was present in the eye (11:10) rather than that light entered through the eye. See Luke 11:34 and Matthew 6:23.
Didymus is the Greek word for twin (11:16). Thomas is derived from the Aramaic word for twin. His given name is said in an ancient Syriac version and in the Gospel of Thomas (80:11-12) to be Judas.
The distance in verse 18 is literally given as “about fifteen stades”. A stade was 607 feet.
Martha expresses (11:24) belief in the eschatological resurrection of the dead (5:28-29). Jesus responds to the confession of faith with the “I am” statement. Use of “I am ” in John is nearly always a reference to the name that God used when He met Moses and which became identified as God’s self-revelation to His people (Exod 3:14; Isa 41:4-10, 43:3). The following statements explain “resurrection and life” in terms of the promises of life to those who believe. John’s phrasing recurs in 1:4; 3:15; 16:36; 5:24,26; 6:27,40,47;10:10,28. The term, “resurrection” occurs in John’s gospel only here and in 5:29. John brings together a traditional term, “resurrection,” which had connotations of the “last day” with one of his own titles for Jesus, “Life”. The result is a new insight into what the “last day” is really about as well as a new understanding of the power of the life in Jesus. In many ways, verses 25 and 26 are key to this entire story. In verse 27 Martha repeats the titles given to Jesus earlier in this gospel which are also the main Christological affirmations made in John’s Gospel.
Verses 33 and 35 deal with the emotions and feelings of Jesus. The phrase used in 11:33 is startling in Greek. Literally, it translates as “He snorted in spirit.” This may be a reaction of anger at the presence of evil expressed in death or perhaps a response to the unbelief of the visiting mourners. Verse 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible. It shows the deepest emotion on Jesus’ part and illustrates Jesus’ grief at Lazarus’ death. Some have suggested that it may reflect a sadness in bringing Lazarus back into this world only to face death again.
John takes the opportunity in 11:39, to remind the hearers and readers of the gospel that Lazarus did not just die a few minutes ago but has been dead for four days. Jewish rabbinic tradition held that the soul of a dead person could remain in the vicinity of the dead body for up to three days after which it would go to the abode of the dead. The result is that there is no doubt that Lazarus is dead.
Since only the disciples were explicitly told that Lazarus’ death was “for the glory of God” it seems that Jesus’ statement to Martha in verse 40 may simply be a part of the traditional material used by John or was intended to be a parallel statement to the one made to Jairus in Mark 5:36.
As always in John’s gospel, Jesus’ prayer (11:41-42) is an expression of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Here, as usual, it is also a form of instruction to the crowd around Him. It also serves to remind the reader of Martha’s statement back in verse 22.
The loud cry in verse 43 may be intended as a dramatization of John 5:28, “the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.” Jesus calls Lazarus back to life and leaves his unbinding and freeing to the disciples. This is often interpreted to mean that when Jesus gives a new believer life at conversion or Baptism it is the job of the surrounding disciples to help that newly living one to free himself/herself of the bindings and restraints of the past. The disciples (church) accomplish this largely by teaching the word of God as Ezekiel did in the first reading and through prayer with and for the struggling believers.</font