Living the readings: From the heart of Lent…

To Easter glory, the good news of Christ’s resurrection lifts us all

By the time March begins, Lent already has completed 40 percent of its lifespan. Deep into this time of relearning the basics of our faith and intensifying our relationship with God, the Sunday Liturgy of the Word continues its Lenten journey to Easter—a trek from the depths of human experience to the heights of the divine.

The direction of this uphill climb is like most mountain trails. It uses many switchbacks on the way up. So, we will be going back and forth from the evils we all have to face in this world to the good things, which a relationship with God leads us to. Every time we cut back on the trail we go higher and the view gets more inspiring.

Each one of the 15 readings in March contains one of these switchbacks until we reach the peak that is Easter. So, for the first four weeks we are presented with an evil that is immediately followed by a good that we receive from God. Then, when we’ve reached the top we can scan the horizon and look down to see how far we’ve traveled from the sin below and the glory that is to be found in the sky.

We join the trail on the Third Sunday of Lent. At this, the lowest altitude of our trip, we are immediately confronted with “the revolt in the desert.” Israel had left Egypt, beginning a 40-year trek through the desert. Judging they will die of thirst, they complain to God. But they soon discover that God is good, miraculously providing flowing water for them from a rock even as he punishes the rebels. We thereby learn our journey isn’t easy; but we’re going in the right direction with God giving us ample water to drink and manna to eat.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul adds that our desert journey will be blessed with peace and grace. These gifts come to us from the suffering and death of Jesus.  So, even in our suffering we know we are cared for by the Lord. We can proceed in hope.

In the Gospel for this Sunday, people confront Jesus with some news that could have been taken from our daily papers. Some people had been executed for starting a rebellion. Another 18 died when a tower collapsed. Was that because of their guilt?

Jesus first denied it was their guilt although we must always be ready to repent. Then, Jesus told them a little parable about a fig tree that wasn’t producing. Thanks to the gardener, the owner decided that the ground around the tree should be further enriched. In effect, Jesus told them God furnishes us with all we need to flourish. It’s up to us to take in this nourishment. If we don’t, it is not God’s action but our lack of it that is the problem.

Nevertheless, the good news is that God gives us all we need to proceed from here to eternal life.

Looking out on the view on this first Sunday of March, we discover that salvation is available. God has put all that we need to reach heaven in front of us. We all have reason to live in hope. We need not be deterred by the bad news all around us. We must carry on.

The first reading of the second Sunday of March is from Joshua. The people of Israel have completed their desert journey and have crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. As Israelites were rejoicing at their first Passover in Israel, that very day their daily manna ended. Instead, they ate of the produce grown by their defeated enemy. From now on they had to work for their food. But, that was the duty of a free people. The reproach of their years in slavery in Egypt was ended.  God’s goodness to them overcame their international reputation as a horde of runaway slaves. Now, they were a free people on their own God-given land.

Paul, in the second reading, makes Joshua’s point in Christian language. We have become a new creation. Before, we were sinful. Now, we have been redeemed and have become ambassadors for Christ. We announce salvation to the world.

The Gospel is the parable best known as “The Prodigal Son.” Luke introduces it by informing us that it was a response to the Pharisees and scribes who questioned Jesus’ welcoming attitude toward those who had left traditional Jewish life to accept the Greco-Roman ways. It ends with a father who leaves his home to urge his oldest son to come home to a party in honor of the younger son who has repented. If they were listening, the Pharisees should have seen Jesus’ point. Their own brothers and sisters were returning to hear and follow the message of salvation. Shouldn’t you be happy that they are returning?

That brings us to the second viewpoint. Here, we see the desert and swamps we have left behind as well as the beautiful peaks of the mountain range we are climbing into. We contemplate the joy of others who have made the climb and have changed their sadness into joy. We are choosing to join them rather than go back down.

The next Sunday’s readings begin with Isaiah asking us to remember the powerful Egyptian army campaigning to defeat Israel. All that’s left of them are dead bodies washing up on the shores of the Red Sea. Then he tells us to forget that. There is a new reality. What was a desert is now flowing with rivers and wild animals. The world is teeming with life. Where, once, evil dominated leading to death, now God has brought life, joy and peace. This message was originally meant for the Jews in Babylon experiencing the evil of living under foreign domination as if they were back in Egypt. Isaiah’s message for them is that God will give them freedom. Don’t look back in shame; but forward in hope.

Paul has a similar message for the Philippians. They are not to look back on their previous lives. Paul counts his past life as a total loss. What he has gained in its place is Christ. He lives in pursuit of his goal to which God is calling him and through which Paul finds true joy. Yes, he did evil. But, in Christ, he can forget those days as one gets rid of old junk.

The Gospel this Sunday consists of the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Should she be executed? At this point Jesus is confronted with double evil, namely of the woman’s act and the vindictive death penalty about to be carried out. Jesus, without condemning the stoning of the woman, asks for anyone without sin to throw the first stone. It is sad that no one in the mob could admit to being sinless. Yet, Jesus has allowed good to come from that evil.

Being sinful allows us to be compassionate to others who share our situation. As for the woman, Jesus makes her aware that her own peers no longer condemned her and that she should not sin again. By her repentance, the mob’s quest to rid their community of this sin was also realized. In Christ, we are all winners.

Now, as we view the scenery from our new vantage point, something is missing. The slums and junk yards of our past have disappeared. It’s amazing but true that the higher we go the more beautiful the view. The purified air clears our memories as well.

We have now reached Palm Sunday. It’s the beginning of Holy Week, and our thoughts turn to Jesus’ passion. Perhaps because of that, this day’s Scriptures elevate our minds even further. The selection from the Prophet Isaiah quotes one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Even as he gives his body to execution, he trusts in God and knows he will not be shamed. Of course, we are reminded of Jesus on Good Friday. But, the passage rightly helps us see Jesus as a brave hero accepting death to bring salvation to the world.

Paul extends what Isaiah wrote to the New Testament Church. Jesus emptied himself and died. Yet, by this deed he was highly exalted. Therefore, we correctly call him Jesus Christ, the Lord. This good news far outshines even the most sorrowful news of our Lord’s passion and death. Thus we receive the definitive message that, for those who live with Christ, Good News always triumphs.

Palm Sunday’s Gospel is Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ passion and death. Luke added two events to his account that are missing in the other three Gospels. Let’s focus on them. The first is Jesus speaking to the women of Jerusalem. He tells them not to weep for him but for themselves when Jerusalem will be destroyed. This reveals Jesus’ motivation. He accepts his crucifixion for us. Our ultimate salvation is Jesus’ reason for accepting his painful death. The second event found only in Luke is the incident with the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. One mocks Jesus; the other scolds the mocker and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. The reply by Jesus fills all of humanity with hope: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” What words of consolation for all of us!

Finally, we come to the last day of March. Lent is now behind us. We have arrived at Easter—the summit of our journey.

The Scriptures of the Mass during this day convey the view from the mountaintop. The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, quotes a speech by Peter. He uses the same zig-zag rhetoric that we have heard all through Lent. The bad news is that Jesus was executed. But, as bad as it was, the good news far surpasses it. He is alive! Peter, himself, has seen him. So have others. And “he commissioned us to preach to the people…that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”

Our judge at the end of our lives is the one who died to save us. That is indeed good news. Paul, in the second reading, does his best to relate even better news. He writes to the Colossians that we have already died with Christ. This happened at our baptism. Our lives “are hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” Paul delivers the ultimate good news. We will reign with the Lord in eternity. In the Gospel, John presents the last of the signs Christ left us. The empty tomb, with the burial cloth neatly folded, spoke clearly to Peter and the beloved disciple that the Lord was alive. Death could not hold him to one place. If Christ is free from death, so are we who live in him.

Thus, March ends. There is a final vision that lifts us over the pinnacle of the highest mountain. Our destination is beyond the universe of space and time. Our final view is from heaven.

WEEKDAY READINGS

Sunday, March 3: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9
Monday, March 4: 2 Kings 5:1-15; Psalms 42:2-3 and 43:3-4; Luke 4:24-30
Tuesday, March 5: Daniel 3:25, 34-43; Psalm 25:4-9; Matthew 18:21-35
Wednesday, March 6: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Matthew 5:17-19
Thursday, March 7: Jeremiah 7:23-28; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; Luke 11:14-23
Friday, March 8: Hosea 14:2-10; Psalm 81:6-11, 14, 17; Mark 12:28-34
Saturday, March 9: Hosea 6:1-6; Psalm 51:3-4, 18-21; Luke 18:9-14
Sunday, March 10: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 34:2-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Monday, March 11: Isaiah 65:17-21; Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; John 4:43-54
Tuesday, March 12: Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12; Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; John 5:1-16
Wednesday, March 13: Isaiah 49:8-15; Psalm 145:8-9, 13-14, 17-18; John 5:17-30
Thursday, March 14: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:19-23; John 5:31-47
Friday, March 15: Wisdom 2:1, 12-22; Psalm 34:17-21, 23; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
Saturday, March 16: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 7:2-3, 9-12; John 7:40-53
Sunday, March 17: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
Monday, March 18: Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Psalm 23:1-6; John 8:12-20
Tuesday, March 19: Solemnity, St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22; Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24
Wednesday, March 20: Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Daniel 3:52-56; John 8:31-42
Thursday, March 21: Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 105:4-9; John 8:51-59
Friday, March 22: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 18:2-7; John 10:31-42
Saturday, March 23: Ezekiel 37:21-28; Jeremiah 31:10-13; John 11:45-56
Sunday, March 24: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14–23:56
Monday, March 25: Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 27:1-3, 13-14; John 12:1-11
Tuesday, March 26: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17; John 13:21-33, 36-38; Chrism Mass, Isaiah 61:1-3, 6, 8-9; Psalm 89:21-22, 25, 27; Revelation 1:5-8; Luke 4:16-21
Wednesday, March 27: Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34; Matthew 26:14-25
Holy Thursday, March 28: Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
Good Friday, March 29: Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16 and 5:7-9; John 18:1–19:42
Holy Saturday, March 30: Easter Vigil, Genesis 1:1–2:2 and Psalm 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12-14, 24, 35; Genesis 22:1-18 and Psalm 16:5, 8-11; Exodus 14:15–15:1 and Exodus 15:1-6, 17-18; Isaiah 54:5-14 and Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; Isaiah 55:1-11 and Isaiah 12:2-6; Baruch 3:9-15 and 3:32–4:4 and Psalm 19:8-11; Ezekiel 36:16-28 and Psalms 42:3, 5 and 43:3-4; Isaiah 12:2-6; Romans 6:3-11 and Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Luke 24:1-12
Sunday, March 31: Easter Sunday, Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9

Father Brando is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.

 

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