Reflections on the Daily Readings

March 18 - 24, 2018
The Season of Lent - The Fifth Week
Readings: Sunday Cycle B; Weekday Cycle II.
Divine Office - Psalter Week I.

Sunday 18:          The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 50; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-30
In our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah we see God telling his people that he will make a new and everlasting covenant with them. He had made previous covenants with his people and which they had broken time and time again but this will be a new and better one. This new one won’t be simply communal and written on tablets of stone, but will be personal to each one and will be written on their hearts. They won’t need teachers like Moses and the prophets because the Lord himself will be their only guide. With this covenant the Lord will wipe away their sins and not call them to mind.
In the passage from the letter to the Hebrews, the author makes a possible reference to Jesus’ agony and prayer in Gethsemane and says that, because he humbly submitted to the will of God, he has become the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. The perfection spoken of refers to the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ which was achieved through his sacrifice on the cross, and which brings about this eternal salvation.
In the gospel text we see Jesus back in Jerusalem for the last time and teaching the people who are still divided about him. At the start of the passage we see a group of ‘Greeks’ (Gentiles) wishing to meet with Jesus and hear his message first hand, which is in contrast to those who will have him executed. In speaking to the people the Lord appears to be in agony as he knows what is to follow in the coming days and he predicts his own death which will be for them so that they may be drawn together to eternal life – the Lord’s death is not for himself but for the sake of others. If we believe in him then we will give up our selfish ways and live only for him so that we may yield the rich harvest which he spoke of. We will only be drawn to him if we spend time in prayer and living the life to which we are called. When we suffer, we do not do so alone because Jesus Christ is with us and so our suffering is not for nothing.

Alternative Readings
These readings may be used any day this week, especially in Years B and C, when the Gospel of the raising of Lazarus is not read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent.
2Kings 4:18-21, 32-37; Psalm 16; John 11:1-45
In our first reading from the Second Book of the Kings we see the Prophet Elisha coming to the home of the Shunammitess with whom he often stayed. As a reward for her hospitality the woman gave birth to a son at the intercession of the prophet. In today’s text we read how the boy dies in his mother’s arms and she lays him on the prophet’s bed. Elisha spends time alone with the body and in prayer to God and eventually the boy is restored to life. This same theme is found in the gospel text where we read of the death of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. Jesus travels to Bethany to be with Martha and Mary and despite the threat to their own lives for being with him, the Apostles travel with him. While there we see Jesus grieve for his friend but it also becomes a moment of instruction as Jesus proclaims that he is the resurrection and the life and that whoever believes in him will never die. This reading gains its importance as we move towards the death and resurrection of Jesus next week and it also reminds us of what lies in store for each of us – resurrection to life eternal.

Monday 18:         Solemnity of St Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary*
2Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; Psalm 88; Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22; Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24 or Luke 2:41-51
In the first reading from the Prophet Samuel, we see God telling David that his throne will stand secure for ever through one of his line. David’s line and sovereignty were created by the Lord and he guarantees its security. The Psalm repeats this promise.
The passage from the letter to the Romans recalls Abraham – the first servant of the true God – and reminds us that he was justified not because of any law but because of his faith. St Paul reassures us that we are the spiritual children of Abraham and that we must have faith and belief like him. From Abraham comes both the Jewish faith and King David and to both belong St Joseph.
The gospel from St Matthew recounts the narrative of the vision Joseph had which told him to take Mary as his wife though she was already pregnant. In this way Jesus was born of the line of David and everything that God had promised to David and to Abraham was fulfilled. As Joseph trusted in the Lord, so we are called to that same trust and belief. The key element for us is that Joseph was a man of faith just as Mary was a woman of faith. Both had annunciations and both accepted what must have been quite troubling but they did so without hesitation. In this way they ensured the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament while giving the child a strong faith-based family unit in which to grow up.
In the alternative gospel passage from St Luke we have the story of the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple after he had been missing for three days. Mary says that both she and Joseph had been worried about him which shows that Joseph has taken his duties as husband and father seriously and is a true protector to Mother and Child. It is also clear that Jesus was dutiful towards his ‘earthly’ father and was obedient to Joseph. We have essentially nothing recorded of what Joseph every said and yet the image we have in the scriptures is of a man of deep faith and trust.

Tuesday 20:         Of the Fifth Week of Lent
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 101; John 8:21-30
Today’s reading from the Book of Numbers shows the Israelites turning against God even though he had just won their release from slavery in Egypt. In this episode the Jews turned against God in the wilderness and began worshipping false gods. Moses fashions a bronze serpent which saves those who look at it. In the gospel, Jesus is speaking about himself and telling the people that only when they have killed him will they realise that he is the Son of God because only then will they see his glory. Like the bronze serpent on the pole, Christ on the cross will bring us new life. We are called to believe in Jesus though we have not seen him with our own eyes. The Jews in Egypt saw God’s power when he led them to freedom, yet they turned against him. We must not turn against him, but must put our total trust in him, serving his Gospel throughout our lives.

Wednesday 21:   Of the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25, 28; Psalm – Daniel 3:52-56; John 8:31-42
In the Book of the Prophet Daniel there is recounted the story of three young men – Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah – who refused to abandon their religion for King Nebuchadnezzar, part of which we read two weeks ago. The king had them bound and thrown into a fiery furnace but the angel of God joined them there and they walked through the furnace unharmed. At the end of the reading, the king too praises the true God. The reading reminds us that when we are truly free in heart, nothing can trouble us or separate us from the love of God. The Psalm continues this theme. In the gospel, Jesus tells his listeners that they will only be free if they listen to his word and live by it, because only then will they be free from the slavery to sin and so be his true disciples. God’s word is available to us but it is up to us to accept it and to let it take root in our lives.

Thursday 22:       Of the Fifth Week of Lent
Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 104; John 8:51-59
In the reading from Genesis we see God making his covenant with Abraham and his descendents. This covenant was fulfilled in the person and life of Jesus. In the gospel, Jesus is speaking of Abraham and telling his listeners that Abraham longed to see Christ’s day. He reveals himself to his listeners with the words “I Am,” which is the name God used for himself when he spoke with Moses. Jesus is telling them that the God of Moses, Abraham, and Isaac is the same person who is now speaking to them. He goes on to tell us that even though we may suffer and die in this world, that suffering and death has no power over us if we believe in him alone. That which was promised to Abraham has come to pass in the person of Jesus and it is a saving covenant for us who believe it.

Friday 23:            Of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 17; John 10:31-42
The Prophet Jeremiah is being persecuted by the people but he still places his trust in God and still praises him. It is a reminder of Jesus who is soon to be arrested and who will also pray to the Father for guidance and strength while never abandoning faith in the Father. The Psalm is a prayer of confidence in God by one who is being persecuted. Our gospel reading shows Jesus being persecuted by some of the Jews. He, like Jeremiah, is under God’s protection and so is saved from them until the hour of his glory. We too will be saved and supported if we praise God all our days and turn to him in confidence. But we must not forget him when things are going well for us.

Saturday 24:        Of the Fifth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 37:21-28; Psalm – Jeremiah 31:10-13; John 11:45-56
In our first reading we see the prophet Ezekiel looking forward to a day when the Lord will unite the people under a new leader as a redeemed nation. In the gospel, we see the Pharisees taking the decision to kill Jesus. They did so in order to save their people because they feared that Jesus’ talk of a supreme power and authority would cause a revolt which the Romans would crush as ruthlessly as the previous ones. While their motives may have been honourable it was they who were misguided because they had closed their minds to the word of God and believed the Messiah to be a political and military leader. The words of Caiaphas also suggest that the death of Jesus might unite the people – an echo of the first reading. They never thought that the Messiah would free them in spirit which is a far greater thing. If we truly open our hearts to God then the unity which the gospel speaks of will take place as the kingdom takes shape in our world.

Memorials this Week:
March 19:            Solemnity of St Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Protector of the Child Jesus
Little is known about Joseph except that he was of the line of David which was essential in order for Jesus to be legally of the house and line of David in fulfilment of the Scriptures. What is more important for us is the example which Joseph left us. He was a man of faith who played his role in God’s salvific plan for us; he was obedient to the will of God; he had a love for the Law and its fulfilment; he showed piety and fortitude in times of trial; he had a chaste love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and he exercised his paternal authority with due care. He is therefore a true example of Christian living and is the Protector of the Church. Joseph is also the patron of carpenters and manual workers.

© P. Breen, O.Carm. 2011, 2013
The Reflections above are available in printed form in:
Reflections on the Readings for every day of the Church's year.
Patrick J. Breen, O.Carm. Dublin: Columba Press. 2011. ISBN 978 1 85607 732 3.

And direct from the publishers: Columba Press, Dublin.

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