Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Dear All,

The First Reading of this Fifth Sunday of Lent comes from two chapters of the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah called “the little book of consolation”.  Jeremiah, son of a priest lived around the time of siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon at the beginning of the sixth century B.C.E.  Fear and despair seem to grip the people and empty them of hope and they wonder if their promise-making God had deserted them.  But Jeremiah assures them that the days are coming when God will pour new life into them, when God will make a new covenant with them. There have been many previous covenants; with Noah, with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses at Sinai and Joshua at Shechem (the ones highlighted we have read during this season of Lent).  All were God’s initiative at times of crisis and transitions for God’s people and are described in terms of intimate relationships.  Now, says Jeremiah, God will make one that will be even more intimate:  not cut onto tablets of stone, but onto their people’s hearts, giving them a new capacity to respond faithfully to God “from the inside out”.  This will require conversion of heart to God, who alone can truly forgive and forget their (and our) sinfulness.

At the time when Jesus walked the surface of the earth the Greeks were seasoned wanderers. They had the money.  They were like yesterday's jet set with an insatiable desire to see fresh places and taste new ideas.  Being smart tourists they knew the time to be in Jerusalem was Passover. Then they would get all the action and color they wanted.  John is the only Gospel containing the story of the Greek travelers.  Not surprising, as John's work was written to present Christ to the Greeks and Gentiles.  His Jesus was designed for export.  The Greeks of the Gospel story may have seen some of the miracles worked by the Christ in Jerusalem. They may have witnessed Him driving the traders out of the Temple.  They must have heard of His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.  No wonder they wanted to get to know Jesus, probably suspecting such an outspoken person would not live long.   They chose the apostle Philip as their messenger (must have liked his Greek name ;-).  Their famous line "Sir, we would like to see Jesus!" has been echoed by billions since the Greeks spoke it.  But Philip broke into a sweat at their request.  Did the Master want to chat with these foreigners?  They had no appointment.  Timidly Philip threw the ball into Andrew's court, one of the more senior followers of Jesus.  He set up the rendezvous immediately.  He had learned long before, what we now know, that the Teacher has time for everybody.  You need no appointment.  He has no voice mail, no cell phone, no e-mail.  He takes all calls immediately.  He is on the job 7/24/365.  He's just a prayer away.

With the “hour has come” Jesus foretells for the last time his death and resurrection, with the powerful parable of the grain of wheat having to die in order for the plant to grow and produce much fruit.  We can call this paradoxical wisdom of emptying in order to become full, of dying so that we may be raised to new life.  I am reminded of a story of a very successful person going to a Zen Master seeking the meaning of life.   The visitor began telling all about his ideas, his achievements and his interests.  While the visitor was talking and talking the Zen Master put a cup in front of him and began serving tea.  Even after the cup was filled, he continued pouring tea.  The visitor jumped away from the overflowing cup saying to the Zen Mater: “The cup is overflowing!   Don’t you see that not more will go in?”  To which the Master responded: “Like this cup, you are overflowing with your own views and accomplishments.  I have no way of showing you Zen, unless you first empty your cup”.

After receiving feedback from my dear readers that the scripture website sometimes was confusing (particularly on dates when several readings are available to choose from), I have created a dedicated blog posting only the scripture text I am referring to in any given commentary.  For this one, the complete text of the readings at:

With God’s Love and Blessings,


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