Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers daily reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus looking for the answer to the question of how to be born again, how to have new life. Jesus answers, "God so loved the world that he gave his only son." (John 3:16) Perhaps our "new life" this Lent could be found in a litany of praise:
God so loved the world that we were given the beauty of springAnd,
God so loved the world that we were given Earth as our home
God so loved the world that we were given ...
God so loved the world that I was given the gifts that enable my ministry to flourish
God so loved the world that I was given the family and friends to support me
God so loved the world that I was given ...
Taken together, today's readings give us a roadmap for our Lenten journey. Isaiah describes a new reality in which "the things of the past shall not be remembered." (Is 45:17) and the royal official of John's Gospel "put his trust in the words of Jesus." (John 4:50)
My friend Toni Bosco, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered, has written a book entitled Choosing Mercy. Her title reflects the choices she has made that the things of the past -- in her case, this horrible crime -- shall not be remembered. She and her other children have heard Jesus call to love enemies and have "put their trust in the words of Jesus." Toni has become an outspoken advocate for abolition of the death penalty.
Choosing mercy is not easy in the face of any injury. Pray for the grace to put your trust in the words of Jesus today and to choose mercy towards those who have injured you in any way.
What is important in your life? This is the question of today's Gospel reading. The man who had been sick for thirty-eight years thought that being carried to the pool was important. Those nearby thought that the rule about carrying mats on the Sabbath was important. The reality was that with Jesus, the pool was not necessary for a cure, and that Sabbath rules must give way to urgent needs.
What do you need to let go of so that urgent needs can be addressed? Perhaps it is plans that must be put aside when confronted with a need? Perhaps it is spending patterns that need to be altered to allow for almsgiving. Perhaps it is long-held beliefs about "those people" and what they are like that need to be discarded.
Jesus, show me what choices I must make to respond to what is important for me and for the world.
"Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?" (Is 49:15) In a recent trip through the airport, I observed what seemed to be a mother "without tenderness for the child in her womb." This woman, traveling with a very small child who had apparently just started walking, was busy about checking her ticket, and repacking luggage while her child cried out for attention and held out his arms, begging to be picked up. The truth of Isaiah's words came home to me. I couldn't take my eyes off this situation until the mother responded to the child. To the casual observer, it could appear that this mother temporarily "forgot her infant."
But God says, "Even should she forget, I will never forget you." (Is 49:15) Although I might be tempted to think that God has forgotten me, that I might cry out like that little child, I know in the depth of my being that the tenderness of God is present and that I am held in the palm of God's hands.
The Israelites had apparently forgotten the promise that they would be God's people, and God alone would be their God. In their distress, they fashioned another god, a golden calf. In the face of this, Moses is left to deal with the wrath of God.
Moses' response is the heartfelt response of one whose personal relationship with God is real. Moses is not afraid to share his true feelings and is not beyond reminding God of the promises made to previous generations that descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
Today both the Israelites and their leader, Moses, teach us valuable lessons. We are invited to ask ourselves -- has any image, person, place, thing, taken the place of God in my life? We are also invited to deepen our relationship with God so that our prayer becomes more and more like the prayer of Moses -- deeply felt and perhaps even disarmingly honest.
I heard a story recently of a religious community that was promising prospective members that, once they joined, they would never again have to wonder if they were doing the will of God. They were told that obedience to their superiors would always guarantee that they were doing God's will. Don't we all sometimes wish it were that simple.
In today's Gospel we see that even Jesus struggled to know the will of God in each concrete step along the way. He felt called to go to Jerusalem, but he did so in secret -- at first. He spoke in public, but evaded their attempts to arrest him -- for now.
Like Jesus, our on-going search to know the will of God is never ending. And, like Jesus, we will often find that from day to day, our reality, and so our response, is changing. Our daily prayer can come from today's first reading: let us pray continually to know "the hidden counsels of God" in whatever way they are revealed. (Wisdom 2:20)
"Surely the Messiah is not to come from Galilee." (John 8:41) Surely, she can't have anything valuable to say. Surely you don't expect me to listen to him. Surely those people can't teach us anything about democracy. Surely you don't expect me to drive less. Surely you don't expect me to be bothered with recycling. Surely you can't believe that I should forgive her.
How often we hear ourselves say words like these. Like the crowd around Jesus, we do not want our preconceived notions challenged. We know how things have "always been," and we like them that way.
Surely this Lent isn't an invitation to let go of any of my deeply held ideas, or prejudices, or practices -- or is it? Surely, the two remaining weeks of Lent aren't enough time to make a difference in my life -- or are they?
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