5 March | First Sunday in Lent | Matthew 4:1-11 - The Temptation of Jesus
After his fast of 40 days, paralleling the 40 years of desert wandering by Israel, Jesus is driven out into the desert by the Spirit to undergo the testing of the devil’s temptations. What is at stake here is the nature of Jesus’ messiahship. Is he to be the wonder worker, or the messiah of spectacular signs, or the powerful political ruler of the world? Or is he to be the suffering savior for whom obedience to the Father’s will is his priority? The temptation to be a different type of messiah returns in Gethsemane with the prayer to remove the cup, and on the cross with the request for Jesus to come down from the cross to gain belief from passers-by, the mocking leaders, and those crucified with him. These temptations were the temptations of Jesus’ whole lifetime, not just one moment, for acclaim, acceptance, and a certain kind of success that would meet popular expectation.
Jesus chooses a second path, that of the Suffering Servant, obedient to the will of the Father. On this way he clashes with popular values of power and prestige. It is a road that entails rejection and a certain kind of failure, but ultimately leads to eternal triumph. The only security is dependence on God (not on bread), giving priority to the will of the Father (not seeking to gain crowds through spectacular signs), and refusing the power of this world as given by Satan (but accepting ‘all authority in heaven and earth…given by my Father’). Because Jesus proves faithful, he is now ready to begin his mission.
12 March | Second Sunday in Lent | Matthew 17:1-9 - The Transfiguration
The Transfiguration combines a decisive moment in the life of Jesus with the glory of the post-resurrected Christ. During his ministry Jesus became increasingly aware that the mounting hostility of his enemies pointed to a death such as had befallen the prophets before him. As a Jew he believed that all of history was under the control of God, his loving Abba. Jesus had been given the great mission of bringing in the reign of God, but he could see that it would not be completed if his life was cut short. As with all else, he took his concern to God. On the mountaintop Jesus learns the great truth that it will be through his death that God would bring about the kingdom of heaven.
Now that Jesus can entrust his mission to a God that will bring it to completion, his enlightenment is described. In him is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah both conversed with God on Mt. Sinai). The details of a transfigured Christ, face shining like the sun, garments white as light, and recognition as the beloved Son of God in the fullness of its meaning, are details that belong to the risen Christ. The link between the passion and the glorification of Jesus is made explicit as the group come down from the mountain.
19 March | Third Sunday in Lent | John 4:5-42 - The Samaritan Woman at the Well
The theme of water given for life dominates our readings. The theme of thirst is appropriate to our Lenten response. This story in John brings together the vital issues of 1.Living water; 2.True worship; 3.Mission; 4.Self-revelation; 5.Response in faith. Jesus replaces the well of Jacob by living water (water that flows, symbol of the Holy Spirit), just as he replaces the Temple by worship in Spirit and truth. The issue is not ‘where’ God is worshiped, but ‘how’. There is a wonderful progression in faith on the part of the woman as she sees Jesus ‘a strange Jew’, ‘greater than Jacob’, ‘a prophet’, the Messiah’, and ‘the savior of the world’. The woman brings her townspeople to Jesus and steps aside in true missionary spirit to allow Jesus to complete the work of conversion. From Nicodemus (a Jew), to the Samaritans (Jew-Gentile), to the official whose son was at the point of death (Gentile), the mission of Jesus takes on universal proportions.
The fact that the woman comes at noon is not because she is a disreputable and isolated character. She comes at the lightest time of the day to meet the source of light and wisdom, Jesus. She is a contrast to Nicodemus who came by night. The five husbands represent the Samaritan faith journey as a people who suffered the indignity of having five pagan ba’als (the word also means ‘husband’) imposed on the land by their Assyrian conquerors. The Samaritan people are honoured in Acts as among the first to come to faith in the Christian message. Jesus the prophet draws on the prophetic image of the straying Israel as the unfaithful wife.
26 March | Fourth Sunday in Lent | John 9:1-41 - The Man Born Blind
This dramatic miracle shows the growing hostility between Jesus and his enemies. It points out the need to have our own spiritual blindness healed by the Light of the World. The story moves from stating that physical blindness is not caused by sin to affirming that sin causes spiritual blindness. The paradox is that the blind see and those who think they see are blind. The name ‘Siloam’ means ‘sent’. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends those enlightened by his word. The Man Born Blind now becomes a witness to Jesus as a prophet then as one from God. He is cast out by the Pharisees, but brought into the light of the new people of God.
The work of Jesus produces a new creation; light was the first of God’s creation in Genesis, and is essential for life in Hebrew thought. Clay is present for the creation of the first human being. Even the spittle is a sign of bringing an incomplete creation to completion as Jesus shares of himself. Genesis begins with watery chaos. The entire chapter follows the great Feast of Lights, when the city was lit up with the great light of the Temple. Jesus is the light of the world, replacing the darkness, for those who follow him have the light of life.
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