Father Howard Hansen’s Reflections
for The Fifth Week of Lent 2011
Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 10, John 11: 1-45
Our Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent gives us the 7th and final sign or “wondrous deed” contained in the Gospel of St. John: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This miracle is found only in the Gospel of John. Jesus had just fled Judea where Bethany, the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary was located, because the Jews had tried to kill him while he was there. Jesus had escaped from them and returned to Galilee where he was safe. The fact that he was now going to return to Bethany to his friend Lazarus frightened the disciples. We see this in their words: “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” And also in the words of Thomas: “Let us go to die with him.”
We are all familiar with Jesus’ meeting with Martha and Mary and his telling them that he is the resurrection and the life. The promise of eternal life is given to those who believe in him. Martha acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, the One who is to come into the world. The raising of Lazarus from the dead brought many people to the faith and, on the other side of the ledger, it threw more fuel on the fire of hatred that burned in the Pharisees as they looked for a way to kill him. From this time on Jesus was a hunted man, kind of like public enemy number one. The tension now begins to build for the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. Will Jesus come to Jerusalem or not?
Is there a lesson for us in this story? Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead surely attracted many people to Jesus, as we see in the words of the Pharisees in the following chapter of John’s Gospel: “If we leave him alone, all will believe in him.” The people admired Jesus because he stuck to his guns no matter what the cost. How about us? Are we “fair-weather followers” of Christ who follow him when everything is going well for us? Or do we also hang in there with him when things get tough – when I lose a loved one to death, when I lose my job when I am 55 years old, when the disease of cancer is discovered in my lymph glands, when I can no longer walk? How willing am I in these and other tough situations to follow Jesus?
Jesus, grant us your grace and strength to follow you no matter what.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
John 8: 1-11
Today’s Gospel selection gives us the meaningful story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. We read it here in the Gospel of St. John, although it is not found in the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel. Some later manuscripts place it in the Gospel of St. Luke. My Scripture Commentary labels it as a “free-floating tradition” about Jesus.
The Pharisees hit a new low in this story. A helpless woman is used as a scapegoat in order to trap Jesus into obeying the law of Moses which allows the stoning to death of a woman adulteress. Jesus responds to this trap by writing in the sand and inviting those who are without sin to throw the first stone at the woman. The Pharisees tuck their tails between their legs and slink off one by one. We will never know what Jesus wrote in the sand but whatever it was it reminded the Pharisees that they too were sinners. Jesus forgives the woman and simply admonishes her to go and sin no more.
Jesus has a magnificent understanding of the weaknesses of human nature. We all fail in so many ways every day of our lives and it is somewhat reassuring that we have such an understanding judge as Jesus. Let us take his advice to the woman into our own hearts and try to go and sin no more.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
John 8: 21-30
I believe that just about all of us are aware of the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the person of Jesus that tells us Jesus is a combination of the divine and human natures in the one Divine Person. Jesus never ceases to be God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and at the same time he is completely human in all things but sin. Jesus is indeed unique. Today’s Gospel selection for this Tuesday of Lent shows us the human side of Jesus. He tells us he only says what the Father has instructed him to say, that he always does what pleases the Father. It is evident from this place in Scripture as well as in many other places that Jesus has taken his human will and life and turned them over to the Father. This should ring a few bells for those of you who read these homilies regularly and are familiar with the great number of times I quote the 3rd Step of the 12 Steps of Spirituality where it says: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
In our Gospel today we see Jesus practicing the 3rd Step. He has turned his human will and life over to the care of the Father. And we are, of course, encouraged once again to do the same. In doing so we experience a richness of life we would never have otherwise, a life that always enjoys the presence of the Father, a life of happiness and peace and fulfillment. We see this in Jesus, of course, and we will see it also in ourselves if we but follow suit.
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
John 8: 31-42
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Today’s Gospel certainly reinforces what we said in yesterday’s homily: If you turn your will and life over to me, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. We also see very clearly the truth of these words exemplified by the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the first reading for today’s Liturgy from the Book of Daniel (3: 14-20, 91-92, 95) where King Neb. threw them into the fiery furnace heated seven times more than usual because they would not worship his statue. When King Neb. looked into the furnace he saw the three boys dancing around and having a ball instead of being burnt to a crisp. Their belief in God, their turning their lives over to God, had indeed set them free from King Neb’s power over them.
If we turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand Him, we too shall be free from the temptations and wiles of Satan. Turning things over to God frees us from our fears and whatever can harm us. This is another one of God’s guarantees to us. Let’s take advantage of it.
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
John 8: 51-59
Once again in today’s Gospel reading we see the 3rd Step of the 12 Steps as a part of Jesus’ human life: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me.” The word “glory, glorify” has many different nuances of meaning in the Scriptures. The word occurs some 170 times in the New Testament. It can mean wealth, power, prestige, honor. God is said to give glory to Christ in the sense of glory meaning the privileged state of a heavenly intimate relationship with God in Christ. Jesus turns his will and life over to the Father and because of this the Father gives Christ’s human nature the privileged state of an intimate relationship with the Father. And, amazingly enough, so it also is with us. This only stands to reason; if we turn our will and life over to God a certain intimacy will certainly be the result. One of the ways we become intimate with God is through communication with him and what could possibly be a better form of communication than turning our will and lives over to his care?
Father, all this week in the Scriptures you have been showing us the privileged life we will have if we identify with you and your way, truth, and life. Give us the strength, please, to be able to accomplish this.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
John 10: 31-42
Today’s Gospel reading precedes Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11 of John’s Gospel. The Pharisees see Jesus as trying to make himself God and take this as blasphemy, for which they tried to stone him. Jesus, however, escaped and returned to Galilee where he was safe.
Jesus, in danger of being stoned, prays knowing that God is with him and he will not be harmed; his prosecutors will not triumph over him. Have we gotten into the habit of saying a prayer to the Lord when some difficulty threatens us with harm? I have numerous instances in my life day in and day out when I whisper a prayer to keep me going when I feel frustrated and begin to drift toward negative thoughts and feelings. Negativity is a harm as far as I am concerned. It just leads to worse things. And I can’t remember when these prayers are not answered and I return to a positive way of thinking and acting.
Jesus, I thank you again and again for being there for me when I am in need of your help.
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
John 11: 45-56
Today’s Gospel reading immediately follows the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus in Bethany of Judea. We noted before how just previous to Jesus’ going to the aid of his friend Lazarus, he had been in Bethany and the Pharisees had tried to stone him to death. Jesus, as we saw, escaped and returned to Galilee. Then only a couple of days later, he received word of Lazarus being ill and despite the death threat in Bethany, he returned to help his friend. We remember that his disciples returned with him and were ready to die with him. Jesus did not let the fear of the Pharisees detain him from doing what he had to do.
How about us in this same picture? Do we allow fears or people-pleasing or an exaggerated feeling of our own ego to prevent us from following the values of Jesus when we know we should? Do we sometimes look the other way and just let things slide past that should be confronted and corrected?
Jesus, give us the strength to do your will even in scary and inconvenient circumstances.