The Third Sunday of Lent, Year A
(Note: This Gospel is also optional for Years B & C with Scrutinies)
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” John 4:29
This is the story of a woman who encountered Jesus at the well. She comes to the well in the middle of the noonday heat so as to avoid the other women of her town for fear of encountering their judgment upon her, for she was a sinful woman. At the well she encounters Jesus. Jesus speaks with her for a while and she is deeply touched by this casual but transforming conversation.
The first thing to note is that the very fact of Jesus speaking to her touched her. She was a Samaritan woman and Jesus was a Jewish man. Jewish men did not speak to Samaritan women. But there was something more that Jesus said that deeply affected her. As the woman herself tells us, He “told me everything I have done.”
She wasn’t only impressed that Jesus knew all about her past as if He were a mind reader or magician. There is more to this encounter than the simple fact that Jesus told her all about her past sins. What truly seemed to touch her was that within the context of Jesus knowing all about her, all the sins of herpast life and her broken relationships, He still treated her with the greatest respect and dignity. This was a new experience for her!
We can be certain that she would have daily experienced a sort of community shame. The way she lived in the past and the way she was living at the present was not an acceptable lifestyle. And she felt the shame of it which, as mentioned above, was the reason she came to the well in the middle of the day. She was avoiding others.
But here was Jesus. He knew all about her but wanted to give her Living Water nonetheless. He wanted to satiate the thirst that she was feeling in her soul. As He spoke to her, and as she experienced His gentleness and acceptance, that thirst began to be quenched. It began to be quenched because what she really needed, what we all need, is this perfect love and acceptance that Jesus offers. He offered it to her, and He offers it to us.
Interestingly, the woman went away and “left her water jar” by the well. She never actually got the water she came for. Or did she? Symbolically, this act of leaving the water jar at the well is a sign that her thirst was quenched by this encounter with Jesus. She was no longer thirsty, at least spiritually speaking. Jesus, the Living Water, satiated.
Reflect, today, upon the undeniable thirst that is within you. Once you are aware of it, make the conscious choice to let Jesus satiate it with Living Water. If you do this, you too will leave the many “jars” behind that never satisfy for very long.
Lord, You are the Living Water that my soul needs. May I meet You in the heat of my day, in the trials of life, and in my shame and guilt. May I encounter Your love, gentleness and acceptance in these moments, and may that Love become the source of my new life in You. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Holy Wrath of God
The Third Sunday of Lent, Year B
He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” John 2:15-16
Jesus made quite a scene. He directly engaged those who were turning the Temple into a marketplace. Those selling animals for sacrifice were doing so as a way of trying to make a profit off of the sacred practices of the Jewish faith. They were not there to serve the will of God; rather, they were there to serve themselves. And this brought forth the holy wrath of our Lord.
It’s important to point out that Jesus’ wrath was not the result of Him losing His temper. It was not the result of His out of control emotions pouring forth in extreme anger. No, Jesus was fully in control of Himself and exercised His wrath as a result of a powerful passion of love. In this case, His perfect love was manifested through the passion of anger.
Anger is normally understood as a sin and it is sinful when it’s the result of one losing control. But it’s important to note that the passion of anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. A passion is a powerful drive which manifests itself in various ways. The key question to ask is, “What is driving that passion?”
In Jesus’ case, it was hatred for sin and love for the sinner that drove Him to this holy wrath. By turning over the tables and driving people out of the Temple with a whip, Jesus made it clear that He loved His Father, whose house they were in, and He loved the people enough to passionately rebuke the sin that they were committing. The ultimate goal of His action was their conversion.
Jesus hates the sin in your life with the same perfect passion. At times we need a holy rebuke to set us on the correct path. Do not be afraid to let the Lord offer this form of rebuke to you this Lent.
Reflect, today, upon those parts of your life that Jesus wants to cleanse. Allow Him to speak directly and firmly to you so that you will be driven to repentance. The Lord loves you with a perfect love and desires that all sin in your life be cleansed.
Lord, I know that I am a sinner who is in need of Your mercy and, at times, in need of Your holy wrath. Help me to humbly receive Your rebukes of love and to allow You to drive all sin from my life. Have mercy on me, dear Lord. Please have mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Exhausting the “Soil” of Mercy
The Third Sunday of Lent, Year C
“Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.” Luke 13:8-9
Every gardener knows that good fruit is, in part, dependent upon the presence of good soil. But other factors are also important in the production of good fruit. The plant must be free of disease, receive water and sun, be planted in a warm environment, be properly pruned, and have space enough to grow. When all factors are present, good fruit is guaranteed.
So it is with our lives. The soil in which we are to be planted is the mercy of God. And this soil is the richest soil attainable for the production of the virtues in our lives. God also produces the sun, the rain, and the warmth that is needed for our growth. But, analogously speaking, we must allow ourselves to be pruned. We must also allow the soil to be fertilized and cultivated in a variety of ways. Though Jesus is the Gardener of our lives, it’s also fair to say that we are the gardeners in the sense that we must cooperate with our Lord, relying upon the supernatural resources of the Creator to ensure the healthy growth of our spiritual lives so that the good fruit of virtue may be born in our lives.
This passage above is the conclusion to the Parable of the Fig Tree. Just prior to this passage, the owner of the vineyard, God the Father, ordered that the barren fig tree be cut down so that it will no longer exhaust the soil. But our merciful Lord, sent on mission from the Father to till the soil of our lives, seeks to offer one more chance and the Father obliges out of love. This life is that “year” by which our Lord works fervently to cultivate the soil around us. We must cooperate through daily prayer, fidelity to His commands, acts of loving sacrifice and surrender to His providence. In the end, if we allow our Lord to do all He desires, our lives will bear good fruit.
But on the flip side, make no mistake about the fact that, if our lives do not bear good fruit, we will be “cut down.” Bearing good fruit is not an option, it’s a must. It’s a clear indication of our spiritual health and it will become the measure of our eternal reward or eternal death. Do not be intimidated by such sharp language coming from our Lord. He spoke it in love so that we will know the serious duty we have to bear good fruit in our lives.
Reflect, today, upon the outward signs of your inward spiritual health. Do you see the virtues sprouting forth from your life? Are you aware of the work God desires to do in your soul so as to cultivate it and fertilize it with grace and mercy? Say “Yes” to Him this day and allow that grace to produce an abundance of good fruit.
Lord, I invite You into my soul to cultivate it and to fertilize it with Your grace. Please prune my sins and help me to sink my roots deeply into the nourishment of Your mercy. I am sorry for the ways that I have failed to bear fruit in my life. I now entrust myself to You so that Your care will remedy all my ills and weaknesses. Jesus, I trust in You.
Athirst My Soul!
Monday of the Third Week of Lent
Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? (See Psalm 42:3)
What a beautiful statement to be able to make. The word “athirst” is a word not used that often but worth reflecting on all by itself. It reveals a longing and a desire to be quenched not only by God, but by the “Living God!” And to “behold the face of God.”
How often do you long for such a thing? How often do you let the desire for God burn within your soul? This is a wonderful desire and longing to have. In fact, the desire itself is enough to begin bringing great satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
There is a story of an elderly monk who lived his life as a hermit being a priest and chaplain for a group of monastic sisters. This monk lived a very quiet life of solitude, prayer, study and work most of his life. One day, toward the end of his life, he was asked how he enjoyed his life all these years. Immediately and without hesitation his face became radiant and overwhelmed with a deep joy. And he said with the deepest of conviction, “What a glorious life I have! Every day I’m preparing to die.”
This monk had one focus in life. It was a focus on the face of God. Nothing else really mattered. What he longed for and anticipated each and every day was that moment when he would enter into that glorious Beatific Vision and see God face to face. And it was the thought of this that enabled him to press on, day after day, year after year, offering Mass and worshiping God in preparation for that glorious meeting.
What do you thirst for? How would you complete that statement? “Athirst is my soul for…?” For what? Too often we thirst for those things that are so artificial and temporary. We try so hard to be happy and yet we so often fall short. But if we can let our hearts be inflamed with longing for that which is essential, that which we were made for, then everything else in life will fall into place. If God is placed at the center of all our longings, all our hopes and all our desires, we will actually begin to “behold the face of God” here and now. Even the slightest glimpse of God’s glory will satiate us so much that it will transform our whole outlook on life and give us a clear and certain direction in all we do. Every relationship will be affected, every decision we make will be orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, and the purpose and meaning of life we are searching for will be discovered. Every time we think about our lives we will become radiant as we ponder the journey we are on and long to put it into full motion anticipating the eternal reward awaiting us in the end.
Reflect, today, upon your “thirst.” Don’t waste your life on empty promises. Don’t get caught up in earthly attachments. Seek God. Seek His face. Seek His will and His glory and you will never want to turn back from the direction this longing takes you.
Jesus, may I one day behold Your full splendor and glory. May I see Your face and make that goal the center of my life. May everything I am be caught up in this burning desire and may I bask in the joy of this journey. Jesus, I trust in You.
Forgiving and Being Forgiven
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
The servant fell down, did him homage, and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. Matthew 18:26-27
This is a story about giving and also receiving forgiveness. Interestingly, it’s often easier to forgive than it is to ask forgiveness. Sincerely asking for forgiveness requires that you honestly acknowledge your sin, which is hard to do. It’s hard to take responsibility for what we have done wrong.
In this parable, the man asking patience with his debt appears to be sincere. He “fell down” before his master asking for mercy and patience. And the master responded with mercy by forgiving him the entire debt which was more than the servant had even requested.
But was the servant truly sincere or was he just a good actor? It seems that he was a good actor because as soon as he was forgiven this huge debt, he ran into someone else who actually owed him money and instead of showing the same forgiveness he was shown, “He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’”
Forgiveness, if it is real, must affect everything about us. It is something that we must ask for, give, receive, and give again. Here are a few points for you to consider:
- Can you honestly see your sin, experience sorrow for that sin, and say, “I’m sorry” to another?
- When you are forgiven, what does that do to you? Does it have the effect of making you more merciful toward others?
- Can you in turn offer the same level of forgiveness and mercy that you hope to receive from God and others?
If you cannot answer “Yes” to all of these questions then this story was written for you. It was written for you to help you grow more in the gifts of mercy and forgiveness. These are hard questions to face but they are essential questions to face if we want to be freed of the burdens of anger and resentment. Anger and resentment weigh heavily on us and God wants us freed of them.
Reflect, today, upon these questions above and prayerfully examine your actions. If you find any resistance to these questions, then focus on what strikes you, take it to prayer, and let God’s grace enter in to bring about a deeper conversion in that area of your life.
Lord, I do acknowledge my sin. But I acknowledge it in the light of Your abundant grace and mercy. As I receive that mercy in my life, please make me just as merciful toward others. Help me to offer forgiveness freely and fully, holding nothing back. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Timing of God
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17
Sometimes God seems to move slowly…very slowly. Perhaps we’ve all found it hard to be patient with the timing of God in our lives. It’s easy to think that we know best and if we only pray harder, then we will push God’s hand and He will finally act, doing what we pray for. But this is not the way God works.
The Scripture above should give us some insight into God’s ways. They are slow, steady, and perfect. Jesus refers to the “law and the prophets” stating that He came not to abolish them but to fulfill them. This is true. But it’s worth looking carefully how this came about.
It came about over many thousands of years. It took time for the perfect plan of God to unfold. But it did unfold in His time and in His way. Perhaps all those in the Old Testament were anxious for the Messiah to come and to fulfill all things. But prophet after prophet came and went and continued to point tothe future coming of the Messiah. Even the Old Testament law was a way of preparing God’s people for the coming of the Messiah. But again, it was a slow process of forming the law, implementing it for the people of Israel, enabling them to understand it, and then beginning to live it.
Even when the Messiah finally did come, there were many who, in their excitement and zeal, wanted Him to fulfill all things right then and there. They wanted their earthly kingdom to be established and they wanted their newfound Messiah to take up His Kingdom!
But God’s plan was so very different than human wisdom. His ways were far above our ways. And His ways continue to be far above our ways! Jesus fulfilled every part of the Old Testament law and prophets, just not in the way many were expecting.
What does this teach us? It teaches us lots of patience. And it teaches us surrender, trust and hope. If we want to pray hard and pray well, we need to pray correctly. And the correct way to pray is to continually pray that Thy will be done! Again, this is hard at first, but it becomes easy when we understand and believe that God always has the perfect plan for our lives and for every struggle and situation in which we find ourselves.
Reflect, today, upon your patience and your trust in the ways of the Lord. He has a perfect plan for your life, and that plan is most likely different than your plan. Surrender to Him and let His holy will guide you in all things.
Lord, I entrust my life to You. I trust that You have the perfect plan for me and for all Your beloved children. Give me patience to wait upon You and to let You bring Your divine will to fulfillment in my life. Jesus, I trust in You!
Speaking the Word of God, Freely
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed. Luke 11:14
What hinders you from speaking the Word of God openly, honestly and clearly? There are so many people who are in dire need of the Gospel. There are so many people who are confused in life and find themselves walking down the wrong road, a road leading togreater confusion and destruction. And we remain silent as they travel this road. Why?
The Gospel above speaks of a man who was mute as a result of a demon. When this demon was driven out by Jesus, the mute man spoke and many were amazed. Most likely this man was fully possessed by this demon and the oppression he experienced disabled his ability to even speak. Upon his release from this demonic influence, he spoke freely.
Though we may not experience demonic influence to the same degree, we are often hindered and oppressed by similar mute spirits. The evil one often tries to influence us in such a way that we are fearful of proclaiming the Gospel freely, sincerely and immediately to those who are in most need of the message God wants communicated to them. “Mute spirits” can often hinder us, confuse us or fill us with a certain fear when the opportunity arises to share our faith with another. Though it may be rare to fall completely into their power, we are often left influenced and hindered by them nonetheless.
Reflect, today, upon the reality of these vile spirits and their attempts to silence us, keeping us from speaking the message of truth that so many people need to hear. We ought not fear their influence. Jesus has complete power over all such spirits and will not hesitate to silence their influence over us if we let Him. He wants to free us to speak His message of love without reserve so that others will come to know Him and His perfect love. Let Him use you as one such instrument of truth and love.
Lord, at times I am given over to fear when You call me to speak Your words of love to those in need. I feel as though I am muted in my speech, confused about what to say. Please free me, dear Lord, to be a holy instrument of Your Word and to confidently proclaim Your truth to those who are in much need. Jesus, I trust in You.
Don’t Wait to Accomplish the Greatest Act!
Friday of the Third Week of Lent
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:28-30
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the greatest act you can do in life is to love God with your whole being. That is, to love Him with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Loving God above all things, with all the power of your human abilities, is the constant goal you must strive for in life. But what does that exactly mean?
First, this commandment of love identifies various aspects of who we are so as to emphasize that each aspect of our being must be given over to a total love of God. Philosophically speaking, we can identify these various aspects of our whole being as follows: intellect, will, passions, feelings, emotions and desires. How do we love God with all of these?
We start with our minds. The first step in loving God is coming to know Him. This means we must seek to understand, comprehend and believe in God and all that has been revealed to us about Him. It means we have sought to penetrate the very mystery of God’s life, especially through Scripture and through the countless revelations given through the history of the Church.
Second, when we come to a deeper understanding of God and all that He has revealed, we make a free choice to believe in Him and follow His ways. This free choice must follow our knowledge of Him and becomes an act of faith in Him.
Third, when we have begun to penetrate the mystery of the life of God and chosen to believe in Him and all that He has revealed, we will see our lives change. One specific aspect of our lives that will change is that we will desire God and His will in our lives, we will want to seek Him more, we will find joy in following Him and we will discover that all the powers of our human soul will slowly become consumed with a love of Him and His ways.
Reflect, today, especially upon the first aspect of loving God. Reflect upon how diligently you seek to know and understand Him and all that He has revealed. This knowledge must become the foundation for your love with your whole being. Start with that and allow all else to follow. One way to do this is to begin a study of our entire Catholic faith (see: My Catholic Life! Series)
Lord, I realize that in order to love You above all else I must come to know You. Help me to be diligent in my commitment to know You and to seek to discover all the glorious truths of Your life. I thank You for all that You have revealed to me and I dedicate myself, this day, to a more thorough discovery of Your life and revelation. Jesus, I trust in You.
Letting Go of Pride
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.’” Luke 18:10-11
Pride and self-righteousness are quite ugly. This Gospel contrasts the Pharisee and his self-righteousness with the humility of the tax collector. The Pharisee looks righteous on the outside and is even proud enough to speak about how good he is in his prayer to God when he says that he is grateful he is not like the rest of humanity. That poor Pharisee. Little does he know that he is quite blind to the truth.
The tax collector, however, is truthful, humble and sincere. He cried out, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus makes it clear that the tax collector, with this humble prayer, went home justified but the tax collector did not.
When we witness the sincerity and humility of another it touches us. It’s an inspiring sight to see. It’s hard to criticize anyone who expresses their sinfulness and asks for forgiveness. Humility of this sort can win over even the most hardened of hearts.
So what about you? Is this parable addressed to you? Do you carry the heavy burden of self-righteousness? All of us do at least to some extent. It’s hard to sincerely arrive at the level of humility that this tax collector had. And it’s so very easy to fall into the trap of justifying our own sin and, as a result, becoming defensive and self-absorbed. But this is all pride. Pride disappears when we do two things well.
First, we have to understand God’s mercy. Understanding the mercy of God frees us to take our eyes off ourselves and set aside self-righteousness and self-justification. It frees us from being defensive and enables us to see ourselves in the light of the truth. Why? Because when we recognize God’s mercy for what it is, we also realize that even our sins cannot keep us from God. In fact, the greater the sinner, the more that sinner is deserving of God’s mercy! So understanding God’s mercy actually enables us to acknowledge our sin.
Acknowledging our sin is the second important step we must take if we want our pride to disappear. We have to know that it’s OK to admit our sin. No, we do not have to stand on the street corner and tell everyone about the details of our sin. But we have to acknowledge it to ourselves and to God, especially in the confessional. And, at times, it will be necessary to acknowledge our sins to others so that we can ask for their forgiveness and mercy. This depth of humility is attractive and easily wins the hearts of others. It inspires and produces the good fruits of peace and joy in our hearts.
So don’t be afraid to follow the example of this tax collector. Try and take his prayer today and say it over and over. Let it become your prayer and you will see the good fruits of this prayer in your life!
Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner. Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner. Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner. Jesus, I trust in You.
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