The combination of Old and New Testament readings for this fifth Sunday in Lent at first seems an odd one. You have Isa 43:16-21, the prophet’s divine oracle about God doing a new thing. The “former thing” was the Exodus from Egypt (“Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the might waters. . .” ) But now God says “Remember not the former things and consider them not. See, I am doing a new thing: in the desert I make a way and in the wasteland, rivers.” What is this new thing?. When we turn to the New Testament passage, perhaps hoping that it will offer us a new answer (for the prophet, the new thing was the return from exile.) But in John 8:1-11 we hear not of a new thing but of a rather old one. First, there is a woman caught in adultery. Then, there are the male religious leaders who want to stone her. These two passages seem at first to have nothing to do with one another. And yet on closer inspection that is not quite true. According to John’s gospel, in this desert of sin and condemnation a new thing does indeed spring forth: “Woman. . .Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asks. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Continue reading
In the account of Jesus’ “transfiguration,” we are told that the “appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). While one might wonder about the significance of this is, the comments that come after shed some light, so to speak. “And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31, NRSV). The reader is then told that when Peter, James and John awoke “they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” Clearly, then, the significance of Jesus’ altered countenance and dazzling white raiment is that he—along with Moses and Elijah— appear “in glory,” although only of Jesus is it said to be his glory.
In the Old Testament, God’s glory is used to designate the manifestation of God’s “God-ness” to humans: Moses doesn’t see God but God’s glory. Continue reading
The four readings for this Sunday present us with a pair of contrasts: voluntary versus involuntary suffering, and divine versus human help. The first and last readings are about the first kind of suffering – that to which one gives assent; suffering that one is willing to risk and endure for the sake of a greater good, or a higher calling. In the passage from Isaiah, the speaker (the voice of the prophet, of the community of Israel, or, proleptically, of the Christ) declares, “The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear;/and I have not rebelled/have not turned back.//I gave my back to those who beat me/my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.” The suffering described may not have been sought, but at least the sufferer has the confidence that enduring this suffering is an act of obedience to God. So also the one to whom Christ says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Continue reading
We often speak of either “being in a good place” or “not being in a good place” as a guage of our mental or spiritual well-being. Along these lines, the readings for the fourth Sunday of Lent all emphasize the importance of place: Jerusalem or Babylon; at home or in exile; in life or in death; in the light or in darkness. The Old Testament readings describe actual physical places. These signify, on the one hand, the joy of God’s presence and of living up to one’s calling to be holy (so, Jerusalem) and, on the other hand, the experience of God’s absence, of the alienating effects of sin on the individual, and community (so, Babylon). Dwelling in Babylon, Israel teaches us to lament, and to long for return to the place of God’s dwelling. The New Testament readings pick up on what is said of these places in emphasizing that it is God’s initiative, not our own, that restores us to the land of the living. But they also remind us that we must participate with God in this restoration, and that especially important in all of this is what we ourselves desire: do we desire the same things that God desires for us? Continue reading