Our readings for this Fourth Sunday of Lent make us privy to the slow development of the Christian understanding of salvation. We begin with a reading from 2 Chronicles that sums up much of Old Testament salvation history: God gives the people good things, the people sin and are punished, God saves them again -- and the pattern repeats itself.
On this Third Sunday of Lent, the ancient authors set before the praying assembly two of the most important institutions in Jewish life, the law (Exodus) and the temple (John). By their faithful observance of the law, the Jews were sincerely surrendering themselves to God's will, which, they believed, was expressed in the law. By their reverence for the temple, its liturgy, its feasts and sacrificial system, the Jews were expressing their gratitude for the presence of God among them.
On April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn. He shared with those present an imaginative view of the whole of human history up to that point in time. King spoke of ancient Rome and Greece and their philosophies, of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and he concluded that he was happy to be living in the United States in the late 1960s.
I was once part of a faculty committee charged with rewriting the mission statement of our high school. Except for changing one preposition, I contributed little to the project. Where the original document stated that one of our school's main goals was to "convey faith in Jesus," I was able to convince the committee to change that statement to read "convey the faith of Jesus."
My brother Tom was always better with his hands than the rest of us were -- an important characteristic for a surgeon. One day, a few years into his career, I asked him, "How can you get up in the morning, go to work, wash your hands, dress up and then pick up a knife and slice someone open?" He replied that he was not "slicing someone open," but removing something that was hurting someone. His profession is science that strives to do the greatest good and the least harm. It is, in vocational terms, a continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus.
More often than not, the first reading for the liturgy correlates to the Gospel, and today's texts are no exception. The motif is suffering -- first bemoaned by Job, and then faced head-on by Jesus.
"We interrupt our regular programming for this very important news." Some version of this familiar phrase has become the routine segue for informing the public of world events. When the "breaking news" announcement indicates that a world leader will be speaking shortly, the ambience may be all the more charged.
The book of Jonah is one of the Hebrew Scriptures' most significant writings. But since many of us don't recognize its literary genre, we miss the theology the author's trying to convey.
When we were children, our mother was not content with having us pray the ordinary grace before meals. No, at grace time, as well as in prayers before bed, there was a litany of sorts in which we remembered family and friends, and always ended with the simple prayer, "Please, God, help me to know my vocation and have the grace and strength to follow it." Mom was a firm believer that everyone had a vocation, a call to serve God with their best talents and deepest desires.
Today, the community of believers in Jesus gathers to remember and celebrate his baptism. There at the Jordan, John clarified his role as precursor of Jesus. The baptism given by John was preparatory for the baptism that Jesus would bring: John's was with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. There at the Jordan, Jesus was identified as "my beloved Son," and from that moment on, he would be the living Word and Wisdom of God. In all his words and in all his works, Jesus would make known to sinners the love and mercy of God.