It seems a bit strange that the Church presents us with this gospel reading today on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, it seems to be clearly about the resurrection and yet we haven’t got there yet, we are still plodding through Lent and have to get through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday before we get to the resurrection. What’s going on; have the Church’s liturgical engineers got it all wrong?
In the Gospel of John we often find stories which are not to be found in the Synoptic Gospels. And even though we know that John’s Gospel is considered to have been written later than the others we should not give in to the temptation to think that this old man John has made the story up.
The First Reading and the Gospel on a Sunday are usually related to each other and this Sunday is no exception. Both of these readings are about water. The First Reading is about Moses striking the rock from which flowed water at Massah and Meribah, sufficient to assuage the people’s thirst. In the Gospel we hear the wonderful story of the Woman at the Well.
We have in our readings today two extraordinary religious experiences taking place on the top of mountains. It’s been a while since I was on the top of a high mountain but I remember it as a very exhilarating experience—the height, the thin air, the wind, the sense of achievement after a hard ascent, and the prospect of an easy and rapid descent. And there is the appreciation of beauties of nature in the tremendous view.
Although we speak only figuratively, there is also the sense of being close to heaven. Many people have profound religious experiences on the tops of mountains.
The First Reading and the Gospel are all about temptation—an appropriate theme for the First Sunday of Lent. And surely something we all know about!
We continue to work our way through the Sermon on the Mount this Sunday with some apparent teaching on non-violence. Jesus says quite categorically, ‘Offer the wicked man no resistance.’ And then later on he adds, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ This is looks like some very strong teaching indeed and certainly runs completely opposite to the way the world thinks about things.
There is some very difficult material in today’s Gospel. ‘If anyone kills he will answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: Anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.’ ‘You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ ‘If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.’
We didn’t hear the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time because instead we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation on that day. Ordinarily it would have been an account of the Beatitudes with which Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount and in which we find the very heart of the Gospel message.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord which fortunately this year falls on a Sunday. Forty days after the birth of Jesus his parents present him to the Lord going up to Jerusalem to do so. For many years this feast was called the Purification of Mary or sometimes Candlemas but these days we refer to it as the Presentation of the Lord. The account of these events comes in chapter two of Luke’s Gospel where the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus are combined.
In our Gospel reading today we hear about the call of the very first disciples right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—first Simon Peter and Andrew then James and John.
You might think that these very first disciples were a bit simple. While they are busy working at their everyday tasks as fishermen Jesus comes up and asks them to follow him. They immediately drop their nets and do just that, they follow him.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket