Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 8:1-11:

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The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) has a complicated history. It does not appear in any major Greek copy of John before the sixth century, which is why it appears in brackets in the NABRE, although it does appear in earlier Latin manuscripts. In some Greek manuscripts of John, the story appears in places other than its present location. One manuscript group has the account at the end of the Gospel, after 21:25. In addition, it appears in some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, after 21:38. The Greek language in this story differs noticeably from that in the rest of John. These factors suggest that the story did not originate with the rest of the Fourth Gospel. Rather, it resembles conflict stories found in the Synoptics. The Church receives this text as inspired Scripture and proclaims it liturgically on the fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C.

Jesus shows loving-kindness to a person involved in sexual immorality. Many men and women are in a similar situation today. Turning away from such sinful activity can be very difficult. The gentle mercy of Jesus, which is infinitely greater than the worst of our sins, is available to all in the sacrament of reconciliation, through which he pardons all our sins, even the most serious ones. Moreover, Christians who are not involved in such sinful behavior do well to avoid the proud self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers and instead imitate Jesus, not condemning but lovingly summoning the sinner to repent and live a better life.

Pope Francis on Christ’s Mercy:

[This] Gospel presents to us the episode of the adulterous woman ([John] 8:1–11), whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death. Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversion. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (v. 11). Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience he has with each one of us? That is his mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, he understands us, he waits for us, he does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart. (Pope Francis, “Angelus,” March 17, 2013.)

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 2 Corinthians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Second Corinthians, by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, commenting on II Corinthians 5:18-21:

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The Sacrament of Reconciliation. For Catholics, the ministry of reconciliation is enacted in a privileged and unsurpassed manner in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, the opening words of the prayer of absolution make the connection explicit: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself ” (employing words from 2 Cor 5:18–19). Because sin damages our relationship with God and others, it is necessary to seek reconciliation with God and the Church. Penitents confess their sins to a priest or bishop, who is an instrument of God’s merciful love and forgiveness.

The priest or bishop also represents the community, whose witness to Christ and fraternal bonds are weakened by the sin of its members. The words of absolution—which are prayed by the priest or bishop after the penitent’s confession of sins, act of contrition, and resolution to do penance—are extremely powerful, for by means of them God brings about what he intended through the sacrificial death of Christ.

Priests and bishops thus have the awesome privilege and responsibility of continuing the work of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Their demeanor and comportment in the confessional, especially when marked by patience and compassion, can have life-changing consequences. I have found that intimacy with Jesus’ Sacred Heart and recognition of my own sinfulness are essential aids to celebrating this beautiful sacrament.

Ambassadors of Messiah Jesus. Because Christ conferred the power to forgive sins on his apostles (Matt 16:19; John 20:21–23), bishops and priests represent and speak for him in a unique manner, as when celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Nevertheless, by virtue of their baptism and confirmation all Christians participate in the priesthood of Jesus (e.g., Lumen Gentium 30–31) and thereby in his mission. That is, every one of us is called to be an ambassador of Jesus, a person who bears witness to him by living out gospel values, by building up the community of faith, by advocating for justice, and by working for peace.

Christ “willed that . . . his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (Catechism, 1442). One way that Catholics can participate in the ministry of reconciliation is to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is only when we appropriate God’s mercy and love in our own lives that we are able to be conduits of that mercy and love for others. Like all his gifts, God’s gift of reconciliation is bestowed on us in order to be shared.

© 2009 Thomas D. Stegman SJ, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Third Sunday of Lent

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 10:1-4:

Now let us look at each of these elements in turn. The cloud is a classic symbol in the Old Testament for the presence of God. A cloud led the people by day and concealed them at night as they made their way to the Red Sea (Exod 13:21–22; 14:19–20; Ps 105:39). The Lord came down in a cloud over Mount Sinai at the time of sealing the covenant with his people (Exod 19:16; 24:15, 18). When Moses built the tabernacle, the cloud came down and overshadowed it, and “the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling” (Exod 40:34–35). Paul sees the cloud of the exodus as a prefigurement of the Holy Spirit, whom Christians receive when they are baptized. And as the Israelites crossed the sea to freedom, Christians have escaped the tyranny of sin and death through the waters of baptism.

The expression baptized into Moses would make no sense apart from its parallel “baptized into Christ.” Paul sees the New Testament fulfillment already present in the Old Testament type: it was only in being united to Moses that the people escaped Egypt, just as it is only in being united to Jesus that one is saved (1 Cor 12:13). As the manna was spiritual food in the sense that it was not the product of human hands but a sheer gift from heaven, so the Eucharist is spiritual food, and not only because it is a heavenly gift but also, being the body of Christ, it is the source of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; 15:45). This typology has furnished the Church with a rich source for theology of the sacraments.

The spiritual drink of which the Israelites partook was the water that flowed from the rock when struck by Moses (Exod 17:1–7; Num 20:2–13). It was spiritual in the sense that it was miraculously provided by God. The fulfillment is in the Holy Spirit, as Paul makes explicit in 12:13: “We were all given to drink of one Spirit.” In this Paul reflects the same theme found in the Gospel of John: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). “ ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” ’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (7:37–39). And most graphically, when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side after his death on the cross, “blood and water flowed out” (19:34).

John’s linking of blood to water may symbolize the Eucharist along with baptism and the Holy Spirit. So it is also possible that the spiritual drink of which Paul speaks may at least hint at the eucharistic blood of Christ. As Chrysostom comments, “The same Person brought them through the sea and you through baptism; and before them set the manna, but before you his body and blood.”

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Philippians for the Second Sunday of Lent

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 3:17:

Paul’s exhortation to be imitators of me may sound strange to our ears. We are reluctant to present ourselves as moral or religious examples. But in the ancient Greco-Roman world it was a common and acceptable practice for teachers to point to themselves as examples. It is human nature to look for examples to imitate; and teachers know that their role inevitably makes them examples, for better or for worse.

Moreover, we acknowledge this fact in plenty of ways in our own culture: consider the recovering alcoholics who tell their stories to other alcoholics to encourage them, or excercise enthusiasts who speak of the new energy they have gained from an exercise program in order to prompt sluggish friends to join them in the gym.

Paul describes the imitation in a careful way: join with others in being imitators of me, literally, “be co-imitators of me.” Since this word appears nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in Greek literature generally, it seems that Paul has coined it to emphasize imitation as a communal enterprise; they are to collaborate as a church in emulating Paul’s way of life. Indeed, he develops that idea: observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. They are to imitate one another as they follow Paul’s way of imitating

Christ himself. The plural “us” underscores the fact that Paul is not the only model. For example, his cosender Timothy and the Philippians’ emissary Epaphroditus are also to be viewed as models (2:19–30).

 

 

© 2013 Dennis Hamm and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 15:1-11

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After adding his own testimony to the creedal recital, Paul is keenly aware of how his calling differed from that of the others mentioned. He had persecuted the church of God, and that should have made him unfit to be an apostle. But as the First Letter to Timothy will explain, “I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16).

God often calls the most unlikely, as he has done with the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:26–31). Not only did Paul not have good works of which he might have boasted (Phil 3:4–6); he also was the worst of sinners for having persecuted Jesus in his members (1 Tim 1:15). Hence he can say it is only by the grace of God that I am what I am. And that grace has continued to work in his life. He first says in a self-effacing way, His grace to me has not been ineffective, but then in a positive way he says he has toiled harder than all of them (the other apostles and evangelists).

He is not holding himself above the others, because whatever he has been able to do has been by the grace of God [that is] with me. After this brief expansion on his own ministry, Paul returns to the point made in 15:1—the one gospel that he handed on to them and they received. The apostolic witness to the resurrection of Jesus is not divided: whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 13:1-8-13:

Often when ministering at weddings where this chapter is proclaimed, I wonder if any of the congregation, even the bride and groom, really know what they just heard. The atmosphere of the celebration is so charged with the charm of romantic, marital love that Paul’s full meaning easily gets lost. I wonder if many are not divinizing romance, as the ancient pagans did, instead of hearing God say he wants to transform it, purify it, ennoble it by incorporating it into Jesus’ own sacrificial love of the Church.

Our culture is intoxicated with recreational sex, which paradoxically deceives in its promises and leads to broken hearts and often unplanned consequences, sometimes tragic. That is certainly a far cry from what Paul is talking about. He is not even talking about the infatuation of emotional love that is often merely the invitation to a more committed relationship. If love does not go beyond emotion, it is not surprising that we hear of people leaving their spouse “because I don’t love you anymore.”

Paul is talking about agapē. That is the love of total self-gift, of which the source and paradigm is Jesus crucified for love of his bride, the Church. There is delight in that love, but it is the delight that one experiences when giving oneself away, the joy of Jesus who loved his own “to the end” (John 13:1). It is a delight experienced in the will, even when there is no emotional residue to it. To love one’s enemies, to forgive and do good to those who have hurt us, does not mean we will automatically feel a warm fuzzy in our heart for them. It does mean that with the grace of God (for agapē is God’s gift rather than our own creation) we transcend feelings and experience the peace of Jesus at the deepest level of our soul.

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.