Homily for April 8, Friday of the IV week of Lent
In our homilies throughout the week, I have been pointing out the change of emphasis in the readings, from the need for conversion and penance, to the joyful fruits of Christ’s passion and resurrection. However, another trend has also become more apparent in the Gospel readings, and today comes to the fore: the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. (Those are the people the Gospel is referring to here when it says “the Jews” – the leaders, not the Jews in general; after all, Jesus and His disciples were all Jews too. Pope Benedict makes this point in his recent book, “Jesus of Nazareth, Part II”.)
We are rapidly approaching Holy Week, and the readings are setting the stage for the sad events of the Lord’s betrayal, trial, torture and execution. Until Holy Week begins, many of the first readings at the weekday Masses will give Old Testament examples of guiltless and faithful people being falsely persecuted, and, in some cases, being freed through divine intervention. Other times, like today, the first readings are from Old Testament prophecies that speak of the plots against God’s innocent servant. Some of the psalms during these days also have special significance. Today’s echos the theme of God helping the just who are in distress, but it also contains a phrase that the Gospels apply to Jesus on the cross: “He watches over all his bones; not one of them shall be broken.”
In the Gospel readings, we will see the growing hatred of the Jewish authorities for, and their plots against, Jesus, Who is speaking more and more clearly about His identity as the Messiah. We get a sense of impending doom as they continue to harden their hearts to the Lord’s message.
The juxtaposition of these Old Testament and Gospel readings brings out the depth of God’s love. It shows how at times God chooses to protect His faithful servants from harm, yet He for our sake, did not spare His only Son from the painful and ignominious death of the Cross, although He did then conquer death by His resurrection.
Let us take advantage of the remaining time of Lent to grow in our appreciation of all that the Lord has done for us, and may God grant us never to harden our hearts to His overwhelming love.