3rd Sunday of Lent Exodus 20:1–17; 1 Corinthians 1:22–25; John 2:13–25
Gospel or Film? The Gospels not only record the words and actions of Jesus but also interpret their meaning.
Suppose a modern TV camera crew could get into a time machine and fly backward into history 2,000 years to the time of Jesus.
Suppose they were able to film the actual life of Jesus from his birth on Christmas to his resurrection on Easter. Suppose they were able to bring the film back with them in the time machine.
Think of it! That film would allow us to enter the world of Jesus exactly as it was. It would allow us to see the people Jesus saw. Best of all, it would allow us to see Jesus as he was.
In other words, instead of reading today’s gospel, we could show the film of the event. We could actually see Jesus drive the money changers out of the Temple. We could see the expression on Jesus’ face. We could hear the exact words he spoke.
Now let me ask you a question. Would you trade the four written Gospels, as we now have them, for a film like that? Keep in mind that you couldn’t have both. You would have to pick one or the other. Would you trade the Gospels for such a film? When someone asked an expert on the Gospels that same question, he said, “I’d keep the four Gospels.” His explanation was interesting. He said that many people in the time of Jesus saw and heard what Jesus did and said, but they didn’t understand it.
He went on to say that if we had only a film of the life of Jesus, we might end up misunderstanding it also.
“ ‘What miracle can you perform to show us that you have the right to do this?” Jesus answered, ‘Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will build it again.’ “Are you going to build it again in three days?” they asked him. It has taken forty-six years to build . . . !’ ” John 2:18–20
After describing this conversation, John says:
“But the temple Jesus was speaking about was his body. So when he was raised from death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and what Jesus had said.” John 2:21–22
In other words, even Jesus’ disciples didn’t fully understand what Jesus was talking about at the time. Only after he was raised to glory did it become clear.
Take another example. Take what happened on Palm Sunday, when Jesus rote into Jerusalem on a donkey. After describing the episode, John says:
“[Jesus’] disciples did not understand this at the time; but when Jesus had been raised to glory, they remembered that the scripture said this about him.” John 12:16
What happened to the disciples, afterward, that enabled them to understand these things?
“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will tech you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.” John 14:26
In other words, what makes the four Gospels better than a film is that they were written in the light of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
As a result, they contain not only Jesus’ words and works but also the deeper meaning behind them. Let me illustrate this point.
We’ve all seen the television commercial for Polaroid camera. A girl takes a picture at a birthday party. After she does, a piece of blank paper rolls out of the front of the Polaroid camera. Nothings seems to be on it. It looks blank.
But suddenly, before our eyes, shapes and colors begin to appear on the blank paper. At first they are fuzzy and faint. But shortly they become sharp and clear.
The events of the life of Jesus were like that. At first they seemed to be like blank paper. There didn’t seem to be anything special about them.
But then came Pentecost. The Holy Spirit enlightened the minds of the disciples about the events of Jesus’ life. Suddenly the deeper meaning of these events began to emerge, just as clearly as did the image on the Polaroid paper.
The difference between the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ teaching before and after Pentecost is as striking as the difference between the Polaroid paper before and after it was exposed to light.
And so the four written Gospels are far better than a film. They not only record Jesus’ words and works but also interpret their meaning for us.
The four Gospels are a priceless gift from God to us. Saint Jerome called them the “love letters” of God the Father to his earthly children.
The season of Lent is a good time to rediscover the power and beauty of the four Gospels. It’s a good time to listen to them at Mass with greater attention and deeper love.
More importantly, Lent is a time to focus our eyes on Jesus, the central figure of the Gospels. It’s a time to place all our trust in him. If we do this, he will show himself to us on Easter Sunday in an entirely new way, just as he did to his disciples.
Let us close with a prayer. Let’s thank God for his gift of the four Gospels and ask him to deepen our faith in them:
God our Father, thank you for your gift of the four Gospels. Teach us to love them and appreciate them. Help us meditate on the four Gospels. Show us how to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples, that we may see and hear what they did.
Above all, help us live the four Gospels. Show us how to apply them to our lives, so that when this life comes to an end, we may share your life forever.
Series II 3rd Sunday of Lent Exodus 17:3–7; Romans 5:1–2, 5–8; John 4:5–42
Death-Row Prisoner Like the woman at the well, we must open our hearts to Jesus and bring him to others.
Father Frank Roof is a former chaplain of the Kentucky State Penitentiary. He tells a moving story about a prisoner named Paul Kordenbrock.
Paul was born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and grew up in the permissive culture of the 1960s. The popular philosophy back then was “If it feels good, do it.’’
That philosophy seduced young Paul into one bad situation after another. Then came the terrifying day when the young man found himself on death row, condemned to death.
There he lives today, two floors above the electric chair, waiting for the wheels of justice to run their course.
In 1982 Paul introduced himself to Father Roof, asking him to hear his confession and to bring him Holy Communion. That meeting led to other meetings.
Soon Paul was introduced to other Catholic prisoners on death row.
As time passed, Paul took it upon himself to petition prison officials to permit Father Roof to celebrate Mass for the small Catholic community that was slowly forming on death row.
The permission was given, and Father Roof began to celebrate weekly Masses in a steel cage for the condemned inmates.
All this activity was not just an accident. Father Roof learned that Paul had been taking correspondence courses in his faith.
They included courses in the Old Testament, the New Testament, Church history, Church doctrine, Catholic morality, and catechetics.
Paul became a certified catechist for the diocese and now conducts an RCIA program—the yearlong program for initiating adults into the Catholic faith—on death row.
Each year since 1982, Paul has brought at least one condemned prisoner to Christ.
Father Roof once asked Paul how he accounted for his change of heart. Paul attributed his personal transformation to four things:
1. letting go of the “stuff ’’ that bothered him, 2. meditating daily, 3. reading Scripture daily, and 4. sharing with other prisoners the story of how Jesus Christ changed his life.
The story of Paul Kordenbrock resembles the story of the woman at the well in two striking ways.
First, it’s the story of how a sinner met Jesus Christ and was totally changed by the meeting.
To appreciate more fully the dramatic change Paul went through, we need only ask ourselves these questions.
How many of us meditate daily? How many of us read Scripture daily? How many of us share with our brothers and sisters the story of what Jesus Christ has done for us?
This brings us to the second way the story of Paul Kordenbrock resembles the story of the woman at the well.
Here we need to recall what the woman did after her encounter with Jesus at the well. The Gospel says:
Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done.” John 4:28–29
The Gospel adds that the people left the town and went to meet Jesus.
And so the woman who had been a great sinner became Christianity’s very first missionary. After she discovered Jesus, she went off to share her discovery with her friends and neighbors.
And that’s exactly what Paul Kordenbrock did. After he discovered Jesus, he went off to share his discovery with his fellow inmates, saying to them, “Come and meet a man who has done marvelous things for me.’’
And so the man who had been a great sinner became death row’s very first missionary in the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
To appreciate more fully Paul Kordenbrock’s missionary activity, we need only ask ourselves one question. How many of us have personally instructed and brought into the Church at least one person a year since 1982?
To appreciate more fully Paul Kordenbrock’s missionary activity, we need only ask ourselves one question. How many of us have personally instructed and brought into the Church at least one person a year since 1982? And this brings us to the practical message of the story of the woman at the well and the story of Paul on death row.
Both stories illustrate an important truth that we tend to forget. It is this:
When we let Jesus Christ into our lives, remarkable things can begin to happen. Jesus can change our lives just as radically as he changed the life of the woman and just as radically as he changed the life of Paul.
And through us, Jesus can reach out and change the lives of others, just as he reached out and changed the lives of others through the woman and through Paul.
Jesus is just as alive and active today as he was when he met and changed the woman at the well.
And that’s what the season of Lent is all about.
It’s about opening our hearts and meeting Jesus.
It’s about opening our hearts and letting Jesus into our lives.
It’s about opening our hearts and letting Jesus change our lives for the better, as he did for the woman and for Paul.
If we do this, Jesus can work miracles through us, just as he did through the woman and through Paul.
This is the message of today’s readings. This is the message contained in the story of the woman at the well. This is the message contained in the story of Paul on death row.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, in gospel times, a sinful woman discovered you at a well. In modern times, a sinful man discovered you on death row. And both the woman and the man ended up becoming missionaries in their world.
Help us discover you this Lent. And through our discovery, help us become missionaries in our homes and in our own world.
Series III 3rd Sunday of Lent Exodus 20:1–17, 1 Corinthians 1:22–25, John 2:13–25
Sunday Mass Why do we go?
Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. . . .I, the LORD, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. Exodus 20:8, 11
Some students were discussing Sunday Mass in their religion class. One boy told how at one Sunday Mass, the adults of his parish had to fill out a questionnaire.
When his father came to the question “Why do you go to Mass?” he wrote: “To be a good example to my kids.” The boy said, “I didn’t think that is a very good answer.”
It would be interesting for each person here to write down the main reason why we come to Mass each Sunday. For example, if it were not for the Sunday obligation, would we be here Sunday after Sunday?
There’s a story you may have heard. An angel was walking down the street carrying a bucket of water in one hand and a flaming torch in the other. Someone asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
The angel said, “With the bucket of water, I’m going to put out the fires of hell. And with the flaming torch, I’m going to burn the mansions of heaven. Then we’ll see who really loves God.” His point was that many people go to Mass, for example, not out of love of God, but out of fear of hell or loss of heaven.
Not long ago, the Barna Research group did a nationwide survey. It included this question: Why do you go to church each Sunday?
The most frequently response given to that question was “to connect with God.” When asked if they felt they connected with God, three-fourths said no. What was really amazing, said the report, is that these people return to church week after week, in spite of their failure to accomplish their main purpose for coming. The report concludes, saying:
Eventually, these people ceased expecting to connect with God and simply came for a pleasant experience.
Let’s take a look at three major reasons why many Catholics come to Mass Sunday after Sunday.
One afternoon Osborne Jera went over to church to get something. As he entered, he heard someone singing at the top of his voice. The voice was coming from the choir loft.
So he tiptoed up the steps to check. There stood a man in an old overcoat holding a tattered hat in his hand, and singing with all his heart.
When he saw Jera, he stopped and said, “I just felt like singing to God. Such awful things happening today. I felt a little singing might cheer God up.” Then the man flashed his empty hands, saying, “I haven’t touched anything.”
Jera thought, “How wondrously wrong he was to say, ‘I haven’t touched anything!’ ” For starters, he touched Jera deeply.
He had come to church for one thing—not to fulfill an obligation, not to ask God for anything, not to complain to God.
He had come for only one thing: to give praise and glory to his God.
That brings us to the second episode and the second reason why we Catholics come to Mass Sunday after Sunday.
In his book God of the Oppressed, James Cone writes:
On Sunday morning, after spending six days of struggling to create meaning out of life, the people of Bearden would go to church because they knew Jesus was going to be there. . . .
Through song, prayer, and sermon the community affirmed his presence and their willingness to make it through their troubled situation. . . .
How could they know that they were somebody when everything in their environment said that they were nobody? . . . Only because they knew that Jesus was there with them and that his presence included the divine promise to come again and take them to the “New Jerusalem.”
And so a second reason why we come to Mass week after week is because Jesus is there.
And how is Jesus there in a special way? First, in the community of believers. “Where two or three come together in my name,” Jesus said, “I am there.” Matthew 18:20
Second, Jesus is there is the Liturgy of the Word. Jesus promised his ministers, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” Luke 10:16
Finally, he is there in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, after sharing his Body and Blood with his disciples, he said, “Do this in memory of me!” Luke 22:19
And so the second way Jesus is present is in the community of believers, in the reading and explaining of Scripture, in the breaking of the bread: the Eucharist.
That brings us to a third major reason why we come Sunday after Sunday to Mass.
In his book Returning: A Spiritual Journey, screenwriter Dan Wakefield tells why he reconnected with Sunday worship after years of absence. He writes:
The practice of regular attendance at Sunday service, which such a short time ago seemed religiously “excessive,” no longer seemed enough. Whatever it was that I was getting from church . . . I wanted and needed. . . .
I experienced what is a common phenomenon for people who . . . begin a journey of this kind . . . a feeling . . . best described as a “thirst for God.”
A third reason why we Catholics return Sunday after Sunday to celebrate Mass together is because down deep in our hearts, we feel a thirst for God. In the words of the psalmist:
As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for you. Psalm 42:1–2
Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, a zeal for “our Father’s house” and the mystery of God’s love keep us coming back Sunday after Sunday.
And so by way of review, there are three main reasons why we Catholics go to “our Father’s house”each Sunday:
First, to give praise and glory to God. Second, to meet Jesus in the community of believers, the readings of Scripture, and the sacrificial meal of the Lord’s Supper. Third, because there is in us a spiritual hunger and thirst that only God can fill.