Introductions are behind us, and the denouement is still in the future. We have now arrived at the big, long middle of Lent. Long because we realize Easter is still a full month away, even though those daffodils are trying to convince us all it is just around the corner. Big because of the weight of significance it carries for us, as we realize that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are essential to our health and well-being in both time and eternity. But this year, there is another aspect that is big and long.
In the Lectionary cycle’s Year A, which features the programmatic reading of Matthew’s Gospel, the Gospels at Mass for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent are all from the Gospel of Saint John. They are all long, and they are all big. In order, these important, elaborate accounts of episodes in the life of Our Lord are: this week’s Samaritan Woman at the Well (Jn 4:5-42); then the Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41) next week; then the Raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45) as we enter Passiontide on the Fifth Sunday.
Just look at those citations – how long they are, how many verses! For those of you who were hoping to gain time because we have no Gloria at Sunday Mass in Lent – forget it. Standing for these Gospel readings is more than just physical conditioning for the Passion according to Saint Matthew on Palm Sunday – the longest of the four Passion texts. These accounts are not presented just to make us stand there, but to move us, to bring us along, to turn us to the Lord Jesus in a new and deeper way.
Chosen particularly for their instructive value to Catechumens, those who are approaching Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion at Easter, these Gospels can have just as big an effect on the lives of all of us, even if we have been Baptized and Confirmed long since.
Resist the temptation, once you recognize the introduction, to tell yourself: Oh, I know how this one goes, and tune out. Resist the temptation to pray against all hope that the “short form” of the Gospel will be used. Listen to the story like you have never heard it before, and you will hear something you have never heard before.
Rather than give less attention, or less time, give these events more of your time. Read them slowly once or twice in the days leading up to the Mass; read them again once or twice during the week after the Mass.
Ask yourself, try to figure out: What was the weather like that day? What did she expect Him to do when she said that? What was he afraid of about Jesus? What was “the crowd” thinking or doing? Where would I have been standing to be able to hear this conversation? And the always appropriate: Why did Jesus say that, or do that? Just what is He proposing?
Saint John the Evangelist went to great pains to give us the opportunity to experience these moments that clearly changed his life. Do not squander this opportunity to allow them to change your life. Precisely for this purpose we have so much time here in the big, long middle of Lent.Monsignor Smith