Fourth Sunday of Lent —2
March AD 2008
“Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only the nation, but that He
might gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad.”
Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of
Loaves and Fishes—c.1620
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
The rose colored vestments for Lætáre
Sunday tell us that Lent is roughly half over. We are urged to rejoice
today, but to rededicate ourselves to the observance of Lent on the morrow.
If you have been attending the Masses of Lent, or reading the scriptures in your
missal, perhaps you have noticed a trend that is confirmed in the texts of
today’s Mass. The authorities of the Temple have been becoming more
hostile to our Lord as the days pass.
On a number of occasions our Lord
suggested that salvation might not be reserved to the Jews alone. You will
recall the Gospel about the Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant,
but had such deep faith in whatever Jesus said that he didn’t think it
necessary for Jesus to visit in person: “speak but the word Lord, and my
servant will be healed.” The Centurion was not only a gentile foreigner,
but he was an officer of the much hated Roman occupational army. You can
imagine the stir Jesus created when He said that “many would come from the
east and the west to feast in heaven with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob [the
fathers of the Jewish people], but the children of the kingdom would be put
forth into the exterior darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of
We also heard of Jesus curing the
daughter of a Canaanite woman, and speaking with Samaritan women at
In His native Nazareth, He explained that He did not work cures there because
“no prophet is acceptable in his own country”—simply stated, because they
did not believe in Him—and he went on to give examples of similar cures of the
gentiles in the Old Testament book of Kings. “There were many [starving]
widows in the time of Elias, but he was sent to help only the widow woman of
Sarephta in Sidon; there were many lepers in the time of Eliseus, but he
was sent only to the leper Naaman,” a general of the Syrians.
All of these people were gentiles. At Nazareth, the people, enraged by His
words, threw Him out of the Synagogue. and then tried to throw Him headlong down
the hill on which the town was built.
In Jerusalem He told the crowd and the
chief priests a parable in which a man planted a vineyard, and the unfaithful
vine-dressers refused to give him the vineyard’s fruit at harvest time.
The unfaithful vine-dressers killed his servants and even his son when they came
to collect. The chief priests and the Pharisees were furious when Jesus
identified them with the murderous and unproductive vine-dressers, saying to
them that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and given to a
people yielding its fruits.
They would have “laid hands on Him if they had not been in fear of the people,
who regarded Him as a prophet.”
In next week’s Gospel, they will try
to stone Him to death.
But the thing that seems to have sealed
our Lord’s “fate” was the resurrection of His friend Lazarus from the
This was a tremendous blow to the chief priests, for the most important of the
priestly families rejected any sort of resurrection, even at the end of
And Lazarus had been dead for four days—he wasn’t simply unconscious—his
resurrection, together with Jesus’ other miracles caused many to believe in
Jesus. And Jesus was the one who talked about gentiles enjoying the
kingdom of heaven, while the chosen people wept in the exterior darkness.
“It is expedient,” said the High Priest, Caiphas, “that one man die for
the people, instead of the whole nation perishing.”
Saint John explains that even though
Caiphas was a rascal, as High Priest he was a true prophet for the Jewish
people. For “Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only the nation,
but that He might gather into one the children of God who were scattered
As Lent proceeds we will further recognize that this “gathering into one of
the children of God” represents a new Covenant of God with man.
In today’s Epistle to the Galatians,
Saint Paul wrote with hindsight, perhaps twenty-five years after the death and
resurrection of Jesus. He reminds us that Abraham, the father of the
Jewish nation had two women. Agar was a servant, perhaps a slave, who
became Abraham’s concubine when it appeared that his legitimate free-born
wife, Sarah, could not have children. As might be expected, there was some
jealousy between the two women, particularly after Sarah did bring forth her
legitimate child Isaac. The concubine and her son Ishmael were sent into
exile, with God’s guarantee of protection.
Paul is suggesting that the Law of Moses represents a covenant corresponding to
the servant-girl—that the new covenant with Christ represents freedom.
The old covenant is a bondage to the worldly Jerusalem, while the new covenant
is freedom in a heavenly Jerusalem.
Elsewhere in this epistle he tells the
Galatians that “man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith
of Jesus Christ.”
The natural moral law remains in full force—“thou shalt not kill, thou shalt
not steal, and so forth—but the taboos of the law about what to eat and what
one may touch, and the sacrifices of calves and lambs and goats do not sanctify.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law,” he says.
Sanctification is in the hearing and the believing and the keeping of the word
In another epistle, Paul wrote to the
Jews at Rome: “Through the body of Christ you have been made to die to the
Law, so as to belong to another who has risen from the dead, in order that we
may bring forth fruit unto God.”
You are no longer “hired hands,” but are now adopted sons and daughters of
God. “You have not received a spirit of bondage, so as to be again in
fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by virtue of which we
cry ‘Abba, Father,’ ... you are heirs indeed of God and joint heirs
Paul also wrote another Epistle, of
which we will read a little next week, that talks about the numerous animal
sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem being replaced by the one, perfect
sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which is renewed in time and place in the
sacrifice of the Mass.
We will talk about that more next week.
But let me close this morning by pointing out that this morning’s Gospel is an
introduction of the concept of the Mass to the Jews who came to be healed and to
hear Christ preach.
It is significant that “the Passover, the feast of the Jews was near,” for
in one year’s time, at Passover, the new covenant would come into existence,
forever replacing the old.
A few loaves and fishes were made
present to five thousand people, suggesting to us that Christ can be really
present in every particle of the Blessed Sacrament—the means may be slightly
different, but the power is clearly there. I am going to ask you, though,
when you go home, to take up your Bible and read the rest of that sixth chapter
of Saint John’s Gospel—every Catholic should read it at least once a
year—for in it Christ promises to give Himself:
living bread that has come down from heaven. If any man eat of this
bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh,
for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves,
saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to
them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man
and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my
flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up
in the last day.
Please read it at home—the sixth
chapter of John—and notice how positive our Lord is, and unwavering in saying
that He actually means what He is saying.
And please do try to attend as many of
the remaining Masses of Lent as possible. Together with our Lord, the
Church is renewing in memory and in fact, the establishment of the new and
eternal covenant. “Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only the
nation, but that He might gather into one the children of God who were scattered
Thursday after Ash Wednesday; Matthew viii: 5-13.
Thursday of the First Week in Lent; Matthew xv: 21-28.
Friday of the Third Week; John iv: 5-42.
Tuesday of the Second Week; Cf. 3 Kings xvii: 81-6. Monday
of the Third Week; Cf. 4 Kings v: 1-15.
Monday of the Third Week; Luke iv: 23-30.
Friday of the Second Week; Matthew xxi: 36-46.
Passion Sunday; John viii: 46-59.
Friday of the Fourth Week; John xi: 1-45. Friday in
Passion Week; John xi: 47-54.