March – Seeing Jesus clearly
1 March – Lent 1, Matthew 4:1-11
Matthew expends a great deal of energy recasting the Jesus story in light of the Moses story (Exodus). He wants to reinforce the notion that Jesus is the fulfilment of the identity found in Moses, the long-awaited return of God’s favour upon God’s people. Therefore, just as Israel was tested in the wilderness to be reshaped for the life promised by God, so Jesus now undergoes the trials of wilderness. The physical testing of the desert to match the spiritual temptations around power, glory, and fear. Could these offer Jesus shortcuts to build the Kingdom? Efficiency dividends?
Even though Jesus “was famished” (v2) by the struggle, much like we are by our own yearnings to live faithfully and justly, he continues to choose the slow and patient work of faithfulness.
There are days when we cannot see the way forward in our own lives. Sometimes these moments are about how we travel and learn, as much as they are about the end in sight.
8 March – Lent 2, Matthew 17:1-9
In chapter 16:21-26 Jesus has finally revealed to the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, be crucified and then be raised. The way of the cross is made explicit, and further, any who would follow Him must take up their own cross. This has been a key turning point in the gospel.
How does Matthew follow up such a key revelation? By offering a second one. This Transfiguration story links all that Jesus has just revealed about his way with the great story of Israel. In case the disciples (and the readers) felt any doubts about this way of the cross, Jesus is now affirmed and upheld by none other than Moses, Elijah, and the very voice of the Divine, imploring us all to hear, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him!” (v5)
This shining moment of glory is the reaffirmation, a highlighted underlining, of the connections between Jesus’ life, the cross, and the resurrection to come.
15 March – Lent 3, John 4:5-42
Our Lenten readings have so far drawn great parallels between Jesus and the story of Israel (via Moses). But not so today. On his journey from Judea to Galilee, Jesus chooses to go through Samaria, knowing that this is alien territory for a Jewish man like himself. He does this deliberately. Here he engages not only with a Samaritan but with a woman no less. Boundaries are being trodden on and ignored all over this story.
Within this contested context, Jesus plays word games around the phrase “living water”. On the one hand, a flowing source of freshwater is crucial for any community here, and yet alongside this is the symbolism of the God’s gift of new life. Samaritans traced their faith through Jacob and a holy site in Shechem (Sychar), Jewish people through Moses and the temple site in Jerusalem. Jesus teases out that the living water he offers will be greater than tradition or location. It springs from him and his authority as the Son.
Can we trust in Jesus, even when he seems to depart from our tradition?
22 March – Lent 4, John 9:1-41
Just as last week’s passage played upon the Jewish-Samaritan tension to draw out the image of Jesus as the source of living water; so, this week’s passage plays upon the fraught history of sin, suffering, and healing to hold up Jesus as “the light of the world” v5.
Blindness is not a punishment for sin; nor does suffering fall only on the guilty (see Luke 13:2-3). Suffering is a reality of life, and to our great dismay, it does not fall equally or fairly upon all people. Some part of this is simply the randomness of life, and some part is found in the unjust structures and practices that we create.
John’s gospel will invite us to see that Jesus’ glory is found in the suffering of the cross and the redemption of the resurrection. Like all Lenten passages, we anticipate the coming of Easter. To this end, this difficult passage is not asking us to focus upon mud, saliva, or any other strange details. Instead, what do we need to see Jesus clearly? What prejudices, fears and traditions do we need to get past to see the light shining in the dark?
29 March – Lent 5, John 11:1-45
Chapters 1 through 12 of John’s gospel are referred to as the Book of Signs (John 20:30-31). All of which are aimed at proclaiming who this Jesus is, and where his authority is from. The raising of Lazarus is one of the last and most well-known signs. While there is plenty of modern literature and poetry exploring Lazarus’ own experience, the gospel remains quiet on this front. Instead, John deals with everyone else’s response to Jesus. The disciples’ fear, Martha’s faith, Mary’s grief, and the growing opposition from the religious authorities. All of which is a precursor to our response to the Cross and the empty tomb of Easter. Can we trust the claim of Jesus having authority even over death?
These reflections were prepared by Rev. Andrew Johnson
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