6th Sunday Lent A
Sunday 2nd April 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
The paraphrase below is the Gospel of the Procession. The remarks in the Commentary, Exposition etc are based on the full Passion narrative of Matthew.
When they came close to Jerusalem, to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples on telling them. ‘Go into the village just ahead and you will find a donkey, tied up with a colt. Free them and bring them here. If anyone questions you just say, the Lord needs them, and they will readily agree to you taking them.’ This took place to fulfil the prophet’s words:
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humbly seated on a donkey,
and on a colt, foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as they were told and found everything just as Jesus has said. Taking the donkey and colt, they spread their cloaks on them and Jesus sat on them. A huge crowd gathered and spread their clothes on the ground to honour him. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them in his way. And all the people, those going before him and all those around him, cried out in joy and excitement:
‘Praise the one who saves, the Son of David!
He is blest because he comes in the name of God!
Praise to the highest heavens for the one who saves!’
The whole city ignited in excitement and asked: ‘Who is this?’ and the crowds cried out ‘This is the prophet Jesus – the one from Nazareth in Galilee!’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 21:8-9, 17-20, 23-25
All who see me mock at me.
Insults and angry gestures are hurled:
He trusted in God, well, let God rescue him.
He delighted in God, well, let God deliver him.
They surrounded me like wild dogs,
a gang of thugs circling me like a lion,
piercing my hands and feet.
With the pain, I can count every bone,
yet they just stare and gloat.
They steal my clothes
and gamble them out amongst themselves.
Yet I will declare you in the midst of my people,
within the community, I will praise you.
Those fearing God, praise God,
descendants of Jacob, honour God!
descendants of Israel, revere God!.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
in the coming days we hope to share with your Son,
his journey into Passion and Death through to Resurrection.
May we accept the grace he poured out upon us.
May we forgive with his love and in his reconciling Spirit.
May his love transform the mean, petty, selfish, broken places of our hearts.
May his healing spirit transform our angry, hateful, violent impulses.
May we live from the life he poured out.
May his faithfulness to you make us faithful in our relationships.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
When we come to the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, the four Gospels, which previously had often differed considerably, now are very similar. Yet there are still subtle differences between the Gospel writers’ Passion Narratives which show their distinctive theologies.
Matthew adds small remarks stressing how the whole drama is under the control of God. When Jesus prays in Gethsemane, Matthew has him repeat the words: ‘My Father, let this cup pass…’ As Jesus is arrested, he makes it clear that the Father is allowing this happen. One of the taunts, directed to Jesus when on the cross, is that, as he trusted in God ‘let God now save him.’ The taunt concludes with a disparaging reference Jesus as the ‘Son of God’, which echoes the name given him at the beginning of the Gospel in the annunciation to Joseph when Jesus is named ‘Emmanuel’. Coupled with these remarks is an emphasis that this drama is a fulfilment of the Scriptures: that God isn’t making up a response to the deteriorating situation as it unfolds but that it is all an unfolding and a summation of the religious tradition of Israel. One example of this is when the people cry: ‘Let his blood be upon us.’ Sprinkling with blood was an integral part of Jewish religious ritual. It denoted both consecration to God and forgiveness of sin, as in seen in the covenant on Sinai and the rededication of the Temple.
In contrast to these remarks is an emphasis on the human responsibility in the drama. Matthew has two additional exchanges between Jesus and Judas, one at the supper and the other in Gethsemane. It is as though Jesus is giving Judas the extra chances to reconsider what he is doing. Pilate’s wife tries to alert her husband to the injustice of what is happening. Pilate himself shows that he knows that he has officiated at a murderous trial and tries to absolve himself of the blame. When Judas regrets what he has done and tries to return the money, the chief priests reveal that they knew that what they were doing was wrong when they refer to the money as ‘blood money’ and refuse to put it in the Temple treasury. All of these people, Judas, Pilate and the priests, are given an opportunity within the drama to turn aside from the evil they are doing.
God is over all yet people are still responsible for their own actions. This is a conundrum – both in the Gospel and within our own lives.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
As we hear the reading of the Passion this Sunday and on Good Friday, we can feel like people watching a train wreck in slow motion. Most of us have heard this story many times before yet we still come, stand and listen and in some deep, difficult to define way, know that it is a template for our lives.
As we look at the various incidents in the Gospel of Matthew we see great emphasis is placed how the differing people in the story relate to Jesus. The physical sufferings of Jesus are only briefly mentioned: what is more important is how people relate to Jesus. Sadly most fail to live up to the love and respect that Jesus has offered to them. Even the disciples run away and Peter denies that he ever knew Jesus. Right through to the taunting on the cross Jesus remains faithful in love in spite of whatever is thrown at him.
In the love of Jesus through suffering and death, we see a model of love that is almost too dazzling to the eyes. This is not the sweet love of young romance with its glorious rush of delightful emotions – we can all relate to that, even beyond our youth. This love is quite different. It sees people in all their weakness and squalor of spirit and continues to call them to love and dignity. In the words of St Paul, it continues ‘to endure, to trust, to hope’ for the best from people even when experiencing the worst. As we hear the Gospel read to us we know that we are being challenged to love like Jesus, even when we know the meanness and pettiness of our own hearts. Maybe that is why we stand in thrall at the Passion. God knows each of our hearts through and through and still invites each of us to love with the Passion of Christ!
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
When something got broken in our family, Dad would call out: ‘who did this?’ And then there would be a chorus of ‘I didn’t’ coming from the various parts of the house. This frustrated him as he didn’t want to know who didn’t do it but who did. Only when someone accepted responsibility could the issue be dealt with. Thus, it ever has been with humans.
Thus, it is in Matthew’s account of the Passion: running through the story is the confronting question of responsibility. What can seem like the lowest point, the crowd screaming for blood, is an integral part of God’s plan. The screaming, murderous, manipulated crowd got one thing right – they accepted responsibility for what they were doing: ‘Let his blood be upon us and upon our children,’ they cry. Unknowingly they accepted their part in the drama of God’s covenant for dealing with sin. In contrast, those who coldly and calculatingly brought about Jesus’ death showed, by some minor action in which they sought to absolve themselves, that they knew the evil they were doing: Judas by returning the money, the Pharisees by not defiling the Temple with that money, Pilate by washing his hands. Even after Jesus’ death the scheming evasions went on, with the Pharisees and Pilate sealing the tomb.
What about us? We have an antiphon in our community prayer that sums up the attitude we should take. ‘We have sinned, we have acted perversely, but now we turn to you with all our hearts.’ As we enter Holy Week, as we go to kiss the cross on Good Friday, let us face our weakness, sinfulness, yes, even our perversity, and offer them to Jesus, knowing that he knows how to deal with them. As we turn with all our hearts, we know that God is there waiting to embrace us with the riches of forgiveness, love and grace.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
Only six recommendations are made below. There is so much to choose from. The Passion and Death of Christ has been a major theme in Western and Christian art.
– Fra Angelico 1450 Scenes of the Passion
– These Scenes from the Passion of Christ and the Pelican with Her Young show Hieronymus Bosch (1485) highlights the self-giving of Christ’s Passion.
– In this Last Supper by Benjamin West (1738-1820) notice the contrast of light and darkness. The darkness of the world surrounds the group and has consumed Judas, the moon is clouding over, while light radiates from Christ.
– The violence and brutality of the temple guards and Sanhedrin is well shown in this print by Albert Dürer (1511).
– This Denial of Peter] is by Caravaggio.
– Jean-Leon Gerome’s (1824-1904) Crucifixion is a masterful study in darkness and light.
– An exploration of some of the Passion scenes by George Rouault.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
Throughout the Passion narrative, we see Jesus responding to people in a variety of ways…even when they treat him badly.
Over this week, mull how you react to different people in different circumstances. Ask the Spirit to enlighten you as to how you can enrich the love and care you have for them them.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
There is a quip that Catholics can get guilty about anything. The question could be asked: is our guilt realistic? On the other hand, throughout the Passion narrative we see people evading responsibility for their wrong actions and feeling no guilt. This week’s mirror meditation suggests that you consider how guilt and responsibility operate in your life.
Sit quietly with your God. Allow yourself to be grounded in God’s love.
Believing in that love, consider the aspects of your life that you feel guilty about. How do you imagine God views these ‘guilts’ – are they true to you and the situation? Can you let God free you from guilt?
Believing in God’s love, review the places of your life where you can take responsibility for what happens? Do you live up to the responsibility God gives you? Pray that God will continue to guide and strengthen you.
Rest in the power and love of the Spirit that can work all things for our good.