Scripture: lectionary 258, 259, March 25, 26. Isaiah 42: 1-7; Psalm 27:188.8.131.52.14. John 12:1-11
Chapter 12 ends the Book of Signs (chapters 1-12) in John’s Gospel and leads us toward the Book of Glory (chapters 13-21). The former “book” contains the active ministry of Jesus distributed over three years; the latter focuses on the last few days of the life of Jesus ending with the Resurrection. It takes up no more than four or five days of Jesus’ time on earth. We are prepared by the last liturgical reading from the Book of Signs for the events of Holy Week. The days before Holy Thursday help us to prepare for the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter.
Jesus is relaxing at the home of his dear friends, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus who has been resuscitated from his death and burial in the tomb. John tells us it is six days before the Passover, a great one that year since it coincides with the Sabbath. Jesus has a few days before he will celebrate with his intimate group of disciples his last meal with them which will be their Passover. Though John will not give us the Eucharistic words in this Last Supper, we know them from the Synoptics and St. Paul and have heard them in the multiplication of the loaves and fish. John will dwell on the washing of the feet and the love commandment of the Lord.
Jesus speaks in a manner that recalls for us his inaugural speech through the first reading from Isaiah—almost the very text that was used as Jesus took the scroll of Isaiah and applied it to his mission among the people: the prisoners will be released, the blind will see, the poor will be preached to and taught. We know well that the New Testament and the Church through its liturgy has seen in the suffering servant hymns of Isaiah the prefiguring of Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God in his sufferings, death on the Cross, and Resurrection. Isaiah is the prophet most cited in the New Testament and he is read in the perspective of the Gospel writers and Paul, that is, a Christological interpretation is given to them because they fit so well what he will be going through during these “holy days.”
The Suffering Servant Hymns are found in chapters 40: 1-55-13 in what is called Deutero-Isaiah. These are found in the Book of Comfort according to the best scripture scholars. Today’s readings point to Jesus as the source of light for the nations in liberating all under the cloud of darkness (evil, rejection, sin, and death). He will be victorious over death through being lifted up and exalted, while he returns to the Father. This is John’s theology of the Cross in contrast to the stark scene of the crucifixion in Mark’s Gospel.
Psalm 27 is a great psalm of light and as such it confirms Jesus as the light of the world. No darkness can overcome his light.
Mary is highlighted in the Gospel scene as she lavishly anoints Jesus’ feet with precious perfumed oil. Jesus speaks of this as symbolic of his anointing for burial which is fast approaching. It recalls for us that Jesus is the anointed one, that is the Messiah for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and for us. Jesus will soon wash the feet of his own beloved disciples and teach them the great commandment (agape) of love. We will enter into this mystery of love by being very attentive to the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist—the best way of entering and finishing our Lent. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.