Renew 2000 Column
|Bishop Robert J. Banks
It's not the trip, but the love; not the anger, but worship
Lenten gospels show us Jesus' love and concern
By Bishop Robert Banks
It seems that I am a week behind in my reflections for Renew 2000, so I shall have to
comment on the Gospels for both the Second and Third Sundays of Lent in this column.
The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is Mark's description of the Transfiguration.
The Lenten reflection booklet we're using for this season of Renew 2000, "Follow Me!"
asks: "What sentence or description in this gospel passage particularly speaks to you?"
It didn't take me long to pick one out. It was the very first sentence: "Jesus took Peter,
James and John with him and led them up a high mountain."
Jesus is the one who starts this whole beautiful episode. Because of his deep affection for
those three disciples and because of the important work he has for them in the future, he
invites them to join him for a time of prayer on a nearby mountain.
This would be like an uncle today inviting two nephews and a niece to join him for a
hunting expedition during deer season. He does it out of love and because he wants them
to share his love of hunting. Years later the kids might still talk about the wonderful time
they had, but not talk that much about the uncle's love that led him to take them along.
The love is recognized and appreciated, but somehow we don't talk about it. We kind of
take it for granted that an uncle does nice things for his nephews and nieces.
In our relationship with Jesus, we also can take it for granted that Jesus cares about us and
loves us. So we don't reflect on how special it is that Jesus chooses us for certain graces
and favors precisely because of his particular love for each one of us. And that means we
can miss out on the joy, the feeling of gratitude, and the response of a deeper love that
comes from knowing Jesus has chosen us for something special out of love.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself that Jesus has not picked you out for
anything special. That is why we have to do two things.
First, we have to remind ourselves that if anything good happens in our lives -- and good
things can happen to us, even in times of suffering and pain -- it comes from God. This is
especially true of anything that brings us closer to God and the Church. No true prayer is
said, no grace is received, without it being God's gift.
Second, and this is perhaps more natural, it helps to remind ourselves regularly of all the
things for which we should be thankful. The Pilgrims did Americans a great favor when
they came up with the idea of Thanksgiving. Jesus and the Church did us an ever greater
favor by giving us the celebration of the Eucharist so that, in, with and through Jesus, we
can thank God more regularly for all God's gifts.
Finally, all those in Renew faith-sharing groups can thank Jesus for taking them off to a
special place where they have come to know and love Jesus in new ways.
Turning now to the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent, my first thought was that it's too
bad this year's Gospel is not the great story of Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman
at the well. I love that story, but the Church saves that for the Year A Gospel on this day.
Basically, the point being made by the Church's selection of all the Gospels for this
Sunday of Lent is that worship is no longer centered in the Jerusalem temple. Jesus is the
temple and we worship the Father "in Spirit and truth" when we pray with and through
Jesus, especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass. This temple, the temple of Christ's body,
has been raised, as Jesus promised, to the right hand of the Father.
The story of the cleansing of the temple is certainly not meant to provide an excuse for us
when we get angry with someone. Nor is it intended to provide a rationale for our getting
angry about some unjust situation. The story is not about anger; it is about worship.
Anger is a very human reaction to certain actions and situations. In the Bible, we often
see the prophets venting their anger at those, especially the ones in authority, who fall
into idolatry or oppress the poor. God also is described as becoming angry with those who
disobey or fall into sin.
Those of us who are a little older in the Faith can also remember sermons and parish
missions when there would be a blast from the pulpit and the promise of hell in the
hereafter. In Boston, there are priests who can still remember exact words from one
particularly strong "fire and brimstone" talk that I gave them when they were seminarians
25 years ago.
Anger became fashionable in the past century. Revolutionaries stoked the fires of anger in
order to overturn unjust situations. Some psychologists suggested that it was helpful to
From my own experience, I can't remember one incident when the venting of anger or acting in anger was helpful. It is interesting that the other two Gospel stories for this Third Sunday of Lent emphasize Jesus' kindness and patience. His kindness to the Samaritan woman makes that story a masterpiece. The third Gospel (Year C) has Jesus explaining that natural catastrophes and suffering in this life are not ways in which God punishes the sinner.
Time and time again in the Scriptures we are urged to be patient, just as God is patient with us. That doesn't mean we can't get angry; that is often beyond our control. Nor does it mean that our anger can't be helpful in motivating us to take action about an unjust situation. It does mean that love, even for the unlovable, is much more important than anger.