This Wednesday we begin, once again, our 40-day journey towards Easter. I always look forward to Lent, as I do Advent, because these two seasons are so counter-cultural that they really take us out of the ordinary.
But it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. Advent and Lent look very much the same. Every year we hear that during Advent we are to “clean house” and de-clutter. This is to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. In Lent we are told to do the same, but with a more penitential focus. We are told to fast and pray more and give a little more to those who have less than us. All this is to help us re-focus our lives towards what really matters. Everything about the season of Lent helps us to do this.
In a special way, the readings at Mass help us to do this as well.
We always begin the season of Lent with the Gospel reading of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. It doesn’t matter what year it is, we listen to the version from either Matthew, Mark, or Luke. This year, we will listen to the version from Matthew (Mt 4:1-11), which focuses on the three temptations. There is something very Lenten about that story.
For the second Sunday of Lent this year, we will listen to the story of the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9). To me, this is a bit of a Lenten departure – although, at the same time, it is very Lenten. With the Transfiguration we are given a glimpse of what’s to come with the Resurrection. But for me it feels too soon.
But then, for the next three Sundays, I think, there’s quite a departure: we begin hearing from the Gospel of John.
Why does this feel like a departure?
The Gospel of John has traditionally been set apart by scholars from the other three for its stylistic differences and its theological depth. St. Augustine explained that the symbol for John is the eagle, for his spiritual insight. For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is conscious of having pre-existed with God before He came into the world.
Another difference between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels is that John describes only seven miracles – he calls them signs and each one is accompanied by a teaching. For John each miracle is a sign, pointing to something deeper. For example, with the healing of the man born blind (which we will hear on the 4th Sunday of Lent this year), the lesson is about light and spiritual blindness. In the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-14), there is a lesson about being bread and spiritual food.
Furthermore, for John, each miracle is a sign of the divinity of Jesus. For John, there is no doubt that Jesus is God. While the Synoptics may begin with an infancy narrative or with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John begins his narrative with a beautiful hymn, going back to the beginning of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
(John 1:1). It later continues: “and the Word became flesh and lived among us”
The scene is now set for the story.
For John, there is a unique relationship between Jesus and the Father. He goes as far as having Jesus say that “the Father and I are one.
” (See John 10:30. In 14:9, Jesus tells the disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” and later in 14:11, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” In 17:11, Jesus prays to the Father that “they may be one as you and I are one.”) This identification of the human Jesus and the eternal “Word” unfolds through the Gospel of John particularly through Jesus’ words, which more and more clearly point to his divinity.
And this is where I want us to place our focus this year during Lent: Jesus is God, and He reveals that through what He says. It is found all over the Gospel of John, but John arranges Jesus' words around seven key statements, which are referred to as the “I AM” statements:
- I am the bread of life (6:35, 48)
- I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5)
- I am the gate (10:7, 9)
- I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14)
- I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
- I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6) and
- I am the true vine (15:1-5)
Each of these seven, I AM statements reflects a way that Christ is present in our lives and how He fulfills the deepest longing in our hearts.
This season of Lent I invite you to reflect on this.
What are the deepest longings of your heart? What do you long for? How does Jesus fulfill those longings?
This week consider this:
Jesus says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7, 9). Jesus is the God who protects us. The gate also provides a service. Jesus fulfills our longing to be safe and secure, and to be of service. Furthermore, Jesus-the-gate calls us to protect and be of service to those who are the most weak and vulnerable.
Jesus then says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). Jesus is the God who guides and leads us. He is the gate who protects us, He serves us, but He also is the shepherd who leads us into green pasture. Jesus fulfills our longing to belong and to be loved, to be cared for, and to know we are going in the right direction.
This same Jesus calls us to do the same: to love and care for each other, and to guide each other towards Heaven.
As we begin Lent, go and do the same.
And then come back next week
so we can see what is so significant about Jesus saying "I am."
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]