Introduction to the Third to Fifth Sundays in Lent: For three Sundays the Gospel selections from John are part of the final, intense preparation of those called to the Easter sacraments of initiation. The scrutiny celebrated each Sunday is meant to help them “achiev(e) an intimate knowledge of Christ” by “progress(ing) in genuine self-knowledge through serious examination of their lives and true repentance.” (RCIA 142) They will come to trust the transforming power of Christ at work within them as they encounter him as the living water (Third Sunday), the light of the world (Fourth Sunday), and the resurrection and the life (Fifth Sunday).
We who accompany them on their journey of faith are also invited to strengthen our relationship with Christ by turning away once again from whatever keeps us from holding fast to him in love.
(If you are not celebrating the scrutinies this year, you can see the commentary for Year B here.)
3rd Sunday in Lent — Scrutiny
Background: Jesus will step over boundaries in order to bring the Good News to everyone. Although the Samaritans claimed to be authentic inheritors of God’s covenant, the Jews regarded them as apostates and refused to allow them to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. And so, the Samaritans had built their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim. Yet in this passage Jesus not only asks a Samaritan but a woman to give him a drink of water. An important detail: she is coming to the village well alone and in the heat of the day probably because the other women won’t have anything to do with her because her checkered marital history.
- In what ways have you found yourself alone, thirsty, dried out, and hopeless?
- What are you afraid to tell Jesus about yourself even though you want to?
- What do you want to tell him that you are really thirsty for?
- How has he already given you living water? How have you shared it with others?
Practice: Blessing ourselves with holy water as we enter church is an ancient custom. Rather than being a bit of Catholic magic, it is meant to remind us of our baptism, of the cleansing that God continually gives us and of God’s invitation to be part of his covenant people. The gesture proclaims our belief in Christ as Redeemer and the words our faith in the Trinity. How can you make this gesture more intentional for yourself?
4th Sunday in Lent – Scrutiny
Background: The Pharisees think that they know The Truth about God and about life. To them suffering is a punishment for sin, and God doesn’t listen to the prayers of sinners. Yet in Jesus we come to know a God who step-by-step leads people to know God’s power and compassion and to a clearer vision of the meaning of life.
- How have you been blind to a crucial truth about yourself?
- How has Christ’s life already scattered some shadows in your life?
- What are the shadows in society or in the Church that obscure for you the light of Christ?
- How can your love bring light and healing to others?
Practice: Light a candle, and stare into its flame as you meditate on your blindness this week. What have you been blinded by? What have you been blind to? Each day list your types of blindness, and write down next to them what you need to say or do to bring light into your darkness.
5th Sunday in Lent – Scrutiny
Background: Like those preparing for the Easter sacraments, Mary and Martha already have faith in Jesus. Their challenge is to grow in that belief. Can he really do the impossible right here and now—for me? Can he really bring the dead to life—even me? Have we asked him?
- What part of your life makes you feel as if you were living in a tomb? What old habits or perspectives make you feel trapped and lifeless?
- What part of society or the Church makes you feel the same way?
- What do you experience a call to come forth from your tomb? To liberation?
- How has Jesus been restoring you to life? When do you feel his new life in you?
Practice: Some people live in tombs—through chronic illness, disability, mental or emotional challenge, age, etc. Look around at your own life, and discover whom you can bring to life simply by reaching out to them. Then do so.
Palm Sunday – The Gospel of Mark
Background: Christian liturgy is not a play reenacting past events but a living celebration of the inner meaning of those events so that it comes alive in us today. As the oldest Palm Sunday hymn says: “To you before your passion they sang their hymns of praise. To you, now high exalted, our melody we raise.”
- Why are you happy to join in welcoming Christ today?
- What is Christ asking you to let him make use of as he proclaims today the coming of God’s kingdom/reign?
- What can you do to help others experience the coming of Christ with joy? How will you share the message of Jesus not as judgement but as Good News?
- Jesus is “King of Israel and David’s royal Son.” But anti-Semitism is a persistent Christian sin. Where have you encountered it? What will you resolve to do next time?
Practice: Placing the palms with the cross or crucifix at home is an old custom—as is weaving them into crosses. Allow this custom to help you keep in mind during prayer this week that both dying and rising are part of the paschal mystery.