First Reading Commentary
Our Lord had compassion on His people then, and He has compassion on His people now. During Lent the Church guides us in her liturgy to hear that call from God – a call to a more intimate union with Him -- to acknowledge that our fidelity to Him has been less than perfect. His compassion and mercy are exercised most especially in the Sacrament of Confession. One cannot really return to the Lord wholeheartedly unless one embraces that sacrament. God has given us great saints from both genders and from all sorts of nations, races, levels of education, body shapes and personalities; but the diversity vanishes when it comes to Confession. The one thing that the saints all had in common was their faithfulness to that sacrament.
We cannot allow ourselves to be influenced or brainwashed by the pictures the enemy tries to paint after the Church has been attacked. As the story begins in this Reading even priests “added infidelity to infidelity”. We all know about the headlining news concerning the infidelity and apparent lack of faithfulness on the part of some Catholic clergymen. When priests falter publicly, then it could very well inflict damage on the faith of the Church’s members. The public sins of the Church’s ordained could leave images that make the Sacrament of Confession appear less credible and make the belief in the Real Presence less believable.
The enemy works on the human intellect making it logical to ask why God would absolve the sins of a penitent through a man whose behavior is far worse than the one confessing sins; or why God would change the substance of bread and wine into His sinless Body and Blood through a man who is not in a state of grace. Rest assured that is not usually the case as most priests are faithful but surely it has happened. It’s quite possible that our Lord placed Judas before us to show us that not every priest would be faithful. What we have to remember is that the power of the sacraments is greater than anyone’s sins – greater than everyone’s sins. Jesus instituted them, Jesus works in them and He is stronger than death.
Second Reading Commentary
God has given to us His grace, the gift of faith, and the sacraments, which can be considered pledges of our eventual resurrection and eternal life. Each little step we make in the ongoing process of conversion is like a mini-resurrection, one tiny step closer to a new, full life in Christ.
Reflecting on being “dead in our transgressions,” Saint Augustine said: “The time is come, when the dead shall hear the Voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.” Faith is the foundation of all virtues because without faith one cannot please our Lord and Savior. Good works are a result of faith but they are not what save us; it is the grace of God that saves us. Being God’s “handiwork” does not only refer to our body and soul but also the new creation we’ve become through Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul seems to compare our conversion with creation to show that we have been called to this greatness. It is nothing that we did to earn it. Just as we had nothing to do with our own created selves, likewise we had nothing to do with the new creation we’ve become in Christ. We have no bragging rights except only to boast about God.
Jesus uses the example of the serpent lifted up in the desert in that whoever looked at it was cured from the bite of serpents. This is a figure of Jesus lifted up on the Cross. Because Jesus uses the term “Son of Man” being “lifted up,” and the end result being “eternal life,” we have to understand lifting up to really mean “exalted” showing that the Cross is not an instrument of disgrace but of glory. In fact, the Latin Vulgate uses the word exaltari. Saint John Chrysostom writes: “As the Israelites, bitten by the fiery serpents, were cured by looking upon the brazen serpent, so are Christians cured by looking up with an active faith, replete with love and confidence, on Jesus Christ crucified.”
Jesus is the Son of God not only as the result of the Incarnation. Jesus is God’s Son even before He was sent into the world. He is the Son from the beginning, the Word of God from all eternity. Creation itself proclaims the glory of God. The light of day exposes everything while the darkness of night makes things more difficult to see. But even in the darkness of night the moon and the stars are radiant enough to remind us of hope.
Anyone who is old enough to remember when Confession was always in a booth could probably relate well to our Lord’s explanation of darkness and light. In the Confession booth you were kneeling in darkness, and when the priest slid open the little door so you could confess your sins, you could see that the priest was sitting in a lighted booth. Thus your sins are hidden in that dark booth until you confess them to the priest seated in the lighted booth. After Confession, sins are thus exposed to the light; and through absolution the light overcomes the darkness.
The closing of this Gospel account prods us to consider our own dispositions about the Sacrament of Confession: “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”