CHICAGO/TORONTO: CPT lectionary reflection for fifth Sunday in Lent (by Jim Loney)

19 March 2007
CHICAGO/TORONTO: CPT lectionary reflection for fifth Sunday in Lent (by Jim

[The following is fifth in a series of Lenten reflections incorporating
experiences of Christian Peacemaker Teams and based on readings from the
Revised Common Lectionary, Year C. Feel free to pass along to pastors or
others who may find them useful.]

CPT Lectionary Reflections for Lent - Year C

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25, 2007 Focus: Iraq Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21;
Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-18

The Tomb is not the Final Word

by James Loney

I stumbled across it, entirely by accident, in a pious biography of St.
Romuald, the best, most precise, truest definition of the Gospel I've seen
anywhere. It went something like, "The Gospel is the liberation of every
human being from every kind of bondage."

In our readings for this coming Sunday, we see God's Good News in its
ceaseless, wondrous work. In Isaiah, we are reminded of how God led a
rag-tag band of slaves out of Pharaoh's pyramid, mired his weapons of mass
destruction in the muck, and now makes a way in the desert, and streams to
spring up in the wasteland for wayfaring refugees seeking a new life. In
Psalm 126, God brings the captives home, their mouths filled with laughter,
and songs of joy flowing from their tongues. (I know that feeling!) In the
Gospel of John, we see Lazarus reclining at table, feasting with his sisters
where only a few days (or weeks) before he lay rotting in a tomb. Jesus, the
Word made flesh, the very hand of God, reached into his tomb and returned
him to life. "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." Liberation from
every kind of bondage.

In our Gospel story, Mary gives Jesus a perfume bath worth a year's wages
(not all that much if you work for CPT!), foreshadowing his imminent death.
Judas attacks her for this extravagance, and Jesus defends her saying, "The
poor you will always have with you."

Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez once asked, "Who are the poor?" His
answer: "All those who will die." Most of us spend our lives denying this
poverty. In Philippians, Paul calls it putting "confidence in the flesh."
There are a million thousand ways to put confidence in the flesh. Where for
Paul that meant being "circumcised on the eighth day, of the People of
Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, etc., etc.," for us
today that might mean a surround-sound-super-plasma home entertainment
complex, a carefully crafted stock portfolio, an anti-ballistic missile
shield, or if you're like Judas, militant service of a righteous cause.
There are a million thousand ways to build a pyramid, but in the end there's
no escaping our ultimate and final poverty.

Paul had to be knocked off his horse before he could see it. "But whatever
was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." Christ comes
for us, always and everywhere, but we cannot see him in the shopping mall,
the easy chair, the smug self-righteous satisfaction of being right, for in
what we count as profit we have no need and are truly blind. It is only when
we are lost in the wilderness, dying of thirst in the wasteland, shrouded in
a tomb, chained in captivity, when we are facing the poverty we cannot
escape that our eyes are opened to Isaiah's "new thing." It is in
vulnerability and weakness that we encounter the "power of [Christ's]
resurrection," and wonderfully, paradoxically, where we can find our
liberation, liberation from every kind of bondage. "Do not be afraid, O
daughter of Zion." The sword, the gun, the tank, the bomb--lay them all
down, those wild-willed gods forever enslaved in murderous spirals of
terror. Lay them down and love with Mary's extravagance. The tomb is not the
final word.

Holy and living God, by our Lenten disciplines may our hearts and minds be
purified, so that we might see through the eyes of our poverty the
liberation you offer us.

(James Loney has served on the Iraq team as a CPT reservist in 2003, 2004
and 2005-06. He was a member of the delegation that was kidnapped in
November, 2005.)