Before discussing the Fifth Sunday of Lent, it is necessary to discuss some key mathematical terms. “Mean,” means average or common. Related, is “Mean,” which means a cruel person. The “Vulgate,” is the “Common” people’s Bible. From it, we derive our word, “Vulgar,” or course. “Koine,” means average. Mark 7:15 reads, “Nothing that enters one from outside can koine that person; the things that come out from within are what koine.” They make us common. In Mark 7, Jewish people, the chosen people, show they are special by refraining from eating certain foods.
The antonym for “Mean,” “Vulgar,” and “Koine,” in the Hebrew is Pharisee. They are the separate people, people who follow the dietary and etiquette rules designed to make one distinct. In each of our readings for Lent, we learn of how Jesus attacks this notion. In the First Sunday of Lent, we read of Jesus’ three temptations. In the first temptation we read, “The devil told him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live on bread alone.”
This is an allusion to the chapter before. “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Jewish rhetoric, which Luke was aware, had a rule of rhetoric, “G’zerah Shavah, an analogy is made between two separate texts on the basis of a similar phrase, or word; where the same words are applied to two separate cases, it follows that the same considerations apply to both.
We again see the comparison of those who are above the rest, and the rest. Satan asks Jesus, “Turn these stones to bread.” Jesus hears, “Turn these children of Abraham into something to consume/live off of. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28. The Pharisees consume the people with their rules. Jesus comes to serve, and he calls us to serve the least among us.
The Second Sunday of Lent has the transfiguration. The apostles stop comparing themselves with the riff raff around them. “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them. They became frightened when they entered the cloud. From the cloud came a voice, “This is my chosen Son; listen of him.”
See Peter’s reaction to the cloud. They stop comparing themselves with the riff raff and each other, and start comparing themselves with God. They find themselves unworthy of his presence. When we compare ourselves to others, we look good. When we compare ourselves to God, by being in his presence… that is another matter.
The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent is Luke 13. Pilate mixing the blood of Jewish Martyrs with his sacrifices. The Pool of Siloam/Sent/Apostle also fell, killing 18. “18” appears twice in this chapter. In Hebrew, the numbers for “18,” also spell, “Life.” Our Gospel is about life. The message of the passage is clear. “Don’t point the finger that those who suffer. Don’t put yourselves over the less fortunate, or have less than you, or are in poverty, or you will be next.
God does feel free to give refresher courses. He rescued us from slavery in Egypt, the Irish potato famine, and the poverty of 19th Century Europe. He rescued us from the sweatshops of 19th and early 20th century America. He can deliver us back to oppression.
Our Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is that of the Prodigal/Unsaved/Unsafe Son. Jesus talks to the Separate Ones again, not the prodigal sons of the world. He speaks of penance, not for the prodigal sons, but for the elder sons, the Pharisees. To understand this passage we must understand the Ten Commandments as listed in Deuteronomy.
You shall not invoke the name of the NAME, your God, in vain/ לַ שָּׁוְא. Deuteronomy 5:11
You shall not bear dishonest/עֵד שָׁוְא witness against your neighbor. Deuteronomy 5:20
One does not need to know Hebrew to recognize the similar shapes to the Hebrew in the two passages. The word for vain in Deuteronomy 5:11 is the word used for false or dishonest witness in Deuteronomy 20. This is important for reading the Prodigal son story. The elder son tells his father, “When your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”
The elder son has no way of knowing how his brother spent the money. His charges could all be true, but that is irrelevant. The elder son violates the Eighth Commandment. He levels a charge when he has no way to know the truth. How is he different from those who think the poor are poor because of something they did, never investigating to learn the truth. The charge could be true. The Importance is in the younger son returning. Love dictates the elder brother take care of him. Not doing so is grounds for penance.
Those who argue from a communistic prospective need to read Luke 15 and the father’s words to his older son, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours…” If everything goes to the older son, the younger does not get another share of the estate. The father divided everything back in verse 12. Private property rules, but, and this is an important but, life and love rules private property. The father feels free to give the younger son what he has already given to the elder one, the fattened calf, the ring, the finest robe, and sandals.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent is the prodigal woman, the woman caught in adultery. Look for detail. “In Torah Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say…?” “When they continued asking him, he straightened up and told them, “Let the one among you who is without error be the first to throw a stone at her.” He bent down again and wrote on the ground. They went away one by one, beginning with the elders.”
“Beginning with the elders.” How do they know she is guilty of adultery?
“If a man is discovered lying with a woman who is married to another, they both shall die, the man who was lying with the woman as well as the woman.” Deuteronomy 22:22.
“The one among you who is without error be the first to throw a stone…” They know. They are the ones with whom she committed adultery.
The focus of this penance season is not on the poor and outcast among us, the vulgar people, the mean people, the average people. The focus for penance is on those who think they deserve what they have, for loyalty to the company, for hard work, for whatever they did in the past. The focus is on those who think the less fortune, in our nation and in the world do not have because they lack that loyalty, dedication, or hard work. We still need to work hard, for self, for family, for nation, but most importantly, in service of God.