A NEW THING – Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C

April 3, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6 (3)
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11

News reports continue to make us aware of the flood of refugees fleeing the violence in Ukraine. Millions of people have been forced from their homes, their cities, their country—from all that is familiar—to save themselves and their families. The lives of these exiles have been forever changed. They join the nearly 82.4 million other refugees in the world today, according to an estimate by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

In today’s Hebrew Scripture reading, the prophet is addressing people who had also been forced from their homeland in a war of conquest—in this case, by the Babylonians. Although they were captives rather than refugees, their community experienced the pain of displacement as they found themselves in a foreign land against their will.

The passage we hear today conveys a message of hope as God declares to the exiles many years into their captivity, “I am about to do a new thing” (Is 49:19). Along with this divine invitation to take heart is the call to let go of the past: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old” (43:18).

At first hearing, this sounds amazing—the prospect of returning to Judea and of rebuilding Jerusalem and its Temple. Consider, however, that the people who are being addressed here aren’t the same ones who had been led away in the first place. These words are directed to a new generation of Jews who have never even visited their homeland. For exiles who have known little else, this “new thing” may have sounded pretty scary. They are being asked to let go of bad memories, shame, and resentment on the one hand, but on the other hand they will need to leave behind the familiarity of this foreign land and a way of life that they had come to know.

Letting go of the old in order to embrace the new is at the heart of Paul’s message in today’s reading from his Letter to the Philippians. Paul holds himself up as an example: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8). When he refers to “knowing Christ,” he is speaking of the most intimate possible connection. This kind of knowing entails far more than a passing acquaintance. It means becoming like Christ and allowing Christ to take root in every part of our being. It requires putting aside our fear, our pettiness, our self-absorption, and our sin, to embrace fully the way of Christ and his cross.

God’s word today to Jewish exiles in Babylon reminds us of the plight of refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere and of the world’s responsibility to work together for “a new thing”—for peace, security, and a place to call home.

As we draw closer to the Easter celebration of Christ’s dying and rising, we are also called today from our own places of spiritual exile—to let go of places where we may be stuck and to hear God’s word of hope and challenge: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:19)

A Hymn for Today: “When God Restored Our Common Life”

Today’s Lectionary Psalm is a song of celebration by exiles who have returned to their homeland and their common life. This paraphrase by Ruth Duck, FHS, makes that song our own, and in the last stanza includes a prayer for those who still suffer injustice in the world today.

When God restored our common life,
our hope, our liberty,
at first it seemed a passing dream,
a waking fantasy;
a shock of joy swept over us,
for we had wept so long;
the seed we watered once with tears
sprang up into a song.

We went forth weeping, sowing seeds
in hard, unyielding soil;
with laughing hearts we carry home
the fruit of all our toil.
We praise the One who gave the growth,
with voices full and strong.
The seeds we watered once with tears
sprang up into a song.

Great liberating God, we pray for all
who are oppressed.
May those who long for what is right
with justice now be blest.
We pray for those who mourn this day,
and all who suffer wrong;
may seeds they water now with tears
spring up into a song.

Text: Ruth Duck, b. 1947, © GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Ukrainian Refugee Crisis, Wikipedia

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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