Lent turns a corner this week.
At the beginning of the week, the prophet Isaiah announces that God is “about to create a new heavens and a new earth.” Ezekiel describes his vision of the heavenly Temple, with the river of life flowing from its side bringing healing to the nations.
In perfect tandem, the Gospel readings show Jesus doing His second and third signs in the Gospel of John: healing the royal official’s son and healing a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda. These signs are perfect fulfillments of the readings from Isaiah and Ezekiel: Jesus Himself is the river of life, bringing healing.
At the end of the week, however, the book of Wisdom describes the wicked saying: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us … With revilement and torture let us put him to the test … Let us condemn him to a shameful death.” The prophet Jeremiah describes the people’s plot against him: “Let us destroy the tree in its vigor, let us cut him off from the land of the living.”
Again, in perfect tandem, the Gospel readings show that the Jewish leaders are trying to kill Jesus, and how a division occurs in the crowd because of Him.
At the beginning of the week everything conspired to show God doing amazing things for His people. By the end of the week everything is falling apart and Holy Week begins to loom on the horizon.
What stands exactly in the middle of those things — the pivot point — is the feast of the Annunciation. God takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It’s His greatest sign; it’s the means by which He will create the new heavens and the new earth. That’s precisely what the fickle, sinful heart of humanity can’t stand. We can’t stand it because when He comes, He presses in at precisely the places we need to change. It’s what the prophets did. It’s what Jesus did. Sinful hearts and habits don’t like it.
We like to think we’d do better. But perhaps we’re not that different from ancient Israel. The Body of Christ was physically present 2,000 years ago, and people found excuses not to believe in Him and not to serve Him. The Body of Christ is sacramentally present to us in the Eucharist today, and people find excuses not to believe in Him and not to serve Him. The Body of Christ is mystically present to us in the Church today, and people find excuses not to believe in Him and not to serve Him. The Body of Christ is present to us in the poor today, and people find excuses not to believe in Him and not to serve Him.
Like God’s people all through salvation history, we want to pick and choose how God is present to us and how we serve Him. But God isn’t satisfied with our picking and choosing. Today, as through all salvation history, He demands all.
Lent pivots this week on the Incarnation. So do our spiritual lives. When Jesus becomes present to us in the flesh, He asks: Will you follow me and serve me? The readings for the week show how sinful humanity has responded through all salvation history. Will we do better?